Jeffrey Brown authored the first three books in the Jedi Academy series, two of which I enthusiastically reviewed here. This trilogy is HUGELY popular in my school library and a fantastic alternative to Diary of a Wimpy Kid. Before that, Brown wrote a trilogy of Darth Vader, a comics series that imagines Vader's life as father to Luke and Leia. Brown's new series debuted in August and features prehistoric siblings Lucy and Andy as they deal with typical kid stuff while also being filled with scientific information and facts about pre-history. Jedi Academy was too good to let go, and quite smartly, Scholastic has tapped Jarrett Krosoczka, author of the Lunch Lady series of graphic novels. Jedi Academy: A New Class finds young Victor Starspeeder making a midyear transfer from the Jedi Academy at Obroa-skai, where he has had a series of mishaps to the Jedi Academy at Coruscant. Victor decides that he is going to start keeping a journal of his time at Jedi Academy because that is what his father, who died when Victor was a baby, did.
The Jedi Academy has its own challenges, starting with Christina, Victor's big sister, who already goes there. She tells him in no uncertain terms that once they are at school, they are strangers. Navigating the new school on his own, Victor is swayed by Zach, and older student, who turns out to be a bully and a prankster with his own agenda. He also gets stuck with Artemis, an asthmatic kid in a black hooded cloak who just might be a Sith. Victor tries to make friends, impress a girl, and get his special project on the planet Endor completed while also trying to stay out of trouble and keep Zach from getting him kicked out.
Krosoczka hits all the right notes in Jedi Academy: A New Class, continuing and updating features that Brown introduced in the first three books like handwritten notes between characters, school schedules and pages from the school newspaper, including an advice column by Ms. Catara, the school guidance counselor who is also a Gungan. Krosoczka also creates a couple new twists, including the Galaxy Feed, which is a social media type feature that pops up on a tablet like device, and a page of comic strips that look at classics like Family Circus, Peanuts and Garfield through the lens of Star Wars. I especially liked, "Huttfield," in which Jaba the Hutt is the lazy, food loving star of the strip.
While I love that this series continues on (and I hope that, after another three books a new author/illustrator takes on this challenge) and am thrilled that I have more of these books to offer students, for me, Krosoczka's take on the academic world of the young Jedi lacks a bit of the depth, heart and humor that I found in Brown's books. But hey, I'm pretty sure I'm not the target audience for these books...
Happy Fusenews day to you, guv’nor. In today’s episode we tip our hat to a post last week that is probably my most popular of all time. Who knew knitting needles could be such lightning rods? In any case, on with the newz!
How old is the picture book biography as we know it today? Recently I’ve been thinking long and hard about what its purpose is, as well as its limitations. Jacqueline Davies has thought longer and harder in some ways, though, since her recent post Writers and the Real Estate Market takes a very personal look at the choices she made when she wrote The Boy Who Drew Birds. She makes some remarkably interesting points about content and format.
Boy, it must be hard. Every year, without fail, Marjorie Ingall (Mamaleh Knows Best) scours the publishing world for great Jewish-centric books for kids. The pickings are almost always slim, but once in a while you get some really good biographies. Picture book biographies (I sense a theme to today’s post) no less. The first is of the current Ruth Bader Ginsberg bio in the piece Teaching Kids the Value of Dissent and the other Rich Michelson’s most recent bio in Leonard Nimoy’s Fascinating Life. Great books. Great write-ups.
Librarians. We have one of those professions where it’s pretty clear that whenever we appear in the news, 50% of the time it’s not about something good. Case in point, the recent news about a thrifty library cataloger who donated $4 million to his employer after his death. His employer, however, was a university library. So, naturally, $1 million of that is going to a football scoreboard. Some folks are less than entirely pleased with that development.
I mentioned it last week but I’m mentioning it again today because it’s a darn good cause. If you don’t know about why authors and illustrators alike (as well as celebs like Al Roker and Nicole Kidman) are painting piggy banks for auction, you should fill yourself in here. A good cause and you get art. The bidding just started yesterday, so don’t be left behind. And I know I won’t get it, but this is my own personal favorite piggy:
I already read this four years ago, but with the recent passing of Gene Wilder I saw it included in a Chronicle Books newsletter and just couldn’t resist putting it up again. It’s Gene Wilder’s handwritten notes on the changes he’d prefer to the Willy Wonka costume he was initially given. Ole blue eyes himself.
Maurice Sendak was initially going to design that old movie Return to Oz?!? Apparently it never happened but he did create a publicity poster for the ad campaign. Not that it really looks like any of the characters in the movie (I’m working on a couple theories on who the guy on the far right is) but in terms of the book Ozma of Oz, it’s not terrible.
