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Monday, June 30, 2014

A Dozen Favorite Picture Books

by Cynthia Light Brown

The blog post last week by Kitty and her daughters triggered incredible nostalgia. I went down to my lair of picture books that I haven't the heart to give away (I tell my family I'm saving them for grandchildren, but really they're for me). Whittled the hundreds down to dozens, then down to one dozen. One in the middle is the favorite of my middle daughter (now 18 years old, and getting ready to take a gap year in Nepal, so her choice isn't surprising).

Here they are, from younger to older age range:


KING BIDGOOD'S IN THE BATHTUB by Audrey Wood, illustrated by Don Wood

EACH PEACH PEAR PLUM by Janet and Allan Ahlberg

GOTTA GO! GOTTA GO! by Sam Swope, illustrated by Sue Riddle



A BIRTHDAY FOR FRANCES by Russell Hoban, illustrated by Lillian Hoban

RED RIDING HOOD retold and illustrated by James Marshall

ZOOM AT SEA by Tim Wynne-Jones, illustrated by Eric Beddows* Katie's favorite

JACK AND THE BEANSTALK retold and illustrated by Steven Kellogg

RAPUNZEL retold and illustrated by Paul O. Zelinsky

BABA YAGA AND THE WISE DOLL by Hiawyn Oram, illustrated by Ruth Brown

THE MOUSEHOLE CAT by Antonia Barber, illustrated by Nicola Bayley

 If you ask me next week, I might come up with a different set - there are so many wonderful ones. I notice that they all have great writing and illustrations. Wonderful illustrations pull you in - and it's what sells most picture books these days - but great writing keeps you coming back.

Most of these authors and illustrators have many other wonderful books - enjoy!

Friday, June 27, 2014

Kids Love Stories -- Pass it on!!

Cece, Kiki, and Arthur

Kids love stories…pass it on!

By Danika & Beatrice Lagorio
(and a pinch from Kitty Griffin Lagorio—their mom)

        Kitty's turn:  Now that my kids have kids it’s very exciting for all of us. One thing we love is the magic of story. That happy connection when a story we love becomes a story they love.
         Is love of story something genetic? Or, does it have to be nurtured?
         I was reading at four. I was reading well by six. A trip to the library was a real treat. I would get a big stack of books each time we went, but then so did my adoptive parents, Terry and Rose. We all left the library with an armload of books.
         So, did I learn from them?
         Or was it something within?
          All I know is that when I read The 500 Hats of Bartholomew Cubbins by Dr. Seuss, I was HOOKED.

         Where does love of story come from?

         As we watch these three children, Arthur (3 ½, Cece 3 ¼, and Kiki 21 months) we see they have their own definite choices for books that they want to hear again and again.

         That’s what they’re going to share with you.

         Beatrice’s observations:

         One thing that I am beginning to realize—picking books for children (thinking I’ll know what they really love) is always a surprise, at least a surprise to me, because it seems that they have their own favorites. When I asked my mom to show me what book I loved as a child she went right to the shelf and pulled out a faded green book called, The Funny Little Woman.
         (Kitty: Beatrice LOVED to hear this story over and over and over. She would laugh out loud every single time.)
         This story is about a woman who lives in Japan. One of her rice dumplings falls out of a pot, rolls down the hill, and falls into a crack. The funny little woman chases after the dumpling and goes down into a crevice. There, monsters kidnap her! What does the funny little woman do? She laughs.
         As soon as mom handed me the book I grinned. I remembered and started cracking up. Okay. A story about monsters and kidnapping. And as a kid I found it hysterical. Go figure!!
         The Funny Little Woman retold by Arlene Mosel, pictures by Blair Lent (1973)

         Now with two children of my own, we head out to the library weekly. We get stacks of books. It’s one of my favorite parts of parenting. Sharing stories makes all of us happy. I love having Arthur look at the cover and then asking him what he thinks might happen.
         When I asked Arthur to pick a favorite book, he decided on this--

          NO DAVID! Written and illustrated by David Shannon
I really can't say enough good things about this book!  I remember the first time I saw it up on a shelf. I passed it right by thinking the artwork looked almost scary. Then, as Arthur grew older I thought hey... he might actually like this... I should see what all the fuss is about.  Well, Shannon could not have done more to speak to my little man.  This is probably his all time favorite book.  Such an excellent way for a mommy to talk to a certain mischievous/curious/devilish little boy about bad behavior—and that includes the consequence for such behavior.
But the sweetest place is at the end where you remind your little one, that even though you get angry, you always love your child.  We read this book together with a lot of question and answer moments... for example, I will turn the page and say, "Uh-oh, what's David done this time?" Arthur will laugh and respond, "He's letting all the water out of the bath... you can't do that!"  
A great read that still holds my child’s attention about a year later! (And still makes me laugh!)

