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The daily blog of Laurel Snyder, children's author, poet, mother, and occasional loose cannon. Posts range from rants about publishing to book reviews to pictures of Laurel's adorable rascals (awwwwww!!!). Not to mention periodic raves about new products from Trader Joe's and once in awhile, a cuss word or three (!!!)
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Okay, I’ll admit, so when I signed up for World Read Aloud Day again this year, it was with a sense of “doing something nice for the kids” and “giving back a little.” I was patting myself on the back. Taking time from my busy week to read to children (besides Mose and Lew).
But here’s the thing… WRAD isn’t just for them. It’s for us too.
I remember, a few years back at AWP, my amazing sister was on a panel with Richard Ford, about writers in the schools, and how wonderful it is to work with kids. And my sister made a point I’d never heard someone make. She said. ”People see it as service. But they should be begging to volunteer their time in a school. If they knew how wonderful it was, they would.” (or something like that. I didn’t write down exactly what she said.)
Her point was that writers work alone, and they use up a lot of their energy writing. They get drained. They tap out. They forget why they began writing in the first place. They focus on the work of it. They lose their joy.
But kids? Kids are FULL of joy and eagerness and energy. They fill you back up! They might tire you in other ways, but you can’t spend an hour with a bunch of excited kids, full of awesome questions, and awe and admiration for the fact that you MAKE BOOKS, and not come away reinvigorated. You can’t work with kids and writing, and not remember why you started writing.
So today I skyped with eleven schools. Eleven! Oh, the wonders of technology. Schools from all over the country. I read the kids picture books (my next book, Charlie & Mouse, as well as my old favorite, Rain Makes Applesauce, by Julian Scheer) and novels (both Seven Stories Up and my WIP, The Orphan Island). I answered questions, and I told them about my day. I introduced them to Lucy (my assistant, who works for carrot-bits and chew toys).
And now? I feel so ready to write. I feel so IN LOVE with The Orphan Island. I feel so… connected. Re-dedicated.
So now, while I have that boost, I need to take a little time away, to crank out a draft. (I’m shooting for April). I’m putting a moratorium on new skypes for the spring. But I’ll be back in the fall. I promise.
And I will always always always do WRAD.
You should too.
When we assume that boys won’t read books with girls on the cover, and then institutionalize that assumption by leaving the “girlie” books out of award nominations (as well as school wide reads, story times, etc.), we insult them. By suggesting that on the whole our boys have a limited capacity for empathy, an inability to imagine a world beyond their own most obvious understanding, and an unwillingness to stretch.
In the same stroke, we neglect our girls. Not because they can’t read “boy books” (they do and will). But because when they see those awards, they also learn something —to accept a world in which they are rarely the central players. They learn, at a formative age, that the “best” books are the ones about boys. (Or dogs, as previously mentioned. Dogs are good.)
It’s a problem. And when we play into it, when we accept it as THE TRUTH, we’re reaching for the simplest solution, not the best one. Because the best solution would require us to push against the gender bias in the world, and in ourselves. It’s easier to say, “Boys naturally gravitate to these things, and we want them to read, don’t we?”
But when a kid likes candy and French fries, we do not feed them candy and French fries…
(Follow my collection, over at Medium, for more kidlit-related rants)
Today is the day. It’s PUB DAY!
After three years of researching and writing and revising and tweaking and starting over, and beginning again, and tearing my hair out…
SEVEN STORIES UP IS A BOOK!
If you want to know more about how I wrote the book, and what inspired it, you can read here. (warning, it’s a bit sad)
If you’d like to read the first chapter of the book, and see a picture of my grandmother, you can do that here.
If you want to listen to a podcast in which I talk about how this book taught me (finally!) how to enjoy research, you can tune in here!
And if you want to see some old pictures that I used to keep my in the world of 1937, you can take a peek at my Pinterest page for the book!
I’d love to think that you might also go and purchase a copy of the book, or maybe request it from your local library! You can add it to your Goodreads list or tell your kid’s teacher about it too!
People have said very very nice things about Seven Stories Up already, which makes this day much nicer. It was selected as #4 on the Indienext List for winter! And look:
“Time travel is the least of the magic in the sublime Seven Stories Up, which gently and lovingly demonstrates how the right friend at the right time can heal a heart and even change a life. Like Judy Blume before her, Laurel Snyder writes characters that feel like your best friend. I wish I’d had this book when I was a kid; I would have read it a hundred times and slept with it under my pillow.” –Anne Ursu, author of The Real Boy
“Friendship, connection, and understanding are at the heart of this warm, introspective story about the events that shape a person.” –Publishers Weekly
“The perfectly paced time-travel conundrum is well balanced within the larger plot, and the entire book is imbued with the same sort of forward-driving adventure as Rebecca Stead’s When You Reach Me (2009) or Laurel Snyder’s Bigger Than a Bread Box (2011, both Random). A wide variety of readers will find this book wonderfully satisfying and hard to put down.” –SLJ
“Snyder infuses her novel with a touch of magical realism (and, of course, time travel), and many readers will wonder what the grown-ups in their lives were like as kids. Filled with historical facts that weave seamlessly with the narrative, this is a heartwarming story about knowing, and truly understanding, your family.” –Booklist
This week we celebrated Tu B’Shevat.
