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<<May 2015>>
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1. I.S.W.G. Day!

It's Alex J. Cavanaugh's time again, a time to review what has happened in the last month and share. For too long, I have written very little of my sequel, River Dark. I told myself that it was because my husband is constantly ill, that I hated sequels, that the book wasn't any good. 
So I resorted to N.L.P., listening on the iPod every night for a week or so and have programmed myself to return to work. With a re-wired brain -good old N.L.P. - I now find that every morning, the task of recommencing the sequel is no longer a chore, and that I now have a more than positive attitude to the book. However, the wonderful reviews I received from you, concerning my poetry book Kaleidoscope, also encouraged me to keep going. So thank you all. 

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2. Would You Read It Wednesday #173 - A Case Of Cane-Syrupy-Sugar-A-Bitus (PB) PLUS The April Pitch Pick!

Guess what???

It's time for everybody's favorite writerly game: Would You Read It?!

***cue game show music and wild applause from the overly excited audience***

"And what do we have for our contestant today Helmut?"

"Well, Brunhilda, today's contestant will receive the priceless gift of advice from readers, writers, teachers, librarians, parents and even a few kids around the globe!  Not advice on their love life, or how to build their house so it won't get swept away during monsoon season or how to make a delicious casserole out of stale breakfast cereal, but much more valuable advice on their book pitch!"

"That IS a prize Helmut!"

"They will also receive an unopened jar of a mystery substance that may be jam, or possibly a fruit butter of some type, or possibly refried beans, or possibly (but probably not) the unidentified growth that was removed from Uncle Howard's big toe last spring because dang-it-all no one seems to know where that got to!"

"Oh, the excitement!  Imagine the thrill of getting to open that mystery jar!"

"Well, let's get right to it, Brunhilda, starting with the April Pitch Pick!"

That's right, folks!  It's time for 
the April Pitch Pick!  Here are the five fabulous pitches, revised and polished by their authors thanks to your generous and helpful advice.

#1 Lidia - Don't Pinch Me! (PB ages 4-8)

The pencil is always getting pinched as the preschoolers learn to write and he’s really cranky about it…until he realizes just how important his job is.

#2 Amelia - The Princess And The Pee (PB ages 1-4)

When little Addy discovers an unexplored room in the family castle, her big sister Millie informs her that it holds The Royal Throne - a special seat only true princesses can use.  True princesses who are so sensitive they just can't play one second in a dirty diaper.  True princesses who are so clever they can sense wiggles and tinkles moving around even before they come out.  True princesses like Millie.  Addy knows she's a princess too, but if she ever wants to see The Royal Throne for herself, she'll have to find a way to prove it!

#3 Ariel - The Octopus Wants What She Wants (PB ages 4-8)

Sea creatures beware! Billie the octopus wants what she wants and she takes what she wants. But when Billie takes a boy from a fishing boat and finds out what it's like to have a friend, she learns what she really wanted all along.

#4 Pat - Monster Bakery (PB ages 4-8)
Esme and her parents run The Ghoulangerie, a popular bakery where maggot and mince meat pies, booger bagels with brain cheese, and bloody orange cupcakes fly off the shelves daily. However, the monsters in their neighborhood start moving away and business is falling. As hard as Esme and her parents try to cater to the new human clientele, nothing is working. Then one day, they can’t find regular baking ingredients anymore and Esme has to use her smarts and creativity to solve the problem.

#5 Randy - The Last Race (MG)
Twelve year old Ben's life was all about racing midget race cars, until the day he hit a roadblock he didn't see coming: His mother dying of breast cancer.

Please vote for the pitch you think most deserves a read and comments by editor Erin Molta in the poll below by Sunday May 10 at 5 PM EDT.

Many thanks!

And now it's time for Something Chocolate, 
helpfully discovered and shared by one of my favorite little chocolate hunters who frequently supplies us with our Wednesday chocolate delights!  Thank you, Kathy!!!  It's called Skinny Almond Joy Poke Cake, but let's forget the "skinny" shall we, and just go all out.  Breakfast is the most important meal of the day, after all - we must be well fueled!  You never know when you're going to be called upon to open a mystery jar!

SKINNY ALMOND JOY POKE CAKE from Renee's Kitchen Adventures is an
easy low calorie dessert recipe that tastes like your favorite candy bar!

RECIPE--> http://bit.ly/1IEpHNE
PIN--> http://bit.ly/1IEpJVz

Now that we've bolstered our caloric intake to a functional level, today's pitch comes to us from Zainab Khan.  She is a pre-published author who writes picture books that are quirky or interactive. She also writes picture books that deal with serious issues like disabilities, homelessness, and diversity. In addition, Zainab is in the midst of writing a middle grade mystery about ancient civilizations.

Before venturing on a full time writing journey, Zainab was an elementary school teacher. Having an entrepreneurial heart, she ran her own in home based  preschool. 

