Three Questions For Children's Book Writers and Illustrators

Welcome to Inkygirl: Reading, Writing and Illustrating Children's Books (archive list here) which includes my Creating Picture Books series, Writer's and Illustrator's Guide To Twitter, interviews, my poetry for young readers, #BookADay, writing/publishing industry surveys, and 250, 500, 1000 Words/Day Writing Challenge. Also see my Inkygirl archives,  and comics for writers (including Keiko and Will Write For Chocolate).

I tweet about the craft and business of writing and illustrating at @inkyelbows. If you're interested in my art or other projects, please do visit DebbieOhi.com. Thanks for visiting! -- Debbie Ridpath Ohi

Friday
Jul312015

#BookADay: HOW TO OUTRUN A CROCODILE WHEN YOUR SHOES ARE UNTIED by Jess Keating (Sourcebooks Jabberwocky)

#BookADay: HOW TO OUTRUN A CROCODILE WHEN YOUR SHOES ARE UNTIED by Jess Keating ( Sourcebooks Jabberwocky). If you or your tween is looking for a fun summer read, I strongly recommend this book.

Click to read more ...

Tuesday
Jul282015

A Reminder: Stop comparing yourself to others and focus on enjoying your OWN journey

Writers and illustrators: Resist constantly comparing yourself to others. Instead, focus on appreciating and enjoying your OWN journey.

(I've been gradually working my way through the panels in my own career, so figured it was about time I repost this comic :-))

 

Tuesday
Jul282015

Tips for SCBWI-LA conference newbies, second-timers, plus a CHALLENGE for the many-timers

(Updated version of a post I made earlier this year before the SCBWI-NYC conference)

I'm leaving this week for the SCBWI Summer Conference! If you haven't yet registered, you're out of luck....the conference is sold out. However, you can follow along virtually via the #LA15SCBWI hashtag on Twitter as well as the SCBWI conference blog.

Here's my updated SCBWI Conference Advice post for first-timers (as well as a challenge for the many-timers):

If you're a conference newbie who is nervous, I encourage you to browse my SCBWI Conference Newbie comics. I created these when I was a nervous newbie as well! So many people think I'm an extrovert, but I'm actually very much an introvert and was terrified (to the point of sweating palms, pounding heart, hating the idea of having go up and introduce myself over and over) about attending my first regular SCBWI conference back in 2009.

(Edit re: above comic: I did end up meeting Jay at the conference and he was really nice! And he didn't mention his Amazon ranking EVEN ONCE! Heh.)

I've posted advice for first-timers before and will post it again at the end of this piece, but now that I've attended other SCBWI annual conferences (and had my career jumpstarted because of the 2010 SCBWI-LA Conference), here is some additional advice I have for those who have attended more than once:

Don't get offended or disheartened if people you've met before don't remember you.

This is something I've learned from both sides. As a 2nd- and 3rd-timer (and so on), I've sometimes gone up to a person or group I've met and had my confidence deflated when it becomes clear they don't remember me at ALL from the previous year. My inner reactions ranged from embarrassment, humiliation, irritation, frustration and even brief anger ("I guess I'm just NOT IMPORTANT enough for xxx to remember!! Hmph.").

Having attended many times now, I've learned the following:

- I'm terrible at remembering people unless I've had multiple conversations or interactions with the same person.

- Even then, especially if I'm tired or am in a noisy crowd (remember what I said earlier about being an introvert?) or have met many new people in a row just before, I may still forget having met someone before.

I still accidentally re-introduce myself to people whom I've met before, sometimes whom I've met EARLIER IN THE CONVENTION. I'm always horribly embarrassed when this happens. 

Make sure your name badge is easily visible.

As Lee Wind points out in his helpful SCBWI blog post, having your name badge visible even at dinner or drinks afterward is an obvious visual clue to others that you're part of the tribe, and helps them remember your name as well. You can stash a few business cards in the back so they're handy.

Also, when I approach someone whom I've met before but with whom I don't have constant contact, I usually try saying something that will help remind them of our mutual context, or remind them of having met at xxx. Until I'm sure they actually do remember me, I try very hard NOT to put them on the spot (e.g. I don't say, "So, what did you think of my most recent post?" etc.).

When someone does this to me (subtly or unsubtly :-) setting the context and helping me remember), I immediately feel more at ease with them and am more likely to want to chat with them in the future.

