Friday, April 29, 2011

Children's Book Week

Remember that post a while ago about the books nominated for Children’s Book Week? Well, now the time is here to find out the winners…and do lots of other fun things to celebrate the week! No matter where you are, there is an amazing event happening in your area. I’m hoping to go hear Katherine Paterson speak this weekend! Go out and read some great children’s books this week!

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

The Joy of Song and Dance

Today is Road Trip Wednesday! The question: If your WIP or favorite book were music, what song(s) would it be?

Well, unlike many authors today I don’t listen to music when I’m writing…but that doesn’t mean I don’t have a soundtrack running through my head. My finished and soon-to-be-queried manuscript, The Rose of Coracus, is all about music, dancing and the freedom you get when pursuing those activities. Set in a fantastical kingdom, the main character, Shayna, is part of the ethnic group called Hilla, a people that give music and dancing huge cultural significance.  Shayna and her friends are part of an informal band called Joyous: Shayna dances and plays the tambourine, Ani plays the recorder, others play the violin, the piccolo, and so on. Shayna and Ani also go to a tavern to dance throughout the night…where many important plot events occur!

Last year in my college creative writing class someone, let’s call her M., once asked me what kind of dancing the Hilla did, and I explained that it was a complicated yet effortless combination of steps and swirls and claps to the proper beat. Well, M. didn’t skip a beat either when she suggested “Jane Austen  plus contradance!” And well, I’ve never been to a contradance, but from M.’s description it seems to fit the bill. So, if any type of music fits the Hilla culture depicted in The Rose of Coracus, a good old folk song that you can dance to would be it!

Monday, April 25, 2011


Pick up a book. What catches your eye first? What makes you want to read the book? The title? The cover? The description? The quotes from reviewers and authors? (Really, I’d love to know the answer to this question. Share!)

Today I’d like to talk about the latter, specifically author blurbs. Publishers believe that if so and so famous author writes up a positive review quote for a book and we paste that quote on the jacket, some readers will be convinced to read the book. I won’t name names but we try and solicit quotes from the most famous and pertinent authors for whatever title we’re excited about. And it is exciting when a Newbery author, for example, thinks your book is worthwhile. It gives the book some clout as it makes its way into the marketplace.

There are lots of questions when it comes to how successful blurbs are:

Does it matter who is being quoted?
Do you know that author?
Is it a bestselling or award-winning author? Does that matter?
Have you read their books? Did you like their books?
Do you trust their opinion?

Just because Author Alice says that Writer William’s book is good doesn’t mean I’ll believe it and buy the book because of that. (And there’s been a lot of controversy about who blurbs whose books although that’s another blog post altogether). I prefer to look at other things—like I listed above—but I discover most of my books through word of mouth from people I trust—friends, those in the industry, other blogs. I guess you can tell I’m pretty reluctant about the power of blurbs, but if you think they’re one of the best ways to sell a book, please do let me know!

Friday, April 22, 2011

Pointless Reasons Why I Love My Job

If you’ve ever read this blog it’s a very clear fact that I love what I’m doing.

There are the big reasons why I love my job: fun books, challenging writing, smart people from whom I can learn a lot.

And there is THE BIG reason: Aiding in the publication of books that will get and keep kids reading.

But then there are the trivial little things that don’t really matter but still contribute to my overall satisfaction at the end of the day.

-       Clothes. I have to dress up at work. And when I say “dress up” for me that really means “wear a dress.” Having presentable, fitted, cute dresses for work gives me the perfect excuse to hit up the spring dress sales that were going on last week. I was so happy with my elegant purchases that I came home beaming. I can’t wait to wear them to work!

-       School supplies. Not only are ‘school’ aka office supplies useful in my job, they’re also a requirement. On a daily basis I use neon-colored post-it notes and flags as well as colored pencils. And I just bought some amazing gel pens. It’s like being in school without, ya know, classes or exams or essays.

-       Baked goods. Somehow on a regular basis cupcakes and cookies appear in the floor’s kitchenette. Sometimes they’re homemade (yes, I’ll admit, often by me or the other assistant on my team) and sometimes they’re from Crumbs, but all the time they’re delicious. No one can resist a little sugar rush in the afternoon!

-       Shared interests. Obviously everyone who works in children’s publishing is interested in children’s books, but the shared interests among the staff are amazing. Nearly everyone seems to be crafty in some way (baking, sewing, knitting) and/or interested in the arts. Very rarely can you find a group of people that when one girl says she went to the ballet several others have gone or are interested in her opinion of the performance. It’s much more fun to work with like-minded people.

There you have it: my job as an editorial assistant is really a perfect fit for me! 

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

First Kiss

Today’s Topic for Road Trip Wednesday: Compare your first kiss with your favorite character’s first kiss.

