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<<August 2014>>
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26. SDCC 2014: The Eisners are getting a little more showbizzy

I’m sort of a little mixed on this. On the one hand we keep saying that the Eisner Awards should be funner and shorter and getting sponsorship money for the Eisners should be part of what it takes to get a big panel in Hall H.

And so according to the programming, this year’s Eisners will be sponsored by Showtime. Sadly Dexter isn’t around, because we might get to see Michael C Hall singing or kissing Jonathan Ross. OTOH, I hope that vaguely connected nerdlebrities don’t take as presenters ENTIRELY from from comics folks, because it is fun to see comics folks get dressed up for big awards!

Also, bigger party afterwards! Governor’s Ball! I wish I could crash that Grimes concert on the battleship, but I’ll settle for the Eisners, because comics is where it all began and where my heart remains.

Showtime Presents the Will Eisner Comic Industry Awards
Indigo Ballroom, Hilton San Diego Bayfront
UPDATED: Fri, Jul 11, 09:59AM
The 26th annual Eisner Awards (the “Oscars” of the comics industry) honor comics creators and works in 30 categories. Presenters will include British talk show host/comics writer Jonathan Ross, actor/screenwriter/comedian Thomas Lennon (Reno 911, Balls of Fury), actor/comedian Orlando Jones(Sleepy Hollow, The MAD Show), actor Jamie Bamber (Battlestar Galactica), nominee Reginald Hudlin (writer,Black Panther; producer, Django Unchained), Belgian graphic novelists Benoît Peeters and François Schuiten(Obscure Cities series), nominees Matt Fraction (Hawkeye, Sex Criminals) and Kelly DeConnick (Pretty Deadly, Captain Marvel), Hall of Fame cartoonist Sergio Aragonés (Groo, MAD), writer/artist Bill Morrison(Bongo Comics), writer/artist nominee Terry Moore (Rachel Rising, Strangers in Paradise) and voice actors Phil LaMarr (Samurai Jack, Justice League Unlimited, MADtv) and Vanessa Marshall (Young Justice, Spectacular Spider-Man), and David Herman (Office Space, Futurama), plus some special surprises! Other prestigious awards to be given out include the Russ Manning Promising Newcomer Award, the Bob Clampett Humanitarian Award, the Bill Finger Award for Excellence in Comics Writing, and the Will Eisner Spirit of Comics Retailer Award.

6 Comments on SDCC 2014: The Eisners are getting a little more showbizzy, last added: 7/14/2014
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27. Links I Shared on Twitter this Week: July 11

TwitterLinksHere are highlights from the links that I shared on Twitter this week @JensBookPage. Topics this week include authors, awards, book lists, diversity, growing bookworms, kidlitcon, blogging, ebooks, teaching, and summer reading.

Authors and Books

The Rise Of Young Adult Authors On The Celebrity 100 List by @natrobe @forbes http://ow.ly/yVSB6 via @PWKidsBookshelf

Nice tidbits about author James Marshall, “Wicked Angel”, on the Wild Things blog http://ow.ly/yXQ4M @SevenImp @FuseEight

Thank You, @NerdyBookClub says @StudioJJK on dedication of new anthology w/ @jenni @mattholm + others http://ow.ly/yVA3v

Read J.K. Rowling's new short story about grown-up Harry Potter + friends @today http://ow.ly/yVyWK via @bkshelvesofdoom

Ludwig Bemelmans’s Madeline Celebrates a Milestone (happy 75th!) @NYTimes http://ow.ly/yVSGt  via @PWKidsBookshelf

Author Interview: Five questions for @varianjohnson from @HornBook http://ow.ly/yYlDd 

Book Lists and Awards

2014 South Asia Book Award for Children's and Young Adult Literature via @MitaliPerkins http://ow.ly/yIP71

Loved Ed DeCaria's answer to What are the best poems for kids? on Quora. He recommends the #Cybils lists http://ow.ly/yVSnQ @edecaria

Get On Board: SLJ Selects A Bevy of Board Books | @sljournal #kidlit http://ow.ly/yVxfQ

Top Ten Schneider Award Favorites of the 2014 Schneider Award Jury by Peg Glisson @NerdyBookClub http://ow.ly/yS3cf #kidlit

A Top Ten List: Book that Heal by @MsLReads @NerdyBookClub http://ow.ly/yOoR3 #kidlit #yalit

Read Me a Bedtime Story, recommended bedtime books from @growingbbb http://ow.ly/yRWgb #kidlit

A Tuesday Ten: Diverse Stories in Speculative Fiction | Views From the Tesseract http://ow.ly/yN8qy #Diversity

UK Booktrust Best Book Awards announced, @tashrow has the list http://ow.ly/yKP72

3 family-tested read-aloud chapter books @SunlitPages | Mrs. Piggle Wiggle's Magic, Runaway Ralph, Ramona the Pest http://ow.ly/yKQvF

Great selections! 18 Picture Books Guaranteed To Make You Laugh Out Loud Or At Least Smile @Loveofxena @NerdyBookClub http://ow.ly/z0xjS 


How to Build a Bestseller with Non-White Characters | @chavelaque @sljournal on @varianjohnson + #diveristy http://ow.ly/yKNXn

Sure #WeNeedDiverseBooks but don’t forget #WeNeedMoreWalterDeanMyerses too, suggests @fuseeight http://ow.ly/yKRID

"diversity in fiction is about presenting the world through different viewpoints" Tanita Davis quotes @diversityinya http://ow.ly/yXRq9

Diversity Movement Gains Visibility at ALA Annual, wirtes Wendy Stephens | @sljournal #WeNeedDiverseBooks http://ow.ly/yVx2Z

Growing Bookworms

What do I get if I read this? A call against the use of external prizes in reading programs for kids from @HornBook http://ow.ly/yVxTr

Shanahan on #Literacy: Teaching My Daughters to Read: Part 2, Print Awareness (point at the words at least sometimes) http://ow.ly/yS0uv

How to Read Stories to a Very Active Child, tips from @Booksforchildrn http://ow.ly/yN8KO

Born Reading: An Interview with Jason Boog — @fuseeight http://ow.ly/z0y0Z  #GrowingBookworms #literacy

I liked this post on The #Literacy Benefits of Family Dinners @growingbbb | Some excellent points http://ow.ly/z0wQm 


KidlitCon2014_cube#KidLitCon14 in Sacramento, California, why @semicolonblog wants to hitch a ride i your suitcase to go http://ow.ly/yN8uT

#KidLitCon14 Update: Call for Session Proposals is Up! reports @aquafortis (co-organizer) http://ow.ly/yKPbP

#KidlitCon14 | Call for Session Proposals @book_nut http://ow.ly/yKJPN | Blogging #diversity in YA and children's lit

Wild Things!: Website and Book Launch from @SevenImp + @FuseEight | #kidlit fans will want to check this out! http://ow.ly/yRV91

On Reading, Writing, Blogging, and Publishing

Why digital vs. print reading should not be an either/or conversation, by @frankisibberson http://ow.ly/yS3Zo #eBooks

Insights from @catagator at Stacked: The Three C's of the Changing Book Blogging World, credits, comments, + crit http://ow.ly/yRYJa

Stacked: Reader Advocacy, Speaking Up + Ducking Out: On @catagator Quitting 2015 Printz committee. Go Kelly, I say! http://ow.ly/yKSXG

Schools and Libraries

Why Should Educators Blog? | @ReadByExample shares several reasons: http://ow.ly/yXQom

Should We Be Quantifying Our Students’ Reading Abilities? asks @ReadByExample @NerdyBookClub http://ow.ly/yKRlX

Too Soon for Technology?: The latest on digital use by preschoolers | @sljournal http://ow.ly/yVwRi #libraries

Summer Reading

Better than the title suggests: How to Trick Your Kids Into Reading All Summer Long @TheAtlantic via @librareanne http://ow.ly/yXOCj

Some experiences w/ #SummerReading programs from @SunlitPages + request for feedback from blog readers http://ow.ly/yVARq

Raising Summer Readers Tip #12: Schedule a few social gatherings that celebrate books and #SummerReading | @aliposner http://ow.ly/yKS38

This one very important! #SummerReading Tip #13: Read aloud to your kids, even if they are great readers! @aliposner http://ow.ly/yN8fr

Raising Summer Readers Tip #14: Remember to make reading aloud interactive! | @aliposner #SummerReading http://ow.ly/yOoM1

This sounds like fun! Tip #15 from @aliposner | Pair books with movies to add some fun into #SummerReading | http://ow.ly/yRXGU

#SummerReading Tip #16 @aliposner : TALK about your plans for reading while on vacation BEFORE your travel begins http://ow.ly/yRY0a

#SummerReading Tip #17 from @aliposner | Raise kids who view packing books as a traveling necessity http://ow.ly/yVAxa

#SummerReading Tip#18 @aliposner | For reluctant vacation readers, wrap a book to read aloud for each day of vacation http://ow.ly/yXPKy 

#SummerReading Tip #19 @aliposner | When en route to your vacation destination, take advantage of captive audience! http://ow.ly/z0yzc 

© 2014 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. You can also follow me @JensBookPage or at my Growing Bookworms page on Facebook.

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28. Free Fall Friday – Kudos


Here is another fabulous illustration from the NJSCBWI Artist Showcase done by Doris Ettlinger. Doris has illustrated over 25 picture books, you can visit her at: www.dorisettlinger.com, facebook/dorisettlingerstudio, and etsy/DorisEttlingerStudio

Anna Olswanger has opened her own agency. Olswanger Literary LLC. People can visit my page at: http://www.olswanger.com/agent.shtml

Illustrator Hazel Mitchel signed a contract to be represented by Literary Agent, Ginger Knowlton of Curtis Brown Ltd., New York City

Illustrator Michelle Kogan has Two Paintings on Exhibit at the United States Botanic Garden, DC through November 2014. They are Wildlife Comes to Lake Shore Drive and Rogers Park Dunes Restoration and Piping Plover, watercolor and watercolor pencil.

Amalia Hoffman won the 21st century Children’s Nonfiction Conference Illustration Award in June.

If you sent me a success story and I didn’t put it up, please send it again to me. The last month has been extremely busy and I feel like I missed someone.


Remember, Agent Jenny Bent is doing four of our first page critiques this month. Below are the guidelines:

Here are the submission guidelines for submitting a First Page in July:

Please “July First Page Critique” in the subject line. Please make sure you include your name, the title of the piece, and whether it is as picture book, middle grade, or young adult, etc. at the top.

Please attach your first page submission using one inch margins and 12 point font – double spaced, no more than 23 lines to an e-mail and send it to: kathy(dot)temean(at)gmail(dot)com. Also cut and paste it into the body of the e-mail and then also attach it in a Word document to the email.

DEADLINE: July 24th.

RESULTS: August 1st.

Use inch margins – double space your text – 12 pt. New Times Roman font – no more than 23 lines – paste into body of the email

You can only send in one first page each month. It can be the same first page each month or a different one, but if you sent it to me last month and it didn’t get chosen, you need to send it again using the July’s directions. Of course, it doesn’t have to be the same submission.