Many many thanks to J.L. Bell at Oz and Ends for this image. Yet another old post from 2012. I’m having that kind of a day.
By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for CynsationsMaria Gianferrari
writes both fiction and nonfiction picture books from her sunny, book-lined study in northern Virginia, with her dog Becca as her muse.
Maria’s debut picture book, Penny & Jelly: The School Show
, illustrated by Thyra Heder
(2015) led to Penny & Jelly: Slumber Under the Stars
(2016)(both HMH Books).
Maria has seven picture books forthcoming from Roaring Brook Press, Aladdin Books for Young Readers, GP Putnam’s Sons and Boyds Mills Press in the coming years. Could you tell us about your writing community--your critique group or partner or other sources of emotional, craft and/or professional support?
In the spirit of my main character, Penny, an avid list maker, here are my top five answers:
1. Ammi-Joan Paquette
I am so grateful for my amazing agent, Ammi-Joan Paquette!
Where do I begin? I owe my writing career to Joan, for taking a chance on and believing in me. She has been sage guide, a cheerleader and champion of my writing from the get go.
She’s made my writing dream come true!!
2. Crumpled Paper Critique (CP):
I would not be where I am today without my trusted writing friends and critique partners: Lisa Robinson, Lois Sepahban
, Andrea Wang
, Abigail Calkins Aguirre and Sheri Dillard. They have been such a wonderful source of support over the years, in good times, and in bad.
Yes—it’s kind of like a marriage—that’s how dedicated we are to each other’s work! They’re smart, thoughtful, insightful, well read, hard-working and the best critique partners one could hope for!
We have a private website where we share not only our manuscripts, but our opinions on books, ideas, writing inspiration and doubts. I treasure them and wish we lived closer to one another to be able to meet regularly in person. Hugs, CPers!
3. Emu’s Debuts
Like many other writers, I’m quite a shy and introverted person. If you’ve seen that classic hamster ball cartoon about introverts, that’s me! Having a book debut is extremely intimidating.
I was so lucky to have joined the ranks of Emu’s Debuts, so named for clients and debut authors affiliated with Erin Murphy Literary Agency (EMLA)
The Emu’s Debuts blog is a place for sharing thoughts on the craft of writing and illustrating, being debuts, and most importantly, helping launch our books into the world. I have since fledged, but it was so helpful, reassuring and fun to be a part of this community of very talented, kind and generous people. Check out the current flock of Emus
4. Tara Lazar
Picture book author extraordinaire, and founder of PiBoIdMo (picture book idea month), Tara has also been a generous supporter, not just of me, but for all the pre and published picture book authors and illustrators out there. Thousands of writers participate and are inspired by guest posts during PiBoIdMo
, November’s picture book idea challenge. She shares insights on craft, the field of publishing, new books, interviews, giveaways, etc. on her popular blog, Writing for Kids (While Raising Them)
, throughout the year.
When the news of the Penny & Jelly sale broke, Tara kindly offered to host me of her blog. Later, she invited to be a contributor for PiBoIdMo, and last year she also participated in my blog tour for Penny & Jelly.
5. Kirsten Cappy
of Curious City:
Kirsten’s a kidlit marketing guru and owner of Curious City. She was invaluable in sorting through the mire that is promotion.
Kirsten’s clever and creative and had so many wonderful ideas for promoting Penny & Jelly in ways that would be most comfortable for an introvert like me. She designed a Jelly banner with original art from illustrator Thyra Heder for use as a photo booth so kids could “be” Penny and pose with Jelly, as well as gorgeous postcards and business cards.
I especially love the talent show kit for library and classroom use that Kirsten designed. Please feel free to share and use it. As a picture book writer, you have succeeded in a particularly tough market. What advice do you have for others, hoping to do the same?
1. Write What You Love:
Write what you’re obsessed with. This will help you not only endure the inevitable rejections along the way, but also the winding road of revision.
My debut nonfiction book, Coyote Moon
, was released this July. It initially began as an article on suburban coyotes for "Highlights."
Well, "Highlights" rejected it, but I wasn’t ready to let go of my manuscript.
The coyotes kept howling in my head, so it morphed into a poetic picture book.
Several revisions later, it won a Letter of Commendation for a Barbara Karlin grant
from SCBWI; many more revisions later, it was acquired by Emily Feinberg at Roaring Brook Press
. And I am so in love Bagram Ibatoulline
’s illustrations. They are absolutely stunning!