Raising two kids (one who is extra special) and a cat with her husband keep Zainab occupied at all hours of the day. When she gets a free moment, Zainab  runs on the elliptical or she'll eat a delicious bowl of Grater's raspberry and chocolate ice cream covered in chocolate shavings. 

Zainab loves sharing her sugary treats with her friends. You can connect with her on Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/zainab.khan.967) or on twitter (@zainabzk).

Here is her pitch:

Working Title: A Case Of Cane-Syrupy-Sugar-A-Bitus
Age/Genre: Picture Book (ages 4-8)
The Pitch: When Samantha swallows too many sweet treats, she contracts a case of cane-syrupy-sugar-a-bitus (a.k.a. Sugar Bug). Will this high fructose bug send her home from school and end her dreams of becoming THE pirouetting star of the school talent show?

So what do you think?  Would You Read It?  YES, MAYBE or NO?

If your answer is YES, please feel free to tell us what you particularly liked and why the pitch piqued your interest.  If your answer is MAYBE or NO, please feel free to tell us what you think could be better in the spirit of helping Zainab improve her pitch.  Helpful examples of possible alternate wordings are welcome.  (However, I must ask that comments be constructive and respectful.  I reserve the right not to publish comments that are mean because that is not what this is about.)

Please send YOUR pitches for the coming weeks!  For rules and where to submit, click on this link Would You Read It or on the Would You Read It tab in the bar above.  There are openings in September so you've got a little time to polish up your pitches and send yours for your chance to be read by editor Erin Molta!

Zainab is looking forward to your thoughts on her pitch!  I am looking forward to seeing what's in that mystery jar!

Have a wonderful Wednesday everyone!!!  And thanks for helping Zainab and voting for your favorite pitch!

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3. big sketch based on Michelangelo's sculpture

another big sketch I'm working on, based on a photo of one of the great
master's works. a rough sketch in pencil and I've adding some ink, still
have to finish it.

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4. quick sketches during the classes

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5. quick sketches during the classes

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6. The Book of Beginnings review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of François Jullien's The Book of Beginnings, a non-fiction work in Yale University Press' always worthwhile Margellos World Republic of Letters-series.
       An interesting look at looking at Chinese culture/thought -- with some good discussion of translation-issues along the way.

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7. 15 Tips on Finding Great Critique Partners - #amwriting #getpublished

Today, I would like to chat about critique partners, or just referred to as a "CP.” I always find it odd when I meet or chat with other writers who not only don't know what a CP is, but they have never had one.

What is a CP?

Basically, it is another writer with whom you exchange entire manuscripts or portions of your manuscript, or for short "MS," with to obtain honest feedback on the storyline, characterization, plot, pacing, dialogue, etc. You critique (edit and offer feedback) on their work and in exchange they do the same. 

Every serious writer should have a CP (and use a professional editor at some point). Your CP is one of your most valuable allies when venturing into the world of publishing. A CP will tell you when you’re writing is awesome–or when it sucks. A great CP will also encourage you when the rejections start pouring in, and be the one to sympathize with you about publishing woes.

But you need to be really cautious when choosing a CP to share your novel with. You want a critique that works best for you. A great CP should have a similar writing style, goals, and editing/writing skills. Friends and family, and I mean ANYONE who is NOT a writer, should not read or offer feedback on your work. It is nice of them to offer, but I strongly encourage you to say no, thank you. Only other writers will have the knowledge and insight to point out plot holes and other story issues. You mom or brother-in-law or coworker cannot offer solutions to fix any major story problems.

I recently had another writer offer to crit my work. She seemed very nice and had a sincere desire to help. We wrote in completely different genres and our writing styles were vastly dissimilar. In my opinion, it helps to find someone who writes in the same genres that you do. They'll "get" your stories and be able to offer constructive criticism because they obviously read and write in the same genre as you do. So I sent a few pages to this other writer and what I mostly got back in the comments was how much she hated the genre and even somewhat accused me of writing something just to get book sales. Some of her feedback was helpful, but most of it was not. And yes, I was kind of insulted. 

It is critical to find a CP who you connect with. I cannot stress enough how valuable and rewarding and insightful it is to have a good CP. Plus, having someone else edit your work gives you a fresh perspective on ways to improve the storyline. A CP is someone you can brainstorm with and bounce ideas around with.

The best part of having a CP is that you have someone to share the crazy ups and downs of the publishing world with. Someone to cheer you on when you get discouraged, or cry with over a bad review. Or who understands the struggles of rejection by agents or publishers. A writer friend who you can chat with about the creative writing process when your non-writer friends just don't get it.

How to learn from Critique Partners

Looking back, when I first started querying agents my query wasn’t that great and my MS wasn’t ready. Sure, I’d used beta readers, but I'd never had an actual critique partner. By that I mean—another writer. So now I can see why I got so many rejections the first time around. I needed a strong, honest, critique partner. When I finally found one, I was amazed.  

