Two Picture Book Biographies about Inspirational Women

Every March I discover so many fabulous new (to me) picture books through ReFoReMo!
I love picture book biographies. My daughter and I often learn about someone we have never heard about, and, if we are really interested, we can do some study on our own to learn more.
This year I will share with you two picture book biographies I was introduced to through ReFoReMo about inspiring women.

1. “Ada Byron Lovelace and the Thinking Machine” by Laurie Wallmark, Illustrated by April Chu
This book was mentioned in this blog post about comparison titles.
I was curious to find out more about one of the main characters in “The Wollstonecraft Detective Agency” series by Jordan Stratford, one of my daughter’s favourite middle grade series. (For more on that click here.)
The book does not disappoint. The illustrations are equally as remarkable as the words.
Ada Lovelace was always fascinated by numbers. As a young woman she met Charles Babbage, a famous inventor, who showed her his “Difference engine”, a mechanical calculator. If you want to see a “Difference engine” and how different it is from today’s calculators, you can check out this video.

Imagine having to take this to school!
Charles Babbage also told Ada Lovelace about his “Analytical Engine”, a mechanical computer. But this device had never been built. The “Analytical Engine” was the inspiration for the world’s first computer program, written by Ada Lovelace.
I look forward to Laurie Wallmark’s next picture book, which is called “Grace Hopper: Queen of Computer Code”.

2. “Cloth Lullaby: The Woven Life of Louise Bourgeois” (Words by Amy Novesky, Pictures by Isabelle Arsenault)
This book was introduced to me in this blog post of mentor texts for books that are layered in both art and writing. The luscious language combined with the gorgeous illustrations do indeed make this a fabulous read.
Louise Bourgeois grew up surrounded by tapestries as her mother ran a tapestry workshop. She studied math in university but after her mother died she turned to art, eventually becoming a world famous artist. She is most know for her spider sculptures. Many people find spiders scary, but Louise Bourgeois did not. Spiders are weavers, like her mother was, spinning and repairing webs.

"Maman"

“Maman”

I realized after I read the book that I had seen one of her famous spider sculptures (Maman) and even posed in front of it for a picture when I was in Ottawa.
Here is a video explaining more about the Ottawa installation.

Amy Novesky has also written about Georgia O’Keeffe, Frida Kahlo, and Imogen Cunningham.

Both of these books are also mentioned in this ReFoReMo blog post by Vivian Kirkfield for having great first lines.

Have you been following ReFoReMo? If not and you are looking for some mentor texts for picture books, I highly recommend it.

Have you found some new favourite picture books?

Book Review: “Meditation is an Open Sky”

“You know when you’re having a bad day and nothing seems to go right?” This is the first line of the children’s book “Meditation is an Open Sky” by Whitney Stewart.
I first heard of Whitney Stewart through a 12X12 webinar. I was very impressed by her, especially by how thoroughly she researches her material, travelling to places to research, and meeting people such as Sir Edmund Hillary. In fact, on her website, she bills herself as “a writer who travels the world”. Not everyone can do this, so it’s great that there are people like her with the ability to do so. It really does make her books come alive.
This book is no exception. It is based on her experiences in Tibet, Nepal, and India and with many meditation masters, including the Dalai Lama.
On Monday, my daughter came home in a cranky mood, so I decided that this was the perfect time to try the book. There are nine different meditations. I let her pick which one she wanted to try, and she decided to start with “jigsaw puzzle for wisdom”, for when you are “feeling all mixed up”. She decided that she wanted to try another one after this one, so the next choice was “bursting emotion for control”. After two more meditations, she was finished experimenting.
I asked her how she felt afterwards. She said that three of them helped, although interestingly enough the “bursting emotion for control” did not. How ironic! Perhaps more practice is needed? Her favourite was “jigsaw puzzle for wisdom”.
I did the meditations along with her. I found that the one I liked the best was “protection circle for security”, but that’s perhaps because of the current chaos in the world.
I recommend the book. It is more important than ever for our children to learn how to calm themselves. And many adults can use a lesson or two too!
If you want to learn a bit more about Whitney Stewart’s interest in Tibet, as well as her interview with the Dalai Lama, you can watch the following video.

