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1. The Smallest Gift of Christmas by Peter H. Reynolds

After 22 years of reading Christmas books to my kids, it is rare that I find a holiday book that is worthy of sharing here. But, when Peter H. Reynolds, author of the Creatrilogy of picture books that explore creativity and inspiration, creates a Christmas book, you know it will be worth buying and reading year after year. It is a good thing to have at least one or two picture books that help kids recognize the rampant consumerism of this season, and The Smallest Gift of Christmas is a reminder in the gentlest, most subtle of ways, which is exactly what I look for in a book with a message. The message of The Gift of Christmas is one that is easy to forget this time of year - being with people you love is the best gift, no matter what time of year. Reynolds wraps this message (which has been clobbered in so many other Christmas books) in a story that is sure to entertain young listeners and readers and presents it in a tiny trim size along with a photo-frame ornament.

The Gift of Christmas begins, "Roland was eager for Christmas Day." The accompanying illustration shows stockings hung over the fireplace, Roland's reaching all the way down to the floor. When Roland races downstairs on Christmas morning only to see the "smallest gift he had ever seen," he wonders, "had he waited all year for this tiny gift?" Roland closes his eyes and wishes his hardest for a bigger gift - and he gets it. Over the course of a few pages, his greed grows, as does the size of his gift. Finally, he heads off to search the universe for the biggest gift. When he looks into his telescope and sees earth shrinking to a tiny dot that will soon disappear, he realizes that what he really wants is to be back on earth and home with his family. As is rocket lands gently in his snowy front yard, Roland realizes that the "smallest speck was his biggest gift."

Short, simple and sweet. The Smallest Gift of Christmas is one that kids need to (and will want to) hear more than once.

Source: Review Copy

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2. I Just Could Not Think Of A Title For This Post!

You know, I've often said -and written here on CBO- that I am fed up with people who "Friend" me on Face Book and who "read CBO twice a week if not each day" but then prove that they never do and it is so obvious but the lying and self interest is so ingrained it is like water off a duck's back.

Yesterday, I got a message on Linkedin -the awful Face Book copy that started out with good intentions. It was from one of my Face Books 'friends'.  He explained how "we are getting a graphic novel together" and how they were looking for crowd funding because this is how "we creators" -not me, obviously, but real comic creators with full time non-comic jobs- manage to get books out there.

Now, how many times have I said that I do not -DO NOT- promote kick-starters, jump-starters or anything else starters on CBO?  Those posts go on to Face Book as well as Linkedin, Twitter, Google+ and lots of other places.

So, if someone is checking out my newsfeed on FB every day they would know this.  They would know that I DO NOT use that FB page any more.  I sent a message out to my comic book FB friends a year ago about this.

No, like everyone else, he has my feed turned off.  Why?  Because he only wants to know and take advantage of me when HE has a project or book to sell.

Has this person EVER mentioned any of my books on his blog or web page? NO.  Has he ever, in fact, shown any support of myself or Black Tower Books or even commented on items about them or their future and CBOs?  No.

Has this person ever commented on his much liked CBO ?  Has he ever commented about CBOs future or when I have mentioned him or previous projects -even a quick "thanks!"?  NO.

Like 99.9% of comic book 'friends' on Face Book, he has no idea if I am still alive.  Or even a personal email.  No, he says "sorry to spam you"....he KNOWS he is spamming me.  So the message is now officially marked as spam coming from an account NOT compromised.  He's a spammer.

If he had even looked at CBO, Face Book, Linkedin, Google+ he would know the situation.

Like comic events creators and publishers have had it made clear repeatedly the CBO is a two way deal not a free press release service.  Other blogs may resort to this but not CBO.  Book hits my door mat it gets reviewed.  FIVE offers of review pdf last week.  No. You send a hard copy and PROVE that the book is real because I am not telling people how to pay for books and the books never get published.  this is so common and people end up paying for these books and don't get their money back.  In fact, a follow up from one of last week's pdf boys tells me they have put the project on "hiatus" -it was supposed to be released today!

Self interest and being two-faced might be what comes naturally to some but they should expect to get treated the way they treat others.

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3. Student-to-Staffers: Where are you now?

ALA Student-to-Staffers: Where are you now?

Way back in June of 2007, I had the honor of representing TWU’s School of Library and Information Science at ALA Annual in Washington, DC.  I was a member of TWU SLIS-buttonALA’s StudeALA Annualnt-to-Staff (S2S) Program, with assignment to the ALSC Division.  If you’ve never heard of the S2S program, you can read about it here.  There are 56 active ALA Student Chapter Groups at accredited graduate schools.  Each is entitled to submit one name for consideration for the program.  Schools have varying criteria. My school chose the student – me :) based on an essay contest.  Others have different criteria, but the end result is that 40 promising students receive a free trip to ALA Annual in exchange for working with  ALA staff during the week.  I was able to choose with whom I wanted to work. An aspiring children’s librarian, naturally, I chose ALSC.

It was my first connection with the national community of librarians.  It was during my week as an ALA S2S er, that I first met ALSC’s own Aimee Strittmatter, Laura Schulte-Cooper, and Marsha Burgess, and I began my continuing association with the division. I wrote a piece about my experience for  ALSConnect, now called ALSC Matters. (I am no less bright-eyed and bushy-tailed now.)

If you know someone in grad school right now, do them a favor and let them know about the S2S program.  If you participated in the S2S program, give a shout out!  Did you work for ALSC at the conference?  When or where did you attend?  How wonderful was it?

(The Student-to-Staff Program was established in 1973. There should be a lot of us out there!)


The post Student-to-Staffers: Where are you now? appeared first on ALSC Blog.

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4. The Only Child

The Only Child. Guojing. 2015. Random House. 112 pages. [Source: Review copy]

First sentence from the author's note: The story in this book is fantasy, but it reflects the very real feelings of isolation and loneliness I experienced growing up in the 1980s under the one-child policy in China.

Premise/plot: This is a wordless picture book. I'm tempted to call this one a picture book for older readers. Though I'm not sure that's entirely fair to the book. It may depend more on your child's attention span and interests. The art is without a doubt captivating and beautiful. The premise is simple: a young girl's loneliness ultimately leads to her getting lost. At some point, reality blends with fantasy. Where is that point exactly??? I'm not sure I can answer that!

My thoughts: Loved, loved, loved the art. It does a great job in conveying emotion, for the most part. I tend to struggle with finding the story in wordless picture books at times. The more complex a book is, the more I struggle. Ultimately I found The Only Child to be worth the effort it took to find and follow the story. But that being said, I'm not sure I fully got every page of the story. Still it's easy to recommend for the art alone.

Text 0 out of 0
Illustrations: 5 out of 5
Total: 5 out of 5

© 2015 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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5. In Thanks: Books That Built a Writing Teacher

What are the books that have shaped you as a teacher of writing? Reflecting today, in thanks, for the authors and books that have influenced my life as a teacher.

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6. My Portugal Adventure Continues: Part III

From my Portugal sketchbook:
Sardines Galore!
Hello, everyone! Here we are at the next stage of my Portugal journey. I had meant to post this entry much earlier, but the recent tragic events in Paris and the rest of the world drove me into retreat-mode. I have been sad.

Paris has always been special for me, as I believe it must be for a lot of people, and my heart and mind are very much with the people of France right now. Which also means I was initially reluctant to write a blog post about European travel. It felt frivolous. Then I was reminded of something a good friend said at our last writer's group meeting: keep traveling. Don't give in to fear. Support the small businesses and people of the world with our tourist dollars and by appreciating all the goodwill travel has to offer. It's a great attitude, and one that encourages me to keep dreaming, keep planning, and keep my suitcase handy. So in that spirit we'll keep going through the wonderful land of Portugal.

One quick aside before we go to the cork forests, though: before leaving home I was so busy with my day-job and all the rest of my life I didn't have the chance to get to an art supply store to buy a Stillman and Birn sketchbook, the brand I took to Taiwan. Instead, I had to dip into my trusty storage container of new, but unused, sketchbooks that I have either bought on impulse because they were on sale, or had been gifted over the years. (I promise this isn't hoarding, just "saving things for a rainy day." And this was the rainy day.)

The one I chose was a 5 1/4" x 8 1/4" Global Art Travelogue Handbook. I had been wanting to try out a horizontal format for awhile, and this seemed like the perfect opportunity. I used my now-favorite Faber-Castell watercolor pencils, but instead of a waterbrush, I took a travel watercolor brush--it's just like a regular paint brush, but part of the handle comes off so you can tuck the bristle end into it to keep everything a) dry, and b) compact. To be honest, I thought the brush was a little over-priced and I'm still not sure what I think of it. On the other hand, after reading several on-line negative reviews of the Handbook, I have to say I totally disagree with the nay-sayers--it's a nice little book! The paper is good quality, I liked the way it stayed open on a table or my lap even though it was stitch-bound rather than wire-bound, and once I closed it and secured it with the built-in elastic band, any pages that had "curled" while I was painting them returned to their original shape and stayed that way. So, I like Handbooks a lot and recommend them as good travel companions. They come in a variety of sizes, and the one I took was just right for keeping in my purse all day.