Corina (or, Kiki) is 22 months. So she sees books that her brother likes as well as some just for her.  Her pick? Abiyoyo by Pete Seeger and illustrated by Michael Hays is a South African Lullaby and Folk Story.
Abiyoyo is not a book that I would have imagined my 1-year-old daughter falling in love with. The story of an ogre who threatens a town... actually eating some of her favorite animals (sheep and cows) whole, like candy... really surprised me, when after reading it to my son who enjoyed it, Corina was the one who carried it around with her for days... months!  She loved and still loves this famous tale retold by Pete Seeger.  
I love any story that includes music, and this has to be the finest example of that.  You can still access the Reading Rainbow episode where Pete Seeger actually performs the story live.  When I say “Abiyoyo,” my little girl responds with a huge smile saying, "Abiyoyo's coming!"

(Kitty’s comment: Yes. It’s true. This sweet, angel-faced little girl loves a story about a monster that wants to eat everyone and everything in sight. She thinks that’s delicious.)

Danika and Cece’s turn:

I could not agree more with my sister. I have spent my adult life sneaking back into the children’s section of the library.  One of the perks of being three year old Cece’s mom is that now I have a toddler pass which gets me front row seats to fantastic librarians reading the greatest hits.  But like Bea said, one of the best parts about finding a favorite book is that sometimes it is a real surprise.    And Cece is introducing me to new books I would have never picked up on my own.
I spent many hours of my pregnancy day dreaming about reading with my baby.    There were so many wonderful books that I could not wait to introduce her to.  A book that I mused about reading with her was Maurice Sendak’s,  Where the Wild Things Are.  It was one of my all-time favorites as a child. As with most children I loved everything about it.  I loved how bad Max was in the beginning, how perfectly horrid the monsters were in the middle and how delicious the tomato soup (I know you thought it was some other food, but were wrong!)  looked in the end.
I was so excited to share this book with Cece that I bought a paperback, hard back and audio version. I waited patiently until she turned two and a half to share it. After lunch one day I grabbed the hard back copy and sat down on our big comfy couch.
You will never guess how she responded to the greatest 50 words ever written.  And… you guessed it.  She didn’t love it.  She didn’t hate it, but she also didn’t request it four thousand times like books she really takes to. 
I have not given up on Cece falling for Max.  I will introduce them at a later time.  However, Cece has fallen hard for a book that shares many of the same themes as Where the Wild Things Are.
Pumpkin Soup by Helen Cooper is a deliciously beautiful book about fitting in, family feuds and forgiveness.  Duck, Squirrel and Cat live contentedly playing their music in an old white cabin until one fateful day when Duck demands to be head chef.  The three fight and Duck runs away full of rage. Duck does not return for their regular soup time and Cat and Squirrel begin to really worry for their friend. They go on a search for him all the while their imaginations run away with them about what might have happened to Duck. Duck returns all on his own and everyone is forgiven.  Cat and Squirrel even let Duck be the head chef.  Pumpkin Soup and Where the Wild Things Are could almost be companion pieces.  Both highlight the use of imagination as a tool for forgiveness.  Both share the wonderful message that love and empathy conquer the most fearful rages. 
Max was such an important friend of mine growing up.  Although Cece didn’t take to him like I did,  I am so glad that she found Duck, Cat and Squirrel to help her through the scary forest of anger and forgiveness and always return her safely to her small cabin (playhouse) in our backyard. 

Kitty's turn:
And what was Danika's favorite book? A wild, wonderful adventure about a curious cat. With lush, realistic pictures, it's called Hot Air Henry, written by Mary Calhoun and illustrated by Erick Ingraham. 

Some wonderful, joyful books that I hope you might pass on to a child you love, 'cause kids love books, pass it on!



Monday, June 23, 2014


by Jenny Ramaley

Nah, that header is not really meant as a cursing come-on. FU is short for a new documentary (Fed Up) on food and sugar, and the evils of processed foods and the companies behind the products.

What can I say? If you love children’s books you probably love children and want the best for them. So find a way to see this film. It will make you think twice before you ‘reward’ a child for a good act with something sweet and sugary.

In a nutshell, the way the body processes sugar is that it converts it right into fat. It doesn’t matter if it’s high-fructose corn syrup or cane sugar or fruit juice. Right to fat. And on top of that, all the processed foods that have become a big part of the American diet are filled with sugars, which also have preservative properties and create addictions in our bodies to crave more . . . sugar. To make things even worse, kids (heck, everybody) are surrounded by these products at every checkout aisle in the nation. Which is why we have such a huge obesity epidemic among children (and adults).