Another tip: if someone DOES remember you, never assume that they're up-to-date on all your exciting news. I've had the occasional person react badly when they realize I'm not aware of their new book ("?? But I posted it all over Facebook!") I never assume anyone reads all my posts or keeps up with all my news. People have busy lives and different priorities.

Something else I've learned: even so-called Big Name authors, illustrators, editors, art directors and agents can be insecure. I am faaaar from being a Big Name, but having had a bit more experience at conference-going now, I also realize how some of the Big Name types who seemed standoffish to me actually weren't.

Be gracious, be forgiving and try very hard to assume the best about a person rather than the worst.

And I apologize ahead of time if I don't remember your name or re-introduce myself. :-\

And here some tips for first-timers who feel nervous about attending for the first time, or are normally very shy or introverted and dread the idea of having to meet a lot of new people:

1. Be brave and make the first move. You'd be surprised at how many other attendees feel exactly the same way as you do. Introduce yourself to people you sit beside, stand in line with, notice standing alone.

2. TAKE BUSINESS CARDS. Yes, even if you aren't published yet. We're all going to meet a lot of people over the weekend, and taking away a business card from an encounter or introduction will help the people you meet remember you. If you're an illustrator, take postcards to hand out or make sure a sample of illustration style is on your business card. When you receive a business card for someone, try to take a few moments after to write a few words to help remind you of the context.

3. Be sociable. Don't just attend the keynotes and scheduled workshops. Check out the informal activities listed in your program, like Yoga with Lori Snyder, the LGBTQ Q&A, the Illustrator Social, Nonfiction Social, International Member Social, Peer Group Critiques with Jim Averbeck, and Saturday night "Sparkle & Shine" gala. Also keep an eye on conference Twitter chat, where some meetup planning might happen ("Hey, who wants to chat? I'm in the lobby").

4. Have realistic expectations. Don't expect to be "discovered" at the conference. Instead, set achievable goals. These can be as specific as "I'm going to introduce myself to agent xxxx sometime during the weekend" or as vague as "I'm looking for inspiration to get back on track with my book" or even just "To try having some fun at the conference and then see what happens." I think of this type of event as an opportunity for planting seeds. There's no guaranteed outcome, but you never know what might come out of all those seeds you're planting as you meet people, attend talks, watching and listening and chatting. 

My own conference seeds have blossomed, directly or indirectly, into: friendships, inspiration for new projects, invitations to speak at events, book contracts, publishing industry info that helped guide my career decisions, learning about new techniques and tools, helping others get published, and SO much more. I continue to plant seeds, because I want to keep growing as a writer and illustrator, plus I'm also well aware how quickly the industry can change.

5. In my experience, you're much more likely to meet new people if you're alone. If you're always chatting and hanging out with the same person or people, you're not as approachable. I'm not saying that you SHOULDN'T hang out with people you like, of course! Just keep in mind that as a group, you're probably not going to meet as many new people as someone who is by themselves.

6. If you're on Twitter, write your Twitter handle on your name badge somewhere.

But most of all: TRY TO HAVE FUN. 

***** A CHALLENGE TO THE "MANY-TIMERS" OUT THERE ****

Try to remember what it was like when you attended your very first event, or how insecure you felt in the beginning. Then make it a personal challenge to find at least one lost-looking or nervous conference newbie who is sitting or standing alone. Introduce yourself, chat with them, find out what they're working on, perhaps (if appropriate) offer some advice.

Give good karma and it WILL come back to you.

RELATED POSTS AND RESOURCES:

Are You Entering The SCBWI-LA Illustration Portfolio Showcase? Here Are Tips For Before And During The Conference: my post on KidLitArtists.com last month

On SCBWI, Advice For Authors and Illustrators: from art director, Giuseppe Castellano.

Your Conference THRIVE-al Guide: A Dozen Tips For Four Days Made Of Awesome: by Lee Wind, on the SCBWI blog. 

Tips For Attending A Writing Conference: from YA writer, Valerie Lawson.

SCBWI Conference Tips For Newbies: from children's book illustrator, Heather Powers

Surviving Your First SCBWI Conference - by A.J. Cosmo

Tips For First-Time Conference-Goers: Children's Writers Edition: from McIntosh and Otis agent, Christa Heschke.

 

Thursday
Jul232015

Three Questions For Maple Lam: Advice for young illustrators, office toys & TWO GIRLS WANT A PUPPY

Today's #BookADay is TWO GIRLS WANT A PUPPY, a new picture book written by Evie & Ryan Cordell, and illustrated by my friend, Maple Lam, published by HarperCollins last month.

