Please join us to discuss everything literary (especially kid literary): good books, the writing life, the people and businesses who create books, controversies in book world, what's good to snack on while reading and writing, and anything else bookish. We welcome your thoughts.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Five Rollicking Rhymes: National Poetry Month Goes Out With a Bang!

Poem-Mobiles   Crazy Car Poems by J. Patrick Lewis and Douglas Florian, Illustrated by Jeremy Holmes

      High-Heel Car

"There was an old woman
  Who lived in high heels
  She loved one so much
  That she gave it three wheels...."

This high energy compilation of 21 crazy car poems is more fun than a barrel full of Hot Dog Cars that run on sauerkraut.  From the Giant Bookmobile of Tomorrow, to the Banana Split Car, to the Sloppy-Floppy-Nonstop Jalopy and everything in between, there is something to drive everyone crazy!
The short, eight-or-so-line poems are accompanied with such lush and vibrant illustrations that it will take you twice as long after reading the ditty to find all of the visual treats included by Holmes.  I highly recommend taking these hilarious vehicles out for a spin.

Water Sings Blue  Ocean Poems by Kate Coombs, illustrated by Meilo So

This beautifully illustrated trip to the shore, and more, was published two years ago, and worth the watercolor look.  Readers are transported from the beach tide pool, to the driftwood washed ashore, to octopus ink, down below to a shipwreck.  There are poems about coral, sharks, sea urchins and even a nudibranch?  I had no idea what this cute little sea snail was until I picked up this seaside delight.  Lyrical, lilting and even silly, this is a book for when you can't make it to the beach...or want to remember just what it's like to be there.

    Not Really Jelly

"You're not really jelly,
  You're not really fish -
  You're free -floating noodles
  all slither and jiggle
  and tremble and squish..."

Mama built a little nest     by Jennifer Ward, illustrated by Steve Jenkins

Another artistic delight with darling four line rhymed verse descriptions of mother, and father birds building nests.  Each page tells us where Mama built her nest - upon a craggy ledge, on the ground, inside a sturdy trunk, on the pond, as well as, with what?  "Walls of moss and roof of sky," entirely of mud, within an old tree's hollow, with spit even!  The large double page illustrations capture the nest-building bird, though unnamed, while on the facing right hand page in smaller font, a brief sentence description tells us exactly who we have seen.

Hi, Koo!  A Year of Seasons   by Jon J. Muth

Muth begins Hi, Koo! with a brief history of haiku, its translations, and his own desire to not adhere so rigidly to its structure.  Then panda and two friends start to fall through fall:

                                                   Dance through cold rain
                                                           then go home
                                                             to hot soup

                                                       Morning crocuses!
                                                           Winter is old now
                                                               and closes her doors

Nine poems with watercolor illustrations showcase each season, showing less, where syllables are concerned, is definitely more.

Some Bugs   words by Angela DiTerlizzi, bugs by Brendan Wenzel

With spare text and big bugs to tell the story, we learn that some bugs sting, some bite, some stink, some fight.  They also flutter, crawl, glide, swim, hunt, build and....you'll have to read yourself to find out every single rhyming thing that bugs do.  Cartoony but clear and accurate illustrations show us who does what.  At the end the observer is encouraged to find all of these bugs 'in your own backyard.'  Close the book and get outside! But a handy final double paged spread simply labeling each bug from the text will help put a name to who's who. 

Submitted by Andrea Perry

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Envy and Its Uses

By Cynthia Light Brown

By Kotzian (Own work) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC-BY-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)], via Wikimedia

Researchers at the University of Michigan found that the more people used Facebook, the less satisfied they were with their lives. Envy can be even more insidious, causing us to want to cut down the person we are envious of so that we look better. Writers aren't immune: when we focus too much on other writers we can let that envy get us down on ourselves, sour our writing, and even stop writing.