What a difference! 

A good critique partner indicates obvious overlooked errors, and is brutally honest yet respectful in their evaluation of your manuscript. Feedback is crucial to a writer, but in the end, the decisions of what goes into a novel are still the author’s choice. It's helpful in the beginning to tell your potential critique partner exactly what type of critique you're looking for. 
Editing is a long, hard process. It can take even the most experienced writer a great deal of time, effort, and patience, but the end results are well worth it.

When one of my critique partners sent me an email regarding her recent experience with two other writers from a well-known "writers" website, who had read her work and sent her back extremely nasty critiques, I felt the need to blog about it. These comments were so mean I was shocked. Now, I don’t usually visit that forum, I like AgentQuery. Everyone there for the most part is straightforward but considerate in his or her evaluation of sample pages posted. No flaming or nastiness.’

Crit partners are supposed to encourage, support, and help each other find any overlooked mistakes. Which leads me to the topic of my post today…

Critique Etiquette 101

Okay, first off, any writer who “thinks” his/her novel is perfect needs a reality check. Even published authors have critique partners and beta readers—they are called agents and editors! (I personally know quite a few published authors who still use critique partners and groups to review their work before they send it to their agent.)

Why use a crit partner, my mom thinks my writing is great?

Because most of the time a writer cannot be nearly as impartial about their own work to notice its flaws. A great critique partner is firm in his/her belief that you are a good writer, but they are never hesitant to indicate ways for you to improve your craft. It should be objective, and not reflect the personal opinions, likes, dislikes, and biases of the other writer.

Don’t we all want to develop our skills as a writer?

You would think so. As a writer, you should quickly learn that one of the most appreciated gifts you can receive is a candid evaluation of your work. All writers need a “second pair of eyes” because our work is too close to our heart for us to see its weaknesses. If someone wants to exchange chapters with me, I always start with a five-page sample. Never more than that, because I want to see if we are compatible and check out the level of writing.  

A writer friend of mine once mentioned that I was too harsh in my critiques. So, what if they overused certain words or used the “to be” verbs abundantly. Well...

As a critique partner, I just highlighted what I considered common writing mistakes in sentence structure. I’d been taught early on to eliminate weak verb/adverb combinations and to use strong action verbs instead. 

In my own evaluation of other people’s work, I make suggestions on improving scenes, and emotional character development, or advise cutting a section, BUT it’s still up to the writer to disregard the suggestions or revise. 

Now if your CP points out common writing mistakes such as weak verb usage, abusing odd connectives, info-dumps, passive voice, show vs. telling, or dialogue tag overuse, then those simple suggestions should always be taken to heart and revised. These are usually red flags to agents, and readers/book reviewers that your work hasn't been polished.

And that is what a good critique partner does. They show you things that perhaps you’ve overlooked. Or possibly, the writer didn't realize some errors were a universal oversight that many new writers make. That's why so many agents tell newbie writers to read "THE ELEMENTS OF STYLE" by William Strunk and E. B. White, considered the bible for editing. So, take the criticism and be objective. Or try to be. It is still up to YOU to either accept or reject their advice. 

Did I agree with all of my critique partner's suggestions on revising certain sections of my MS? No. I used my own creative judgment when making those kinds of revisions. But I do revise any grammar, typos, or common writing mistakes that they took the time to point out for me. 
Most CPs will comment on:

A line-by-line edit

An evaluation of pace and flow

General feedback about what works on a grand scale and what doesn't

Dialogue and characterization


Point out clichés and overused words

Some CPs will also point out your common crutch words, comment on specific awkward phrasing that yanks the reader out of the story, or make comments such as, "cut this paragraph in half, it's slowing the pace" that might leave you dumbfounded. That’s only because you haven't learned enough yet to see beyond your own writing to the different essentials of editing a novel. But once you realize why they pointed out these overlooked errors, those comments are like finding buried treasure. You can use them to polish your work.

Now when you critique someone else's work try to separate, as best you can, your own preferences and choices from your attempt at an unbiased critique of their story.

Admire what there is to admire, BUT also include constructive comments on important elements such as:

What seems to be missing in the story? 

What doesn’t quite flow together? 

What remains puzzling about the narrative?

Answers to these questions will really help give the other writer a sense of where and what needs improving. The writer needs to know specifically which scenes you thought slowed the pace, or even found repetitive before making the appropriate revisions.


Personally, I only give tough love in my critiques, which means that if you want someone to only tell you what a wonderful writer you are, but not tell you where your strengths and weaknesses are too, then I would not be the CP for you. My goal as a CP is to suggest ways that could make the manuscript even better. Otherwise, what use is the critique, right? 
Keep in mind, you also reserve the right not to alter your work. Each critique reflects the opinion of the reader, and the author always has the final decision on edits. A wise author, however, considers even negative comments carefully, remembering that if the manuscript cannot stand on its own without verbal defense or explanation, it won’t have much chance with an editor or agent, or with readers if you self-publish.