Maple Lam loves creating characters and constructing worlds around them. When she is not illustrating or writing children's book, she is either reading books in a local Los Angeles library, or playing badminton with good friends. You can check out more of Maple's work via her website at www.maplelam.com. You can also find her on Twitter at @MapleLam and Instagram at @MapleLam.

I've been a fan of Maple and her work ever since I met her through the SCBWI-LA Illustration Mentorship program. I love her bubbly enthusiasm, benevolence and sense of humor. So excited for Maple's debut as a children's book illustrator in TWO GIRLS WANT A PUPPY!

Synopsis of TWO GIRLS WANT A PUPPY (HarperCollins Children's):

"Cadence and Emi desperately want a puppy. But their dad isn't quite sure they're ready for all that responsibility. With a little determination and a brilliant plan, the girls show their dad that they are ready to adopt one. After all, they are super persistent, responsible, smart, and creative!"

For more about the book, please see the publisher book page.

For more on the inspiration behind the story, written by Ryan and Evie Cordell, please see this page as well as this Daily Mail article.

An illustration study that Maple did for TWO GIRLS WANT A PUPPY

Q. Could you please take a photo of something in your office and tell us the story behind it?

I have a "transparency-policy" in my studio – most of my tools are stored in transparent containers. I am highly visual, and if I can see it, I will use it.

Quirky, but it works for me. :)

Note: I have toys in the studio too. They make me happy. :)

Q. What advice do you have for young illustrators?

Do your best and relax.

It sounds like a non-advice, like a financial adviser suggesting the best way to build your assets is to spend less and invest more. But just because it is easy to say doesn't mean it is easy to practice.

If you take your children's book career seriously, if this is truly your passion for life, then take a deep breath and do your best work. Take your work seriously, but don't take your results seriously. The former is a matter of professional attitude; the latter are out of your control.

Do your best, and then relax. Let this process loop and loop.

Enjoy the journey. Because, really, why else are we doing this? :)

Q. What are you excited about right now?

The annual SCBWI Summer Conference! I get to meet new talents in the industry, learn from the professionals, and best of all, meet up with some of my closest friends in the industry and celebrate our journey together.

Also, there is a rumor that Debbie will be moving to LA. Yes, I am excited about that too!

Thanks for having me, Debbie!!! You're the best! :D

[From Debbie: Thanks for visiting my blog, Maple! And I can't wait to see if the rumours are true about YOU moving to Toronto someday ;-)]

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For more interviews, see my Inkygirl Interview Archive.

More info: Donalyn Miller's Summer Book-A-Day Challenge | Archives of my #BookADay posts

Wednesday
Jul222015

#BookADay: THE DEATH AND LIFE OF ZEBULON FINCH by Daniel Kraus (Simon & Schuster, launches Oct. 27, 2015)

Just finished THE DEATH AND LIFE OF ZEBULON FINCH (Volume One: At The Edge Of Empire) by Daniel Kraus, which launches October 27, 2015 from Simon & Schuster Books For Young Readers. Whenever I start a big book (and at 642 pages, Zebulon Finch definitely qualifies), I cross my fingers and hopehopehope that the first few pages will pull me in right away. If they do, I can relax and settle in for what promises to be a satisfying long read. If they don't, then it's just going to be long.

Zebulon Finch had me from the beginning. I already knew the premise, which was what lured me to read the book in the first place: A 17-year-old gangster named Zebulon Finch is murdered in 1896 but is mysteriously resurrected only minutes later. The first volume follows Zebulon throughout the decades from his beginnings as a sideshow attraction in a traveling medicine show through WWI, an experimental subject for a Harvard professor, Depression-era New York City, to being a companion to a Hollywood starlet.

What I especially enjoyed:

- The narrative voice. I felt like reading everything out loud, just to have the words roll around on my tongue. [Edited: I had included a brief sample here but have removed it because I just noticed the "not for quotation" note on the ARC cover.]

- The wry wit. Zebulon Finch, despite being dead, still has a sense of humor that comes out in his observations about the people and events around him.

- The dark edge. I'm a longtime horror fan (I have a personal autographed note from Stephen King, hand-typed with liquid paper corrections!) and was fascinated by some of the macabre and nightmarish situations, the delving into what makes us afraid. Grossed out at times and had to skim the occasional paragraph, but was still fascinated. If the story had just been about the horror bits, I would have stopped reading early on...but there was SO much more.