To learn more about Whitney Stewart’s research process on one of her latest books, “Feldpost: The War Letters of Friedrich Reiner Niemann”, which is on my “to read” list, click here.
What authors are inspiring you these days? How are you keep calm and centred in the chaos of the world?

Writing Update, March and April 2016

So what have you been working on lately?

This is a wrap up of the writing projects I have just finished, as well as the writing projects that I am working on:

ReFoReMo

1. ReFoReMo
ReFoReMo is wrapping up this week. I am a winner! I analyzed and logged 87 picture books with some more to still come. I concentrated mainly on books with sparse text, and I think I have found some tricks of the trade. I am going to try them out anyway and see what people say.
Click here for a good post by Laura Purdie Salas on minimal word counts.
By the way, there is a new site for ReFoReMo. You can go to the site by clicking here and register for the newsletter.

2. Chapter Book Challenge
This is also the last week for the Chapter Book Challenge. This year I wrote two emergent reader manuscripts. One I love and one I hate. I am thinking about changing the format of the one I hate to a similar format that I used for the one I love. Can’t hurt to play around with it!
My favourite post was a very comprehensive one by C. Hope Clark about character building. To read it, click here.

3. Word by Word Book Club
We have finished reading “Save the Cat” in this Facebook group and will be starting to read “Second Sight” by Cheryl B. Klein starting the first week of April.

4. Debut Picture Book Group
The current picture book that we are studying in this Facebook Group is “One Plastic Bag” by Miranda Paul, which is excellent. I definitely hope we have an author chat with the author!
We will study “Snappsy the Alligator” by Julie Falatko in April.

5. RhyPiBoMo
RhyPiBoMo starts at the end of the week. Registration is until April 8, so you still have time.
If you want some basic tips about writing verse for children, editor Audrey Owen has a free course, which I am currently taking. Click here for more details.

By the way, if you haven’t read the stories of the winners of the 50 precious words contest, go on over and do so. You’re in for a real treat. Click here to read my entry, but I admit that my quality is not near as high. Ah, something to shoot for next year!

So what writing projects are you up to?

Alzheimer’s and Dementia Picture Books

This week’s post is a little late, because the day before yesterday was the day we put my father in a senior citizen’s home. It was a heartbreaking decision, but he could no longer be safe at home.

Because of this, I am not getting much writing accomplished this week. But one thing I am doing is keeping up with the ReFoReMo posts. So far my favourite post is this one by Tammi Sauer about structure. It gave me some ideas about a “how to” manuscript I have been working on. If you have not signed up, it’s too late to register for prizes but not too late to follow the blog posts.

I am also doing some picture book research for a personal project that I am working on. My dad has Alzheimer’s, and it is rapidly progressing, which is the reason we had to put him in a home. So I decided that I would use the time during ReFoReMo to study how Alzheimer’s and dementia is explained via picture books. I want to find out if and how I can tell my father’s story and more specifically my 8-year-old daughter’s experience of her grandpa with Alzheimer’s.

There are two books that I read that I want to recommend. The first one is called “Grandma” by Jessica Shepherd. I like this book, because it concentrates on the transition of the grandma to the senior citizen’s home and what life is like for her there. I think that’s an important topic that needs to be written about more. In many books, it is just touched upon.

My husband and I were the ones who dropped my father off the day before yesterday, so my daughter has yet to see his new place. But already she was asking questions, questions that I know came from reading “Grandma”. Can we have a tour when we get there? Who lives next to him? How big is his room? I appreciate that the book is helping her understand the transition.

I also liked that “Grandma” talked about the anger that many seniors with dementia have including my dad. There is also a back matter section if the parent wants to go into more detail with the child. The book won the Oppenheim Toy Portfolio Gold Seal Best Book Award.

Recently my daughter brought back “Mile-High Apple Pie” by Laura Langston and Lindsey Gardiner from her school library. Now this is an older book, but it won several accolades including being nominated for the Blue Spruce award, and it is still very relevant today.

I liked this book for several reasons. One is that it is set in the present time from the beginning. Many other picture books I read did a lot of reminiscing–some for far too long. The fact that it is set in the present immediately drew me into the story. Perhaps that is because I am living it. Another thing is that the grandma lives with the family, which is the situation we were in. My dad lived with us. I know that’s an unusual arrangement, so most books show the grandparent living in their own house. Therefore, “Mile-High Apple Pie” shows the necessity of having respite care from the situation. (Our recent respite care was our trip to China.)