As a crit partner/editor it is so much easier to see inconspicuous errors in others work, because as the writer we are too close to our own story to see the flaws in pacing, POV, descriptions, tone, and characterization.

But it is not necessary to be cruel

Still, it might be a good idea to develop thicker skin. NOW. If you don’t...just wait until you get reviews.

Try to look at what your CP was commenting on with an open-mind. After receiving a critique, please remember that this is still YOUR story. Not anyone else’s. You may not agree with your crit partners and that’s fine. You know the story better than anyone and you know what works and what doesn’t. But do try to look at it with a critical eye. Like I said, I don’t always change things my crit partner’s remark on. I use my own artistic instincts before making changes.

I don't really mind harsh feedback as long as it's done tactfully. One of my critique partners called my attention to the overuse of the compound “but.” At the time, I hadn’t even realized that I’d been over using it. And I mean, I had abused that word in just about every other sentence.

A few years ago, one CP noticed my misuse of the exclamation point. My MS was riddled with them. I had every character using it to get a point across. Not good. And embarrassing. Unfortunately, these were all signs of an amateur writer, and a big tip off to editors and agents in the publishing field that my writing was in desperate need of revision.

And that is what a good critique partner does.

They give you advice with considerate and honest feedback. Critiques are meant to help, not hurt. Yet, be prepared when you put your work "out there" for the public in these writing forums. You'll get all kinds of unhelpful and hurtful advice...along with some good.

What should you do when you receive an overly offensive critique of your work?

Buy a gallon of ice cream, and vow to never write again.

Ah, no! But don’t make justifications for all the negative feedback you receive either. It can be easy to ignore suggestions we don’t like. Be objective. Be open-minded. Try to see past the negative and use it to grow as a writer. There is ALWAYS room for improvement.

Learn what writing advice to follow, and what to ignore. 

This is a gut instinct that you’ll  eventually develop. Just remember that you(and no one else) are the best judge of your own work.

And be careful of getting too comfortable with a CP. Once I made the mistake of unintentionally insulting one of my long-term CPs when I offered some constructive advice on her current WIP. Sometimes how we word things can be misconstrued in comments or feedback. She was very upset, and although I tried to apologize and explain, the partnership couldn’t be repaired.

I guess, I’m tougher skinned than most writers. I tell my CPs to let it bleed red and don’t be afraid to rip my manuscript’s guts out. Honestly, I’d much rather hear how awful the book is in the privacy of my inbox by a CP than have my Amazon product page splattered with one star reviews, or get repeatedly rejected by agents or publishers. And first drafts are supposed to be messy and error riddled and have plot holes. That’s why we need CPs to help us polish the storyline into something worth reading—worth being proud of.

I always say...SPARE the READER, NOT the WRITER!

So I strongly urge you to find at least two experienced CPs (critique partners) to exchange chapters with on a weekly basis. I rely heavily on my own CPs to help me draft a more comprehensible and engaging storyline before I send my work off to my own editing team. Also, try to get at least three beta readers (NOT friends or family) that read your genre.

Some great blogs about critiquing and places to find a CP:
Need a CP? Try: Ladies who Critique
This forum for YA writers is awesome. redit
Another great forum, CP Seek
Critique Circleor these sites: CPs or try: Review Fuse

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8. Marilyn's Monster by Michelle Knudsen, illustrated by Matt Phelan

Marilyn's Monster by Michelle Knudsen is a superb story perfectly illustrated by Matt Phelan. Phelan's soft watercolor and pencil illustrations tame the monsters that might have been frightening in this story about patience and perseverance. Marilyn's Monster begins, "Some of the kids in Marilyn's class had mosnters. It was the latest thing. Marilyn didn't have a mosnter. Not yet.

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9. Cartoon_ Being Human

cartoon- being humanBeing human or buying human … who will win??? lets see

The post Cartoon_ Being Human appeared first on Monica Gupta.

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10. Edwards Award: Sponsor and Presentation

And a little more about the Edwards Award, from the YALSA website.


School Library Journal is the award's donor and funds the award and administrative cost. The recipient receives a cash prize of $2,000 plus an appropriate citation.


The award (cash prize and citation) will be presented to the winning author at the YALSA luncheon or other gala affair at the ALA Annual Conference. The author is required to attend the event to accept the award and to make a short acceptance speech.

Currently, the presentation is made at a brunch during ALA. I've attended the event both as a lunch event and as the brunch, and both ways it's a great event.

Amazon Affiliate. If you click from here to Amazon and buy something, I receive a percentage of the purchase price.

© Elizabeth Burns of A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy

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11. So Many Happenings...

This has been a busy month. Lots of book projects rolling. 

