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Okay. So now we’re finally getting some interesting picture book biographies on a regular basis. When I was a kid you had your Helen Keller and your Abraham Lincoln and you were GRATEFUL! These days, people are interested in celebrating more than just the same ten people over and over again. Why this year alone I’ve seen some incredibly interesting picture book biographies of comparatively obscure figures. These include . . .
Ada Lovelace, Poet of Science: The First Computer Programmer by Diane Stanley, ill. Jessie Hartland
Ada’s Ideas: The Story of Ada Lovelace, the World’s First Computer Programmer by Fiona Robinson (Ada’s really hot this year)
Anything But Ordinary: The True Story of Adelaide Herman, Queen of Magic by Mara Rockliff, ill. Iacopo Bruno
Around America to Win the Vote: Two Suffragists, a Kitten, and 10,000 Miles by Mara Rockliff, ill. Hadley Hooper
Cloth Lullaby: The Woven Life of Louise Bourgeois by Amy Novesky, ill. Isabelle Arsenault
Esquivel! Space‐Age Sound Artist by Susan Wood, ill. Duncan Tonatiuh
Fancy Party Gowns: The Story of Ann Cole Lowe by Deborah Blumenthal, ill. Laura Freeman
I Dissent: Ruth Bader Ginsburg Makes Her Mark by Debbie Levy, ill. Elizabeth Baddeley
The Kid from Diamond Street: The Extraordinary Story of Baseball Legend Edith Houghton by Audrey Vernick, ill. Steven Salerno
Lift Your Light a Little Higher: The Story of Stephen Bishop: Slave‐Explorer by Heather Henson, ill. Bryan Collier
Radiant Child: The Story of Young Artist Jean‐Michel Basquiat by Javaka Steptoe
Solving the Puzzle Under the Sea: Marie Tharp Maps the Ocean Floor by Robert Burleigh, ill. Raul Colon
To the Stars! The First American Woman to Walk in Space by Carmella Van Vleet & Dr. Kathy Sullivan, ill. Nicole Wong
Whoosh! Lonnie Johnson’s Super‐Soaking Stream of Inventions by Chris Barton, ill. Don Tate
The William Hoy Story by Nancy Churnin, ill. Jez Tuya
And those are just the ones I’ve seen!
It’s encouraging. And then I wonder – do people need suggestions for more fun biographies? Because if they do have I got the woman for you!
First off, meet Kate Beaton. You may only know her from her two Scholastic books, last year’s The Princess and the Pony and this year’s King Baby. But Kate has been running an online comic site called Hark, A Vagrant! for years. There are many lovely things about the site, but I’m particularly fond of her brief biographical comics on obscure historical figures. She’s been doing them for years and once in a while I really do see one turned into a picture book (paging Ada Lovelace . . .). So in today’s goofy post I’m going to pull out some of Kate’s work in the hopes that maybe there’s an author or illustrator there who’d like to write a picture book biography about someone awesome and relatively unknown.
By the way, you can follow these links to read these comics in a clearer format, if you like. And I think you can even buy prints of them, if you want.
I legitimately had never heard of her. A badass Asian-American aviatrix heroine? Um… how is she NOT in a picture book bio? Because quite frankly we could use a huge uptick in our Asian-American women bios in general. Particularly if they involve air stunts.
Is it weird that there isn’t a really well-known Henson picture book biography out there? I guess his life wasn’t completely perfect (second family at the North Pole and all) but as African-American explorers go, he’s fantastic. As it happens, this was the first Hark, A Vagrant! comic I ever read. I was a fan for life afterwards.
Again, never heard of her. And as Kate put it regarding Nightingale, “She is no longer my favorite Crimean War nurse.” This is timely too since as of three days ago there was a report in The Guardian over the huge furor over a statue honoring Seacole’s achievements. Read it, when you get a chance. Then write a bio of Seacole.
A huge thank you to everyone who participated in our big ROCK THE VAULT giveaway and to all those who shared the #myfavoritethesaurus pictures. I think we made thesauruses everywhere officially COOL. And also an enormous thank you to all the wonderful people who helped out with our launch, especially the Thesaurus Club (our street team). We are so blessed to have so many wonderful people support us. If you want to find some of these folks and their blogs, check them out here.
While we didn’t get to the 500 pictures shared that would unlock all prizes in the vault, we did see about 300 of them online, and so Angela and I, being the softies we are, unlocked most of the prizes. Winners have been drawn and are being notified. Once we have acceptance from these lovely people, Angela will post the list.
And for those of you who happened to buy our new books this week, thank you for welcoming our youngest offspring into the world! We hope that you have many light bulb moments when it comes to description and maximizing your settings.
They grow up so fast. *sniff sniff*
While Rock the Vault was a blast, Angela and I would be lying if we said we weren’t looking forward to getting back to a more normal routine. And today, that means me posting at the unbelievably awesome Kristen Lamb’s blog.
If you’re not familiar with Kristen, rectify that posthaste by following her on every conceivable social media platform. She’s one of the most prolific and knowledgeable bloggers out there as well as being an expert on all things networking and branding. If you’ve got a few minutes, drop in and see how Symbolism and the Setting Make a Perfect Marriage.
Deep in the grubby sump of one of those so-called ‘Social Media’ sites, there is a clump of aging comics fanboys called The Really Very Serious Alan Moore Scholars’ Group, known to its sad and lonely adherents as TRVSAMSG. When they’re not annotating everything in sight, or calling down ancient evils on the heads of […]
I don’t know what it is about Mary Poppins, but drawing her sure cheers me up. I guess it’s just like they say in the song–“When the day is grey and ordinary…Mary makes the sun shine bright!” I hope this picture makes your sun shine bright today :)
Would YOU like to have a print of this stretching portrait?
My friends, you are in luck, because I’m giving away two prints of it!!
There are two ways to enter–First, you can comment on this post with the word, “WANT!” And you’ll be entered into a random drawing ^_^ Or, you can also enter by entering your email into that sidebar “Stalk Me More” box, and be randomly drawn from that list! —->
(Entering you email address there just means you’ll get story-monster blog posts to your inbox. I never used these addresses for evil, though many times I have wished to. Never fear; you are safe in my hands.)
If you both enter your email and comment “WANT!”, then you have double the chances of getting this tasty li’l print!
Winners will be announced when I post the next blog post next Monday ^_^
Imagine what could you accomplish with personalized coaching for 5 weeks. What you learn will change your whole writing career.
So join us in celebrating our love of words, and our love of writing. Share a picture you’ve taken of a thesaurus online (any thesaurus, not just one of ours). Use the #myfavoritethesaurus hashtag so we can track it.
Fickle little me. Titles appear. Titles disappear. Many of the books I placed on my Spring 2017 predictions list are gone by June, and what has changed? Aren’t the books as wonderful now as they were when I originally propped them up? Of course they are, but I’ve done enough book discussions in the intervening months that I feel as if I’ve a better grasp on what’s a contender. Not that my track record is by any means perfect. These are, as ever, just my professional opinion. And I may have gone a little crazy with the Caldecott predictions this time around . . .
Be sure to check out the 100 Scope Notes post on books that Goodreads readers think have a real shot too.
2017 Caldecott Predictions
Thunder Boy Jr. by Sherman Alexie, ill. Yuyi Morales
I read this one a long time ago and liked it just fine. Personally, it wasn’t hitting me in the same way as Yuyi’s previous two books had, but I certainly enjoyed the spirit and energy and sheer love coming off the pages. Then I talked about it with a bunch of other librarians and when we sat down and looked at those images, one after another, and discussed how one leads to another and how well Yuyi is able to convey familial affection with just the simplest of movements . . . well, I’m sold. In fact, I may have just been convinced that this is her best book yet.
Du Iz Tak? by Carson Ellis
Unlike many of my honored colleagues, I’m pretty darn neutral on Ellis. As a person she’s sweet as peaches on the vine but her art has never left me feeling warm and snuggly. Now those of you who know me know that I’ve a weakness for weirdness. Dark horse medal contenders are my favorites. All the more reason that I should incline towards this strange, silly, downright odd little tale of bugs speaking their own (very comprehensible) language and the flower that inspires them. I’ve read this book many times to my own kids and I can honestly say that it’s a perfect combination of luscious, lovely, occasionally terrifying art and kid-friendly storylines.
This House Once by Deborah Freedman
Dude, I was into Freedman when Scribble came out. When I saw that book I remember thinking to myself, “This lady’s got something to her. By gum, she’s going places!” And yes. I do actually use phrases like “by gum” in my head. I’ve also been known to substitute it for “golly”, “gee willikers”, and “well slap my face and call me Bertha.” But I digress. I’m still parsing my thoughts on this book, which is both like every Freedman book you’ve ever seen and is vastly different from them all. Worth thinking about.
Miracle Man by John Hendrix
I mean, I put it to you. Can a Jesus book win a Caldecott in the 21st century? Considering that the 1938 Medal Winner, which is to say the very first Caldecott ever given out, went to Animals of the Bible, A Picture Book, I’d say there was a precedent. This is another wild card, and I don’t envy the Caldecott committee this discussion. It’s hard to not to be in awe of Hendrix’s typography alone.
Before Morning by Joyce Sidman, ill. Beth Krommes
Do you do that thing I do where if a person has won a Newbery or Caldecott Medal (not Honor) before then you sort of give them second billing when thinking about future award winners? I do that all the time, but when you see a book as gorgeous as this one you put all that aside. In this hot June month, something as lovely, cool, and refreshing as this snowbound wonder book is of infinite relief. Krommes outdoes herself here, and the emotional beats of the book thump strong. Is that a phrase? I’m keeping it in.