So here in Atlanta, we got dirty…
Here’s a snapshot, and a silly little ditty to go with it.
Trees, trees, glorious trees,
Full of raccoons and beetles and bees,
Full of red robins and woodpeckers too,
And if you’ve a tree house, perhaps full of YOU!
It isn’t just meant for the bark and the leaves,
The roots and the branches that wave in the breeze.
Tu B’shevat means you should stop for a minute,
In front of a tree, and think of what’s IN IT!
There are good reviews and bad reviews. Not every book can be a bestseller or award winner.
But we don’t write for reviews. We write for kids, readers…
And when you see a picture like this, how can you help but feel gloriously happy?
So… I just realized I have exactly one week left in my thirties. One last little week.
This means, of course, that I’ve actually just finished living my fortieth year. Wow. Forty years seems like a lot. But the last decade has flown, and it has been, without a doubt, my favorite.
On January 12, it will have been exactly ten years since the day I got hitched. Shortly after that, we moved to Atlanta. A year later, Mose was born, and then Lew. Somewhere in there I published my first book, and then another 13. It’s more than I would have dared ask for or expect.
There have been some hard, sad moments. I’m older. I can feel it in my bones, and see it in the mirror. I have RA and crowns on a few teeth. A few gray hairs. I don’t take exotic trips abroad anymore or close down the bars. But I’m glad to be forty. No part of me is scared of the number.
At the same time, I think back to what I thought of FORTY as a kid, and I’m pretty sure I thought that forty was boring and wrinkly. I don’t feel boring and wrinkly. Though I wouldn’t object to an exotic trip abroad.
But tonight, for the first time, Mose asked me to help him pick a book to read to himself, and it felt truly momentous. Like a gift he was giving me. I’ve spent this decade building books and people, and now the two are coming together, and I don’t know why, but… it’s a big deal to me. Magical, in fact. Like I could see the last decade of my life right there in front of my face.
All this to say… whatever happens in this next decade, I feel very very very very lucky to be living my particular life. It’s good.
Thank you, everyone, for being part of it. Nobody constructs their own world. It’s made up of tiny bricks from other people. I’m grateful.
So… I’m up in the middle of the night, unable to sleep. Thinking about how 2013 is somehow already ending. How did that happen?
One weird thing about being a blogger is that I have archives of my thoughts, so I get to leapfrog back to past resolutions each year, to see if I’ve accomplished my goals. It’s a funny kind of time travel. Tonight I’m looking back at where I was a year ago.
I’ve been a little worried about this moment. I haven’t been feeling terribly focused lately. But it’s okay! Last year I said I had only two goals.
#1 was “I want this to be the year I start taking better care of myself physically.”
And #2 was “I want to try very very hard not to think about selling the books I write.”
Honestly, I only half tackled the first goal. I did NOT go back to dance class. I did NOT start running. So I’ll roll all that exercise over to next year. AND I MEAN THAT, REALLY, THIS TIME I WILL. THIS TIME NEXT YEAR I’LL BE IN AMAZING SHAPE. (Ahem) But I DID do a much better job with other kinds of health stuff. I’ve been taking my vitamins, and my teeth are in much better shape! Ta da! So that’s fine. We’ll round up.
But I’d forgotten about the second goal, and I did tackle that one. It’s been a really good thing for me. Important.
Last spring I finished and turned in the book I was working on, SEVEN STORIES UP, which will be out next month. (Yay!!) But the revision process for that book was a tough one, and so when I was done, instead of trying to crank out a proposal for the next book, I just let myself scribble all kinds of different things. All spring I scribbled poems and picture books, and into the summer. I wrote a lot of manuscripts nobody will ever see in that time, and I didn’t finish THE MAGICAL THAT (mentioned in the post from a year ago), but I published some little essays, and in the end a few of the not-thinking-about-selling scribbles resulted in actual sales, namely CHARLIE & MOUSE, and CHARLIE & MOUSE & GRUMPY. Books I am deeply connected to. They’re so personal for me. I’m very happy about them.
But also– now I have a PILE of new picture books to revise, and I have drafts of 2 totally different chapter books, (as well as several false starts I never finished, but might someday). Also I have a very very clear outline, and the first chapters of a new novel, THE ORPHAN ISLAND. Which I’m insanely excited about.
It was good, this letting-go-of-thinking-about-selling. I didn’t stop making work. Rather, I was hugely productive. I only let go of my focus, my worry. I let myself fiddle and poke at my novel slowly, taking my time and not thinking about what exactly I was producing. Just letting the words come, in bits and snippets. Sitting on the couch, lazily. The way I used to journal, as a kid. Or the way I wrote poems in college. It felt different… and I feel much better.
Now, here’s what I find fascinating…
When I made my resolution last year, I felt like I needed a new model. A better way to work. I wasn’t in love with my ideas at that moment, and I was at the end of writing a novel, needing a break. I felt a little uninspired. Burned out. So I took some time.
But you know what’s funny? I just realized that was my SHMITA.
You know shmita?
In Jewish tradition, farmers leave their fields to lie fallow every seven years, so that the earth has a chance to replenish. It’s a sabbatical year. They can water and nurture the land. But they aren’t supposed to farm it, to work it. They call that shmita.
