I've always really liked the fact that ANYONE can be a writer - the work stands or falls on its own. And, I’ve always liked the idea of having a pseudonym - but have usually been persuaded out of it. 'But people won't know it was you…’ True, but using a pseudonym can be a great way of beating writer’s block.
As Ruth Symes I’ve recently been concentrating on my Bella Donna series - about a witchling who lives half in the magical and half in the regular world. Before the first one came out I did suggest I used a more magical sounding pseudonym for the books - Esmeralda Jones or The Purple Witch - but my publishers didn’t go for it. When I wrote me my memoir ‘The Puppy that Came for Christmas’ under the pseudonym of Megan Rix my reason for writing it was so I never forgot the three wonderful puppies we had in a single year. But then one of my agents sold it to Penguin and they wanted the personal trauma we’d been going through written about too and a pseudonym started looking like a very good idea. There was an unbelievably short deadline to get the book out for Christmas and our real forever puppy, Traffy, became seriously ill and we were told we'd have to have her put down and I refused, and she recovered, and with all that going on it was a case of pseudonyms snoozeonyms - not a big deal either way in the scheme of things. The name Megan Rix was only supposed to be used once (Rix is a family name of my husband’s - so he chose that) I didn't know Puffin would then commission me to write a children's book as Megan Rix - and now I have a double career as a children’s book writer and double the work (yikes - I’m typing as fast as I can!) If I didn't sleep or do any housework (hate housework) maybe I could do more... Writing under two names means I need to do a l
I didn’t mean to reread The Blue Castle again, but then I never do plan it; I just seem to tumble into it on a regular basis. Somehow it gets better, richer, every time. I feel like I could walk out my back door and be in Muskoka, watching the moon over the lake. You wouldn’t think it possible Montgomery could make any place sound as lovely as Prince Edward Island, but oh, those woods, those views.
I love LMM’s character transformations, and Valancy’s arc is one of her best—as satisfying as Jane’s, and despite the wild coincidences of identity, even more believable than Jane’s. Montgomery does repressed, emotionally abused young women painfully well. I love watching Valancy shed her chains, coil by coil. One line in particular jumped out at me this time:
“Meanwhile she was giving herself such freedom of thought as she had never dared to take before.”
It never struck me until now how much Montgomery does with that notion of ‘freedom of thought’ being vital for a character’s happiness and growth—we see Anne thriving under the most miserable circumstances in her early childhood because of the saving power of her imagination; and Jane escaping her grandmother’s tyranny and general misery via her nightly ‘moon sprees’; and Valancy, finally, at age 29, under a death sentence, giving herself free rein to evaluate her relatives’ behavior and make her own plans. Hmm, there’s an essay to be had there. Probably someone has written it already.
Must run, but if you want to gab about this much-beloved book in the comments, I won’t complain…
“How I Got My Agent” is a recurring feature on the GLA blog. Some tales are of long roads and many setbacks, while others are of good luck and quick signings. If you have a literary agent and would be interested in writing a short guest column for this GLA blog, e-mail me at email@example.com and we’ll talk specifics.
Anne Greenwood Brown is the author of LIES BENEATH
(Random House/Delacorte, June 2012), a YA novel about murderous
mermaids on Lake Superior. She is a guest blogger on Writer Unboxed
and a member of The Apocalypsies (2012 YA/MG debuts). You can
follow her on Twitter @AnneGBrown and check her out on Facebook.
See the novel’s book trailer here.
MY FIRST WRITERS CONFERENCE
In April 2010, I got in my car and drove four hours to my first writers’ conference. The plan: pitch my “Serious Piece of Work” to two literary agents and ultimately score a huge publishing deal.
The first morning, I met with Agent #1. She was everything my Midwestern mind conjured up when I thought of publishing professionals from Manhattan: tall, beautifully dressed, glossy, didn’t pronounce the letter R. She proceeded to tell me that there was no market for my “Serious Piece of Work.”