In our newspaper today, the front section of the lifestyle section, Section C, has an interview with Laurie David, the producer of Fed Up, the documentary. On the front page, Section A, is an article about ‘fatty liver disease, an accumulation of fat in liver cells associated with poor diet, a sedentary lifestyle and obesity.  . . . If caught early, exercise and improved diet can slow or reverse the disease.”

Perhaps the article about the film and it’s message should be on the front page.

For more about the documentary or to try the sugar free lifestyle, go to Fed Up Movie .

The Fedup Challenge

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Easy Readers: Not So Easy to Write! by Judy Press

The weather today is hot and sunny. A surprisingly warm and muggy day considering summer is still a few days off.  Maybe it's the heat but somehow I've gotten into my head to work on an easy reader. Here's what I've found; these books are not easy to write (or get published!) Below are a few tips if you do attempt to write one. 

-Easy Readers are generally 32 to 64 pages long and range from 200 to 1,500 words. 
-The story is told mainly through action and dialogue in gramatically simple sentences, typically one idea per sentence.
-The books average two to five sentences per page in lower levels, going up to a paragraph or two per page or two per page for older readers. 

Leveled Readers:

Level 1- Emergent Reader: 24-32 pages, 20-100 words, controlled vocabulary, repeated words, picture clues, predictable patterns. 

Level 2-Progressing Reader: 32 pages, 100-300 words, longer sentences, simple dialogue, more in depth plat, non-fiction and fiction.

Level 3- Transitional Reader: 32-48 pages, 300-500 words, controlled vocabulary, multi-sylabble and compound words, more dialogue, different POVs, more chapters, more complex story lines, great range of genres

Level 4-Fluent Reader-48 pages, 500-900 words, controlled vocabulary, more advanced vocabulary, detailed and descriptive text, complex story structure, in-depth plot and character development, full range of genres, table of content.

Beginning Readers come after Level 4 and Early Chapter Books come before Chapter Books. 

note: Controlled vocabulary usually refers to words on the Dolch Sight Word List (www.kidzone.ws/dolch/index.htm)

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Amy Tipton - Signature Literary Agency - Interview

photo by Ed Glazar

Dave Amaditz

In a previous post http://rt19writers.blogspot.com/2014/01/announcement-of-representation-amy.html  I gave a shout-out to everyone that I had signed with the awesome, Amy Tipton, Signature Literary Agency http://signaturelit.com/. To say that time passes quickly is an understatement, as it’s already been six months. Much has happened since then. Amy has been busy behind the scenes doing what agents do… Sorry, you’ll have to wait a little while longer to hear what keeps her busy.

As for me…, after doing two or three rounds of editing with Amy to make sure my novel was ready for submission, I’ve been able to concentrate on my writing (another young adult novel with the first draft now nearly three quarters complete). Having Amy’s expertise behind me has made writing so much easier. Instead of worrying (or worrying too much :-)) about submission status, I can now more fully focus on the important things like character, plot, setting and conflict.

Also, before I forget, I want to say that I’ve gotten a quick taste these last six months of the massive amount work required on Amy’s part to maintain success as an agent and I know she’s awfully busy… So… Amy… Thank You For Your Time and for Agreeing to the Interview. It means so much to me that you’re willing and excited to do the interview. It Reminds Me How Lucky I Am to Have Signed with You.

Now, to the questions……

Dave: For those who don’t know you, could you give a little history of how you came to choose a career as an agent… And a bit about Signature Literary Agency.

Amy: I joined Signature Literary Agency in 2009. I graduated from Naropa University with a B.A. in Writing and Literature and received my MFA from New College of California in Writing. I come to Signature after working as a literary assistant and office manager at several literary agencies including JCA Literary Agency, Diana Finch Literary Agency, Gina Maccoby Literary Agency, and Liza Dawson Associates. I had  also (very briefly) worked as a book scout for Aram Fox, Inc. dealing with foreign rights. I became an agent with Peter Rubie (Peter first suggested I agent) and continued to agent with FinePrint Literary Management. In addition to my agenting experience, I also worked as a freelance editor to Lauren Weisberger, author of The Devil Wears Prada.

Needless to say, I have some experience …

Dave: Impressive experience, to say the least. So who better to talk about the fact that we’re in a changing market, a constantly evolving market. Could you address a few major concerns your current and future clients should know, or should be made aware that will affect the likelihood of publication? (The battle with the self-published market. The book market being oversaturated with inexpensive or free material as well as poor quality material. Lack of marketing dollars. Less people reading. Etc. etc.)