Talk tomorrow,


Filed under: authors and illustrators, awards, inspiration, Kudos Tagged: Amalia Hoffman, Anna Olswanger, Doris Ettlinger, Hazel Mitchell, Jenny Bent, Michelle Kogan

3 Comments on Free Fall Friday – Kudos, last added: 7/11/2014
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29. ‘Simpsons’ Denied Animation Emmy Nom For The First Time Ever

The nominations for the 66th annual Primetime Emmy Awards were announced this morning, and the big animation news isn't who was nominated, but who wasn't: "The Simpsons"

0 Comments on ‘Simpsons’ Denied Animation Emmy Nom For The First Time Ever as of 7/10/2014 3:11:00 PM
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30. The New Vision Award – Get Published

AiWS final

Another great illustration from the Artist Showcase at the NJSCBWI Conference. It was created by Lynnor Bontigao and is titled, “Alice’s Adventure in WonderShore”. You can visit Lynoor at: www.lynnorbontigao.com

Tu Books is accepting submissions for their second New Visions Second Annual New Vision Awards. The New Visions Award, established in 2012 by the Tu Books imprint of LEE & LOW BOOKS, is given to a middle grade or young adult fantasy, science fiction, or mystery novel by a writer of color. It’s a fantastic chance for new authors of color to break into the world of publishing for young readers.

Eligibility and Contest Submission

The New Visions contest is open to writers of color who are residents of the United States and who have not previously had a middle grade or young adult novel published.

The Award winner receives a cash prize of $1000 and our standard publication contract, including our basic advance and royalties for a first time author. An Honor Award winner will receive a cash prize of $500.

Manuscripts will be accepted through October 31st, 2014. See the full submissions guidelines here.

Spread the Word

Did you know that last year, books written by authors of color made up less than seven percent of the total number of books published (see these CCBC stats)?

Change requires more than just goodwill; it requires concrete action. We were heartened by First Book’s recent commitment to purchasing 10,000 copies of select books from “new and underrepresented voices” and the success of the passionate #weneeddiversebooks movement.

Likewise, the New Visions Award is a concrete step toward evening the playing field by seeking out talented new authors of color who might otherwise remain under the radar of mainstream publishing.

We hope you’ll help us spread the word by forwarding on this email; sharing the contest on Facebook, Twitter, or Tumblr; and of course, letting people know through good old word-of-mouth.

Talk tomorrow,


Filed under: authors and illustrators, awards, Competition, Middle Grade Novels, opportunity, Places to sumit, Publishers and Agencies, Young Adult Novel Tagged: New Vision Award, Tor Books

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31. Book Give-a-Way & Interview With Shannon Wiersbitzky: What Flowers Remember

Shannon_Wiersbitzky_Author_Photo_2012Shannon Wiersbitzky is a middle-grade author, a hopeless optimist, and a lover of the outdoors. The Summer of Hammers and Angels, nominated for the William Allen White award, was her first novel.

Born in North Dakota, Shannon has called West Virginia, Florida, Minnesota, North Carolina, and Michigan “home” at some point in her life.She currently lives in Pennsylvania with her husband, two sons, one rather dull fish and her always entertaining dog Benson.

I interviewed Shannon about her new book WHAT FLOWERS REMEMBER, and asked her if she would do a give-a-way of the book for anyone who leaves a comment. If you tweet or post something about the book on facebook or your blog, you will receive an extra entry to increase your chances to win.

Book Notes: What Flowers Remember

shannonflowersMost folks probably think gardens only get tended when they’re blooming. But most folks would be wrong. According to the almanac, a proper gardener does something every single month. Old Red Clancy was definitely a proper gardener. That’s why I enrolled myself in the Clancy School of Gardening. If I was going to learn about flowers, I wanted to learn from the best.

Delia and Old Red Clancy make quite a pair. He has the know-how and she has the get-up-and-go. When they dream up a seed- and flower-selling business, well, look out, Tucker’s Ferry, because here they come.

But something is happening to Old Red. And the doctors say he
can’t be cured. He’s forgetting places and names and getting cranky for
no reason. As his condition worsens, Delia takes it upon herself to save
as many memories as she can. Her mission is to gather Old Red’s stories so that no one will forget, and she corrals everybody in town to help her.

What Flowers Remember is a story of love and loss, of a young girl coming to understand that even when people die, they live on in our minds, our hearts, and our stories.

*Note: A portion of the proceeds from the sale of this book are donated to the Alzheimer’s Association.

In addition to win and read a good book, I think you will find Shannon’s answers to my interview questions below interesting.

I see you have published two middle grade books with namelos. Did you sign a two book deal when you sold  THE SUMMER OF HAMMERS AND ANGELS?

No. My initial contract with Namelos only included my first book. I didn’t even know there would be a sequel!

Can you tell us the story behind how you sold your first book and the journey you took to get there?

Writing IS a journey isn’t it! I’ll say that it was a ten year path of discovering my voice and what kind of narrative suits me best. When I began writing books for children, I focused first on picture books. Then I began to dabble in novels. I met my editor, Stephen Roxburgh, at a picture book workshop at Highlights in 2009. He had just started Namelos earlier that year. We hit it off and after the workshop I sent him the manuscript for THE SUMMER OF HAMMERS AND ANGELS. We’ve been working together ever since.

Was that your debut book?

Yes. While I’ve had a variety of picture books garner significant interest over the years, HAMMERS was the first book I had published. It was a real thrill to see it in print. I’ve got a copy hanging on the wall in my writing studio. My husband had it framed.

How well did the book sell?

The book has sold well. I don’t know an exact number of copies. It always helps when a novel gets noticed by organizations and award committees, and THE SUMMER OF HAMMERS AND ANGELS did. It was nominated for the William Allen White award, and was a recommended title by the Kansas NEA Reading Circle. Scholastic bought copies for its book club too. Anytime a story is recognized, it’s an honor.

Has the publishing of WHAT FLOWERS REMEMBER, increased the sales of THE SUMMER OF HAMMERS AND ANGELS?

Yes, I think the benefit of having multiple books out is that people naturally see or seek out your other titles. At least they do if they like what they read!

Had you written WHAT FLOWERS REMEMBER when you sold the first book?

No, I hadn’t. In fact, after HAMMERS came out, when asked if there might be a sequel, I confidently said that Delia’s story was finished. Ha! That just shows you that characters are really in charge, not the writers.

How did the idea of the book come to you?

In terms of the actual time and place when I realized Delia had another story to tell, I was literally on a flight from PA to CA. I’d written a novel dealing with Alzheimer’s several years earlier (it was terrible and I never tried to publish it) and all of a sudden, I realized that I’d given the story to the wrong character. It was Delia’s story to tell. I plotted out the entire novel on the back of a single sheet of paper and about six months later I started writing it.

The inspiration to write about Alzheimer’s came from my own life. My grandfather had the disease and ultimately he forgot me. He and I were very close and it broke my heart to realize I had been erased. I wanted to capture the truth of that in a story.

Sadly, dementia is so common, and we have a real lack of stories that deal with it in an honest way. For some reason, we don’t talk about Alzheimer’s as openly as we do other diseases. Kids (and adults) need to be able to have everyday conversations about what they might be experiencing with their own grandparents or others in their life. My hope is that books like FLOWERS can help.

Do you have an agent? If so, who? If not, would you like to find one?

I don’t have an agent. I’ve worked directly with Stephen and his Namelos team for both books. I would like to find an agent, but it hasn’t been my focus lately. It’s so difficult to find someone that exactly fits your personality and writing style!

I have some picture book and early reader manuscripts I’d love to see published, and down the road, there may be other novels that aren’t right for Namelos, but are right for another publisher. Reviewers have compared my writing to Chicken Soup for the Soul and Patricia MacLachlan. If you know of any agents that might lean that way, let me know!

What type of things have you been doing to promote your books?

I have a full-time job that is fairly demanding, so I try to pick and choose things I can tackle in odd hours or that don’t require a full day. I regularly do web interviews with bloggers or write guest posts. I’ve visited local schools and done Skype visits with classrooms. There have been radio interviews. I’ve done a few book signings too.

Did namelos help market your book and get reviews?

Absolutely! They work the official reviewers and send copies out to various awards committees and all that usual stuff that publishers do. Stephen Roxburgh is highly regarded in the industry, so books he publishes typically do get picked up for review by folks like Kirkus. That’s a big plus.

What are you working on now?

Right now I’m working on a few things. I’m editing a new novel which is totally different from my first two. High action, high comedy, high levels of exaggeration. I think I needed a break from the realistic fiction. I’m working on a few picture books as well. I’d love for them to find a good home. And I’m jotting notes for a novel that I haven’t started yet, but that I’ve been thinking about for two years. As soon as I can get the action manuscript out the door, this one is next in line. I like to have a host of projects in the hopper. My brain seems to work best that way. 

Review Excerpts

“There are echoes of Patricia MacLachlan in the book’s period flavor (the story seems to be set thirty years or so in the past), the tenderness, and the deft writing that keeps a heart-tugging plot lovely as well as brimming with sentiment. Delia’s move from grief for what she’s losing to a deeper understanding of her old friend is smoothly depicted…. The story will bring new perspective for readers struggling with their own beloved elders, and the liquid joy of a serious tearjerker to anybody who likes a poignant human drama.”

–The Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books, Recommended

“Wiersbitzky organizes the book gracefully by naming the chapters after months of the year. …The ebb and flow of life is shown, grief is addressed, and the power of what one person can do is celebrated. Teachers may wish to consider this book for reading lists in middle school.”

–Children’s Literature

“What do flowers remember? The stories of the people who cared for them, of course, as Wiersbitzky’s sensitive novel compassionately conveys.” – Kirkus Reviews

“Fans of wholesome, uplifting stories similar to Canfield’s Chicken Soup for the Soul collections, will best enjoy this gentle reminder of the goodness of life and people.” — Voice of Youth Advocates

Shannon Wiersbitzky Links:

Website: www.shannonwiersbitzky.com

Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/ShannonWiersbitzky

Twitter: @SWiersbitzky

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/ShannonWiersbitzky

Shannon thank you for sharing your journey with us and introducing us to your book.

Talk tomorrow,



Filed under: Author, awards, Book, children writing, Contest, inspiration, Kudos, Middle Grade Novels, opportunity Tagged: book give-a-way, Leave Comment, Shannon Wiersbitzky

14 Comments on Book Give-a-Way & Interview With Shannon Wiersbitzky: What Flowers Remember, last added: 7/10/2014
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32. Dungeon Fun sweeps Scottish Independent Comic Book Alliance Awards — and read the winner for free!

The 2014 SICBA Awards were handed out on Saturday at the Glasgow Comic Con. The awards honor the best in Scottish comics, and Dungeon Fun by Neil Slorance and Colin Bell swept all four categories. To celebrate the win, the creators have made the first issue free to read making it a win for everyone.

Dungeon Fun is a classic fantasy about a girl named Fun Mudlifter who is living a tedious life among the trolls who raised her before she gets a magic sword that sends her off on the road to adventure.

Here’s the complete list of SICBA nominees, winners in bold.