2007 was the year I really began my career as a children’s author. That was the year I revised UP AND DOWN THE SCRATCHY MOUNTAINS for Random House. The year I learned about “marketing a book.” I was getting ready to become an author in 2007. I saw my first galleys and my first line edits. I had my first meetings in New York. A door opened, and I walked through it. My life got INTENSE in a whole new way It was thrilling. And for six years, I put my head down and WORKED.
For SIX YEARS. Then I took a break, without exactly meaning to.
Now, obviously I haven’t been on vacation for a year. I’ve been watering and fertilizing. But I really did let up on myself in a lot of ways. I didn’t have a novel come out , so I traveled a lot less. But the main thing was this shift in how I thought about my work. I worked slow and sloppy. I let myself wander. in 2013 I let the fields lie fallow. I let my earth renew itself. I took a sabbatical. And it was good.
It never fails to amaze me how much wisdom there is in the Jewish tradition. So often I find a metaphor there, an analogy to my own life, though I’m not terribly observant. I’d been thinking until today that this slow and sloppy way of working was just my new method. That it was time to step away from the head-down word-count-a-day mode.
But maybe not. Now, thinking about shmita, I’m feeling the opposite. Maybe it’s exactly the time to get back out there in the fields with my plough, reap the bountiful harvest this renewed earth is supposed to yield.
I’m not ready to make resolutions yet, but I’m thinking about them.
What about you?
This is the basic math of health care…
Let’s say you have a family of four, and you need to decide whether to pay for a dental plan, and the plan will cost an extra $150 a month. Does that sound like a lot to you?
The plan will cover basic checkups twice a year, or about 85 percent of the cost for them. It will cover 50 percent of major dental work. So… $150 a month is $1800 a year. That’s a lot, yeah. And you still have to pay for some stuff. Ugh.
But as a parent I assume you plan to go for visits twice a year, right? Because you know that good dental care is something kids need to develop, right? And modeling that care yourself is the best way to teach them? And you also know that preventative care of your teeth can help with things like heart disease?
So now let’s figure 8 visits (4 people twice a year) for basic exams and teeth cleaning. And figure the exams and cleanings, even without X-rays and scaling and stuff, are $150 each. So that’s roughly $1200 you’re “saving.” (and I’m doing this rough and dirty, not calculating the co-pays, but that’s cheap for dental work, and you WILL need X-rays and so on, so this is conservative, trust me)
Now– all you have to do is have one procedure a year among the four of you that costs $600, and your dental coverage has paid for itself. Right? One kid with a cracked tooth. One root canal. Maybe two and a half small fillings on regular teeth. Or an irrigation for gum issues.
But these numbers are actually looking pretty close. So maybe I’m wrong, and you’d do just as well to pay out of pocket, right? Especially in years when you don’t need any fillings? Maybe you’re better off skipping the dental insurance, after all…
Because the kicker is that you WOULD NOT. You would NOT go to the dentist twice a year if you had to pay $150 bucks just for the visit. You would NOT opt for the X-rays, if you had to pay extra for them. Maybe you’d take the kids in on schedule, because you feel bad not doing it, and the pediatrician might ask, but you’d TOTALLY skip your own visits. You’d save the $150 and spend it on something else. You would suffer a tooth ache, and hope it goes away. You would wait… and wait… and wait. You’d wait years.
And then, one day, you would find yourself at the ER in the night, because of sudden intolerable pain. And the doc at the ER would say, “Wow, this is serious. You’ve got a major infection in there. We need to take out these two teeth and you might have a malignancy in the bone. I SURE HOPE YOU HAVE INSURANCE!”
And in that moment you will cringe. Because what you’re about to have done to your teeth–the surgery that could have been prevented with a $150 visit twice a year–it will cost thousands and thousands of dollars. (and be painful, and mean you’ll miss work too, which is another cost, actually, that we aren’t averaging in)
And once you’ve taken out a special medical credit card to pay for the abscess and the extraction, you’ll have to decide whether you want to get a tooth implant too, which will be another couple thousand. Ouch.
So you’ll look back, at that moment, and think, “Why does stuff like this always happen to ME?” And the answer will be, “Because you didn’t have health insurance.”
I know how obnoxious this sounds. I know I seem priggish. But this is so so so so important. It really is. And trust me, I’VE BEEN THERE.
And you know what else? The other stuff, the non-teeth stuff? It’s all exactly like the teeth-stuff. Only way scarier. I’ve been there too.
ANd unfortunately, you’ll be there one day yourself. You will. Because you are a human being. A soft machine, made of bone and tissue, and you WILL break down. It’s only a matter of time. And when that happens, it will seem unfair, and unpredictable. WHO COULD HAVE EXPECTED SUCH A THING???
You could have.
When we avoid the actual math, or we try not to think about the long game, I think it has to do with our basic fear of mortality. We want to believe we WON’T get sick. We want to believe our kids won’t break bones, or (God forbid) anything worse. We prefer to be shocked and horrified when someone gets really sick or hurt. ”How could this happen to such a nice young man?”
But it’s not shocking at all. It’s inevitable. Every human being alive WILL GET SICK. Every human being alive WILL LOSE TEETH. Every human being alive WILL NEED TO SEE A DOCTOR. ANd then we’ll ALL DIE. In fact, about 40% of us will get cancer. Probably more, as we live longer and longer. Nobody wants to think about these things, but they are FACTS.
