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coloring page tuesdays, news and events, blog book tours, reviews, illustration and promotion, and general weirdness from a children's book author/illustrator.
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1. Friday Linky List - September 19, 2014

At Litreactor.com: 6 Tips for Troubleshooting The Novel by Susan Defreitas

Wow: by @donalynbooks No More Language Arts and Crafts: “We must advocate for children’s #reading lives, or they won’t have reading lives.”

Atlanta Magazine has the most thorough article I've ever seen about Pete the Cat: For Pete's Sake. Some of you may know that the line "They consulted local authors" means me. Little known fact that I helped with the first PETE THE CAT: I LOVE MY WHITE SHOES. My name is even in the back. Oh, to have asked for a percentage. *sigh!* At least I have a lovely Pete painting in my dining room as thanks...

From Entertainment Weekly via PW: On the Books: Jane Austen fans set new Guinness World Record when 550 fans showed up wearing full Regency regalia. Pop "Jane Austen Festival" into Google search for images - it's a hoot!

From Talks with Roger (Sutton), a really great interview with Marla Frazee about her new book THE FARMER AND THE CLOWN. From her website - "What is more important, style or concept?" Her reply, "I think the most important thing is emotional engagement."

At PW: Enchanted Lion: A Visit with the Brooklyn-Based Indie Publisher

From HuffPost via PW: Why Are Fairy Tales Universally Appealing?

From BookRiot via PW: 28 Books About Growing Up In America's Cultural Melting Pot

At PWs ShelfTalker by Elizabeth Bluemle: Help Shape the Diversity Evolution

From HuffPost: Why I Made a Documentary About What It Means to Be 11 - Gads, I want to see this!! Click the image below to watch the trailer on YouTube:


From The Telegraph via PW: Amazing Roald Dahl cakes that Wonka himself would be proud of - OMG.



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2. A CAT NAMED TIM by John Martz - Giveaway!


A CAT NAMED TIM by John Martz is sort of like Richard Scarry for the more mature set. It's a series of stories of adorable and endearing characters such as "Doug & Mouse, Connie (a girl with big glasses), Mr. and Mrs. Hamhock," and of course, "Tim" - all in one book. It also reminds me a bit of Hello, Mr. Hulot in it's mini-story, yet graphic style approach. John stopped by to tell us more about it...

Q. John, Congratulations on A CAT NAMED TIM! How did the book come to be?
A.
Thanks! I have illustrated a handful of picture books for kids, and Annie at Koyama Press told me she was interested in publishing comics for kids and young readers, and asked if I’d be interested in something like that. My kids books up to this point have all been written by someone other than myself, so I jumped at the chance to do a book for kids in which I was both the author and illustrator.
     Click the image to see a larger version in a new window.

Q. Koyama Press does funky graphic novels and artsy books for a wide age-range. Some of their work is definitely not for kids, while other works are for the kids at heart - like yours. How did you hook up with Koyama Press?
A.
I first met Annie at the Toronto Comic Arts Festival. We had emailed a few times before then, but hadn’t met. She expressed interest in my comics, and we’ve since worked on a few projects together, including The Big Team Society League Book of Answers, which is a collection of jam comics, and certainly not for young children. My style is heavily influenced by picture books and newspaper comic strips and Saturday morning cartoons, and while I don’t always do kid-friendly work, I do think I come somewhat naturally to it, and working with Annie and Ed Kanerva has been a joy.

Q. Who do you consider your target audience?
A.
I didn’t have a target audience in mind when I began working on the book. I wanted primarily to take the improvisational process I learned from working on both Team Society League and my comic strip Machine Gum, and apply it to a kid-friendly cast of characters. As the book took shape I saw potential to accommodate children who can’t yet read or are just learning; the scenarios and gags are fairly uncomplicated, and it’s mostly wordless. The minimal dialogue there is is more textural than textual, and I hope that the illustrations and scenes allow children to make up their own stories and explanations for what’s going on.
     Click the image to see a larger version in a new window.

Q. There are very few words in A CAT NAMED TIM, mostly series of illustrations with very clever twists. Can you describe your format?
A.
The book is primarily a series of double-page spreads, each one an independent gag or scenario. I don’t know if I can easily sum up the format other than to say that I enjoy playing with the formal elements of comics, and trying different panel layouts and different ways of directing the reader through an image or a series of images. I’m particularly drawn to the idea that comics don’t need to be read solely panel-by-panel, and that inviting a reader to examine the page as a whole, and see different moments in time simultaneously, is something unique to comics and illustration, and a fun thing to exploit.

Q. What is your illustration method and how do you conceptualize the stories behind your narratives?
A.
Each scenario started in my sketchbook as super-rough barely-legible-to-anyone-but-me thumbnail drawing. A sketchbook allows me to get ideas out my head quickly and with minimal fuss. These thumbnails are often only a starting point, and I like to save some of the final problem-solving, details, and specifics for when I’m working on the finished art.
      The illustrations for this book were drawn digitally in Photoshop. The process is similar to the way I learned to draw comics, in which I start with a “pencilled” line drawing of the page that acts as the skeleton of the finished artwork. I put together a palette of colours for the entire book, and I do a quick low-res colour study for each page before starting the final art so that the painting/colouring process itself, which is mostly done on a single layer, involves little to no thinking as all the planning has been taken care of.
     Click the image to see a larger version in a new window.

Q. It's truly an unusual book, and yet one that I think will really grow on people. Kids will love studying all the fun things you include in your illustrations. What were your influences with all the little details going on?
A.
You mention Richard Scarry in your introduction, and his books were a huge influence, of course. I loved his books as a kid, and I could spend hours poring over all the little details and miniature dramas in his busy pages. I have so many other influences, but for this book a short list would have to include Richard Scarry, Jim Henson, vintage Sesame Street, Sergio Aragonés, Where’s Waldo? books, Hanna-Barbera, Super Mario games, and Pee-Wee’s Playhouse.

Q. How are you getting the word out about A CAT NAMED TIM?
A.
The book debuts/debuted at the Small Press Expo in Bethesda Maryland, and I’m doing a joint launch party with Britt Wilson for her Koyama book Cat Dad, King of the Goblins at the kids comic store Little Island in Toronto on October 26.
      I’m grateful to be published by Koyama Press. Annie has fostered a lot of community and good will in the comics world, and that sort of thing (in addition to putting out good books) goes a long way in terms of generating buzz and support.
      You can also follow me on Twitter, @johnmartz, which is my social media platform of choice.

Q. I look forward to seeing more from you in the future!
A.
Thanks!

Enjoy this great video about John and his work (or CLICK HERE if the video gives you any issues):

John has also been very active with the TD Summer Reading Club in Canada.