Best Comic Book or Graphic Novel (supported by CCA: Glasgow)
Beginners Guide to Being Outside (Avery Hill Publishing Ltd)
Crawl Hole (Craig Collins)
Crossing Borders (Rocket Puppy Press)
Dungeon Fun: Book One (Dogooder Comics)
The Standard #5 (ComixTribe)

Best Artist (supported by Homecoming Scotland)
Iain Laurie – And Then Emily Was Gone #3
Morag Kewell – Crossing Borders
Neil Slorance – Dungeon Fun: Book One

Best Writer (supported by Black Hearted Press)
Gill Hatcher – Beginners Guide to Being Outside
Colin Bell – Dungeon Fun: Book One
John Lees – The Standard #5

Best Cover (supported by Williams Bros Brewing Co)
Craig Collins, Iain Laurie and Derek Dow – Crawl Hole
Neil Slorance – Dungeon Fun: Book One
Jimmy Devlin – Saltire: Invasion

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33. Illustrator Saturday – Connie Steiner


conniePic240Born in Philadelphia, Connie Colker Steiner graduated from the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts and the University of Pennsylvania. For many years she lived in Winnipeg where she contributed verse and artwork to Canadian Sesame Street. The words were set to music and the pictures shown sequentially. These vignettes were aired across the U.S. and Canada and around the world. She is the author and/or illustrator of several children’s picture books, including On Eagles’ Wings and Other Things, Paul’s New Ears, In Other Words and the award-winning Shoes for Amelie. Connie and her husband, Mark, now reside in southern New Jersey.

Here is Connie explaining her process:


This was for a magazine. I started out with a sketch and block were the text will be.


Then I used color pencils to try out the colors.


Here is the final illustration done in watercolor.


This is the cover of Shoes for Amelie. You will read more about this during the interview.


The cover of In Other Words. More about this book in the interview.


Sketch of “On Eagle Wings” book cover.


Final Cover of On Eagle Wings. Below is the cover of Paul’s New Ears.


When did you first know you wanted to create art?

I don’t remember a time when mark-making, drawing, a little later painting, wasn’t a big part of life. The other children and the adults around me kind of assumed that that’s what I was going to do, and I didn’t disagree.


How long have you been illustrating?

People in action fascinated me. The people that filled the sheets of shelf paper my mother       provided were usually children. I also liked drawing mothers and babies. The mothers were tall with alarming bumps on the fronts of their chests, high heels on their feet and stockings held up by garters. (I wish I could find these.) The children were usually whatever age I was when I was drawing them. They got older as I got older, and were often involved in ongoing narratives. Some stories came from books or other outside sources. Others I was concocting as I went along – little private soap operas populated by juveniles. You could call this proto- illustration and it was in full swing by kindergarten.


What was the first thing you did where someone paid you for your artwork?

Canadian Sesame Street was the first place that paid me for artwork. I was thirty-one.

Fancy Goldfish

I see that you attended Tyler Art College in Philadelphia, PA, but then left for the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts and then the University of Pennsylvania. What made you attend three schools?

Tyler, Temple University’s art school had a design orientation. I needed the atmosphere of an atelier and found it in the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts. As for the University of Pennsylvania, I didn’t decide to go to a third school. The Academy awarded diplomas but not college degrees. They set up a program with Penn for those of their students who wanted, and were willing to work for, a BFA.

BucketcroppedWhat types of classes did you like the most?

After the first year, students could choose whether their major would be painting, sculpture or printmaking. If you were a painting major, as I was, you painted every day for half the day, in oil or acrylics, portrait, nude or still life. The other half of the day was spent drawing the nude in charcoal. (Everyone, no matter what the major was, drew for half the day.) I had two very inspiring drawing teachers. One was Marshall Glazier, who could start with a big toe, and by getting the relationships – the angles, the spaces between, just right – would wind up with a completely convincing figure, done entirely in line, with no shading. The other was George Sklar. His marvelous, swift, Zen-like drawings of animals at the Philadelphia Zoo can still be found in books that collect great drawings. Mr. Glazier emphasized line. Mr. Sklar had us trying to capture the solidity of the forms through tones of charcoal that were darkest on the frontal planes and got lighter going back. Neither was an “academic” sort of teacher. Their classrooms produced a fusion of freedom, intensity and varieties of expression. At graduation I won the George Sklar Prize for Life Drawing, named in honor of his memory.


Did the School help you get work?

No. A few mature and advanced students were mentored with an eye to the galleries. But it wasn’t part of the program to offer career advice, and most of the young, naïve student body didn’t presume to ask. A few were wise and committed enough to go on for their MFAs, or to New York for the support and stimulation of a critical mass of artists.


7. Do you feel that the classes you took in college have influenced you style?

Individual teachers, such as the painter Hobson Pittman, encouraged the painterliness that was natural to me, and also my sympathetic feeling for subject matter. I learned to look longer and see better and developed a conscious appreciation of abstract qualities. Not least important, there was an atmosphere of connection to the great art of the past. So yes, I hope these experiences influenced my illustration style, although I’m aware that illustration can have quite different goals from non-illustrative painting. But as for the figures of children in my storybook pictures, they have roots that precede art school and are only partly affected by my education.


How did you find your first art related job?

My first art related job, at seventeen, was teaching the children of my parents’ friends in our finished basement. That took a little nerve, now that I think about it. It was my mother’s idea. Maybe she wanted to make sure I knew how to do something. During art school I sold art supplies at Gimbels department store and was an art counselor at summer camp.

Lady Bugs


What made you decide that you wanted to illustrate for children?

Somehow I always thought of doing it.


What was the first illustration work you did for children? How did that come about?

My first professional illustration work was with Sesame Street.  As for how that came about look ahead to (See four answers down).


What was your first picture book published?

My first picture book, “On Eagles’ Wings and Other Things”, was published in 1987. (The Dark Ages!)

Umbrella 1

How did that come about?  What made you decide to write and illustrate that book?

I had taken my portfolio to NYC two years before. David Adler, author of the Cam Jensen series, was Children’s Book editor of the Jewish Publication Society at that time. This was my very first appointment with anyone in publishing and he wanted to get me started on a picture book. Talk about beginner’s luck. He suggested that I look at picture books of general interest and model my efforts on something that could be adapted to the needs of his company. I chose “The Philharmonic Gets Dressed” by Karla Kuskin. It followed the members of the NY Philharmonic as they washed, dressed, and transported themselves and their instruments from all points in the city to converge on the concert stage. I thought about the Jewish children who had travelled from widely dispersed places throughout the world to the new State of Israel soon after its rebirth. Instead of coming together on a stage like the musicians, they would find themselves together at last in a Jerusalem playground. Influenced by the many characters in the Kuskin story, I imagined a dozen children. David Adler swiftly pared it down to six, then four. The story of each child was complicated compared to performers getting dressed and taking the subway or the taxi. In the end , “Eagles’ Wings” was a very different book from the one that inspired it.


How did you end up working for Canadian Sesame Street?

Having moved to Winnipeg with my family in 1980, I learned that Sesame Street maintained an office downtown in the CBC building. This was a show my children and I watched together. Was it possible that I might contribute to it? I phoned, they agreed to look at my work, and seemed to like what they saw. However, they were only looking for a writer. Would I be willing to come up with a few lines and some sketches their animators could develop? Sure, why not. Several weeks later I handed in a French verse about dancing, along with pencil sketches of a little girl in tights and leotard. Eventually it was on TV – my words set to music, accompanied by my own watercolor illustrations shown as stills. This was the first of seventeen vignettes I would do for them over a fifteen year period.

Dog walk

What made you move to Canada?

My husband, Mark, accepted a job as a Reading Clinician with the Child Guidance Clinic in Winnipeg. In those years they hadn’t enough homegrown specialists. For us it was an adventure. I’d never been to Canada, or west of Pittsburgh.

Umbrella 2cropped

When and why did you move back to the States?

Paradoxically, living in Canada increased my awareness of America, my interest in the culture and history of my original country. From above I could see it whole and put myself in the shoes of observers who were almost totally indistinguishable from Americans but weren’t Americans. There’s a saying – to see ourselves as others see us. Even after becoming dual citizens in 1995, I felt myself to be an American in Canada. Never mind that in summer our cousins called our family “the Canadians”. And we did come home to New Jersey every summer so our children could go on the beach and watch the Fourth of July fireworks with their grandparents. I didn’t expect to be away forever.

In 1990 my father died. Twelve years later, my mother could not be left alone. Her short term memory was becoming dangerously unreliable. For a year and a half she stayed with us up north. In 2005 we did what seemed the most right thing and brought her back to Margate. The three of us managed together in the family home for the next two years – the rest of her life.

Mark and I had lived in Canada for two and a half decades. We were used to the cold winters and ice that put dents in everyone’s cars, the bundling up, the boots that came off in the “mud rooms” of every home, the good natured, down to earth people, English and French, Ukrainian, Filipino, Native Canadian and more, well mannered in every walk of life. Not to mention parks and ice skating on the river, affordable housing, affordable education, affordable high culture, and universal health care that was better than affordable. Necessary appointments and procedures required no out-of-pocket payments. Winnipeg, its prairie sky and the friends we made there, will stay a part of us.


What was your illustrating first success?

That would have to be Sesame Street. The atmosphere at the Winnipeg office was easy and informal. (Although headquarters were in Montreal and Toronto, branches were set up in cities across Canada. I noticed that there was an interest, generally – not just with Sesame Street – in having artists develop in their regions as well as in the greater centers.) I was encouraged by Dave Strang, the art director, the music director who literally made my words sing, I wish I could remember his name, and my wonderful producers, Pat Kent and later Ernie Zuk.


It looks like you wrote and illustrate another picture book, PAULS NEW EARS. Can you tell us how you came up with the story and how you found a publisher?

I wrote a poem for the CBC about my son who, as a first grader, was upset by a haircut that revealed his previously camouflaged ears. His ears weren’t unusual. He just wasn’t used to seeing them. Later I added to the story and moved it away from verse. I sent a dummy and the manuscript, called “Paul’s New Ears”, to Peguis, a local publisher, who accepted it. Not long after, at a writers’ convention in Winnipeg, I met the editor of a Winnipeg French publishing house, “Les Editions du Ble”. His company decided to co-publish a French version of the story, “Droles d’oreilles”. Literally that means “funny ears” but is a colloquial expression meaning something like “how odd”. As critics pointed out, the story isn’t so much about ears, but about accepting inevitable change, accepting yourself.


Where you working with Canada Sesame Street while creating these books?



How many picture books have you illustrated?

I illustrated three picture books, two of which I wrote. I wrote a fourth book which I didn’t illustrate.

1 (2)

How did the publisher find you to illustrate IN OTHER WORDS?

I sent copies of my work to Annick Press in Toronto. Rick Wilks, the publisher, thought I might illustrate a manuscript then under discussion called “A Herd of Wild Bikes”. I’d already developed my first drawings when the publisher and author fell out of harmony. A few months later, I think, Rick Wilks sent me the manuscript, “In Other Words” by John C. Walker. It is a fantasy involving visitors from outer space and telepathic communication. A boy and girl with profound disabilities find a special connection in each other, and somehow attract the interest of well-meaning voyagers from another planet. It’s a story about friendship, finding meaning and delight in the world when much is closed off, and deciding what really matters.