Here's the good news: envy can be good for us, when it's the right kind. Researchers in the Netherlands conducted experiments with over 200 university students. When they triggered benign envy, it drove the students to study more and perfom better on tests of creativity and intelligence.  Another study by a Texas Christian University researcher performed experiments where half of the participants were asked to recall envious feelings from the past, and the other half weren't. Both groups then watched their peers in fake interviews. The half that had recalled envious feelings could recall details better about the interviews.  And other studies show that unchecked envy can ruin careers, but benign envy can help us focus in the right direction to achieve better results.

How do you make your envy "benign" and not malicious? Here's a clue: yet another study asked people to evaluate a rival's idea. Half of the participants were asked to first recall their own accomplishments, and the other half weren't. The group that had recalled their own accomplishments spend 60% more time learning about the rival's idea than the group that had not first recalled their own accomplishments.

Here's my recommended list of things to do:

1. Do NOT read negative reviews of your work that are malicious in any way. No good comes of this.
2. DO read reviews of your work that are positive, or that have some mixed comments that can help you improve.
3. DO list your writing accomplishments and strengths. Don't just think them; write them down (other research shows that actually writing things like this reinforces them better). And don't be shy. No one else will see this; if you think you write great dialogue, write that down.
4. After being armed with your own accomplishments and strengths, go look at what other writers are doing and let yourself be a little envious. Did they get an agent? A 2-book deal? Praise for their excellent plotting? Soak it in, but don't get overwhelmed. Let it push you forward.
5. Know yourself. For some people, a very little goes a long way. Maybe you're so sensitive that you shouldn't read about other people's accomplishments at all. Or maybe you've gotten complaisant and need a kick in the pants.

Envy and Its Two Lovers

Go the Wall Street Journal for more info on the subject.

Serendipitously, there's another article in today's WSJ about a photographer who photographs the world's oldest living organisms. There's a fantastic photo of a 2,000+ year-old  that looks like a big green blob and I wanted to put in as a photo here, but wasn't sure if I had permission. You can view it on Rachel Sussman's site (third photograph): Rachel Sussman

Friday, April 25, 2014

Sometimes you read something that hits you at the right time at the right place, and is just what you need to hear.  Stumbling on this quote yesterday was a like getting a little gift from the cosmos.

"It is the set of sails, not the direction of the winds, that determines which way we will go."

~ Napoleon Hill

Friday, April 18, 2014

Do you think the librarians will win? Will they divide us into groups?

A look at the book, "Divergent" by Veronica Roth
by Kitty Griffin

         di·ver·gent[ di vúrjənt ]
.    moving apart: following paths or courses that become increasingly
different or separate
.    differing: showing or having differences
not matching something: deviating from something such as a typical pattern or an expressed wish

So why didn’t the book “Divergent” by Veronica Roth, (now made into a movie) thrill me?

It was my daughter who put her finger on it. “Mom, you know what I realized? That Beatrice’s future world is one where the librarians have won. Do you really think that's going to happen?"


Think about it. In what future could you see people being divided into these groups—
Abnegation—the Selfless
Erudite—the Intelligent
Dauntless—the Brave
Amity—the Peaceful
Candor—the Honest

So I wonder, why couldn’t she have just used Selfless, Intelligent, Brave, Peaceful, and Honest? 
Do you see why I laughed when my daughter said, “In her world the librarians won.”
Because  n our world right now, libraries are desperate to stay alive.
Words are getting shorter, (LOL), not longer.
Okay, so maybe that’s nitpicking, it’s the nit that I picked that led me to this next question.

Why these five factions?

That was the question that bothered me most of all. Why had this future society chosen these five groups?

The world in Hunger Games was clearly a dystopia. It was clear why the games were held, to remind society of the terrible breaking of the world.

Tris’s world is Chicago, we know that. But what broke the world and what else is going on?
I like my dystopian novels to give me a world that makes me say, “I can totally see this happening.” Even Hunger Games, given the popularity of reality shows, seriously, I could see us devolving into this type of entertainment.

Another of my favorite dystopian books, “Shade” by Garth Nix, now let me tell you, there’s a world to be absolutely terrified of. 