The Uncorker of Ocean Bottles by Michelle Cuevas, ill. Erin E. Stead
Mmm. Deceptively simple, this one. Like Krommes, Stead already has a nice and shiny Caldecott Medal under her belt. I had the pleasure of hearing Cuevas and Stead discussing this book during Day of Dialog at Book Expo this year. Here’s a fun game: Read the text without looking at the pictures. You might get an entirely different view of the proceedings. Stead’s mark is so strong and her images so beautiful that it may contribute heavily to the book’s potential win. We shall see.
Ideas Are All Around by Philip Stead
Mind you, he has another book out this year (Samson in the Snow) and it wouldn’t surprise me even a hundredth of a jot if he won the Caldecott for that instead. This is Mr. Stead’s hoity-er toity-er offering. Beautiful, no question. But a touch on the esoteric side.
Radiant Child: The Story of Young Artist Jean-Michel Basquiat by Javaka Steptoe
I have been waiting for this book for approximately five years. Little, Brown & Co. is sick to death of me asking, “This year? How ’bout this year? Is it coming out this year?” To see the art in person floors you. Steptoe painted entirely on found wood and the storytelling of Basquiat himself is sublime. This is one of my top picks, no question at all. You are in for such a treat when you read it!!!
The Storyteller by Evan Turk
GAH!! So good! So very very very very good. I’m not going to railroad you with reasons. Just read my review if you’re curious.
Jazz Day: The Making of a Famous Photograph by Roxane Orgill, ill. Francis Vallejo
Winner of the Boston Globe-Horn Book Award for Picture Books, as awarded by a clearly BRILLIANT committee *cough cough*. Vallejo is a first timer here, but you’d never know it from the art. As I’ve mentioned before, the book doesn’t slot into any categories very easily. Hopefully the committee will recognize the art for what it is – extraordinary and distinguished.
They All Saw a Cat by Brendan Wenzel
And, the winner. Done. Nothing more to see here, folks.
I’m sorry . . . you’ve not seen this one? Oh. Well, it’s quite simple. Wenzel has created the Caldecott winner for 2017. Don’t know what’s confusing about that. You’ll understand when you see it for yourself. I don’t want to call it self-explanatory. Let’s just say, it’s a bit of a given.
Freedom in Congo Square by Carol Boston Weatherford, ill. R. Gregory Christie
Like Yuyi’s book, it took me a little while to come around to this one. Christie’s art changes subtly from book to book. Here, he appears to be channeling the ghost of Jacob Lawrence. That’s a good thing. An amazing solution to rendering slavery and its horrors accurately but still in a way that’s friendly to kids on the younger end of the education scale. After you read this one, you just gotta dance.
2017 Newbery Predictions
My Newbery reads continue to lag vs. my Caldecott reads (picture books are just easier to read quickly!). Fortunately, I’ve been lucky in what’s crossed my plate. If the jury would be so good as to consider . . .
The Wild Robot by Peter Brown
A long shot, no question. Its potential relies entirely on the kinds of readers you’ll find on the Newbery committee this year. This book requires one to stretch their incredulity from time to time. If you can do so, the rewards are vast. Such a good bedtime book. It would be a joy to see this make the list.
Freedom Over Me: Eleven Slaves, Their Lives and Dreams Brought to Life by Ashley Bryan
I call this one Simon & Schuster’s Secret Weapon. But don’t take my word for it. Read this brief plot description for yourself: “Using original slave auction and plantation estate documents, Ashley Bryan offers a moving and powerful picture book that contrasts the monetary value of a slave with the priceless value of life experiences and dreams that a slave owner could never take away.” Only it’s even better than that. Bryan is doing something completely new here and the writing is perfect. Don’t count this one out. I think it has some real legs.
Raymie Nightingale by Kate DiCamillo
It’s good. Deeply sad (a theme in 2016) but an honest-to-goodness page turner. I reviewed it here but I’m still parsing it in my mind. There is a LOT to chew on in these scant little pages.
When Green Becomes Tomatoes by Julie Fogliano
Poor poetry. I’ll be your friend. This is a book where the poems start off sounding pretty rote (this is hardly the first poetry-for-every-season-of-the-year book in the world) but then you get sucked into Fogliano’s writing. I like the art just fine, but the text is the true star of the show. You may read my review here if you’re curious.
Full of Beans by Jennifer L. Holm
Here’s a fun quiz question for you: Has a prequel to a Newbery Honor ever won a Newbery itself? If this book continues Holm’s winning streak we may get our answer. Mind you, Holm has never won herself a Newbery Award proper. This wouldn’t be a bad book to do so. Just saying.
Pax by Sara Pennypacker
We had our Pax push and even a Pax backlash, so at this point I think we’re ahead of the game. Clearly this book has legs and a LOT of people discussing it. I think it continues to be one of the strongest contenders. A book that could only be tossed out on a technicality.
Samurai Rising: The Epic Life of Minamoto Yoshitsune by Pamela Turner, ill. Gareth Hinds
YES! What’s that line from The Princess Bride? “Fencing, fighting, torture, revenge, giants, monsters, chases, escapes, true love, miracles…” Not so many giants and monsters in this and the true love . . . well, you could make a case for it. Otherwise, I think we’re pretty close. Bloody but upbeat, that’s for sure. You can read my review of it here.
Wolf’s Hollow by Lauren Wolk
Originally written as an adult novel, this book was turned into one for kids with very little touches and tweaks. It’s not an easy read, but it’s a very strong one. I could see it going head to head with all the other major contenders. Better go out and read it when you get a chance. My review is here.
And that’s all she copiously wrote! What have I missed? Spill it. I know there’s a gap in there somewhere a mile wide.
We’re at the midpoint of our launch festivities and enough #myfavoritethesaurus pictures have been shared to unlock some more prizes. Have a look at what’s been added! Have you entered yet?
There’s still a ways to go, however, so please, keep showing off your #myfavoritethesaurus pictures online.
We’ve seen some real beauties, and I’ll post a few here. If you want to join in on the fun on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram, pop by this post.
allianne1965 @ instagram
Becca and I are in the Setting mindset, as you can well imagine, and it has been a crazy two weeks of posting about the setting, sharing new tools to help with setting, and of course, celebrating the setting.
So here are some links you may or may not know about.
Beth Overmyer @ twitter
First of all, we’ve uploaded 4 new tools to the Tools For Writers Page. These Setting tools are straight from our books so that you can download and print blanks if you like.
We have a Emotional Value Tool, a Setting Planner Tool, a Setting Checklist (you want this, trust me), and a Setting Exercise sheet.
Just scoot over to our tools page–they are all listed at the top, so very easy to find.
Knyghtshadeart @ instagram
Second, we have a bit of a treasure hunt here at Writers Helping Writers. There are 4 Hidden Settings taken straight from our Urban and Rural books that you need the direct URL to reach.
(Bookmark the podcast with Becca–you don’t want to miss it!)
COME HANG OUT WITH ANGELA?
And one last thing–if you’re trying to plan a online book event and feeling a bit anxious, or just struggling with marketing in general, I will be doing a Q & A session with Jennie Nash of Author Accelerator that looks at our latest setting book launch from the inside.
This is free to attend, no sales pitches, nothing to sell. Just me answering your marketing questions, and trying to help anyone who needs it.
I’ve done several successful online events that have have high engagement, so if I can offer insight on planning & running one, I’d like to help. (Believe it or not, I actually like marketing!)
The webinar is June 24th at 12PM EST. And if you can’t make it, there will be a recording for people who sign up, which you can do here.
It should be fun, so I hope you’ll come hang out with Jennie and me. A big thank you to Author Accelerator for hosting this webinar.
Guys, I have to say thanks! We’re just a few days into our launch and your response to these books has been staggering. Becca and I are both so pleased you’re happy with our newest family members.
Thank you for the reviews, the tweets, the recommendations to friends, and oh my, the #myfavoritethesaurus pictures! I am LOVING the pictures you’re taking. Please keep doing it—so much fun!
Can I confess something? This was a very nervous release for me. And while every author will tell you nerves never go away, you’d think that ol’ Angela would be a bit more chill seeing as this is her 4th and 5th rodeo. But no, not at all. Poor Becca’s been babysitting a total worrywart for the last few weeks (sorry, Becca!)
Up until now, I thought I was a bit freaked out because we’ve had a lot of challenges.
First, someone had this silly idea of doing two books at once again (sigh, me). Double the work at publishing time (nice one, Angela). Second, halfway through writing these books, Becca and I detoured to create One Stop For Writers. And while we are both so thrilled with our unique online library, it meant a year-long break from the Setting Thesaurus. Finding our footing took time.
Finally we had, well, some outsourced production issues that created delays and caused errors. And, Becca and I hadn’t left ourselves enough buffer time to account for this. So everything really was down to the wire.
So yes, all these things have been swimming in Angela’s Dark Matter, adding to the anxiety, but it was only tonight as I sat down with my print copies (which only arrived today), that I realized WHAT was causing my nerves.
It wasn’t the rushing or stressing that we’d missed a typo or two.
It wasn’t flutters over trying to live up to our other books.
It was that I cared so much about getting this right.
Betsey J’s #myfavoritethesaurus
Setting is often overlooked, passed over in favor of the characters and the plot. For many, setting is just sort of “there.”
