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Head on over to the main PaperTigers website to read our new interview with the wonderful Lisa Yee and find out about the background to some of her best-selling books.
After having my emotions wrenched between tears of laughter and genuine weeping during Lisa’s presentation at Serendipity 2012 in Vancouver earlier this year, I came back to the UK laden with her books. Older Brother, Younger Brother and I have been hijacking them from each other ever since – and it’s just as well I’ve read them as Younger Brother will bring a character matter-of-factly into conversation while I now have the necessary knowledge to do the mental somersault towards the fictional identity of this “person”. So if you don’t yet know Lisa’s books, I can thoroughly recommend them for you and any middle-grade/YA readers you know. In the meantime, head on over to our interview to find out more…
Erik Kuntz, Amy Rose Capetta and Nick Alter made this video of the Austin Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators 2012 Regional Conference, Something for Everybody. I get a kick out of how the thumbnail on YouTube shows me in the crowd, getting a hug from illustrator Marsha Riti. So of course I had to include it here. Erik, [...]
It’s been a wondewrful few days here in Vancouver. Serendipity was fabulous – and many thanks to the Vancouver Children’s Literature Roundtable for hosting us and for putting together such a great program. I’ll be heading for the airport shortly, on my way back to the UK, and taking with me some wonderful memories, as well as a suitcase full of books…
Here’s a selection of the many photos I took -
Friday’s Gala Dinner:
Allen Say and Lisa Yee:
Our table, lef to right: Corinne, our lovely “Guardian Angel” for the conference Kat Thomson, Lisa’s “Guardian Angel” Rob Biittner, Lisa Yee and me behind.
Saturday – Serendipity 2012 at the Neville Scarfe Building, University of British Columbia – “The Year of the Dragon”
Paul Yee and Lisa Yee:
PaperTigers’ Paper Tiger meets Peepy Peep:
Getting our presentation set up…
Allen Say’s prsentation – here with his photograph with Sensei Noro Shinpei:
Making dragons at the lunchtime workshop with Origami Master Joseph Wu:
Then waking everybody up post lunch with some dancing from Shiamak’s Bollywood Dancers – billed to “rouse your inner dragon” – they sure did!
One day a year he is Santa Claus, but the other 364 days Dan Santat works as a children’s book writer and commercial illustrator. He is also the creator of Disney’s animated hit, “The Replacements.”
Dan has written and illustrated his own books and books by other writers. His new graphic novel, SIDEKICKS came out in July and he has another wonderful picture book coming out this month that is written by Jill Esbaum titled, Tom’s Tweet which is a slapstick funny story that pays homage to the selfless act known as parenting. All in all Dan has written and/or illustrated nineteen books.
He graduated with honors from the Art Center, College of Design and lives in Southern California with his wife, two kids, a rabbit, a bird, and one cat.
For all you writers and illustrators who have wondered, what is the best way to develop and present a graphic novel, you are going to love this post.
Dan takes you through his process on developing his new graphic novel about SUPERHERO PETS! Captain Amazing, superhero and savior of Metro City, is getting old. He’s out all hours battling arch-villains, catching thieves, and helping little old ladies cross the street. He doesn’t even have time for his house full of pets. He needs – a SIDEKICK!
Captain Amazing’s four pets agree. But each one of them thinks HE should get the sidekick spot – and a chance for one-on-one time with the Captain. Get ready for sibling rivalry royale as pets with superpowers duke it out for the one thing they all want – a super family.
It began with a simple painting. Back in art school I took a class where we had to do a series of paintings that revolved around a theme. At the time I thought I wanted to go into the animation field so I decided to work on my character design skills and flesh out simple ideas of animals doing silly things. Towards the last month of the course I painted an animal super hero, which I called The All-American Beaver. The idea of a super animal really intrigued me and so I decided to paint another superhero animal. The next week I followed up with a painting of a cat who could generate large amounts of static electricity with his fur which I properly named Static Cat. Even though the term had ended before I could explore more possibilities I was suddenly obsessed and wanted to create more.