Then you wrote a chapter book titled, SHOES FOR AMELIE. What inspired that story? 

By chance I read a book, “Lest Innocent Blood be Shed”, by Philip Hallie. It was a true and truly amazing account of a mostly Protestant region in France that became a safe haven for Jews during the Second World War. Approximately five thousand refugees, not only from within France but coming from across Europe, were sheltered there. No one, even now, knows exactly why the Germans didn’t crush it. They knew about it. There were several raids, one with fatal effects. Toward the end of the war, a convalescent house for wounded German soldiers operated directly across the street from a nest of Resistance fighters. But the inspiration behind the villagers’ and farmers’ courage came not from armed resistance but from the leadership of their pacifist minister. Andre Trocme guided his congregants from the pulpit, never spelling out instructions, to individually do the right thing. It helped that the area was remote, high, forested, and severe in winter. And the people, who throughout their history had suffered oppression and aided others in need, knew how to be quiet. None of the locals ever turned informer.

After seeing the documentary, “Weapons of the Spirit”, by Pierre Sauvage, I sensed a children’s book could be coaxed from these events. What would it be like, I wondered, to be a child, a boy about nine, whose mother brings a young guest into their tiny farmhouse – a girl perhaps eleven years old. You know she is being hidden, though no one told you and questions aren’t encouraged. How would you make sense of it? Through this wondering I came to write about Lucien and Amelie.


Have you ever won any awards? 

“Shoes for Amelie” won the McNally Robinson Book for Young People Award, and was chosen as a Notable Children’s Book of Jewish Content by the American Jewish Library Association. It was shortlisted for the Geoffrey Bilson Award for Historical Fiction for Young People, and also shortlisted for the Canadian Library Association Book of the Year for Children. It was an Our Choice Book of the Canadian Children’s Book Centre in Toronto. “On Eagles’ Wings and Other Things” was also an Our Choice Book.


It looks like you write poems, too. Have any of those been published?

“The Little Artist”, along with my illustration, was published by Spider Magazine. “Night You Have Strict Orders” was in Cricket. The lyrics I wrote for Sesame Street began as poems on a page. I’m not sure if using them – there were fourteen – on TV counts as being published.


Have you done any illustrating for children’s magazines? 

Only the one thing for Spider. So far.


What is your favorite medium to use? 

I usually work in transparent watercolor, often combined with ink, watercolor pencil, crayon. Sometimes I use gouache, meaning opaque watercolor, over the transparent paint. For Sesame Street I created cut-out collages in gouache.


Has that changed over time?

I’m working with the same basic materials. But for each new project I bring a different emphasis, change the proportions, or introduce a new product or technique. For example, in “Song of an Inuit Child” (Sesame St.), I combined colored pencils (not soluble) with permanent felt-tip markers. Before that I had only used that kind of pencil for texture. I also incised the paper in places with the tip of a brush handle, leaving white line on the page when the pencil moves across the depression. Recently I discovered brush pens. They are permanent but have absolutely no odor, show up well under and over watercolor, and since there’s no dipping and dripping, can go anywhere.


What is the one thing in your studio that you could not live without?

A medium to soft pencil. Without it I couldn’t begin.


Do you try to spend a specific amount of time working on your craft?

I’m forever seeking to establish a predictable schedule, with variable results. But when I’m working on a book, either writing or illustrating, I’ll be at my table most weekdays for two stretches a day, each two to three hours. It might be mornings and late afternoons, or after lunch to about four and then again after dinner. Or some days I’m back and forth with the work all day. I take short breaks while working and try to get outside, so I don’t get stiff, either in my body or my work. At some time each day, a long walk is important, not only for exercise but to allow the mind to relax and appreciate sights, sounds, smells. This is also a time when creative work gets done in an effortless way, when solutions are found or ideas show up without my being aware I’m looking for them. Or they don’t. But as Leonard Cohen says, everybody knows….(in this case, that these are the things artists do when they’re working.)


Are you open to illustrating a book that you haven’t written?

If it’s a book that I’m writing and hope to illustrate I would look for the kind of publisher that pays the author rather than the other way around. Even if it’s a long wait. Even if the publisher turns out to want another illustrator. Even if nothing happens for the book. I understand many people feel differently, especially now, with e-books and books issued inexpensively in very small editions. I value the editing, the distribution, especially to libraries, the opportunity to be reviewed and considered for awards, that regular publishing houses provide. Things are changing, I know, and I might not feel this way in the future. Even now, I remember you said self-publishing an e-book might make sense for an out-of-print book. It might.

But you were actually asking whether I would illustrate a self-publishing author’s book, not my own. It would depend…on my reactions to the manuscript, my rapport with the author, the terms under which I would be working. At any rate, I would be honored to be asked.


Do you take pictures or do any types of research before you start a project? 

I love beginning an illustration project because of the research. It allows me to dream and draw my way into the characters, the place and the story. I go to libraries and talk to librarians. They are usually eager to help and have the competence to offer great suggestions. Today, images online are easily available. I’ll use the internet in addition to, not instead of, tangible books and flesh and blood librarians. And if possible, I like to observe real people, real animals, walk down actual streets and enjoy the challenge of translating a three dimensional world onto flat paper.

Most of the time you can do both. For “Eagles’ Wings”, my neighbors’ children playacted some of the scenes. My husband took photos as they held their positions, and I made sketches. Later I drew from the photos. I drew from photos in books and traveled to New York to draw from archives that couldn’t be moved from the museum that housed them. ( Nothing beat studying the real kids.) Then, I put it all aside. The pictures that appeared in my book were quick and spontaneous, the results of months of preparation.

For writing, which always comes first with me, it’s a similar process, except I’m reading and taking notes instead of drawing. Sometimes I’m talking with people, asking questions. I might be doing this after beginning the book, or long before I start, or both. A book like “Paul’s New Ears”, rooted in experiences with my family, required no research to write. Or you could say the research happened by itself, without my being aware of it. On the other hand, “Shoes for Amelie” took a great deal of research. I felt it was important to travel to Le Chambon in France where the story was set. Fortunately, I received grants from the Canada Council, the Manitoba Arts Council and the Jewish Foundation of Manitoba. The money took the sting out of travel expenses, but even more appreciated was the sense that my benefactors endorsed the project and had confidence I could follow through.


Do you think the Internet has opened doors for you?

The internet makes possible all the websites we enjoy, including the new one you developed for me. As for doors opening, we’ll have to see. It must also depend on how well artists adapt and make themselves available to opportunity.


Do you use Photoshop with your illustrations?



Do you have any career dreams that you want to fulfill?



What are you working on now?

Two books are nearing the point of presentation. One is a middle grade chapter book featuring two cat detectives. The other is a picture book about the same Paul as in “Paul’s New Ears”. A third book is in the early stages. It takes one of the cat characters from the detective story and places her in an up-scale boarding school for gifted feline girls. Well, some of the girls go home after school but lots of them live there.



Do you have any material type tips you can share with us? Example: Paint or paper that you love – the best place to buy – a new product that you’ve tried – A how to tip, etc.

I like to try different ways of using watercolor and combining it with other media, as I mentioned in Questions 26 and 27. Derwent makes a watercolor pencil of unusual intensity, almost like ink. It’s called, not surprisingly, Inktense. Neocolor 1 is a color-rich, water resistant crayon that glides onto paper like butter. Neocolor 2 is the water soluble version. Both are products of Caran d’Ache, the company that makes the brush pens I love. Another fun way to draw is to use wide tongue depressors, split vertically in half. Dipped in India ink, they become expressive, economical pens. They draw lines of great variety in width, texture and value. If you teach children or adults, it’s a very freeing experience for them.

Here’s a how-to tip. A way to get confidence about drawing a figure when you can’t be looking at it, especially action figures, is to feel the motion in your own body. Convince yourself you can do it and draw with that conviction. Even if the figure looks strange, it will be interesting and carry the authority of coming from you. I know this sounds like Professor Harold Hill from “ The Music Man” teaching kids to play band instruments with the “think” system. Yes, he was a fraud, but didn’t they all play “Seventy-six Trombones” at the end?

Hobson Pittman, who was a great teacher, often said, “Exactness isn’t always the truth.” That is so even when you’re struggling to capture the figure in a Life Drawing class. And signing up for one of those classes is never a bad idea, as long as you’re in sync with the teacher’s ideas, or can learn to be. There are also groups that meet without a teacher.


Any words of wisdom on how to become a successful writer or illustrator? 

Find books on artists, children’s book artists but others, too, for whom you feel kinship, and immerse yourself in their work. See which artists inspired them. The same goes for writers if you’re a writer. And read, especially if you’re a writer. A critic once remarked of a certain Canadian prime minister’s wife who authored a memoir, that it appeared she’d written more books than she’d read. (She had written one book.) Read enough and, say what they will, they won’t say that.

Make sure you have wise, astute and supportive people in your corner, because there is usually lots of rejection, which can cause dejection. Dr. Seuss’s first book almost never saw the light of day, it had been turned down so many times. He picked up the manuscript at one of those publishers’ places and was walking away when, on the street, he bumped into a friend who worked in publishing. The friend took the manuscript from him, showed it to his employer, and that’s how the book came to be published. I don’t remember the details.

Try to carve out time and space to work regularly. But remember that some people can get a lot done on the wing, in fragmented bits of time, on a daily commute (though I hope not while driving), or in the midst of an active family.

Refresh yourself with nature and music. Take a challenging class with an inspiring teacher. Join SCBWI. Go to a SCBWI conference.


Thank you Connie for sharing your process, journey, and expertise with us. We look forward to hearing about your future successes.

To see more of Connie’s illustrations you can visit her at: http://www.conniesteiner.com/

Please take a minute to leave a comment for Connie, I know she would love to heard from you and I always appreciate it. Thanks!

Talk tomorrow,


Filed under: Advice, authors and illustrators, awards, Illustrator's Saturday, inspiration, Interview, picture books, Process Tagged: Canadian Sesame Street, Connie Steiner, Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Shoes for Amelie, University of Pennsylvania.

2 Comments on Illustrator Saturday – Connie Steiner, last added: 7/5/2014
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34. SIGGRAPH Announces 2014 Computer Animation Festival Winners

SIGGRAPH has announced the winners of its 41st annual Computer Animation Festival. These projects will be shown amongst more than 100 pieces at the 2014 conference that will take place August 10-14 in Vancouver, Canada.

0 Comments on SIGGRAPH Announces 2014 Computer Animation Festival Winners as of 1/1/1900
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35. Links I Shared on Twitter this Week: July 3

TwitterLinksHere are highlights from the links that I shared on Twitter this week @JensBookPage. I am posting a day early this week because of the July 4th holiday. Topics this week include: authors, awards, book lists, common core, growing bookworms, events, kidlitcon, publishing, teaching, libraries, and summer reading.