- How Zebulon's relationships developed, both romantic and platonic. Don't want to say much more on this aspect for fear of spoilers, but I loved how some of his most meaningful relationships became inexorably woven into his life and way of approaching the world long after those people are gone.

- Zebulon Finch, the main character. He can be selfish, hateful, tender, cynical, romantic. He is unlike any other immortal character I've ever encountered in a book....and I'd like more, please.

Which is why I'm SOOOOOO looking forward to the second volume!

Read about THE DEATH AND LIFE OF ZEBULON FINCH, VOLUME ONE on the Simon & Schuster website, and more about Daniel Kraus at DanielKraus.com.

Thanks to Simon & Schuster Canada for the ARC.

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More info: Donalyn Miller's Summer Book-A-Day Challenge | Archives of my #BookADay posts

 

Tuesday
Jul212015

Writer Tip: Set Realistic Goals

Theresa MacPhail has some great tips for A Realistic Summer Writing Schedule with which you can be productive AND relax.

Tuesday
Jul212015

#BookADay: CONNECTING DOTS by Sharon Jennings (Second Story Press)

‪#‎BookADay‬: CONNECTING DOTS by Sharon Jennings (Second Story Press, 2015). Just finished this last night. Fell in love with Cassie, the main character, and how she and her relationships developed through the story. If you enjoyed Katherine Paterson's THE GREAT GILLY HOPKINS (one of my faves), you should definitely check out CONNECTING DOTS. But first read HOME FREE, which was a finalist for the TD Children's Literature Award and the Governor General's Award -- I only just discovered that CONNECTING DOTS is a companion book written after, am eager to read the first book.

Synosis: "After years of being passed around to various relatives, Cassandra Jovanovich has found a home where she feels she belongs. All she wants to do is forget her past and pursue her dream of becoming an actress. But her new friend, Leanna Mets, 'the most annoying person she has ever met,' wants to know how Cassandra became an orphan, and encourages her to write her story. Cassandra’s memories reveal how the death of her grandmother and the cruelty of the other adults in her life turned her into the distrustful, secretive twelve-year-old she is. But with friendship and the courage to continue her dream of acting, Cassandra might find a way to connect the dots in her life back together."

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More info: Donalyn Miller's Summer Book-A-Day Challenge | Archives of my #BookADay posts

Monday
Jul202015

#BookADay: EL DEAFO by Cece Bell (Abrams)

EL DEAFO by Cece Bell (Abrams, 2014). This has been on my To Read pile for a while, and I finished it on the weekend. TOTALLY lives up to all the hype. I've been a fan of autobiographical comics for a while (thanks to Rand Bellavia) and have become especially intrigued by graphic novel memoirs for young people.

Loved how the facts about how young Cece lost her hearing and coped afterward are deftly woven into engaging storytelling. Love the voice, the overall story arc, how the characters and relationships developed. Cece tells her story honestly, without self-pity, and a healthy dose of humor. Highly, HIGHLY recommended.

I hope to meet Cece in person someday.

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More info: Donalyn Miller's Summer Book-A-Day Challenge | Archives of my #BookADay posts

Thursday
Jul162015

Scorpion Petting and Book Reviews

I love this Liana Brooks quote so much I decided to illustrate it. :-)

And on the topic of helping the authors whose work you enjoy, here are some ways to help authors even if you can't afford to buy their books.

Wednesday
Jul152015

Gratitude Post: David Diaz, mentoring, found object art inspiration

Many thanks to my friend David Diaz for his friendship and mentorship. I got to know David through the SCBWI, when I was chosen for the SCBWI-LA Illustration Mentorship program in 2010. David has been recently touching base with many of the Mentees, past and present, to find out how they're doing...he is doing this on his own time and volition, not because it's an official part of the program. He and I chatted yesterday, and I had the chance to thank him again for his early advice. I also told him how my venture into found object doodles started because of HIM, at one of his Lost Weekends.

You can find out more about David on Wikipedia, Facebook and an Illustrator Spotlight via Kidlit411.