Or the world created by Lois Lowery in, “The Giver.”  Who wouldn't fear that?

I still get chills when I think of the book, “Feed” by M.T. Anderson. Now there’s a world to be terrified of.

I wanted to be more afraid. The potential was there. Roth was so very close. 
I wanted to know more about what it meant to be DIVERGENT.

I wanted more things to believe in. Right now, I’m working with a personal trainer. Let me tell you, bodybuilding doesn’t happen in a week or two. Am I the only one who thinks that Tris’s development into a fighter wasn’t realistic?

Because if that wasn’t realistic…how could anything else be? Oh, I know these are just grumbles. But they're grumbles that kept diverting my attention.

Don’t get me wrong. I didn’t hate the book. I just wanted to like it more. Because as a lover of sci/fi with a strong female protagonist—well, I’m all for it.

The book has made millions for the author.  

So my concerns aren’t going to bother her.

But I won’t bother to read books two or three.

I might see the movie if Netflix picks it up. Then again, I might not.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

New Rule for Writers: Butt OUT of Chair!

"Butt in chair. There is no other 
single thing that will help you more 
to become a writer."  Jane Yolen

Contradict Jane Yolen? Wouldn't dream of it!

But I would amend her.

Recent medical studies have found that prolonged sitting is a serious health risk factor--even if you also get regular exercise. The Mayo Clinic summarizes it here.  

As you age, the risks increase. Researchers found that after 60, "every additional hour a day you spend sitting is linked to doubling the risk of being disabled--regardless of how much moderate exercise you get...."

The boildown for writers? Get used to working with your butt out of that chair!

We have some famous exemplars:

Sir Walter Scott composed Marmion while galloping the braes on horseback. (That's one expensive office chair.)

And Edith Sitwell reclined to write . . . in a cushioned coffin. (The only possible objection to that might be the awkwardness of balancing a laptop on your midsection.)

More realistically, we can emulate Hemingway and Nabokov. They wrote at standing desks. (And don't worry about "losing your voice." Standing may have contributed to Hemingway's famous concision, but it had no such effect on the word-loving Russian.) 

The illustration at right shows recommended monitor and typing angles for standing work. Desk measurements will differ according to individual height and proportions, so--  

--for more precise ergonomics (and shopping and construction suggestions) consult sources like Bob Vila (6 DIY Standing Desk Projects) or lifehacker

Or seek inspiration here or here

CAVEAT: As any waitress can tell you, working on your feet all day carries its own risks. It can contribute to the development of varicose veins or hardening of the arteries.

A preliminary study among younger, healthy males showed the benefit of consciously varying one's work posture at specific intervals. It's not clear yet whether these benefits extend to workers of all ages, or to those with pre-existing health conditions. But Dear Boy was already inspired to devise this dual-position desk. It requires two monitors and two keyboards, but only one computer: 

My own solution is still a WIP. I'll report in a future post. 

Meanwhile, what's your . . . um, position . . . on this issue?

Susan Chapek

Monday, April 14, 2014

Fairy Tales and Fables

by Judy Press

Do you know the difference between a fairy tale and a fable? I didn't, until I looked up the definition. A fable is, " a short narrative making an edifying or cautionary point and often employing as characters animals that speak and act like human beings, or a story about legendary persons or exploits." A fairy tale is, "a fanciful tale of legendary deeds and creatures, or a fictious, highly fanciful story or explanation." Following are examples of popular fairy tales and fables:
Fairy tales : Cinderella, Little Red Riding Hood, Hansel & Gretel, The Gingerbread Man, Jack and the Beanstalk, The Ugly Duckling, The Sleeping Beauty, Snow White.
Fables: The Three Little Pigs, The Boy Who Cried Wolf, The Tortoise and the Hare, Alice In Wonderland, The Lion and the Mouse, Peter Pan, The Nutcracker and the Mouse King.
Thanks to Walt Disney, these stories have taken on a life of their own and provided children and adults with a "Disney-fied" version. My local library has a whole section dedicated to fairy tales and fables and in re-reading several of these classic stories I realized how timeless they are.
On a recent visit to my granddaughter's preschool I read her class the story of the Three Little Pigs. My initial concern was that it might be too frightening for them to handle, but the version I read glossed over the fact that the wolf ended up in a pot of boiling water. However unfortunate it may be,  kids nowadays are exposed to a great deal of violence which unfortunately doesn't always have a happy ending like they do in fairy tales.
Below is a craft I did with the children in Hudson's class that the children really enjoyed!