So with that covered . . . northwards we go and on to: Arraiolos! Stopping first for Portugal's famed cork trees:

Aren't they sketch-worthy? Too bad I was in a hurry at the time and could only snap a few pics. I was particularly surprised to see some of the trees stripped down to their bright red "naked" trunks (I don't seem to have any photos of them, sorry). Later on I learned that the cork bark must be harvested from the trees at regular intervals to keep them alive. Good excuse to drink more wine--every time you open a bottle you're saving a tree, LOL! I was also surprised to discover how many uses the Portuguese have for cork, from making shoes and handbags, to covers for journals and i-phones, to . . . well, you name it, you can find it made out of cork. (And new cork shoes might make you a much wiser steward of the planet than too many bottles of wine in the long run.)

After viewing various parts of the forest I then saw a sign saying that just up ahead would be an entire maze of prehistoric monoliths. I just HAD to see the monoliths. I mean, they were prehistoric! The only trouble was the signage didn't say exactly where, or how far, so after about ten miles of driving down endless dirt roads searching we gave up and headed back for the toll road and our planned destination of Arraiolos.

We chose Arraiolos for its famous carpets. I had my heart set on something small and pretty for my entryway back home, and as I read to my husband from the guidebook: "Everywhere you look there are people making or selling carpets in this charming town, even from their doorways." Okay. Doorways. Yes, I see them. But they are closed. Charming. Yep. Very pretty town. But the carpets . . . um, where did you say they were?

Unfortunately, and very much like hunting down the monoliths, we couldn't find a single thread or scrap or even a human being. The town was so quiet I couldn't even hear someone vacuuming a carpet! There were NO carpets. But there was a castle:

And a view:

And in that view there was a grocery store. Except when we got down there, it was closed. 

We peered through the windows and saw the owners eating their lunch. It looked delicious, but, they shook their heads: no, you can't come in. Okay. No carpets, no lunch. 

In search of some food, we then found a mega-mall that we were sure would have a restaurant. Hahahahaha. Lots of stereo equipment, garden furniture, and children's bedding, but no food to be had. Certain we would pass out around now, we managed to drive to another beautiful mountain town, Santarem (a city, actually) and there we found a little hole-in-the-wall of a bar where they made us a wonderful feast of Super Bock, boiled egg and salad sandwiches, coffee, and cake. Which meant we now had the strength get to the eastern coastal town of Nazaré and a beautiful modern hilltop hotel for the night. We could see both the swimming pool and the sea from our room:

The next day we explored the village (where everything was wonderfully open!) and I bought one of my few souvenirs: a lacy, embroidered tablecloth. It's not a carpet, but it's sweet and will forever remind me of a happy day. 

The morning ended with more sandwiches and more Super Bock on the beach and a view of the fishing boats:

And then we were off to the surf town of Ereceira, of which I will write much sooner than I have these other posts. In the meantime, may you be safe, may you be inspired to go far and wide, and Let There Be Peace on Earth. Thank you for visiting and to my US readers: Happy Thanksgiving!

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7. Thanksgiving Turkey Rods!

The days are shorter, the air is crisp. Perhaps your house smells like fresh baked cornbread?

Thanksgiving is only short two days away!

While the dark might make some younger patrons sleepy, Monday night, some young gourmets trotted into the Syosset Library Children's Room to make a Thanksgiving treat!

Check out some pictures of the adorable Thanksgiving Turkey Rods below. If you ask me, they look too cute to eat. Almost.

Don't you just want to gobble (gobble) them up?

Happy Thanksgiving Day!
-Posted by Miss Jessikah

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8. Oh My Goddess! Review

Title: Oh My Goddess! (Aa! Megami-Sama) Genre: Romance, Fantasy Publisher: Kodansha (JP), Dark Horse (U.S) Artist: Kousuke Fujishima Serialized in: Afternoon Translated by: Dana Lewis, Alan Gleason, Toren Smith Original Release Date: August 11, 2015 In reading Oh My Goddess!, this work that had its anime air on the International Channel when I was 10-13 ... Read more

The post Oh My Goddess! Review appeared first on Organization Anti-Social Geniuses.

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9. Mini-Reviews: Forgiven by Terri Roberts and Searching for Sunday by Rachel Held Evans

From Goodreads:
On October 2, 2006, a gunman entered an Amish one-room schoolhouse, shooting ten girls, killing five, then finally taking his own life. This is his mother's story. Not only did she lose her precious son through suicide, but she also lost her understanding of him as an honorable man. It was a trauma that none should ever have to face.

But the biggest headlines came when her Amish neighbors did the unimaginable, reaching out to the family of the shooter with comfort and forgiveness. Today Terri lives in harmony with the Amish and has built lasting relationships beyond what anyone could have thought possible. From the grace that the Amish showed Terri's family from day one, to the visits and ongoing care Terri has given to the victims and their families, no one could have foreseen the love and friendship that have been forged from the fires of tragedy.
I knew this would be a sad story, but I didn't expect to bawl my eyes out through the entire thing.  It's so sad, but also so beautiful.  I feel like Roberts' story is just unparalleled.  I remember when this happened, but somehow I missed the coverage of the Amish response to the shooting, so I was unprepared for how supernaturally kind and forgiving they were to the Roberts family.  It's a beautiful portrait of grace and how God can empower us to go so far beyond what our human hearts feel capable of.  I highly recommend this one and will be buying several copies to give as gifts this Christmas.

Like millions of her millennial peers, Rachel Held Evans didn't want to go to church anymore. The hypocrisy, the politics, the gargantuan building budgets, the scandals--church culture seemed so far removed from Jesus. Yet, despite her cynicism and misgivings, something kept drawing her back to Church. And so she set out on a journey to understand Church and to find her place in it.

Centered around seven sacraments, Evans' quest takes readers through a liturgical year with stories about baptism, communion, confirmation, confession, marriage, vocation, and death that are funny, heartbreaking, and sharply honest.

A memoir about making do and taking risks, about the messiness of community and the power of grace, Searching for Sunday is about overcoming cynicism to find hope and, somewhere in between, Church.
Another one that will rip your heart right out - I also cried through the entirety of this book.  I follow Evans' blog and love her ideas and writing style, so I grabbed this one as soon as I had the chance.  I could so strongly identify with her choice to both leave church and return to church, as it's something I've also gone through in the last five years or so.  She has such beautiful and honest stories about the pain and beauty of being a part of the Church and what that means.  It's another that I'll be buying my own copy of as well as passing around to everyone I know.

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10. The Sock Monkey Trilogy by Cece Bell

If you know anything about kid's books, kid's book awards and graphic novels, then the name Cece Bell should not be new to you. I had the pleasure of getting to know her work before she wowed the world with the 2015 Newbery Honor book, El Deafo, and am so happy to get to spend more time with her books now, especially her creation, Sock Monkey and all his friends. Bell has a sensibility that is a bit left of everyday and a wonderful way of somehow making every story, very subtly and sweetly, about acceptance, friendship, bravery and love. Originally published almost 10 years ago, Candlewick wisely, happily, has reissued Sock Money Takes a Bath, Sock Monkey Boogie-Woogie and Sock Monkey Rides Again.

Sock Monkey is a famous toy actor. He is also kind of a stand in for toddlers. In Sock Money Takes a Bath, Sock Monkey gets some good news and some bad news. He has been nominated* for "Best Supporting Toy in a Motion Picture" and has been invited to attend the Oswald Awards Ceremony at the Big Theater. The asterisk notes that "Nominees MUST be clean." Just thinking about taking a bath makes Sock Monkey, "dizzy with fear." Happily, his best friends, Miss Bunn, Froggie and Blue Pig are free to help him out. Miss Bunn takes him to bathe with mild soap and a few other monkeys in a hot springs atop a snowy mountain. Froggie helps him rinse in the clear, cool water of a pond and Blue Pig gets Sock Monkey to the desert where he can bask "all day in the sizzling sunshine." Clean and calm, Sock Monkey heads to the awards where he faces disappointments and surprises and a lot of great word play from Bell.
While I love all three books, I think that Sock Monkey Boogie-Woogie just might be my favorite. Sock Monkey is going to the Big Celebrity Dance and is super excited - until he discovers he doesn't have a partner! His three best friends are traveling, but they send home gifts that come together to make - another monkey! Sock Buddy can make cupcakes AND turns out to be the perfect dance partner! They impress everyone at the dance and, best of all, when Sock Monkey's friends meet Sock Buddy, they feel like they've known him forever. What I especially love about Sock Monkey Boogie-Woogie is the fact that Sock Monkey and Sock Buddy both seem to be guys. Bell  makes the less conventional choice and it makes the book all the more completely lovable.