6 months seems to be an interval that that has me feeling like I want a change of pace. And soon- it will happen. Fred and I are heading out to explore Cape Town as well as Namibia and then I'm heading home for a few weeks to check in  with friends family and out lovely case in California. 

Yesterday I found out that STAR STUFF: Carl Sagan and the Mysteries of the Cosmos is a finalist in the California Book Awards!

The next few weeks promise to be a whirl wind of activity- deadlines, events among many other things. Life is never dull it seems. 

So- onward . 

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12. (Over)publishing in ... Iceland

       At Grapevine Elliott Brandsma wonder whether in famously book-friendly Iceland there might be Too Many Books: Do Icelandic Publishers Need To Chill Out ?
       When there was: "one year when the publishing companies collectively released almost a hundred new cookbooks" (this in a country with a total population of not much more than 300,000) one can argue that the industry/market maybe aren't functioning perfectly ..... Still, I hope they keep it up.

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13. Writer Wednesday: Write the Book

Okay, so it's no secret that I'm a bit of a dork. ;) So every time I hear Taylor Swift's "Shake it Off" I sing the words a little differently. I'm not going to sing for you all because I don't want you to run off screaming. Instead, I'm going to share my version of the song, which I call "Write the Book." Enjoy!

"Write the Book"

I write way too much, got stories in my brain

That's what people say mmm, that's what people say mm
I release too many books, but I can't make 'em sell

At least that's what people say mmm, that's what people say mmm

But I keep writing, can't stop, won't stop typing

It's like I got this story in my mind saying it's gonna be alright

'Cause the readers gonna read, read, read, read, read

And the bloggers gonna
 blog, blog, blog, blog, blog
Baby, I'm just gonna write, write, write, write, write
write the book, write the book

Reviewers gonna rate, rate, rate, rate, rate

And the haters gonna hate, hate, hate, hate, hate

Baby, I'm just gonna write, write, write, write, write

write the book, write the book

I never miss a word, I'm lightning on the keys

And that's what they don't see mmm, that's what they don't see mmm 

I'm writing on my own (writing on my own), make the words up as I go (words up as I go)

And that's what they don't know mmm, that's what they don't know mmm

But I keep writing, can't stop, won't stop typing

It's like I got this story in my mind saying it's gonna be alright

'Cause the readers gonna read, read, read, read, read

And the bloggers gonna 
blog, blog, blog, blog, blog
Baby, I'm just gonna write, write, write, write, write

write the book, write the book

Reviewers gonna rate, rate, rate, rate, rate

And the haters gonna hate, hate, hate, hate, hate

Baby, I'm just gonna write, write, write, write, write

write the book, write the book

write the book, write the book

I, I write the book, write the book

I, I, write the book, write the book

I, I write the book, write the book

Hey, hey, hey, just think while you've been getting down and out about the pirates and dirty, dirty cheats in the biz you could have been getting down to this sick book

My ex-fan brought his new book friend

She's like "oh my God," but I'm just gonna write it

And to the M.C. over there with the hella good hair

Won't you come on over, baby, we can write, write, write

'Cause the readers gonna read, read, read, read, read

And the bloggers gonna blog, blog, blog, blog, blog

Baby, I'm just gonna write, write, write, write, write

write the book, write the book

Reviewers gonna rate, rate, rate, rate, rate

And the haters gonna hate, hate, hate, hate, hate

Baby, I'm just gonna write, write, write, write, write

write the book, write the book

write the book, write the book

I, I write the book, write the book
I, I write the book, write the book

I, I write the book, write the book

write the book, write the book

I, I write the book, write the book
I’ve got to

I, I write the book, write the book

I, I write the book, write the book

And for anyone who doesn't know Taylor's song, here's the video:
I dare you all to sing along but with my version. ;)

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14. New World Literature Today

       The new issue of World Literature Today is (partially) available online, with a focus on 'New Hebrew Writing'.
       Most importantly: the World Literature in Review review-section is fully accessible -- always worth a look.

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15. Disneyland for Librarians

There’s a new library in Nova Scotia. Central Library in Halifax opened mid-December with great fanfare. Thousands of people turned out for opening day. Thousands! Now, Halifax is about a 2-hour drive from our small, rural community, but it is still exciting to me that we have this library. It is simply amazing.

photo by A. Reynolds

photo by A. Reynolds

I get pretty excited about a new library anywhere. We have a couple in the works in our region, and we plan to take a page from the Central Library book and create spaces that draw people in. The thing that I love about the new library in Halifax is that though it is not near us, we are still benefiting from the buzz. Libraries are on people’s minds.

Photo by A. Reynolds

Photo by A. Reynolds

The building is just amazing. Honestly I feel like I am in Disneyland for Librarians when I go there. And I am not alone—I’ve had parents tell me that they’ve taken their kids to the city for a museum trip, and the kids kept asking “When are we going to the library?” It is that cool. With a giant Lite-Brite wall, a play area that is downright fabulous, a LEGO table, iPads galore, and a space that makes you feel right at home, why wouldn’t they want to go there? There’s even a gaming area and a lovely built-in puppet theatre.