That’s an interesting question although I’m going to spin it a bit. What makes a good first kiss? To me, a perfect first kiss is imperfect. It’s full of so many conflicting emotions: excitement, nervousness, hope, fear of rejection, desire, apprehension of making a mistake, anticipation, dread it won’t be what you were dreaming of.  My first kiss was all of these things and in the end, uncoordinated. I had no idea what I was doing. He had no idea what he was doing. But we managed a little kiss and it made us happy. So incredibly happy.

And that’s what a good first kiss should be—complicated but joyful. I keep this in mind when I’m writing first kiss scenes and I look for this when reading teen novels. I absolutely hate when first kisses in books are huge moments full of eloquent phrases or uncontrollable passion or fireworks shooting everywhere while a symphony is playing. That’s not a first kiss. And no matter how many partners you’ve kissed, that first one with someone new is special, shy, curious, overwhelming. First kisses should be quiet and sweet and I love how they are handled in The Wolves of Mercy Falls series by Maggie Stiefvater (Sam and Grace), Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J.K. Rowling (Ron and Hermione) and The Song of the Lioness series by Tamora Pierce (Alanna and George).

What do you think a first kiss should be like in a teen novel? Any favorite scenes?

Monday, April 18, 2011

Celebrate Easter!

Easter is just around the corner, and what better for the Easter Bunny to fill baskets with than books? Here are some of my favorite holiday or bunny-themed pictures books for the youngest readers.
 The Easter EggHere Comes T. Rex CottontailLittle White Rabbit
The Easter Egg by Jan Brett
Here Comes T. Rex Cottontail by Lois G. Grambling and Jack E. Davis
Little White Rabbit by Kevin Henkes
Pat the Bunny by Dorothy Kunhardt
Bunny’s Easter Egg by Anne Mortimer
Fancy Nancy’s Elegant Easter by Jane O’Connor and Robin Preiss-Glasser
Rechenka’s Eggs by Patricia Polacco
Runaway Bunny by Margaret Wise Brown
The Story of the Easter Bunny by Katherine Tegen and Sally Anne Lambert

Pat the Bunny (Touch and Feel Book) Bunny's Easter Egg Fancy Nancy's Elegant EasterRechenka's Eggs (Paperstar)The Runaway BunnyThe Story of the Easter Bunny 

I hope some of these treats are hopped over to your house this Sunday!

Friday, April 15, 2011

Take a Break

My goodness, this week has been busy for me. As you can tell, I missed my Wednesday post. Sorry about that! Next week doesn’t seem to be any less hectic, but I’m filling my weekend and non-work hours with the best of things: birthdays, anniversaries, visitors, and lots of baking in preparation to all of those things…so I have no complaints.

It actually works out well that my evenings have been so stressful, because what I wanted to share today is exactly what I like to do when I get overwhelmed and busy…coloring! I love to color or draw whenever I’m stressed out or watching tv or listening to an audiobook or just because. I’m not an artist and don’t do anything super fancy, but it’s so much fun! Below is my ‘entry’* to a contest that author Heather Dixon is having. The page is based on her book that just came out, Entwined.

I haven’t yet read Entwined, but it’s a retelling of the 12 Dancing Princesses, a story I adore. And I know I’ll read it soon; a book club that I just joined (mostly because they were discussing this book) has selected Entwined for May. I’ll let you know how it is! And in the meantime, check out Heather’s contest (you can enter for another week) and happy coloring!

* I’m not actually entering the contest; it doesn’t seem fair when Heather Dixon is a Harper author and I have relatively easy access to Harper books. But I just couldn’t resist coloring a fake entry anyways.

Monday, April 11, 2011

The F Word in YA


I bet this wasn’t the word you thought I’d be writing about. But it makes just as many people uncomfortable as the other f-word. There’s been a lot of talk about it in the blogosphere. Go ahead and google it…you’ll find a wealth of information and conflicting thoughts.

I have my own shaky relationship with feminism. Because this is me:

The girlier the dress the better!
Note the matching apron and oven mitt!

 I like dressing up, I wear make-up, I have a not-so-alternate persona nicknamed “Suzy Homemaker.” Yet I was raised by a single mom who embraces feminism, and I proudly make my own decisions, support myself financially, and claim every right available to men as mine own, too. To me, feminism is the ability to make decisions and have all options open to you. Want to become a Congresswoman? Go for it! Want to work with orphans in Kenya? Go for it! Want to stay at home with your three children? Go for it! Want to do all three? More power to you! I know some don’t share my viewpoint and it’s one that I have worked hard to figure out. In my Women’s Studies 101 class during college I felt isolated and bullied when classmates were making fun of women who wear short skirts when I was, indeed, wearing a miniskirt. Perhaps I wasn’t ‘feminist’ enough to fit in with those students, and there’s nothing wrong with having differing views. My point in describing my complicated feelings towards feminism is because, well, there isn’t an easy answer and all the debates online naturally stem from the complicatedness of the issue. No matter how you define ‘feminism’, though, I absolutely think it’s important for young readers (girls and boys) to read books with strong heroines. Twilight might be an entertaining read, but there’s no way I want myself/my sister/my friend/my future daughter turning out as helpless and boy-dependent as Bella*. Pick up a book with a strong girl instead! My own list of my favorite feminist books or feminism characters is definitely up for debate and I hope you’ll leave comments with your thoughts.