Tuesday
Jul142015

Comic: The Search

Monday
Jul132015

Comic: What NOT to say to a picture book writer on a first date

Saturday
Jul112015

#BookADay: KOALA HOSPITAL by Suzi Eszterhas (Owlkids Books)


KOALA HOSPITAL

Written and photographed by Suzi Eszterhas

Launches from Owlkids Books on Oct. 15, 2015
Juvenile: Age (years) from 7 - 10, Grade (CAN) from 2 - 5, Grade (US) from 2 - 5
ISBN-10: 1771471409 - ISBN-13: 978-1771471404

I picked up the f&gs for KOALA HOSPITAL at ALA at the Owlkids booth because (1) the author was there, looking so friendly and welcoming, and (2) the cover of the book was super-adorable.

I had no idea there was such a thing as a koala hospital until I read this book. Suzi Esterhas's photos are wonderful, giving a young reader a behind-the-scenes glimpse of how koalas are rescued, treated and then released into the wild. Text is engaging and fun, plus there's an excellent section at the end about the conservation of koalas, how young readers can help wildlife in their own neighbourhood, plus a Q&A and glossary.A portion from the sales of the book is being donated to the Koala Hospital in Port Macquarie, Australia.

More about KOALA HOSPITAL on the BNC Catalist

More about Suzi Eszterhas on her website and Twitter.

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More info: Donalyn Miller's Summer Book-A-Day Challenge | Archives of my #BookADay posts

Saturday
Jul042015

#BookADay: MINRS by Kevin Sylvester (Simon & Schuster, Sept/2015)

Appropriately enough, I began and finished Kevin Sylvester's MiNRS underground. It was soOooOooOOoo good that I missed my subway stop. Twice.

MiNRS is Kevin's upcoming action-adventure sf book for middle grade ... though honestly, I believe older readers will enjoy it as well. The premise: A 12-year-old boy and his friends have to survive in the mining tunnels after their new space colony are attacked during an Earth communication blackout.

Love the unexpected plot twists.

Loved the action and adventure, sense of real danger. The darker bits are part of what helps set this sf middle grade apart from others.

Love the main character, Christopher, and how his character develops throughout the story. Love the fact that he's just an ordinary boy (no superpowers, etc.) who has to use resources available to him to figure things out and learn how to be a leader.

Loved the depth of the character interactions and complexity of some of the relationships.

Loved the strong female characters.

Loved the fascinating tech/science behind the asteroid mining process.

Just ***LOVED***.

Can't wait until MiNRS comes out this September from Margaret K. McElderry Books/Simon & Schuster.

And Kevin: I want MORE, PLEASE.

Read about MiNRS on the Simon & Schuster website.

Find out more about Kevin and his work at KevinSylvesterBooks.com.

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More info: Donalyn Miller's Summer Book-A-Day Challenge | Archives of my #BookADay posts

Friday
Jun192015

Want to support an author's or illustrator's new book but can't afford to buy it? Here's what you can do.

The quandary: You want to support someone's new book and as much as you'd like to buy it, you can't. Perhaps you can't justify the cost of the new book right now. Perhaps your author friend is prolific and has multiple books coming out, and you can't afford to get them all. Perhaps you have so many author and illustrator friends that if you tried to buy all their books, you'd need to sell your car first. Or your house.

Here are some other ways you can show support for an author's book:

First, read the book. How do you read it without buying it? Borrow it from the library. For picture books, you could even read the book AT the bookstore.

Reserve a copy at the library. At least at some libraries, this helps show the library that at least one person is interested in that book. If popular enough, the library may order more copies.

Review/rate the book. Post a rating and/or review in sites like GoodreadsLibraryThingAmazonBN.com or your own blog. If you didn't like the book, don't lie. Nilofer Merchant suggests using a phrase like "this book is not for you if you are xxx" because even this kind of negative review may help others know the book IS for them. Take a few extra minutes to browse the other reviews of the book and then (if the feature's available) Like the reviews that you did like or found helpful.

When you read the book, read it where people can see it. Not sure about the rest of you, but I'm always surreptitiously checking out the covers of books that people read in public. This is where print books have the advantage of digital. Read the book on public transit, in the park, on the beach, at the airport, while waiting in line. You never know when people will decide to check out the book just because they saw you enjoying it.

Recommend the book to others through social media. Including the book cover (either scoop the cover image from the publisher/author/illustrator website or photograph the book cover in the library or bookstore) especially helps. Even just a short "Loved this book!" along with the cover will be appreciated. You can make it even more personal by adding a reason why you loved it. Take the time to tag the author or illustrator; tagging not only alerts the author/illustrator to the post but it also encourages people to click your tag link to find out more about the person.