The Teen area is a big WOW as well. There’s a recording studio, a craft/maker room, tons of great programs, another gaming area, really comfy seating, and staircases that remind me of Hogwarts (though these don’t actually move). And the colors! So bright and happy. Go there on a weekend and you won’t find a spot to sit. After school the place just buzzes.

Photo by A. Reynolds

Photo by A. Reynolds


Photo by A. Reynolds

Photo by A. Reynolds

Photo by A. Reynolds

Photo by A. Reynolds

So what can a rural library take from this? Central Library is a million miles away from anything we will ever have in our region as far as size goes. But we can listen to our patrons, and if they ask for something, we should try to do it. We can make our library comfortable, with ample plugs for devices and spaces where people can work on whatever they need to work on. We can allow covered drinks and food. We can make the space bright, modern, clean, and welcoming. We can add local art. We can make play spaces and quiet spaces.

I want our libraries to be the place that kids and teens choose to visit. I think we need to figure out how that happens, without building a 5-story gem. The building is part of it, but the feeling is the real draw. We can all learn from other libraries, and continually ask our communities how we can better serve them.

The post Disneyland for Librarians appeared first on ALSC Blog.

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16. The Art of Writing About Villains

I’m not sure if there is an “art” to writing about villains, but I do find that to write convincing and three-dimensional villains, one must be sympathetic to their plight.

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17. Pip Bartlett’s Guide to Magical Creatures

Pip Bartlett's Guide to Magical CreaturesDo you love books like Harry Potter, Wings of Fire, and The Spiderwick Chronicles? Then we think you will love this brand-new series Pip Bartlett’s Guide to Magical Creatures (for ages 8 and up)!

Meet Pip and her world full of magical creatures and whimsical adventures! Click to read an excerpt, watch the trailer, and take the quiz to see which magical creature matches your personality!

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18. 2 Books to Start Conversations about Words

I found two new books at Cover to Cover last week.  Both will be great for writing workshop and discussions and words.

There's No Such Thing as Little by LeUyen Pham is one that I picked up because I LOVE this author/illustrator.  I thought it would be too youngish for my classroom but when I picked it up, it looked perfect for writing workshop. The book begins with two children who don't like being called "little" They want us to know there is so much more to them than being little!  The book goes on to look at lots of little things. A little light, a little snowflake, a little hand. But with the turn of the page, we see that those little things are so much more than little.  For example, a little tree becomes a generous tree when we look more closely.  The pages have little cut-outs which make the book even more fun. We see the "little" through a hole peeking into the next page --a feature I think kids will love and one that helps us connect the words in the book.  I think this will be a perfect book for writing workshop when we talk about word choice and the ways we can use words that truly give meaning to what we are saying.

The other book is Outstanding in the Rain: A Whole Story With Holes by Frank Viva. This one is
another book that has holes as part of the illustrations. In this book though, each hole reveals a word on the page.  For example on the first page, the text reads "Ice Cream," I say. My birthday surprise.  The word Cream is shown through the cut-out.  On turning the page, we see that "cream" becomes part of a new word scream in a new sentence that continues the story. This word play happens several times throughout the book as we see words change into different words.  Another book that will be fun as part of our word play conversations. The illustrations in this one are unique and I think kids will like the color choices and the humor.

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19. stratford-upon-avon and space suits

This weekend, the Reeve & McIntyre Roadshow hit the home of England's greatest playwright at Stratford-upon-Avon Literary Festival! (It's also where Shakespeare lived...)

Here I am, back in the blue wig and flight cap for Cakes in Space shenanigans with the festival's director Annie Ashworth and one of our top-level space cadets from Oxford University Press, Elaine McQuade.

These kinds of events are usually pleasant, but working together as a team on books with Reeve makes them loads of fun. We were pleased to see that while we were busy at the festival, The Guardian ran an article on co-author teams, with a good emphasis on illustration and comics:

And Reeve and I got a mention, hurrah! Thanks, Imogen Russell Williams!

Speaking of all things space-themed on May the Fourth (be with you), Philip's just written a blog on Star Wars and why it's been such a big influence on his work:

(And if you're looking for more good Star Wars reading material, check out these models cut from single sheets of paper.)

But back to Stratford Lit Fest! One of the best things about a festival is when we hear afterward how people in the audience have been inspired to go away and make their own drawings and stories. Philip and I led them in drawing Pilbeam the robot and a killer cake, and a girl named Erin went away and started her own Pilbeam-inspired comic! Yay! I hope she keeps going with it. (Thanks to @KathrynEMarsh for tweeting it.)

While we were in town, Philip could feel the bard looking down over not one, but both of his shoulders:

And he signed copies of the Uncorrected Proof edition of his new book, RAILHEAD, which is coming out about the same time this September as our Pugs of the Frozen North book.