We all know learning how to describe the setting so readers feel part of the world is a skill we need. But, here’s the truth: achieving this isn’t enough.Not if we want to transform the story and elevate the characters into complex, rich beings. People who could be real. Who readers could imagine meeting, talking with, and caring about. Maybe even falling for.
Setting is not a backdrop. It isn’t just a jumble of sights and sounds and smells and tastes and textures. It is so much more.
…create conflict or tension
…foreshadow a coming event
…encourage the character to make an emotion-driven action or choice
…remind the character of their past, good or bad
…poke at old wounds
…challenge the character to face his fears
…recreate a wounding event so the character can navigate it successfully and let go of past pain
…deliver important backstory actively
…characterize the story’s cast
…display symbolism or motifs which reinforce a deeper message
…convey a specific mood
…steer the plot
…test the character through obstacles and setbacks
…give the setting an emotional value and deploy emotional triggers
(Oh, and of course, that other big thing…provide descriptive opportunities to make the reader feel part of the story.)
In writing these books, Becca and I had our eyes opened to the raw power of the setting.
We realized how picking one for a scene must be a deliberate choice as it can directly influence how events unfold and who our characters become.
We became determined to peel back the curtain in hopes of helping others see what we were seeing: that the setting isn’t simply a piece of the fiction puzzle,it is the story garden where everything grows.
So tonight, as I looked through the two books, I grew calmer. I believe we did what we set out to do: nudge writers to think deeper about the setting, and how to use it to do more.
Because setting is all about “being” more.
ROCK THE VAULT UPDATE:
Thanks to the pictures your sharing online with the #myfavoritethesaurus hashtag, a new prize has been unlocked: the Hero’s 2 Journeys video series with Michael Hauge and Chris Vogler. But there are still so many prizes to be unlocked!
So let’s see some more of your #myfavoritethesaurus pictures. We’re still a long way from 500 pictures, which will unlock the entire vault!
To enter to win prizes from the vault, fill out thisFORM.
To read up on the prizes & who is eligible, goHERE.
To find out how to help unlock the prize vault, visit THIS POST.
Can’t wait to see your next #myfavoritethesaurus picture!
A couple weeks ago the June 6/13 edition of The New Yorker was the Fiction issue, and in it were essays by five authors, each subtitled “Childhood Reading.” As you might expect, they were ostensibly memories of books read by these authors when they were young. I approached each one with a bit of trepidation, though. Recently I’ve been noticing a tendency that is by no means new, but has only grabbed my attention since I became the Collection Development Manager of Evanston Public Library. It’s a tendency that may even explain why it is that so few adult authors are good at writing books for children.
Do you have the June 6/13 edition of The New Yorker on hand, by the way? Pick up a copy and follow along with me and let’s find out if anything catches your eye.
The first piece is called “The Book” by Hisham Matar. In it, the author recounts the stories he was read by the adults in his life. He mentions, “It never occurred to me then to question why there were hardly any books for children in the house; none that I can remember, anyway.”
In “Uninhabited” by Kevin Young the author describes how, as a child, he once read all of Robinson Crusoe in a weekend, and had enjoyed Gulliver’s Travelers earlier that year. Some mention is made later of his enjoyment of Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo which was “a brutal and gory account of the U.S. bombing of Japan during the Second World War, which I had stumbled across…”
“Surrendering” by Ocean Vuong discusses the moment when an encounter with an audiotape of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. led the author to write a poem so adept that he was accused of plagiarism.
It is not uncommon for authors of works for adults, when asked what they read as kids, to disassociate themselves entirely from the world of children’s literature. They will often call upon books that straddle the adult and child world, like Treasure Island or One Thousand and One Nights, as if it would be a dangerous thing to admit to having seen a Harriet the Spy or, heaven help you, a Choose Your Own Adventure book. Recounting how you had to stick your fingers in the pages to work your way back from terrible choices would actually make for a lovely little written piece, but that is not their way.
The New Yorker articles are hardly the only examples of this phenomenon, of course. Each Sunday I dutifully read the New York Times Book Review and take time to pore over the interviews in the “By the Book” section. And each time they’ll ask the interviewee what they read as kids. Here are some recent answers:
Nathan Philbrick: In elementary school I read every book about World War I and II that I could get my hands on: Ted Lawson’s “Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo,” Paul Brickhill’s “The Great Escape,” Robert Donovan’s “PT 109.” The one very notable exception was Mark Twain’s “Huckleberry Finn,” which I read in sixth or seventh grade. Huck’s voice seemed so real, and the scenes on the river were mesmerizing for a kid from Pittsburgh.
Siddhartha Mukherjee: Rail-thin, anxious, despondent, always hungry. I read like a madman: My mother, desperate to feed me material, started collecting old newspapers from the neighbor’s trash. The childhood books that I particularly recall are Agatha Christie and Sherlock Holmes — both of which I still love to read on vacation. And Salman’s “Midnight’s Children.”
Sebastian Junger: My father grew up in Europe and was relentlessly erudite. That translated into me reading a lot. I read “Moby-Dick.” I read “The Three Musketeers.” I read “Two Years Before the Mast.” And I read anything I could get my hands on about the American Indians and anthropology in general because — by age 12 or so — I’d decided that life in a Stone Age tribe was far more appealing than life in the suburbs, where I lived.
And so on and such.
There are always exceptions. Authors that haven’t been publishing very long often mention true children’s books without any shame at all. Tig Notaro, for example, was asked what she read as a kid, answered, without hesitation, that she loved Beverly Cleary and Amelia Bedelia. The Times asked, “What’s your favorite book to recommend to children?” Answer: ” “Ribsy,” by Beverly Cleary. I have read that book probably one billion times. It never disappoints. I still have it on my bookshelf at home.”
But there’s another factor that seems to be at play here. Looking through a lot of the answers, I noticed that women were more inclined to admit to real books for read kids than their male counterparts. Mary Roach loved Misty of Chincoteague, after all. In the issue of the New Yorker I mentioned earlier, Tessa Hadley waxed eloquent about The Secret Garden while Rivka Galchen should win an award for being the most-up-to-date on her references, thanks to her own children. In “Where Is Luckily” she mentions Moomins, Elephant & Piggie (“in which the protagonist deliberates extensively about the ethical and gustatory implications of sharing…”), Cat in the Hat, The Snowy Day, and the Cozy Classics board book version of Moby Dick.
Is it possible that men generally remember books they encountered much later in life than women, and that’s why you get so many references to Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo (which apparently everyone and their brother used to read)? I should note that women will often also eschew mentioning children’s books by name. For example, in her own interview with the Times, Louise Erdrich says she was an inveterate bookworm, but fails to mention a single book she encountered.
In the end, I just have to assume that saying you were the kind of kid who preferred Tom Brown’s Schooldays to, say, R.L. Stine is just the cool thing to do. Good readers read everything, and when they read everything it gives them fodder for their adult writing lives. Heck, if someone asked me what I read when I was a kid I could toss off some nonsense about how I once picked up Puck of Pook’s Hill and that Kipling was really saying something directly to me when first I read “The Bee Boy’s Song”. But honestly, it ain’t true. Wait Till Helen Comes by Mary Downing Hahn was far more influential in my life. Doesn’t sound good on paper, though.
I always get a little touchy when adult authors start speaking about children’s literature with an air of authority. For those of us who work with the craft every day, it can feel a bit like they think no one has come up with these ideas before. Nonetheless, sometimes you get some really insightful considerations. Two recent pieces pair very well together. The first is the aforementioned “At Home in the Past” by Tessa Hadley, where the author speaks at length about encountering The Secret Garden as an adult. Though she makes the not insignificant error of saying, “Who would dare to begin a children’s book now with this raw, spare first chapter…?” (it’s a great opening to the book, no question, I suspect we could work up a great list of contemporary books to rival it if called upon to do so), the bulk of the piece is a contemplative consideration of how a good book for kids can continue to enthrall even the most skeptic adult. She ends it so beautifully too. “…I’m not sorry that I grew up on this rich ruitcake diet of feeling and moralizing. There are worse things. This is one of the miracles that fiction works: you can be a doubter and a believer in the same moment, in the same sentence.”
Compare that to Francine Prose’s piece at the back of the New York Book Review section of the Times this past Sunday. When asked “Is It Harder To Be Transported By a Book As You Get Older?” she offers a lovely piece on how “for many children, the line between reality and the imagination is thinner and more porous than it is for most adults.” She recalls her own history with E. Nesbit, Edward Eager, The Borrowers, and Mary Poppins, eventually coming to the conclusion that while an adult may take a “dip” in a book, children are capable of taking a “soak”. She shares the page with Benjamin Moser who mentions children’s books off-handedly, preferring to discuss Les Miserables, The Count of Monte Cristo, and War and Peace.
Perhaps the authors in these interviews are invariable older. When I was a kid the distractions to lure us away from reading were restricted to the television. Now kids have a lot more devices to play with. Combine that with the incredibly healthy children’s book market, and if I were a betting woman I’d say that in twenty or thirty years you’ll see answers about what people read that mention a lot more actual children’s literature. Until then, let’s load those kids out there down with some great books. Moby Dick can wait.
At long last, The Setting Thesaurus is here. Split into two volumes, Urban and Rural, these books are the result of several years’ worth of traveling, documenting, and researching.
What is a Setting Thesaurus, you ask?
Well, imagine having access to the sights, smells, tastes, textures, and sounds your character may experience in 225 different contemporary settings. And that’s just to start.