Share and retweet the author's or illustrator's posts. Be judicious -- don't share/retweet everything, especially if you tend to share/retweet a lot on your feed. To authors and illustrators: make sure your post is PUBLIC if you want it shared. I can't tell you the number of times I've started to share someone's FB post but then discovered that it's a Friends-Only post; even if I shared it, the only people who see it would be our shared friends who already have it in their feed. If you're confused, read this FB support page about how to control who sees your posts.

Post a photo of the book in the wild. Especially around launch time, I find that social media sometimes gets inundated with images of just the book cover. Make your post more personal by taking a selfie of you holding the author's book, or another reader with the book -- photos with people in them always get more Like-love. Or take a photo in a fun setting, like adding a cup of tea beside a picture book about a tea party, for example. Or if you see the book in your local bookstore or library, take a photo and tag the author or illustrator. I can't speak for other author/illustrators, of course, but I always appreciate when someone does this.

If the author or illustrator is on YouTube, subscribe to their channel so you can more easily find out when they upload new trailers or videos.

Talk about the book. Don't underestimate the power of word-of-mouth. Recommend the book to friends, work colleagues, your local bookseller and librarian. When a friend of mine recommends a book they personally like and think I'd like, too, I pay MUCH more attention than when I see a generic "this new book just came out, you should get it!" post on social media.

And meanwhile...

Whether or not you can afford to buy my book(s), THANK YOU SO MUCH to everyone who has supported me and my work! I really appreciate it.

Do you have other suggestions about how to support book authors and illustrators? Please post below.

Related Resources:

How To Support An Author's New Book: 11 Ideas For You - by Chuck Sambuchino on Writer Unboxed

How To Support An Author - by Nilofer Merchant

5 Quick Ways To Support Your Favorite Author - by Dorothy Wiley

How To Support An Author Beyond Buying Their Book - by Erin in Pub Crawl

Thursday
Jun182015

#BookADay: FAMILIES, FAMILIES, FAMILIES by Suzanne Lang & Max Lang (Random House Children's)

FAMILIES, FAMILIES, FAMILIES! by Suzanne Lang and Max Lang is a wonderful celebration of family love, no matter what the size or type. Adorable and goofy family portraits included nontraditional as well as traditional families. Published by Random House Children's Books this year.

Suzanne produces, develops and writes for children's television. Max codirected the film adaptation of The Gruffalo (!) as well as the Oscar-nominated adaptation of Room On The Broom.

Excerpt from a School Library Journal review: "The loud-and-clear message is that “if you love each other, then you are a family.” And imagine the many children who will be reassured because they have found a portrait of a family they will recognize as their own. A solid choice for most libraries."

More about the book on the publisher website.

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More info: Donalyn Miller's Summer Book-A-Day Challenge | Archives of my #BookADay posts

Tuesday
Jun162015

#BookADay: THE BLACKTHORN KEY by Kevin Sands (Aladdin/Simon & Schuster)

One of my favourite recent reads is THE BLACKTHORN KEY, a debut novel from Kevin Sands, coming out from Aladdin/Simon & Schuster this September. Wow. Really, REALLY loved this.

When people ask me for recommendations for good, new middle grade novels, I will not hesitate to list this book. It's a quick/easy read with suspense, humor, action and moving moments. Love the character relationships. PLUS there are secret codes, apothecaries and explosions. What's not to love?

Thanks so much to Simon & Schuster Canada for the advance reader's copy.

You can read a synopsis of the book here

I couldn't find a regular website for the author but he's on Twitter at @kevinsandsbooks and has a FB Page.

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More info: Donalyn Miller's Summer Book-A-Day Challenge | Archives of my #BookADay posts

Wednesday
Jun102015

Three Questions With Donna Gephart: Advice For Young Writers and Death By Toilet Paper

Donna Gephart is a professional nerd. She's written five novels filled with humor and heart for Penguin Random House, including How to Survive Middle School, Death by Toilet Paper and Olivia Bean, Trivia Queen. She's also written some compelling grocery lists and award-winning Post-it notes to her dogs. For free activity/reading guides, lots of fun info and a singing hamster video, visit DonnaGephart.com.  "I'm a big fan of teachers and librarians; let's connect @Dgephartwrites or via carrier pigeon -- whichever is more convenient and poops less."

I first met Donna when she wrote for me at Inklings, my email newsletter for writers back in the early days of the Web. As I prepped her Three Questions interview, I looked back through some of my old archives and found a "Writing Funny For Money" piece she did for me back in 1998(!).