GIVEAWAY!
Koyama Press has kindly agreed to send a free copy of A CAT NAMED TIM to one of my lucky followers. Must live in the US or Canada to win. Enter below:

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3. Dinner with a book club!

So for the last eight or nine years, my local postmaster, Stephanie Dover, has been waving her hands over my manuscripts for good luck when I ship them off from the post office. Needless to say, we've gotten to know each other and become friends. She's been so amazingly supportive, cheering on my publishing successes.
     So, I was so flattered when she said that it was her turn to choose the book for her book club and she had chosen A BIRD ON WATER STREET. I was even more flattered when she invited me to dinner to meet with her book club and talk about the book. What a sweetheart, what a sweet thing!
     From the left, Pat, Marie, El, Stephanie, (me), and Bernadette asked great questions - they even asked two stumpers which I have to research now.

     Truly, when a book heads out the door, it is no longer yours - it becomes the property of the reader. I love that, because I love hearing what parts of the story stand out to different people. It means they've made it theirs. They are relating to the story through their own experiences rather than mine. And it is so fun to watch that happen.
     What an absolute treat! THANK YOU Stephanie!!!

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4. Coloring Page Tuesday - Crows Nest

     Friday is Talk Like a Pirate Day! Methinks our young pirate might run the ship aground if he keeps his nose buried in Treasure Island instead of on the view in front of him. Arrrrrrr!
     CLICK HERE for more pirate-themed coloring pages!! And be sure to share your creations in my gallery so I can put them in my upcoming newsletters! (Cards, kids art, and crafts are welcome!)
     Sign up to receive alerts when a new coloring page is posted each week and... Please check out my books! Especially...

my debut novel, A BIRD ON WATER STREET, coming out next week! Click the cover to learn more!
     When the birds return to Water Street, will anyone be left to hear them sing? A miner's strike allows green and growing things to return to the Red Hills, but that same strike may force residents to seek new homes and livelihoods elsewhere. Follow the story of Jack Hicks as he struggles to hold onto everything he loves most.
AWARDS
**A SIBA OKRA Pick!**
**A GOLD Mom's Choice Award Winner!**
**The 2014 National Book Festival Featured Title for Georgia!**
**eLit 2014 Gold Medal Winner in the Environmental/Ecology/Nature Category**

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5. Hispanic Heritage Month 2014

Today kicks off Hispanic Heritage Month, which runs September 15th through October 15th. Per the official website:

The observation started in 1968 as Hispanic Heritage Week under President Lyndon Johnson and was expanded by President Ronald Reagan in 1988 to cover a 30-day period starting on September 15 and ending on October 15. It was enacted into law on August 17, 1988, on the approval of Public Law 100-402.

The day of September 15 is significant because it is the anniversary of independence for Latin American countries Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua. In addition, Mexico and Chile celebrate their independence days on September 16 and September18, respectively. Also, Columbus Day or Día de la Raza, which is October 12, falls within this 30 day period.
     Want to help celebrate? Learn or teach some Spanish using my bilingual picture books:

     Soap, soap, soap ~ Jabón, jabón, jabón and Paco and the Giant Chile Plant ~ Paco y la planta de chile gigante.

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6. Benn Tripp's THE ACCIDENTAL HIGHWAYMAN Trailers...

There's a new book coming out by Ben Tripp called Kit Bristol: The Accidental Highwayman, and the trailers for it are absolutely HILARIOUS! Click the image to see one, but GO HERE to see them all - it's worth your time. SO inventive!

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7. MIchelle Knudsen's EVIL LIBRARIAN - guest post and giveaway!

A dear friend of mine - Michelle Knudsen (of THE DRAGON OF TRELIAN, THE LIBRARY LION, etc...) has a new novel coming out called EVIL LIBRARIAN and it is a hoot! I'm thrilled she stopped by to talk to us about it today...

People often want to know the story behind a story — where the idea came from, what the process was from blank page to publication. The later stages are usually easy to talk about, but the beginning part is always hard for me. I try to pay attention, when I first start to get an idea, because I know people are going to ask me about it later ... but I’m usually just so excited to feel an idea coming together that I don’t want to think too much about where it came from and risk messing it up. Ideas can be fragile things when they first begin to materialize. And then of course once it feels solid enough to hold up to more intense scrutiny, often I’ve forgotten what the initial moment of inspiration actually was.
      Here is what I do remember about the very beginning of Evil Librarian: I wrote the first draft of the first chapter in late March/early April 2009. I was in my second semester at the Vermont College of Fine Arts, working toward my MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults, and needed a break from the heavier fantasy novel I was focusing on as my main project. I seem to remember starting it while on a plane, but I may be making that up. It was only the second time I’d attempted a novel in first person (the first being my other VCFA novel-in-progress, started a few months before). I’d been purposely choosing first person at school because it was hard for me; close third person was my go-to POV, and I wanted to push myself to try different and more challenging things. It had been a real challenge with the first novel, slow and sometimes painful, but Cyn’s voice in Evil Librarian came so quickly and naturally to me that writing her story was a pleasure. I had no idea what the story was going to be about when I began. I just started writing. And then I liked it, and I kept going.
     I kept working on Evil Librarian throughout my MFA program (along with my other novel, various picture book drafts, critical essays, etc.), and by the time I graduated I had about 80 pages. I sent those to my editor, who liked them (yay!) and then worked on a synopsis to show her I could figure out where the story was going to go. And then I wrote another, longer synopsis, and then a chapter-by-chapter outline (another first for me) and then eventually I had the whole novel, which went through another couple of revisions under my editor’s guidance and then a lot of last-minute tweaks and fixes until they finally made me stop touching it and it was done.
      One of the hardest things about this book, other than eventually trying to figure out what was actually going to happen in the story, was getting past my fears of trying to be funny. At the beginning, I could see that at least some of the initial pages I’d written were funny; my advisors at school thought they were, and when I read little parts out loud at occasional writerly gatherings, the people listening laughed in all the right places. That was nice. When you read something serious to an audience, even if it’s great, the most reaction you get in the moment is sort of a hushed “hmmmm” sound. But when you’re funny, people laugh. Sometimes a lot. And it feels like very honest feedback — there they are, in the moment, reacting with pleasure to your work. It was amazing. But then I realized I had to keep being funny. On purpose. How could I manage to be funny for an entire novel? What if I couldn’t? What if only the beginning was funny, and then everyone kept waiting for the next funny part and it never came?
      One of my MFA advisors wisely advised me to stop worrying about it. I had enough other stuff to worry about; the plot, for example, since in the beginning I wasn’t sure what was going to happen. And I had Cyn’s voice, and Cyn was funny. So if I just kept going, it stood to reason that more of her humor would come across, and I could trust her to keep my readers engaged and laughing. So that is what I tried to do. And of course there was a lot of other stuff to focus on: not just the plot, but what I wanted the book to ultimately be about, the themes underneath the story, the relationships among the characters, the pacing and the (hopefully) exciting or scary parts and the integration of all the musical theater elements that Cyn and I both loved so much. It ended up being a story about a lot of things, I think, and also brought back a lot of my own high school memories, which were wonderful to re-experience. My high school friends are still some of my best and closest friends today, and although none of them actually make a specific appearance in the book, all of them influenced my take on this story and my vision for what Cyn’s high school experience was like.