2. Read. Read. Read:
Then read some more. I once read that before attempting to write one picture book, we should first read 1,000. But don’t just read them, see them as teachers, as mentor texts for your own work.
One of the most helpful exercises is to hand-write or type the words of my favorite picture book texts, to feel the rhythm of the and pulse of the story in my fingers, to get under the story’s skin—see its bones or structure and the way the muscles and sinews, rhythm, refrain and repetition, are bound together. Doing this helps us find a story’s heart, its elusive soul and helps us understand our own work.
Consider joining founder Carrie Charley Brown
, where picture books are studied as mentor texts. Get ready to dig deep!
3. Don’t Give Up!
Persevere! Keep swimming! Rejection is at the heart of this journey and it’s not usually a linear journey, it’s more circuitous, with ups and downs along the way.
Take it one day, one moment at a time, and celebrate all of your successes, both big and small.
And remember, keep improving your craft, and building your connections, you will get there!
(See #1 again)
4. Play and Experiment:
To find your writing voice, play with different points of view. Change genres. Try out different structural techniques like letters, or a diary format or lists, like I did with Penny & Jelly.
Think about the shape of your story. Is it circular? Could it be a journey? Would a question and answer format enhance it? Does it have a refrain?
I’m not an illustrator, but you can do the same kinds of things to find your visual voice—switch sketching for sewing, or painting for clay. And most of all, embrace your inner kid and have fun!
5. Reach Out:
Connect with your local and online writing community—there are so many valuable resources out there. You’re reading Cynsations, so that’s a great start! If you haven’t already joined SCBWI
and found a critique group, that’s a must. As I mentioned above, join Tara Lazar’s PiBoIdMo challenge in November, or Paula Yoo
to write a picture book a day, which takes place in May.
There’s a plethora of writing groups on Facebook. One I highly recommend is Kidlit411
, co-run by Elaine Kieley Kearns
and Sylvia Liu
. It’s such a wealth of information for authors and illustrators on writing/illustrating craft, on promotion, on submissions for agents and editors, revision—all kinds of things. And to borrow Jane Yolen
’s title, above all, Take Joy
! Cynsational Giveaway
Enter to win an author-signed copy of Penny & Jelly: The School Show and Penny & Jelly: Slumber Under the Stars. Eligibility: U.S. only. From the promotional copy:
This young and funny picture book introduces the soon-to-be star of her school talent show: Penny. Despite her desire to knock everyone's socks off, Penny's having a tough time deciding on what talent she might have. With a little help from her dog, Jelly, Penny tries out various talents—from dancing to unicycling, fashion designing to snake charming—with disastrous results. That is, until she realizes that she and Jelly have a talent to share that's unlike any other.a Rafflecopter giveaway
Dog Loves Counting. Louise Yates. 2013. Random House. 32 pages. [Source: Review copy]
First sentence: Dog loved books. He loved reading them late into the night and didn't like to leave them for long.
Premise/plot: Dog knows he should go to bed, but, he's having trouble falling to sleep. He decides to count something--not sheep--to help him sleep. So he opens a book, finds himself inside, of course--Dog gets lost in books, becoming part of the action--and starts to find things to count. He makes friends too, of course.
My thoughts: Of the three books, this is my least favorite. I still love Dog as a character. And I can even relate to not wanting to put down his book and go to bed. But as an adult reader, I can't really lose myself in a book that focuses on counting from one to ten and back again. I just can't. For young children, of course, this one is still recommended. But it feels more 'educational' than the previous two in the series.
Text: 3 out of 5
Illustrations: 3 out of 5
Total: 6 out of 10
© 2016 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews
In part three of 10 objects from the archive of objects found in my dad's house, I'd like to offer this.
|School project: Toothless Old Man. Pen & Ink. 80cm x 60cm, 1976 |
After the tentative steps of the Henry Hudson picture I worked on two other school projects before setting to work on this large piece, which proved to be the most experimental and successful of my school drawings in pure pen and ink. It was drawn from a randomly selected photo reference using a multi coloured pen and ink line technique - on the face and hat I used three separate pen nibs to switch colours and gradually build up the drawing in different coloured cross-hatching, the waistcoat was filled in by dabbing ink with sponge. It was a labour-intensive technique for such a large sized drawing, but proved a great success. Sadly many of the coloured inks have faded over time.
The image was the centre piece of my school's 1976 art show during the summer festival, and made it to the pages of the local newspaper - my first press appearance! Even my junior school headmistress came to see it. By this time I was absolutely determined to be an illustrator and had my sights set on art college.
After the show this picture adorned the walls of my parent's house for a few years before being consigned to the loft. The identity of the man in the photo I never knew!