Rest in Peace, Walter Dean Myers. Here's an appreciation from Tanita Davis at Finding Wonderland http://ow.ly/yIbNs

Just Walk Away: Authors and Illustrators Who Do — @fuseeight http://ow.ly/yIBxa #kidlit

Book Lists and Awards

Roger Sutton makes some excellent points in this @HornBook editorial about new ALSC policy on communication by judges http://ow.ly/yFSbj

RT @CynLeitichSmith: Growing Int'l #Latino Book Awards Reflect Booming Market http://nbcnews.to/1nPPLbF via @NBCNews

2014 Guardian Children’s Prize Longlist | @tashrow has the list http://ow.ly/yFrdp

Children's Literature at SSHEL | #kidlit recommendations for Independence Day: Remembering the Revolution http://ow.ly/yFJcy

Stacked: Get (sub)Genrefied: Alternate History @catagator http://ow.ly/yIBXO #BookList

A few Seek and Find Picture Books, recommended by @greenbeanblog http://ow.ly/yIBq5 #kidlit

Very nice list! 14 Children's Books that Challenge Gender Stereotypes | @momandkiddo #BookList http://ow.ly/yCaBW

Top Ten Books for Young Readers about Encountering Obstacles by @MrazKristine @NerdyBookClub http://ow.ly/yCcaz

2014 Mind the Gap Awards (books ignored by ALA awards) from @HornBook http://ow.ly/ywTV1 via @tashrow

Common Core / Literacy

#CommonCore IRL: In Real Libraries -- 2014 ALA Presentation from @MaryAnnScheuer + friends http://ow.ly/yFrql

Higher Ed Administrators Seek To Stem States’ Rush Away From #CommonCore @LibraryJournal via @PWKidsBookshelf http://ow.ly/yv1kk

Spreading the Good Word about Visual #Literacy @SevenImp chats with Francoise Mouly @KirkusReviews http://ow.ly/yubPV

Events, Programs and Research

RIF_Primary_Vertical"children spend nearly 3 times as many hours weekly watching TV or playing video games as they do reading" | @RIFWEB http://ow.ly/yIALH

Sad! The World Book Night project has been suspended, reports @bkshelvesofdoom http://ow.ly/yIAzA

Book drive for unaccompanied immigrant children kicks off July 10 reports @latimes via @PWKidsBookshelf http://ow.ly/yFSo6

Growing Bookworms

One of many reasons to read aloud | Children’s Picture Books Use More Sophisticated Words Than You | Michaels Read http://ow.ly/yIBgc

Why dialogue is important to kids' comprehension development from @TrevorHCairney http://ow.ly/yudra #literacy

RT @PapaJFunk: @JensBookPage This story inspired me more than anything http://www.nytimes.com/2010/03/21/fashion/21GenB.html … I'll read every night to my kids while they're in my house...


KidlitCon2014_cubeCall for session proposals @charlotteslib -- #Kidlitcon 2014: Blogging #Diversity in Young Adult and Children’s Lit http://ow.ly/yIAlO

The call for session proposals for #KidLitCon14 is live! Deadline for submissions is 8/1. Theme: blogging #diversity http://ow.ly/yIbCJ

Celebrating @MrSchuReads with a Donation to @ReadingVillage, from @MaryLeeHahn + @frankisibberson http://ow.ly/yFrhx


Interesting thoughts @haleshannon on the segregation of ideas (choosing to only hear from people w/ similar ideas) http://ow.ly/yIArf

Interesting article on the cost to our productivity of distractions from Facebook push updates, etc. @WSJ (login req) http://ow.ly/yC8Td

On Reading, Writing, and Publishing

Bertelsmann Getting Out of Book Retailing, reports @wsj (login req) http://ow.ly/yC9Ks #Publishing

Powerful post on books as Lifelines by Heather Preusser @NerdyBookClub http://ow.ly/ywV9c

Schools and Libraries

Teachers should cry in class when reading poignant stories ... Michael Morpurgo says @TelegraphBooks @PWKidsBookshelf http://ow.ly/yFSxJ

Interesting! Pew Research Center – 7 Surprises About Libraries | reported by @tashrow http://ow.ly/yC9TN @PewInternet

Save libraries by putting them in the pub says man tasked by Government to save them The Independent via @bookpatrol http://ow.ly/yx0FW

Summer Reading

Fizz, Boom, Read: Library #SummerReading Programs Blend Learning with Fun and Prizes | @sljournal http://ow.ly/yFICh

Jumpstart your summer adventure – Dig into reading, suggests @wendy_lawrence http://ow.ly/yCbNR #SummerReading

Fun idea! @aliposner Tip-a-Day #5: Designate a place outside your home specifically for #SummerReading outings http://ow.ly/yucI1

#SummerReading Tip-a-Day #6: Take your kids on a “summer is here” new book-getting mission! | @aliposner http://ow.ly/ywVze

#SummerReading Tip#7 @aliposner | Make sure your kids have reading STARs – Space, Time, Access to books, and Rituals http://ow.ly/yzTvR

#SummerReading Tip #8 @aliposner | Create an open-faced book display somewhere in your house http://ow.ly/yzTAI

The Ultimate #SummerReading List for Teachers from @Scholastic via @mattbgomez http://ow.ly/ywSXv 

I love this one! #SummerReading Tip #9 from @aliposner | Create an outside reading spot at your home | http://ow.ly/yCbkU

#SummerReading Tip #10 @aliposner : Make sure kids have easy access to tools for written response to books http://ow.ly/yFrJw

#SummerReading Tip #11: Stock up on “Barebooks” materials for fun and authentic summer writing | @aliposner http://ow.ly/yIBDa

Five Tips for Summer-Long Learning - Tina Chovanec from @ReadingRockets @FirstBook http://ow.ly/yFrbS #SummerReading

Macy’s and @RIFWEB Aim to Boost Summer Reading (hint: only 17% of parents think it’s a priority!), says @StorySnoops http://ow.ly/yCbw3

© 2014 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. You can also follow me @JensBookPage or at my Growing Bookworms page on Facebook.

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36. B: A Profile of Brian Floca

locomotive B: A Profile of Brian FlocaAn editor’s dream — smart authors, smart artists. They save so much time. That is, they’re up to speed without undue heaving or the need for sand on the tracks (see Locomotive for more on the subject). My subject in this tribute is someone who is all three: author, artist, smart.

Given a pencil, Brian Floca doodled young and was still happily at it when, in the spring of 1991, we met in Providence, Rhode Island, in (unaccountably) an empty office in the Department of Egyptology at Brown University. Doodles, by then, had become a comic strip in the campus newspaper. As a junior at Brown, Brian was also studying with David Macaulay at nearby Rhode Island School of Design (what a treat, then, to read in The Horn Book’s review of Locomotive that the back endpaper cutaway illustration of Central Pacific engine Jupiter surely “would make David Macaulay proud”).

It was Avi who arranged our meeting. He was seeking an illustrator for a 400-page gleam in his eye that became City of Light, City of Dark (1993), an early entrant in the recent resurgence of graphic novels. Brian had been recommended. He did some sample pen-and-inks: lots of energy; inventive perspectives; a touch of the sinister, which Avi’s tale required.

Before that first project was published, Avi had dreamt up a second — a fantasy called Poppy (winner of a 1996 Boston Globe–Horn Book Award). The three-inch mouse heroine emerged first in what the illustrator describes as “cartoony pen-and-ink” but then matured magically in velvety pencil. From gargantuan cityscape to atmospheric woodland, this young man could draw anything.

I hadn’t yet read any of Brian’s own story ideas. Turned out he was not only a skilled draftsman, but also a witty writer, sometimes wacky, sometimes tender. The first text Brian brought me was a goofball romp about a boy in a natural history museum, The Frightful Story of Harry Walfish (1997), though not till he’d finished, for Orchard, Helen Ketteman’s Luck with Potatoes (1995). Years later, I mean years, he admitted that before Helen’s book he’d never done any watercolor illustrations requiring book-length focus. But focus he did…on a departure, and also in watercolor: Five Trucks (1999), which Booklist starred and which prompted the reviewer to ask: “If picture books about trucks are so easy to do, why do we see so many poor ones and so few as good as this?”

A stylistic throwback followed, Dinosaurs at the Ends of the Earth (2000) about explorer/naturalist Roy Chapman Andrews. Not quite nonfiction (Brian imagines some dialogue), the book spreads as wide as the Gobi Desert; the text, mostly arrayed horizontally, is lengthy and looks it. Great rectangles of words. But the writing is alive, a throwback only in its long-lined form.

As a kid I loved poring over Holling C. Holling (but oh, those long texts) and the informational books by Edwin Tunis (dry as tinder, yet the drawings captivated). Fifty years later, here was Brian Floca of Temple, Texas, an artist who could bring to life gizmos, vehicles, feats, and all manner of things that go and do and make noises. And not go on and on for paragraphs. Here was an artist to channel that one-time kid who liked “process” and long-looking. I hope it’s clear that we’d hit it off as friends from the beginning, but now the making of books about the workings of things had become a connecting passion.

The Racecar Alphabet (2003) was the first brainchild: rambunctious, even raucous, with an alliterative text only 205 words long. One NASCAR driver we heard from via e-mail reads the book to his son regularly and praised Brian for the accuracy of art, car info — and sound effects. For a further example of those, see Lightship (2007).

“A committee member” asked for a lunch-break look at our copy of Lightship in the Atheneum ALA booth.
She’d heard that the text was “strong.” It was Lightship that alerted the world that this young man could not only illustrate and pace a book beautifully, he could also write. Brian’s texts thereafter arrayed themselves vertically; visually spare, like ribbons floating to allow room for art, they often read like poetry (think of the glorious Moonshot in 2009, and now Locomotive). The words brim with emotion even when it is facts he’s presenting.

Since his beginnings, Brian has been a working illustrator. His website makes clear that his range is impressive —
animal, vegetable, mechanical. I have a most personal collection of hand-drawn postcards and notes the Society of Illustrators could make a show of; a recent highlight is a pen-and-ink Jupiter, puffing a great blast of thank-you flowers.

Locomotive began life in 2008 as an homage to a wondrous big chugger such as Jupiter, when Brian’s flight of Apollo 11 was still on the drawing board. It soon became clear that locomotives, especially those engines destined for transcontinental travel, bore on their wheels the great weight of nineteenth-century America. Homage
became paean. Had to. Thirty-two pages became, progressively, 40, 48, 56, 64. Research led him this way and that — into many an account of the heroism, ingenuity, venality, and even crime behind the country’s westward expansion. These elements, outside the immediate focus of Locomotive, make appearances in the narrative in supporting roles, which, it is hoped, will lead readers to other books, other stories. But the stars of Locomotive had to remain the locomotives themselves (several were required to make the Omaha-to-Sacramento trek); sometimes even pieces of their stories fell to the cutting room floor.

Nearly a victim of the streamlining ax was the KA-BOOM! explosion picture. (Brian said: “Boys will like it; I hate to lose it, but…”) Lots of the book hit the floor at one time or another, great puddles of remarkable art, often without room for itself in the narrative, offshoots of story for which there was no space or time. The nights of the journey had to be documented with rhythmically placed dark pages; lighting for existing scenes had to be changed from midnight to sunlight — perspectives had to be juxtaposed. Locomotive was pulled apart and reassembled many a time. Like a machine itself, this book was built.