Synopsis of DEATH BY TOILET PAPER:

When the good toilet paper is replaced by cheap, scratchy stuff, Benjamin Epstein realizes his hard-working mom is in deep financial trouble. Ben will do anything (entering contests, selling candy bars, etc.) to help his mom pay the rent and keep a promise he made to his late father. (Toilet and toilet paper trivia head each chapter.) Nominated for Pennsylvania, Maine and Rhode Island state reading lists and winner of the Sydney Taylor Honor Award.

1. Could you please take a photo of something in your office and tell us the story behind it?

My friend's daughter creates sculptures of each of my book's characters. Hammy the Hamster from How to Survive Middle School w/his microphone to the right. And Vanessa Rothrock from As If Being 12-3/4 Isn't Bad Enough, My Mother Is Running for President on the left. You might notice Vanessa has no pants (nor legs).

They melted on the cookie sheet in my friend's oven because her daughter ran out of clay and used a cheap substitute for the legs. We now refer to her as Vanessa Meltypants.

Our one dog keeps me company every day while I write, while the other dog guards the front window by barking at dangers, such as the UPS delivery person, babies being pushed in strollers and the bunny who sometimes hangs out on our lawn. (Our window blinds will never be the same.)

 

2. What advice do you have for young writers?

There's some advice on my site from industry professionals and resources for young (and young at heart) writers: 

Everyone says: "Write what you know." But I think if you write only what you know, it would be boring. Write what you'd like to know. I purposely create ideas for my novels that require me to research and learn new things. Did you know there are 516,000 bacteria in every square inch of armpit? Your brain weighs about three pounds? And the first stall in a public bathroom is the least used and therefore the cleanest? (You're welcome for that last one.)

Write the emotional truth of what you know. Do you know what it's like to feel lonely, scared, left out, overjoyed? Write about those feelings!

You may not believe this, but the bliss in writing is in the actual writing -- in losing oneself completely in the process of creating something that didn't exist before -- not in the outside rewards one might get from being published, winning an award, etc. Although those things are nice, too. Let everything else go and write with great joy . . . and a pen. A pen definitely helps.

3. What are you excited about right now?

I'm excited to have a wonderful year of school visits, Skype visits and book festivals behind me and a long, lovely summer ahead to daydream, fill up on books and play outside with friends, family and our dogs.

And write.

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For more interviews, see my Inkygirl Interview Archive.

Saturday
Jun062015

Three Questions with Timothy Young: Toy Shelves, Advice For Young Writers/Illustrators and THE ANGRY LITTLE PUFFIN

Timothy Young has been an animator, puppet maker, toy designer, sculptor, art director and graphic designer. He’s designed for Pee-Wee’s Playhouse, the Muppets, Disney, and Universal Studios. Tim is the author/illustrator of 5 picture books with a sixth out this fall, Do Not Open The Box. He lives in Easton, Maryland.

You can find out more about Timothy on his website, Facebook and Twitter.

Synopsis of The Angry Little Puffin (Schiffer Publishing):

“Look at the funny little penguin” and “What a silly-looking penguin!” Puffin is upset that he’s constantly mistaken for a penguin. He reaches the last straw and rants about the differences between penguins and puffins until a girl comes along who explains why puffins are her favorite. Just when you are feeling alone and mis-understood, sometimes it only takes the understanding of one small person to turn things around.

1. Could you please take a photo of something in your office and tell us the story behind it?

Ok, so I sent a series of photos to put my answer in context. As you can see, I have a lot of “somethings” in my office. I have books, toys, animation models, all kinds of stuff.

Some of them are things I’ve designed or sculpted, some of them are things I’ve collected over the years. So narrowing it down is going to be hard.

Do I choose my copy of The Lorax, signed by Dr. Seuss? Or the Simpsons dolls that I designed and whose heads I sculpted? Pretty much everything on my shelves has a story behind it. I’ll narrow it down to one special thing. This duck.

He sits on a shelf between a giant sloth and a dog. These 3 toys are the 3 toys I’ve owned the longest. I don’t know why I still have them. My parents moved a couple of times and most of my toys were thrown away. The giant sloth is the only one left from my many sets of plastic dinosaurs and prehistoric creatures. The dog is the only survivor from my huge menagerie of little plastic animals. For some reason, this duck is what I’m most fond of. He’s just a cheap little rubber duck eraser. He was probably bought for about 5¢ sometime in the mid to late 60’s. He’s got a puncture wound on his beak from an accident with a pencil. I love this duck. He’s not an identifiable character. He wasn’t from a book or TV show (as far as I know). Many of his brethren were rubbed to death, absentmindedly used to erase some mistake or other. He escaped that fate. He’s just this cool little orange duck that I’ve owned forever.