LET’S TRY THIS AGAIN…
As I licked my wounds, I prepared for my second pitch session–this time with Molly Lyons of Joëlle Delbourgo Associates. Molly looked very friendly in her picture. Plus, she went to Amherst College, my dad’s alma mater. I reasoned that she had to like my novel because I knew all the words to the Amherst fight song.
But thirty minutes before that second pitch session, the conference coordinator announced that Molly was unable to make the trip, and her colleague, Jacqueline Flynn, had come in her place. I quickly Googled Jacqueline on my Blackberry. She represented nonfiction, specializing in business books. Seriously? I almost bailed on the meeting. I’d already been told my Serious Piece of Work was a piece of something else. Why bother?
Despite feeling defeated, I decided it would be unprofessional to bail on the appointment. Besides, I could always use it as a practice pitch. Strange thing though. When I sat down, I forgot to mention my Serious Piece of Work. Instead, I told Jacqueline about a MG novel I wrote for my kids.
“That sounds good,” she said. “Send me that.”
TWO “YES” VOTES
Four months went by and, as I sat in the Arby’s drive-thru, my phone rang:
“Hi, Anne. This is Jacquie Flynn from Joëlle Delbourgo Associates. I was at a hockey tournament this weekend and my son forgot his book at home. He pulled your manu
After almost a year absent from the blogosphere I am resurrecting Encouraging Words for Writers. The format will be different, but the purpose will be the same. I will blend poetry, Scripture, photographs, quotes and my own musings to:
Encourage you to write what God has put into your heart and life,
Inform you and help you to grow as a writer, and
Inspire you to cultivate the mindset of Christ
Blog: Starting Fresh
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When Ben Cowper, a young psychiatrist, first meets Harry Shapiro, the former chief executive of a failed Wall Street bank, he diagnoses him as suicidally depressed and admits him to hospital for observation. Then pressure is brought by his superiors to discharge Harry, and Ben is slowly drawn into Shapiro’s gilded world in Manhattan and East Hampton where nothing is what it first seems. After a colleague of Harry's takes his own life and revelations of fraud follow, Ben realizes he has made a terrible error that threatens both his career and his life.
I couldn't put down A Fatal Debt. Fortunately, I started the book while traveling to Boston so I had nearly 4 hours of uninterrupted reading.
John Gapper gives us a smart, ambitious and sympathetic lead character/amateur sleuth in Dr. Ben Cowper. Ben is on duty when Harry Shapiro, the man donated the funds and for whom a hospital wing at New York-Episcopal is named, arrives at the hospital. Ben's initial treatment of Harry makes and impression but it is still a surprise when billionaire Harry Shapiro bypasses the department head and specifically requests for Ben. The novel captures the nuances of hospital and departmental politics from the point of view of a promising but junior member of staff. These passages particularly resonated with me.
A Fatal Debt is a thriller where the action comes from complex financial transactions in the world of investment banking and Wall Street. The drama comes from divided loyalties, upended friendships, and the upheaval of ordinary lives. John Gapper takes us to these new landscapes and private worlds full of white collar crime - and on a complex and engrossing read
ISBN-10: 0345527895 Hardcover $26.00
Publisher: Ballantine Books (June 26, 2012), 288 pages.
Review copy courtesy of the publisher and NetGalley.