Amy: I think you just addressed a few major concerns yourself: the self-published market. The book market being oversaturated with inexpensive or free material as well as poor quality material. Lack of marketing dollars. Less people reading. Etc. etc. …

Publishing is in transition and it is hard to know where it will end up but it’s not going away—listen, Chicken Little, the sky isn’t falling. I think Malcolm Gladwell said in 2013, “No industry sells something people want and need more than the book industry. If they were selling Styrofoam, I'd be worried, but books have tremendous impact on people's lives." I agree.

Dave: Excellent advice. Now that we know that the sky isn’t falling on the publishing business, it’s obvious writers should continue to write and submit their work. Which one do you check out first when scanning your submissions? Query letters? Sample chapters? Or both? Can a terribly written query be overlooked if the writing sample shows promise? Would you give someone who sent in a writing sample that wasn’t completely polished a chance to redo it because the concept addressed in the query was so awesome? How about letting us know your fastest time to hit the delete button and what it was that could’ve prompted such a drastic response?

Amy: Query letters and the actual writing in a book are so different—they’re completely different animals. I don’t really read sample chapters—though my colleagues at Signature do (which is why we request the first five pages)—I mean, if the query is good, I’ll just request and if it’s awful awful, I just reject (if there are misspellings everywhere, words missing, commas lacking, etc). I look at the sample if I’m on the fence—so it does pay to send. And a terrible query *can* be overlooked by me. If I am excited by the idea in the query, if I see potential, I’ll request. If I read and the concept was awesome but the book just wasn’t there, I will reconsider/reread later (I have read the same book 4-5 times now by an author in different incarnations because the idea is cool.)

Dave: You hear that everyone? Sounds to me as if the submission door is open. We’ll talk later about what exactly she’s looking for, but first, another question for Amy.

What’s your take on submitting to you what might be trending in the marketplace? Or don’t you bother with trends?

Amy: I don’t tend to bother with trends because publishers are so fickle—like, they *say* they want A but they don’t want A, they want B. (Plus, things that are trending, I don’t rep nor do they get me excited …).

Dave: I mentioned earlier that I’ve been able to write, and write a lot, since signing with you. Could you give us a brief rundown of what it is that occupies your day as an agent. The exciting, and what we might consider the not-so-exciting. Could you let us know what is your favorite part of being an agent, and if like me and most writers, you’re often checking the email inbox for messages of good news?

Amy: Of course, I’m checking my email for good news! Always! That is my favorite part—passing on the good news! (Hopefully, I’ve sold someone’s book and get to tell them! Or I’ve offered rep to someone and they’ve accepted!)

I am super busy but it’s mostly boring stuff (like contracts or royalty statements or following up with editors that have various subs) and sometimes it’s fun (like cover consultations) … I get tons of queries to read and I am either rejecting or requesting, plus reading (and editing—which takes time) my already-signed clients; I also work with a foreign rights agent so I’m talking foreign with them and I am working with a film/TV agent and I keep in contact with them too … I also do awesome interviews (which also takes time)!

And I do try to do it all in a timely fashion and that’s hard …

Especially (and I never talk about my personal life—why would you care?—but this info pertains to occupying time) now, I am relearning to walk—I had a stroke a few years back—and physical therapy is intense and I do it about once a week but anything/everything I do (even this interview) is therapy and hard for me.

Dave: And you still didn’t hesitate, didn’t blink an eye to agree to do this. Which makes what you’ve done here so much more impressive. So readers, listen up!! You’ll definitely want to hear the answer to the next question.

Amy, what, if any, is the one story you’re dying to hear a pitch for? Why that story?

Amy: I am DYING for some sort of YA about homegrown terrorism/anarchy/Black Bloc group—kinda like the movie “The East.” Or some secret society. I could get into an idea about a bitchy/dark sorority … Hazing gone wrong, maybe?—not some “Afterschool Special” about the dangers of drinking too much either, please! I actually read a ms. (I requested) that addressed this YA terrorism idea, which I (reluctantly, even stupidly) passed on. Then I rewatched that documentary about the Weathermen and it rekindled the idea.

I also rewatched that movie “Heavenly Creatures” and am searching for a story that explores a close/weirdly close friendship/relationship between 2 kids …

Also, I am super into the shows “Orange Is The New Black” (which, yes, was a book) and “Breaking Bad”—if there is anyone out there with an idea like these shows, I’m listening …

Dave: Wow! I know that I’d love to read something on those topics, too. But just in case somebody’s written something else that doesn’t exactly fall into those categories, perhaps you can give the readers an idea of your taste in literature. What are some of your favorite all-time reads? Can you perhaps pick two or three classics and two or three more recently written?