Sock Monkey Rides Again finds our famous toy actor in another difficult situation. This time, it's not the prospect of having to bathe that is throwing him off, it's the fact that he will have to kiss the leading lady! In order to star as Red Reardon in "Hubbub at the Happy Canyon Hoedown," Sock Monkey will also have to learn to yodel, ride a horse, lasso a cow and get some cool duds. As always, Sock Monkey's friends are there to help out. But, when it comes time to kiss Lulu Nevada, he just can't do it and Lulu is left in tears. No matter how he tries to console her, he realizes there is really only one thing he can do, and he does it. And the director gets his shot!

I have been reading Sock Money Takes a Bath, Sock Monkey Boogie-Woogie and Sock Monkey Rides Again over and over to my students, from kindergarten to fifth grade, and they all love Sock Monkey. Also, all three books always seem to spark some kind of discussion, whether it's about how to make a sock monkey, or looking at pictures of the monkeys in the hot springs. 

The original inspirations for the cast of the Sock Monkey books!

More books by Cece Bell


Source: Review Copy

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11. A Visit with Stephen Alcorn: For the Love of Drawing

The Alcorn Homestead & Gallery; Mixed media on paper   Pictured above is an image from illustrator and printmaker Stephen Alcorn. It depicts the home he grew up in; Stephen’s father was artist, designer, and children’s book illustrator John Alcorn, who died in 1992. (There’s more information here at 7-Imp about John and his work.) […]

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12. Picture Book Dummies

Even if you're not an illustrator, you should make a dummy for all your picture books, and here's how.


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13. What's On Your Nightstand (November)

The folks at 5 Minutes For Books host What’s On Your Nightstand? the fourth Tuesday of each month in which we can share about the books we have been reading and/or plan to read.

The Painter's Daughter. Julie Klassen. 2015. Bethany House. 464 pages. [Source: Review copy]

A Regency romance that will probably be "too smutty" for Christians and "too Christian" for unbelievers. I have loved, loved, loved some of Klassen's earlier novels, and, I've also experienced one or two that really disappointed me. But yet my love of her former books keeps me hoping and reading! For better or worse! 

Silent Nights: A British Library Crime Classic. Compiled by Martin Edwards. 2015. Poisoned Pen Press. 298 pages. [Source: Review copy]

 A collection of fifteen short stories--all mysteries--set during the holidays. Some of my favorite authors are included in this collection, but, also some new-to-me authors. This is a classic, none, of the stories are "new" or "modern."

The Tale of Cuckoo Brow Wood. (Beatrix Potter Series #3) Susan Wittig Albert. 2007. 352 pages. [Source: Bought at Library Sale]

I've read the first two books in the series. The second book, first, for better or worse. I had to track down a copy of the first book, and, it took a while! But I'm excited about this mystery series!

We Believe: Creeds, Confessions, & Catechism for Worship. Edited by Matthew B. Sims. 2015. Grace for Sinners. 360 pages. [Source: Bought]

I am really enjoying reading this one! Yes, I could probably have tracked down most of these creeds and confessions online, but, I like having them together and not having to search them out!

© 2015 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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14. Anime & Manga Deals – Black Friday Countdown

Black Friday has been historically the busiest shopping day of the year here in the U.S. However, this one-day celebration has pretty much expanded into a full-blown extended sale that often starts before Thanksgiving and goes until Cyber Monday. Let’s get ready to save! …Or spend a lot of money. Either one. Black Friday Tips ... Read more

The post Anime & Manga Deals – Black Friday Countdown appeared first on Organization Anti-Social Geniuses.

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15. Men & Cats + All the Words Are Yours Giveaway

I have something a little different for you today--two adult gift books--prizing/samples provided by Penguin Random House.

First, you should know that both books are based off of Tumblr. I love Tumblr. I also love both of these specific Tumblrs, though I was only familiar with the second one before this.

The first one is a little serious, which would be great for someone who loves words and photographs: All the Words Are Yours: Haiku on Love by Tyler Knott Gregson.


About the book

Every day for the past six years, Tyler Knott Gregson has written a simple haiku about love, and posted it online. These heartfelt poems have attracted a large and loyal following around the world. This highly anticipated follow-up to Chasers of the Light, presents Tyler’s favorites, some previously unpublished, accompanied by his signature photographs, which capture the rich texture of daily life.

This vibrant collection reveals the intimate reflections of one of poetry’s most popular new voices — honest, vulnerable, generous, and truly present in the gift that is each moment.

Find It Here

Most of them are a little maudlin for me, but I love a few. 

“Brighter, now brighter
pay no mind to those who squint,
burn with all your heat.”

— Tyler Knott Gregson

They're sometimes inspiring and insightful.

Some I want to mail home to my mother.

Some will calm, some will soothe, some will arouse desire. You definitely don't want to mail the whole book to your mother. Actually, probably 80% you wouldn't want to discuss with her unless you have a very, very, very comfortable relationship.


This is definitely something you want to give to someone you love love. 

Now we move on to my favorite of the two: Men & Cats by Marie-Eva Gatuingt & Alice Chaygneaud.

Now, this your mom might enjoy. Assuming she likes scantily clad men. And cute cats. 

About the book

A brilliant collection of photographs that brings together two of the world’s favorite things: hot men and cute kittens.

Based on the chic French Tumblr Des Hommes et des ChatonsMen & Cats presents an original collection of 50 pairs of sexy men and adorable cats. Each clever match-up shows a heartthrob posing alongside a cat in a similar pose or with a similar expression. Not sure if you want to look at sexy men or cute cats? With this book, you don’t have to choose.

Find It Here

But, before you visit Des Hommes et des Chatons on Tumblr, I have to warn you some of the pics may be NSFW. Here are some of the more tame ones (i.e. they've mostly got clothes on):


Mmm.... you get the idea.

Wait, one more.


Can't promise you these are all in the book. Actually on second glance *flips through entire book again* Yup. Nope. None of these are in the book. But you get the picture, don't you?

Remember to Enter the giveaway before you lose yourself in an endless queue of des hommes et des chatons

The Giveaway

  1. Open to the US only, ends 12/05/2015.
  2. No purchase is necessary to enter a giveaway. Void where prohibited.
  3. We are not responsible for lost, stolen, or damaged items.
  4. One set of entries per household please.
  5. If you are under 13, please get a parent or guardian's permission to enter, as you will be sharing personal info such as an email address. Actually TBH for this one, you probably should be significantly older than 13. I'm just saying.
  6. Winner will be chosen randomly via Rafflecopter widget a day or two after the contest ends.
  7. Winner will have 48 hours to respond to to the email, otherwise we will pick a new winner.
  8. If you have any questions, feel free to email us at readnowsleeplater@gmail.com
  9. PLEASE DO NOT LEAVE ANY PERSONAL INFO IN THE COMMENTS. Sorry for the caps, but we always get people leaving their email in the comments. Rafflecopter will collect all that without having personal info in the comments for all the world (and spambots) to find.
a Rafflecopter giveaway

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16. On Teaching Writing

Jan Steen, School Class with a Sleeping Schoolmaster

A writer recently wrote a blog post about how he's quitting teaching writing. I'm not going to link to it because though it made me want to write this post of my own, I'm not planning either to praise or disparage the post or its author, whom I don't know and whose work I haven't read (though I've heard good things about it). Reading the post, I was simply struck by how different his experience is from my own experience, and I wondered why, and I began to think about what I value in teaching writing, and why I've been doing it in one form or another — mostly to students without much background or interest in writing — for almost twenty years.

I don't know where the quitting teacher works or the circumstances, other than that he was working as an adjunct professor, as I did for five years, and was teaching introductory level classes, as I continue to do now that I'm a PhD student. (And in some ways did back when I was a high school teacher, if we want to consider high school classes as introductory to college.) So, again, this is not about him, because I know nothing about his students' backgrounds, his institution's expectations or requirements, his training, etc. If he doesn't like teaching writing where he's currently employed, he shouldn't do it, for his own sake and for that of his students. It's certainly nothing you're going to get rich from, so really, you're doing no-one any good by staying in a job like that, and you may be doing harm (to yourself and others).

Most of the quitting teacher's complaints boil down to, "I don't like teaching unmotivated students." So it goes. There are, though, lots of different levels of "unmotivated". Flat-out resistant and recalcitrant are the ultimate in unmotivated, and I also really find no joy in working with such students, because I'm not very good at it. I've done it, but have not stayed with jobs where that felt like all there was. One year at a particular high school felt like facing nothing but 100 resistant and recalcitrant students every single day, and though the job paid quite well (and, for reasons I can't fathom, the administration wanted me to stay), I fled quickly. I was useless to most of those students and they were sending me toward a nervous breakdown.  I've seen people who work miracles with such students. I wasn't the right person for that job.

But then there are the students who, for whatever reason, just haven't bought in to what you're up to. It's not their thing. I don't blame them. Put me in a math or science class, and that's me. Heck, put me in a Medieval lit class and that's me. But again and again, talented teachers have welcomed me into their world, and because of those teachers, I've been able to find a way to care and to learn about things I didn't initially care about in the least. That's the sort of teacher I aspire to be, and occasionally, for all my fumbling, seem to have succeeded at being.