My daughter noted that the child cried in this book. That was a complaint she had about other books. “Why does nobody ever cry,” she asked me. It is a heartbreaking situation, and there are certainly going to be tears.

Certainly these picture books are more reflective of our experience of Alzheimer’s. If you have others that you would like to recommend, please leave a comment for me.

3 Things I Learned from Elizabeth Gilbert’s “Big Magic”

Wow, my life has been a wee bit chaotic lately. I was away in Hainan, China to celebrate Chinese New Year. That was an awesome week! I even got to go to the beach.

The Beach

While I was there, I managed to post my entry for Susanna Leonard Hill’s Valentiny contest. That was an adventure: posting my story on my cell phone in a restaurant with an incredibly slow internet connection. But I got it done! If you did not get to read my entry, you can click here. And click here to read all the finalists in the contest. (Update: I’ve been awarded honourable mention. Yay!)

This week I decided that I was going to post about a recent favorite book that I recommend all creatives read, “Big Magic” by Elizabeth Gilbert.

Here are three things that I learned from the book:

1. Stop complaining about being a creative. Sure being a creative is tough. But not only is complaining about it annoying, but it also scares away inspiration. Instead start affirming “I enjoy my creativity.”
2. You are only in charge of what you create. You are not in charge of how others interpret it. And if people absolutely hate what you create, then you can politely suggest that they go and create their own art.
3. If you ever worry about your store of ideas drying up, then go watch some children for inspiration. They never stress about where ideas come from and whether or not they will have new ideas.

If you like these examples, there are plenty more like them in her book. Have you read it? Feel free to comment below about one of your favorite nuggets from her book.

Book Review: “The Story of Diva and Flea”

Are you a Diva or a Flea? I am a Flea. Why? Because Flea is a flâneur.

What, you might ask, is a flâneur? According to the book “The Story of Diva and Flea”, “ A flâneur is someone (or somecat) who wanders the streets and bridges and alleys of the city just to see what there is to see. A great flâneur has seen everything, but still looks for more, because there is always more to discover.”

Sounds about right. And as author Mo Willems points out in the video below, being a flâneur is not unlike being an author or illustrator: you never know where your road is going to take you.

However, even flâneurs have their fears. And Flea fears the inside world, most particularly brooms. Enter Diva. Diva is about to change Flea’s world and help him overcome his fears. However, Diva has fears of her own. Her fears are of the outside world, especially feet. And Flea is able to help Diva overcome her fears.

This book is recommended for ages 6-8. My 8-year-old loved it, especially because the characters helped each other overcome their fears.

Watch the video about how Mo Willems found the story, the collaboration between author and illustrator Tony DiTerlizzi, and how the illustrator added his own touch:

Is there a children’s book that you have read recently that you can recommend? Leave a comment below.

And if you have read this book, let me know if you are a Diva or a Flea.

Happy reading!
***Contest alert***
Susanna Leonard Hill has another great contest in the works! Click here to read more.

Subversive Picture Books

I want to write subversive picture books.

Huh? What does that mean, you ask?

According to Julie Danielson of “Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast”, subversive picture books are thought provoking, mind blowing or life changing. They can defy social law or make children think critically about the status quo.

One example Julie Danielson gave in her recent 12X12 webinar (one of the fabulous perks on being a 12X12 member is their awesome webinars) is one of my all time favourite books:

In “The Paper Bag Princess” Princess Elizabeth is going to marry Prince Ronald, but one day a dragon comes and smashes her castle and carries her prince off. She is left with only a paper bag to wear, but that does not deter her from setting out to save her prince. But when Elizabeth defeats the dragon, the reaction of Ronald leads her to make a new choice in her life.

What’s your favourite subversive picture book?

Winner of “Show Me How!” Giveaway

And the winner is…

photo(11)

Congratulations, Liz!

Thanks to all for participating. And for those who did not win a copy of the book and who still would like one, you can order “Show Me How!” from Vivian Kirkfield’s website.