* But to just prove how subjective lists like this are, Ms. magazine argued that Bella could be a feminist character because she does have sexual agency…and that’s true and important. While on a whole I still don’t believe that Bella is a strong female or great role model, that one point nicely illustrates how nothing is black or white.

Recommended Books with Feminism Themes:

Alanna in the Song of the Lioness series by Tamora Pierce: One of the earliest examples of feminist YA literature, Alanna is smart and a great fighter. Although she hides her gender at first in order to pursue a career at a knight, she later embraces both her feminine side and combat skills and is honored when she does. She also doesn’t give in to societal pressures by marrying Prince Jonathan but ends up with George, because of their shared love and independence a relationship with him provides.

Katsa in Graceling by Kristin Cashore: The same blurb for Alanna kind of belongs here: Katsa is clever, stands up to her demanding uncle/king, has amazing fighting skills and enters into a relationship on her own terms rather than society’s.

Nancy Drew in her eponyms series by Caroline Keene: Book-smart and street-smart Nancy solved mysteries better than the trained police force. And while she had a loyal boyfriend, he and his pals were sidekicks in the story, often showing up after Nancy had done all the dirty work.

Katniss in the Hunger Games series by Suzanne Collins: There is no doubt about it: Katniss is one powerful chick. Standing up first for her family and then for the people of District 12, she is a character to look up to despite her sometimes morally questionable judgments. But in a situation like she’s in there aren’t any easy answers and she is more than capable of using her brain and fighting skills to do the right thing.

Professor McGonnagall in the Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling: Although it can easily be argued that Hermione is a great feminist character (smart and keeps up with the boys), Prof. McGonnagall gives young readers an adult role model. As one of the few female professors at Hogwarts, she is in control and more than holds her own against Dumbledore and Snape. She’s not the flashiest of characters, but solid and admirable in her quiet (yet commanding!) way.

Jo in Little Women: Not your typical modest and prim girl from the 19th century, Jo is a outspoken, passionate tomboy who ignores social conventions by becoming a writer and involved with an older man rather than her childhood (and seemingly destined) friend. She is a great example of ‘the independent woman’.

Lyra in The Golden Compass by Phillip Pullman: Nothing is left untouched in this novel; politics, religion, class and race issues are all touched upon and explored deftly through Lyra who is clever and rebellious even when facing older and more powerful enemies.

I find it interesting that the majority of the books I listed are fantasy. Does this mean that outside of our modern society’s conventions writers are able to create stronger, more independent characters…or is it just a reflection of my own reading habits? Definitely something to ponder…

What other book or characters do you think are feminist? One website I saw recommended Meg Murray from A Wrinkle in Time but I don’t remember the book well enough to suggest her/it myself. And another website suggests The Book Thief which I’m only 100 or so pages into…so I’m sure there are plenty of other characters and books I’m forgetting/haven’t read…yet!

Friday, April 8, 2011

You Are What You Read

Scholastic’s created this awesome website: You Are What You Read. And it might just be a gimmick: celebrities as well as us normal people can list the five books you’ve read that have made you who you are. Kind of like the way parents always say, “you are what you eat (so don’t eat all those donuts).” It’s pretty interesting to think of, though. We’re not talking your five favorite books, but rather the five books that have impacted or changed the way your life has turned out. Pretty powerful stuff, but that’s books for you! You can submit your five books on the website, but I’m just going to share here. I’ve already talked about many of these books, so my explanations are Twitter-style. Here is my Bookprint:

 Little Women (Oxford World's Classics)     The Abominable Snowman (Choose Your Own Adventure #1)                      Alanna: The First Adventure (Song of the Lioness, Book 1)                             Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone: 10th Anniversary Edition (Harry Potter)          Far from the Madding Crowd (Signet Classics)

Little Women by Louisa May Alcott: A family read aloud book. Jo March was the great and realistic role model I needed as a kid. I’m more of a Meg these days but still a writer!

The Abominable Snowman by R.A. Montgomery: Changed me from a reluctant reader to book lover in 3rd grade. Wouldn’t be where I am today if not for teacher (Mrs. Moore) giving me this inspiring book.

Alana: The First Adventure by Tamora Pierce: 6th grade introduction to fantasy, which I have devoured (and imitated in writing) ever since. Plus, Alana is a great example for grrrrl power.

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J.K. Rowling: I grew up on this series, literally aging with the Hogwarts gang. The world is so real and vivid to me. (PS. Look at that 10th anniversary cover!)

Far From the Madding Crowd by Thomas Hardy: First classic novel I picked up on my own (9th grade) and adored. Set me down the road of Jane Austen and Charlotte Brontë worshipping and English majoring.

What five books have impacted your life?