And the only thing you can do is floss your teeth and eat your kale and go see the doctor regularly. Get tests run periodically. Do your best. Preventative care makes life cheaper in the long run, and gives us the best chance of living a longer, less painful life. Preventative care.
Which you are (statistically) far more likely to bother with… if you have reliable comprehensive insurance.
(and for the record… I am NOT AN EXPERT. Unless you regularly turn to children’s book authors for help with your finances and heath issues. I have no reason to be ranting about this, and you have no reason to listen to me. But sometimes, a girl’s just got to yell)
Today, if you’re curious, you can read the first chapter of Seven Stories Up!
Now, before it’s even published…
Over at Medium.
HERE, RIGHT HERE!!!
Okay, neither do I… not really. This was published long before I was born.
But I had a lot of books as a kid that had been my mom’s, and my dad’s, and belonged to their parents before them, or come to them from used book stores. So I remember what it felt like to read and read, and wait for the next amazing color plate. Or skip to it, because I couldn’t wait for the pretty shiny picture.
Like the one above.
Or like this one.
Little Women! Treasure Island! The Happy Prince! East O the Sun and West O the Moon! The Cuckoo Clock! These books all had amazing color plates in them, and I carry those pictures with me to this day.
I wonder if some evil wizard or conjurer has stolen all the art away? WHAT OTHER EXPLANATION CAN THERE POSSIBLY BE?
This morning I’m thinking about how graphic novels are hugely HUGELY popular.
And I’m thinking about how big visual glowing movies like Hugo or Hunger Games or Narnia are being made from middle grade books.
And I’m thinking about how often I hear people lament about “What can we do to get the kids reading?”
And I’m thinking about how, last night, Mose and Lew asked me to read picture books instead of starting a new readaloud novel. ”Because we like the pictures.”
And I’m wondering… WHY ARE WE REMOVING ALL THE INTERIOR ART FROM THE MIDDLE GRADE BOOKS?
I mean, I know full color plates are too expensive to consider, but I so so so so love books with art in them. Who decided that only baby books should have pictures?
WAS IT YOU?
Last night I noticed that Geek Dad had posted his favorite picture books, and so I popped over to check out the list. And was shocked to find that they were almost all by men. This made me cranky. But I figured, “Eh, he’s just one guy.”
Then, this morning, I noticed that the Goodreads ”Best of” is also virtually all men. And that… is more complicated. Because WE made that list. We, the readers of the world.
Now, if there weren’t a ton of amazing 2013 picture books by women, I could maybe accept this. But there TOTALLY are. Which begs the question… WHAT’S GOING ON?
Do men actually just make better picture books than women? Do men get better marketing and publicity budgets than women for picture books? Or… as I’m beginning to fear… do we, the (largely) women who buy and blog about picture books have a tendency to elevate books by men?
I want to make a list to post today, of the 2013 BEST PICTURE BOOKS BY WOMEN. Help me out? What’s your favorite? I’ll add them later.
A few of mine, for starters:
City Cat, by Lauren Castillo
Jane, the Fox, and Me, by Fanny Britt and Isabelle Arsenault
If You Want to See a Whale, by Julie Fogliano and Erin Stead
Seriously, add them up! We’ll make a Goodreads list later, and I’ll add the covers here too…
And I’d like to add that I’m a HUGE FAN of the books on Geek Dad’s list. These are some of my favorite authors and illustrators too. But the list is incomplete.
Let’s fix that.
Ready to have your mind blown?
So… I have this friend named Aaron. We’ve known each other a long long looooong time. Since before I could write a full sentence or he knew not to stick his paintbrush in his ear.
Nowadays, he’s busy making the most beautiful wordless picture books you’ve ever seen. But years ago, before either of us had published a book, he and I tried to collaborate.
First, on a picture book that will never exist, called Lily and the Wily Corn Bears…
And then on Inside the Slidy Diner, which would become my first picture book, though with other art.
I guess the world just wasn’t ready for us *yet…
But Aaron found these old images on a CDRom today. Isn’t that cool?
*in fact, Aaron DID do the cover of my adult anthology, Half/Life, but adult books don’t count. Everyone knows that.
“Everything is the same color–one enormous listless gray world where not a breath stirs and the birds don’t sing.”
(the Storm Book)
I’m sad tonight. Charlotte Zolotow has died.
I’ll leave it to someone else to talk about Zolotow’s contribution to children’s literature. I can only speak to how much she contributed to me, personally.
My grandmother loved her books, and I have a handful of signed first editions that she got for me. They entered my life when I was just the right age for them.
Zolotow’s books were special to me. Different from other books. Calm. Complex,
I loved The Storm Book.
I loved Mr. Rabbit and the Lovely Present. Deeply.
“She likes birds in trees.”
But wow. I loved My Grandson Lew best of all.
I had a grandpa who died when I was little myself. And I think Zolotow captured something in that book… the memory, the sense of loss, the vague memory. But the presence of a death, as well as the absence.
Somehow, I got that, as a kid…
Though as an adult… I see it differently.
(My Lew with Zolotow’s Lew)
So I am going to sit down tonight, and read CZ’s books to my kids, and think about the power of a good book at the right time.
Not a joke. Not a “hook.” Not a product. But a book.