As I was sketching the characters over and over again I really didn’t think of a solid storyline until I had sold the manuscript to my editor. All I knew for certain was that they were all starving for attention and wanted to compete for the affections of their owner to find out who would be the favorite house pet of the house. In my mind I originally thought that Fluffy would be the leader of the group. He was going to be this arrogant loudmouth who wanted to just be bossy and give orders to everyone so he could wear a costume and be famous. Roscoe was the young naive kind hearted softie with massive strength (Think Lennie from “Of Mice and Men”)
Lisa Yee, the hilarious and wonderful author of 10 novels for kids and young adults, made me cry during her session on bullies and antagonists.
But it wasn't on purpose.
She was just talking about the story she wrote for the DEAR BULLY anthology due out next month.
Her entry perfectly illustrated the importance of creating dimensional bullies: characters who have wants and needs, and who have reasons for harming those around them--getting as specific as identifying the day our antagonist was hurt badly enough to want to hurt others.
So, yes. Tears. But also lots of laughs as she walked us through the paces.
We started off with a rather thrilling promise: "We're going to tap into your evil side," she said.
And then we identified our favorite literary villains. Lord Voldemort, we love to hate you. The British press, meanwhile, really loves to hate Satan. They identified him--and not Camilla Parker Bowles (kidding! she's real!)--as literature's foulest villain. Which, when you think about it, seems kind of stereotypey.
We moved on to some key definitions:
A bully is a person who uses strength or power to harm or intimidate those who are weaker.
"Bully" started out as a good thing, she mentioned. Over the years, the definition morphed and it changed.
A villain is a person guilty of capable of crime or wickedness.
That word, she said, is French. A villain worked in the fields in a time when everyone wanted to be a knight. When bad things happened, they blamed the farm people. “A villain did that.” Mon dieu!
An antagonist, who could be a bully or a bad guy, is a person who actively opposes or is hostile to someone or something.
"Your antagonist in your story is going to be working against your protagonist," she said.
She shared with us seven story archetypes we writers use, from "man vs. himself" to "man vs. society," and we came up with examples of stories that fit each archetype.
Then she walked us through a couple of writing exercises: one in which we outlined a variety of characteristics we'd need to know about our antagonists (everything from their age, outward appearance, self-perception, wants and needs, as long as one word that best described them). We used that as the basis for a revealing paragraph about our antagonist.
My favorite part, and not just because I played a teen thief, was doing a Q&A with participants to figure out the characters' backstory and motivations. We then wrote a murder scene from three points of view--a third person, and first person from both the teen thief and her rich-lady murder victim. The effect was stunning. By having well developed characters with clear motivations, we ended up with richer writing that was more nuanced and compelling.
That’s a good headline. This one’s not bad either: Children’s author ejected from plane for bad language. Strange thing is, it says the fellow in question (a New Yorker) has a book for kids due out this August. Can’t find any evidence of this on Amazon, though. Hmmmmm. Thanks to Jennifer Schultz for the link.
Author Lisa Yee recently came to town for BEA. While here, she met with a veritable TON of folks, including myself. For an image of me balancing a Peep on my once massive belly, her blog is the place to be.
I love the Twin Cities, particularly when their schools offer fun free courses for kids on making their own books. Thanks to Monica Edinger for the link!
Twitter rumor: Due to a recent exchange between Neil Gaiman and Adam Rex, it sure as heck sounds like Rex has illustrated a book by Gaiman with a target audience of 2-year-olds. I am now officially a gossip columnist, am I not?
I love me those Boogie Woogie kids. Best blog of kids reviewing children’s books out there. Now they’ve done review #100 and they want to accept nominations for their next review. More info here.
Eliot Schrefer is a member of my children’s writing group. Right now he’s penning a really impressive YA novel about bonobos in the Democratic Republic of Congo. So how does one research such a book? Go there! Eliot has a great blog up right now that is currently following him on his trip.
On Sunday, Daughter, (who is a major league lisayee fan like her mother) and I went into NYC to meet...LISA YEE. We picked her up at her swanky hotel off Park Avenue, bundled her into my considerably less swanky and extremely dented Authormobile and whisked her off to Brooklyn, where we had a wonderful brunch at Auntie Susie's in Park Slope.