Not only can you use this sensory detail to create a rich world that will draw readers in, these books can also show you how to choose the right location for each scene so that the setting creates conflict, steers the plot, evokes mood and emotion, provides challenges, and opens a window into the deepest parts of your character, revealing who they are, what they believe, and what motivates their every action.
Roget’s, The Thinker’s Thesaurus, The Emotion Thesaurus, The Dialogue Thesaurus…they help us grow as writers, strengthening our vocabulary and knowledge of writing craft. And whichever thesaurus you cherish most, we want to hear all about it.
Here’s a little nerdy secret about Becca and I: we have a Thesaurus Club. I don’t want to brag, butit’s pretty swell, complete with a secret entrance, underground library and prize vault.
Yes, a prize vault. And it’s packed with stuff, goodies we’d really like to pass on to you.
So, we’re providing a challenge to fellow thesaurus enthusiasts:
Post a picture of your favorite thesaurus on twitter, facebook or instagram and add the hashtag #myfavoritethesaurus
The more pictures and hashtags we see, the more prizes will be “unlocked” from the vault!
If 500 original pictures using the #myfavoritethesaurus hashtag are shared, we’ll bust open the vault. ALL prizeswill be unlocked and drawn at the end of the week. If we don’t reach 500, whichever prizes are unlocked at the end of the event will be in the draw.
(I don’t want anyone to freak out, but there’s around $800 worth of writerly goodness going on here. That, my friends, is a lot of awesome.)
The question is, are you up to the task? Can you unlock all these amazing prizes?
Check out #myfavoritethesaurus! Do you have a favorite one too? http://writershelpingwriters.net/
It’s easy! Grab a copy of your favorite thesaurus, print or digital. Snap a picture, like this one, and share it.
Throughout the week, Becca and I will be counting pictures using the #myfavoritethesaurus hashtag.
The more original pictures that are shared, the more prizes we will unlock. It’s that simple!
And as you can see, there are already some terrific prizes unlocked and ready to be won. As we count up to 500, we will unlock prizes along the way, and update the prize page.
How To Unlock Prizes In Our Vault
A trio of #myfavoritethesaurus! Come join the fun, and Rock The Vault! http://writershelpingwriters.net/
1) Take a picture of your favorite thesaurus book using your smartphone–digital or print. If you like, have fun with it by showing the book in a “setting” of your choosing!
2) Include the #myfavoritethesaurus hashtag when you share it
In late April–a month into the last quarter of our fiscal year–I was presenting at a statewide deans’ council on a major proposal (the short version: tightening up our “loose federation”) when the emails started arriving. In minutes, everything changed. Suddenly I was in the middle of Fiscalpocalypse 2016, a crisis the diameter of Jupiter.
For the next five weeks, I lived and breathed the Fiscalpocalypse. Suddenly thrust by necessity into the role of chief fiscal analyst, I began running report after report (not without a lot of coaching and encouragement from other financial analysts), pushing hard to find the real answers to basic questions: how much do we have, what are our obligations, what do we need to keep or cut, and what contractual obligations am I able to commit to.
It’s what I did at 4 a.m., 9 p.m., weekends, holidays, every spare moment. I had a lot of spare moments because the stress of this situation bore down on me like the atmospheric pressure on Venus. Sleep was scarce and troubled. Reading anything unrelated to the issue was impossible; staring at pages, all I saw were numbers. Even half-hour walks or visits to the YMCA found me absentmindedly going through the motions while my brain churned ceaselessly, yammering through multiple scenarios, combing through formulae for clues. The clues were important, because I needed to know how we got to Fiscalpocalypse 2016 so I would understand how to get us out of it.
It was not entirely unanticipated. Once you start asking, “Do we need an audit?” you already know the answer. And the system worked, because there was a “catch” from above that resulted in those emails and in my temporarily expanding my portfolio to include budget analyst. But actual situations have jagged edges missing from anticipation of the same, and those edges hurt.
Nevertheless, there came a Sunday afternoon when I felt profound relief washing over me, releasing the muscles in my back and neck until I felt myself uncurl and sit fully upright for the first time since the crisis began. I went for a walk, and was able to listen to a podcast and enjoy the flowers. I had dinner, and tasted the food. I slept the night through. I woke up and felt, to use that great expression, like my old self. I greeted old self warmly. She was missed.
It wasn’t that the situation was better. It was rather grim. It was that finally, I knew exactly what was going on. And note, I didn’t “feel” or “believe” I knew what was going on; I knew it. Because the thing about numbers is that most of the time, if you have confidence, experience, and are handy with basic arithmetic, as long as your data are credible, you can manage a budget for any institution smaller than say, the Air Force.
Most of us can do arithmetic; the confidence will come with experience. What has struck me repeatedly across my twenty-plus years in libraries is the dearth of experience: too many library professionals go much too long in their careers before they participate in managing budgets. By budgets, I don’t mean a small chunk of money set aside for spending on books, not that this isn’t a good place to start. I mean the whole solar system: salaries, materials, operations. Even in private institutions where most regular salaries are kept confidential, two out of three of those planets should be available to up and coming professionals.
It’s good practice to have other eyes on your numbers (which I do), but I will be frank and say that across the years, particularly at jobs in smaller institutions, it’s been up to me to pretty much manage the beans on my own. I was accountable for each bean and it was assumed I would “make book,” and without really thinking about it, I did that (I guess because I had to do that in the Air Force, and I didn’t think about it much there either).
And what I know about numbers is they are impervious to emotion. I can cry my eyes out, and the numbers don’t get bigger or smaller. I can fume and rant, and they stay just as they are. I can wander the halls with a tragic face, and when I come back, the numbers are exactly as I left them. It’s something I like about numbers, at least the sort of numbers we deal with in library budgets: in this crazy malleable fungible mutable world, numbers just ARE.
(Now, this rule applies internally. It does not apply to outside forces who may indeed may have multiple interpretations of fiscal policies that have significant impact on allocations and so on. I’m referring to the paper sack of money a library administrator sits on and manages.)
Here is a pattern from my career: I arrive at an institution, I get hands-on with a budget (either a big chunk assigned to me, or the whole thing), and I unearth the bugs. It could be approval plans someone forgot about, mindlessly siphoning money every year though nobody needs those resources any more. (For a long while, I could count on finding forgotten microfilm subscriptions.) It could be a personnel line or another item from another department erroneously appearing in my ledger. These things really happened at different institutions, and they weren’t a big deal. In each case I found myself earning the respect of the financial folks because they saw I wasn’t queasy about budgets and I wasn’t afraid to dig in and do the work.
But for a lot of library people, for a major portion of their career, the bulk of the budget is a distant drumbeat. There is enough money or not enough or suddenly some left over, and that’s what they know. Nor are they pushed, or push themselves, to learn the basic skills they need to manage money. I consider my Excel skills modest, but I have seen library professionals in fairly important positions unable to do basic tasks such as filtering, subtotaling, and linking formulas. Far too many times I have looked at a spreadsheet where X+ Y is a hand-keyed sum that does not equal the sum of X + Y, or where a number sits without explanation: what is it, and where did it come from? Some of the scariest documents I have ever seen in my career were annual fiscal forecasts, purportedly ledger-based, created in Microsoft. Effing. Word.
And let’s not discuss how many library organizations have been stricken with accounting fraud that happened because one person in an organization had exclusive control of the money and the executive just didn’t “do math.” When “Father Knows Best,” watch out.
People, these are LIBRARY BUDGETS. I remember someone telling me our budget was complex and I said no, the federal budget is complex, we don’t have enough money to be complex. Library budgets don’t require understanding credit default swaps or synthetic CDOs. Even if you have more than one fund (and we do) and even if those funds can change from year to year (and that’s true as well), and of course everything goes up in cost all the time: in the end, to quote a Wendy’s commercial that was a mantra of logistics management during my time in the Air Force, parts is parts.
A lot of fiscal literacy boils down to being willing to look at the numbers logically and head-on. Not emotionally, not with “oh but I don’t do math,” not with a pernicious disinterest in the source of life (and that’s what money is to a library), but just pulling out those skills that got you through fourth grade.
Once upon a time long ago, in a galaxy far away, I spent two days in a conversation that went like the following. Assume the usual facts about FTEs (full time equivalents); there are no tricks or hidden exceptions in this example, and let me give you this crucial factoid: the number this is based on is $144,000.
Person A: How many student worker FTE did we have last year?
Person B: 2.6.
Me: No way.
Person B: 2.6.
Person A. I don’t really know anything about this.
Me: Arrgh! There’s no way! (Opens calculator, just in case fourth-grade math skills had vanished) How could student workers make this much?
Person B: It’s annualized.
(Note use of jargon to try to deflect inquiry. Of course FTE is based on an annual calculation, but it’s not “annualized,” though I do consider student workers a good investment, in the more general sense.)
For the next two days, I kept saying “no way,” because anyone with basic math sense knows that student workers don’t earn that much; even if you don’t know the rate of pay, you know, from a quick scribble on that scratchpad you keep in the front of your skull right above your eyeballs, that 144,000 divided by 2.6 would result in a salary of ca. $55,000 a year. That’s before you factor in more insider baseball knowledge, such as the size of the library and student headcount so on. It’s like when grocery store eggs shot up in price last year and I thought holy moley, a dollar-plus an egg? I didn’t need to pull out a calculator to know something strange had happened to the price of eggs. In the end, I was tolerated, not believed, by Person B. I hope Person A has since nurtured at least a soupcon of mathematical curiosity.