The right book. Speaking in a calm ture voice to the people who need to hear it…
Just the way a grandfather might speak. With a crinkled eye, and a quiet laugh, or a wistful smile.
So that he can’t possibly be forgotten.
Not even when he’s gone.
we will remember him together
and neither of us
will be so lonely
as we would be
if we had to remember him
(My Grandson Lew)
Thanks, Publisher’s Weekly!
“Snyder returns with a story that, like her Bigger Than a Breadbox (2011), offers a relatable heroine and a touch of magic. When 12-year-old Annie Jaffin and her mother visit Annie’s estranged, dying grandmother in the shuttered Baltimore hotel she grew up in, the woman Annie encounters is angry and aggressive. After a strange storm, however, Annie wakes up 50 years earlier, in 1937, where she meets her grandmother as a curious, kind, and deeply isolated child. Molly spends her days cloistered away in her “Lonely Room” because of her asthma; she wished for a friend and has no clue that Annie is actually her granddaughter. Because Annie knows that Molly will live to old age, they escape Molly’s locked room via the fire escape and seize the day. Through their adventures, Molly’s eyes gradually open to the realities outside the hotel walls, while Annie worries about getting home and whether she’s changing the future for better or worse. Friendship, connection, and understanding are at the heart of this warm, introspective story about the events that shape a person. Ages 8–12. Agent: Tina Wexler, ICM. (Jan.)”
Okay, so I generally try to avoid the hard sell. But this seems to be the time of year when people actually really want Jewish book recommendations, for Hanukkah gifts…
SO at the risk of offending absolutely everyone, may I suggest that your kids might appreciate one of my own titles?
While waiting for the bus, a man tells Baxter the pig about the joys of Shabbat dinner. But before Baxter can find out how he, too, can join in the fun, the man has boarded the bus. Soon after, Baxter learns that he certainly cannot be a part of Shabbat dinner because he’s not Kosher. So begins one pig’s misguided quest to become Kosher. Will Baxter succeed or will his dreams of taking part in Shabbat dinner remain unfulfilled? Readers will cheer as a series of misunderstandings leads to a warm message of welcome and community.
Learning—and using—Yiddish is fun for the whole family, from the youngest mamaleh to the oldest bubbe and zaideh. Introduced to America as the mother tongue of millions of Jewish immigrants, Yiddish has made its way into everyday English. The sprightly, rhyming text follows a toddler through a busy day and is peppered from beginning to end with Yiddish words. Oy!—will everybody kvell when they hear their little ones spouting words from this most expressive of languages. Here are just a few that are included in this sturdy board book: bissel—little bit; ess—eat; kibitz—joke around, chat; klutz—clumsy one; kvell—burst with pride, gush; kvetchy—dissatisfied, whiny.
A family trip turns into an adventure of discovery for a curious and carefree sister and brother. While the two explore the natural wonders of the seashore, woods, and fields, their parents plant trees as an offering of thanks for all they have received. In Jewish tradition, this is called tikkun olam, or repairing the world. As the children settle down to sleep, they are lulled by the soothing sounds around them that become the refrain: “good night, laila tov”—the same comforting words in English and Hebrew that their parents recite to them every night at bedtime.
Of course, there are lots of amazing Jewish picture books I didn’t write. And for those of you who really want a Hanukkah title, the very best one is, in my opinion, this gem:
Latkes are potato pancakes served at Hanukkah, and Lemony Snicket is an alleged children’s author. For the first time in literary history, these two elements are combined in one book. A particularly irate latke is the star of The Latke Who Couldn’t Stop Screaming, but many other holiday icons appear and even speak: flashing colored lights, cane-shaped candy, a pine tree. Santa Claus is briefly discussed as well. The ending is happy, at least for some. People who are interested in any or all of these things will find this book so enjoyable it will feel as though Hanukkah were being celebrated for several years, rather than eight nights.
And for those of you looking for something less Jewishly direct, may I direct you over here… to my own list of books about books for people of the book…
Just so you read!!!
I finished reading Ghost Hawk this fall, and now I’m seeing a fair amount of conversation about the historical accuracy issues surrounding the book, as we head into Newbery season. (I’ll admit, I thought it was wonderful until the very end, though I’m woefully incapable of determining how true to history it is).
At the same time, I’m wandering around the stores, and seeing that there are beginning to be “Indian” items around, in advance of Thanksgiving. Feathers and teepees. I find myself assuming, based on the comments surrounding Ghost Hawk, that the way schools approach Thanksgiving has changed a lot since I was a kid. That they no longer dress up in loosely arranged feathers and play out the story of “Pilgrims and Indians.” I’m wondering what they offer instead. How much of the story?
So as we head into the Thanksgiving season, I’m thinking about how we educate our kids (or don’t), how we give them (or don’t) actual information, as opposed to myth. I’m thinking I have some work to do myself.
All my life, I’ve known versions of the Pilgrim/Indian story, of course. I’ve watched the Peanuts and Pocahantas. I’ve argued the merits of telling that story in a benign way with kids, and I’ve argued the age at which kids can learn the real story. But shamefully, in all those years, I’ve never learned about the TRIBE. The actual tribe. How is that possible? At the very least, Ghost Hawk pushed me out of that complacency. And the conversation surrounding the book is having an even stronger impact on me in that way.