Daughter has a new BFF
and Auntie Susie herself took a picture of us all together after our yummy scrummy meal during which abundant chocolate was consumed:
Afterwards we hit some cool Brooklyn stores for what the French refer to as "Faire du Leche-Vitrine" (which means window shopping but is literally "window licking").
Lisa kindly bought Daughter some heart-shaped Peeps for explosion purposes, which Daughter enjoyed immensely:
Just how big of a Lisa Yee fan is my daughter? Well, the night before our brunch, I went into Daughter's room and she showed me she'd just painted her favorite characters from Lisa's trilogy.
Can I kvell a little here? Isn't she talented? Daughter, as well as Lisa?
Anyway, Daughter played the role of Peepy Paparazzi (Peeparazzi?) and you can here's the TMZ photo essay which I tried to hide behind a LJ cut but failed miserably.
Peepy sampled the chocolate mousse
But then got carried away and went for my coffee
Peepy ended up looking like I've been feeling most of this week:
Then she started hitting the champers (Peepy, not my underage daughter, I hasten to add)
and ended up not making a whole lotta sense:
And then had to sleep it off
It was great to see Lisa and Peepy. Come back and visit soon!
Good Luck, Ivy, a companion book to the American Girl Julie Series (by Megan McDonald), is set in 1970's San Francisco. Ten-year-old Ivy Ling, Julie's best friend, must decide between participating in a very important gymnastics tournament or attending a family reunion.
A perfect older brother, a mother in law school, a father working two jobs, and Julie moving away, often make Ivy feel invisible. A traumatic fall in a previous tournament has shaken her confidence, and she feels terrible after unintentionally hurting her grandparents' feelings. And what about her report for Chinese school? How Ivy finds balance -- both on the balance beam and in her life, makes for an engaging story sure to please young readers ages 8-12.
I especially like the warm family scenes featuring food! Ivy and her brother, Andrew, visit their grandparents, Gung Gung and Po Po, every Saturday morning for a steaming bowl of breakfast jook at their Chinese restaurant, the Happy Panda. But there are also scenes involving spaghetti, hamburgers, and Julie and Ivy's invention: Chinese Almond Twisters -- symbolizing the perfect blend of things American and Chinese, old traditions and new.
Today, Lisa is sharing a recipe for deep fried wonton, probably served at the Happy Panda, but more prominently featured in Stanford Wong Flunks Big Time. Stanford's grandmother, Yin-Yin, is famous for her dim sum ('to touch the heart'), theorizing that if people's mouths are full, they can't fight. In a very touching scene, Stanford visits Yin-Yin in her nursing home, where she whips up a batch of wonton. He says, "I've missed Yin-Yin's fried wontons almost as much as I've missed having her live with us."
So, get into the spirit of Asian Pacific Heritage Month and fry up a batch of these. Of course, their flavor will be enhanced ten-fold if enjoyed alongside any one of Lisa's fabulous books!
1-1/2 T minced garlic 4 stalks green onions, finely chopped 1-1/2 lbs. ground pork (you can substitute ground beef or diced chicken) 3-1/2 T soy sauce 1-1/2 T sugar or honey 1 12-oz pkg. pre-made wonton skins 1 egg, beaten 3 cups cooking oil
1. Heat a tablespoon of the cooking oil in a large skillet. Add garlic and cook until browned. 2. Add green onions and saute. 3. Add ground meat and cook until the meat is browned. Drain the oil. 4. In a separate container, mix the soy sauce and the sugar or honey. Pour over the meat and cook. When the meat is done, turn off the burner and set the skillet aside. 5. Lay out the wonton skins in rows. 6. Place one tablespoon of meat in the center of each wonton skin. 7. Dip a pastry brush or the back of a spoon into the beaten egg, then "paint" two adjoining edges of the wonton skins. 8. Fold the skin in half diagonally so it forms a triangle, and press the edges together to be sure they are sealed. 9. Heat the remaining cooking oil in a large pot. 10. Drop wontons into the heated oil and cook until golden brown. Be sure to turn them while they're cooking so they don't get overdone. 11. Drain and let cool. 12. Eat!
I'd trade a million wontons for one night with Lisa . . .