It's nice to teach courses where everybody arrives on Day 1 with passion for the subject. I've taught such classes a few times. It can be fun. It's certainly more immediately fulfilling than the more common sort of classes where the students are a bit less instrinsically motivated to be there. But I honestly don't care about those advanced/magical classes as much. Such students are going to be fine with or without me. At a teaching seminar I attended 15 years ago, the instructor described such students as the ones for whom it doesn't matter if you're a person or a stalk of asparagus, because they'll do well no matter what. I don't aspire to be a stalk of asparagus.

There's another problem, too, and that's the problem of pedagogy. Many colleges and universities are terrible at providing training for teachers. There's an unspoken assumption that teaching is something anybody with an advanced degree can do. This despite the fact that anybody who's spent more than a few days in a college or university knows there are plenty of people with advanced degrees, people who may be brilliant at all sorts of other things, who can't teach at all.

Teaching writing is a particular skill, especially when teaching unmotivated students. I'm lucky to have spent some undergrad time and now some PhD time at the University of New Hampshire, where the teaching of writing is taken really seriously because writing teachers at UNH have long been interested not only in writing, but in the art of its teaching. The ghosts of Donald Murray, Donald Graves, and Robert Connors still haunt our halls. I continue to draw on things I learned in a Teaching Writing course in my last semester of undergrad. In my early years of teaching, I read every pedagogy book I could get my hands on. I still pick them up now and then, because I'm still learning to teach.

If you're struggling to teach writing, have no support from your institution, but don't want to quit, there are resources that can help you. (Though really, you should consider quitting, especially if they're not paying you well. Schools exploit people who they provide little support to because those people feel some sort of obligation to work for crappy wages and in crappy conditions. Say no! Or at least help organize a union.)

To begin, check out the National Writing Project, Teachers & Writers, and the NCTE.

Seek out books for ideas and inspiration. First, put everything aside and read Mike Rose's Lives on the Boundary. Then maybe a practical book like The Elements of Teaching Writing, The Handbook of Creative Writing, or Being a Writer (which is overpriced; its predecessor, A Community of Writers, is easy enough to find used for much less money).

If you're determined that you must fix your students' grammar, then start with Teaching Grammar in Context and/or Grammar to Enrich and Enhance Writing by Constance Weaver. (But a caution: Make sure you're not promoting myths. Educate yourself. Read Stephen Pinker's A Sense of Style, Henry Hitchings' The Language Wars, and, if you're especially determined, A Student's Introduction to English Grammar. Or, better yet, make a study of grammar ranting part of your pedagogy — see Grammar Rants by Patricia Dunn and Ken Lindblom.) If most of your students seem to lack much preparation for college-level work, then investigate pedagogy for developmental writing.

Don't just be a writer who shows up in a classroom. You've been hired to be a teacher who also knows something about writing. You need to see yourself in that role, or else you're just grossly stroking your ego in public. Develop a vision of yourself as a teacher, and read the works of writing teachers who inspire — Peter Elbow is my go-to guy whenever I'm feeling bad about my teaching, with Everyone Can Write as the key text (though I'm fond, too, of Writing with Power and Writing Without Teachers). Read Lynda Barry. Read. Talk. Listen. Plenty of people have had all the challenges and disappointments and frustrations that you've had. Learn from them.

And yes, of course there are lots of frustrations along the way. Even the best classes will have bad days, and sometimes you'll have an entire bad term. That's the world of teaching. Analyze what isn't working and try to figure out ways to fix it; seek out other people's ideas when you're stuck. I hate the feeling of having been a bad teacher, but it also invigorates me, because it makes me determined to fix the problems the next time around. (It's when the problems seem utterly unfixable that you know you're the wrong person for the job. If nothing seems like it will get better and again and again you find yourself dreading the next class, the next term, then quit if you can. It's okay. You don't need to spend your entire life as a bad teacher. Create an exit plan before you kill yourself or one of your students. Seriously.)

I've been meaning to write about the most successful writing course I've taught, and so this gives me a bit of an excuse to do so. By "successful" I mean that the students' work and reflections on the course at the end of the term consistently met my goals for the course through multiple sets of students, both in face-to-face classes and online. The course is called Writing and the Creative Process, and I taught it at Plymouth State University. It's the lowest-level creative writing course the English department offers, and it fulfills a general education requirement, so typically it is taken by students will little background in writing and often not much interest in it. They arrive to the course because they need the credit, and many assume a creative writing class is an easy A or B.

My goals for the course are not for the students to become great writers. That's out of my control. Great writing is a mix of talent, practice, experience, circumstances. My goals are more about helping the students to overcome some assumptions about writing and creativity.

Most students arrive to my classes, whether writing classes or otherwise, with an idea that writing is about following rules and not making mistakes. They've lost all sense of play. I want them to be less afraid of playing with language. I want them to be less afraid of the unfamiliar. If I can do that, then a lot of what matters in writing will take care of itself. Of course, there are rules and conventions. Writing is (usually) a form of communication, and communication requires some rules and conventions. But they can be learned, and if learning them is still beyond you for whatever reason, you can probably find friends who will proofread your work for you. (Many excellent writers are rotten with commas. And plenty else. Proofreaders exist for a reason. Research the manuscripts of well-known writers and you'll be astonished.) I love the intricacies of grammar, usage, and style, so I pay a lot of attention to it myself, but for me it's part of the essential play that makes writing a worthwhile activity for me. I try to impart that to students, even in the Writing and the Creative Process class, but I also don't expect them all to be like me.

After teaching the class a few times in a way that didn't thrill me, I finally came upon this progression of material, which seems to work:
Unit 1: First Things
Unit 2: Shaping Raw Material
Unit 3: Images and Senses
Unit 4: Words
Unit 5: Sentences and lines
Unit 6: Paragraphs and stanzas
Unit 7: Revision
Final Exam week: Portfolio
Lots of people teach the course by going through major genres, but I don't care for that approach because in my experience it's highly superficial to write essays for a week or two, poems for a week or two, stories for a week or two, etc. I sprinkle different genres throughout the term, but we never stick with any particular one. Learning different genres is not the goal. I want the students to play around, and I want them to think about similarities in different ways of writing rather than differences.

The First Things unit is focused on introductions, starting out, and beginning to forget the "rules" you think you know about writing. I think of it as the deprogramming unit. Especially given the mania for standardized testing in schools over the last 15 years, students arrive to my classroom with great anxiety about "proper" writing. They mostly think they're bad at it, and they're terrified of losing points. So I make a point of getting them to pay attention to themselves, to do things like stare at an object for 10 or more minutes and then write about the experience, to write a list of rules for good writing and then violate them all, etc. The basic theme might be able to be boiled down to, "Who are you? What do you know? How do you perceive things? And how might we expand/broaden/explode all that?"

The Shaping Raw Material unit is exactly what it says. The exercises have the students write 5 versions of a short piece of writing, try out different points of view, rewrite a folktale, rewrite a partner's piece of writing, etc. Some of it is similar to Kenneth Goldsmith's "Uncreative Writing" ideas, some of it isn't. The goal is to look at the different ways writing can be shaped, and the effects of different shapes. Again, it's about breaking out of a narrow way of thinking about writing, because narrow ways of thinking only lead to anxiety about "getting it right". Again and again, I say: There are no right answers, so stop looking for them.

The other units are exactly what they sound like: close attention to senses and images, to words, to sentences and lines, etc. It's good to be deliberate about these building blocks. Too often, we take them for granted. They're all fun to play with.

The Portfolio requirement at the end is this:
What your portfolio must include, at a minimum:
  • Your own artist's statement / portfolio intro.  Length: 114-119 words.  (Yes, this number is arbitrary.  Most rules are.)
  • Examples of 3 different types/genres of writing, each with at least one revision included. (You will have done a lot of this work for previous units. Now you’re collecting it and polishing it.) Include all drafts along with a final, polished, proofread draft.
  • A reflection of at least 500 words.  This should be the last thing you write.  After you've put the portfolio together, read it, then write this reflection.
You are welcome and encouraged to include more than this in your portfolio, but this is the absolute minimum.
All grading before the portfolio is purely on whether the students follow the guidelines or not. For instance, here's an assignment:
1. Go to the index at the website Worldwidewords.org.
2. Read around on the page. Click on words that grab your attention. Look for weird words.
3. Once you are familiar with the site and how it works, write a piece and use as many unfamiliar/weird words from the Worldwidewords.org list as you can -- at least 20.
GRADING: 6 points = 600+ words; 5 points = 500-599 words; 4 points = 400-499 words; 3 points = 300-399 words; 2 points = 200-299 words; 1 point = under 200 words
(Each exercise is worth a certain amount of points, and I just add them up for their exercises grade, so 95 points = a 95 (A), 84 points = 84% (B), etc. They have a number of exercises to choose from in each unit. All of the exercises together add up to more than 100 points, but I've rarely had students try to go beyond 100 points because I don't count anything above 100 and, in any case, most of the exercises are more complex and take more work than the one above, so if you do them all at the highest level, it's quite a lot of work.)