And as with the pictures, the text too was an assemblage. I must have read it a hundred times and yet I am always impressed with how the skein of language supports the visual story. For by now, after a long, evolutionary, and iterative process, a story had emerged — of one family traveling westward, propelled by a sequence of Union Pacific and Central Pacific locomotives. Listen to the book read aloud. Through its words, it presents the experiences of one boy (a stand-in, surely, for the artist himself) lucky enough to see and see more and hear and hear more — a whole world opening up to him.

At the touching end, the simplicity of the family’s reunion seems to me just right — no bustling background, just feeling. Full but spare, the text here through the arrival in San Francisco was sifted and shifted well into final proofing stage. The book ends with the art/text version of a hug. And extends to the back of the jacket, which shows six grown boys loving a machine — just as three grown boys, Brian principally, but also the designer, Michael McCartney, and I, have loved the tinkering, the polishing, the priming of this book for its journey from the nineteenth century to the twenty-first.

Brian Floca has opened a world to me.

And now, what’s next? Back to the man who put this crew together: Avi and his Old Wolf. Brian has illustrated in rich pencil the fable-like tale of an aged wolf-pack leader determined to feed his hungry pups (does he or doesn’t he have one more kill in him?), a boy with a birthday bow-and-arrows who knows about killing only from video games, and a raven who knows about everything.

After that, there’s a picture book starring a cat behind the wheel—a vehicle-sized cat or a cat-sized vehicle? Only the artist knows for sure…

I am grateful that there’s to be a future for us. Thank you, young sir, for the ride so far. I have learned much.

Your pal, D

Brian Floca is the 2014 Caldecott Medal winner for Locomotive. From the July/August 2014 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

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37. 2014 South Asia Book Award for Children's and Young Adult Literature

The South Asia Book Award (SABA) is given annually for up to two outstanding works of literature, from early childhood to secondary reading levels, which accurately and skillfully portrays South Asia or South Asians in the diaspora, that is the experience of individuals living in South Asia, or of South Asians living in other parts of the world. Up to five Honor Books and Highly Commended Books are also  recognized by the award committee.

 2014 Winners

A Moment Comes by Jennifer Bradbury (Atheneum, 2013)

Before India was divided, three teens, each from wildly different backgrounds, cross paths. And then, in one moment, their futures become irrevocably intertwined. Tariq, Anupreet, Margaret are as different as their Muslim, Sikh, and British names. But in that one moment, their futures become entirely dependent on one another. (Grades 8 and up).

Razia’s Ray of Hope: One Girl’s Dream of an Education by Elizabeth Suneby (Kids Can Press, 2013)

Razia dreams of getting an education, but in her small village in Afghanistan, girls haven’t been allowed to attend school for many years. When a new girls’ school opens in the village, a determined Razia must convince her father and oldest brother that educating her would be best for her, their family and their community. Based on the true stories of the students of the Zabuli Education Center for Girls just outside of Kabul (Grades 3-8).


2014 Honor Books

Bye, Bye, Motabhai! by Kala Sambasivan, illustrations by Ambika Sambasivan (Yali Books, 2013). Pavan, an over-worked camel in the city of Ahmedabad, India, hates his job. He often dreams of being a racing camel in Dubai. But hitched to a heavy vegetable cart and with his owner Motabhai around, how is this possible? (Grades pre-K-3).

Gandhi: A March to the Sea by Alice B. McGinty, illustrations by Thomas Gonzalez (Amazon Publishing, 2013). Mohandas Gandhi’s 24-day March to the Sea, from March 12 to April 5, 1930, was a pivotal moment in India’s quest to become an independent country no longer ruled by Great Britain (Grades 3 and up).

 The Garden of My Imaan by Farhana Zia (Peachtree, 2013). The arrival of a new student, Marwa, a fellow fifth-grader who is a strict Muslim, helps Aliya come to terms with her own lukewarm practice of the faith and her embarrassment of others’ reactions to their beliefs (Grades 4-7).

Mother Teresa: Angel of the Slums by Lewis Helfand, art by Sachin Nagar (Campfire, an imprint of Kalyani Navyug Media, 2013). Mother Teresa knew from a young age that she wanted to become a nun. What she could not envision was where that service to God would take her, until she was sent to Calcutta to teach (Grades 6 and up).

2014 Highly Commended Books


The Fantastic Adventures of Krishna written and illustrated by Demi (Wisdom Tales, 2013). Set in a peaceful kingdom in India more than 5000 years ago, this is the enchanting tale of the child Krishna, who is sent by the God Vishnu to aid humanity (Grades K and up).

Gobble You Up! by Gita Wolf, art by Sunita (Tara Books, 2013). In this adaptation of a traditional oral Rajasthani trickster tale, a wily jackal, who is too lazy to go hunting himself, challenges his best friend to catch 12 fish. The narrative unfolds in cumulative rhyme, accompanied by distinctive finger paintings created in the ancient Mandna style (Grades pre-K-3).

In Andal’s House by Gloria Whelan, illustrations by Amanda Hall (Sleeping Bear Press, 2013). As a young boy in Gujarat, Kumar sometimes feels like he lives in two worlds. The old world where people and their choices are determined by prejudice and bigotry; and the modern world: in this world Kumar can be friends with whomever he chooses and his future looks bright (Grades K-3).

My Basmati Bat Mitzvah by Paula J Freedman (Harry N. Abrams, 2013). Tara’s not sure she wants to have a bat mitzvah. Even though she’s attended Hebrew school, her mother’s Indian heritage has a pull on her, and she wonders if she dishonors her Indian grandparents by declaring her Judaism (Grades 5-8).

Torn by David Massey (Chicken House, 2013). The story follows Ellie, a 19-year-old British medic, during her tour of duty in Afghanistan. Her squad is attached to a small troop of American SEALs who must find a hidden cache of arms and learn about a children’s army that is fighting both the Western Coalition and the Taliban (Grades 8 and up).

The 2014 South Asia Book Award Ceremony will be held in Madison, Wisconsin on Saturday, October 18, 2014.

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38. Rita Williams-Garcia’s 2014 CSK Author Award Acceptance

Good morning, family. I am honored to stand before you all: Coretta Scott King Book Awards Committee Chair Kim Patton and the committee; most distinguished fellow honorees; and all of us joined through our love of books, tolerance, and peace.

p.s. be eleven Rita Williams Garcias 2014 CSK Author Award AcceptanceA certain type of ignorance is truly bliss. I’d been writing for young people over the years without any true awareness of Midwinter and those glorious announcements — or what I now call Pumpkin Monday. Sidebar: Pumpkin Monday is my term for the morning we learn whether Cinderella will be at the ball or sitting in the pumpkin patch. Recently I’ve gained more of a clue about the Midwinter gathering — when it convenes, and what it could mean. But this year I was in a blissful state of unawareness because I went to bed without thinking to leave my phone nearby. I had a wonderful, dream-filled sleep — and then, about six hours later, my eyes popped open: IT’S PUMPKIN MONDAY! I shut my eyes to pray as I do every morning. I hadn’t uttered three words of praise when the phone rang. I heard the thing ringing, but where was it? I ran into the living room and found the phone just as the call was about to go to voicemail. I only remember seeing PHILADELPHIA on the display and hearing a cheerfully assertive voice proclaim, “This is Kim Patton calling from Philadelphia” — blur, blur, blur — “the Coretta Scott King Award for text.” Committee members, I apologize to you all for those high-pitched screams that followed. Repeatedly. Forgive me. Recognition for a sequel is traditionally a long shot. I humbly thank you for recognizing P.S. Be Eleven and its place in the narrative stream of African American family amid changing times in the community and in the world.

Just because a silent prayer is answered, it doesn’t mean stop praying. I had much to be thankful for. As soon as I hung up from receiving that glorious call, I returned to morning prayer. However, afterwards, I was too excited to write. If you know me at all, you know that when I’m this excited I can’t keep still. I have to jump. Or dance.

I picked up the phone and called Joan. Who is Joan? Joan is someone who shares a phone number with my editor, Rosemary Brosnan — except for one digit. How does one bungle speed dial? I resorted to e-mail and sent Rosemary one word and a few exclamation marks: “CORETTA!!!” Finally I managed to pull it together and dial Rosemary’s number the old-fashioned way. Digit by digit.

I thought no one else could know and love Delphine, Vonetta, and Fern — and even Cecile, Pa, and Big Ma — like I do, but not so. Rosemary has loved these characters and advocated for them, and has known when to mother them and when to let them be. I could not have a better editor, sister, and believer in me than Rosemary Brosnan.

I chose themes of change in P.S. Be Eleven because life as we knew it back then screamed for change like an angry baby in a funky diaper. Change me. Now! The world was in a continual state of unrest. There was war and a strong anti-war movement, and strife between the generations; the Civil Rights era was giving way to the Black Power Movement; women’s fight for equality challenged the status quo; a gay rights movement brewed on both coasts; riots and drugs turned poor neighborhoods into urban wastelands; and the ecological well-being of the planet was under attack. Let me hear you say ball of confusion!

For Delphine, Vonetta, and Fern, it was all happening right now: change in the home, at school, in the neighborhood, and in the world. And they had a personal ball of confusion — change was happening from within — in spite of Delphine’s mother telling her to “be eleven” when she was on the verge of twelve.

I liked the idea of change and the conundrum it poses for children. On the one hand, children need to feel secure. They need a stable environment to thrive and to be able to look forward to the future. On the other hand, the change needed to secure that stability, that future, that chance to thrive — it can’t happen without volatile struggle. We enjoy a good deal of what we have today because someone struggled. Quite a few of you sitting here at this breakfast were on the uneasy but right side of change.

This past March, I participated in an essay-writing workshop at Queens Central Public Library in Jamaica, New York, with the writer Mariah Fredericks, where I met a sixth grader who lived in a shelter. She and her family would soon move to a house in Connecticut and have stability for a change. She was happy for her mother but sad to leave her friends in the shelter. Many children like her along the way have reminded me to write from the heart of a child. Delphine, Vonetta, Fern, and I are indebted to the children I continue to learn from — especially my daughters, Michelle and Stephanie. My vision of childhood has been formed by the children I’ve been privileged to observe over the years.

One day that young girl who left the shelter will love her new home and won’t be able to imagine living anywhere else. When positive change happens, it’s hard to consider that the page we’re on now isn’t the page we were on back then. Even Delphine doesn’t quite know what to make of the women’s movement, although she and her sisters will ultimately benefit from this struggle.

Peter Garcia; his late mother, Elaine; and I have raised feminist daughters. We have a saying in the Garcia house: “Our daughters are our daughters; our daughters are our sons.” I wish I could tell you I was always on the right side of change while the women’s movement was happening. But I remember men in my family having limited opportunities for employment and education. I also remember how my classmates’ mothers bragged that their husbands wouldn’t allow them to work. In the meantime, my mother put on her white uniform and walked a mile to the bus stop to get to work six days a week. One day my mother caught one of the stay-at-home wives at the bus stop, her work uniform hidden in a bag.

At eleven, I wasn’t completely on board with the feminist struggle of the sixties. I wanted my father to have a job and my mother to stay at home. I didn’t make a connection between my own aspirations, my constant competitiveness with my brother, my desire to explore what was out there, with those young women marching and burning bras. Heck, at twelve I needed a bra. Big time.