But anyway, back to the present tense. Fiscalpocalypse 2016 isn’t over, but it’s under control. At MPOW, the plane is no longer flying into the side of the mountain; it now has excellent airspeed and heading, and my hand is firmly on the throttle. It’s a smaller plane, but I know what it is made of, from its nose cone to its flamethrowers to its empennage, and I will trade in a large, bloblike uncertainty hurtling who knows where for a trim but crisp certainty with a functioning GPS any day. I’m where I need to be in relation to knowing our finances, not just for the moment but the future, and I make sure key people know the deets, too. This is how I run things now, as I have elsewhere. Yes, we will be hiring a budget analyst, and I look forward to firing myself from my role as CFO (though not from my responsibility to know what is going on). But if there is one good thing to come out of this, it is the opportunity for me to dig deep into the financials and get to truly know the source of life for all we do. War is not peace, numbers do not cry or pout, and blessedly, parts is parts.
Somewhere deep in the bowels of the Internet, unbeknownst to all but the initiated, there’s an organisation that calls itself the Really Very Serious Alan Moore Scholars’ Group. Occasionally they get to actually communicate with the object of their adoration, The Great Moore himself. The most recent manifestation was in December 2015, when The Master […]
New York Public Library, Brooklyn Public Library, and the Queens Library system are all magnificent institutions, each with their own tips, tricks, and innovative programs. That said, you cannot get away from the fact that in the end they’re just a collection of branches in a gigantic system. And like many such branches they are unable to partake of the innovations currently sweeping libraries nationwide. I tell you this because since moving to the Midwest I have seen libraries, such libraries, as would make my NYC friends green with envy. Ideas that I didn’t know about. Technologies hitherto unknown. And, like any good little librarian, I want to share all this with you. Because, quite frankly, there’s some killer, crazy, wacky good stuff going on out there and you should be aware of it.
Here then is a smattering of cool things I’ve personally witnessed in libraries in the last year. Very few of these are all that new. I just hadn’t heard about them or seen them in action till now. Those of you in big systems might be in the same boat.
We all know about self-check-OUT machines in libraries already. But in a couple places where staffing was tight and room was ah-plenty I have seen self-check-IN machines as well. I couldn’t find a good online picture of them for this post, so simply imagine that there’s a little hole in the wall. You put your book or DVD on a small conveyor belt, located in said hole. It then automatically checks your item in. Easy peasy.
Redbox-like DVD Dispensers
Every library deals with theft on some level. Sometimes it’s innocuous. Sometimes it’s pervasive. DVDs tend to be the easiest targets too. Sure, you can get all the self-locking cases in the world, but it’s not going to do you a lick of good if someone just takes the dang thing into a bathroom, pries it open with a swiss army knife, and pockets the present inside. My library has talked about just putting out the cases and having the DVDs behind the circulation desk when people check out, but the increased amount of time this would add to the clerks’ already existing jobs is just crazy.
That’s where media boxes / DVD jukeboxes / dispensing machines come in to play. 2,880 disks are available through the one seen here:
That’s one solution anyway.
One of the great complaints surrounding ebooks is that you can’t really browse them the same way you can print books. That’s true, but there are some solutions at hand. The 3M Cloud Library’s Discovery Terminal, for example, allows patrons to scroll through books and download them right then and there to their devices.
A lot of libraries have media centers. They’re nice. You can get computer classes and learn how to use 3D printers. Simpe, right? But when I was in Studio 801 at the Wauconda Public Library, I was shown a world entirely unlike any I’d encountered in a library before. As they say on their site, “The purpose of Studio 801 is to provide library patrons state-of-the-art equipment and software designed to help complete various digital projects, including school, work, and personal projects. Studio 801 offers the space, hardware, and software for library patrons to get creative with graphic design, video, music, photography, digitization, and much more!”
But that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Green screen rooms, recording studios, areas where you can transfer your VHS tapes to digital FOR FREE! Instruments you can rent for those aforementioned recording studios. A friggin’ APP BUILDER!! Oh, it’s a brave, new, wonderful world, my friends.
Piggybacking on those studios, imagine free spaces you can get from the library that are tricked out with the latest in white screens, Skype capabilities, drop down screens, etc. They exist.
Paper Airplane Launchers
Because who doesn’t love mechanical paper airplane launchers? I mean, really.
We are very excited about these books, and hope they’ll change how you think about setting and description. Sensory detail, a large part of each book, is an especially powerful way to draw readers into our story’s world, so we really need to get it right.
Are you up for a short trip, dear blog reader? I’d like to show you exactly what I mean.
There’s a place Becca and I go, somewhere special. And, well, we have something there that I think you’ll want to know more about.
You’re in? Great! Let’s head out now. The air is cooler with the sun tucking itself in for the night, and as shadows grow longer, there’s less chance we’ll be seen.
See that door at the edge of the old Abbey’s courtyard? That’s out ticket past the city walls unseen. Each year, the ivy strangles it a bit more, and few even know it’s here. As far as I know, Becca and I have the only keys. Heavy buggers too, these knobby pieces of iron. Always dragging at our pockets.
Damn, stuck. Help me give it a shove? Just watch the ivy. It’s slick with dew and if a piece happens to slither up against your neck, you’re apt to scream. And, well, clearly a hidden exit is only useful if it stays a secret.
Ah, that’s better. Out here, there’s lots of tree cover, and dusk is closing in. We should be safe from prying eyes.
I love the woods, don’t you? Each breath is fresh and sharp with the tang of pine. Odd though, how the mist is rolling in so quickly. I can almost feel it, like a wet glove sliding across my skin.
And not to start something, but does it seem..a bit too quiet? Even our shoes are barely scuffing the trail. I don’t know, maybe the fog swallows the sound or something. You’re not from around here and so probably don’t know, but a few years back, a couple came this way on a hike and simply…disappeared. All their gear–backpacks, climbing poles, water bottles–sitting in a pile on the trail. But them? Nothing. No trace.
I know, such a morbid thing to bring up. Still, let’s pick up the pace a bit?
Ahead, that tunnel at the end of those tracks? We’re headed in there.
Oh, the look on your face. Priceless. I wish you could see it!
Don’t worry, it’s barely a scrap of dark. No boogeymen, I promise. Besides, I brought my headlamp, see? Trust me, Becca and I have come this way dozens of times. It’s safe. One hundred percent. Would I lie to you?
So let’s go.
Okay, so I maybe I forgot to mention this part about a ladder. And, you know, going underground. But here’s the thing…if I’d told you about this shaft, you might have never agreed to come in the first place!
And really, you’ve come this far. What’s a tiny bit further? What’s waiting is worth it.
I’ll go first, so you can follow the light down. Hold onto the bars tightly because rust is settling in. If some of the metal flakes away and your hand slips…well, best we don’t think about that.
Ta-da, solid ground. Feels good, doesn’t it? You were a champ, truly. Nicely done.
And guess what? If you open your eyes, you’ll see we’re here.
This is it: the writing cave. Our very own Thesaurus Club. Pretty amazing, right? Lights. Electricity. High speed wi-fi. Becca and I pulled some strings to make this happen, let me tell you.
No one bothers us here–it’s terrific! We can really dig in get some serious writing done. When that fireplace is crackling and wood smoke is in the air, well, you’d love it. Home away from home.
Ah, you spotted our vault. Sharp eye, my friend, sharp eye. Manufactured steel, twelve inches thick, twenty bolts, and completely fire, flood, and apocalypse proof. It’s quite the door, no two ways about it.
Bet you’re wondering what’s in there, am I right?
Sure, I would be too, if I were in your shoes. I mean, that’s some serious hardware for a writing cave.
And…I would like to tell you. I would. But Becca, well, she’s a bit intense about this stuff. And what is behind this door is something we’re going to talk about on June 13, the official release date for our Setting Thesaurus books.
But I wanted you to see it today. I wanted you to know how to get here. So you can come back, on your own, in just a few days.
…Because you are going to want to come back.
…You are going to want to know what’s behind this door.
Mark your calendar. Set a reminder on your phone. Write the date in permanent ink on your palm.
And take this key, the one for the abbey door. Tuck it away. Don’t lose it, whatever you do.
Remember, what happens in the Thesaurus Club stays in the Thesaurus Club.
The next meeting is June 13th, and you’re invited. Don’t be late. You won’t want to miss it, not for the world.
This year’s Tony Awards will be broadcast on Sunday, June 12, 2016. We posted our first infographic and study on the Diversity Gap in the Tony Awards in 2013. In 2014, we did a brief follow-up post. In 2015-2016, there was such a pronounced uptick of diverse productions on Broadway that we felt it was worth updating our infographic and taking another look at diversity in the theater industry.
This year, Broadway megahit Hamilton—which almost exclusively stars actors of color—broke Tony records with a whopping 16 nominations. Add to that nominations for The Color Purple, Eclipsed, and Shuffle Along, and we’re in a year where conceivably all the main acting Tonys could go to people of color. But is this year’s diversity a sign of lasting change, or an anomaly? To find out, we touched base again with award-winning writer, actor, and director Christine Toy Johnson to get her take on the current state of diversity in theater. Welcome, Christine!
With the critical and commercial success of Hamilton, do you feel that this play will have a “rising tide lifts all boats” effect on theater and will result in more opportunities for diverse actors and actresses?
Of course that’s the great hope. The thought that has been repeated and repeated year after year—that audiences will not buy tickets to see a show in which the lead storytellers are not household names or who are people of color, or that audiences won’t buy tickets to see a show that is about people of a cultural background other than their own—is now irrelevant. Try to buy a ticket to Hamilton.