I don't  evaluate their writing until the portfolio, and even then it's light evaluation of their progress more than anything. This has been crucial. The point of this course is discovery and play. That's what I want to encourage. I don't much care if their writing is great or terrible. I want them to improve, though, so we spend time at the end of the course working on revision, but only after we've spent the majority of the course playing around. I want the students to become more flexible thinkers and writers.

My paying no attention to whether they are writing well or badly is liberatory, and the effects are remarkable. The students discover skills and interests they never knew they had because they were so terrified of writing badly and getting low grades. They often struggle against the class in the first weeks because they think I'm going to trick them. They are conditioned to be graded and ranked and evaluated at every turn. They don't know what the freedom from grading, ranking, and evaluation feels like. It's terrifying at first. I must be a bad teacher, I must be a dishonest teacher, they must be doing something wrong. It isn't until a handful of exercises have been graded and they realize they really are just being graded on output that most students begin to really free themselves.

The exercises are not small or easy, and numerous students have told me they've written more for this class than for any other. If I were trying to grade evaluatively, it would be an awful paper burden on me, but I'm not grading evaluatively. I'm mostly just counting words.

The students don't need me to read their work in any depth until the revision stage, and even then mot of the work is on them, as the revision exercises are designed to get them to look at their work in new, different ways. It extends the freedom to experiment to the revision process. Then they sift through everything and begin to put order to it and show off the work they're most pleased with, most proud of. They write about how they got there, and that reflection is vital — students need to think about the processes that allowed them to write in ways they see as successful, and reflective writing is key to helping solidify what they've learned. They reflect on what they've done and what they would like to do in the future.

Their final grade is ultimately not about them being a good writer, but being a writer who has 1.) learned how to play around and experiment; 2.) learned how to look at their work with a new and critical eye toward revision; 3.) learned how to extend what they've discovered to other realms of thinking and writing. If they've been able to do that, they do well.

Grades for the course tend to average around a B, a bit higher than my usual B- average for courses. Sometimes, a group really takes to the material and I end up with an A- average. I don't feel bad about that. Because the grade is based on how much they've written, to get an A- average, the students have written an awful lot.

When teaching more advanced courses, I tend to add in a bit more evaluative grading, I tend to do fewer exercises based on playing around and more toward specific skills and goals, then finish the course with one complete and revised piece of writing. Sometimes this goes well, sometimes not.

I don't much like the traditional writing workshop. Maybe it's fine in grad school, but I really dislike it for undergrads, as I think it wastes a lot of time and doesn't give them the tools they need. I've never much liked traditional writing workshops, myself, so maybe it's just a matter of my personality. I'm sure there are people who are great teachers within that structure at whatever level. Personally, as both a student and teacher, I prefer exercises, discussions of a wide variety of published writing (and by wide variety, I mean as wide as possible — true variety, not just Lishian stuff), a focus on sentences and paragraphs, etc. There are plenty of ways to meld some of the virtues of the workshop approach with other structures. I haven't hit on a perfect solution yet, but I keep experimenting when I get the chance to teach an advanced course (which hasn't happened recently, as I'm only teaching one course per term as part of the PhD program, and mostly what I teach is first-year composition).

My goal is not to create professional writers. One or two of my former students have gone off to publish things, but they're really the outliers. I want to help students gain more confidence in their ability to use the language, and I want them to become more enthusiastic, informed readers. The reading part is important to me — I want more students to be delighted by the weirdness of Gertrude Stein, to be willing to try out complex and difficult and alienating texts, to not just seek out what feels most immediately "relevant" to them. Teaching writing is one path to that goal, because it lets students begin to think about how texts are constructed, and what writers think about. Reading like a writer is a good way to read. Experiencing writing as both and art and a craft helps, I hope, to overcome some of the prejudices that lead to writers and artists being seen as people who don't actually labor.

I also don't want to blame students for the failures of institutions. I'm skeptical of the recent discourse about whiny, overprotected students. I don't think teachers should be against students. I think we should be against the neoliberal university that sees nothing but economic indicators. As teachers of writing, we have a special place in that struggle, I think. I take hope from Steve Shaviro's ideas about aesthetics and political economy, e.g.:
I think that aesthetics exists in a special relationship to political economy, precisely because aesthetics is the one thing that cannot be reduced to political economy. Politics, ethics, epistemology, and even ontology are all subject to “determination in the last instance” by the forces and relations of production. Or rather, if ontology is not entirely so determined, this is precisely to the extent that ontology is itself fundamentally aesthetic. If aesthetics doesn’t reduce to political economy, but instead subsists in a curious way alongside it, this is because there is something spectral, and curiously insubstantial, about aesthetics.
As teachers of writing, we can wield aesthetics as a weapon against the all-consuming power of neoliberalism — we can help and encourage students to revel in the inefficacy of our aesthetic projects.

Or, at least, in my more utopian moments I think we can. Right now I just need to stop procrastinating and go grade a pile of research papers... Read the rest of this post

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17. Happy Thanksgiving

Happy Thanksgiving everyone. This is a quick note to let you know how thankful I am for all of you that read my posts. It is nice to know what you do, or in this case, what I do is not for naught. I hope each one of you has a wonderful holiday. I will see …

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18. Where Do Fairies Go When It Snows?

Where Do Fairies Go When It Snows?
By Liza Gardner Walsh
Illustrated by Hazel Mitchell
Down East Books, 2015

Fairy loving people, both young and old, enjoy making fairy houses in the warm months, but do they remember their fairy friends in the blustery months of winter? This sweet story poses all sorts of possibilities around how fairies keep warm and what they might be up to when the days turn cold. I especially like the ending of the book where ideas are given to children on how they can help fairies in the winter: make dried fruit and seed garland, is one sweet idea. 

I'm teaming up with illustrator Hazel Mitchell to give one lucky reader a copy of the book as well as a winter fairy kit! Good luck!

Liza Gardner Walsh lives on the coast of Maine with her husband and two young daughters. There they are surrounded on one side by forested mountains and on the other by Penobscot Bay. They make the most of their own fairytale: she and her family can often be found making tiny houses for fairies, mice, trolls, and other small creatures, or constructing forts and other hideaways in the woods. 
Liza has worked as a preschool teacher, children’s librarian, writing teacher, museum educator, and holds a master’s in writing from Vermont College. She is the author of several books including, Fairy House Handbook, Treasure Hunter’s Handbook, Muddy Boots and her latest, Where Do Fairies Go When It Snows? Above all, she hopes that her books inspire wonder, appreciation, and exploration of the world around us. 

Author and illustrator Hazel Mitchell is originally from England, now she lives and works in Maine. Her childhood was spent in a seaside town in Yorkshire. She can't remember a time when she wasn't drawing and still can't be left reliably alone with a pencil. When she wasn't making art, she was riding horses or rambling along the beautiful coast. After attending art college in the UK, she spent several years in the Royal Navy and then worked as a graphic designer. Now she's doing what she always dreamed of - creating books for children. 
Her first book was published in 2011 and latest books include Where Do Fairies Go When It Snows?, Animally, Imani's MoonOne Word Pearl and 1,2,3 by the Sea. Her first book as author and illustrator, Toby, will be published in 2016 by Candlewick Press. Her work has been recognized by Bank Street's Best of Children's Books, Reading is Fundamental, Society of Illustrator's of Los Angeles, Foreword Reviews, Learning Magazine and Maine Libraries 'Cream of the Crop' 2015. She is represented by Ginger Knowlton, Curtis Brown Ltd., NYC. 

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19. An Interview with Tim Hopgood

fabulousfrogsfrontcoverTim Hopgood is an illustrator and author I admire greatly. His brilliant Here Comes Frankie was one of the first books I reviewed on this blog, over 6 years ago now, and I’ve yet to read a book of his which hasn’t made me happy.

His use of colour is exceptional. His strong sense of design is eye-catching. His use of visual textures always has me stroking the pages of his books. Yes, I’ll admit I’m a bit of fan!

And so it’s a great honour, and an enormous delight to bring you an interview with Tim today. His latest book is something of a departure for him – up till now (at least when working with children’s publishers) he has always illustrated fiction, but Fabulous Frogs is a bold, extremely beautiful and fascinating non-fiction collaboration with Martin Jenkins (author of the award-winning Can We Save the Tiger?). I kicked off my interview with Tim by asking him about this different genre and what impact it had on his illustrations.

Playing by the book: This is the first time you’ve illustrated a non-fiction book. How was your approach different (and also how was it similar) to illustrating a fiction picture book?

IMG_0652Tim Hopgood: It was my first time working on a non-fiction book and my first time working with the team at Walker (Editor – Lucy Ingrams, Art Director – Beth Aves) and Author – Martin Jenkins, but what was so great was their approach was exactly the same as mine when working on my own picture books. By that, I mean the process was very fluid. We met a few times face-to-face at key stages in the development of the book and the rest of the time it was all done via email, but nothing was ever set in stone until it went to print, and that’s how I like to work. So the book was allowed to evolve in a very natural, organic way; it was a very enjoyable process.

