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1. Interview Alert: Harriet Muncaster

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I recently interviewed author/illustrator Harriet Muncaster to learn more about her debut picture book I Am A Witch’s Cat, which was published this summer, but is perfect for Halloween. Her book contains fascinating scenes filled with incredibly detailed miniatures. I was an instant fan from page one. And the story is clever and sweet. It’s about a child who claims her mother is a witch (a good witch) and she is a witch’s cat, and she goes on to show the reader all the reasons why she knows her mother is a witch. But more than that, the story is about a special relationship between a child and a parent. Please read the interview and get to know rising star Harriet Muncaster.

Q. Please tell us a little about yourself and how you got started in children’s books.

HM. Hi Lauri, I am so glad you like my book and thank you for having me on your blog! I have always loved making, drawing, reading and writing so I always knew I wanted to do something visually creative. However it wasn’t until we went on a school trip to an exhibition of James Mayhew’s work that I realized I could channel my creativity into children’s books. The thought had never actually occurred to me before and I had never been told that it was possible to do an illustration course at university as opposed to just a general art course. I think I was about 16 or 17 at the time. I absolutely loved James Mayhew’s work at the exhibition and it opened my eyes to the possibility of becoming a children’s book illustrator myself. I did a foundation course in art and design after school and that made me more certain that illustration was the right path for me to take. After that I did a degree in illustration and then an MA in Children’s Book Illustration at Anglia Ruskin in Cambridge. We were given some good exposure on my MA course – our work got taken out to Bologna Book Fair and that is where my Witch’s Cat book was spotted! In fact, it was a project I did on that course.

Q. You have a unique artistic style, which is evident in your picture book I Am A Witch’s Cat (which is gorgeous, by the way). How would you describe your style?

HM. Thank you! I am not really sure how I would describe my style to be honest. I kind of feel like I fell into it without meaning to. I was on my MA course and thought I would try out a book by making work in 3D out of paper and photographing it. I had done something similar before on my degree course where I made a paper model of a Snow Queen’s room. It was just the room though, I hadn’t taken it as far as putting characters in at that point. I guess that was my first ever foray into 3D illustration! So I thought I would try a similar technique to illustrate a book on my MA course. It went down quite well, I actually got highly commended for it in the Macmillan prize so my tutor suggested I do my next project in the same way. That project turned out to be Witch’s Cat, and it went from there. I enjoyed doing it because I absolutely LOVE making tiny things and I enjoy playing with lighting to get different atmospheres. (I actually think I prefer making physical things to drawing, it feels more natural to me.) I wanted it to be a warm book with an autumnal feel but also a bit magical. I watched a lot of the old Bewitched episodes while I was creating it.
So overall, to answer the question, if I were to describe my style in Witch’s Cat it would be: paper and fabric room sets with cut out characters, photographed with (hopefully!) warm lighting to give an autumnal feel. 

Q. Can you tell us a bit about your process from beginning to end when you created I Am A Witch’s Cat?

HM. Well, I think I went about it in a pretty ordered fashion. Even though I am a messy person in real life, when it comes to work I find I have to be very ordered and focused. Firstly I thought of the story. Then I thumbnailed the whole book, did a dummy book and then started making the final art! To make the final art I made miniature scenes- about dollhouse sort of size, out of paper and card and bits of fabric and then photographed them. 

These are some of the very first sketches of Witch’s Cat from my sketchbook. 

harriet muncaster 5 (2)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And here are some work in progress shots when I was making the 3D scenes. 

 

 

 

 


 

 

 

These are all the food boxes and tins for the supermarket scene.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The first finished version of Witch’s Cat (the one I created on my MA course) had more of a scrapbook feel to it but that got changed for publication.

Q. Photography plays a large part in your artwork.Would you consider yourself a photographer too?

HM. I’m not sure actually… I suppose I am in a way! I don’t feel as though I am worthy of the title ‘professional photographer’ though as I don’t feel I know enough of the technical stuff. Also I don’t own all the equipment!

Q. Do you personally create all of the miniatures you use in your artwork? (I especially love the tiny books I saw on your website!)

HM. I try to make as many of the miniatures as I can out of card, but I think sometimes it adds interest to put an actual miniature in there like a real dollhouse lamp or something. Sometimes, if I want to make something look properly 3D I will make it out of Fimo. Or sew it! Like these little soft toy cats in Witch’s Cat.

Q. I Am A Witch’s Cat is a perfect pick for Halloween. Was that your intention when you created it? 

HM. No, I didn’t specifically think of Halloween funnily enough! But I was intending it to have an autumnal feel. I can see now though that it works well as a Halloween book!

Q. And how popular is Halloween in your part of the world?

HM. Halloween was never a big thing at all for me growing up. We weren’t even allowed to go trick or treating in my family! Halloween was a bit of a non-event in my house. It wasn’t until I went to university that I discovered that some people do like to celebrate Halloween. I’ve been to a few Halloween parties since. It’s definitely not as big a deal in the UK as it is in America though – Nowhere near!

Q. What projects are you working on right now?

HM. I have been working on a range of books about a princess called ‘Glitterbelle’ with Parragon publishing. I think they are coming out in January – or sometime round then anyway! I have just illustrated them, not written them and some of them are activity books. They are all done in my 3D style. I have also been working on a second Witch’s cat book called Happy Halloween Witch’s Cat which will come out next July. And then there are some other picture books I have been working on too but I can’t say much about those yet!

Q. Why do you believe picture books are important?

HM. I cannot imagine a world without picture books! Well, I can, but it would be a very boring world. I absolutely adore them because they are like little worlds you can just escape into. My absolutely favourite picture books are the Dorrie books by Patricia Coombs. I love the atmospheres they evoke. Of course there are other reasons why picture books are so important – like the use of them for teaching to read, introducing children to ideas, addressing important issues in a way children can relate to, provoking exploration and questions, bonding over bedtime reading etc… but that is my reason for loving them, the escapism and inspiration they provide. Also, writing and illustrating picture books is like being the director of a mini play/film. You have complete control to create a whole new world.

Q. Where can fans go to learn more about you and your work or to simply connect with you?

HM. I have a blog: www.victoriastitch.blogspot.com

Q. Any closing thoughts or words of wisdom?

HM. I don’t think I actually have any words of wisdom! I have just always done what I love and luckily it has led me to being able to do it as my full-time job. Maybe I would say: listen to criticism, use it to help you become a better illustrator/writer/artist/(insert word here) but ultimately do what inspires you and what you believe in. Don’t let anyone change that. 

Oh my goodness, I love the tiny orange and yellow quilt on the bed, and the tiny food boxes, and the tiny plush kitties! Thanks for sharing, Harriet, and much success with all of your books!


2 Comments on Interview Alert: Harriet Muncaster, last added: 10/24/2014
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2. Suzanne Bloom Loves Fab Goo Taffy

Author/Illustrator Suzanne Bloom

Author/Illustrator Suzanne Bloom

Suzanne's Newest Book

Suzanne’s Newest Book

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Please welcome back author/illustrator Suzanne Bloom for week three of what will be a four-part series designed to encourage new and aspiring picture book authors as they navigate the perilous path to publication. 