About the Author:
John Gapper is chief business commentator and an associate editor of the Financial Times. He writes a weekly column on business and finance, focusing on the media and technology industries and innovation. He also writes editorial and features on a range of business topics. He has written extensively on Wall Street and the financial crisis; the trou
#17 The Story of Ferdinand by Munro Leaf, illustrated by Robert Lawson (1936)
I remember liking this as a child, but I love it even more as a parent, when my children love to listen to it. It’s a gentle story, and can sometimes be calming at bedtime, but they also love to run around the house yelling “Wow! Did it hurt!” regarding the bumblebee scene. - Libby Gorman
What a beautiful message about being true to who you are! The simple sketches by Robert Lawson are fantastic. – Alexandra Eichel
Because, with a mix of humor and gravity, it sustains many very different interpretations. - Philip Nel
I was the Ferdinand in my family of birth. - Laura Gallardo
True story. I walk into the local Aveda to get my hair styled and the fellow they’ve given me is a chatty sort. Wants to talk to me about my job, librarianship, that sort of thing. And in the midst of our conversation I somehow steer it over to the Top 100 Picture Books poll and the books that did particularly well. He doesn’t remember the names of children’s books, but he brings up (of all things), “That story about the bull with the flowers.” “Ferdinand?”, I ask. “That’s the one!” That leads into a conversation of the book, the fact that his roommate has that bull tattooed onto his back (this is true), and the controversy surrounding it . . . but I get ahead of myself. In any case, clearly this book is on the minds of the non-children’s picture book reading public at large as well as the fans of the field.
Children’s Literature described the plot as, “Set in Spain, it is about a young bull named Ferdinand. All bulls in Spain aspire to one day fight in the ring with a matador. But not Ferdinand. All day long the young bulls play at fighting in hopes that one day they will be strong enough to be chosen for the bullfights. But Ferdinand prefers to quietly sit in the pasture and enjoy his surroundings. When the bulls all mature, they long to be selected for the bullring…all but Ferdinand. As the other bulls prance and preen, hoping to be selected, Ferdinand ignores the commotion. Suddenly, Ferdinand is stung by a bumblebee. He bellows and dances around like crazy. The matadors are so impressed with his machismo they select him as the strongest bull. He is praised all around for his power, until the day of the bullfight. Poor Ferdinand just sits there. The matadors prod and coax with no luck. Ferdinand is not interested in fighting. Ferdinand is returned to his pasture to live out his life in solitude.”
In any case, this is a lovely banned book to place on the list. Banned by whom? Oh, nobody much. Just a fellow by the name of Adolf Hitler. You see it was published during the Spanish civil war, Franco banned it in Spain, and then Hitler goes and calls it “degenerate democratic propaganda.” 100 Best Books for Children does say that it had its admirers as well, though. “Thomas Mann, H.G. Wells, Gandhi, and Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt.” So, to sum up. Hitler hated it and Gandhi loved it. That’s a fine pedigree for this list, I should think.
In Tales for Little Rebels, there’s quite the lovely section dedicated to the book. “When the book was published in the fall of 1936, critics accused Ferdinand of being communist, pacifist, and fascist, and of satirizing communism, pacifism, and fascism. . . .
#18 A Sick Day for Amos McGee by Philip Stead, illustrated by Erin E. Stead (2010)
Too soon to appear? I think not. Amos and his friends feel as if they have been with us forever, as they will be. Also because the penguin’s red socks are just so irresistible. – DaNae Leu
This is a recent book, but it’s destined to be a classic. Everytime I read this book I feel the need to hug the book at the end-that’s how much I love it. Amos and his animals feel so real and I love being part of their story for awhile. – Sarah
The last time this poll for picture books was conducted the year was 2009. That is the sole reason, insofar as I can tell, that A Sick Day for Amos McGee did not make the Top 100. After all, it’s a modern classic.
The description from my review reads, “Each morning it’s the same. Amos McGee gets out of bed, puts on his uniform, and goes to his job as zookeeper in the City Zoo. Amos takes his job very seriously. He always makes sure to play chess with the elephant, run races with the tortoise, sit quietly with the penguin, blow the rhino’s runny nose, and tell stories to the owl at dusk. Then one day Amos wakes up sick and has to stay in bed. The animals, bereft of his presence, decide something must be done. So they pick themselves up and take the bus to Amos’s house to keep him company for a change. And after everyone helps him out, Amos reads them all a story and each one of them tucks in for the night.”