They weren’t “Indians.” And “Native Americans” doesn’t cut it either in this day and age. They were The Wampanoag. And while I’m aware that they didn’t actually share a turkey with “us” (says this Irishy/Jewishy girl with no Mayflower blood in her at all, but who was still somehow taught the language of us/them), I know absolutely nothing about The Wampanoag.
I think, this year, Mose and Lew will try to learn about the tribe. Which is not to say “Indians.” We’ll read about their culture and language, about Massoit and Squanto/Somoset, and about King Philip’s War. I hope this will help the boys navigate the myth/truth of this season (and me too!). So often, specificity helps us see people as people. Because the more general we get, the easier it is to slip into stereotypes.
What does your school teach in this season? How much do you know about the Wampanoag?
(For the record, we’ll still be eating turkey. Because… you know, turkey.)
So… I’m scribbling a ton of new picture books. Most of them won’t work out.
One or two might.
But as I’m working, I’m flip-flopping about tone, and I wondered if you might chime in and vote.
Conventional wisdom is that editors hate rhyming manuscripts. I have not found this to actually be true, but in a lot of cases, rhyme distracts from a book, or undercuts humor. And of course, if it’s done poorly, rhyme is horrible.
if you had a choice between these two bits of text, which would you prefer?
On velvet paws he slunk downstairs
And much against her wishes,
Jim gobbled up his mother dear.
She really was delicious!
Jim went downstairs.
And ate his mother up, in three quick bites.
Please leave your vote in the comments! I really would love to know how people feel about this.
Today, as part of the WIK (Writing and Illustrating for Kids) Conference, organized by the SCBWI Southern Breeze Chapter (Go, Breezers!), I have a special treat for you. An interview with picture book author, Nancy Raines day!
In case you’re wondering, Nancy looks something like THIS:
And her books look something like THIS:
Pretty nice, huh?
But enough of that. You’re here for the INTERVIEW, of course. So maybe we should begin at the beginning. Nancy, when did you know you wanted to be a writer? When did you start writing?
Growing up, I was lucky to have Mary Ann Hoberman (who recently was children’s poet laureate) as a neighbor. Watching her grow as a children’s author was inspirational, and I thought from a young age that would be very cool to do. At about age 10, my best friend and I “published” a newspaper. That was before copiers, so we wrote out ten copies (our total circulation of friends and family) by hand. In sixth grade, my teacher chose me to help her edit a collection of the school’s best student writings, and I was hooked. Senior year, I was Editor of my high school’s yearbook. I studied journalism in college and grad school. I only wrote nonfiction magazines, booklets and books for adults–until I was a mom. Then I switched to fiction for children, my lifelong passion.
You grew up in CT, and now live on St Simons, you lucky thing. Is place something that informs your work? Does the landscape affect your writing?
In between CT and St. Simons Island, I lived in San Francisco and Sonoma wine country for 26 years–nice places all! But none of my picture books is specifically set anywhere. except Flamingo’s First Christmas had to be in Miami (where I hadn’t even been until after I wrote the book). On a Windy Night was inspired by the sound of wind rustling corn, which my husband grew in our backyard in CA, but could have been anywhere.
Now, on St. Simons, I spend a lot of time on the beach, which has inspired some of my upcoming titles, “Way Down Below Deep” and “Sand and Sea.”
I feel like the rhythm of wallking and waves does find its way into my rhyming books.
Picture books can be tricky little beasties, and my own notebook is full of false starts. I’m wondering what percentage of the things you start out to write actually end up feeling finished? I think sometimes people assume that once you’re published and agented, you just have to spit out work. What’s the process like for you, in terms of deciding what to send out?
Part of my process is to get feedback from my Savannah writers’ group, as well as my awesome online group. Between my own radar and theirs, I usually have a good idea when it’s ready to go. And my longest-term editor let’s me know when she thinks a manuscript is close, but could be closer!
I have only recently signed on with Tricia Lawrence at Erin Murphy Literary Agency, so I’m looking forward to some help deciding which projects are most ready for prime time. A few of my ideas have fallen by the wayside, whether I’ve lost interest in pursuing them or can’t quite put my finger on what they need to make it out there. Of those I start, I probably do get 75-85% of them finished, though. Some flow right out of me, and others may take a decade, but I am a very persistent person!
What are some of your all time favorite books by other people? What about them appeals to you?
A Cat in the Hat by Dr. Seuss is my all-time favorite picture book. No matter how many thousands of times I read it, both as a child and as a parent, I never got tired of it. It makes me laugh–and think. Even today, surveying my less than tidy office, these words come to me: …this mess is so big and so deep and so tall, we cannot pick it up. There is no way at all!
Now THAT is writing!
If you could give one piece of advice to aspiring authors, what would it be?
If you feel you have to write, just keep doing it. Join a critique group, and learn all you can. Be patient, and don’t give up.
I’m curious about your involvement with SCBWI. Has it been a part of your path to publication? When did you get involved?
SCBWI has been key to my success since the beginning. I went to my first regional meeting in San Francisco, and was blown away by the talented and generous people I met. To get to my first national conference, my family camped in Malibu (I was hugely pregnant at the time) to save the hotel bill. My critique groups were great support during the ten years it took to get my first book published. Directly or indirectly, I’ve met all my editors through the SCBWI network. In my work critiquing manuscripts for others, I always tell writers that joining SCBWI will the smartest investment they ever made.