*For lots more fun, book news about Lisa, and steaming photos of Colin, Johnny, and Brad, visit her highly entertaining and scrumptious blog. Main course info can be found at her website.
So, May is Asian-American Heritage Month. To celebrate, 10 children's and YA authors got together to spotlight "Ten new contemporary novels by Asian Americans aren’t traditional tales set in Asia nor stories about coming to America for the first time."
I thought this was an awesome idea, so to join the party, I'm reading all the fusion stories this month, substituting earlier works if the highlighted story isn't published yet.
But, first I'm going to ramble on about myself for a while, because it's my blog! I can do what I want!
Mainly, the wedding I went to this weekend was wonderfully fun AND I got to meet some other kidlit dorks, including someone who knows David Levithan. And Rachel Cohn! My geeky heart just about died! My response was "Can I touch you?!" Initially, he thought I was being a bitch, when really, I was in total AWE!
And now I'm off to North Carolina for my sister's wedding!
Also, I want to give a shout-out to Lauren. She's my new-ish coworker and she is awesome. I don't think I've mentioned that yet. But who else would randomly burst into song with you on the reference desk? Especially when said song is a medley of the Simpson's musical version of Street Car Named Desire?
You can always depend on the kindness of strangers! To buck up your spirits and shield you from dangers! Now here's a tip from Blanche you won't regret: A stranger's just a friend you haven't met. You haven't met! STREETCAR!
That's what too much story time can do to a person!
Also, here's a video I've been watching a lot of lately:
Because do you know what's better than a Kate Pierson muppet? ABSOLUTELY NOTHING.
Also, how awesome is it when you look like a total moody rock star while rocking out on a banjo?!
I haven't read an American Girl book in years. Like, not since I was the targeted reading age and read all of the Kirsten, Samantha, and Molly books. Yes, only those three, because BACK IN MY DAY there only were three. Initially, there were only 3 books for 3 dolls! Yes, I was a recipient of the original Pleasant Company catalog.
Anyway, Yee's book took me right back there. And it was weird at the same time, because after reading Yee's other work (by which I mean the hysterical Millicent Min, Girl Genius) this has a very different voice. This... reads like an American Girl book, which it should. I think writing like that, in someone else's corporate voice must be very hard, but Yee's awesome at it. (Ok, I've drafted my share of press releases in hoity toity British English in the proper corporate voice. I know it's hard.)
Anyway, the book. Ivy Ling is not feeling lucky. Her best friend, Julie (who is actually the American Girl) has moved across town. Her parents are really busy and can't help Ivy with her Chinese school project. Plus, they've been eating take-away Chinese food from her grandparent's Chinese resteraunt. And Ivy's grandparents heard her complaining.
But that's not the worst of it. The big inter-city gymnastics tournament is coming up. Ivy needs to compete in the all events, but she fell off the balance beam last time and is having a hard time getting her routine right again. As if that weren't bad enough, the big Ling family reunion is coming up. On the same day as the gymnastics meet.
Ivy can't go to both, and her parents are making her decide, only they have different ideas about which one is more important.
Whatever will Ivy do?!
I loved the "American Girl" ness of it. Also, in the background material, there are some awesome pictures of Lisa Yee in the 70s.
I had forgotten how many appearance details American Girl books put in. As a kid I really liked that, but it's a little jarring to me as an adult.
This is not really a fusion story. Minn and Jake's Almost Terrible Summer is a Fusion Story, but it doesn't come out until August, so I have to wait for it. So, I read the one that came before it instead. But, as far as the reader knows, this one doesn't have any Asian-Americans in it, because the fact that Jake is 1/4 Korean comes out in the next book and causes some tension when Minn wonders why Jake didn't tell her. At least, that's what the various blurbs I've read tell me.
Anyway, in this book (a prose novel)
Minn is feeling very empty, and very tall, and very odd, and very pigtailed, and very lizardy, and very much alone.
Because her best friend laughed at her with another girl. She ends up being paired with the new kid,Jake, who's afraid of lizards. Catching lizards is the only thing kids do in Santa Brunella. So, Minn is going to teach Jake how to catch lizards. But there are accidents and mean kids and other grade-school stuff to endure.