Amy: Favorite all-time read is either “The Abortion: An Historical Romance 1966” by Richard Brautigan or “To Kill A Mockingbird” by Harper Lee. Adult reads I love include “The Great Gatsby” and “She’s Come Undone” and even “Fear of Flying” and I love author Michelle Tea. Kid books include “The Outsiders” and any Ramona Quimby book or any Judy Blume (but especially “Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret”) and, I know it’s not great literature or anything, any Sweet Valley High book. Books I love as of late are “Butter” by Erin Jade Lange and “Charm & Strange” by Stephanie Kuehn and, of course, “Wonder” by RJ Palacio. (It’s not recent recent but also shout out to “Living Dead Girl” by Elizabeth Scott.) I also love “Night Film” by Marisha Pessl and, of course, “Gone Girl” by Gillian Flynn. (And not recent recent is “Snakes and Earrings” by Hitomi Kanehara—OMG, love! And “Chump Change” by Dan Fante. And “Homeboy” by Seth Morgan.) How about those books in my TBR (to be read) pile? Now, I don’t know if they’re any good—I can’t vouch for them—but the idea of them is making me salivate: “Bird Box” by Josh Malerman, “The Fever” by Megan Abbott, and “Room” by Emma Donoghue.  There are so many great books—I am not even able to list them all … I didn’t even touch nonfiction …

Dave: What an awesome list - many I’ve not read but are now on my to-read list. So, say someone has written about a topic that you love, that you’re DYING to hear. What is it that sells you on a story? Voice? Characterization? Both?

Amy: Both. Definitely. You should have 1 or the other, at least.

Dave: Would you choose to not represent an author or a story because you have a sense it’s not marketable enough? Or do you go after it finger on trigger simply because you’ve fallen in love with the story?

Amy: It depends. I used to go full-force simply because not only did I love the story but I loved the idea behind the story. But it’s a lot of work to take on a project like that so now I weigh my options—consider the pros and cons. But I’m still more likely to take on something because I love it—market be damned! (You know that song by Tom Petty, I Won’t Back Down? Marry that with Joan Jett’s Bad Reputation. That is me.)

Dave: I Won’t Back Down. Isn’t that the attitude any writer should want from their agent?

I mentioned above that I’ve done a few edits for you to make my novel submission ready. Can you briefly describe for the reader your editing process, how hands-on are you, what you expect from an author once they’ve signed etc. etc.? And just as importantly: is editing necessary before submission?

Amy: I’ve also mentioned projects taking work so that should clue you in that I am hands-on. Extremely hands-on (but have no fear—I will not suggest that your cat turn into a ninja!—I try to stay with you/your vision). Editing is necessary in most cases (and you should always, always edit before subbing agents!)—even just a word misspelled or a comma needed is something I will revise before submitting (see?--hands-on).

The only thing I require/expect from an author once they’ve signed is patience! It is a S-L-O-W process. I can’t stress that enough. Add even more time to the already slow process because I rarely follow what’s “hot”—the trends—so it’s a fight with publishers to publish what I like, what I do. (And trust me—I want to get you/your book published, I want to get paid too—so, believe me, I’m working my a** off for you! OMG, relax will ya! Re-lax! You’ve found an agent—let them work for you, it’s their job so let them do their job!)

Dave: Yes. We talked about that right away, and you answered a whole list of questions for me before I signed. Fees. Royalties. Expectations etc. etc. What are some questions a prospective client should ask of you, or any agent for that matter, before signing?

Amy: I don’t know! Ask anything! Ask everything!

Dave: Could you give a brief rundown before we close of what it is you are looking to see come your way? And, what it is you have absolutely no desire to read and therefore, should not ever be sent?

Amy: Do. Not. Send. Sci Fi. Please! That means no paranormal or magical or supernatural or fantastical or even alt worlds; I don’t rep books with made-up languages or faeries or wizards or vampires or ghosts or aliens, etc. No magic potions (or elixirs) here. There are many other agents, good agents, who do rep those things. I like reality-based YA and MG.

Dave: What should an author include in their submission package when sending to you? Is there a best time to send? And finally, where and how can you be reached?

Amy: I am always working (even on vacation) so send your query any time (I am up late and rise early) or day. Send by email: amy@signaturelit.com.

Thanks again, Amy, for taking the time to answer this long list of questions. I know it was extremely detailed, but by doing this I was hoping to let everyone know everything about your awesomeness, and just as importantly to allow them to do a one-stop-shop where they could find out everything they ever wanted and needed to know before sending you a query.