It was also incredibly hard work. For me, the biggest challenge was trying to capture the essence and personality of each frog in my style of illustration whilst remaining anatomically correct. When working on a fiction picture book I wouldn’t be too concerned with anatomical correctness as I’d be more interested in whether my frog character had personality and emotion so this was the main difference, as all the frogs had to be easily identifiable. I don’t think I’ve ever drawn anything quite so small and in such detail as the tiny frogs from Papua New Guinea!

The other big difference was each frog belonged to a different world; so unlike in a fiction picture book where you create a world for your characters to exist in and have to stick to it throughout the book, this project allowed me the freedom to create completely different backgrounds for each frog. In some cases I kept the backgrounds white, which is something I don’t usually do in my own books.

Goliath Frog - a rough draft and the final image

Goliath Frog – a rough draft and the final image

Playing by the book: I think you’ve combined anatomical correctness, personality and emotion wonderfully well in this book – a huge part of its visual appeal is that the frogs have immense personality – lifting the book into something special and very, very distant from a “dry” fact based book…

Tim Hopgood: Thank you Zoe! that’s really good to hear…

Playing by the book: So is there anything about the process of illustrating non-fiction that you think you will “bring back” to your story picture books? Any way of looking at a subject which is different for you now because of the things you had to think about with your frogs?

Tim Hopgood: Although I wasn’t able to draw any of the frogs from life, I think my observational skills were sharpened because of this project. I studied lots and lots of photographs of each frog and had to work out what were the defining features, what made each frog special and then try to bring that frog to life on the page. I think working on the book reignited my interest in nature and I think this will influence my future projects.

Playing by the book: That’s wonderful to hear! Were you a fan of frogs before you illustrated the book? Not everyone loves wet slimy creatures…

Tim Hopgood: As a child I was fascinated by frogspawn and tadpoles; I think children like the way tadpoles move in the water. When my children were little we discovered frogs at the bottom of our garden so we created a small pond in the hope to encourage more (we put an old school sink in the ground and put some plants in it) and amazingly it wasn’t too long before we had a sink full of tadpoles. The kids loved watching the tadpoles grow and develop into tiny frogs.

A rough layout for an interior page from Fabulous Frogs, and the final version

A rough layout for an interior page from Fabulous Frogs, and the final version

Playing by the book: Which is your favourite frog in your book?

Tim Hopgood: My favourite is the striped rocket frog from Australia. It can jump five metres in one go. I love the look of this frog with its cool stripes running down its back and sides. The other one I really enjoyed drawing is the Malagasy rainbow frog.

Malagasy Rainbow Frog

Malagasy Rainbow Frog

Playing by the book: How did you and the author interact during the process of creating the book – like a great picture book, the illustrations in this book don’t just double up on the text – there’s a real interplay between words and images. Did Martin indicate what he was thinking of with regard to images? Or was there something of a dialogue about how text and image could play together?

Tim Hopgood: When I first read Martin’s text what really appealed to me was the humour running through it and that it was packed full of frogs I’d never heard of, so I knew this had the potential to be a very striking and informative book. Although we didn’t interact directly – it was all done via Beth (Art Director) – there was definitely a dialogue between text and image which shifted and developed throughout the creative process, but it was a team effort.

We did meet a few times at key stages in the development of the book. At our first meeting we discussed the overall approach and Lucy (Editor) explained how the text would work on two levels: there’s the main text running through the book and then there’s the more detailed information which would sit smaller on the page. We discussed initial ideas for each spread and Beth and Martin provided me with source material for each frog. The next stage was for me to respond to the text in a visual way.

For my first rough I did several versions for each spread so that we could discuss options and work out which one we all thought worked best. Throughout the process the copy would be revised and repositioned on the page to work with the illustrations I was creating. And sometimes I did new drawings to sit more comfortably with the text. Beth is the kind of Art Director I really enjoy working with, the kind that has a clever knack of getting the best out of you, sometimes pushing you out of your comfort zone, but in a supportive and encouraging way. I think a great Art Director can often see things in your work that you as an artist can’t see yourself, they can see you’ve got more to give and that maybe you should approach a subject in a slightly different way, and with the right encouragement and support you can do it! I learnt a lot from creating this book and not just about frogs, but about drawing too!

Striped Rocket Frog

Striped Rocket Frog

Playing by the book: Whilst researching your frogs, did you come across any other non-fiction illustrator’s work on frogs that really stood out for you?

Tim Hopgood: Oh yes – Art of the New Naturalists – Forms From Nature by Peter Marren and Robert Gillmor is an amazing non-fiction book for anyone interested in art and nature. I was given this book as a present and was inspired by the vitality of the drawings and the strong design compositions of the New Naturalist covers that are lovingly recorded in this book. It definitely influenced the way I approached the artwork for Fabulous Frogs: artwork for a non-fiction book doesn’t have to be clinical it can be painterly too. Combining expressive artwork with clear-cut information produces an interesting dynamic and that’s something I intend to explore in future projects.


Playing by the book: So apart from books used for researching for work, what role does non-fiction play in your own personal reading? Now, and as a child?

Tim Hopgood: As a child, non-fiction played a big part in my love of books. I struggled to learn to read and I struggled to find books that I enjoyed reading. I was always drawn to the non-fiction side of our local library, highly illustrated books on nature filled with facts had a particular appeal.

tellmewhyWhen I was nine, my parents bought me a hardback copy of ‘More Tell Me Why’ – Answers to over 400 questions children ask most often, by Arkady Leokum, published by Odhams Books. I loved that you could dip into it, that you didn’t have to start at the beginning and stick with it all the way through to make sense of it. You could flick through the pages and see something different each time you picked it up and I loved that it weighed a ton! And although it was heavy that didn’t stop me taking it to school and proudly reading from it in assembly!

Nowadays you’ll find plenty of non-fiction titles on my book shelves; mainly cookbooks (I recently completed over 100 illustrations for the new River Cottage cookbook ‘Love Your Leftovers’), but also lots of books on artists, designers, textiles and architecture. I still love the way you can dip in and out of a non-fiction title and discover new things each time you pick it up.


Playing by the book: One last and completely different question given that you are being interviewed on Playing by the book… what’s the last thing you did / place you visited / something you made for fun having been inspired by a book you’ve read?

Tim Hopgood: Now I feel very dull! I’m afraid it’s been all work and no play here recently, but when I’m not drawing I love to cook. For my birthday I was given ‘A Modern Way to Eat’ by Anna Jones – her Artichoke and fennel seed paella recipe is delicious!

Playing by the book: A book that makes you want to cook? That’s good enough for me! Thank you so very much Tim – here’s to frogs, fennel Seeds and further success in the future!


You can find out more about Tim Hopgood’s books on his website http://www.timhopgood.com/, and follow him on Twitter @TimHopgood.


Do look out for Tim’s new pre-school boardbook Walter’s Wonderful Web, and (like me) rejoice that his first three books are now all back in print!

Today’s interview is part of National Non-Fiction November, a month long celebration of non-fiction books for children and young people, set up by the Federation of Children’s Book Groups.


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20. The Library School Diaries

  Hello friends! You might have noticed that I’ve been basically non-existent on Twitter and Instagram for the past couple of months–and I am so sorry! I really miss everyone, and getting to chat about books and have fun! But if I’ve been absent, at least it’s for good reason: I started library school at the very end of August. I am currently finishing up my first semester in The University of Pittsburgh’s online Master of Library and Information Science program. It’s been very, very stressful, but also fun in how challenging it is! I thought it’d be neat to give you some insight into what gets covered in library school and what I’ve been learning.     I’m in the school library program (I hope to be a high school librarian one day!), and as someone without a previous education background, this means I am also working toward my teaching certificate in... Read more »

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21. Feature National Diabetes Month at your Library

 Mary Abel and 4-year-old, grandson, Robby enjoying a snack after story time

Mary Abel and 4-year-old grandson, Robby, enjoying a snack after story time (Photo courtesy of guest blogger)

There are perils to being a children’s librarian. This never occurred to me until I took grandson Robby to story time. At one session, the head came off of the turkey puppet that was helping to illustrate a story and song about Thanksgiving. While the librarian was trying to stick the head back on the turkey and sing simultaneously, the felt board fell over. The 3-and 4-year-olds seated in a circle erupted in laughter. The librarian was quick on his feet and rescued this “turkey” by playing his guitar and singing I’m a Little Turkey to the tune of I’m a Little Teapot as they all strutted around like Thanksgiving gobblers. My grandson thought it was the best thing ever.

This November when children’s librarians are strutting their stuff by cutting Thanksgiving turkeys out of construction paper, singing songs and playing with puppets, there is another important observance to headline: It’s National Diabetes Awareness Month.