BLOG BOOK TOUR!
Visit other blogs on Mikki's tour for EVIL LIBRARIAN:
WhoRuBlog, http://www.whorublog.com/ - 9/9/2014
Elizabeth O. Dulemba, http://dulemba.com - 9/13/2014
Random Chalk Talk, http://randomchalktalk.blogspot.com/ - 9/10/2014
Books 4 Your Kids, http://www.books4yourkids.com/ - 9/11/2014
Green Bean Teen Queen, http://www.greenbeanteenqueen.com/ - 9/12/2014
Katie's Book Blog, http://katiesbookblog.com/ - 9/15/2014
Word Spelunking, http://www.wordspelunking.blogspot.com/ - 9/16/2-14
Book Chic Club, http://www.bookchicclub.blogspot.com/ - 9/17/2014

GIVEAWAY
Candlewick has kindly agreed to give away one free copy of EVIL LIBRARIAN to one of my lucky followers. Must live in the US to win - enter below.

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8. Friday Linky List - September 12, 2014

From The Guardian - Margaret Atwood's new work will remain unseen for a century - Must read this, it's really interesting!

From PW via The Telegraph: Should Writers Be Paid To Read? Hmmmm!

Via PW: Nielsen to Hold New Children's Book Summit. Interesting.

From Mashable via PW: Sleep in the Homes of These 8 Literary Legends. (I want to live in Steinbeck's studio - how adorable!!)


From This Picture Book Life: Fashionable Picture Book Characters (and no, Fancy Nancy is not among them!)

From Forbes via Publishers Lunch: Forbes has released their annual list of guesses at what the top-earning authors made. Please don't think this is anywhere near what the rest of us make! This is so outside my realm of reality I can't even imagine!

From NPR via PW: How 'Gatsby' Went From a Moldering Flop To a Great American Novel - fascinating look at how the book caught on after the author's death

From PW: A Hot Summer For Indie Stores... "PW’s informal poll of nearly two dozen indie bookstores found that many overcame a tough winter and are, in fact, up for the year. Some are way up. Parnassus Books in Nashville is one of several stores to report double-digit sales." Gads, I love to hear that!!

At Brain Pickings via PW: Maurice Sendak's Darkest, Most Controversial Yet Most Hopeful Children's Book

At BoingBoing: Great Childhood Books of Yesteryear (for adults only)

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9. FLASHLIGHT by Lizi Boyd - GIVEAWAY!


FLASHLIGHT by Lizi Boyd is a fascinating book. As a teacher of Design in the picture book MFA program at Hollins University, I often talk to my students about directing the reader's eye - usually through the use of light, contrast, saturation, etc. FLASHLIGHT hits all those buttons and more! With strategically located cut-outs and the flashlight beam highlighting small mysteries, I kept flipping back and forth through the book to catch vignettes I'd missed, like babies in a nest, or bugs in a bush. Truly, the book is brilliant. I'm thrilled to have Lizi here today to ask her about it!

Q. Lizi, congratulations on such a lovely book and all the fantastic praises it's receiving, like "This is creative genius at work" from Kirkus! How did the idea for this book come to you?
A.
My black labs, Zuli and Olive, went out for an evening ramble. I was working and suddenly realized they’d been gone for a long time. It was late fall, pitch black outside, so I took along a flashlight. I could hear them in the apple field below our house and when I caught them in the beam of light; their eyes, collars, the apples, field grasses were all in color. It was so utterly cool and simple. At that moment it became the idea for a book. My theory about ideas is that they’re all only ten feet off the ground and whomever reaches up and plucks it down gets to do it. I was excited this one was mine.

Q. This is a wordless picture book. How did you get the idea of it across to Chronicle Books?
A.
At the time I was working on INSIDE OUTSIDE, another wordless book so It wasn’t surprising to Chronicle. The next day I prepared a black paper mock up book and starting sketching it out. My mock ups are pretty tight and they have a somewhat finished feel and look, although they're not elaborately done. When I’m presenting an idea it seems best to show a mock up where there isn't a need for a ‘visual leap’ between a rough rough sketch and a finished piece. The closer the idea looks when it's presented the easier it is to ‘see’ where it can go.

Q. You must have dummied this up a million times to get it all to line up just right, yes?
A.
Thank you for appreciating how many go arounds one might need for such a seemingly simple book. Luckily it wasn’t even close to a million. I did do several rounds of mock-ups and many ideas for possible die cut shapes. Sara Gillingham, brilliant art director, did plenty of thinking too and Binh and many others in the production at Chronicle. It was truly a collaborative work.

Q. What is your illustration method?
A.
I used designer’s gouache on 100% cotton rag.The paper was quite unforgiving so it was very careful work and because it was rag I had to do several coats of the gouache to get the colors to pop.The die cuts were not part of the finishes so I used templates to trace out the reveals. There was a bit of reconfiguring of the die cuts by Sara Gillingham once all the paintings were done. Sara has a great eye and sensibility and knows all the computer tricks which I don’t know... here in a studio surrounded by two hundred plus paintbrushes.

I did most of the gray line illustration while I was at our summer house on Lake Sunapee. This is where I met the Luna moth, the tiny white spiders who crawled onto my paint tray one night and the small white moths. Our house sits by the water on one side and the woods on the other. I’d hop up, go hunt for some little forest greens, mushrooms i.e. and bring them back to the table. I finished the book in Vermont but needed to make a terrarium to remind myself of the Sunapee woods and all the smells.

Q. I love how the boy is curious, but when he loses his flashlight, it quickly turns to the animals being curious about him! How did where you live influence the story?
A.
Living in the country influences my work in many different ways. I take long walks with the dogs everyday so I‘m always seeing ideas along the way. And any work that’s going on in my studio is encouraged by these walks; the road, the quiet around me, subtle changes always help me to imagine different possibilities and directions.

Q. How are you celebrating the release of FLASHLIGHT?
A.
I had a wonderful launch party at our house/studio in collaboration with The Norwich Bookstore. We had a basket of little gray or black flashlights. I’d never done a launch party so it was really fun to celebrate this book.

Q. What's next in the works for you?
A.
The next project is different and has a bit of text. It’s working title and likely it’s final title is The Big Little Book. I’m in the midst of the sketches so I don’t want to talk too much about it because it’s still changing and showing me new directions. It’s a skinny, tall book, so look for it in 2015.