One of the fun things about a festival is getting to meet other authors. (In fact, it's how I met Philip, at the Edinburgh book fest.) Here's Philip getting served his asparagus starter on a plank, with a bit of fake grass, next to Elaine and Professor David Crystal.

We got to meet David, his wife/manager Hilary and their actor/writer son Ben Crystal, who worked with his dad to create an Illustrated Shakespeare Dictionary for young teenagers.

Other fab people we saw at the festival: Nick Butterworth! I love Nick's work and studied it quite a lot when I first started out. And funnily enough, he looks so much like his characters, including Percy the Park Keeper:

Here are Ashley Harrold and Philip swapping books in the Green Room:

Ashley, Steven Lenton and Tracey Corderoy all came to our Cakes in Space event (thanks so much!) but I didn't manage to snap a picture of Steve before he had to run and catch his train. But here's his fab co-author Tracey, with some of their charaters:

A quick hello with Chris Riddell:

And somehow I entirely missed seeing the marvelous Neill Cameron, but here's a photo tweeted by the festival. (Hope to catch you next time, Neill!!) He's come straight from taking part in the Phoenix Fest in Oxford, which sounded amazing. (Check out some of the tweets from that festival here!)

Big thanks to Annie and her team which made the festival run so smoothly! I hope lots of people went away inspired.

And I went back home to Stuart, and we spent a day in Kent visiting the bluebells and eating wild garlic. (Whiffy!)

I promise no bluebells were harmed in the making of this photo.

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20. Best Translated Book Award - fiction finalists

       They've announced the fiction-finalists for the Best Translated Book Award (for which I am a judge), and they are:

  • The Author and Me, by Éric Chevillard, tr. Jordan Stump

  • Faces in the Crowd, by Valeria Luiselli, tr. Christina MacSweeney

  • Fantomas versus the Multinational Vampires, by Julio Cortázar, tr. David Krunick

  • La Grande, by Juan José Saer, tr. Steve Dolph

  • Harlequin's Millions, by Bohumil Hrabal, tr. Stacey Knecht

  • The Last Lover, by Can Xue, tr. Annelise Finegan Wasmoen

  • Pushkin Hills, by Sergei Dovlatov, tr. Katherine Dovlatov

  • Things Look Different in the Light, by Medardo Fraile, tr. Margaret Jull Costa

  • Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay, by Elena Ferrante, tr. Ann Goldstein

  • The Woman Who Borrowed Memories, by Tove Jansson, tr. Thomas Teal
       A nicely varied lot (with just a bit of a Spanish-language tilt), and it'll be interesting to see what winner emerges.
       The winner will be announced 27 May (at BookExpo America).

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21. A Little Smackerel of Nothing

“I like that too,” said Christopher Robin, “but what I like doing best is Nothing.”

“How do you do Nothing?” asked Pooh, after he had wondered for a long time.

“Well, it’s when people call out at you just as you’re going off to do it ‘What are you going to do, Christopher Robin?’ and you say ‘Oh, nothing,’ and then you go and do it.”

“Oh, I see,” said Pooh.

“This is a nothing sort of thing that we’re doing now.”

“Oh, I see,” said Pooh again.

“It means just going along, listening to all the things you can’t hear, and not bothering.”

“Oh!” said Pooh.


We order wonderful little homemade soaps from Julie at The Parsonage, whom I met via Lesley Austin’s Wisteria and Sunshine community. Julie’s soaps smell heavenly and last a long time (much longer than the bottles of liquid soap we used to tear through). One of my favorite things about them is that they come wrapped in strips of fabric—so simple and pretty. Rilla saves these cloth strips and this morning she started to sew them into a little blanket. I was reading our chapter of House at Pooh Corner (we’re almost finished, sob!) and got such a smile out of the scene at my feet—these two each so intent on their separate pursuits. I couldn’t resist laying down the book and snapping the moment with my phone. Rose allowed Huck access to her Snap Circuits set a couple of weeks ago and he has played with almost nothing else since. He has worked through all the projects in the book and is beginning to invent his own whirring, buzzing, siren-blaring arrangements (and to drop extremely broad hints about needing more parts).

Then, suddenly again, Christopher Robin, who was Still looking at the world with his chin in his hands, called out “Pooh!”

“Yes?” said Pooh.

“When I’m–when– Pooh!”

“Yes, Christopher Robin?”

“I’m not going to do Nothing any more.”

“Never again?”

“Well, not so much. They don’t let you.”

I think I’m not going to read them the final chapter of Pooh Corner just yet. We started with this volume because I couldn’t find our copy of Winnie the Pooh, which comes first. But now I want to go back and read them that one (it’s bound to turn up). I flipped ahead to the end of Pooh Corner today and got teary at the goodbye scene…I’m not ready for these two, my last small fry, to contemplate leaving behind the Hundred Acre Wood. At least I know that no matter how Old they get, and how Busy with Important Things, they’ve been raised to appreciate the value of Nothing.