Still, I don’t think we’ve seen the end of our challenges, by a long shot. I think that we, as a nation, are at this profound crossroads of sorts. On one hand our society has become more inclusive than ever in our laws and policies. On the other hand, it has become more divisive than ever with fear based hate rhetoric making it clear that many view inclusion as a threat to the status quo, instead of an opportunity to expand and enrich the status quo. Even in the most subtle and subconscious ways, I think that this trickles down into every corner of our lives, including how we make art, how it’s perceived, and how it’s produced. I think we should celebrate this season with a cautious optimism, and use it as inspiration to keep working toward raising that tide and lifting those boats!
Here’s a link to a piece I wrote about Hamilton that expands on some of my thoughts on the show’s impact.
While years of vigilance and activism has been a contributing factor in more diverse casting, what has been your take on why so many productions in 2016 were diverse?
I think it’s been the perfect storm of programming and casting that happened to converge this season. From most reports, next season does not look nearly as diverse. So though I’d love to think this season is so diverse because the tide has changed for good, I think it’s diverse because the tide has turned for some creative teams and/or this is the year they’re getting their shot and we’re lucky enough to see the fruits of their labor right now.
Obviously, diverse decision makers are key to hiring and casting more diverse casts. Has there been an increase in diversity among directors, playwrights, and producers in theater? Are there new creators breaking into Broadway who we should be aware of?
It pains me that some people have assumed that the lack of diversity and inclusion on Broadway is due to the lack of directors, playwrights, and actors of color, or to the lack of female directors, playwrights, and actors. We exist! But the truth is, it has not been an even playing field. Of course this is multi-layered, as is every other issue we’re discussing here. Taking a chance on someone who hasn’t had an opportunity to have a big commercial success yet is of course full of great financial risk. But I think this becomes a vicious circle. How do you get the opportunity to have a commercial success if you aren’t allowed the opportunity in the first place?
I also think that on a deeper level we are running up against a problem of narrowed perceptions, which lead to what certain producers expect writers of color to be writing about. And if we don’t fit their expectation or profile for us then we’re just not part of their equation. And while there might be a half dozen (or more) shows per season that fail that are written by/directed by/starring all Caucasian teams, there is never an assumption that the reason they failed was because there was a Caucasian team behind it or a Caucasian story line. But if the numbers are poor for a show featuring a non-Caucasian cast/writer/director, many will be quick to make an assumption that these kinds of stories/writers/directors/actors just don’t sell tickets and aren’t worth the risk.
There are so many writers of color who deserve to break through in a bigger way than they already have: Timothy Huang, Adam Gwon, Nikkole Salter, Leah Nanako Winkler, Jason Ma, Lloyd Suh, to name just a few. As for Asian American producers, I know there are several who are doing great stuff on Broadway, especially Lily Fan and Jhett Tolentino.
Following Hollywood’s #Oscarssowhite controversy, do you know if there are any efforts underway to recruit more people of color to join the various organizations that are eligible to vote on Tony Award nominees? (Note: this year, according to our research, the Tony Awards Nominating Committee was 86% white and 70% male).
Tony voters are largely made up of the elected leaderships of various arms of the industry (i.e. Dramatist Guild, Actors’ Equity Association, SDC, etc., as well as many producers and presenters) and I do believe that there is an ongoing effort to diversify those memberships. But it goes beyond that, since we are talking about the Tony nominators and voters coming from within those ranks. In other words, yes, it’s great to increase the diversity of these memberships, but it’s not a simple solution to increasing the make up of Tony voters or Tony nominators.
More diverse casting and storylines will result in more diverse theater audiences. Seems to us this is an opportunity for the theater industry to grow. Do the powers that be really get it or is 2016 an anomaly when it comes to the spike in diverse productions?
We have been having this same discussion for more than a decade, citing the same philosophies and reasoning. I can only hope that the numbers this year help to reinforce the idea. Time will tell.
CHRISTINE TOY JOHNSON is an award-winning writer, actor, director, and advocate for inclusion. Member: Dramatists Guild Council, Actors’ Equity Association Council (and national chair of the union’s EEOC), Asian American Composers and Lyricists Project (founder), Executive Board of Alliance for Inclusion in the Arts, founding steering committee member of AAPAC. She is also an alumna of the BMI Workshop and a member of ASCAP, AEA, and SAG-AFTRA.
When you’re writing a character, it’s important to know why she is the way she is. Knowing her backstory is important to achieving this end, and one of the most impactful pieces of a character’s backstory is her emotional wound. This negative experience from the past is so intense that a character will go to great lengths to avoid experiencing that kind of pain and negative emotion again. As a result, certain behaviors, beliefs, and character traits will emerge.
Characters, like real people, are unique, and will respond to wounding events differently. The vast array of possible emotional wounds combined with each character’s personality gives you many options in terms of how your character will turn out. With the right amount of exploration, you should be able to come up with a character whose past appropriately affects her present, resulting in a realistic character that will ring true with readers. Understanding what wounds a protagonist bears will also help you plot out her arc, creating a compelling journey of change that will satisfy readers.
NOTE: We realize that sometimes a wound we profile may have personal meaning, stirring up the past for some of our readers. It is not our intent to create emotional turmoil. Please know that we research each wounding topic carefully to treat it with the utmost respect.
Patrik Nygren @ Creative Commons
Examples: Being undesirably and relentlessly pursued by someone. Stalkers are typically obsessed with their subjects, either out of a romantic interest or from the perception that the subjects have rejected or slighted them in some way:
a fan whose mail was unanswered
a student whose scholarship application was denied
an artist whose work failed to win a contest or received a poor review
someone with romantic interests whose advances were rejected
an employee overlooked for a promotion
a parent whose child was disrespected or rejected
an athlete/artist/performer who has been replaced by a more talented competitor
Basic Needs Often Compromised By This Wound: physiological needs, safety and security, long and belonging, self-actualization
False Beliefs That May Be Embraced As a Result of This Wound:
I have encouraged this person in some way.
If I hadn’t done X, then this wouldn’t be happening to me.
I’m a target—someone others identify as weak.
My judgment is flawed; I should have seen this person as a threat from the beginning.
I’ll never be free of this person.
I’ll never be safe again.
I’ve brought danger to my friends and family.
The authorities are powerless to help me.
If this person could do this to me, anyone could. I can’t trust anyone.
Positive Attributes That May Result: alert, appreciative, cautious, disciplined, discreet, empathetic, focused, independent, nurturing, observant, private, proactive, protective, resourceful, sensible
So, to keep the kids reading all summer long, LEE & LOW has put together a Diverse Summer 2016 Reading List for Grades PreK-8 and printables which you can freely download here or find listed below. Each list contains books that not only highlight different grade-appropriate interests, such as sports, music, sci-fi/fantasy, and the environment, but also explore diverse cultural backgrounds and traditions.
These lists are not only an excellent tool to help you include diverse books in your summer suggested reading lists, but a way to begin diversifying the books available to students in your classroom libraries. It is important to remember that diverse books are not only for diverse readers. Reading books featuring diverse characters and communities mirror experiences in their own lives, allowing children to see themselves reflected in the stories they love, but they also provide windows into other life experiences to understand and be more accepting of the world around them.
Finally, there are many great organizations compiling and creating Summer Reading Book Lists and offering free, exciting programs for the summer. Be sure to check out your local library as well as the following groups for additional summer reading tips, suggestions, and ideas:
Veronicahas a degree from Mount Saint Mary College and joined LEE & LOW in the fall of 2014. She has a background in education and holds a New York State childhood education (1-6) and students with disabilities (1-6) certification. When she’s not wandering around New York City, you can find her hiking with her dog Milo in her hometown in the Hudson Valley, NY.
Though we’ve been through this process twice already, it’s been almost 3 years since our last books were released, and it’s surprising how much has changed in that time. In some ways, we’ve had to start from scratch and re-educate ourselves about how the whole thing works. As we’ve looked into giveaways, marketing opportunities at Amazon, how to enhance author bios and profiles at various distributors, etc., we’ve discovered so many ways to maximize our marketing efforts. But we’ve also learned about some new things that we, as readers, can do to support our favorite authors. And because we’re all about helping authors, we wanted to share those with you.
1. Follow your favorite authors on Amazon. The majority of authors have an author page at Amazon containing a bio, information about their books, author-posted videos and blog posts, and more. All of that is readily viewable by clicking on the author’s name under the listing for one of his or her books.
But if you also follow that person on Amazon, you’ll receive an email notification when he or she releases a new book.
This is great for you, so you can stay up to date on new books that you’ll want to know about, but it’s also helpful for the author because it’s a way for them to get the word out about about their newest publications.
2. Follow your favorite authors at Goodreads. Following an author at Goodreads reaps the same benefits as following one at Amazon: you’re able to access personal information about that author, read posts imported from the author’s blog, see all the books written by the author, and be informed of new releases when they’re published. To follow an author, type his or her name in the Search bar, click on the name anywhere it appears in the results, then click the yellow Follow button under his or her picture.
If you want to receive notifications about new releases by your favorite authors, you just need to turn that option on. To do that, follow these steps:
Hover over your profile image on the top right of the screen.
Click Account Settings.
On the right-hand side of the page, click the little Edit My User Profile link.
Click on Emails.