I will! Wishing you much continued success!
Check out this lovely book trailer!

CLICK HERE if the embedded video gives you any trouble.


GIVEAWAY!
Chronicle is generously offering one free copy of FLASHLIGHT to one of my lucky winners. Must live in the US/Canada to win - enter below:

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10. Picture Book Month Calendar Now Available

I'm proud to once again be involved with Picture Book Month in November hosted by Dianne de las Cassas. Every year I create the calendar which lists all the participating authors, a theme for each day, and lots of my coloring pages (some which you haven't seen yet). Teachers and librarians need a little time to organize their plans for the month, so the calendar is being released early. You can download the full color or black and white version to print out at the Picture Book Month website (CLICK HERE). Of course, I have coloring pages available for most of those themes, so I hope you'll take advantage!

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11. Coloring Page Tuesday - E is for Elephant!

     As a continuation of filling in my alphabet gaps, I give you an Elephant! Okay, okay, I've drawn elephants for you before. But they're just so danged cute and fun to draw!
     CLICK HERE for more coloring pages! And be sure to share your creations in my gallery so I can put them in my upcoming newsletters! (Cards, kids art, and crafts are welcome!)
     Sign up to receive alerts when a new coloring page is posted each week and... Please check out my books! Especially...

my debut novel, A BIRD ON WATER STREET, coming out next week! Click the cover to learn more!
     When the birds return to Water Street, will anyone be left to hear them sing? A miner's strike allows green and growing things to return to the Red Hills, but that same strike may force residents to seek new homes and livelihoods elsewhere. Follow the story of Jack Hicks as he struggles to hold onto everything he loves most.
AWARDS
**A SIBA OKRA Pick!**
**A GOLD Mom's Choice Award Winner!**
**The 2014 National Book Festival Featured Title for Georgia!**
**eLit 2014 Gold Medal Winner in the Environmental/Ecology/Nature Category**

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12. September is Child Protection Month


During the month of September, my publisher for A BIRD ON WATER STREET, Little Pickle Press will donate 25% of all book sales made on our website if the purchaser applies KidpowerSafe as the promo code at checkout. Very cool! I hope you'll help!

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13. Lois Lowery and Jeff Bridges on Colbert

Via Salon - "Watch Lois Lowry and Jeff Bridges explain what a dystopia is to Stephen Colbert":


Click the image below if the embedded video gives you any trouble.

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14. A FALLING STAR by Chantel Acevedo - Guest Post and Giveaway!

Chantel Acevedo will once again be my kind host at the Auburn Writers Conference in November. She's so generous to other writers, so it is my great pleasure to help her celebrate the release of her latest book, A FALLING STAR. Take it away Chantel!

      One of the questions writers are often asked has to do with inspiration, and the places where ideas come from. I thought I’d share with you where the idea for A Falling Star came from.
      First, you need to know that it was an idea twenty years in the making. Second, you need to know that A Falling Star is set against the backdrop of the Mariel Boat Crisis of 1980, and the Cuban rafter crisis of 1990—two massive Cuban exoduses ten years apart, with enormous consequences for the island and for South Florida. In the story, Daysy, a 14 year old girl who arrived in Miami as a child as part of the Mariel boatlift, discovers that her parents have been keeping a very tragic secret from her. So, Daysy goes on the hunt for answers to her past.
      The story is inspired by the very true Mariel story of my childhood friend, Arlenys Casanova. She was five when she came to the U.S. with her parents as one of over 100,000 Cubans who sought exile on our shores over the course of one spring. Upon disembarking in Key West, she was lost for hours among so many thousands who milled about the docks. Her parents, panicked, inhibited by the language barrier, searched and searched, exhausted by the boat ride, terrified that after everything they’d gone through, they’d come to a new country only to lose their daughter. Arlenys was found, eventually, in the arms of an elderly blind man, who huddled with her in the shade, waiting for someone to come and claim her.
This is a photo of my favorite writing spot, which is in my living room, beside my colorful bookshelves, with my grandparents' engagement photo from Cuba looking on. My grandmother, who is still with us, is a wonderful story, and I feel as if I owe my artistic sensibilities to her.

      Arlenys gifted me with this story when we were fifteen, sitting on the sidewalk waiting for another friend to emerge from her house. She told it casually, softly, and I always remembered it.
      When I sat down to write a story about the many ways that Cubans have come to the U.S., Arlenys’ story bubbled up in my imagination, and I found myself asking, “What if parents never found her? Or worse, what if she’d been lost at sea?”
      Those are the horrifying and gripping questions that novels are born out of, and so Daysy came to be. I will be forever grateful for that afternoon in Miami, when Arlenys told me her story, for her enduring friendship, and for her parents, who had the courage to seek a better life for their little girl and brought one of my dearest friends into my life.

Bio: Chantel Acevedo has received many awards for her fiction, including the Latino International Book Award and an Alabama State Council on the Arts Literature Fellowship. A Cuban-American born and raised in Miami, Florida, Acevedo has spent time in Japan and New Zealand as a Fulbrighter, and currently resides in Auburn, Alabama with her family, where she is the Alumni Writer-in-Residence and Coordinator of the Creative Writing Program at Auburn University. Acevedo’s fiction and poetry have appeared inPrairie Schooner, American Poetry Review, North American Review,and Chattahoochee Review, among others. She is the editor of theSouthern Humanities Review, the founder of the annual Auburn Writers Conference, and the author of two additional novels, Love and Ghost Letters (St. Martin’s Press) and A Falling Star(Carolina Wren Press), as well as a novel for young adults, Song of the Red Cloak. A new novel, THE DISTANT MARVELS, is forthcoming from Europa Editions. She holds an MFA from the University of Miami.

GIVEAWAY!
Chantel has generously agreed to give an autographed copy of A FALLING STAR to one of my lucky followers. Must live in the US to win - enter below.

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15. Friday Linky List - September 5, 2014


From Electric Lit - great info graphic about libraries in America, by H&R Block

From Shelf Awareness at Flavorwire: 25 Vintage Photos of Librarians Being Awesome

From Shelf Awareness at Scottish Book Trust: Scottish Children's Book Awards Shortlist

At Boston.com via PW: Children's Book Illustrator Takes Heat for Ferguson Drawing - Mary Englebright - yes. Read more about it at Betsy Bird's Fuse #8

From Shelf Awareness: Image of the Day: Campaign Stop at Avid Bookshop

Also from Shelf Awareness: "The ABC of It: Why Children's Books Matter," at the Fifth Avenue (at 42nd Street) location of the New York Public Library, is in its last days. Curator Leonard S. Marcus will host a farewell toast in the library bookshop on September 7, 3-5 p.m.
I saw it, and if you're a kid lit lover, you really shouldn't miss it!