My father, like Delphine’s father, was a chauvinist. He had rules and expectations for his daughters and a different set of rules and expectations for his son. But this didn’t stop him from giving my sister, brother, and me boxing gloves and lessons. Like most people, my father believed in change but was also a person of his generation and its values. For Dad, genuine change from within came over time.

As tempting as it was, I couldn’t let Delphine be entirely on the right side of change — she, a child who pined for a traditional mother in the home. She would come to understand her mother over a time that extends beyond the last chapter of the book. I have to believe that what now sounded far-fetched to Delphine — a woman president, a black woman in political office — might not be so far-fetched to Delphine as she witnesses and becomes a part of change.

I find that as things change, and change becomes status quo, the memory of struggle fades with each generation. “Weren’t things always this way?” The one constant about change seems to me that we can bring it about, but we can’t control it. Each generation reshapes the memory of change and then seeks to bring about change for what they envision. Let us pray that those who seek change aim high and that the change sought positively includes the least of us.

I cannot leave you without thanking a host of people who affect my life greatly in the most positive ways.

I must begin with someone on the frontlines of change: professor emeritus Rudine Sims Bishop. Back to the Pumpkin Monday call: a familiar voice had come on the line to say, “Rita, this is Rudine.” I’m sure I screamed “Rudine!” You see, Rudine and I go back to the early nineties, when she said I “may well be among the most prominent African-American literary artists of the next generation.” Over the years I felt I had let her down. Rudine, it means the world to share this embodiment of your faith in me so many years later.

I feel the weight and cheer of my HarperCollins family with every novel sent out to young readers. I wrote P.S. Be Eleven, but it was everyone behind it, believing in it, that made it go. Rosemary Brosnan, Susan Katz, Kate Jackson, Patty Rosati, Molly Motch, Robin Tordini, Stephanie Macy, Kim VandeWater, Olivia deLeon, Andrea Martin, Barb Fitzsimmons, Cara Petrus, Brenna Franzitta, and Annie Berger, I sincerely and joyfully thank you all.

I am indebted to artist extraordinaire Frank Morrison, who knows my girls, the stoop, and the times, and is simply brilliant.

My Vermont College of Fine Arts colleagues are my writing community and cheered me on through my early sharing of this novel.

When they were young, my daughters, Michelle and Stephanie, recognized the signs of silent writing. The stare. My daughters make me the opposite of Cecile. My son-in-law, Adam, taught me to crochet and gives me comedy tips.

To my lifelong partner, Ferdinand Leyro, who has changed the quality of my life and in doing so changed my mind and heart.

Lastly, I thank Cornelius Swarthout of Troy, New York, who filed for his patent on his improved waffle iron in 1869. There is no celebration on Pumpkin Monday without waffles.

Rita Williams-Garcia’s 2014 Coretta Scott King Author Award acceptance speech for P.S. Be Eleven was delivered at the annual American Library Association conference in Las Vegas, Nevada, on June 29, 2014. Read a profile of the author written by Kathleen T. Horning. From the July/August 2014 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

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39. A Profile of Rita Williams-Garcia: Being Eleven

horning williamsgarcia brosnan 550x365 A Profile of Rita Williams Garcia:  Being Eleven

From left: Kathleen T. Horning, Rita Williams-Garcia, and Rosemary Brosnan.

I first met Rita Williams-Garcia three years ago, soon after One Crazy Summer was published. Prior to that, though, I had known her through her books for many years, starting with her first novel, Blue Tights. It stood out among all the YA novels published in 1988 for its honest and realistic depiction of a working-class teen. Blue Tights was followed by Fast Talk on a Slow Track (1991) and Like Sisters on the Homefront (1995), two books that were unusual in their time because they featured older teens. Fast Talk, for example, takes place over the summer between Denzel Watson’s senior year of high school and freshman year of college. Subsequent books dealt with serious subjects: rape, female genital mutilation, teen violence. Heavy subjects, even for young adult literature.

So when I first read One Crazy Summer, I was surprised. It was so different from Rita’s earlier books. Who knew she could write so well for middle-grade readers? And who knew she was so devastatingly funny? I laughed aloud at least once on every page while I was reading the book. It all felt so familiar. In fact, I could tell how old Rita was because we had grown up in exactly the same era. Vietnam. Black Panthers. Power to the people. Right on! It all rang so true that, although Rita and I had not yet met, I felt as though we had grown up together.

We were eleven years old at the same time.

Since we’ve become friends, Rita and I have compared notes about that time in our childhoods. She was born in Queens, New York, and grew up in interesting places like California and Georgia; I was born in the boring Midwest and have stayed there all my life. Rita was the youngest of three siblings in a military family, and I was the middle child of five being raised by a newspaperman and a teacher. On the surface, our lives seemed different.

jackson5banner 550x232 A Profile of Rita Williams Garcia:  Being ElevenBut Rita and I bonded over our mutual love of the Jackson 5. Nothing defined the era during which we were eleven better than the Jackson 5. We both remember the thrill of seeing them on TV for the first time in the fall of 1969. Here were five talented brothers, kids like us, performing live on national television. And for African American kids, they represented even more: a twin sense of hope and pride. If you remember the chapter in One Crazy Summer where Delphine and her sisters Vonetta and Fern count the number of words spoken by black people on TV, you’ll get a sense of what a momentous occasion the group’s first television appearance was. As Delphine might say: black infinity — multiplied by five! Rita perfectly re-created that thrill in an early chapter of P.S. Be Eleven, where the three sisters tune in to see the Jackson 5 performing on Hollywood Palace. The chapter is based on her own memories of what it was like; halfway across the country, I was experiencing the same thing. It was an excitement we had to contain. Rita once described it as painful silent screaming — silent so as not to draw undue adult attention after bedtime.

Every girl fan, and probably more than a few boys, set their sights on one brother for singular adoration (and future marriage). Delphine chose the oldest one, Jackie, because of his height. I went for Jermaine’s shy smile. And Rita fell for Tito’s eyebrows. She also thought Tito looked like he could handle himself at the rough school she was attending at the time. Her reasoning was so typical of that eleven-year-old mindset in which a famous pop star might show up in your schoolyard at any moment. In Rita’s fantasy, Tito walked her home each day and carried her books.

p.s. be eleven A Profile of Rita Williams Garcia:  Being ElevenBoth Rita and I had time for childhood fantasies, and we both had the luxury of a long childhood; unlike Delphine, who has adult responsibilities thrust on her. She has no choice but to be a surrogate mother for her younger sisters, since her own mother left them. Ironically, it is her estranged mother, in her recurring postscripts, who reminds Delphine to hold on to her childhood a bit longer: “Be eleven.”

I was with Rita and her editor, Rosemary Brosnan, on November 6, 2012. They had come to Madison for the Charlotte Zolotow Lecture the next day, and we all gathered at my house to watch the presidential election returns. I got to see Rita do her happy dance when the race was called for Obama. There was quite a bit of Vonetta in that performance, believe me. And then Rita wanted to read me the opening chapter of her new book, P.S. Be Eleven, because she knew I loved those three sisters as much as I loved the Jackson 5. We talked about what it was like back then, being eleven, and being so hopeful for the future. It felt like anything was possible.

It only occurred to us later that someone else was eleven years old at that time — Michael Jackson, the lead singer of the Jackson 5. He seemed to have everything. Wealth. Fame. Talent. Leather vests and platform shoes. But there was one thing Rita and I both had that he didn’t: being eleven.

I asked Rita if there was anything she had learned from the Jackson 5 when she was a child, other than how to dance the Funky Chicken. She wrote:

The thing I learned came long after I was eleven: there is no foundation quite like having a childhood. A balanced and solid childhood can halfway guarantee a healthy adulthood. Those brothers were incredibly talented. They worked hard but made it look easy and fun. Even with seemingly having it all, the one thing Michael missed was time to play. Be a kid.

Be eleven.

Read Rita Williams-Garcia’s 2014 Coretta Scott King Author Award acceptance speech. From the July/August 2014 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

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July & August are quiet months with no appearances or events scheduled.  But there are still fun things to chat about: COMIX! July is the last month of my sabbatical in Paris, France, drawing and doodling.   You can check out my experiments over at Universal U-Click for a comic-strip-doodle-thingie called PARIS DOODLES . The strip runs drawings, dining room dinner doodles, and photos

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41. Bryan Collier’s 2014 CSK Illustrator Award Acceptance

knockknockjacket 232x300 Bryan Colliers 2014 CSK Illustrator Award AcceptanceI was inspired to create this book by Daniel Beaty’s wonderful monologue “Knock Knock.” His emotional delivery and moving text of a boy’s struggle to navigate his way toward manhood — not completely alone, but without the presence of his father — set the tone for this rollercoaster-like ride that is this boy’s life.

The art for the book was created in watercolor and collage on 400-pound watercolor paper and begins with a beautiful young boy tucked in bed, pretending to be asleep, anticipating the entrance of his father, who goes knock knock on his door. The boy then jumps into his papa’s arms, saying, “Good morning, Papa!” And Papa says, “I love you.” If you pay attention to the details, you’ll see marching elephants in the wallpaper around the boy’s room. They march over a bookshelf full of books, past construction trucks, sneakers, and a basketball, and under a rainbow and a window that lets the morning sun in. The boy and his papa play “Knock Knock” every morning, but one day the father’s knock doesn’t come. And morning after morning it still never comes and the rainbow falls. The boy’s mother is there to comfort, protect, and raise her son as she gets him ready for school and the world.

In the boy’s world you’ll notice that the sky is not as blue as it could be and the buildings all around are leaning and decaying, symbolizing that the boy’s world is crumbling around him, falling apart. The boy sits in his room, next to a calendar marked in red Xs for every day his father has been gone. He reasons that “maybe [Papa] comes when I’m not home?” So he decides to write him a letter. The boy then folds this letter into a paper airplane and tosses it out the window into a not-so-blue sky. And wearing his father’s hat, he hops aboard the paper plane and soars above the city, over the crumbling buildings. “Papa, come home, ’cause there are things I don’t know…how to dribble a ball, how to shave.” The boy sails close to rooftops, where you’ll notice faces on nearly every roof. His situation is not an isolated event, and he is not alone.

This is a universal story of loss and how one creates a beautiful life in spite of that loss. “Papa, come home, ’cause I want to be just like you, but I’m forgetting who you are.” As the face of his father fades away, the elephant motif in the art marches on as the paper plane flies on back through the bedroom window and lands on the boy’s bed. The boy stands framed by the doorway with construction trucks, a bookshelf full of books, and a basketball, with the elephants marching around his room.



The bigger questions the book asks are: Who could leave you? and Who in the world could have the nerve to leave me? But, there’s joy in the morning, so let’s keep moving.

Finally, a letter of explanation and apology comes from the boy’s father. He imparts life lessons and wisdom to his son that will help the boy as he grows into his manhood. “Shave in one direction…to avoid irritation. Dribble the page with the brilliance of your ballpoint pen…KNOCK KNOCK to open new doors to your dreams…and you have a bright, beautiful future.”