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22. New Adult Fiction Genre - Contemporary Romance - #WriteTip

There is a new genre emerging..."New Adult" fiction for older teens aka college-aged readers. You never stop growing up, but little in the market seems to address the coming-of-age that also happens between the ages of Nineteen to Twenty-six. Life changes drastically once high school is over, you have college, first jobs, first internships, first adult relationships…

Part of the appeal of NA is that the storylines are about characters who are taking on adult responsibilities for the first time without guidance from their parents. And the storylines generally have a heavy romance element. 

Keep this in mind as you revise your wonderful story, New Adult books are mostly about that specific time in every person's life—the time when the apron strings are cut from your parents, you no longer have a curfew, you're experiencing the world for the very first time, in most cases, with innocent eyes. New Adult is this section of your life where you discover who you want to be, what you want to be, and what type of person you will become. This time defines you. This is the time of firsts, the time where you can't blame your parents for your own bad choices. 

An NA character has to take responsibility for their own choices and live with the consequences. Most storylines are about twenty-something (18 to 26) characters living their own lives without any parents breathing down their necks, and learning to solve things on their own as they would in real life. New Adult fiction focuses on switching gears, from depending on our parents to becoming full-fledged, independent adults.

I am a firm believer that if you’re going to write a certain genre that you should read it, too. So I’m going to recommend that you start devouring NA novels to get a real sense and understanding of the genre before you write one.

Here are some great recommendations: https://www.goodreads.com/genres/new-adult-romance and http://www.goodreads.com/genres/new-adult and https://www.goodreads.com/shelf/show/new-adult-romance

Just as YA is fiction about teens discovering who they are as a person, New Adult (NA) is fiction about building your own life as an actual adult. As older teen readers discover the joy of the Young Adult genres, the New Adult—demand may increase. This, in turn, would give writers the chance to explore the freedom of a slightly older protagonist (over the age of 18 and out of high school, like the brilliant novel, "BEAUTIFUL DISASTER" by the amazing talents of author, Jamie McGuire) while addressing more adult issues that early 20-year-olds must face.

Older protagonists (basically, college students) are surprisingly rare; in a panel on YA literature at Harvard’s 2008 Vericon, City of Bones author talked about pitching her novel, then about twenty-somethings, as adult fiction. After several conversations, Clare realized she had to choose between adults and teens. She went with teens.

Quote from the publisher, St. Martin’s Press: We are actively looking for great, new, cutting edge fiction with protagonists who are slightly older than YA and can appeal to an adult audience. Since twenty-somethings are devouring YA, St. Martin’s Press is seeking fiction similar to YA that can be published and marketed as adult—a sort of an “older YA” or “new adult.” In this category, they are looking for spunky but not stupid, serious but not dull, cutting-edge, supernatural stories.

Quote from Georgia McBride, author (Praefatio) and founder of #YALitChat and publisher at Month9Books: "New Adult is a fabulous idea in theory, and authors seem to be excited about it. But in a world where bookstores shelf by category, to them, it is either  Adult or Young Adult. Some booksellers even call their YA section “teen.” And when you have a character who is over a certain age (19 seems to be the age most consider the start of New Adult), it is received as Adult. In some cases, the designation by publishers causes more confusion than not.
Let’s face it, YA is associated with teens, and at 19, most no longer consider themselves teens. So, it would support the theory of placing these “New Adult” titles in the Adult section. However, with the prevalence of eBook content, it would seem that the powers that be could easily create a New Adult category if they really wanted to...."

There’s also a list on goodreads of New Adult book titles. These books focus on college age characters, late teens to early twenties, transitioning into the adult world.

Some popular authors of the NA category include:
  • Jamie McGuire
  • Jessica Park
  • Tammara Webber
  • Steph Campbell
  • Liz Reinhardt
  • Abbi Glines
  • Colleen Hoover 
  • Sherry Soule

Would you buy New Adult books? 
Does the genre appeal to you? 

Does it sound better than YA (teen novels)? 
Or are you happy with YA as it stands?

Do you consider YA to include characters that are over the age of eighteen? 

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23. quick sketches during the classes

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24. Goncourt du premier roman

       They've announced the winner of this year's Goncourt du premier roman -- the 'first novel'-Goncourt -- and it's yet another prize for The Meursault Investigation, Kamel Daoud's variation on Camus.
       It will be available next month in the US (and in two in the UK); see the Other Press publicity page, or pre-order your copy at Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk.

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25. UNDERTOW by Michael Buckley

Review by Leydy UNDERTOW Undertow #1by Michael BuckleySeries: UndertowHardcover: 384 pagesPublisher: HMH Books for Young Readers (May 5, 2015)Language: EnglishGoodreads | Amazon First, we feared them. Then we fought them. Now they might be our only hope.

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