At The Scotsman via PW: JK Rowling honours Malala Yousafzai at the Edinburgh International Book Festival!

At NPR: How To Sell Diverse Books: A Bookstore Owner's Advice (Elizabeth Bluemle of The Flying Pig Bookstore in Vermont talks to Audie Cornish)

From SLJ, Ferguson Libraries Step Up to Serve Community in Turmoil

San Jose Mercury News via PW: 50-State Look At How Common Core Playing Out in US - how's your state doing?

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16. FRANK! by Connah Brecon - Giveaway!


Some illustrators are so brilliant, their books are luscious treats to enjoy. Such is the case with Connah Brecon’s new FRANK! Although a longtime illustrator, Connah is relatively new on the US kid lit scene, so I’m delighted to get the chance to know him better…

Q. Connah, congratulations on FRANK! How did this book come to be?
A.
Hi Elizabeth & many thanks for the compliments. I'm sure, like most illustrators I spend most of my time viewing others work & just hanging my head, thinking I might as well just give up right now. There are so many talented illustrators around at the moment, so it's really lovely to hear something good about yourself.
      Frank! came about through one of those happy coincidences, my daughter had just started Primary school & we (the parents), kept getting subtle hints in the school newsletter regarding promptness. I joked with my daughter about why the students might be late to school & of course the excuses/reasons just got more & more bizarre. I had recently drawn this bear character, who became Frank, & he was lounging on my desk, so it seemed a perfect fit. You might notice the dedication is to the students & staff of the school, who I jokingly refer to as being 'always on time'. Initially I intended Frank to be the only animal character in the story, so he would stand out but as I began sketching the spreads it became obvious to make the characters a nice mix of human & animal. Most of my stories come about through a lovely collision of characters/sketches & story ideas. The process never seems to be exactly the same twice. Some come together easier than others but it's always a very organic process, there is no template to creating the perfect Picture Book.

Q. You’re from down under - what’s the children’s book scene like there?
A.
Actually I'm from the UK but currently live in Melbourne with my family. I am decidedly British. *smiley face*
      The Kidlit scene here is thriving as it is elsewhere in the World & I put that down to the range of children's lit that is currently being produced. There is such a wide spectrum of work/styles available to buy at the moment, which has really thrown a spotlight back onto the scene, alongside a book savvy audience. We suffered such a drought in quality work through the eighties & nineties which, in hindsight, will make this period we are in seem like a golden age in children's publishing. A couple of years back I was speaking to a well known Australian illustrator who berated me with the news that Picture Books were dead & that apps was where it was going to be happening, well, we've all seen what's come of that *looking at you (name removed for liable reasons), famous illustrator*. & just the other week I was informed by a big publisher here in Melbourne that they were sorry for not being able to offer me a publish date prior 2017. That's a healthy place for children's publishing to be.
      So, super rosy is the short answer.

Q. I ADORE your style - can you walk us through your method?
A.
Thank you Elizabeth.
      Well, everything starts with a sketchbook & pencil (old school). Once all the spreads are drawn up (on paper), I scan them into photoshop, cut out each character & begin painting beneath that paper layer. This retains the original pencil line plus you get to keep the paper texture, helping, hopefully, to remove that digital feel from the illustration. For a while I was quite paranoid about my work looking too digital but now with Frank! I think I've found a happy medium. With the background art I like to work fresh from scratch in photoshop, trying to allow happy accidents to occur, which is me trying to replicate what happens when you work traditionally. I use found textures over the top of colours to enable a more tactile look. Generally though, the overall art has a way of working itself out for each book. & with each new book you try to push the art further & I think this relates to the previous question, there are so many great books being produced at the moment that as an illustrator you are forced even more to up your game. You're not just competing against yourself but all the other great books out there. Not that you should overly dwell on such issues but it definitely lurks there in the darker recesses.

Q. I’m so intrigued by your color palette. Was that a quirky accident, or a planned decision?
A.
Thank you, that was a compliment right? (Me: YES!)
      I've always been known to have a more muted palette which I think just stems from my personal taste in colour ranges. But with FRANK! I made a conscious decision to broaden that palette for certain aspects of the book & also throw in some big splash pages from left field. It's another method of introducing energy into a story & also me testing myself, can I be happy that the sky is yellow given that the sky is never yellow in reality. When you create a Picture Book or any story come to that, you create a unique World that these characters inhabit, if your colour choices are believable in that World then it's a win. So, I think with each new book there should be a new World, still recognisable as yours but different. & in a way each story does kind of dictate your colour choices to a degree, the feel, the sentiment of the story comes through.

Q. What’s been your illustrative journey and how did you break into children’s books?
A.
So, I studied art at tertiary level; this is way back, back before the internet, I'm old right? I fell into illustration by accident. My girlfriend at the time was an illustrator & I saw how I was painting these monumental canvases & not making any money & here she was painting these little cute illustrations & making money, it was an easy decision to make. I spent a decade in editorial illustration before moving out here & landing my first Picture Book with Lothian Books. I just called them up, went in & they said "you should try writing your own stories too". I mean, maybe that was a put-off but I did & ended up publishing three of my own Pictures with the wonderful Helen Chamberlin, then the senior editor. Since then I have basically worked in education chapter books & Picture Books. The educational market was very lucrative here until recently when the big publishers started moving everything offshore to India! Sorry Indian people of the World. I also taught illustration for a few years & that was fun, except the paper work, they should have given me someone to do that job. Short sighted education system!

Q. Was there a defining moment or revelation in your path to becoming an illustrator, or in defining your style?
A.
Not as such, I think I've happily landed on my feet a few times in my career. I'm sure it's a lot like life in general, if you keep working at what you love eventually you hit gold. As for the style thing, I try & stay fresh as much for myself as anyone else. You always manage to find something while working, some mistake that works out that you want to pursue & explore. There is also that pursuit of perfection, the gap between what you see in your head & what comes out on the page & of course that gap never narrows.

Q. There are lots of funny signs hiding in FRANK! Is there a story behind those?
A.
I wish *counts dollar bills*. I just love background detail, incidental information if you will. If books are Worlds then they should be filled with detail, all the fluff helps to support our main characters. I do really admire illustrators that can tell a story with minimal visual effort, it's a talent in it's own right. Detail is just something I can't help doing. But it is nice to ask what the heck that sailor is doing in town at a Charity Dance Off?

Q. Now that America knows about you, you have more books in the pipes. Can you share more about them?
A.
Hello America! Pleased to meet you.
      Alongside FRANK! I have a second Picture Book coming out late December 2014 through Philomel Books. THERE'S THIS THING is a love about a girl who likes a... well, that would be telling. Besides that I have a few scripts that are doing the rounds now, so fingers crossed.