Scroll down to the Newsletters and Other Mail section. Tick the box that says E
3. Add upcoming releases to your Goodreads To Read list. This one is potentially awesome because many authors choose to host a giveaway of their new books leading up to their publications. So let’s say Stephen King is releasing a new book. If you’ve followed him, when he adds his new release to Goodreads, you’ll receive a notification. You will, of course, rush to add his book to your To Read list. Then, let’s say the King decides to host a giveaway of that book. If you have the correct notification turned on, you’ll receive a message about that giveaway. This is a great opportunity for both readers and authors; readers will get a chance to win a free copy of one of their favorite author’s new books while giving that author an opportunity to tell fans about new releases.
To turn on that notification, just follow the directions in the second bullet point above. But in step 5, go to the Comments and Action Notifications section and turn on the option to receive notifications when someone Lists a Giveaway with a book I added as To-Read.
4. Ask for favorite books to be stocked at your library. Love affairs are born between readers and books at the local library. This is where I first encountered Robin McKinley, Shannon Hale, Garth Nix, and Anne McCaffrey, and I went on to buy most of their books. Visibility is difficult for today’s authors—especially for new authors, and libraries tend to stock books that are popular or highly marketed. So if you have a favorite author, get online and see if your local library carries a copy. If it doesn’t, swing by the reference desk the next time you’re there and ask the media specialist if they can order a copy.
5. Write Reviews. This one has been said so many times, but as a reader, I know how easy it is to forget to review a good book, so I think it bears repeating. With so many books on the market today, it’s hard for people to know which ones are worth buying. More and more, readers are turning to reviews to help them narrow the field. So when you write a heartfelt review at Amazon, Goodreads, your blog, or anywhere people are likely to see it, you lend credibility to that book and encourage people to take a chance on it. In a market where visibility is hard to come by, this is incredibly helpful for authors.
One thing that Angela and I love about the writing community is its eagerness to band together and support others. I hope these ideas help you help writers. If you have other ideas for how to support a favorite author, please add them in the comments section.
File this one under the category: Stuff Parents Notice But Don’t Discuss
You have a child. The child is quite young, let’s say two years of age. The child loves books about tools, ladders, and banjos (and you would be shocked just how many books for kids contain at east one of those three items). What the child loves most in this great big, wide, wonderful world, though, is construction equipment. Excavators and backhoes (don’t call them diggers). Cement mixers and forklifts. And so you, good dutiful parent that you are, go off and attempt to find as many construction equipment books as possible so as to feed this insatiable need.
Time passes. The child is very fond of the books you have chosen. So fond, in fact, that they’ve taken to having you read them over and over and over again in succession. And the adult brain, while capable of doing this, begins to realize that the information coming in is the exact same information that came in five and ten and fifteen minutes ago. So the brain begins to search for meanings in the books. Connections. Something, anything really, to keep it occupied. And that’s when you notice it. Right there. Clear as crystal.
The genders of various pieces of construction equipment.
Because, you see, you cannot check out endless books on crane trucks and steam rollers before you notice how these books choose to gender their anthropomorphized mechanicals.
Today, ladies and gentlemen, we pick apart precisely why one book or another chooses to make a wrecking ball a boy or a grader a girl. Bear with me here. I’ve read a LOT of these books. I need to do something with this information or I may burst.
But first, some history!
Go to your shelves and pick yourselves up a copy of Richard Scarry’s Best Word Book Ever. A staple of the toddler set, and a fixture on living room bookshelves since the year of its publication, 1963.
Now if you’ll take out your copy of Wild Things: Acts of Mischief in Children’s Literature and turn to page 69 you will find a remarkably well-written passage (*puffs self up*) regarding Mr. Scarry and gender in his books. It reads, “By the 1970s, author/illustrator Richard Scarry was the object of much feminist criticism for his repeated portrayal of female characters in passive domestic roles in his many picture books showing community workers. But Scarry eventually heeded the cries of sexism aimed at him.” He updated the characters in his book. Back in 2013 I wrote a piece called “Are there any girl bears?”: Gender and the 21st Century Picture Book featuring this fun bit of side-by-side comparison between the original Word Book and its revised edition:
Of course, once you know about the update, the changes are shockingly obvious. Scarry didn’t really bother to match the linework when he redid his art. Or maybe it’s just that the printing technology of the day made for a stark difference in the original and updated characters. Here are two good examples of what I mean:
As you can see, the original images are using these deeper watercolor shades while the new images are much lighter and simpler. I do, however, have to give the man credit for the taxi driver in pearls.
And you know what? I don’t care if the female characters do look Photoshopped in. I’m grateful, dammit, that there are some women doing labor above and beyond secretarial work. Scarry even occasionally put men in roles traditionally considered to be the women’s territory. Mr. Bunny makes breakfast for the family, for example.
Which brings us, naturally, to the present day. In the 1970s there was a big push for diverse books and titles with gender equal characters. Time passed and this pressing need became just a bit less pressing. So let’s take a group of construction equipment titles as an example and see how the ladies fare. After all, if Scarry updated this bear to look like this:
Note that he just put a bow on a bear in this particular case.
then how hard can it be for books today?
I’ll separate these books into two categories. The first are anthropomorphized vehicles. The second, construction workers. This is by no means a complete listing. It’s just what I’ve observed in my own life.
Gendered Construction Equipment
Digger, Dozer, Dumper by Hope Vestergaard, ill. David Slonim
MAN, I love this book. I recently got a copy for my son to see, having remembered it a little late. The edition I received from the library was sparkling and pristine. You know why? Because it’s shelved in the poetry section of the library and few folks think to look there for their construction books. Now I love the way Vestergaard never cheats on a rhyme, that’s true. But really and truly what I adore about the book is the variety of genders she grants her unusually animate objects. The skid-steer loader, excavator, ambulance, steamroller, and forklift all identify as female.
Slonim does give big long eyelashes to all the female vehicles, which seems a bit excessive. You don’t need eyelashes on a Skid-Steer Loader, after all. But as it happens, eyelashes are the preferred method of gender identification on trucks. You can see this as well in:
Go! Go! Go! Stop! by Charise Mericle Harper
In this book there’s only one female piece of equipment and it’s the dump truck.
Not quite as extensive as Vestergaard’s book, but it’s still good to have her there. Again, Harper goes in for eyelashes. Scarry used bows. It’s all relative.
Mighty Dads by Joan Holub, ill. James Dean
An interesting case. Dean doesn’t go in for eyelashes and Holub seemingly gives some of the little construction vehicles female names (“Mitzy” is one of them). It’s not 100% clear, but you can read into it what you like. I think it counts.
Goodnight Goodnight Construction Site by Sherry Duskey Rinker, ill. Tom Lichtenheld
Ah. Alas. My son adores this book. He recently got a stuffed version of the excavator for his birthday and he simply could not be more pleased. But while the pieces of equipment do have genders, they’re all male.
Bulldozer’s Big Day by Candace Fleming, ill. Eric Rohmann
All boy, all the time too.
Gender of Construction Workers
I’ll be the first to tell you that of all the construction workers who have been helping to build the duplex next door to my house, not one of them has been female. Still and all, there is a benefit to young readers seeing girls build in some way. So with that in mind . . .
Dig, Dogs, Dig: A Construction Tail by James Horvath (and subsequent sequels like Build, Dogs, Build and Work, Dogs, Work)
I’m writing this at a bit of a disadvantage. I’ve seeing Dig and Build but I haven’t seen Work quite yet. Still, on the basis of the first two books in the series, I have one comment: Roxie needs to do some real work. You see, in the book there’s this pink dog named Roxie who joins the apparently all-male crew on their digs (yes, she has eyelashes). The problem is that Roxie doesn’t have much to do. For example, on the back of Build, Dogs, Build you can see her welding:
But inside they changed it so that the dog doing the welding wasn’t her. All Roxie got to really do in this book was install a doorbell. Dig, Dogs, Dig wasn’t much better. There she just handed down hammers. I’ll be looking at Work, Dogs, Work soon. Hopefully they put that gal through her paces. She needs to earn her keep!
Construction by Sally Sutton
Very nicely done. It’s not overt but the construction workers do include female crew members.
Whose Trucks? by Toni Buzzeo, ill. Jim Datz
These board books are fantastic. Men and women work together everywhere. Also, the kids playing with the trucks at the end of the book are a boy and a girl. If you haven’t seen this, as well as its companion piece Whose Tools? then you are missing out, my friend.
Diggers Go by Steve Light
My son doesn’t have many words but one word he does have is “man”. “Man? Man?” he asks as he points to the construction equipment in this book. He’s not wrong. You might argue that since the faces are in silhouette there’s no way to really tell if the drivers are men or women, and you’d be right. Still and all they look like dudes. When Light puts women in these positions, they tend to have ponytails. The sole ding in what is otherwise a magnificent series.
When we sit down to brainstorm a character, we think about possible qualities, flaws, quirks, habits, likes and dislikes that they might have. Then to dig deeper, we assemble their backstory, plotting out who influenced them, what experiences shaped them (both good and bad) and which emotional wounds pulse beneath the surface. All of these things help us gain a clearer sense of who our characters are, what motivates them, and ultimately, how they will behave in the story.
But how often do we think about our protagonist’s morality? It’s easy to just make the assumption that he or she is “good” and leave it at that.
And, for the most part, the protagonist is good–that’s why he or she is the star of the show. The protagonist’s moral code dictates which positive traits are the most prominent (attributes like loyalty, kindness, tolerance, being honorable or honest, to name a few) and how these will in turn influence every action and decision.
In real life, most people want to believe they know right from wrong, and that when push comes to shove, they’ll make the correct (moral) choice. People are generally good, and unless you’re a sociopath, no one wants to go through life hurting people. Sometimes it can’t be avoided, but most try to add, not take away, from their interactions and relationships.