Years ago, Type 1 diabetes was rare in children and Type 2 did not exist. A nationally representative study[i] now has confirmed that from 2001 to 2009 the incidence of Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes drastically increased among children and adolescents across racial groups in this country. The study found that the prevalence of Type 1 diabetes increased 21 percent among children up to age 19. The prevalence of Type 2 diabetes among ages 10 to 19 rose 30 percent during the same period . Nearly 30 million children and adults in the United States have this disease.

Tear sheet from Maddy Patti and the Great Curiosity showing a main character, Gideon, astride his horse, Stony the Pony, saving Pickles from drowning.

Tear sheet from Maddy Patti and the Great Curiosity showing a main character, Gideon, astride his horse, Stony the Pony, saving Pickles from drowning.

As an author and journalist with a background in health care communications, I am passionate about writing books that empower and help children deal with medical conditions. The most recent effort is a self-help book for children with diabetes, Maddy Patti and the Great Curiosity. Dr. Stan Borg, a family physician, and I collaborated to write this story across the miles—354.8 to be exact—to help youngsters understand and manage their diabetes.

A special section in the book is for teachers and parents. Teachers especially may benefit from this information because it helps them understand why, for example, a child with diabetes may need more bathroom breaks because of high blood sugar levels, or they may need to eat periodically throughout the day.

Informational links for librarians:


Discussion Questions:

Q. What special tools will help illustrate and promote National Diabetes Month for youngsters at our libraries?
Q. How can librarians find help and support for children and parents who are dealing with a diabetes diagnosis in our community?
Q. How can we use National Diabetes Awareness Month to garner publicity for our library?

Despite the occasional perils of falling felt boards and headless puppets, I believe that children’s librarians are important and necessary advocates for youngsters not only with diabetes but all children because you are fluent at knowing and interpreting their needs to teachers, parents and the community. So amid the sing-a-longs about gobblers and the Thanksgiving tales this November, National Diabetes Awareness Month might be a good topic to feature at your library, too.

[1] ] Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and National Institutes of Health , Search for Diabetes in Youth, 2008-2009, multicenter, continuing  study to examine diabetes (type I and type 2) among children and adolescents in the United States from 2000 to 2015.


IMG_1530Mary Abel has been a professional writer for more than 40 years and is the recipient of multiple writing awards, including the Sigma Delta Chi Mark of Excellence Award in journalism. She holds a BA in journalism from The Ohio State University. Contact her at: meabel@windstream.net.

Please note that as a guest post, the views expressed here do not represent the official position of ALA or ALSC.

If you’d like to write a guest post for the ALSC Blog, please contact Mary Voors, ALSC Blog manager, at alscblog@gmail.com.


The post Feature National Diabetes Month at your Library appeared first on ALSC Blog.

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22. When It Gets Crowded in the Revision Cave

Recently a friend asked me whether she should address the concerns of a beta reader who had clearly missed something in her novel that everyone else got. This started me thinking about the challenges in revising a story when you’ve received critiques from many different people, particularly when their comments contradict each other.

We’ve talked a lot at Publishing Crawl about revising your novel on your own and with editorial letters, but what about earlier in the process — maybe before your book even reaches agents or publishers? I am a big believer in beta readers and critique groups, and I participate in an amazing writing group. Almost every piece of fiction I have written has benefited from the sharp insights of other writers who tell me what’s working and what needs work, and call me out when I’m being lazy. If you’re fortunate, there will be a consensus, a clear sign to what you should focus on, but often there’s very different feedback from everyone, and it isn’t at all obvious who is “right” about your story. Now what?

First and foremost, it’s your story, so you have to follow your instincts. That said, you do have to be open to the possibility that you can make it even better by listening to suggestions you may not immediately agree with. And always remember that you can’t make everyone happy, but that isn’t the point; you’re trying to figure out how to make the story as good as it can be, which should also be the goal of your critiquers.

My record for critiques on a single piece is probably around twenty, for some of my short stories at the Clarion West Writers Workshop, which is where I developed my process for juggling feedback and planning a revision strategy. Whether I have seven or 17 critiques, my first step is to read through everyone’s comments and my notes from the crit session, jotting down the key points and organizing them into four categories:

  1. I totally agree with this comment and I will definitely do this
  2. I disagree with this note, but they’re probably right, so I’d better fix that
  3. That’s very interesting, I’ll keep that in mind
  4. Nope

Although here I’m focusing on what needs to be improved in the next draft, make sure you’re also noticing the good stuff, which can show you where your story is on the right track, as well as give you an ego boost that is likely sorely needed about now. This is the stuff you don’t want to break when you’re fiddling with everything around it — which can easily happen, especially if you’re trying to follow every suggestion you received.

Once you’ve listed everything out, categories 1 and 2 should give you a pretty clear idea of what changes to make in your revision; however, sometimes you will get two or more recommendations that are  incompatible, and you have to choose one. Assuming you don’t want to settle for the fastest and easiest fix, you should consider what makes the most sense for your characters and their story, and what fits with the rest of the feedback you’ve received and strengthens what was already there.

You can also consider the source of the feedback: For example, if you’re writing a YA novel, you might weigh criticism from other YA writers or readers more heavily than feedback from someone who rarely reads YA or doesn’t enjoy it. (Their perspective is still valuable and probably shouldn’t be dismissed out of hand, but they may be unaware of some of the nuances of your particular genre.) Or certain readers “get” your work or connect with your story more than others, so they have a better idea of what you were trying to accomplish.

Once I have a sort of road map of the changes I want to make, I usually dive in and start editing from beginning to end, in a linear order, layering in changes as I go. Of course every edit ripples throughout the piece, so the more time I can spend focused on and immersing myself in the story, the better to keep it all in my head, and ultimately put it on the page. I’m also keeping in mind some of the criticism that I am less sure about, or even some of those “nopes,” because as the story changes, they might make more sense or I’ve become more receptive to them. As I change the story, I feel more free to take it wherever it needs to go. If I take it too far or it doesn’t work, I can always revert back to the previous draft!

When I first started revising this way, it sometimes felt like I was writing by committee, and I resisted taking too many suggestions from others. Whose story is this, anyway? But if you’re committed to telling it in the best possible way, so it will reach the most readers, getting lots of feedback from many different perspectives is incredibly helpful. Don’t forget that every reader is different — just look all those wildly differing reviews on Goodreads! (No, don’t.) In a way, they’re all correct, because reading is such a personal, unique experience. And so is writing. In the end, you decide what your story will be, and you’re the only person who can write it.

Everyone’s writing and revision process  is also unique! So, how do you reconcile varying feedback from multiple readers?

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23. What's New in YA--November 24, 2015


Are you wondering what's new in YA today? Check out these wonderful new releases! 




Like any other Saturday night, Gabby Perez and her best friend, Maria, are out dancing. But this isn’t just another night. When a mysterious stranger warns Gabby their drinks have been drugged, she hurries Maria home. Sure enough, the next day, Maria can’t remember a thing. Gabby’s shaken by their close call. And she’s not going to stay quiet about it.

She opens up the airwaves on her radio show and discovers an even worse truth: the guy who drugged them was going to force them into prostitution. Then Gabby’s friend Bree never makes it home from a party, and Gabby fears the worst.

Gabby reaches out to the guy who saved her, the gorgeous stranger she knows only as X. As they dive into the seedy underworld of Miami, searching for Bree, they can’t ignore their undeniable attraction. Until Gabby discovers the truth about who X really is and the danger that surrounds him. Can their love survive the light of day? 







In the thrilling sequel to Lies I Told, Grace learns that the most difficult thing about pulling off the perfect crime is living with the consequences.

Grace Fontaine was trained to carry out perfect crimes. But when a mistake was made the night her family tried to execute their biggest heist yet, her world fell apart. Now her brother is in jail, her mother has disappeared with the entire stolen fortune, and her father is determined to find a new mark, no matter the cost.

Haunted by the way she betrayed her friends—and Logan, the only boy she’s ever loved—as well as the role she played in her brother’s arrest, Grace decides she must return to the place every thief knows you should avoid: the scene of the crime.

Returning to Playa Hermosa as a wanted criminal is dangerous. But Grace has only one chance to make things right. To do it, she has to use everything she’s been taught about the art of the con to hunt down the very people who trained her: the only family she’s ever known.

Perfect for fans of Ally Carter, Cecily von Ziegesar, and Gail Carriger, this thrilling, high-stakes novel deftly explores the roles of identity and loyalty while offering a window into the world of the rich and fabulous.







What do you do if you find yourself fantasizing about kissing your best friend? Sensitive guitarist Jake has been asking himself that same question for a long time, and there’s no easy answer. Telling his dream girl –talented anime artist Elena– about his feelings might lead to the ultimate rejection, but not telling her just might kill him.

Before Jake can make his move, though, a new mysterious guy enters the picture in an unexpected way. In Elena’s mind, Harlow is excitement-personified: a rebellious yet kindred spirit who she instantly connected with online. Jake’s gut is telling him that something about Harlow is off, and that Elena is in way over her head, but the more Jake pushes the issue, the more he pushes Elena right into Harlow’s arms –and into a tragedy that neither of them would ever see coming.