Well, my daughter’s summer holidays start on Friday, so I am going to be slowing down the blogging for the next couple of months. Hopefully, I will still be able to post every couple of weeks though. I wish you a safe, happy, and healthy summer.

“Show me How!” Book Review and Giveaway

I really wish that I had the book “Show me How! Build Your Child’s Self-Esteem Through Reading, Crafting and Cooking” by Vivian Kirkfield when my daughter was younger. The book is divided up into six chapters, outlining several appropriate picture books for different subjects, such as “valuing strengths and qualities” and “feeling appreciated, loved, and accepted.” Each recommended picture book is accompanied by a craft and a recipe.
Vivian generously provided a free copy for me to review. Even better, she has generously provided a free signed copy to one of my lucky readers. But more on that at the end of the post.
It was a rainy day on Sunday, so I decided to test the book out. Although my daughter is now eight years old, and the book is recommended for ages 2-5, I still decided to use her as a guinea pig. But here’s the thing: although my daughter reads chapter books, she still loves it when I read picture books to her. Many people say that picture books are for every age, and I am one of those people who agrees. (Note: The crowd of authors went wild when Allyn Johnston of Beach Lane Press announced at the SCBWI conference I recently attended that they would be taking off the age limits on their picture books.)

Anyway, I decided to start with the book “Today I Feel Silly & Other Moods That Make My Day” by Jamie Lee Curtis, which is included in the section “expressing feelings”. My daughter did not know that we were going to be starting with this book, but she came down the stairs already dressed for it: wearing a bandana on her arm and carrying a balloon. (OK, the balloon was in her mouth.) When she heard that’s what we were going to be reading, and that I thought she was already dressed appropriately, she spent some more time being silly, putting the bandana on the balloon and so on.
Finally we snuggled up to read–or in this case listen–to the book. Now here’s the only slight glitch with the recommended picture books in “Show me How!”. Some of them are older and harder to get. But most of them are available in some form or another, e.g., the library might have it in audio or video format. Snuggling up with your child while someone else reads is also a very satisfying experience.
The book generated little discussion afterwards except for my daughter saying that she felt tired and crabby. I didn’t really see that, but perhaps the crafting and cooking afterwards made her feel better. I know that crafting and cooking always pulls me out of a blue funk.

photo 1(1)
We made the sherbet (strawberry instead of blueberry) and then froze it. It was very simple to do.
While it was freezing, we worked on the craft. Confession time: we have never decorated a dress-up storage box. See, I told you I could have used a book like “Show me How!”.

photo 2(1)
Does it look like it’s a banana box anymore?

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This craft was definitely a lot of fun.
The sherbert was frozen by the time we finished our craft. Result? Delicious! My daughter’s review: “This is a good way to eat your strawberries. And a delicious one. And this recipe is very simple.”

Now these activities are meant to be done one per day, but I knew that I probably would not have time on another day to review more of the book, so we moved on to another picture book. This time I read “Franklin in the Dark” by Paulette Bourgeois from the section “Acknowledging and Coping with Fears”. I borrowed a 25th anniversary edition from the library. The book is still very relevant today despite its age.
“Franklin in the Dark” generated a rather lengthy discussion. We talked about my daughter’s fears: the dark like Franklin, riding a bike (or more specifically falling off one), roller coasters…Then she wanted to know some of my fears. Definitely roller coasters. Next we talked about the animals that we would be afraid to meet in the wild. Crocodiles for both of us. Finally she showed off some of her knowledge about one of the world’s most dangerous sea creatures: the blue ringed octopus. (Don’t let the fact that it’s only 8” fool you.)
Books that generate lots of discussion are always welcome in our house. Certainly what your child wants to talk about will be different.

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Anyway, we eventually decided to make the trail mix. I had let my daughter pick out what she wanted to include in the trail mix when we went grocery shopping earlier.
Alas, time ran out and we never did get to the accompanying craft, but my daughter was open to doing it another day.
And we will definitely be reading some of the other picture books such as “There’s an Alligator Under My Bed” by Mercer Mayer and doing the accompanying activities.
We really enjoyed our afternoon exploring Vivian’s book. And I think that you will enjoy exploring her book too. So I am giving away a signed copy to one lucky reader. All you have to do is leave a comment on this blog post telling me why you want the book. My lovely assistant (aka my daughter) will draw a name out of a hat on Tuesday June 23, 2015. You have until noon (EST) that day to enter. I will announce the winner on Wednesday June 24. Good luck!