Very well told. Minn and Jake, as well as the rest of the kids, are authentic, and their trials and tribulations are small, as they are for most kids, but aren't trivialized, which is refreshing.
And now for some non-Fusion Stories, because who knows when I'll get to blog again?
This is a retelling of Thumbelina, in the sense of straight-up retelling it with a few variations, not recasting it, a la Shannon Hale or Gail Carson Levine.
Except the ending is different. But the narrator warns us. I'm quoting from an ARC here, so it might not be 100% accurate (but I hope it is, because it's the very matter-of-fact voice that the narrator and Thumbelina use throughout)
Now you know exactly what happened and can write a book report, if you need to do that, or count this as part of your summer reading list. Nobody will mind or think any less of you if you just close the book and DO NOT READ ANOTHER WORD.
But, to tell you the truth, there is something more. If you felt there was something forced about that ending, you were right."
And that's why I loved the book. That, and the wonderful illustrations that were made by cutting out black construction paper. A nice retelling of a fairy tale that gives Thumbelina back her spunk without detracting from Anderson's original.
Just when Clementine and her 3rd grade teacher have figured each other out, Mr. D'Matz is going to go off and go to Egypt IN THE MIDDLE OF THE SCHOOL YEAR! And the new teacher has new rules that Clementine can't guess.
If you liked the others, you'll like this. I'm seriously starting to worry about Margaret though. That girl's going to need therapy sooner rather than later. I do like how well Clementine handles her, though.
In the paint section, hundreds of little paint tubes, all neat and new, sat on the shelf. Margaret threw her hands up and backed away, as if the tubes of paint were just waiting to burst all over her clean clothes. Margaret doesn't even liket o look at things that might get her dirty.
"Quick, run over to the paper aisle!" I told her. "Just keep staring at all those nice clean stacks of paper!"
I also like how the trip to the Chinese grocery store yields a whole new host of vegetable names for her brother. Bamboo shoot, scallion, daikon radish...Display CommentsAdd a Comment
My amazing wife and son always do something wonderful for me on the Sunday that is the first full day we awaken to the sounds of the gulls and sea. The past few years my son has taken it upon himself to honor the "day" by creating something for me that has to do with whatever book project I am currently working on.
Above is his wonderful clay tribute to my current book, MILO. (below you can see the cartoon it is based on). You should've seen my grin as he presented this to me - and in fact it's still plastered on my face. Unrelated to Fathers day and Maine - I wanted to thank the always funny and extremely gracious LISA YEE for her blog post "welcome" re. my upcoming Writer In Residency at the Thurber House.
That's it for now - time to drive back to the cabin where the internet doesn't exist - just the ocean, sea gulls and our dog who has probably eaten the couch by now.
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Lisa Yee: On Revision... It was standing room only for Lisa Yee's session on revision. Lisa started out by talking about her first version of her novel Millicent Min, Girl Genius which she said was "episodic and weird." In her next version, 11-year-old Millicent was in college, but editor Arhtur Levine suggested Lisa explore a version in which the main character interacts with kids her own age. She continued to revise--and what was constant through each revision was her character.
There was a show of hands to see who loved revision and who hated it. Those who love revision, Lisa said, often love is so much that they can't stop themselves. Those who hate it can't get started.
Lisa, who is currently revising a work-in-progress from first person point of view to third persion, said she she can fall so much in love with her writing that she doesn't want to cut any of it. But when you look at your work, she says, ask yourself, "If I had to cut my story by 20%, what would I cut? She said that generally her first three chapters can be thrown away.
One tip she gave was taking your document and making a copy of it, changing the font, adjusting the margins just slightly, and making it look like something someone else wrote--this can help you look at your story in a different way. She also suggested reading your manuscript out loud as you revise to hear words in a different manner than reading it silently. Also circle what you think is really great in your story and that becomes your standard to adhere to.
For revise-a-holics, she suggests setting deadlines for yourself, or have your writers group set them. This way you can force yourself to write to a deadline and write on a schedule.
Finally, she recommended everyone check out the radio program Bookworm on KCRW featuring an interview with Tobias Wolf (there are two--try the fiction one) in which he talks about his writing process--he just keeps cutting.