Today’s topic is Rejection, with a capital “R”. If you’ve already been sending out submissions and have received rejection letters (or e-mails) back, it’s a major letdown. I’ve been there. I’m still there. But as cold as the rejection feels, you must try try try not to take it personally. I know you poured your heart and soul into your story. But always keep in mind that publishing is a business and publishers are companies. And just like any company, publishers must make money in order to stay in business. Since publishing companies receive hundreds of submissions each month and thousands per year, and they cannot publish them all, they are very selective and choose what they believe has the potential to make money. That doesn’t mean your story wasn’t good. It just means that it wasn’t right for that publisher. Even veteran authors still get rejections.

Several years ago, when I was feeling particularly bummed over yet another rejection, I asked an anonymous editor if editors realized they hold authors’ dreams in their hands. I don’t remember what the response was, but I have since come to realize that it is not the responsibility of editors or agents to make my dreams come true. So don’t get mad, get motivated. And above all, don’t give up. If you’ve made your story the absolute best is can be, send it out again. I wonder what Suzanne does when she receives a rejection letter? Let’s ask. 

Suzanne, how do you handle a rejection letter? How about 5, 15, or 25?

It’s really hard to believe that 15 someones don’t love your story as much as you do, isn’t it? Is it time to put that story away for a while or forever? Let it rest and get to work on something else. After a month or so look at it again with fresh eyes. This also applies to harsh critiques. Several of my stories (which are brilliant, according to me) shall never see the light of day. I came across a mock “rejection” letter which said, “We’re sorry to say that due to the number of similar rejection letters we have received, we cannot accept your rejection letter at this time. Good luck placing your rejection letter elsewhere.” Alas, I have paraphrased and I don’t know the source.

Love the mock rejection letter and the advice! Listen to Suzanne, picture book writers, she knows what she’s talking about. 

Of course, sometimes the feeling of rejection comes in the form of a harsh critique from an agent, editor, or even a critique group member. Again, it’s hard not to take the criticism personally, especially when we’re proud of the work we’ve done. I can tell you that I am always surprised when I get a harsh critique. How could they possibly find fault in my story. But now I understand that there’s always room for improvement. Remember too, that you don’t have to make changes to your story based on critiques. You don’t have to agree with every thing that’s said. But keep in mind that agents and editors are professionals and usually know their stuff, and if you should happen to get a critique from one, I recommend you at least consider their suggestions to improve your work. 

And let me add, that I would be lost without the help of my critique group, Picture Me Published (PMP). It is invaluable. My stories have improved astronomically thanks to the thoughtful suggestions of my three groupmates, Sarah, Jess, and Brooks. I highly recommend joining a group. Don’t worry if it doesn’t feel right, you can always politely drop out and search for another. My first group didn’t work out (not for lack of trying), but it’s okay because PMP is a perfect fit for me. 

Suzanne, how should we handle a harsh critique?

In the privacy of your own space, dance like Rumpelstiltskin: stomp, gnash, holler and fume. Whew, take a breath and revisit the story and the critique…not necessarily at that moment – when you’re ready to hear and evaluate the suggestions. What rings true? What holds back the story? I thought “Fab Goo Taffy” was the best name ever for the candy that was traded for a time machine. My wise editor said it wasn’t insect-centric enough for my ant eating characters (A Mighty Fine Time Machine). Certain that there was no substitute, I stewed and fumed, until I came up with Buggy Bon-Bons. It’s so hard to defend an idea without sounding defensive. And even when we’re certain each of our words is precious and perfect, there is always room for rumination and possibly improvement. But here’s the biggest question: Are you willing to make changes for the good of the story?

Please come back next week for the fourth and final installment of my “Suzanne Bloom” series, in which I ask Suzanne how to combat writer’s block, what an editor means when he/she tells you your story is too quiet, and how to keep from getting discouraged. I can’t wait!

{Suzanne Bloom At Work In Her Studio}

{Suzanne Bloom At Work In Her Studio}

Suzanne Bloom was born mid-century in Portland, Oregon, which accounts for her love of overcast days. She moved to Queens, New York in time to finish kindergarten. Her first book We Keep a Pig in the Parlor was published in 1988. She has authored and illustrated many more books since then including The Bus for Us (2000) and the popular Goose & Bear series, which includes A Splendid Friend Indeed, Treasure, What About Bear, Oh! What A Surprise!, Fox Forgets, and her latest, Alone Together. She has been given a Theodor Seuss Geisel Honor Award and has been selected for the Texas 2×2 list of 20 best picture books (twice). She currently lives in upstate, New York with her husband in the house they built 34 years ago, down a dirt road and on a hillside. She has two grown sons, one cat, and one dog. To learn more about Suzanne, please read the interview I did with her back in 2010, or check out her website: www.suzannebloom.com


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3. Suzanne Bloom Has A Lot Of Towels

Author/Illustrator Suzanne Bloom

Author/Illustrator Suzanne Bloom

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hello future (traditionally) published picture book authors. As promised, I have author/illustrator Suzanne Bloom back this week to help me help you along your path to publication. If you are an aspiring picture book author, you may feel as if you will never be published. I know, I’ve felt the same way. And as a new picture book author (yes, I still consider myself new because even though I have been writing for nine years, I just signed my first contract last year and my book is not yet out), I wonder if I will ever publish another. So I understand your frustration. You may be wondering if there’s something you could be doing to move you further along. I wonder what Suzanne thinks? Let’s find out.

Suzanne, what could an aspiring picture book author (or illustrator) do to help them break in?

Are you attending conferences or workshops? This is a good way to meet authors, illustrators, editors, art directors, and agents. There may be an opportunity to have a manuscript or portfolio reviewed. Do you have a critique group? Have you thought about trying a different genre, or submitting to children’s magazines? Have you visited the book store and studied the current crop of picture books, chapter books or novels to see what is being published now?  

Great advice! And I would add that there are a lot of fairly recent books on writing, illustrating, and publishing children’s books that offer tons of useful information. Check your local library. Also, I recommend joining professional organizations such as the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) and the CBI Clubhouse. And don’t forget the Children’s Writer’s & Illustrator’s Market book. It contains helpful articles, as well as listings of publishers, agents, contests, conferences, and more.    

Suzanne, how long should an aspiring picture book author (or illustrator) keep trying before they throw in the towel?

How many towels do you have? It was 10 years between my second and third book. I would drive by a fast food restaurant with a NOW HIRING sign out front and wonder if that was meant for me. A sensible person would have sought gainful employment; with benefits and a retirement plan. I opted to become a visiting author instead. I found a balance between the solitude of the studio and the lively exchange of ideas with young students. Many suggestions from grade-schoolers have shown up in my illustrations, like the volcano and the snake in My Special Day at Third Street School by Eve Bunting. I decided that if I couldn’t make a living writing, I could make a living talking about writing.  

And in between talking about writing, Suzanne kept on writing and submitting and writing some more. And I’m so glad she never “came to her senses” because now there are nearly twenty fabulous picture books with her name on them, and I’m positive she hasn’t thrown in her last towel yet. So don’t give up, aspiring authors. You can be published too! It just takes time, patience, and following good advice from those who have been in your shoes.

Come back next week when I ask Suzanne how she handles rejection letters and harsh critiques.

{Suzanne Bloom At Work In Her Studio}

{Suzanne Bloom At Work In Her Studio}

Suzanne Bloom was born mid-century in Portland, Oregon, which accounts for her love of overcast days. She moved to Queens, New York in time to finish kindergarten. Her first book We Keep a Pig in the Parlor was published in 1988. She has authored and illustrated many more books since then including The Bus for Us (2000) and the popular Goose & Bear series, which includes A Splendid Friend Indeed, Treasure, What About Bear, Oh! What A Surprise!, Fox Forgets, and her latest, Alone Together. She has been given a Theodor Seuss Geisel Honor Award and has been selected for the Texas 2×2 list of 20 best picture books (twice). She currently lives in upstate, New York with her husband in the house they built 34 years ago, down a dirt road and on a hillside. She has two grown sons, one cat, and one dog. To learn more about Suzanne, please read the interview I did with her back in 2010, or check out her website: www.suzannebloom.com


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4. Picture Books At The Library

You may know, I work at the DeWitt Community Library. I’m a Library Assistant, or more specifically, I’m a Technical Processing Assistant. I do cataloging, acquisitions, and circulation. One of my favorite things to do at work is catalog all the new picture books. 

I enjoy seeing all the new picture books so much that I want to share the joy with you. So periodically, here on Frog, I will showcase some of the wonderful new picture books that patiently wait their turn on my desk to be cataloged and then sent off to the children’s room to be picked up and read by children and caregivers (who will love the books so much they must take them home and read them again). 

As always, stay tuned!


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5. Suzanne Bloom Is “Dancing With A Phantom In The Dark”.

Author/Illustrator Suzanne Bloom

Author/Illustrator Suzanne Bloom

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

One thing I really love to do here at Frog on a Blog is help other picture book writers, especially those who are new or aspiring authors. That’s why I’ve enlisted one of my favorite authors and illustrators (and friend), Suzanne Bloom, to help me offer words of encouragement and wisdom to all of you who may be feeling discouraged. We’ll hear from Suzanne in a moment. First, allow me to tell you a bit of my own publishing story. 

After eight years of trying, I was finally offered a contract last year for one of my picture book stories, and I have a second story soon to be published in digital format. Depending upon how you look at it, you are either thinking Wow, that was a really long time or Hey, that’s great. Both thoughts are technically right. But believe me when I tell you that those eight years of waiting and hoping, and collecting rejection letters, were also discouraging. I considered giving up many times. I questioned my writing ability and even my worthiness to be published. But I didn’t quit because I love writing picture book stories and my dream was to be published. And now, I am so glad I didn’t give up.

And I don’t want you to give up either. That’s why, once a week for the next seven weeks, I will pose questions to Suzanne about how to handle rejection, how to combat writer’s block, how to keep from getting discouraged, and more. My hope is that you will find encouragement to continue on your own personal path to picture book publication. 

I will post the first question next week. Now, let’s hear from Suzanne:

139 words, 300 words.  So few words.  How do you make them count?  How do you make us care about a character?  It may be that all the ideas have been used, but not all the stories have been told.  Borne of your observation and experience, what will you bring to the page? 

Whether we are wordless or wordy, scribbling or sketching, we face similar challenges and frustrations.  My own creative process feels like dancing with a phantom, in the dark.  I’m not sure where it will lead but I’ve decided to trust and follow.  My stories are small, but their emotional truth is big.

Thank you, Suzanne! I can’t wait to hear more from you!

Suzanne Bloom was born mid-century in Portland, Oregon, which accounts for her love of overcast days. She moved to Queens, New York in time to finish kindergarten. Her first book We Keep a Pig in the Parlor was published in 1988. She has authored and illustrated many more books since then including The Bus for Us (2000) and the popular Goose & Bear series, which includes A Splendid Friend Indeed, Treasure, What About Bear, Oh What A Surprise, Fox Forgets, and her latest, Alone Together. She has been given a Theodor Seuss Geisel Honor Award and has been selected for the Texas 2×2 list of 20 best picture books (twice). She currently lives in upstate, New York with her husband in the house they built 34 years ago, down a dirt road and on a hillside. She has two grown sons, one cat, and one dog. To learn more about Suzanne, please read the interview I did with her back in 2010, or check out her website: www.suzannebloom.com


2 Comments on Suzanne Bloom Is “Dancing With A Phantom In The Dark”., last added: 10/9/2014
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6. The Peddler’s Bed Is Coming Fall 2015!

 

 

(Illustrator Bong Redila…

...Hard At Work...

…Hard At Work…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

...On The Cover Of The Peddler's Bed)

…On The Cover Of The Peddler’s Bed)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I’m so excited to share the “unofficial” cover of The Peddler’s Bed with my blog fans, Twitter followers, and Facebook friends! It is unofficial because changes are still possible, but publisher Ripple Grove Press was super kind to permit me to post it now. And how could I pass up the opportunity to share something so beautiful! Illustrator Bong Redila is fantastic and has a style all his own! I’m extremely pleased to have my name on a book cover next to his.   

Title: The Peddler’s Bed

Author: Lauri Fortino

Illustrator: Bong Redila

Publisher: Ripple Grove Press

Genre: Picture Book

Release Date: Fall 2015

See what happens when a peddler tries to sell a fine, handcrafted bed to a poor man who has no bed at all.


9 Comments on The Peddler’s Bed Is Coming Fall 2015!, last added: 10/5/2014
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7. I Wanna Happy Birthday!

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Happy Book Birthday to Karen Kaufman Orloff and David Catrow’s newest “I Wanna” picture book I Wanna Go Home! Fans of I Wanna Iguana and I Wanna New Room will be thrilled that a third book in the series has finally been “born”. Can you believe it’s been ten years since I Wanna Iguana, the first book!? It was one of my nephew’s favorite picture books. He was six at the time; now he’s sixteen!

I Wanna Iguana was one of the very first book reviews I did on Frog on a Blog back in 2009. Read my review. I loved the book so much that I contacted Karen to do an interview for me and she agreed. Her interview was the very first interview I did on Frog on a Blog! Read the interview.    

Personally, I can’t wait to read I Wanna Go Home and see what clever Alex is up to this time around. I wanna bet it will be hilarious. Read the summary and Kirkus review below.

SUMMARY OF “I WANNA GO HOME”, published by G.P. Putnam’s Sons: Alex is not happy about being sent to his grandparents’ retirement community while his parents go on a fabulous vacation. What could be worse than tagging along to Grandma’s boring bridge game or enduring the sight of Grandpa’s dentures?

But as the week goes on, Alex’s desperate emails to his parents turn into
stories about ice cream before dinner and stickball with Grandpa. Before
he knows it, Alex has made a surprising discovery: grandparents are way
cooler than he thought!

KIRKUS REVIEW
A child’s skepticism takes a header when a vacation with Grandma and
Grandpa proves more wild than mild.
After getting his iguana (I Wanna Iguana, 2004) and failing to
successfully petition for his own space (I Wanna New Room, 2010), Alex
returns for a third time, and now the situation’s truly dire. His parents
are taking off for Bora Bora, which means he and his siblings are slated
to stay with their grandparents for the duration. Broccoli lasagna and the
absence of both video games and computers are bound to lead to a terrible
time. In his initial desperate letters and emails written to his
vacationing parents, Alex pleads with them to return ASAP. Yet soon, Alex
is singing a different tune, as he discovers square dancing, bingo,
stickball and other wonderful aspects of old-folk living. Turns out that
two weeks just isn’t enough time. The epistolary picture book is hardly a
new genre, but it can prove a difficult one. Orloff handles the format as
well as the subject with grace and aplomb. Alex’s gradual acceptance of
his doting ancestors plays out believably, pairing beautifully with
Catrow’s controlled craziness. The pencils, watercolors and inks find the
funny in almost every single spread.
A clever conceit ably rendered; this is bound to prove popular with loving
grandparents and caustic kids alike. (Picture book. 4-7)

**AND NEW THIS YEAR, FOR TEACHERS AND LIBRARIANS — A WEBSITE GEARED JUST FOR THEM, OFFERING IDEAS AND TEACHING MATERIALS FOR USING THE “I WANNA” BOOKS IN THE CLASSROOM***
Visit www.iwannabooks.com. The site offers lesson plans, printable
activities and games for students, testimonials from teachers, teacher
resources, and more.


2 Comments on I Wanna Happy Birthday!, last added: 9/25/2014
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8. Looking for a Fantastic Critique Service?: Picture Book Critiques from Danielle Davis

Click The Logo For More Information.

Have you written a picture book story? Are you looking for a professional critique of your manuscript? Have you considered a critique service, but were reluctant to give it a try?

If you answered “yes” to the three questions above, then you’ve come to the right post. I have also hesitated to send my work to a critique service: What if I don’t agree with what they say? What if they think my story is awful? It costs money.

What you need is a person you can trust to offer suggestions based on her expertise in the picture book market, in a nonjudgmental, positive, and gentle way, and is worth every penny. You need Danielle Davis. 

I recently had a critique done by Danielle. I was more than pleased with her very comprehensive and detailed review of my latest picture book story, Cloud, The Monastery Dog. Not only did she go through my manuscript line by line, leaving comments and suggestions, she also wrote a personal letter with more feedback and advice.

I chose Danielle’s service because (and I hope she doesn’t mind me quoting her) she says, “It’s not about my style or preferences at all—it’s about making the work sing!” I really appreciate that and I would definitely use Danielle Davis’ Picture Book Critique service again.


4 Comments on Looking for a Fantastic Critique Service?: Picture Book Critiques from Danielle Davis, last added: 9/13/2014
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9. Plant a Pocket of Prairie

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Title: Plant a Pocket of Prairie

Author: Phyllis Root

Illustrator: Betsy Bowen

Publisher/Year: University of Minnesota Press/2014

 

Hurrah for nonfiction picture books! If authors and illustrators of nonfiction picture books accomplish their goals to create top-notch books on subjects they are passionate about, then children will learn about captivating people, places, and things in a fun and engaging way. Nonfiction picture books must, just like fictional stories, grab and keep the attention of young readers. Often this is done through story-like text and eye-catching illustrations.

In Plant a Pocket of Prairie, author Phyllis Root and illustrator Betsy Bowen introduce us to an endangered ecosystem, the native prairie of the United States, and many of the plants and animals that can be found there. Through sparse, flowing text that connects each page to the next and large, beautiful pictures, Root and Bowen succeed in capturing prairie life and conveying to readers the importance of not only cherishing it but helping it continue on. Plant a Pocket of Prairie is a fascinating look at native species that may be in our own backyards and yet we take them for granted.

Did you know that native prairie once covered almost forty percent of the U.S.? But now less than one percent remains! Due to the encroachment of people (farming, grazing, building, etc.), prairie is one of the most endangered ecosystems in the world. And unfortunately, as it says in the back of the book, “We can’t bring back the prairie as it once was.” But there is hope for at least some of the native prairie plants and animals. All you have to do is “plant a pocket of prairie”.

Planting prairie plants and attracting prairie animals, especially various species of birds and butterflies, as suggested by this book, would be a perfect outdoor project for parents or teachers to work on with their kids or students.


2 Comments on Plant a Pocket of Prairie, last added: 9/12/2014
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10. Author Challenge: Uncovering “The Dinosaur Tag Survival Guide” — by Lauri Fortino

Lauri Fortino:

Big cover reveal today at MeeGenius! I love it!

Originally posted on MeeGenius Blog:

There’s no better way to get an adrenaline rush than by playing tag with dinosaurs. But before you play Dinosaur Tag, there are a few VERY important rules you have to follow. Are you ready to play?

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2 Comments on Author Challenge: Uncovering “The Dinosaur Tag Survival Guide” — by Lauri Fortino, last added: 9/5/2014
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11. Gordon

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Title: Gordon (A tale of a baby American bison)

Author/Illustrator: Martha Mans

Publisher/Year: WinterBird Press/2014

 

Children’s picture books are works of art. Gordon, written and illustrated by the incredibly talented Martha Mans, is proof. Hold it in your hands. Look at the front cover. Turn is over and look at the back cover. Open it up and flip through the pages. Let your eyes take in all the majestic beauty of life on a Colorado ranch.

Then start at the beginning and read about Gordon, a young American bison, and his animal friends. Follow along as he is rescued from a creek, meets new friends, and finally discovers what he is and where he belongs. Gordon is an endearing story based on true events and it really brings to life, especially through Martha Mans’ amazing watercolor paintings, a part of America that many people may not be familiar with.

I really like how this story introduces readers, young and old, to the animals and wildlife that can be found in the gorgeous state of Colorado, particularly the bison. Did you know that back in the 1800’s, bison were on the brink of extinction? But thanks to the efforts of many, bison are no longer in danger of disappearing, at least for now. And thanks to Martha Mans and Gordon, the majestic bison will not soon be forgotten.   


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12. The Toothless Tooth Fairy

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Title: The Toothless Tooth Fairy

Author: Shanelle Hicks

Illustrator: Anca Delia Budeanu

Publisher/Year: Mirror Publishing/2014

 

Author Shanelle Hicks and illustrator Anca Delia Budeanu have created a dazzling fairy story, in their picture book The Toothless Tooth Fairy, that could easily rival any fairy book on the market today. Their book is filled with brilliant illustrations that depict seven lovely and ethnically diverse young tooth fairies who have come together to take part in the Miss Tooth Fairy Smile Contest. For fairies who place much importance on teeth, a smile contest certainly seems fitting.

One tooth fairy in particular, Bella, was known for her beauty and her kindness. All of the other fairies thought for sure that she would win. But one jealous fairy, Zelda, maliciously causes Bella to lose a tooth. With a missing tooth, Bella no longer feels beautiful, so she sets off to find a tooth. Her three attempts to borrow a child’s tooth fail and Bella returns to Cloud Nine defeated and depressed where she meets Zelda who brags about what she’s done and how she will win the contest. But instead of being angry or being upset that she won’t win the contest, Bella feels sad for Zelda and because she is a kind fairy, gives Zelda a hug. Her magical hug transforms Zelda’s heart and she becomes beautiful too, on the inside and the outside.

What I like best about The Toothless Tooth Fairy is the message that true beauty comes from a kind heart. The message is not preached, but rather it is woven into a sweet and entertaining story that kids (especially young girls) will enjoy.


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13. Alphabet Wildlife A To Z

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Title: Alphabet Wildlife A To Z

Author/Illustrator: Nata Romeo

Year: 2014

Nata Romeo’s stunning children’s concept book, Alphabet Wildlife A To Z, introduces young readers to the 26 letters of the alphabet accompanied by corresponding animals.

I’m truly impressed by Nata’s watercolor and pen and ink illustrations, which are visual feasts for the eye. Some are bursting with color while others are wholly black and white. Most are a mix of both color and black and white, but all of them are unique, lively, and beautiful to look at. My favorites include the bird on the “B is for Bird” page and the cat that sneaks its way in at the very end of the book. Nata’s choice to use the image of the lion for the front cover was a good one. It’s attention grabbing and gorgeous.

While Alphabet Wildlife A To Z will help children learn the alphabet, I believe the book will stimulate artistic creativity in children as well. Kids are going to want to draw their own animals surrounded by fun and dramatic backgrounds, just as Nata has done, and I think that’s awesome!


4 Comments on Alphabet Wildlife A To Z, last added: 8/17/2014
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14. Meet the Finalists: Lauri Fortino

Lauri Fortino:

I was featured today on the MeeGenius blog!

Originally posted on MeeGenius Blog:

Lauri Fortino

Meet Lauri Fortino, author of “Dinosaur Tag”

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15. The Gentleman Bat

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Title: The Gentleman Bat

Author: Abraham Schroeder

Illustrator: Piotr Parda

Publisher/Year: Ripple Grove Press/2014

 

The Gentleman Bat is a spectacular debut for picture book publisher Ripple Grove Press. From the amazing front cover all the way to the satisfying conclusion, I was completely mesmerized and drawn into a bygone era filled not with people, but with gentleman and lady bats. The text is fluid, fun, and fantastic to read, and is complemented by beautiful watercolor and ink illustrations. 

Join the gentleman bat as he takes a stroll along cobblestone streets dressed in his finest attire and ready for a night on the town.

The gentleman bat, with his gentleman’s cane,

went out for a walk one night in the rain.

He meets his lady friend and the two head to the town square where a band is playing. She accepts his offer to dance.

He spun her around and dipped her down low;

she giggled and laughed and kicked up her toe.

Could there be a romance brewing?

Their hearts fluttered wistfully as he departed,

and made his way back to his house where he started.

The Gentleman Bat is a lovely story that will entrance both children and adults. And if you are not a fan of bats, this picture book just may change the way you feel about the oft-misunderstood creature of the night. The Gentleman Bat is available for pre-order now and is due out October 1. Congratulations Ripple Grove Press!


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16. The MeeGenius Author Challenge

 

 

I am thrilled to be a finalist in the 2014 MeeGenius Author Challenge! MeeGenius is a digital children’s book publisher that offers hundreds of picture eBooks via the MeeGenius app which is available for download to all the major operating systems and devices. MeeGenius creates enhanced eBooks that captivate young readers by sporting “read-along word highlighting, rich illustrations, and engaging story narration”.

I am one of ten finalists. In September, a winner will be selected who will receive a cash prize. Regardless of who wins, all of the finalists stories will be published in digital format and available at www.meegenius.com. Click on the MeeGenius logo at the top to see all of the finalists. And stay tuned to find out when my story Dinosaur Tag will be available and if I win the contest!


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17. Swooning Over Swag (or Christmas in July)

I count myself lucky to know some really terrific people. And one such person is my colleague and friend Brian Abbott. Brian is the coworker who went to the ALA (American Library Association) Midwinter Conference back in January and brought me back several ARCs. (Read more about that by clicking Here.) A few weeks ago, he attended the ALA Annual Conference in Las Vegas and he came back bearing swag, and lots of it! From posters, to prints, to magnets, and even CDs, they were giving it all away at ALA. And Brian gave a bunch to me! 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

But his generosity didn’t end there. He waited in line and managed to grab me a signed copy, yes, a signed copy of Caldecott Medal winner Brian Floca’s book Locomotive! (Read my review of Locomotive Here.) 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Okay, that’s definitely sweet, but the most unique item Brian brought back was a seven-page, full-color booklet that was given out to attendees of the Newbery Caldecott Awards Banquet. Brian was invited to attend! (Okay, push down the author envy.) The booklet is so cool; it even has a pop-up in it! Swoon.   

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Thanks Brian, you’re awesome! To learn more about adult mystery novelist Brian Abbott, check out his site, The Poisoned Martini, and look for his debut novel Death On Stoneridge, coming soon.


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18. The Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art

I’ve been wanting to visit the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art for quite some time. I finally got the chance to go this past weekend. So, with my sister Linda acting as navigator, I drove over 200 miles and 3 1/2 hours along the New York State Thruway to Amherst, Massachusetts. It was a beautiful day Sunday, perfect for a road trip. And though we were on a highway, we passed through some very scenic areas with rolling tree-covered hills and picturesque valleys. We even crossed the Hudson River. 

After many miles, two rest stops, and two toll booths, we finally reached the museum with no trouble. Although, I almost drove right past it until I spotted this gorgeous sign marking the entrance.

The building and grounds are beautiful. But you really have to go inside to experience the wonder of the museum. They have three lovely galleries exhibiting artwork from several picture book artists. For our visit, they showcased the art of Simms Taback, Harriet the Spy (the book turns 50 this year), and What’s Your Favorite Animal (a book featuring art from many well-known illustrators, including Eric Carle himself). 

 

 

 

 

 

 

No photography was allowed inside the galleries, of course, but the museum offered other opportunities for picture-taking.

 

The museum also has a wonderful library filled with picture books (they also do story times there), an auditorium (for films, lectures, plays, author/illustrator visits), an art studio (where all ages can be creative and crafty), and a bookshop/gift shop (I was like a kid in a candy store). All that was missing was a full-service cafe, though they do have a vending machine and plenty of places to sit and eat inside and outside (in a lovely orchard) if you choose to bring a picnic lunch.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My sister and I had such a good time. I hope to visit again sometime in the near future. If you are a picture book lover, I highly recommend it. And while you’re there, don’t forget to use the restroom; you won’t regret it!

Yes, this is a bathroom stall!


4 Comments on The Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art, last added: 7/1/2014
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19. Parodies: The Power of Picture Books

32929  If someday someone writes a parody of your book, then you know that your book has power, staying power. It’s so well-known and so popular, that another author has decided to “borrow” and capitalize on your recognizable style, story, or theme to generate interest in his or her own book. 

There are many, many parodies of beloved and classic children’s books. Most are NOT for children. Often they poke fun at popular culture, mainstream America,  or some social issue that’s dominating the media. Sometimes they’re just for fun. Sometimes they’re a bit risqué. Sometimes they’re a tad offensive. And usually, they are not authorized. 

Pop Quiz: Which of the following are for children?

 

Answer: With the exception of Goodnight Goon, which is a “monstrously” clever picture book crawling with creepy creatures, none of the above are for children.

The 1947 classic, Goodnight Moon, is probably one of the most parodied picture books. Here are a few more “Goodnight” books: Goodnight Putter, Goodnight Keith Moon, and Goodnight Husband Goodnight Wife.

Other popular children’s picture books that have been parodied include Curious George, The Runaway Bunny, The Giving Tree, Pat the Bunny, and Where the Wild Things Are. Here’s just a sampling:

Furious Husband Mummy Tree

Whether you love them or hate them, parodies are proof-Picture Books Have Power!


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20. The Sunshine Award

I was surprised and pleased to be nominated for the Sunshine Award by Lauri Meyers over at Lauri’s Stories. She is so sweet to think of me and I’m so glad that Frog on a Blog has brought some sunshine into her life. Incidentally, Sunshine was the name of my most favorite stuffed toy growing up. He’s a dog in overalls with a matching denim cap and he has bright orange eyes. I still have him!

As I understand it, in order to earn the Sunshine Award, I have to share ten interesting things about myself and then nominate some other deserving bloggers. I’m happy to share, but I’ll let you be the judge as to how interesting my little blurbs are. So here goes-

  1. When I was a kid, I couldn’t say aquamarine, so I called the color aquadarium.
  2. Also when I was a kid, I waited until everyone left the dinner table and then I stuck my peas down the heating vent. My mother didn’t find out until years later. I still hate yucky peas!
  3. I’m probably the oldest female fan of the Japanese anime series Naruto. Believe it!
  4. I worked as a stable hand and groom on a horse farm when I was in my mid-twenties.
  5. My grandmother, Harriet Whipple, was an awesome poet and was published many times in Ideals Magazine. They still occasionally print her poems.
  6. I was on a bowling team for ten years. Please don’t ask me if I was any good.
  7. I have a fraternal twin sister named Linda. She somehow managed to grow four inches taller than me.
  8. I run outside when I see sun and rain at the same time. There could be a rainbow!
  9. When I’m irritated, my word of choice is “meep”. My husband got me a t-shirt with “meep” on the front.
  10. Again when I was a kid, I used to snoop for Christmas presents in my parent’s bedroom closet. I was a good kid though, really.

Whoa, that was a lot of information! Okay, now it’s my turn to nominate some bloggers. To those of you I’ve nominated, if this isn’t your thing (or if you’ve already been nominated), no worries, I still want to recognize your excellent blogs here on the Frog:

Robin Newman at Robin Newman Books

Vicky Lorencen at Frog on a Dime

Sarah Harroff at An Awfully Big Adventure

Christie Wright Wild at Write Wild

Fiona Campbell at Book Bake Blog


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21. Aviator Owl Books: Enlightening Children, Raising Awareness, Supporting Great Causes

Today’s interview is with a young entrepreneur and college student who has become a huge inspiration to me. S.A. Porcher is one of the creative minds behind Aviator Owl Books Inc., a company devoted to sparking imagination in children while also raising awareness of and contributing to charitable causes. S.A. Porcher and her partner, Chris Bill, have pledged to donate a portion of the proceeds of the sales of their picture books, eBooks, and other products to causes such as First Book and The Make-A-Wish Foundation. They are also dedicated to creating quality books for children that entertain and educate. I’m excited about Aviator Owl Books. I’m convinced it’s a rising star and I’m happy to share its story with you. Read on to learn more about S.A. Porcher and AO Books.

Q. Can you tell me a bit about yourself and what inspired you to start Aviator Owl Books? 

S.P. Sure! I’m 24 years old, I love being outside and I love to learn new things. I was raised on a steady diet of imagination, curiosity and science, which is probably why it is rare for me to find a subject that I don’t enjoy (and also why I was always into trouble as a child – sorry Mom). I have always had ideas for stories randomly bubbling up in my head, but it wasn’t until college that I started to act on them. The original designs for Aviator Owl were born the summer before I left for Purdue University, and I never thought it would go further than digital images that I sold on a site called Zazzle. The five owls were created specifically to be sold on that site, and I had never really considered it more than a fun summer project. 

Meet the five owls.

Only later was it recommended to me that I write a children’s book, and The Aviator Owls Learn Their ABCs was born in the fall of 2010. At the same time I was working on a side project called Write for the Cause – which was (then) completely separate from Aviator Owl. The first book was My Dragon Humphrey, which I wrote specifically with HALO Animal Rescue in mind. I got pretty serious about Write for the Cause, and had all but given up on Aviator Owl to focus on it. 

As luck would have it, I met Chris Bill in the fall of 2012, and after a lot of discussing and planning, we officially went into business together in October 2013. He loved the idea of writing books to promote causes, and with his background in Computer Graphics Technology, we Frankensteined all of our talents into one entity that we could both get behind. We decided to merge the Aviator Owl characters with the idea of writing books for causes. Through research we discovered that children today enjoy books in print and online, which ties into Chris’s background of CGT quite nicely. We also found that kids hate learning unless it’s done in a way where they have fun. Put simply: they like games. All of these put together and we came up with Aviator Owl Books Inc. So your question “What inspired me to start AO Books?” is tricky to answer. I wanted to help children learn, but both Chris and I also wanted to do something we love. I think what we came up with fits both.

Q. What is the goal or mission of Aviator Owl Books? 

S.P. AO Books seeks to inspire and educate children through print books, eBooks, online games, and apps. (Or at least that is what we are hoping for in the future. Right now we only have print books and eBooks.) We want to help cultivate children’s imaginations, and also raise awareness of important causes. Right now we support HALO Animal Rescue, First Book, and the Make-A-Wish America, but we hope to show our support for many more in the future.

Q. Who writes, illustrates, and publishes the books you sell? 

S.P. I do. I was born to make up stories, and I’ve been writing them down since I knew how. (Although when I was younger I also included illustrations that make no sense to anyone anymore.) I fell in love with drawing when I was in high school and taught myself Adobe Illustrator the summer before college. I love having the ability to come up with a story, write it, and illustrate it on my own because it gives me a freedom that I know a lot of other writers and illustrators are forced to give up. That being said, I do have story ideas that demand a certain type of illustrative style, and I’m not talented enough to fulfill exactly what I want. I am trying to teach myself, and I practice almost every day, but if the time comes to begin serious work on those stories and I don’t feel prepared to complete adequate illustrations, then I have no problem hiring a freelancer to help us out. 

S.A. Porcher's drawing process.

S.A. Porcher’s drawing process.

As for the publisher: AO Books goes through Amazon’s CreateSpace. We purchase our own ISBNs and barcodes and put them on the covers and then upload all of our files onto our CreateSpace platform. Eventually we would love to publish our own books in-house, but that’s something that we’ll have to address as we grow.

Q. How do you decide what charities to contribute to? 

S.P. All three of the charities we support now have come to us differently. We did research to find an organization that made sense for our ABC book, and First Book was a perfect fit. HALO Animal Rescue was chosen because Ellen DeGeneres mentions it on her show occasionally, and she’s a huge inspiration to me. The most recent charity we chose was the Make-A-Wish Foundation, and we chose that to go along with the book called The Boy Who Played With Stars (which was just launched). I came up with the idea for that book in a (dreadfully boring) English course. I was doodling stars and thinking that everyone should be able to do what they want to do in life, even if it seems crazy. A boy who literally goes into the sky to play with the stars is a bit far-fetched, but the idiom is very common. Shoot for the stars, and dream big. Chris and I have both known people who participate in Make-A-Wish, so it seemed like a no-brainer for that book. Of course, we also accept suggestions!

Q. What books are currently available and how can they be purchased? 

S.P. All three books can be purchased at Amazon.com.

Links:

The Aviator Owls Learn Their ABCs: http://www.amazon.com/Aviator-Owls-Learn-Their-ABCs/dp/0988636824/ref=sr_1_13?ie=UTF8&qid=1401761201&sr=8-13&keywords=s.+a.+porcher

The Boy Who Played With Stars: http://www.amazon.com/The-Boy-Who-Played-Stars/dp/0988636832/ref=sr_1_10?ie=UTF8&qid=1401761181&sr=8-10&keywords=s.+a.+porcher

My Dragon Humphrey: http://www.amazon.com/My-Dragon-Humphrey-S-Porcher/dp/0988636808/ref=sr_1_12?ie=UTF8&qid=1401761201&sr=8-12&keywords=s.+a.+porcher

Q. Do you have other items available for purchase as well? 

S.P. We currently offer free printable activities, which we upload to our website two times a week (Mondays and Thursdays). Those can be accessed here: http://blog.aviatorowl.com/activities/all/. 

We also have a very small Zazzle storefront. It used to be much larger but after our trademark was approved, we took everything down and slowly we are uploading new designs with the trademark. There you can purchase clothing, posters, iPhone cases, etc. Eventually we’d love to expand to stuffed animals and educational toys, but for now we’re more focused on the books and expanding those into interactive online pages, even if they are just seasonal. For example, this past Christmas we set up a site where kids could write a letter to Santa.

A Christmas project at AO Books.

Q. As a full-time student, how do you juggle your academic life and the responsibilities involved in running Aviator Owl Books? 

S.P. Very carefully, and sometimes not well! (There are a lot of sleepless nights involved.) My three majors are Industrial Design (aka Product Design), English, and Creative Writing, and my two minors are Entrepreneurship and Psychology. Every day at school I take classes that are directly applicable to AO Books, so that helps keep me motivated to learn new things, which in turn helps keep my grades up. On the flip side, AO Books benefits from what I learn. Of course, there is the occasional class that bores me to death and those are the classes in which you can find me at the very back doodling, drafting, editing, or anything else AO Books needs done. 

I often have people tell me that I’ve “bitten off more than I can chew”, or whatnot, but I think part of keeping everything from spinning into chaos is keeping the right perspective. I keep in mind that I’m very lucky to be in school, which is something some students take for granted. I know a lot of college students are notorious for procrastinating, but my version of procrastinating is working on Aviator Owl because that’s what I love. I love coming home to sketch and think about otherwise impossible things (like a boy who plays in the night sky). I know exactly what I want to do and really college is just teaching me how to do it.

Q. Where can people go to find more information about Aviator Owl Books? 

S.P. Our main website can be found at blog.aviatorowl.com. At http://www.zazzle.com/aviatorowl we have some products (and we upload new designs as we create them). And of course people are free to email me at saporcher050@gmail.com, or the company at aviatorowl@gmail.com!


2 Comments on Aviator Owl Books: Enlightening Children, Raising Awareness, Supporting Great Causes, last added: 6/8/2014
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22. Woot Woot! I’m Getting Published!

I want to share good news with all of my Frog on a Blog fans. I’ve signed with the awesome Ripple Grove Press to publish my first picture book! It’s called The Peddler’s Bed and it’s due out in the spring of 2015. 

I actually signed the contract back last October, but I wanted to wait until we got a little closer to publication before making my announcement. 

I am eager to see a few sketches from the incredibly talented Bong Redila, the illustrator who will be working on The Peddler’s Bed. Hopefully that will happen soon, but in the meantime, I’m trying very hard to focus on writing and revising new stories. I love writing picture book stories, and I knew from an early age that I wanted to be a writer. (I’ll share more about that in an upcoming post.) I think I forgot about it for a while, up until about 9 years ago. That’s when I took a “Writing Stories for Children” class and started getting words down on paper. Then, I put my writing on hold again in 2009 in order to go back to school and get my degree in Library and Information Services. Happily, I finished my education this past winter and am now diving head first into writing children’s picture books. 

To prove to myself that I am a real writer, and with my wonderful husband’s support, we went shopping for a new desk. I got a chair too! We rearranged some furniture. My husband put the desk together (Did I mention how wonderful he is?). I assembled the chair (Yay, me!). And the result: I now have my own little office space. 

It may be small, but it’s all mine! Well, I do have to share it with my assistant.

He keeps a close eye on me to make sure I’m working hard. If he thinks I need a break, he’ll often go for a walk with me. He’s really helpful.

I get ideas and inspiration from our walks, but also from my book collection. Here are some of my picture books…

…and my pop-up books (upper shelf)…

…and my writing books.

Thank you for taking this tour with me and for being a fan of Frog on a Blog. If you haven’t already, please consider entering your e-mail in the box to the right to become an official follower. And be on the look out for The Peddler’s Bed next spring! Woot Woot!!!


7 Comments on Woot Woot! I’m Getting Published!, last added: 6/15/2014
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23. The Change Your Name Store

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Title: The Change Your Name Store

Author: Leanne Shirtliffe

Illustrator: Tina Kugler

Publisher/Year: Sky Pony Press/2014

Summary: Wilma Lee Wu doesn’t like her name anymore, so she decides to try on some new names at the Change Your Name Store and is transported all over the world to new cultures.

The Change Your Name Store is a fantastic first introduction to new cultures for the youngest armchair travelers. It’s super fun to read aloud, which is good because you may be reading it over and over again. Its rhyming text not only rolls off the tongue, but also presents some rather unusual names  from around the world that kids will find fascinating. 

The energetic illustrations perfectly depict a precocious little girl, Wilma Lee Wu, as she imagines herself with a new name and experiences life in new cultures. I especially like how her dog accompanies her to all the new places and even becomes a poodle when they arrive in Paris. I also like the wraparound cover with the beautifully detailed buildings. There’s a library on the back!

I can relate a bit to Wilma. When I was growing up, I didn’t like my name either. I even approached my mother once about changing it to Lorraine or Lorena (I know, they’re not that much different from my name, silly me.). It was, of course, a phase I was going through, and it didn’t take long for me to appreciate and embrace my name, just as Wilma does.


4 Comments on The Change Your Name Store, last added: 6/20/2014
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24. When You Are Blue (A Squishy Blueberry Tale)

 


Sharing information about great causes is something I love to do here on Frog on a Blog, particularly if the cause is related to picture books and helping children. So, I am thrilled to introduce Squishy Blueberry, a charming character created by author and illustrator Amanda I. Greene, who is also the founder of D’inkling Publishing. Amanda’s goal, through her Squishy Blueberry book series, is to encourage children to look within in order to discover a wealth of confidence, self-awareness, and emotional intelligence, qualities that we all possess but might need a bit of help bringing to the surface.

Amanda’s first book, Reflections of a Blueberry, is already available and is beaming with beautiful, whimsical, brightly colored illustrations and lyrical, rhyming text. To bring her second book to life, When You Are Blue, Amanda is seeking our help through a PUBSLUSH campaign. Please click on the cover image above to learn more about Amanda’s worthwhile project. You can watch a video, read about Amanda’s vision, make a contribution (and earn some great perks), or simply spread the word. You can also go to the Squishy Blueberry site: http://www.squishyblueberry.com/ for more information and oodles of “squishy blueberry” fun. 

I think a little bit of Amanda herself can be found in the character of Squishy Blueberry who follows his heart and his dreams, notable endeavors indeed. Good luck, Amanda!

{Image from the When You Are Blue PUBSLUSH campaign page}

 


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25. Why I Self-Published & What Works by Tabitha Grace Smith

If you are curious about self publishing, then you will find author Tabitha Grace Smith’s article fascinating. She has some excellent advice for authors who are considering self publishing. She also explains why she chose the self-publishing path over traditional publishing, what’s involved, and how she makes it work.

Why I Self-Published & What Works
by Tabitha Grace Smith

I’ve wanted to be a writer since I was 9 years old. I chose my college, my career (I work in social media marketing), and my hobbies because of this passion for writing. Mostly I had a desire to write adult novels, but when my first niece was born I desperately wanted to write kid’s books. Books had a huge impact on me and I wanted to share that with my nieces (who are now 6 and 7). The idea for my first book came from my cats, who seemed to love sitting on the edge of my bathtub, but never wanted to go in. I wrote Jack the Kitten is Very Brave, a book about a cat who loved being a pirate, but was afraid of water.

I read a lot about the book publishing industry. From my research I knew that picture books are incredibly hard to break into as a first-time writer. I didn’t want to spend a lot of time trying to get published and miss the years where my book would be perfect for my nieces. That sense of a deadline was a huge deciding factor in self-publishing.

Self-publishing has become less of a stigma in the past couple years, but there still is a stigma and anyone who wants to self-publish needs to understand that. I had a lot of questions when I first went about publishing Jack the Kitten is Very Brave and several people immediately assumed that it wouldn’t be a good book if I did it myself.

When it came to choosing how to self-publish I did a lot of research. I wanted a POD (Print on Demand) service so I didn’t get stuck with boxes and boxes of books. I also have a lot of friends who live all over the world so I wanted a service where they could order without paying a TON of money. CreateSpace (which is part of Amazon) wound up being the perfect solution. Just a note here: you shouldn’t need to shell out thousands of dollars to a self-print book service. Beware, there are a lot of scams out there. You’ll never make that money back.

There are four HUGE skills you need to self-publish:
1. Design Skills
2. Art Skills
3. Editing Skills
4. Marketing Skills

Design Skills. Thankfully, I have some design skills. My first job was doing graphics and layout. A big part of doing a book yourself is understanding how to format and set up a layout. You’ll need to understand things like pixels, dpi, how to create a multi-page PDF, page bleeds, etc. If you don’t know these things there are a ton of free classes online to get the skills. Another option is to hire someone. Please make sure to pay for the service. Formatting and layout for a book is a lot of work and it takes a good amount of time.

Art Skills. I have zero art skills. I can draw some pretty awesome stick figures, but that is not good enough for most picture books (Okay, one of my books I drew myself, but it’s pretty doodle-y). For the artwork I had a dear friend, Mindy Lou Hagan, who I had seen a ton of art from. I loved her style and we worked together on the layout and images. I have to be completely honest here, a lot of the unsuccessful self-published children’s books I’ve seen have terrible artwork. Do yourself a favor and search for a good artist. If you have no artistic talent yourself or you have no artistic friends, search sites like Deviantart.com. Again, pay your artist. It’s a huge pet peeve of mine when artists don’t get paid. Artwork is at least 50% of the selling point of a children’s book. Mindy and I agreed on payment before we started the project. Have that all in writing.

Editing Skills. Picture books need as much (if not more) editing as a novel. Have as many people as you can read your book before you publish it. I found out early on that people will catch different things, so multiple editors really helps. Also, try and have at least a couple friends who will be 100% honest with you (i.e. don’t just have your mom read it). Have the editors edit the text, have them edit the text placement, and have them edit the story. Read the story out loud to kids and check their enthusiasm level (if you have no kids, ask a local school librarian if you can come in and read your book). Edit. Edit. Edit. A lot of first-time writers are way too attached to their writing. As a result, they’re not open to edits and changes. Don’t be that person. Listen to what your editors say and take it to heart if they’re right.

Marketing Skills. So you have a book. It’s uploaded. Fantastic! No one is going to buy it. This is the huge con for self-publishing. There are no sales without your marketing. Absolutely none. There are thousands of books out there that someone can buy for their child. If they don’t know about your book, they will not buy it. You’re going to need to sharpen your marketing skills. Learn how to use social media (Facebook, Twitter, etc.) effectively, learn how to publicize without being spammy (check the authors that you love and see how they do it), offer a print copy of your book to some bloggers (check to see how much interaction they have on their blog), pitch yourself to local schools and offer a free author visit, ask folks for help to get the word out, and find places you can sell your book (local fairs, garage sales, charity events, etc.). Cross-promotion with other blogs and authors is your big friend here. I think 90% of the time people usually buy self-published books because they love the author.

There are a couple other things you need to learn like self-employment taxes, keeping track of expenses, etc. Find a tax accountant who can help you with that if you start making some good money off your book.

{From Tabitha Grace Smith’s book Machu the Cat is Very Hungry}

Another option for publishing and getting the funds you need to publish is crowdfunding. My latest book, Jack the Kitten is Very Sleepy, I am funding through Kickstarter. This is a great way to get fans in on helping make the book and pay for the artwork. If you’d like to check it out, it’s here: bit.ly/SleepyJack. If you like pirates and cats, it may be the perfect book for you!

Kickstarter is a huge commitment; I often tell people it’s like a full-time job. So if you’re thinking about crowdfunding, I really suggest backing a couple projects first to see what works and what doesn’t.

I’ve been very happy with how well my books have done so far. I’m no Stephen King of picture books, but I’ve sold a good amount. Copies of my books are all over the world. I get awesome letters from kids who have read my books. Best of all, my nieces love my books and I get to read them to them whenever I visit. School visits are probably my favorite. Once, I was walking the hall of one school as the kids were going home, one of the little first graders got all excited when she saw me and waved like mad and said, “Hi, Author!”. It was a really fun feeling.

My big take away from the whole experience is that self-publishing and doing it well is a lot of work, but it’s a ton of fun too. Don’t be afraid to ask for help and give help to others whenever you can. Another thing that really helped me was giving my book away. A lot. Ultimately, I wanted kids to read it, not to become rich. One time I was at a car wash fundraiser and I saw a very sad little boy. I happened to have copies of my book in my bag and I gave him one. His face lit up like it was Christmas. That was well worth buying the book myself and giving it away. After all, what good is a book if no one reads it?

Well said, Tabitha!

Tabitha Grace Smith is a professional geek, blogger, writer, web designer, podcaster, social media expert, and strategist. She holds a B.A. in Communications from Moody Bible Institute and an M.A. and M.F.A. in Creative Writing from Wilkes University. She’s written five children’s books including, Jack the Kitten is Very Brave and Machu the Cat is Very Hungry, which were based on her real life cats. You can find them on Amazon or over at MachuandJack.com. She also wrote a book for reluctant readers called Mary Lou Wants to Be A Big Star and a book about dealing with bullies called Everyone’s Mean, Except When They’re Not. Both are available on Amazon. Her latest book, Jack the Kitten is Very Sleepy is currently being funded through a Kickstarter campaign.

Find her on Goodreads or online at tabithagracesmith.com.

{The real Jack and Machu with their books}

{Tabitha Grace Smith's latest picture book}

{Tabitha Grace Smith’s latest picture book}


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