Q. Thanks so much and I wish you much continued success!!
A.
Thanks Elizabeth, it was great talking to you.

GIVEAWAY!
Connah has very generously agreed to send a signed copy of FRANK! all the way from Australia to one of my lucky winners! Must live in the US or the UK to win - enter below!

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17. The Decatur Book Festival Wrap-Up - 2014


Friday... Stan and I went downtown to pick up my author packet at the hotel and see who we could see. Sure enough, I ran into Tom Angleberger (Origami Yoda) and Cece Bell (El Deafo) and their kids. Sweet folks from the same town as Hollins University! We walked around the square to watch the tents going up. There's a buzz in the air that begins with those tents - everybody starts getting excited. The folks at Little Shop of Stories were still organizing all the books they'll be selling throughout the weekend (no small task), and there was just a general glow to things.
     We went back to the hotel to try out the new restaurant there - Makan. I highly recommend it. Then ran into more folks in the lobby - Kelly Light (who is as sweet and lovely as I always knew she'd be), Tony and Angela DiTerlizzi and their daughter too. Then back to Little Shop at 8:00 for the Children's book creator party.
     They're moving up in the world and had printed pinable name tags this year - they even had one for Stan, how sweet is that? I got to meet so many folks I've been wanting to meet for years, like Peter Lerangis, LeYuen Pham (pronounced "Lee Win"), and Matt Phelan. The bookstore hired a magician (author/magician Mike Lane) to entertain us and it was fun to see him (almost) lose Jon Scieszka's wedding ring in flames!


Saturday... More authors come in today and I can't wait to party with my peeps on the square this evening at the BIG party. DBF is such a non-stop blast!! Until then, today I moderate the "All in the Family" panel with James and Kimberly Dean (Pete the Cat) and Frank Morrison and Connie Shofield-Morrison - can't wait! Wish me luck!

Later... Gads it was a hot one - but we had a blast!! We saw bits and pieces of several presentations, trying to catch as much as we could. (It's impossible not to miss something.) The first we caught was Matt Phelan, Amy Krouse Rosenthal, and Kelly Light talk about "Pure Imagination." Then I had my panel...



I knew James and Kimberly, but was thrilled to meet Frank and Connie - lovely and talented people. Two powerfully creative couples talked about "All In The Family" - the challenges and high points of working with your significant other. I'm biased since I moderated, but I thought it went great.

     And James gave one lucky little girl an original Pete the Cat painting!

     Afterwards, we grabbed lunch at Leon's Full Service - air conditioning! Then we went to an adult author (about the Civil War) for Stan, then home for showers because the VIP party was that night!!
     It was still hotter than blazes, but the VIP party is not to be missed if you can get in. It's basically ALL the speakers in attendance gathered in once spot to mingle and have fun. I finally got some time to hang out with Loren Long, Chris Gall, and meet Salina Yoon - luv 'em! Kelly Light once again looked awesome in her red lipstick with those gorgeous aqua eyes of hers. Here she is (on the right) with my good friend Lynn Cullen (Mrs. Poe) and me in the middle:

They served arepas and creative cocktails and it was all good!

Sunday... It was a groggy, slow start this morning, but we eventually got moving. A good thing considering it was my turn to be on stage. Stan and I nabbed what I have dubbed "The Magic Table" in front of the Brick Store Pub in downtown Decatur. I swear to you, if you sit at this table during DBF, a ton of the folks you want to meet will walk by. Some will stop to say 'hi,' while others will join you for a beer. It's one of the best ways I know to get to know my fellow creators!

     Back to the children's stage, Carmen Deedy wowed the crowd as she always does. Then Chris Gall and William Wegman - there were several Weimaraners in the audience for him especially. Look him up and you'll see why. Sadly, Molly Idle came down with a flu bug in Washington (at the National Book Festival), so had to pass on DBF. I was so looking forward to finally meeting her in person. *le sigh* Oh well, our kid lit world is a small one.
     My panel was called "Southern Drawl" since Deborah Wiles, Tommy Hays, and I are all from the south. Vicky Alvear Shecter moderated and asked some great questions about voice, inspiration, research, etc.


Here's a pic of me with the gorgeous sign my publisher sent:

And we had a great audience too (all strategically sitting in the shade):

     After I signed a bunch of books (yay!) and even wrote my name on a little girl's arm (can you say SOAP please?), Stan and I mosied around to see the punch out image photo ops the Decatur Library created using my coloring pages. We had to do it! I'm in the fairy and Stan is saying "Arrgggghhh!" in the pirate:

And we finally got to see the bus that Little Shop of Stories purchased via a grant from James Patterson. It's SO CUTE!!!!

Then we caught up with a gang of children's book creators at The Square Pub for fall-apart cocktails. Some had to leave to catch flights and the rest of us went on to enjoy a lovely dinner at The Iberian Pig. I think we were all about to fall over by the time we hugged good-bye. But we all agreed, it was a FANTASTIC weekend.
     I was once again SO honored to be asked to participate. The folks at Little Shop of Stories busted bootie to make sure everybody had the books they wanted (they were packed the entire weekend, both in the store and at the booths). The leadership of DBF (Hi Daren and Diane and Paul and Mary!) made it all look easy, even though we know it's not. So a big hearty THANK YOU goes out to everybody for all your hard work making this my favorite weekend of the year!!

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18. Coloring Page Tuesday - H is for Hippo!

     I received the sweetest note from a librarian for the Cedar City Public Library in Utah recently. She's featuring a different alphabet letter for each of her storytimes this year and is using my coloring pages to help with the topics. How sweet is that!?
      But then it occurred to me - do I have a coloring page for every letter? Or better yet, do I have a reading critter for every letter? I have a lot, but there are a few holes, which I plan to remedy over the next few months...not neccessarily in order.
     This week - you get a HIPPO reading the awesome THE HICCUPOTAMUS by Aaron Zenz. Speaking of Zs (for Zenzzz), I can't wait to show you what I have for the more difficult letters of the alphabet. But lo, it must wait...You'll just have to come back to see!
     CLICK HERE for more coloring pages! And be sure to share your creations in my gallery so I can put them in my upcoming newsletters! (Cards, kids art, and crafts are welcome!)
     Sign up to receive alerts when a new coloring page is posted each week and... Please check out my books! Especially...

my debut novel, A BIRD ON WATER STREET, coming out next week! Click the cover to learn more!
     When the birds return to Water Street, will anyone be left to hear them sing? A miner's strike allows green and growing things to return to the Red Hills, but that same strike may force residents to seek new homes and livelihoods elsewhere. Follow the story of Jack Hicks as he struggles to hold onto everything he loves most.
AWARDS
**A SIBA OKRA Pick!**
**A GOLD Mom's Choice Award Winner!**
**The 2014 National Book Festival Featured Title for Georgia!**
**eLit 2014 Gold Medal Winner in the Environmental/Ecology/Nature Category**

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19. Come See Me at the Decatur Book Festival!