That's right, the former Miss America and author of the wildly popular Millicent Min, Girl Genius;Stanford Wong Flunks Big-Time;So Totally Emily Ebers; and GoodLuck, Ivy!, has written a funny, touching young adult novel about 16-year-old Maybe (short for Maybelline), who hitches a ride from Florida to California, where she discovers just what she is made of. Phew! This book is coming out just in time; ever since I finished Good Luck, Ivy!, I've been suffering from serious Lisa withdrawal, simply wanting more more more from this Sid Fleischman Humor Award winner.
Anyway, Maybe's life is pretty tough. Her mom, who goes through men like Kleenex, takes her scuzzball boyfriend's side after he tries to rape Maybe, so she's left no alternative but to run away from home. She takes to the road with her friends Hollywood and Ted, hoping to find her real father, whom she thinks is a famous movie producer.
After they get to California, her friends get in the groove right away. Hollywood, who's been accepted to the USC film school, starts working on a documentary, and Ted finds a job and moves in with the famous Gloria de la Tour. This leaves Maybe to fend for herself. She is traumatized by the idea of babysitting triplets, stops for some tacos (my kind of book!), and ends up working at Taco Truck #4, where she proves to the owner and herself that she's capable of creating some pretty awesome stuff.
What else? Finding her real birth father is not as easy as she thought it would be. She does meet her former stepfather and his girlfriend, but is hurt and betrayed when she sees Hollywood's documentary. Who are her true friends? More importantly, if she's not the charm school beauty queen her mother wants her to be, just who is she? There are many life lessons to be learned for this determined, spunky, resourceful main character who eventually comes into her own -- Kool-Aid dyed hair and all. It promises to be a great read! Now, in honor of Lisa, put on your sunglasses, grab a taco, and slurp some souperstar soup. Oh, and have your peeple call my peeple.
Today's Special: Glitterati Gumbo (guaranteed to induce delicious fantasies of Brad and Colin, maybe). Absolutely Maybe may be purchased through IndieBound or your favorite online bookseller. What are you waiting for?
Ignore the fact that SCBWI Miami took place in January--I've finally downloaded/uploaded my pictures, and I want to post them. (Click to make them larger.) I was not only an attendee, but I also appeared as a speaker on the First Books Panel, along with Marjetta Geerling and Debbie Reed Fischer.
Linda Bernfeld, SCBWI Regional Advisor of Florida, (on the right) is ready to party down after months and months of planning! It paid off, Linda! From left to right, the other conference attendees are Lynne Hansen, Shannon Hitchcock, me, and Angelina Dunbar. Lynne writes YA horror and gave me great tips on how to drum up book signings. Shannon and I had some great conversations, and Angelina was my conference buddy.
I'm standing next to Marjetta Geerling, Alex Flinn and Mindy Weiss. Marjetta wrote Fancy White Trash and signed my copy with a fancy pink pen. She told me YA doesn't have to be depressing and she was right! I read her book, loved it, and saw positive themes throughout the novel even in the midst of serious subject matter. Alex Flinn is the author of many books and the recipient of many awards. Go Alex! Mindy is a Blueboard friend and it was nice to meet her in person.
The great Lisa Yee! What can I say? I loved Millicent Min! Don't let Lisa's small stature and cuteness fool you--she's sharp as a razor and really funny (very quick texter, too).
Gaby Triana worked behind the scenes for months to get the conference going. Not only is she the author of several award winning novels and a nice person to boot, she's hot, too!
Donna Gephart wrote As If Being 12 and 3/4 Wasn't Bad Enough, My Mother is Running for President! My daughter snagged this book from me when I got home and she loved it! Donna and I had exchanged a few emails before the conference, and I was eager to meet her. She is a warm and caring person, and I love her for that.
I had a blast hanging out with Debbie Reed Fischer. She introduced herself as a military brat like myself, and said we had much to talk about. The author of Braless in Wonderland and Swimming with Sharks, Debbie is quick, funny, and just as pretty as the models she writes about.
This is what it looks like when children's writers party! Kimberly Lynn constructed all the decorations, and she did a fantastic job!
If you've ever been to Red Lobster, I wrote the menu. Crispy Golden Fries? That's me.