To feel fully fleshed, our characters should mimic real life, meaning they too have strong beliefs, and like us, think their moral code is unshakable. But while it might seem it, morality is not black and white. It exists in the mists of grey.
In the movie Prisoners, Hugh Jackman’s plays Keller, a law-abiding, respectful man and loving father. But when his daughter is abducted and police are ineffective at questioning the person he believes to be responsible, he is forced into a moral struggle.
Keller needs answers, but to obtain them, he must be willing to do things he never believed himself capable of. Finally, to gain his daughter’s freedom, he kidnaps the suspect and tortures him repeatedly.
In each session, Keller battles with his own humanity, but his belief that this man knows where his daughter is outweighs his disgust for what he must do. It is not only Keller’s actions that makes the movie compelling, it is the constant moral war within the grey that glues us to the screen.
Extreme circumstances can cause morals to shift. What would it take for your “moral” protagonist to make an immoral choice?
Is your character deeply honest? What might push her to lie about something important?
Is your character honorable? What would force him to act dishonorably?
Is your character kind? How could life break her so that she does something maliciously hurtful?
When your protagonist is forced to enter a grey area that causes them to question what is right and wrong…this is where compelling conflict blooms!
YOUR TURN: Have you built in situations that force the hero to evaluate his morality? If not, what can you do within the scope of your story to push him into the grey where he must wrestle with his beliefs? What event might send him to the edge of himself, of who he is, and possibly force him to step across the line dividing right and wrong?
Tools to help you understand your character better:
The Reverse Backstory Tool: Hit all the highlights on your hero’s backstory reel, including his Emotional Wound & The Lie He Believes About Himself
Summer Reading is imminent, librarians. We all have a ton on our plates and very little time to think about anything but programming, performers, reading logs, and summer fun.
Here are just a few books coming out in the next couple of months. Something to put on your radar when you get a minute, in between programs, when you’re trying to put together book orders. Your kids will like these, and you will, too.
Maria lives in the Bronx with her mom, who works two jobs to keep them afloat. Then her mom gets a job on a seaside estate on Martha’s Vineyard, and Maria’s life for the summer is radically different. Maria spends her summer juggling new friends, her Lebanese family, and an old map that she’s sure will lead to pirate treasure.
Mafi’s long-awaited first middle grade novel has been called “rich and lush” by Kirkus. Alice lives in a land of magic and color, and she has neither. But she’s determined to find her beloved Father in magical Furthermore anyway. She has only one companion: someone she’s not sure she can trust. Can she use her wits to find her dad?
The second in Gene Luen Yang’s graphic novel series about the mysteries and magic of coding, this one will basically fly off your shelves completely by itself. There’s something lurking in an underground classroom of Stately Academy: Hooper, Eni, and Josh are determined to find out what!
Jenni Holm’s latest novel is about Beans, a kid growing up during the Great Depression on Key West. Beans knows that grown-ups lie to him. But he doesn’t really let it bother him. He’s got plans of his own. Beans is the cousin of the titular Turtle in Holm’s Newbery Honor-Winning Turtle in Paradise and returning to her beautiful novels is always worth it.
Good luck with summer reading! These books will be waiting for you on the other side.
Ally Watkins (@aswatki1) is a library consultant at the Mississippi Library Commission.
I’m not an expert on frogs. In all likelihood neither are you. If you desire to remedy this ignorance, The Book of Frogs contains a significant amount of information about frogs. Two thumbs up.
I don’t think I’ve ever cared for anything the way Tim Halliday cares for frogs. By comparison, I am emotionally barren. I can barely handle a single romantic relationship. Batrachophilia is a much more work-intensive ardor.
The Book of Frogs details over 600 species of frogs, which, mind-bogglingly, comprises less than one-tenth of total frog species. Tim Halliday writes about each one as if it were his lover. Consider his description of the Atlantic Coast Leopard Frog, a “slim, athletic frog with…long, muscular legs,” which isn’t even one of the prettier frogs in the catalog. Halliday is an emotional cosmonaut, exploring the outermost reaches of human feeling. He has breached the extremities of passion. Should not we all hope to touch, if briefly, such fondness for the world and its creatures? . . . [another 300 or so words that are LOL funny and incisive, critical in the best sense of the term]
All in all, Halliday captures both the extraordinary and ordinary of frogs in the same breathless prose that you wrote in love notes to your eighth-grade crush. Couple that with six hundred beautifully composed pictures of sometimes beautiful animals, and you’ve got yourself one hell of a novelty book. In its several months as the centerpiece of my coffee table, The Book of Frogs has generated more conversation than any other item in my apartment. It’s an aesthetic pleasure as an art object, informative as a reference guide, and gives me hope that one day, just like Tim Halliday, I will learn to love.
With the Urban and Rural Setting Thesaurus books releasing in just two weeks (June 13th), pretty much all I can think about is the setting, ergo today’s topic. You guys have no idea how much Becca and I are loving all the tweets, emails, comments and posts from all of you about these upcoming books–thanks so much for your enthusiasm and support!
Okay, moving on…
With writers, there seems to be two camps: those who love writing setting description, and those…who…don’t. There isn’t always a lot of middle ground.
Becca is definitely in the former group. She’s freakishly good at world building. Each setting she writes feels like a living, breathing place, yet distilled to have clarity and purpose, so only the most important bits are shown without disrupting the pace or action.
For many, when it comes to describing the setting, the words don’t immediately flow. Some of us (cough-me-cough) tend to write on the leaner side of things, especially early on, and it is only in later drafts we put more “meat” on the setting “bone.”
Here’s the good news: regardless of whether you embrace setting description or not, one way to level up your writing is to think hard about each location you choose. The “where” of each scene is an important factor, and worth the extra time to plan. Here’s two big reasons why:
It Achieves Story and Character Depth
The right setting can greatly enhance our story, providing tests and challenges for our hero to overcome (the Black Gate in TheLord Of The Rings, or the Cornucopia in The Hunger Games), fortify the character, reminding them of their greatest assets (Hermione and the Hogwarts library come to mind) or allow the ghosts of the past to resurface and shape a character’s vulnerability (the sewers in Stephen King’s It.)
The location can even reinforce a character’s deepest longing (the Notre Dame stadium in Rudy), and act as a tangible reminder of a missing Human Need (The Incredibles’ Bob Parr, an unfulfilled insurance claims adjustor in his cramped office, who needs to be something more, something greater.)
Takeaway tip: When choosing a setting for the scene’s events, look at what is going to happen, and make a list of setting choices that can reveal something deeper about the characters involved. The setting should act as a symbol for one or more of the elements above, bringing forth deeper meaning and making characters and their desires matter more to readers.
It Offers Readers a New Experience
One of the big promises we make to readers is that we will take them on a journey that is somehow new and fresh. One way to achieve this is through setting choice. After all, do we really want to show them the same location they’ve read about a million times before? And while genre might influence the range of settings that one might expect to see, this shouldn’t hold a writer’s creativity hostage.
Take the typical party scene, a common sight in many contemporary Young Adult novels. This event doesn’t always have to be at the beach or in someone’s house while the parents are away. Why not have your teenagers sneak into a shutdown construction site or an empty warehouse that’s up for sale, instead? Add some beer, a few spray cans, and the unexpected appearance of a security guard with a stun gun, and you’ve got a unique setting primed for a storm of conflict, plus you’re offering readers something new to experience.
Takeaway Tip: If you start with the scene’s action, make a list of all the obvious places this exchange or event could take place. Then, branch out, thinking about locations that logically fit with your characters’ general location, but offer fresher setting options.
Make Something Familiar New
Now if you do find yourself using a familiar setting out of necessity, don’t worry. Just strive to make it unique through different factors. The time of day or night, the quality of light, the season, the weather, and the POV character’s emotional filter will all help you transform the location into something tailor made.
Not only do our two new Setting Thesaurus books have the sights, smells, tastes, sounds and textures of 225 locations to kick-start your imagination, you can find a list of both volumes’ settings at One Stop For Writers to mine for ideas, even if you are not a subscriber of the site.
Simply register (always free) and click on The Setting Thesaurus in the menu. If you are a subscriber, you can access all the entries in full, as the setting thesaurus books have already been uploaded to the One Stop site.
Do you think “outside the box” when it comes to setting? What are some of the more unusual locations you’ve chosen?
Here is what in truth is just a query masquerading as a legitimate blog post. I am never above misusing my power when I’m curious. And while I’m sure somebody somewhere has brought this up, I certainly can’t recall it being as big a topic as it could be.
The other day I was talking with some folks about ebooks and the state of electronic publishing for kids today. Now as you may or may not know, most library systems don’t have a lot of choices when it comes to purchasing e-materials. At New York Public Library we were a large system so we could afford to buy ebooks from Overdrive, 3M, as well as stuff like Freegal. Here at Evanston Public Library we just have Overdrive and Hoopla.
Now the thing about ebooks is that only a small selection of print materials come out in ebook form in any given season. A colleague of mine recently decided that it would be a good idea to buy a bunch of diverse ebooks for their collection, so they tried to find as many as they could that were available for purchase. The problem? For as few diverse children’s books as we see each and every year, we see even fewer diverse ebooks.
So I put it to you: Is this a problem that is already being discussed and addressed, or is this something we should make a concerted effort to rectify? Have studies been done on this already and I’m just late to the party? I honestly don’t know so I put it to you. If you have some knowledge to drop on me, drop it.