In an interview at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast, Ms. Stead spoke a little bit about creating this book. It was her first picture book, written by her husband, and she explained her process to Jules, beginning with “The first tactic I use in order to make a picture is to avoid my drawing table area entirely. I’ll walk the dog, sit on the porch, or bake. There is too much pressure at the drawing table, and I like to get to know my characters before I draw them. Once I feel confident navigating a blank piece of paper, I do a sketch or two. Some are better than others, but most are not very pretty.”
- You can read the Children’s Book-a-Day Almanac piece on the book here.
PW said, “Newcomer Erin Stead’s elegant woodblock prints, breathtaking in their delicacy, contribute to the story’s tranquility and draw subtle elements to viewers’ attention: the grain of the woodblocks themselves, Amos’s handsome peacock feather coverlet. Every face–Amos’s as well as the animals’–brims with personality. Philip Stead’s (Creamed Tuna Fish and Peas on Toast) narrative moves with deliberate speed, dreaming up a joyous life for the sort of man likely to be passed on the street without a thought.”
Said SLJ, “The artwork in this quiet tale of good deeds rewarded uses woodblock-printing techniques, soft flat colors, and occasional bits of red. Illustrations are positioned on the white space to move the tale along and underscore the bonds of friendship and loyalty. Whether read individually or shared, this gentle story will resonate with youngsters.”
Booklist had an unexpected take, saying, “
#19 The Tale of Peter Rabbit by Beatrix Potter (1902)
Potter never wrote down to children. The size is perfect for little ones to hold and pour over the detailed illustrations. – Natalie
Forever classic. – Rose Marie Moore
Introducing the oldest book to appear on the Top 100 picture book list. I’m a Potter fan myself. To my mind the charm of these books has to do with the fact that Beatrix Potter was a naturalist. She drew realistic animals who just happened to be wearing knickers, breeches, and shiny brass buttons. Somehow, when you draw a realistic animal wearing clothing, that image is infinitely cuter than however many eyelashes and big brown eyes you might choose to bedeck a critter with.
The description from my review reads: “Peter lives, as many of us know, in a large fir tree with his mother and his siblings Flopsy, Mopsy, and Cottontail. His father was baked in a pie (a fact that many parents have decried as too dark for children, and that many children have shrugged at without a second thought). Though instructed by his mother NOT to go digging in Mr. McGregor’s garden, he’s a naughty little thing. His tasty trip is brought up short, however, when he stumbles across the farmer himself. In the course of their chase Peter loses his little blue jacket with the shiny brass buttons and must return to his mother (after a series of close shaves) without it or his shoes. He is promptly put to bed with a cup of chamomile tea (a fate we non-chamomile tea drinkers must assume is harsh) while his siblings eat the tasty blackberries they picked that morning.”
Did Ms. Potter terrorize Roald Dahl and the siblings of Diana Wynne Jones when they were children? That’s the rumor anyway. In working on my Candlewick book (tentative working title: Wild Things: The True and Untold Stories Behind Children’s Books) alongside the wonderful Jules Danielson and late and amazing Peter Sieruta I determined to get to the root of the matter. Was Potter the meanie people desperately want to believe she was, or could it be that someone else was doing the yelling and Ms. Potter was taking the blame? Sorry, folks. I’m going to pull the old you’ll-have-to-read-the-book when it comes out in Fall 2013 card on you.
Considering how long she lived she has a somewhat limited roster. How to account for that? 100 Best Books for Children says of Potter’s later years (when she married and didn’t write) that “Her creative energies appear to have been sparked by unhappiness rather than the deep contentment that came in her later life.”