Hey, a menu is a story: beginning, middle, and end.
Lisa said that she was working on a book, sure that the main character was 11. She morphed into being 12. And ultimately, telling the story that needed to be told, the character ended up being 17, and the book was a YA.
Arthur's advice to Lisa back then (and now):
Just write the story it needs to be.
In all the genres, the difficulty is letting go of the anxiety of what you percieve to be the rules of the form.
Lisa chimed in on that - she had a character who was a run-away, and her first instinct was that the character would swear a lot - the percieved rules of the form. But then she realized that her character DIDN'T swear a lot.
I want to write a story, and the best story I absolutely can. When she wrote "A Single Shard," she thought it would be an adult book.
When I write my novels, I don't know where it's going to be shelved when it's out.
And they shared so much more great advice and insight!
by Lisa Yee illustrations by Dan Santat Arthur A. Levine / Scholastic Books 2009 Bobby and Holly are friends and have been for some time, they just aren't friends in front of other kids. Because everyone knows that boys and girls cannot be friends, Bobby and Holly have tried to keep their private friendship separate from their school freinds, but things get complicated (and confusing for Bobby)
My rating: 4 of 5 stars This book may appeal to my fifth grade students for the mere fact that it is a story where the boys go up against the girls, which always seems to be popular. But the fact that Bobby, the main character, and his friends are only in the fourth grade may turn off some of my fifth grade students who seem to think they are so far away from fourth grade. (Even though they are not.) The story itself though is perfect for a third or fourth grade student.
How can books I loved as a child remain popular, when society changes so quickly? Nobody had cell phones or internet when I was in elementary school. So how can books written at that time still appeal to today’s kids? I believe the books that stand the test of time have unique characters readers can relate to, cheer for, and fall in love with, combined with situations that kids still have…like annoying siblings, school issues, fights with friends, and trying to see where you fit in our world.
I blogged about this on the Mixed-Up Files...of Middle-Grade Authors site today. I'd love to know why you think some middle-grade books remain popular for over thirty years, and which current books you believe will become timeless. Hop on over and see which book I believe will become timeless, and find out what amazing authors like Lauren Myracle, Wendy Mass, Bruce Hale, Laurie Friedman, and Lisa Yee think about timeless middle-grade books.
Don't forget to check out our second summer giveaway, where one lucky reader will win these three fabulous middle-grade books:
The Reinvention of Edison Thomas by Jacqueline Houtman (ARC) Mallory Goes Green by Laurie Friedman (hardcover) A Dog's Way Home by Bobbie Pyron (ARC)
Marissa and I recently attended the SCBWI Mid-Atlantic Regional Confernce and had the pleasure of hearing Lisa Yee give the keynote address. Lisa has long been a writer, with numerous food labels, menus, jingles and commercials under her belt. She became an author with the publication of MILLICANT MIN, GIRL GENIUS in 2003, quickly followed by five additional novels for young readers or young adults. She and her books have received the Publishers Weekly Flying Start Award, the Sid Fleischman Humor Award, an ALA Notable Book Award, a Junior Library Guild Selection and many, many more accolades. She admits she wanted to be an author since she first started reading. She just never gave herself permission to admit it aloud. Sound familiar?
Her speech was so funny, modest, and inspirational, I caught up with her by email after the conference to ask her additional questions. Here's what she said.
Q. How long did it take you to write your first novel and how many drafts did you do?
A. It took me over six years to write my first novel and I probably wrote twelve bijillion drafts. Maybe more. Actually, there were so many drafts that I lost count. I do know that I wrote three entirely different novels, but kept the main character each time. The final version ended up being MILLICENT MIN, GIRL GENIUS.
Q. What do you think made the difference in making it good enough to be published?
A. I was so stressed out about writing well, that I forgot how to write at all. Everything I did was so self-conscious. It wasn't until I approached the book as if I were writing email (where I don't think at all, I just write), that I found my voice and gained confidence.
Q. What’s the one piece of craft advice that changed how you approach a novel?
A. I think it was Stephen King, in ON WRITING, who said that you should approach dialogue like gossip. That is, something you want to overhear.