Three Little Pigs Puppets

Here's What You Need:
3 Paper lunch bags (white or brown)
3 White paper plates
Construction paper  (including pink and red)
Crumpled strips of brown paper or Easter grass (for straw)
Popsicle sticks or toothpicks (for wood)
Child safety scissors
Glue stick
Wiggly eyes (optional)

Here's What You Do:
1. Cut out the center of the white paper plates. Glue one onto each bag's flap for the pig's face.
2.. Cut out a small circle from pink paper for pig's nose. Cut out pig's ears from pink paper. Glue ears and nose onto face.
3. Cut strips of construction paper and accordion fold. Glue onto bag for pig's arms.
4. Glue sticks onto one pig, straw on the other. Draw brick pattern on red paper and glue onto third pig.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Interview with Amy Tipton, Signature Literary Agency

I couldn't be more thrilled to say I'm represented by Amy Tipton, Signature Literary Agency http://signaturelit.com/. To read about my excitement over signing follow this link http://daveamaditz.com/announcement-of-representation-amy-tipton-signature-literary-agency/

Some say representation is a must in today's marketplace. It's also a must, if you are looking for representation, to target your queries wisely so that you minimize your rejections and increase your chances of receiving offers. It involves a lot of research, hours upon hours in some cases. 

Reading agent interviews is a great place to find out what agents are thinking, so I've provided a link http://michelle4laughs.blogspot.com/ where you can read Amy's latest interview (completed only a few days ago) to get an idea of her working style - - and of course - - what material she’s presently looking to represent.

 Good luck!

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Writing Wednesday: There are eight million stories in the naked....newspaper.

Not long ago I was reading the weather page in my Pittsburgh Post Gazette. After I checked the five day forecast for western Pennsylvania, I also looked at the daily listing of highs and lows across the United States.  On this particular day, the high temperature for the previous day was recorded in Wink, Texas while the low was recorded in Embarrass, Minnesota.  Wink and Embarrass, I thought? Really?
A poem about the citizens of Wink, who just have to be known as Winkers, was born.

Coincidentally, the names of of some of those town's newspapers are fascinating as well.  In Massachusetts, the town of Sandwich publishes the Sandwich Broadsider.

Imagine a weather report turning on that light bulb over your head.  Newspapers are full of ideas for stories.  Where else besides the weather are these nuggets hidden?

The classified section is a treasure trove:
     "Grand Piano for sale. Child won't play..."
     "Warehouse Worker Wanted.  Must be forklift certified..."
     "Player Piano. Asking for $200 and TLC."
     "Furnished Room for Rent: Couple has empty nest syndrome, cable and wifi..."
I confess my ignorance about pets, but who is in the market for a morkie, maltepoo, chiweener, or pygmy Nigerian Cross goat??? Without a picture I am not sure what kind of a creature is for sale.

Science articles also inspire- how about some "de-extinction" drama?
     "...a novel approach to ecological conservation is gaining wider public attention; the resurrection of extinct species, like the woolly mammoth...aided by new genomic technologies developed by the Harvard molecular biologist George Church."
     Or the fact that Mammoth Cave, Kentucky (which once rivaled Niagara Falls as a top U.S. tourist destination) has 400 miles of explored passageways and may possibly have up to 600 more miles yet to be discovered? It is the longest known cave system in the world.