A heartrending but ultimately uplifting debut novel about learning to accept life’s uncertainties; a perfect fit for the current trend in contemporary realistic novels that confront issues about life, death, and love.

Seventeen-year-old Rose Levenson has a decision to make: Does she want to know how she’s going to die? Because when Rose turns eighteen, she can take the test that will tell her if she carries the genetic mutation for Huntington’s disease, the degenerative condition that is slowly killing her mother. With a fifty-fifty shot at inheriting her family’s genetic curse, Rose is skeptical about pursuing anything that presumes she’ll live to be a healthy adult—including going to ballet school and the possibility of falling in love. But when she meets a boy from a similarly flawed genetic pool, and gets an audition for a dance scholarship in California, Rose begins to question her carefully-laid rules.







After Gabi’s relationship with her long-time boyfriend Max falls apart, she just needs to get away—and she finds the perfect escape in a summer internship for her favorite TV show in London. All the gorgeous actors in the cast will more than distract her from the Break-Up.

Then she meets Spencer Black: student, show extra, expert flirt. Spending time with him is fun, intoxicating, and uncertain. Their relationship is heating up when he lands a featured role on the show. Will his newly found fame break them apart, or is Spencer the one?

In this steamy love story, the drama is just as real off-screen as it is on.







If there are any new YA books we missed, let us know in the comments below, and we'll add them to the list! 

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24. Q&A and Giveaway: Dragon Storm by Katie MacAlister

Katie MacAlister dropped by the virtual offices to answer a few questions! Be sure to enter the giveaway, too!

Do you have any favorite book boyfriends of your own?

Oh, mercy, just line my books up and start reading off the hero names. I’ve said before that I write books for myself first, and that’s absolutely true. I love all of my heroes, and it’s only because publishers won’t let me write all the heroines as me that I bother with writing those dishy men females who are worthy of them.

Outside of my books, I was one of those girls who grew up with the hots for Sherlock Holmes. As an adult, I’ve been quite fond of several of Georgette Heyer heroes, particularly those who give in to their senses of humor (Sir Tristram from Talisman Ring, and Freddy Standen from Cotillion).

What are five books on your night stand/bookshelf?

This is going to be a very disappointing answer, I fear. Right now on my nightstand are Sol y Viento (a Spanish textbook), Art: A Brief History by Marilyn Stokstad (an art history textbook), History of Italian Renaissance Art by Frederick Hartt and David Wilkins, Introduction to Forensic Science by Richard Saferson, and Step Aside, Popsm a Hark! A Vagrant Collection by Kate Beaton.

What’s your favorite quote or scene from your book?

I think the scene where Gary meets Jim is one of my faves. Especially since Gary is showing off, and Jim is instantly jealous of Gary’s toys.

If your couple’s relationship had a theme song, what would it be?

Roar by Katy Perry. The need to rise above people who want to put you down is pertinent to both hero and heroine. Plus I can see them both singing it loudly.

Tell us about the cover process. Is this what you had in mind?

I’m lucky in that my publishers have excellent art departments who take a few bits of scattered ideas that I pry out of my brain, and turn them into gorgeous covers, usually involving lick-worthy men. And this cover is no different. It’s not a bad thing to find yourself stroking a book cover, is it?

Where do you find inspiration for you writing? Do you use real people/places as a foundation?

I’ve always told myself stories, so writing is really just an extension of that. My inspiration is my muse, who I picture as a bon-bon eating diva who reclines of fainting couches a lot, waving a languid hand whenever she wants something, and basically ruling me with threats of going away on vacation if I attempt to work her too hard.  I seldom use real people in my books, since the people in my head are much more flawed and thus suitable for me to torment, but I do use as many real locations as I possibly can. I rely heavily on past trips to Europe as the source of many locations, and those I haven’t visited I usually research by finding people who live there, and haunting online webcams, and photo galleries.

Do you have any hobbies or activities that you enjoy outside of writing?

When my arthritic hands let me, I like to spin wool into yarn, knit, and sew a variety of things that never quite turn out as I’ve envisioned. I’m a gamer girl, as well, so I’m online in games like World of Warcraft, Guild Wars 2, Star Wars The Old Republic, Hearthstone, Lord of the Rings Online, and way too many other games.

I’ve also decided to go back to school, and am enjoying online classes at Fort Hays State University so I can add a history degree to my list of credentials.

Would the 10 year-old version of yourself kick your butt or praise you for what you’ve accomplished in life?

Oh, she’d be thrilled that I’ve survived the last few years, since they included everything from the death of my husband to moving to a new house. And I think she’d be quite happy with the body of work I’ve produced in the last ten years, although I know she’d tell me I should stop insisting on having time off between books, and instead write non-stop.


About Dragon Storm

According to some (including himself), Constantine is one of the greatest heroes of dragonkin who ever lived. Too bad he’s now lonelier than ever and his biggest adventure involves a blow-up sheep-until he has an opportunity to save his kind once again. All Constantine has to do is break into a demon’s dungeon, steal an ancient artifact, and reverse a deadly curse. The plan certainly does not involve rescuing a woman . . .
Bee isn’t sure whether to be infuriated or relieved when Constantine pops up in her prison. The broody, brawny shifter lights her fire in a way no one ever has before, yet how far can she really trust him? Their chemistry may be off the charts, but when push comes to shove, Constantine will have to make a crucial choice: to save the dragons or the woman he’s grown to love with fierce intensity.

Amazon: http://amzn.to/1hQ84jD
B&N: http://bit.ly/1OFgvN4
iBooks: http://apple.co/1jQSK7v
GooglePlay: http://bit.ly/1MAdTdq
Kobo: http://bit.ly/1QNqSft
BAM: http://bit.ly/1OPgyo0

About Katie MacAlister

For as long as she can remember Katie MacAlister has loved reading, and grew up with her nose buried in a book. It wasn’t until many years later that she thought about writing her own books, but once she had a taste of the fun to be had building worlds, tormenting characters, and falling madly in love with all her heroes, she was hooked.
With more than fifty books under her belt, Katie’s novels have been translated into numerous languages, been recorded as audiobooks, received several awards, and are regulars on the New York Times, USA Today, and Publishers Weekly bestseller lists. A self-proclaimed gamer girl, she lives in the Pacific Northwest with her dogs, and frequently can be found hanging around online.





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25. It's live!! Cover Reveal: Give Up The Ghost by Megan Crewe + Giveaway (International)

Hello, everyone!

Today we're super excited to celebrate the cover reveal for GIVE UP THE GHOST by Megan Crewe, re-releasing December 1, 2015. Before we get to the cover, here's a note from Megan:

Hello YABC! Welcome to the reveal of GIVE UP THE GHOST's brand new cover!

I'm very excited to be re-releasing my first novel, GIVE UP THE GHOST, next month, and to have a (if I do say so myself) beautiful new cover to go with it. While GIVE UP THE GHOST is indeed a book about ghosts, to me it's always been more about loss, isolation, and finding our way back to human connection. I tried to give a sense of all those elements through the color scheme and the imagery, which echoes a key scene in the book. I hope you love the new look as much as I do!
~ Megan Crewe (GIVE UP THE GHOST)



Ready to see?

Scroll, YABCers! Scroll!


































Here it is!



*** If you choose to share this image elsewhere, please include a courtesy link back to this page so others can enter Megan's giveaway. Thank you! ***



by Megan Crewe
Re-release date: December 1, 2015
ISBN: 978-0-9939806-1-9
About the Book
Cass McKenna much prefers the company of ghosts over "breathers." Ghosts are uncomplicated and dependable, and they know the dirt on everybody... and Cass loves dirt. She's on a mission to expose the lies and backstabbing between her fellow students.

But when the vice president of the student council discovers her secret, Cass's whole scheme hangs in the balance. Tim wants her to help him contact his recently deceased mother, and Cass reluctantly agrees.

As Cass becomes increasingly entwined in Tim's life, she's surprised to realize he's not so bad--and he needs help more desperately than anyone else suspects. Maybe it's time to give the living another chance...
To learn more about this book and see our review, go HERE.

b2ap3_thumbnail_megan_20151101-235913_1.jpgAbout the Author

Like many authors, Megan Crewe finds writing about herself much more difficult than making things up. A few definite facts: she lives with her husband, son, and three cats in Toronto, Canada (and does on occasion say "eh"), she tutors children and teens with special needs, and she has yet to make friends with a ghost, though she welcomes the opportunity.

Twitter | Web | Goodreads | Facebook | Instagram | YouTube | Tumblr | Pre-order Amazon


Giveaway Details

Two winners will each receive a signed paperback copy of the new edition of GIVE UP THE GHOST. 

Entering is simple, just fill out the entry form below. Winners will be announced on this site and in our monthly newsletter (sign up now!) within 30 days after the giveaway ends.

During each giveaway, we ask entrants a question pertaining to the book. Here is the question they'll be answering in the comments below for extra entries:

What do you think about the cover and synopsis?

Click the Rafflecopter link below to enter the giveaway:


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