Q. What do writers starting out now need to know and remember as they start on the path toward publication?
A. I often hear writers say that their goal is to be a bestselling author. That's a lot of pressure to put on yourself. Your goal should be to write a good sentence, a good paragraph, a good page . . . and eventually a good book. It takes time, so remember, small steps.
Want to know more? You can catch up with Lisa Yee at her web site or via her blog.
Guess who came to the local-ish American Girl store the other day?
None other than Lisa Yee! She wrote the latest Girl of the Year Books about Kanani, a Hawaiian girl. She also wrote Millicent Min, Girl Genius, and the subsequent stories relating to it. Oh, and also, she’s awesome. Add to that a few kids who are both American Girl and Lisa Yee fans, and you have the ideal day trip!
Lisa is from California, so it was great to get to see her on our coast! Here she is with the Dubois girls. Amazingly, she is still smiling after having met with approximately five thousand (mostly) little girls, with another thousand still to follow.
Poking around in the American Girl store, we couldn’t help but notice that our pal Mary Beth’s new book was on the shelves there, too! Check out the Paper Shaper Forest Friends, a make-it-yourself book of adorable animals in MB’s signature style.
Yes, Millie thought you should see what the back of the book looks like, too!
I bought some stylin’ shoes while we were there, too.
Doll shoes. Unbearably cute saddle shoes!
They do not fit me. But so help me, I will find the ideal miniature feet for them to fit on.
It’s a shame we don’t have any cats anymore!
We found out that Lisa Yee was going to follow up her American Girl signing with a signing of her latest book at The Blue Bunny. I have been wanting to check out this store for quite a while, so it was the perfect excuse to head up to cute, old town center in Dedham Mass.
The Blue Bunny is the brainchild of author/illustrator Peter H. Reynolds. I have a lot of respect for his philosophies and work, so I expected that the store would be a great blend of toys, books, art, and fun. And it was!
Here we are with our friends the Sheas, who came up from CT for the signing.
Seriously, for me as a toy designer and a children’s book creator, it doesn’t get much better than this! The children and adults who were there that day seemed to agree- it’s a grand place to explore.
According to Lisa, ours was the very first copy of her new book, Warp Speed, to be signed. WooHoo! The book is about a Star Trek geek (there might be a couple… a few…OK, FIVE Star Trek fans in our house), so it was a must-have addition to our nearly complete Lisa Yee library. She’s such a great writer- and just the kind of role model that you want your kids looking up to.
I got to hold Peepy! She’s clearly a girl. And we both were rockin’ the stripes.
Lisa’s back in sunny California now, but we are glad to have seen her here on the East coast. We will certainly be back to The Blue Bunny- and if you live in these parts, check it out. You won’t be disappointed!
This story begins Emma Jean Lazarus opens a door. Literally, it's the door to the girls' bathroom at school, where she finds Colleen Pomerantz (a kind, sensitive girl and not one of the usual 7th grade criers) sobbing over a problem with a friend. Figuratively, it's the door we all open when we make the sometimes scary decision to reach out to another human being. This is a big deal for all of us, but especially for Emma Jean, who's one of those brilliant, wise-beyond-her-years kids who seems to watch everything from the sidelines. She reminds me a lot of Lisa Yee's Millicent Min, Girl Genius. Because Emma Jean is brilliant at math and logic, just like her father who died two years ago, she uses logic to find solutions to her classmates' problems, with results that are hilarious and heartwarming.
There's a lot to love about this book. If you're a writer, you should read it because it's a fantastic example of how to pull off changing points of view in third person narrative. If you spend any time in a middle school, you'll love it because the characters are so real. As a middle school English teacher, I recognized these kids. I've seen Emma Jean watching the other kids at lunch. I've comforted Colleen when one of her friends was mad at her. And I've seen them all in their specially picked outfits at that first middle school dance. Author Lauren Tarshis has nailed middle school to a tee; she even understands one of the great secrets of school hallways: that the custodians are the real heroes.
Emma Jean Lazarus goes out on a limb in this middle grade novel (and yes, she really does fall out of a tree). Her journey is one that manages to be funny and sad and uplifting and true, all at once. You'll love this book.