Ah-ha Moments at the SCBWI Conference

Despite getting off to a rough start–my first train was 1.5 hours late, and so I missed my connection–my weekend at the SCBWI Canada East conference was awesome!
This was my first SCBWI conference, and it was definitely worth my while to attend. I learned so much, made friends, and got some contacts.

Beautiful environment

Beautiful environment

I was thrilled to be able to sit in on the Crystal Kite award presentation (for 2014). Winning the Crystal Kite is special, because it is voted on by your peers. Helene Boudreau won for “I Dare You Not to Yawn”. I confess that I had never read it before, but I understood why the book won after she read it. It is fantastic! Helene told us that she would be watching us to see if we were yawning during her book reading. She also told us that during her research she discovered that 55% of people will yawn within 5 minutes of seeing someone else yawn. I am one of those 55%! As well, she mentioned that even reading about yawning can make you yawn. So…are you yawning yet? (And yes, I did yawn more than once during her book reading.)
Did you notice that she did a lot of research even though her book was a fiction book? I remember reading last year in this Kidlit Summer School post about doing research even if your book is fiction, because it will enhance your character.
Helene also talked about having Ah-ha moments. So I wanted to share with you three Ah-ha moments I had during Saturday’s conference.

I confess I am sitting at the back again. Maybe next year I'll move closer.

I confess I am sitting at the back again. Maybe next year I’ll move closer.

1. During her session of “Picture Book Voice” literary agent Heather Alexander talked about dialogue. Maybe you have heard the debate about the proper use of dialogue tags. Should you stick to just “said” or should you use other tags such as “whispered” or “yelled”? Heather was of the opinion that you should just use “said”. Why? She mentioned several reasons, including the fact that said would not need to be explained like a word such as retorted would, thus slowing a story down. As well, she said if you use a dialogue tag such as whispered, you are doing more telling instead of showing. A-ha, I thought. Now that I know more of the reasoning behind why to use said, I can know when or if I need to break the rule.
2. My second Ah-ha moment came during author Kari-Lynn Winters‘ session called “Getting Your Act Together”. Kari-Lynn mentioned that as soon as you get a book published, you are going to be on the stage, doing book talks. But instead of simply reading your book aloud, why not incorporate some dramatic techniques into your presentation? After all, you want to be invited back, right? Plus the more that you involve the kids, the more the kids will want to buy your book.
Kari-Lynn shared several dramatic techniques that you can use at an author visit. One is the “hot seat” where you put a student in a chair and ask him/her questions about your main character. You can also use this technique yourself when you are writing your character. Put yourself in the hot seat and see what answers you come up with about your own character.
During the session, I suddenly thought, Ah-ha, I really want to study dramatic techniques to use in my author talks. And maybe even take a drama class.
By the way, I wrote about Kari-Lynn Winters’ fabulous book “Gift Days” in this blog post.
3. My third Ah-ha moment came during Beach Lane books vice president and publisher Allyn Johnston’s talk called “Now Let’s Read Aloud”. Allyn mentioned that a lot of writers don’t realize that you don’t have to actually meet the editors at a conference. She said that writers may actually be doing themselves a disservice by following around an editor. That’s because many writers will meet an editor and suddenly become like a deer in headlights and start babbling away.
Ah-ha, I thought, this confirms something I realized when I attended the CANSCAIP conference. I went to that conference, gathered my information, and then submitted my manuscript afterwards. Because simply by being at the conference, you are already opening doors. Anyone who hears Allyn Johnston speak automatically bypasses her no unsolicited manuscript policy. She would rather have you absorb the information you gained during the conference, alter your manuscript, and then submit. It makes sense to me.
I did luck out and have Allyn Johnston sit at my table at lunch, and it was fascinating to hear her stories. Also sitting at my table was author Linda Urban, who informed us that she is going to have an extended picture book published. It’s more than 70 pages!
What do you think about my Ah-ha moments? Do you have anything to add? Leave me a comment.