This year at the Decatur Book Festival I'll be speaking on a panel of mid-grade authors with the illustrious Deborah Wiles (REVOLUTION) and Tommy Hays (WHAT I CAME TO TELL YOU). (I'll share A BIRD ON WATER STREET, of course.)
     We'll be on the Children's Stage at 3:45 on Sunday. Our panel is called "Southern Drawl" (because we're all Southern writers) and it will be moderated by my friend, Vicky Alvear Shecter!
     But that's not all!!
      I'll also be moderating a panel myself on Saturday at 11:30am called "All in the Family." I'll interview two creative couples - James and Kimberly Dean of 'Pete the Cat' fame, and Frank Morrison and Connie Schofield-Morrison of I GOT THE RHYTHM.
So please come Saturday or Sunday or both and I look forward to seeing you there!

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20. AW, NUTS! by Rob McClurkan - GIVEAWAY!


Y'know how I talk about knowing people who I can just tell it's only a matter of time before they'll be published? Rob McClurkan is one of those. He's an amazing and fun talent, and all around great guy. When I first saw his portfolio at one of our early SCBWI Southern Breeze Illustrators' Days, I couldn't believe he hadn't been scooped up yet. Well, I'm happy to say that has since been remedied by HarperCollins with his debut picture book as author/illustrator - AW, NUTS! I'm thrilled to have Rob on today to talk about it!

Q. Rob - It seems I've been cheering for you for a while. Can you share your path to publication?
A.
The journey began when I attended that SCBWI Southern Breeze Illustrators Days. Already a full time illustrator, I was having a difficult time making the leap into children’s books. The one-day conferences helped me understand the business better and the critiques gave me the information I had been missing. You were such a huge help to me during the conference. You took the time to look over my book and gave me some things to work on. I took the feedback home and worked on it every day.
     The next year I came back armed with a new portfolio. During the critique, one of the Art Directors from Candlewick said such nice things about my illustrations I knew the hard work had paid off.
     In 2013, I attended my first SCBWI Winter conference in New York. At the time, I was more interested in illustrating stories than writing my own. Mark Teague and Moe Williams were two of the speakers that year. They both encouraged artist to write their own stories. Those conferences have a way of just encouraging, equipping, and energizing you. I went home and started writing and scribbling out ideas. Eventually, I had a story that I thought might have some potential.

Q. So, why AW, NUTS! You definitely relay the manic obsessiveness of squirrels. How did this story come to be?
A.
My 9th-grade science teacher had some exotic pets - a rattlesnake and two squirrels. At times, he would let them out for a little exercise. The squirrels, not the rattlesnake. The bigger of the two squirrels was harmless and tame, but if you were not familiar with him, you might get a little freaked out when he jumped on you. It was his way of saying hello. The other squirrel was a flying squirrel. I was fascinated by this cute little guy. One day during class my teacher let him out. The tiny squirrel climbed to the top of his head and leaped across the room to a student's desk. Eventually, the squirrel made his way to me. After a few minutes of petting the little guy, he rewarded me by climbing into my jacket pocket where he left me a tiny gift. I can still remember sticking my hand into my pocket that cold winter day realizing what that little booger had done. I thought we were friends.
      I was already working on a story idea that had a chase element to it. My wife reminded me of my squirrel experiences and it all came together. I added Squirrel chasing after the most delicious looking acorn ever, and the book practically wrote itself. Originally, AW, NUTS! was mostly a story about colors and that was how we pitched it. After hearing from an editor that passed on the story I started tinkering with the manuscript and dropped the color element to focus on squirrel as a character. That was the magic that was missing. We sent the story to HarperCollins and after a month or two of working with them on the project we had a book deal.

Q. I've always enjoyed your fun, bold style. What is your method?
A.
Most of my illustration work is created in Adobe Illustrator. When I started AW, NUTS! I completely abandoned my tried and true illustration process.
      I don’t know if that is the wisest thing to do when you get your first book deal, but I wanted to try something new. I had to create a new process of painting using Adobe Photoshop. I had not done any of this before I started the project. The transition was not too difficult. I used a Cintiq so it is a very natural way of working digitally. I do recommend you get the okay from your publisher before you just jump into a new style. Luckily, I had already done some color images in my dummy book with character development, so they were on board with my new process. I am so glad I took the leap. It has been fun to see how my work has changed since completing Aw, Nuts! I still do work in Adobe Illustrator, but I now have two styles to showcase.

Q. I love how the acorn just keeps getting away from squirrel and all the things he tries to catch up with it. But I really want to know, what do the other eyes belong to under the sidewalk?
A.
I’m pretty sure it’s a family of moths with very thick glasses.

Q. How does it feel to see your first book in print? (I'm so happy for you!)
A.
Thank you. It is very exciting! Once you get a book deal the whole process takes about a year, so it has been a long time coming and kinda hard to believe it’s finally here. The real reward is when you see others enjoying the book. I have already received letters and drawings from students from a school I recently visited. I was not expecting that. It blew me away. For me, that was the real reward.

Q. Are you doing anything special to help promote it?
A.
Earlier this week I released my book trailer (below). This was one of those items I was wondering if it would be worth doing. I am so glad I did. The trailer has the same energy as the book and brings Squirrel to life in such a fun way. I also completed a giveaway through teachersnotebook.com, which was great fun. I am planning on doing book signings as well as school visits. If a reader is interested in a school visit, they can email me through my website seerobdraw.com and I will set it up. If distance is an issue, I am open to a classroom Skype session. (Click the image to go see the trailer on Youtube.)

Q. Anything else in the pipeline for you? (I hope so!)
A.
I have several manuscripts I am waiting to hear back on that are with publishers now. I am so excited about these new stories, I hope I have the opportunity to share them.

Q. Wishing you much continued success, Rob!
A.
Thanks Elizabeth for the opportunity. It’s been fun.

Q. GIVEAWAY!
HarperCollins is generously offering to send a free copy of AW, NUTS! to one of my lucky commenters. Must live in the US/Canada to win. Enter below.

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21. Thanks for your loyalty!!!

I just discovered that every single one of my newsletter subscribers except for one, is signed up for my WEEKLY "e's news and coloring page Tuesdays" newsletter (plus book giveaways). As of today, that means 3,768 folks (the number is always fluctuating) get my newsletter in their in-box every week. WOW! I am so flattered!
     If weekly is too much, did you know I have a "Special Editions" option too, where you can just get my news every now and then? It only comes out every few months or so when I have big news to share. I try very hard not to inundate that group. Although, I thought there were more people subscribed to that option. Upon investigation this morning, I found that almost all the names in that group were redundant. Only one person had signed up that way!! ONE! Bigger WOW!
     That's a lot of loyalty I wasn't expecting to stumble across today. I'm so grateful!
     But I hope y'all know, signing up for my "Special Editions" is perfectly okay too! (You won't get the giveaway notifications, but we'll still be in touch from time to time.) Anyhow - for either one, you can sign up at http://dulemba.com/index_newsletter.html
     CLICK HERE to see an example of my latest newsletter!