Of course the story goes that these books were printed small for little child hands. Like the Nutshell Library books, the titles were meant to be little. They’ve been expanded since then (there’s money to be made). In fact The Norton Anthology of Children’s Literature dedicates quite a bit of time to Peter, discussing his many incarnations over the years. They say, “But despite Peter Rabbit’s iconic status, an unauthorized edition was published in the United States in 1982 with new, distinctly American illustrations.” The illustrator in this case was one Allen Atkinson and the pictures are a weird mix of Potter’s color scheme and a more cartoonish take on the animals. Norton goes on to say, “In 1987, Ladybird Books published a new British edition, hoping to broaden the audience by using photographs of stuffed toys and softening the text, on the assumption that children could no longer relate to watercolors and would be upset by Potter’s attitudes toward puni
#20 Pete the Cat: I Love My White Shoes by Eric Litwin, illustrated by James Dean (2010)
Once the song is downloaded and played, it will never leave your head! Catchy in a good way. Also, it teaches an important lesson to “not sweat the small stuff.” Great for kids and adults alike. – Gina Detate
Do not be fooled by the simplicity of this little picture book. As with Mo Willems’ Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus, there is more here than meets the eye; there is genius in the pages.
Here is my Tip-slash-Promise: If you will teach your little ones two things before you start reading, you will have an instant-favorite on your hands.
1] Teach them to say, with enthusiasm, of course, “”Goodness, no!”"
2] Teach them the song Pete sings. You can see a video of the author himself reading this book with kids at PetetheCat.com. Super-simple to learn and sing. Kids lovelovelove it.
One of my favorite things about Pete the Cat is the moral of the story, which speaks to adults more than it does to kids. Winner.
Warning: You will find yourself singing, at odd times of the day, “I love my white shoes, I love my white shoes, I love my white shoes….” – Kristi Hazelrigg
And THAT, ladies and gentlemen, is how you create a serious upset! A show of hands from all of you who saw this one coming. A few? Well done then. Though aware of Pete’s popularity I had mentally relegated him to that genre of popular picture books that get a lot of attention then fade slowly into the mist. I had not counted on Pete’s ability to attract not only the masses but the gatekeepers as well.
The plot according to SLJ reads, “Pete the Cat strolls down the street singing, ‘I love my white shoes, I love my white shoes, I love my white shoes.’ Then he steps in (actually climbs up) a huge hill of strawberries that turn his pristine sneakers red. ‘Did Pete cry? Goodness, no! He kept walking along and singing his song. I love my red shoes….’ He proceeds to step in a mound of blueberries and then a mud puddle, each incident changing his sneakers to a new hue (the colors never blend). Unsmiling but placid, Pete takes it all in stride. After stepping into a ‘bucket’—more like a tub—of water, he notices that his sneakers are not only white again, but also wet.”
The story behind the book is one of those once in a blue moon success stories. Artist James Dean started out as an electrical engineer, actually. After quitting his job to paint full time he adopted a small black cat, named it Pete, and started painting it with blue fur. The real Pete took off for parts unknown but James kept painting him. That’s when Eric saw the paintings around town (the town in question being Atlanta) and started writing songs about him. Eventually the two men collaborated and voila. Instant picture book. The original Pete picture book was published by the author and illustrator in 2008 by their own Blue Whisker Press. Two years later Harper Collins snapped him up and wasted no time in introducing him to the wider world.
Of course the flipside of this book being the massive success that it is is that now publishers are far more open to finding and publishing self-published picture books. The successful ones that already have a following, anyway. And because Pete is such a 21st century hep cat, I suspect that his rise has as much to do with his YouTube video as the book itself. Can another picture book say the same? I think not.
- Want some Pete art of your own? Find it
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About 6 months ago, I heard about this cool thing from my friend Kirsten Cappy at Curious City called StoryWalk. For those of you who did not click on the links, here’s the lowdown: a picture book is put, page by page, onto signs and is installed along a walking path. You can do it the original way that they did it in Vermont, by purchasing 2 copies of a book and cutting the pages out and laminating them (which is a great, great idea!). Or you can do it the way Kirsten did it, which is the way we did it: we got publisher permission and replicated the book onto signs, and added some fun physical activities to each sign. Adding these movement activities made the project enticing to our local health boards, and an organization called Active Kids Healthy Kids, which is where we got the funding to do this project. The proposals for these funds came out about a week after I heard about StoryWalk, so I knew it was a sign from the literacy gods.