And what will you be talking about at wik13? I’d love a sneak preview of your session!
We’ll discuss the garden variety pitfalls in picture book manuscripts–trimming excess verbiage, letting adults take over, letting the truth stand in the way of a good story, and more–using real-life examples. Attendees should come away with the tools to prune their own picture book manuscripts closer to perfection.
I’ll also explain what a freelance editor/”manuscript doctor” can do and when using one might help.
That sounds great, Nancy! I’m sure our readers can’t wait for WIK! Thanks for joining us.
Thanks so much.
Nancy Raines Day is just one member of the impressive faculty for the 2013 Writing and Illustrating for Kids (WIK) conference, taking place October 12 in Birmingham, AL. WIK is a great place to get inspired, get tips on your craft, and learn about the business of children’s publishing. It’s also an opportunity to meet editors, agents, and an incredibly supportive network of working writers and artists. This annual conference is hosted by the Southern Breeze region of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI). To find out more or to register, visit https://southern-breeze.net/
You can meet other members of the conference faculty by following the WIK blog tour:
Aug. 28 Author Matt de la Peña at Stephanie Moody’s Moodyviews
Editor Lou Anders at F.T. Bradley’s YA Sleuth
Aug. 29 Author Doraine Bennett at Jodi Wheeler-Toppen’s Once Upon a Science Book
Author Robyn Hood Black at Donny Seagraves’ blog
Aug. 30 MFA program director Amanda Cockrell at Elizabeth Dulemba’s blog
Illustrator Prescott Hill at Gregory Christie’s G.A.S.
Aug. 31 Author Heather Montgomery at Claire Datnow’s Media Mint Publishing blog
Editor Michelle Poploff at Laura Golden’s Just Write
Sept. 3 Author Nancy Raines Day at Laurel Snyder’s blog
Author Jennifer Echols at Paula Puckett’s Random Thoughts from the Creative Path
Sept. 4 Editor Dianne Hamilton at Ramey Channell’s The Painted Possum
Author Janice Hardy at Tracey M. Cox’s A Writer’s Blog
Sept. 5 Author / illustrator Sarah Frances Hardy at Stephanie Moody’s Moodyviews
Agent Sally Apokedak at Cheryl Sloan Wray’s Writing with Cheryl
Sept. 6 Author / illustrator Chris Rumble at Cyrus Webb Presents
When I was a kid, my parents “encouraged” me to read. By which I mean they filled our house with books, and then ignored me, locked me in my room, and established a rule that stipulated I could stay up as late as I wanted, but only to read.
But there was someone else in my life who really really really “encouraged” me to read. My grandmother.
She was a children’s librarian, and she was very invested in picture books. She spent a lot of time hunting down first editions for me, and then getting them signed by authors she loved. Marcia Brown. Arnold and Anita Lobel. Tomie de Paola. These were among her favorites.
The book coming out in January, Seven Stories Up, is very much a book she inspired– a fictionalized version of one summer in her life.
But in a funny turn of events, something else is happening to me this week. Something that connects to my grandmother. Tomie is coming to town!
So I am taking some of my books to get them REsigned, dedicated to my boys. There will be TWO generations of inscriptions in these books, which were bought by my grandmother, who never got to meet my boys. I was pregnant with Mose when she died.
How’s that for a family of reading?
(Unless of course Mr. De Paola refuses me. In which case I shall curse him, like the Troll-queen I am)
(map of THE ORPHAN ISLAND)
An interesting thing happened today. A friend told me this story:
She (we’ll call her Arabella) was in a library, and she mentioned my name.
The librarian was familiar with my books, and complimentary, but she commented, as a side note, that I spend a LOT of time on Twitter. She wondered aloud if perhaps the quality of an author’s work goes down when they’re online all the time.
Arabella, being a very good friend, emphatically disagreed, and said she’d read my new book, and loved it, etc. etc.
This librarian raises a good point. And I wonder what you think about it.
I’d like to start by saying that I try to divide my “writing time” from my online time. That when I’m in and out of Twitter (and you can see me there) I’m NOT typically at work.
This summer, for instance, I’ve been Skyping and Tweeting and Facebooking even more than usual, because I’ve had no childcare, NONE, and so I haven’t been writing at all. Except in very early morning hours, now and again, before everyone wakes up. I’m not working on a novel. I’m on vacation. And while the kids play Lego, and while the popsicles freeze, I tweet.
Usually I use a program that block me from the web for three or four hour stretches, to insure I don’t break the rules I’ve set for myself.
I’d also like to add that the book I’ve written that most people consider my strongest, Bigger than a Bread Box, was written within the Twitter bubble. And the book most people consider my weakest, Up and Down the Scratchy Mountains, was written before the advent of social media. Hardly a controlled experiment, but it’s something to mull.
But all that said, I’m absolutely addicted to social media. I can feel the addiction, whenever I’m typing. Arabella likened this addiction to a sugar addiction, when we were talking about it, and I think that’s right. The web IS a distraction. I lose focus because of it. It’s much harder than it used to be to dive into my work in a totally absorbing breathless way. And I miss that feeling of disappearing into the story for hours and coming up for air. I do.