2. What advice do you have for young writers and/or illustrators?

I like to tell people that I’m an illustrator who figured out how to write. Heck, it wasn’t until after I wrote I Hate Picture Books! that I felt comfortable even saying I was an author. When I was young, I hated writing. I loved reading, I read a lot of books and I loved the pictures in picture books and I loved doing art. I found writing to be a chore. I had lots of ideas for stories but I never thought I’d be the guy to write them.

Two things changed that for me. One was the computer. I found that part of the reason I hated writing was that I could not write with a pen or pencil and get my thoughts out quickly enough or in a way that I could even think about editing. Using a computer to write, I can write very quickly and I can go back and edit easily. I didn’t get a computer until the Apple computers came out just after I graduated college. I might have gotten better grades on essays if they had been invented sooner.

The second thing that taught me that I might be able to write my books was a job I had. I was the design director for a toy company and we were creating these toys called The Meanies.

These toys were parodies of Beanie Babies. Our characters were kind of sick and twisted, like Splat the Road-Kill Kat and the one-footed Lucky the Rabbit. Since Beanie Babies came with poems, we decided to write limericks for The Meanies. Everyone in the office began writing limericks for our characters and then we had meetings to decide which ones to use. Many of mine were chosen. That made me realize that maybe I could write my book ideas.

Ok, I can’t tell that story without giving you one of my limericks.

This is the one I wrote for Heartless Bear.

“I never loved you from the start,
and now I’m afraid we must part”
you said with a grin
as you reached right on in
and yanked out my still beating heart.

So I suppose my advice is, you never know unless you try to write…and write it on a computer.

3. What are you excited about right now?

School visits! I’ve done some great school visits this year and I have six more coming up. I decided at the beginning of the year that I would give a puffin sculpture to every school I visit, in honor of the release of The Angry Little Puffin. I did a Kickstarter to raise some funds to do it. Little did I know how many I’d end up making.

When I got into writing my books I wasn’t really thinking about school author visits. Then I met some educators at various book events and started getting invitations. I’m having so much fun! The students are great, they really seem to enjoy the way I read my books, the interactive drawing demonstration I do and they ask great questions. It gives me an opportunity to travel to towns I’ve never been to before and visit school libraries and i find that talking to students sparks all kinds of ideas for new books.

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For more interviews, see my Inkygirl Interview Archive.

Friday
Jun052015

#BookADay: CITY OF SAVAGES by Lee Kelly (Saga Press, 2015)

#BookADay: CITY OF SAVAGES by Lee Kelly (Saga Press/Simon & Schuster, 2015). I just finished this strong debut from YA author Lee Kelly; I *loved* the focus and development of the sister relationship throughout, and the dual-narrative works really well. Add a suspenseful plot with some unexpected twists, and it's a book that would make an excellent summer read, especially for sf fans.

Synopsis:
"After the Red Allies turn New York City into a POW camp, two sisters must decipher the past in order to protect the future in this action-packed thriller with a dual narrative.

It’s been nearly two decades since the Red Allies first attacked New York, and Manhattan is now a prisoner-of-war camp, ruled by Rolladin and her brutal, impulsive warlords. For Skyler Miller, Manhattan is a cage that keeps her from the world beyond the city’s borders. But for Sky’s younger sister, Phee, the POW camp is a dangerous playground of possibility, and the only home she’d ever want.

When Sky and Phee discover their mom’s hidden journal from the war’s outbreak, they both realize there’s more to Manhattan—and their mother—than either of them had ever imagined. And after a group of strangers arrives at the annual POW census, the girls begin to uncover the island’s long-kept secrets. The strangers hail from England, a country supposedly destroyed by the Red Allies, and Rolladin’s lies about Manhattan’s captivity begin to unravel.

Hungry for the truth, the sisters set a series of events in motion that end in the death of one of Rolladin’s guards. Now they’re outlaws, forced to join the strange Englishmen on an escape mission through Manhattan. Their flight takes them into subways haunted by cannibals, into the arms of a sadistic cult in the city’s Meatpacking District and, through the pages of their mom’s old journal, into the island’s dark and shocking past."