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22. Friday Linky List - August 29, 2014

From the Seattle Times (via PW): Amazon ignites culture clash over France's beloved bookstores

From Ashley Wolff - "Editing" at Books Around The Table - About paring down the clutter in your life and in your writing.

From ShelfTalker (at PW): Authors, Please Don't Do This - Sneaky attempts to get your book noticed in a bookstore may backfire.

Tweet from Ksenia Anske: 7 Ways To Support A Writer:
     1. Buy a book.
     2. Buy a book.
     3. Buy a book.
     4. Buy a book.
     5. Buy a book.
     6. Buy a book.
     7. Buy a book.

Do Hardback Children's Picture Books Lack Something? (Beautiful endpapers!) by Paeony Lewis at Picture Book Den

At New York Family: Ralph Lauren Launches Children's Literacy Program

At Nathan Bransford's blog: What to Write About When it Feels Like Everything Has Already Been Written

Well, it's not my "T-Rex in a Dress," but I'm glad it's out there: A New Picture Book Biography About a Transgender Girl (at School Library Journal

At HuffPost: Dolly Parton. Really. (You do know about her amazing literacy work through the Imagination Library, yes?)

11 Things You Never Noticed About Your Favourite Disney Movies at Movieseum. (Mostly sexual, but I love the first one especially. And I actually have the poster of the Little Mermaid with the... *ahem* tower of note.)

From BuzzFeed via Shelf Awareness: 11 Things You Learn Your First Month As A Bookseller!

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23. DEATH BY TOILET PAPER by Donna Gephart - Guest Post and Giveaway!

This week, Donna Gephart stops by to talk about her latest novel, DEATH BY TOILET PAPER! I'm just going to leave this one to her...

We Make Our Own Luck

     We were so broke growing up in Northeast Philadelphia that my mom bought my sister and me sneakers from the “So Ugly They’re Cheap” rack, powdered milk was our drink du jour and our toilet paper sometimes had the consistency of gray party streamers.
      Our weekly entertainment came from treasured trips to the Northeast Regional Library, where I relished my time exploring the shelves. The characters in favorite library books like The Hundred Dresses by Eleanor Estes and Mr. Popper’s Penguins by Florence and Richard Atwater became my companions during an otherwise lonely childhood.
      In response to our eternal lack of money, I entered contests, hoping to win what we needed. But all I ever won was $1.98 from a radio call-in talent show set up like The Gong Show and tickets to Great Adventure Amusement Park in New Jersey. The biggest prize I remember winning was a $200 savings bond from a writing contest.
      My sister, Ellen, was the real contest queen.
      Her persistence through the years with contests and sweepstakes netted her a million free air miles, a full-paid trip to New York City for her and her son, a week-long vacation to the island of her choice with her husband and many gift cards, movie tickets, etc.
      But all those winnings couldn’t compare to what happened to my sister on The Price is Right.
      Twenty-five years ago, Ellen was a contestant on The Price is Right when Bob Barker hosted the show. She won a bunch of prizes and the big showcase at the end. Having had so much fun, Ellen was determined to get on the show again.
      So she did!
      Ellen recently won a trip to L.A. for a movie premiere. It had nothing to do with The Price is Right, but while she was out there, she got tickets for her and her friend, Val, to sit in the audience. Three hundred people fill the audience. Nine of those are chosen to come up and play.
      My sister was called to Contestant’s Row . . . exactly twenty-five years after her first appearance on the show. But this time it seemed her luck didn’t hold. She couldn’t guess the right price to get up on stage. Someone else won every time. Drew Carey finally announced, “This is the last item up for bids.”
      Ellen bid and she came closest, charging up on stage and hugging the life out of Drew Carey.
      Then, in a matter of minutes, Ellen guessed the first two and last two digits in the price of a brand new Toyota Corolla. And she won the car!
      I’d never seen her so excited.
      On the way home to Philadelphia, Ellen worried about how she’d pay the taxes on the car. Back home, she played their hotel room number on a lottery ticket and won enough to pay the taxes.
      Some people say my sister is lucky, but I know the truth. She’s incredibly persistent. She enters thousands of contests and sweepstakes to win the ones she does. She subscribes to the SweepSheet newsletter and works consistently at her hobby.
     Donna's favorite writing spot.

      My sister so inspired me that when I wrote my new book, DEATH BY TOILET PAPER, I gave my character my sister’s determined spirit and love for contests and sweepstakes. Twelve-year-old Benjamin Epstein enters the Royal-T Toilet Tissue slogan contest in hopes of winning $10,000 to save his recently widowed mom and himself from eviction. Ben’s determination to help his mom is inspiring, the way my sister’s determination inspired me. If you read the book’s dedication, you’ll notice a familiar name.
      I still enter contests occasionally. A few years ago, I wrote an entry for a contest to celebrate Whole Foods’ 30th anniversary. My husband and I were among thirty pairs of winners treated to a weekend in Austin, TX with dinners out and special events.
      But most of my creative energy goes into writing books for children. Books about kids who enter contests. Books about kids who become famous on YouTube with their pet hamster. Books about kids who get on Jeopardy! And books about kids whose mom is running for president. But each of the books is about something more, something deeper, like dealing with the loss of a parent, being bullied at school or feeling desperately alone.
      And I felt like I’d won the biggest contest of all when I discovered the books I’d written now sit on the shelves of the Northeast Regional Library, waiting to inspire a young person, who like I did all those years ago, seeks companionship and hope.

GIVEAWAY!
Donna has graciously agreed to send a free, signed copy of DEATH BY TOILET PAPER along with some bookmarks to one of my lucky followers. Must live in the US to win - enter below.

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24. Decatur Book Festival Photo Ops Signage

OMG - what is it about my creations going to large vinyl of late? Joe Davich of the Georgia Center for the Book (I'm a board member) asked to use two of my coloring pages to create photo ops for the upcoming Decatur Book Festival... He used my Reading Fairy and my Pirate Treasure images. I just LOVE the way these turned out - SO cute!!! I hope lots of folks will get their pictures made with these!

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25. Jarrett Krosoczka: Why lunch ladies are heroes

On this Labor Day, let's celebrate the folks who make our lives easier!
     Jarrett Krosoczka does just that. He was on Ted (again) recently, and he has another great message to share!

CLICK HERE to view the talk on TED if the embedded video gives you any trouble.

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