If the web isn’t affecting the quality of my work, it’s affecting my experience of work, my process. In much the same way it affects the experience of reading a book. Reading for 10 hours in bed on a Saturday is like visiting an island. Stopping for a break every 20 minutes while reading isn’t like that, is it?
This is why I’ve actually made a crazy decision about my new novel, The Orphan Island, which I’ve outlined, and am beginning work on next week.
I’m GOING BACK TO DEAD TREES. For real. I’ve painted the characters, with actual paint on actual paper. I’ve painted the island, and will continue to add to it. I have an outline, on paper, and scraps and bits of notes and dialogue, in a little box beside my bed. And today I acquired a stack of legal pads and three new mechanical pencils.
I will, in the end, type this book up. But not until I’ve written a draft of it, longhand.
So we’ll see. We’ll see what happens when I go totally offline as I write. If The Orphan Island is the best thing I’ve ever written, maybe that will tell me something. About slowness. About needing a bubble to write in. About solitude.
But I want to say that I don’t owe this decision to the librarian, or to Arabella. The timing of that conversation was only a coincidence. This is a decision I’ve been moving towards all year. Though I only made this promise to myself yesterday. After a fight with Lew, who was very upset to discover that he’s not allowed “screen time” during weekdays, now that summer is over.
“Why?” He asked me. “Why can’t I play Minecraft? And watch TV?”
“There’s nothing wrong with screens,” I told him. “Screens are fine, sometimes. But I want your brain to be able to do other kinds of work too. I want your brain to be happy when it isn’t looking at a screen. I want your brain to be enough for you, all on its own.”
So. Yeah. There we are.
I’ll still see you online, around. And you’ll see me. Because I’m an addict. But also because I think Twitter and Facebook can be amazing forces for good in the universe (just today a Facebook friend dropped off two donated snare drums for my kids’ school band, because I posted a need on Facebook). And because I’d miss my friends. And because, honestly, it’s something publishers expect. But when you do see me, I won’t be writing. Not at all. And when I’m writing, you won’t see me. Not even a little bit.
Not until I’ve written a book. A good one, I hope.
Life is sweet, and heavy.
Not unlike my Grandma’s apple cake.
Happy New Year!
I have a feeling 5774 is going to be a good one.
In was September 11, 2001.
I’d moved back from Manhattan about a week earlier, my tail between my legs. I hadn’t lasted 6 months in NY. I was ashamed, but also relieved to be back in Iowa.
I was crashing at Chris’ house, but he and his roommates were gone, playing some shows at Jimmy Buffet’s place (weird detail, huh?) in Florida.
So I was alone in the house when I woke up, turned on the TV, and saw that the world had fallen apart.
I’d been at the WTC a few weeks earlier, for a Laura Cantrell show, and somehow that detail drove me nuts. As though somehow, listening to country music, I should have been able to sense what was coming. As though any of us ever know what’s coming…
I called my family. My friends in NY. I was able to get some of them on the phone. I was scared for everything.
That was also the summer I published my very first bit of prose in an actual magazine (No Depression). That was the summer Chris and I decided to “make it work.” That was the summer a lot of things happened. Only none of them seemed to matter much after that day. In the retelling.
I don’t listen to Laura Cantrell anymore, but I can’t stop thinking about her today.
Let’s be honest. There have been lots of horrible events since that day. Millions have died. Natural disasters and terrorist actions. This single event is not bigger than those events.
And yet, in my own memories, it always will be. Bigger.
I felt safe, and then I didn’t.
It wasn’t until later that I found out a classmate of mine had gone down in Pennsylvania, on flight 93. Liz. We danced in the school plays together. I was horrified. That part still feels unreal, impossible. Trying to imagine that plane. “Let’s roll.”
Nobody I knew died in NY. And yet, it’s still the towers I see in my mind.
In a few days, I’ll begin my fall travels, and life will get hectic. But for the moment I’m without deadlines, and I find myself staring at the dog, asking her, “What should I write next?”
I have the beginnings of a chapter book trilogy. About two kids who MIGHT have found a magic tree. They aren’t sure.
I have the beginnings/outline to a novel. About ten kids living alone on an island.
I have a secret research project, which will maybe result in a picture book, but will also probably require actual travel/archival research.
And then there’s season five of West Wing…
Please, universe, tell me what to do?
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“Melissa Manlove at Chronicle has bought two beginning readers from Laurel Snyder, in a debut series called Charlie and Mouse, a collection of stories about the daily adventures of two curious brothers. Publication is set for spring and fall 2015. Tina Wexler at ICM negotiated the deal for world rights.”
I am very very very very excited about this. Mose (Charlie) and Lew (Mouse) are pretty thrilled too!!!
The inspiration for these stories (besides the boys themselves) came from my friend Susannah Richards. She was here, taking a walk with me in my very special neighborhood, Ormewood Park. She had just finished taking a picture of a Little Free Library when she said, “You should write about this place. We need neighborhood books”
It had been in the back of my head to try to write about the boys, but somehow, her comment shook something loose in my brain… and THIS was what happened.
One super cool thing about the deal is that the editor, Melissa Manlove, was cool enough to suggest that we let the boys pick their own names. A way of including them in the process. Isn’t that awesome?
So, yeah. Remember when I took off this summer, to scribble some picture books? Well, sometimes a little time off is a good thing!!