We used the book Juba This, Juba That by Helaine Becker, because we wanted to use something by a local author or illustrator, and we are lucky to have illustrator Ron Lightburn living right here in our own proverbial backyard. Ron liked the idea and so did the folks at Tundra, so we had a green light to move ahead. After much back and forth with the graphic designer and printer, we had our signs. We are installing them semi-permanently in two parks, and we have 2 sets of portable StoryWalks that schools and other community groups can borrow.
Our official launch was held today, a lovely, sunny day; watching the kids and adults crawling, hopping, tip-toeing, and running from sign to sign was almost as exciting (to a children’s librarian) as the midnight release of a new Harry Potter book. Ron Lightburn was able to join us and read the story to the kids before they did the walk. What a joyous day! So now that you know about StoryWalk, which book will you do in your community?
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#16 Harold and the Purple Crayon by Crockett Johnson (1955)
It’s like the best kind of dream! It’s surreal and meta and mindbending! And also funny! I found it haunting when I was a kid, reality being created as you go; now that surrealism is one of my favorite things about it. I love the bits like there being nothing but pie, but it was all nine kinds of pie Harold liked best; and random characters like the very hungry moose and deserving porcupine. It’s so simple and so brilliant! – Amy M. Weir
Because it’s the most succinct expression of imaginative possibility ever created. – Philip Nel
Uh-oh. Another book has slipped down from the Top Ten. Previously ranking at #7, Harold manages to cling to the Top 20 but it’s hard to think what might replace him. The boy is ubiquitous, after all.
The plot synopsis from B&N reads, “Harold’s wonderful purple crayon makes everything he draws become real. One evening, Harold draws a path and a moon and goes for a walk-and the moon comes too. After many adventures, Harold gets tired and can’t find his bedroom. Finally, he remembers that the moon always shines through his bedroom window. He draws himself a bed, and ‘the purple crayon dropped on the floor, and Harold dropped off to sleep.’ This little gem is filled with visual and written puns.”
Growing up I knew of Harold but had far more of a connection to the rip-off animated series Simon in the Land of the Chalk Drawings. Odd but true.
There are many things to enjoy in Dear Genius: The Letters of Ursula Nordstrom. What the book really does best, though, is give us a salty editor talking about the classics she’s editing in her customary off-hand manner. Take Harold and the Purple Crayon. In a letter dated December 15, 1954, Ursula has just gotten a revised version of this story and she is writing to Crockett, the author/illustrator. “I’m awfully sorry my first reaction to Harold was so lukewarm and unenthusiastic. I really think it is going to make a darling book, and I certainly was wrong at first. This is a funny job. The Harper children’s books have had such a good fall, so many on so many lists, etc. etc., and I was feeling a little good – not satisfied, you understand, but I thought gosh I’m really catching on to things, I bet, and pretty soon it ought to get easier. And then I stubbed my toe on Harold and his damned purple crayon . . . .”
At long last I finally have an excuse to break out my old Smithsonian Collection of Newspaper Comics. You see if you know anything about Crockett Johnson you know he wrote Harold and the Purple Crayon and illustrated The Carrot Seed. If you know anything else about him, though, you may be aware that his real name was David Johnson Liesk and that between 1942 and 1946 (after which it was handed it over to others) he created the comic strip Barnaby. Barnaby has its fans. People have said it was a predecessor to Calvin and Hobbes, though the premise varies slightly. As the Smithsonian puts it, the story was really about “a boy and his cigar-chomping fairy godfather, Mister O’Malley.” Johnson began as a magazine cartoonist, turned to picture books in the 50’s and, “in his later years (he died in 1975) he devoted himself to nonobjective painting.” I’ve attempted to scan some Barnaby strips for you, in case you’re interested. I apo