I hesitate to mention my next category- I mean no disrespect, but the obituaries are a great source for names:  Garth Bigbee, Norman Bornhorst, Clete Kaup, Royal Losh, Dewey Newhart, Providenza Vullo.  The marriage license and divorces granted listings are full of characters as well.

What about sports?  Did you know that the Pittsburgh Pirates once held spring training in Havana, Cuba? Do you know who Lester Biederman or Branch Rickey are?

The Police Blotter in small town papers is worth the comic relief alone.  I particularly recommend Southern Florida newspapers, as I am certain they are the source for most of Carl Hiaasen's books.  Floridians have called the police about: people serenading them in the middle of the night off key, shoplifters stuffing 20 pairs of sunglasses in their sweat pants, restaurant patrons ordering 6 orders of onion rings and leaving without paying, underwear found in mailboxes, homeowners finding burglars asleep in their closets, the alligator in the toilet tank, and many, many more.

The next time you are reading a newspaper, watch out for that light bulb. 

Submitted by Andrea Perry

Monday, April 7, 2014

Faking Normal

by Courtney Stevens

We would like to congratulate Courtney Stevens on her debut young adult novel, Faking Normal, an absolutely riveting book about a girl who must learn to cope with a secret she’s been hiding since summer, one she’s literally destroying herself over.

This past Friday, April 4, Marcy and I posted our answers to Courtney’s debut novel, Faking Normal. Today, you get to read Courtney’s favorite's. 

She's obviously given a lot of thought to her answers, which isn't surprising since the novel addresses so many sensitive and thought-provoking issues.

We hope our readers enjoy the story as much as we did… But first her bio:

Courtney C. Stevens grew up in Kentucky and lives in Nashville, Tennessee. She is an adjunct professor and a former youth minister. Her other skills include playing hide-and-seek, climbing trees, and being an Olympic torch bearer. Faking Normal is her first novel.
1) What is your favorite line or paragraph from the novel as it relates to the main character's development and/or growth?

There are many, many turning points for Alexi, but this is the moment that seals the deal; the moment she decides to channel her brave and seize long-lasting healing in her life.

I decided to keep my secret, and now, I decide to let it go.

2) What is your favorite chapter ending or cliffhanger?

I don’t want to give too much away, so I will just say that this line comes at the end of my favorite scene in the entire book.

 And the dueling lions are silent.

3) Who is your favorite secondary character and why?

Assuming Bodee isn’t a secondary character, I love Alexi’s mom. She’s present, but not all-knowing. She’s loving, but perhaps flawing in the way she has differentiated between grace and justice. She’s the type of woman who will provide healthy perspective on this terrible experience. I don’t read very many young adult books with present parents, and I’m glad Alexi’s are great. That this happened to Alexi in spite of her amazing and protective parents, because it often does. Sexual abuse isn’t something that happens to a certain demographic; its reach can go anywhere, which is a terrible tragedy.

4) What is your favorite line or paragraph of description?

I’m not sure this is my favorite, but it’s one of my favorites. I was a youth minister for a long time, and the realization that people can be Love as a noun was rather fantastic. I want to be a Bodee to people who are hurting. I think I like this paragraph, not because I want to be a savior, but because … I hope people can see the good in me around all the failure.

I’ve lived all but two weeks of my life without Bodee. But now, sitting with him in my fort, I know these two weeks have been God walking right into my life like he has flesh and Kool-Aid-colored hair. The gospel according to Bodee Lennox. His safety. His protection. And love.

5) What is your favorite line of dialogue?

My choice is going to sound odd at first. I chose this line of dialogue because I believe it’s the first glimpse we get that Bodee is someone who has seen beyond the veil Alexi’s wearing. If he’d never said these words, and challenged her ability to hide in shame, this would have been a very different story.

“Neck’s still red,” he says.

We would like to congratulate Courtney Stevens on her debut young adult novel, Faking Normal. We can't wait to read Courtney's next book! 

To read more about Courtney Stevens debut YA novel Faking Normal please go to: