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1. Magic Tree House Super Edition #1: Danger in the Darkest Hour by Mary Pope Osborne, illustrated by Sal Murdocca

One warm June day, Jack and Annie, siblings living in Frog Creek, PA, receive a message via carrier pigeon.  The message is from their friend Teddy, asking them to come to Glastonbury, England immediately, their help is needed.

When Jack and Annie arrive in Glastonbury, they are met by Teddy who tells them they have arrived on June 4, 1944, two days before the D-Day invasion at Normandy, France by the Allies forces and the beginning of the end for the Nazis.

Teddy and Kathleen, who iare really young enchanters from Camelot, have been made agents in the Special Operations Executive (SOE) by Winston Churchill to do undercover work in countries occupied by the Nazis.  But now, Kathleen is still in Normandy, France and needs to be rescued, but they only clues to her whereabouts is a coded riddle she sent Teddy by carrier pigeon.

Jack and Annie's job is to parachute into France and find Kathleen within 24 hours - they need to be gone by the time the invasion begins.  Jack and Annie are told to try to find members of the French Resistance to help them, but to avoid the Nazis, who are everywhere.  But when they land in a French field, they are spotted and chased by Nazis using a dog.  Jack and Annie hide in a barn, calm the dog down and are found by a man and his wife, whose sons were members of the Resistance.

The couple feeds them, and help to figure out the riddle from Kathleen, then they give Jack and Annie two bikes and some money, and send them on their way.  The road to Kathleen is fraught with both friend and foe, but eventually the two find her and now, they must figure out how to get her back to England. It seems Teddy forgot to give them the magic wand Kathleen needs, since her innate magic seems to have disappeared.  Not only that, but Kathleen has acquired some fellow travelers she is determined to get out of France, a group of very young Jewish orphans, which means a bigger, more noticeable plane will be needed for the rescue.  Oh yes, and a large vehicle to get all of them to the pickup point.  And there is only a few hours left before the invasion begins, with all its bombing and shooting.

Can everyone be rescued in time and will Jack and Annie find their way back to Frog Creek?

This is an interesting chapter book.  It is longer than the previous Magic Tree House books and the subject matter is much darker.  And since the magic wand was forgotten, Jack, Annie and Kathleen have to rely on their own skills to solve problems and figure out how to escape France before the invasion.

Osborne gently introduces the reader to Hitler and the Nazis, and though she never uses the word Holocaust, Teddy does tell Jack and Annie that "[the Nazis] have killed countless innocent civilians, including millions of Jewish people." (pg 25)  This may sound a little watered down, but consider the age of the reader and that for many this may very well be an introduction to that "darkest hour" of modern history.

i didn't expect to really like this book, but I did.  With a willing suspension of disbelief, I found the story compelling and exciting, and I felt it was very clear that Osborne is comfortable with her characters and knows her audience.  Things do work out nicely in the end, which is OK when you have magic on your side (and yes, there was some surprising magic used in the end).

At the back of the book, there is a "Track the Facts Behind Jack and Annie's Mission" that includes lots of information ranging from the use of pigeons in war, the German Enigma machine, and other interesting facts, all age appropriately described.

Besides the colorful cover illustration, showing Jack, in all his fear, and sister Annie parachuting into France, there are some wonderful black and white double page illustrations throughout the book, all done by Magic Tree House illustrator Sal Murdocca.

I have to confess, I have never read a Magic Tree House book before this.  Sure, my Kiddo and all her cousins read and loved them when they were in elementary school.  So did the kids in my classes, which made me happy since most of them were not yet reading at grade level.  But I did hear Mary Pope Osborne speak at a BEA Children's Author Breakfast one year, so I knew that author Mary Pope Obsorne is a very generous donor of her books to kids who might not otherwise get copies of them.  And I could help but wonder how many kids have become readers thanks to the Magic Tree House books?

You can read a two chapter sample of Danger in the Darkest Hour HERE

This book is recommended for readers age 7+
This book was borrowed from the NYPL

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2. Oyster Forms Partnership With Pottermore

HP on OysterOyster has established a new agreement with Pottermore.

Subscribers now have access to all seven installments from the Harry Potter series and the three titles from the “Hogwarts Library”. In honor of this occasion, young adult author Lauren Oliver has penned an essay for The Oyster Review on the influence J.K. Rowling has had on her.

Here’s more from the Oyster blog: “Make sure your Oyster app is updated to version 1.9 and ¾ (you can get it on the App Store and Google Play), and then open a Harry Potter title to get the full effect. Once inside, rather than one of Oyster’s reader themes, choose one of the new ‘House Themes’—with designs inspired by Gryffindor, Slytherin, Ravenclaw, and Hufflepuff—or tap the Sorting Hat icon to have one selected at random. Then dive into a custom reading experience inspired by your favorite Hogwarts House.”

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3. BoB

I went away.  Internet was expensive and spotty.   I am back.

So, it seems, is Battle of the Kids Books.   Here are this year's contenders.  I have only read FOUR of them.  Oh MY!  I must get some eye drops and those clips that keep your eyes open and hire a house minder so that I can read, read, read.

What I Read While I Was Away:

Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson - best book of the batch!
Islands of Chaldea by Diana Wynne Jones and Ursula Jones - so good, sigh!
The Whispering Skull by Jonathan Stroud - can NOT wait for the next book in this outstandingly fun and creepy series

Three adult mysteries - one set in Singapore (Aunty Lee's Delights), another featuring crossword puzzles (The Crossworder's Delight) and a short story starring Hercule Poirot.  All a lot of fun.

The Boundless by Kenneth Oppel - surprisingly good and suspenseful

The Accidental Highwayman by Ben Tripp - galloping adventure

I started The Carpet People by Terry Pratchett.  Not quite done with it yet.  Considering that the first version was written - and published - when Sir Terry was 17, it's pretty darn good.  I am, I confess, a Pratchett fan.

Still in pjs - retirement is awesome! - now I must get moving or the day will be done before I know it.

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4. César Nominations: ‘Minuscule,’ ‘Jack and the Cuckoo-Clock Heart,’ ‘Song of the Sea’

The César Award, France's national film award, announced its nominees today, including three animated features and four animated shorts.

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5. HOUSE OF PURPLE CEDAR selected by International Reading Association

Tim Tingle's exquisite House of Purple Cedar is among the books the Children's Literature/Reading group of the International Reading Association selected for inclusion in its list of Notable Books for a Global Society. (Note: I did two screen captures from their pdf to make the image above.)

Here's a bit of info about the Notable Books list, from their website:
The Notable Books for a Global Society (NBGS) list was developed to help students, teachers, and families identify books that promote understanding of and appreciation for the world's full range of diverse cultures and ethnic and racial groups. Although advances in technology allow us to communicate quickly with people around the world and the growth of world trade brings us increasingly into contact with far-flung members of the "global village," today's society is rife with tension, conflict and ignorance of others different from us. If we hope to meet the many challenges that face us in the 21st century, we must recognize the similarities and celebrate the differences among all races, cultures, religions, and sexual orientations, and appreciate that people can hold a wide range of equally legitimate values.
I'm thrilled to see House of Purple Cedar receive this recognition. It is on American Indians in Children's Literature's list of Best Books of 2014, too, and I hope you'll add it to your shelves. Book talk it if you're a librarian. Assign it if you're a teacher. And if you're a bookseller, hand sell it to people who come in to your store.

Tingle was at the National Book Festival last year. Though the audio isn't great in this video, you won't regret taking time to listen to what Tingle has to say. He starts out with a great bit of humor. Do watch at least the first few minutes.

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6. Flashlight - a bookwrap

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7. App of the Week: Adventure Time Game Wizard

Name: Adventure Time Game Wizard
Platform: iOS, Android
Cost: $4.99    atgw3

Fans of Cartoon Network's Adventure Time series can choose any number of games from just about any app store in order to continue their adventures in the Land of Ooo, but the show's latest app, Game Wizard, gives players the power to design levels of game play as well.

At it's core, Game Wizard is a typical 2D sidescroller game that follows favorite characters from the show as they collect coins, battle villains with their awesome swordplay, and jump from level to level.



However, the magic truly happens when players exhaust the pre-installed levels and turn to the Create mode.  The app walks creators through downloading and printing a tutorial kit and basic grid paper to get started, at which time they use the provided design vocabulary (plus signs for coins, wavy lines for moving blocks, etc.) and a ruler (or steady hand) to draw their game levels.


These pages can then be scanned into the app using the device's camera where they can be easily edited and multiple pages can be stitched together.  The new levels can then be shared with the public for others to play.

While Game Wizard is technically aimed at kids and tweens, the game design aspect and continued popularity of the show with teens makes it a fun addition to any library's STEAM programming.

Have a suggestion for App of the Week? Let us know. And find more great Apps in the YALSA Blog's App of the Week Archive.

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8. Monthly gleanings for January 2015

I am pleased to report that A Happy New Year is moving along its warlike path at the predicted speed of one day in twenty-four hours and that it is already the end of January. Spring will come before you can say Jack Robinson, as Kipling’s bicolored python would put it, and soon there will be snowdrops to glean. Etymology and spelling are the topics today. Some other questions will be answered in February.


Sod, seethe, suds

Our correspondent Paul Nance is not satisfied with the idea that sod is related to seethe because the senses don’t match; he also wonders where suds in the triad seethe-sod-suds comes in. As concerns his doubts about sod and seethe, he is in good company. Yet Skeat was probably right and the two words seem to be related. We should first note that sodden, the petrified past participle of seethe, contains the syllable sod. The form of some importance is Dutch zode “sod,” “boiling,” and “heap, a lot,” the latter usually occurring in the forms zooi or zo. It is not immediately clear whether all of them are related and with how many words we are dealing (one, two, or three).

I think the best clue to the sod – seethe question is provided by Engl. suds (the singular sud also exists, but its meaning can be left out of the present discussion). English has a regional verb suddle “to sully,” a congener of German sudeln “to daub; sully; do dirty work,” often translated rather misleadingly as “to botch.” Sudeln is believed to have arisen as the result of the confusion of two different roots: one meant “cook” (compare “boil,” above); the other, which meant “sap, moisture,” referred to small bodies of water (pools, puddles, wells, and so forth) and is present in many words of the Indo-European languages, Old English among them. But it is not the ancient history of sudeln that matters. Engl. suddle looks like a borrowing from Dutch or Low German. The same is true of Standard German sudeln, which does not antedate the 15th century, and of Engl. suds, which goes back to the fifteen-hundreds. They emerged too late to be classified with native words. Finally, the same holds for sod, another fifteenth-century intruder, and here comes the main point: sod is almost certainly allied to suds and suds is almost certainly allied to seethe. By the law of transitivity, sod is also allied to this verb. Mr. Lance writes: “In Upstate New York, sod is only occasionally sodden.” But the semantic history of the entire group (sod, suds, sudeln, and suddle) should be looked for in the Low Countries.

Suds are good for babies and etymology.
Suds are good for babies and etymology.

House and hood

Even though house might refer to “covering,” while hood, a cognate of hat, certainly does so, they are not related. The ancient vowel of hood was long o (as in Engl. or, without the r glider after o), while house, from hus, had long u (as in Engl. too), and no bridge connects them.

Engl. house and German Haus

Why do the cognates Engl. brother and German Bruder (to cite one typical example) have only br- in common, while house and Haus sound alike? House and Haus owe their similarity to good luck. It was the so-called German Consonant Shift that drove a wedge between German and the other Germanic languages. Engl. tide and German Zeit “time” are cognates, but the new consonants in Zeit destroyed the similarity. The consonants s and h stayed intact in German, and the vowel (long u) changed the same way in both German and English; hence house and Haus. However, the vowel shift, great or not so great, had partly unpredictable results; compare Dutch huis. The vowel in bread has undergone many changes since the Old English period, and it is hard to believe that both o in German Brot and ea, pronounced as short e, in Engl. bread go back to the same diphthong au. I have known a student who tried to translate an English text into Russian with the help of a German dictionary and, miraculously, had some success. Foreign languages are tough. One’s mother tongue may also look foreign. Thus, ea in bread, as opposed to e in bred, does not increase the amount of happiness in English spellers, and the horror of lead/led is known to many of us.

Latin antiquus

Thomas Lambdin, Professor in Harvard Department of Near Eastern Studies, once suggested that the Latin adjective antiquus “old, ancient” was a borrowing of Aramaic attiq “old.” One of his former students asked me what I can say about this conjecture. I have known for a long time that scholars’ etymologies of English words depend very strongly on their professional orientation. Those linguists who specialize in Old Norse point to possible Scandinavian etymons of English words, while Romance scholars find equally plausible Old French roots. (I am not speaking of the monomaniacs who trace all words of English, and not only of English, to Hebrew, Irish, Slavic, and so forth: those are simply crazy.) Similar things happen in some other areas. Modern linguistics is strongly influenced by the concepts of English phonetics and syntax, because the Chomskyan revolution, before spreading to the rest of the world, took place in the United States and its creator was a native speaker of English. Someone noted that, if N. S. Trubetzkoy were not a native speaker of Russian, some of the central ideas developed in his epoch-making book The Bases of Phonology (Grundzüge der Phonologie) may not have occurred to him.

Professor Lambdin is an expert in Semitic linguistics and, naturally, receives impulses from the material he knows best. I happen to be well-acquainted with his books and even reviewed the etymologies offered in his untraditional manual of Gothic. It is true that that the etymology of antiquus entails several difficulties, but, in my opinion, suggesting that that adjective came from Aramaic is hard to justify. As usual, the closeness of forms is not a sufficient argument. We would like to know why such a basic concept had to be taken over from a foreign language, under what circumstances the borrowing took place, and whether it filled a lacuna in Latin or superseded a native synonym. In the absence of additional arguments I would stay away from such a bold hypothesis.

Dwell and its Latvian parallels

I read the comment on the subject indicated in the title of this section with great interest. Such parallels are of utmost importance. They prove nothing but add credence to some of our conjectures. If a certain semantic shift happened in one language, it may, theoretically speaking, have happen in another. In etymology, high probability and verisimilitude are often the only criteria of truth. That is why Carl Darling Buck’s dictionary of synonyms in the Indo-European languages is so useful.

George Bernard Shaw. A glowing example of a man who not only advocated Spelling Reform but also supported it financially.
George Bernard Shaw. A glowing example of a man who not only advocated Spelling Reform but also supported it financially.

Spelling and spelling reform

Spelling: whose cup of tea?

One of our correspondents wonders why Modern English spelling is so irrational. It would take a book to answer this question in detail, but the main reasons are two.

  1. After the Norman Conquest of 1066 French and French-educated scribes imposed their habits on English spelling, and the medieval norm has more or less stayed intact to this day.
  2. The second reason is the loyalty of English to foreign spelling. The Spanish don’t mind writing futbol, while English speakers live with monsters like committee, though one m and one t would have been quite enough. Nor do we need sugar, chagrin, and shrine, to say nothing of fuchsia, despite its origin in a proper name.

Thus, the chaos most of us bemoan stems from reverence for tradition. Shureli, a tru skolar wud be imensli shagrind if he were made to put a spoon of shugar in his cup of tee. The tee would taste bitter and the world wud kolaps, wudnt it?

News about spelling reform

I am afraid to sound too optimistic, but it may be that the Spelling Society is making progress, that is, it seems to have feasible plans for effecting the reform and not only ideas about how to spell the words of Modern English. English children take up to two years longer to master basic words than those of other countries (the torture imposed on dyslexics and foreigners should not be forgotten either, for aren’t we all against torture?). The sound system of English is such that we’ll never reach the elegance of Finnish spelling, but something can and should be done. For that purpose, the institution of INTERNATIONAL ENGLISH SPELLING CONGRESS has been proposed. Everyone is welcome to join it. The Expert Committee will be appointed by the delegates who will make the final decision on the alternative scheme. The main virtue of the proposal is that it seeks to engage as many people in the movement as possible. Some publishers of visible journals are already showing an interest in the cause. The public should be informed that the preservation of the status quo has serious negative economic consequences. It is no longer a virtue to smoke. Perhaps the Spelling Congress will be able to explain to the world that retaining a medieval norm in spelling (arguably the most complicated in the world) is not a virtue either. Mr. Stephen Linstead, the Chairman of the Society, has spoken on the BBC and was mocked by many for offering to tamper with a thing of beauty. This is a good sign: no success without public outrage before a novelty is accepted. A report of these events has also been published by the Chicago Tribune.

Image credits: (1) A baby in a bathtub with soap foam. © artefy via iStock. (2) George Bernard Shaw, 1914. Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.

The post Monthly gleanings for January 2015 appeared first on OUPblog.

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9. The Three Robbers by Tomi Ungerer

At the Drawing Center, some good news - There will be a show of Tomi Ungerer's work at the Drawing Center January 16th - March 22nd, 2015. Tomi was a friend and contemporary to Maurice Sendak and Shel Silverstein. Click Tomi Ungerer: All in One to learn more. I wish I could go! Do you remember The Three Robbers? If not, here's a charming animated version of it at Daily Motion (the image will take you to the website to view it):

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10. Straight From the Source: Dianne K. Salerni on Writing Historical Fiction

DIANNE K. SALERNI, a former fifth grade teacher, is the author of young adult historical novels, We Hear the Dead (Sourcebooks) and The Caged Graves (Clarion/HMH), and the middle-grade fantasy series, The Eighth Day (HarperCollins). In her spare time, Dianne is prone to hanging around creepy cemeteries and climbing 2000 year-old pyramids in the name of book research.

What typically comes first for you: a character? An era? A story idea? How do you proceed from there?

The premise of the story comes first, and that usually dictates the time period. When I decided to write about the Fox sisters, their séance fraud, and Maggie Fox’s romance with Elisha Kane, I had to follow the timeline of their true story. When I decided to write about the caged graves in Catawissa, Pennsylvania, I could have changed the time period, but I thought it was better to work with the actual dates of death on the headstones. When I began working on a project that involved Nikola Tesla, I obviously had to work within the span of his life.

Having determined the time period of each story, my first step is to research the subject (ie: biographies of Maggie Fox, Elisha Kane, Nikola Tesla), the setting (ie: the history of Catawissa), and when possible, read other books set within the same time period.

What kinds of sources do you use? 

I do a lot of my research online and depend on historical society websites, historic photographs, census information, and even online copies of old magazines, such as Godey’s Ladies Book. Who scans all this information and puts it online, I don’t know, but I owe them a debt of gratitude!

I also purchase books when appropriate, especially biographies and books on local history. If a historical character in my story has written a book (such as Elisha Kane’s Arctic Explorations) I may read that. I also have a few reference books on hand in my house, such as a giant dictionary of slang (which helps me date slang accurately for historical use) or The Writer’s Guide to Every Day Life in the 1800s.

On occasion, I’ll visit a location related to my book or a scene in the book, such as a cemetery, a town, a coal mine, or in one case, a pyramid in Mexico! (Did you know traveling for book research is tax deductible?!)

At what point do you feel comfortable beginning to draft? How does your research continue once you begin writing?

I begin writing when the opening of the story reveals itself to me and I have enough plot ideas to move forward from there. Although I usually sketch out a basic outline for a plot before beginning the story, I rarely stick to it. For me, the true story develops along the way, and it’s often not exactly what I planned it to be.

I will continue to research as things come up during the writing. (ie: What town was accessible to the main character’s home by train in a single day? Were cupcakes invented by the 1860s? How did someone acquire decorative plants in the days before florists and nurseries?)

What’s your favorite thing about writing historical fiction?

I love learning about the details of life and marveling at what people could do then that we can’t do now. Yes, that may be the opposite of what one expects – Can’t we do more now? – but the people of the past had many more skills than we do. We are specialized and rely on our technology. We need to know less, because we can always look something up or find somebody else who knows what we need. (People don’t even bother to memorize phone numbers anymore!)

I also love portraying people in historical time periods as very much the same as people today. For example, when one of my characters, Verity, becomes engaged to a young man she knows only through letters, it’s a lot like today’s online dating. When she finally meets him, she’s expecting insta-love, and when that doesn’t happen, it’s a disappointment to her.

What are some obstacles writing historical fiction brings?

If I had a penny for every time an editor passed on a manuscript, saying, “Historical fiction is a hard sell” … well, I’d have a lot of pennies.

I wish so many readers (especially YA readers) didn’t automatically write off historical fiction. History is a setting like any other – contemporary, dystopian, fantasy, or science fiction. Where and when the action takes place helps shapes the story, of course, but why historical settings would be considered less appealing than others puzzles me!

Because life isn’t always clear cut, the motives behind our actions don’t always make sense. But stories need to follow a logical path. What sorts of decisions have you had to make about “muddy” historical figures or events in order for your book to work?

This definitely came up a number of times when I was writing the story of the Fox sisters. They did what the historical record says they did, and I had to work with that. I had to provide the motivation behind their actions, even when those actions didn’t make sense. I believed the girls were frauds, but I had to work with witness accounts of their eerily accurate séances. Elisha Kane disappointed Maggie Fox repeatedly, but she always took him back. Why?

In the end, I had to remember that people in the past were not very different than people today. Witnesses lie. Girls believe their lovers will change, that this time, things will be different. When faced with a conundrum in history, I almost always found that human faults and frailties provided the solution for me. Because people aren’t logical or perfect.

Why is historical fiction important?

For exactly the reasons I stated above! People in the past were the same as people today. It’s important for us to understand that there’s nothing new under the sun – even if we think there is! Online dating and long-distance romance? Not new. Boyfriends who won’t commit and businesses that defraud the customers? Not new.

We need historical fiction in order to be less self-centered, to remind ourselves that people who came before us led lives as rich and interesting as our own – as will the people who come after us.

The post Straight From the Source: Dianne K. Salerni on Writing Historical Fiction appeared first on Caroline Starr Rose.

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11. You! Yes, YOU could run for YALSA office.

Do you have a passion for the future of teens services in libraries? Are you looking for ways to give back to the profession and to YALSA? Do you want to effect change, build new skills, and develop a killer resume in the process? If you answered yes to any of these questions, it’s time to seriously consider running for an elected position!
Over the course of the next seven months, the 2016 Governance Nominating Committee and I will be working towards developing a diverse slate of members to run for several Board positions including Director at-large, Secretary, and President. Successful candidates will run for election in the Spring of 2016 and begin their terms during YALSA’s Board III meeting at the Annual 2016 conference in Orlando.
For more information on the role of responsibilities of YALSA’s Board, please visit the Governance page which includes some handy FAQs to help get you started. There’s also a series of interviews and podcasts from past Board members in a series on this blog called “Life on the YALSA Board.”

As you ponder and check out these resources, please feel free to also connect with me anytime at shannon.peterson@gmail.com. I’ll also be at the Midwinter and Annual ALA Meetings if you’d like to schedule time for an in-person chat.

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12. Illustrator :: Tiago Americo

Posted by Chloe





Tiago Americo is a Brazilian illustrator based in Canada. His illustrations have a quirky, vintage feel with a contemporary twist. Americo’s illustrations are created digitally and are inspired by his upbringing in Brazil, 50s and 60s pop culture and Scandinavian design.
You can see more of his work here | Portfolio

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13. Wiley Now Licensing For Dummies Brand

Wiley’s bestselling reference series For Dummies is licensing its branding as part of a new business services unit.

Essentially now companies can create their own digital products, from eBooks to white papers, with the For Dummies branding.

The idea is that companies can take advantage of the For Dummies brand to promote their own message. Coca-Cola and Google have already partnered with Wiley on similar initiatives and this new offering opens it up to any company.

In addition to eBooks and white papers, companies can use the branding on digital products including: videos, infographics and mobile apps.

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14. Woo Hoo!! We Izzies (and S.C.) are Going On VACATION!

What's more, we're going SOUTH. That means WARM!

(Actually, anywhere we GO would be south. Since we are at the North Pole. Of course.)

Anyway, Bizzy has been searching the internet for a place we can visit where we would be able to BLEND IN.  (S.C. is worried that otherwise we might be mobbed by overly enthusiastic children.)

So Bizzy has found someplace that might just fill the bill.  S.C. is taking a look at Bizzy's data and then we will all meet in the conference room and vote on the plan.


We do love our home, but you know, when the snow gets so deep that we Izzy Elves can't walk outside without it coming to our eyebrows (or higher, in Frizzy's case) we need a BREAK from winter. 

And now we just might have one!

We'll keep you posted.

Love from the extremely excited Izzies:

Bizzy, Blizzy, Dizzy, Fizzy, Frizzy, Quizzy, Tizzy and Whizzy

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15. Sitting on the Stairs in Castleford Library

I took the train to Castleford yesterday, to work in the library for the day, running the drawing workshops I was telling you about, with local, Y4 school children. They did me proud and I'll show you some examples next time, once I've sorted through them all.

In my lunch break, I sat in the glass stairwell and sketched the view from the window, using my favourite Sailor Pen and some watercolour. I'm not much into drawing cars, but I liked the long view right across the car park, across the shopping street, towards a river and distant hills: 

I was using an A5, grey-paper, concertina sketchbook which a fellow member of Urban Sketchers Yorkshire, Lucie Golton, made for me as a present, because I loved my tinted-paper Strathmore so much and she noticed how I've recently been getting into the extendable space of the concertina format. How lovely is that? Concertinas are great for longer views like this, when there's loads to fit in, especially if you don't like drawing small.

Ignore the candlestick by the way: that was part of some sketching I did during a recent SketchCrawl day in Buxton.

I did everything but the white, pastel highlights on the spot, but ran out of time before I could get them added (white chalk really lifts things when you are sketching onto a tinted ground). I added the pastel on the train and so got into a lovely conversation with a young man and his mum who were sitting across the aisle. They had been talking about his baby daughter previously so, with an apology for ear-wigging, I signed him a copy of Baby Goes Baaaaa!, passing on the present vibe:

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16. My ALA 2015 Awards Predictions

So I'm going to try my best to share my predictions and we'll see how close I can get (probably not close at all!) Here are my predictions (and hopes!) for Monday morning:

Caldecott Prediction:

I wish I had come across this one when I was making my Mock Caldecott list because it would have made our final list for sure. If I was on the committee, this is one I would be championing for-the texture, the use of words in the art, the collage style-it's all fantastic.

Honor Books:

I think this may be a strong year for honor books and we may end up with quite a few depending on how the committee discussion and voting shakes down. 

I think this wordless book will be getting some love.

The detail! It's gotta count for something!

Caldecott Dark Horse:

I have two possible dark horses this year:

I've only recently been seeing Flashlight crop on other Mock lists. When this one came across my desk, myself and all of my staff immediately said Caldecott! I hope we're right!

Photography never does well in award discussions, but if any book can do it, I think Viva Frida can!

Newbery Prediction

No surprise there-I think Brown Girl Dreaming is a shoe-in for the top title.

Honor Books:

Maybe it's just because I adored this book and am attached to it personally, but I really would love to see Snicker get honored!

It would be great to see a book featuring an average kid and the writing here is above average!

Fantasy for the win please! I think Glass Sentence has fantastic world building that could help this one in the final push for an honor.

Newbery Dark Horse:

Please, please, please can a graphic novel win this year???

Last year showed us that beginning chapter books have a chance and if any early chapter book has a shot, I think Dory Fantasmagory can lend itself to some fantastic discussion. I would love to hear critical discussion about this one!

Printz Prediction

This one is tough because I think it's a close call between two books, but I think in the end it will be Grasshopper Jungle.

Honor Books: 

I think Glory O'Brien's History of the Future is the other book that could end up winning and it's a close call, but I think one will be the winner and one will be an honor book. I would love to see both with shiny stickers on them!

Andrew Smith is a powerhouse writer and I think he can pull of an epic Printz Win and Honor this year!

If we see any non-fiction honored this year by the Printz committee, I think it will the Romanovs. 

Printz Dark Horse:

I had a hard time thinking of a Printz Dark Horse just because I think the contenders are so strong this year. But if I had to pick one, I think would go with:

What are your predictions this year? Anything I left out?

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17. FLASHLIGHT By Lizi Boyd - Animated Trailer

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18. Query Question: freshness dates on pub credits

Can I use that time I was published in the local paper in 3rd grade as a publishing credit now? I entertained the idea, because it put a smile on my face and almost made me laugh aloud. However, the more I explored the "yes" and "no" to this question...the less sure I became. I mean, I was in the third grade 11 years ago. Some authors, I'd imagine, reference their credits that are older than that. Surely that wasn't their best work and they've grown since then. Perhaps not comparatively to the degree of a child, but still.

Pub credits are works that have been published by someone who chose your submission from a competitive field and generally speaking offered you a contract for publication.

Publishing anything by a  third grader in the local newspaper is considered cute, not competitive.

If you put that in a query letter and I discovered it was something you wrote when you ten years old, I'd stop taking you seriously. 

Don't reach for pub credits you don't have. If you don't have them, you don't. I've signed and sold a LOT of writers who had zilch on their resume other than "I want to be a published writer" and were smart enough not to say "I've been writing since I could hold a pen" or "I've wanted to be a writer from when I was in kindegarten."

A query letter is a business communication. Don't do anything that makes you look silly unless you are writing the next Captain Underpants.

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19. Making the Most of Publicity

Once an author gets published there is so much she needs to learn and do. Besides trying to understand the publishing process and what can be expected from the publisher, she needs to suddenly become a publicist and marketer, in addition to being an author.

Now, even if you have the resources to hire a full-time publicist to do a lot of this work for you, its imperative that you have a basic understanding of what is needed. The more you know, the more successful you'll be.

So while I'm not going to get into every detail here, I am going to give you a short checklist of things to include whenever you have a publicity opportunity and by opportunity I mean blog tour, article, interview, conference workshop, Facebook post, GoodReads account, etc, etc. Remember, anytime you do anything that others will read, see or look into its a publicity opportunity.

  • Become your pen name. If you write under a pen name make sure that in everything you do that's the name you work under. It's your name tag badge, your introduction, your everything. So choose wisely.
  • Include a bio. Always let readers know who you are. It doesn't have to be long, but a bio gives some insight into you and, you never know, someone might grab your book simply because they too are from Ohio.
  • Make it interesting. Have an Instagram account that you're using for publicity? Make the pictures worthwhile and interesting. Use the filters and make them pretty. In other words, whatever you're doing make it something worth sharing, a picture, a Tweet, a quote that others will helpfully pass along to others.
  • Put in the effort. Take some time to come up with creative answers (not just a cut and paste from your last interview).
  • Plug your books. Big! Don't just include the title after your name, give a one or two sentence description, include the name of the series (if there is one) and send a copy of the cover of your next (or your last) book. Give them a visual to go with your title. Make yourself unforgettable.
  • Show them where to find you. If readers like what you have to say they'll want to learn more. Don't just include your website, but give them everything you've got--Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, GoodReads. Go big or go home they say.
Publicity can be a lot of fun. I know I rarely mind doing an interview and I've done a ton. However, if I'm doing the work, and taking the time out of my other work to do it, I really want to make sure that's it's going to have the potential impact I want it to. Just throwing up my name and book title isn't going to necessarily grab the readers like I hope. Providing them with a real peek at who I am and what my books are about will.


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20. Illustrator Interview – Maral Sassouni

I connected with Maral on Facebook because I swoon at her artwork and because she is a huge Francophile like me. She is relatively new to children’s books, but her work has been well received: selected in Society of Illustrators (Illustrators … Continue reading

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21. An Innovator of Brand and Style

Different Like Coco

By Elizabeth Matthews


The eyes of the world have been focused on Paris for very tragic reasons in recent weeks. And it may seem frivolous to mention in light of those past events, but this time the eyes of the fashion world will again be focused there as I recently read that Paris Fashion Week is just around the corner. Silly? Haute couture? Meaningless? For some that may be true, but somewhere in the world is a child dreaming of being another Coco Chanel or Hubert Givenchy. They may be saying to themselves, “What will people say?” “What will mom and dad say, if I tell them I am interested in being a DESIGNER?”

Perhaps here’s a picture book to put into the dreaming, designing hands of a young reader, either girl OR boy!

Coco Chanel was an original, holding her own against the wealthier well-bred young girls of the Paris of her time. She thought being different was an advantage in itself.

In a world where being true to who you are can come with a very high price tag, I think it is important to show it can be done without sacrificing your integrity or belief in yourself. That’s a very important message for young women or men to hear when so much of how they define themselves today can come from externals such as clothes, body image, popularity and the number of “Likes” on their Facebook page.

Coco Chanel was an innovator who brought her own brand of style based on an ease, simplicity and practicality. These were things that suited her own sense of style, yet caught the imagination of a generation in what they represented for everyday working woman. And Elizabeth Matthews’ picture book is a tribute to that journey from a rather deprived childhood to the heights of the world of fashion.

And who else but the inimitable Katherine Hepburn could play Coco on Broadway when her life became a musical. Talk about independent women playing independent women!

The inside front and end covers of the picture book are filled with Chanel quotes, such as “The most courageous act is still to think for yourself. Aloud.”, “In order to be irreplaceable one must always be different.”, and my favorite is “How many cares one loses when one decides not to be something, but to be someone.” They add a keen insight into the thinking of this fashionable icon.

When I read this book, I kept remembering a quote I heard that goes something like, “ What would I attempt in life, if I knew I could not fail?” There are no guarantees such as that in real life.

It’s a wonderful thing to put a book in a young child’s hands that shows them that there are people who DO just that, they believe unerringly in themselves, and feel it is worth following the road less traveled.

Have your young reader follow the fashionable dreams of Coco and her Paris fashion life, and let them dream of what is possible.

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22. Sure Signs of Crazy by Karen Harrington

Continuing on my quest to find books for my soon to be nine-year old niece, I read Karen Harrington's Sure Signs of Crazy last week. While I enjoyed the book a lot and recommend it for the over ten crowd, I think I'm going to hold off my girl until she's a wee bit older.

Protagonist Sarah is 12 and new in town. She and her father move around a lot as Sarah's mother was the object of a notorious trial and is now committed to a mental hospital. Her father was also tried but found innocent; he still struggles a decade later to cope and while a loving father, definitely self-medicates with alcohol.

In the course of one summer, Sarah fulfills an English assignment by writing letters to Atticus Finch, crushes on the college boy across the street (we've all been there) and builds up her courage to challenge the family secrets. She's smart and funny and determined which makes for a great protagonist. Most interestingly though, considering her family drama, Sarah is also very easy to identify with and I'm sure many young readers will like her a lot.

For my purposes though, I think the alcohol and the reasons behind her mother's trial, are just too much for my particular nine-year old. At least a year, maybe two and she will be ready. I'll be keeping Sure Signs of Crazy for the future.

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23. Wednesday Writing Workout: Characterization (Encore Presentation)

As a follow-up to last Friday's Guest TeachingAuthor Interview with Sherry Shahan, I'm repeating the Wednesday Writing Workout she shared with us in July 2014. After reading this post, I'm sure you'll want to enter for a chance to win a copy of Sherry's Skin and Bones (A. Whitman), if you haven't already entered the contest.

Sherry's young adult novel is a quirky story set in an eating disorder unit of a metropolitan hospital. The main character “Bones” is a male teen with anorexia. He falls desperately in love with an aspiring ballerina who becomes his next deadly addiction.

The novel was inspired by a short story Sherry wrote years ago, “Iris and Jim.” It appeared in print eight times worldwide. Her agent kept encouraging her to expand “Iris and Jim” into a novel. Easy for her to say!

                                                               *          *           *

Wednesday Writing Workout 
Tell It Sideways
by Sherry Shahan

During the first draft of Skin and Bones I stumbled over a number of unexpected obstacles. How could I give a character an idiosyncratic tone without sounding flippant? Eating disorders are serious, and in too many instances, life-threatening. 

Sometimes I sprinkled facts into farcical narration. Other times statistics emerged through dialogue between prominent characters—either in an argument or by using humor. Either way, creating quirky characters felt more organic when their traits were slipped in sideways instead of straight on.

There are endless ways to introduce a character, such as telling the reader about personality:
"Mrs. Freeman could never be brought to admit herself wrong on any point." —      Flannery O'Connor, "Good Country People."
Or by detailing a character’s appearance:
"The baker wore a white apron that looked like a smock. Straps cut under his arms, went around in back and then to the front again, where they were secured under his heavy waist ."   —Raymond Carver "A Small, Good Thing"
The art of creating fully realized characters is often a challenge to new writers of fiction. As a longtime teacher I’ve noticed:

1.) Writers who use short cuts, such a clichés, which produce cardboard or stereotypical characters.
2.) Writers who stubbornly pattern the main character after themselves in a way that’s unrealistic.
3.) Writers who are so involved in working out a complicated plot that their characters don’t receive enough attention.

In Skin and Bones I let readers get to know my characters though humorous dialogue. This technique works best when characters have opposing viewpoints. 

Consider the following scene. (Note: Lard is a compulsive over-eater; Bones is anorexic.)

“I’ll never buy food shot up with hormones when I own a restaurant,” Lard said. “Chicken nuggets sound healthy enough, but they have more than three dozen ingredients—not a lot of chicken in a nugget.”

Bones put on rubber gloves in case he’d have to touch something with calories. “Can’t we talk about something else?”

“That’s the wrong attitude, man. Don’t you want to get over this shit?”

“Not at this particular moment, since it’s almost lunch and my jaw still hurts from breakfast.”

Lard shook his head. “I’m glad I don’t live inside your skin.”

“It’d be a little crowded.”

Exercise #1: Choose a scene from a work-in-progress where a new character is introduced. (Or choose one from an existing novel.) Write a paragraph about the character without using physical descriptions. Repeat for a secondary character.

Exercise #2: Give each character a strong opinion about a subject. Do Nice Girls Really Finish Last? Should Fried Food Come With a Warning? Make sure your characters have opposing positions. Next, write a paragraph from each person’s viewpoint.

Exercise #3: Using the differing viewpoints, compose a scene with humorous dialogue. Try not to be funny just for humor’s sake. See if you can weave in a piece 
of factual information (Lard’s stats. about Chicken Nuggets), along with a unique character trait (Bones wearing gloves to keep from absorbing calories through his skin.)

I hope these exercises help you think about characterization in a less conventional way. Thanks for letting me stop by!

Readers, if you haven't already done so, head on over to Friday's post and enter for a chance to win your own autographed copy of  Skin and Bones (A. Whitman).

Good luck and Happy writing!

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24. Hand lettering Artist :: Linzie Hunter

Posted by Jeanine




UK based artist Linzie Hunter’s typographic illustrations are so fun to look at! Her bright and playful work often has a vintage flair, and she mixes unique type styles with color and pattern to create whimsical pieces from often complicated, text-heavy content. Linzie’s started 2015 with a very cool personal project—she’s been accepting new years resolution submissions from folks around the internet and illustrating one per day throughout the month of January. The full series can bee seen on her website, Twitter, and Instagram.

Linzie’s work can be seen on book covers, magazines, and in ad campaigns, and clients include Time magazine, The Guardian, The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, Hallmark, Nike, VH1, Gillette, The BBC,Penguin Random House, and Chronicle Books. Her work has also been featured in Communication Arts, 3×3, and How magazine.


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25. Blog Tour: Ares, Bringer of War, by George O'Connor (ages 9-14)

Today I'm celebrating the release of Ares: Bringer of War, the latest graphic novel by George O'Connor in his outstanding Olympians series. This entire series is terrific and very popular with my students. They're going to be thrilled to see this newest installment.
Ares: Bringer of War
Olympians, book 7
by George O'Connor
First Second, 2014
Your local library
ages 9-14
The mighty Ares is the Greek god of war, consumed by rage, hate and vengeance. His war is destructive, frenzied and maniacal. And as O'Connor clearly shows, you can only really understand Ares in contrast to his half-sister Athena, goddess of the strategic, logical side of war.

O'Connor brings readers right into the middle of the Trojan War, using the Iliad to frame his portrait of Ares. We enter the scene ten years into the war, as the Greeks and Trojans are mired down in the conflict. As Zeus proclaims,
"The cost has been high for both sides. But much that is fated to occur has not happened yet. We may need to take a more active hand."
But the gods incessantly argue and take sides, playing the mortals against one another like a chess game. As O'Connor shows, Ares is blood-thirsty, but he is also loyal and determined, and he truly mourns the loss of his son in the end. Readers will be amazed by the artwork, but also by the complicated interactions between all the gods.

Ares: Bringer of War feels even more complex than previous Olympians books because there is one whole story arc, involving gods and mortals. Previous books seemed more episodic to me, so easier to digest in smaller chunks.

Complicated? Yes, but I've been drawn back to this graphic novel again and again, reading it perhaps four times this week. With each reading, my understanding grows--and I've watched the same thing happen with my students. They read the same graphic novel over and over, noticing more details each time, understanding the characters more fully with repeated readings.

For other stops on the Blog Tour, check out MacTeenBooks. Definitely suggest The Olympians website as a resource for fans -- it's full of information on the gods and O'Connor's research, as well as links and activities.

The review copy was kindly sent by the publishers, First Second Books. If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books. Thank you for your support.

©2015 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

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