The boy takes heed of his father’s words and grows to become a strong man, an architect and builder of community. He now has a beautiful wife and family of his own as they all march like those elephants of past days under a now-brilliant blue sky, with colorful balloons of music and joy. His family celebrates him with a surprise party.

“KNOCK KNOCK for me, for as long as you become your best, the best of me still lives in you.” The family presents the now grown-up boy with his father’s hat as a gift. And lastly, we see the father and son embrace, as all the letters written over the years fall around them from above.

But if you look closer, you’ll see that the father is just a hologram.


“Who’s there?”

“You are.”

Bryan Collier’s 2014 Coretta Scott King Illustrator Award acceptance speech for Knock Knock: My Dad’s Dream for Me was delivered at the annual conference of the American Library Association in Las Vegas, Nevada, on June 29, 2014. Read a profile of Bryan written by his editor Alvina Ling. From the July/August 2014 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

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42. #599-601 – Adventures at Walnut Grove: #1: A Lesson in Teasing – #2: I Double Dare You! – #3: I Can Do It by Dana Lehman & Judy Lehman

cover combosAdventures at Walnut Grove: #1: A Lesson in Teasing - #2: I Double Dare You! - #3: I Can Do It

by Dana Lehman & Judy Lehman, illustrator

Lehman Publishing   5/31/2010 – 4/24/2008 – 6/15/2007


Age 4 to 8       36 pages


“Sammy enjoys visiting new places, so he decides to take his friends to an enchanted forest called Whispering Willows. Along the way and through Paradise Pond, Bucky realizes that with practice and confidence, he can swim! Join Sammy and his friends on a journey that will have them swimming for frogs, swinging through the forest and building a tree house. Magical things happen in Whispering Willows . . . if you believe.


#1:  “Sammy was a unique squirrel.”

#2:  “Walnut Grove was a wonderful place to spend summer  vacation.”

#3:  “It was time for another visit from Sammy’s cousins, Silly and Sassy.”


Sammy is waiting for his cousins, Silly and Sassy to return to Walnut Grove, where Sammy lives. Sammy is a unique squirrel. He has raccoon eyes! Maybe it is his eyes or maybe because Sammy likes to lead that everyone follows him. Today the gang is going to Whispering Willows, a magical forest, where Sammy wants to build a treehouse. Who is this gang of animals? Sammy (squirrel, and apparent leader), Silly and Sassy (squirrels and Sammy’s cousins), Bucky (a beaver who is learning to swim), and Rocky (a raccoon, who trusts Sammy because of Sammy’s raccoon eyes).

This is the third adventure for this gang of friends. The first, entitled, Adventures at Walnut Pond: a Lesson in Teasing has the gang staying at the Walnut Grove Resort where they play with many new friends. In a game of walnut ball, a new kid (Bucky the beaver), tries to distract Sammy from hitting the walnut by teasing him. Later, Pokey (porcupine) teases Bucky about his lack of swimming skills. In the end, they all learn, teasing any animal is not nice and to treat others as you would like to be treated. Bucky and Pokey apologize and the kids have a great time for the rest of their visit to the Walnut Grove Resort.


#1: A Lesson in Teasing

I Double Dare You again brings the cousins Silly and Sassy. By now, they have gotten the knack of causing trouble without meaning to. They just do not think. During a game of hide-and-seek, Silly and Sassy get distracted by some nice long sticks. Silly double dares Sassy to play swords. Though mom had told them no more playing swords, Sassy could not refuse a double dare. She accidently pokes Silly in the eye. Later, Silly and Bucky climb up onto Deep Water Bridge. Silly double dares Bucky to jump into the river. Silly jumps and swims to shore. Bucky feels pressure to follow, so he jumps. There’s one problem: Bucky is just learning to swim. He begins to drown. Both Sassy and Bucky blame Silly because he had double dared them, leaving them no choice. The kids learn it is important to take responsibility for your own actions and to apologize when they are wrong. Silly’s poked eye heals and Bucky survives the water. When Bucky was drowning, his dad rescued him. In kid’s books, children—in this instance, one of the gang—should do the rescuing. This empowers kids.


#2: I Double Dare You!

This brings us to the most current adventure for Sammy and company. Mothers of two-year-olds are well aware of this title: I Can Do It! The gang is in Whispering Willows, the magical forest where anything can happen. Bucky’s learned to swim and can swim out after a frog, now named Whopper because the frog is one whopper! Silly will not fare as well. Every time Silly tries to build something, he gets hurt. Silly has no desire to help make a treehouse. Encouraged, he tries—and smashes his paw with a hammer, losing all confidence in himself. Silly also physically loses himself, sans his eyes, which look to be floating. Now that is eerie.

The magical tree allowing the kids to build tells Silly he will be invisible until he believes in himself. Silly stops helping. Later, Bucky gives Silly Whopper, whom Bucky considers a lucky charm. Silly gives building one more shot. Soon, his confidence returns, as does Silly. Thank goodness, Bucky knew how to help Silly. Silly’s mom would probably prefer a poked eye to an invisible child. The message of this third volume of Adventures at Walnut Grove is to believe in yourself. Believe I Can Do It!


#3: I Can Do It

The Adventures at Walnut Grove all carry messages that are impossible to miss. I am not fond of message books, especially when the message hits you almost instantly. That is just what I do not like; or simply my own opinion. If you like such books, the three well-written volumes—with a fourth in the works—has wonderful characters, each unique in some way. I like that the characters return in each new story. When a character is lost, some kids will be sad and may give up on the series. A series needs consistency and Ms. Lehman made sure all her beloved characters returned, once introduced, and acted consistently from one story to the next. I’d be very surprised if the fourth story strays.

The illustrations are nice. The images are not digital, giving the books a down-home feel that will be comforting. There is one odd spread. In I Can Do It, spread 6, the illustrator used the exact same illustration on the left and right halves of the spread.This lack of creativity is not acceptable. On a happier note, the animals are realistic and consistently drawn. I think kids will enjoy the illustrations. As for the text, my only suggestion would be to edit for wordiness and to bring the text more in line with picture book word counts of 500 to 1000. A few pages are nearly half text. Young children “read” the illustrations and may become distracted waiting for the page to turn. Beyond this, I like each story. I like the situations used to bring the message to fruition. Ms. Lehman is someone I would consider to have an active imagination. Every writer should have such an imagination.

Each book ends with A Word from the Author. It starts off on a good note to parents, but then becomes patronizing. The author may still be talking to children with her encouraging note. My understanding of an author’s note is to clarify the content or add to it. In a picture book, I do not expect a note for the child, but this would explain the tone of the note.

I look forward to book four. I think parents will love the messages this series can help them teach their children. Kids will enjoy the story and the wonderfully fresh illustrations. The last two pages contain a mix of open and closed discussion questions and a short activity. There are more activities on the author’s website. Kindergarten and first grade teachers could easily find a use for this series. Schools libraries would do well to stock up on Sammy and his friends at Walnut Grove.

ADVENTURES AT WALNUT GROVE #1: A LESSON IN TEASING, #2: I DOUBLE DARE YOU, #3: I CAN DO IT. Text copyright © 2007, 2008, 2010 by Dana Lehman. Illustrations copyright © 2007, 2008, 2010 by Judy Lehman. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Lehman Publishing, Allentown, MI.

Buy any of the Adventures at Walnut Grove books at AmazonB&NLehman Publishingat your local bookstore.


Learn more about the Adventures at Walnut Grove series HERE.

Meet the author, Dana Lehman, at her bio:  http://www.lehmanpublishing.com/author.php

Meet the illustrator, Judy Lehman, at her bio:  http://www.lehmanpublishing.com/author.php

.Find Lehman Publishing books at their website:   http://www.lehmanpublishing.com/

.AWARDS – 2009 Mom’s Choice Award (x2)

A Lesson about Teasing – Silver: Values and Life Lessons

I DOUBLE Dare You! – Silver: Developing Social Skills

adventures at walnut grove 1 2 3

Filed under: 4stars, Awards, Children's Books, Debut Author, Debut Illustrator, Library Donated Books, Picture Book, Series Tagged: A Lesson in Teasing, beavers, Dana Lehman, I Can Do It!, I Double Dare You, Judy Lehman, Lehman Publishing, porcupine, racoons, squirrels, wild animals

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43. Will Hayao Miyazaki Reject the Academy’s Invitation Again?

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, the stodgy group of film industry workers who hand out the Oscars, has revealed a list of the 271 people it has invited to become members of its organization this year.

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44. Playing catch-up

Normally I’d upload a post bright and early on a Monday, but today…it just wasn’t gonna happen. Unlike most of the bloggers here, I don’t have end-of-school-year burnout excuse. It was just one of those weeks followed by a busy weekend followed by a Monday that came too soon.

People here at the Horn Book are gearing up for the American Library Association conference — either getting ready to go themselves, or stepping up their work because lots of us will take the end of the week off. With so many people out of the office, not to mention most of the folks we work with at publishing houses, it’s the perfect time to take a long weekend away. For me, everything I had to design is done and on it’s way to NV. If you are at ALA, stop by the Horn Book booth and grab our gorgeous new poster by Brian Floca before they run out.

For those of you who are teachers rather than librarians, this ALA conference (in Las Vegas, baby!) is when the Newbery, Caldecott, and Coretta Scott King award acceptance speeches will be given. These are big deals for everyone who attends. People tend to choose their outfits with care and a few librarians have even taken to doing interviews on the “red carpet.” Here’s the 2008 video, a la Project Runway.

We will print the acceptance speeches in our July issue and have been sworn to secrecy about their content until they are given next week on Sunday and Monday. Check this site later this week for profiles of Kate DiCamillo, Brian Floca, Rita Williams-Garcia, and Bryan Collier.

If you want to know how the Horn Book reviewed all of this year’s ALA award winners, go to this page.

We’ll be back on our regular schedule Wednesday — and Friday, too, even though I plan to sleep in that day!

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45. ‘Peg + Cat’ and ‘Peter Rabbit’ Top 41st Daytime Emmy Creative Arts Awards

The 41st Daytime Entertainment Creative Arts Emmy Awards were held last Friday in Los Angeles. The big winners in the animation categories were the PBS series "Peg + Cat" and the Nick series "Peter Rabbit," which each picked up three awards.

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46. Jon Klassen Named Winner of the Kate Greenaway Medal

Jon Klassen has been named the winner of the 2014 Kate Greenaway Medal for Illustration.

Klassen was presented with this award for his 2012 title, This is Not My Hat. According to the press release, Klassen’s hit picture book “will go into the history books as the first ever title to win both the UK’s highest illustration honor with the Kate Greenaway Medal, and also win the most prestigious award for children’s book illustration in the US, the Randolph Caldecott Medal, which was awarded in 2013.”

The same year that Klassen received a Newbery Medal for This is Not My Hat, he also earned a Caldecott Honor for Extra Yarn which is written by Mac Barnett. Klassen and Barnett will team up once again for a new project entitled Sam and Dave Dig a Hole; Candlewick Press plans to release it in October 2014. What do you think?

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47. Editorial: Don’t Speak!

What’s an award without the occasional scandal to make sure everybody’s paying attention? Marisa Tomei winning the Oscar. Wicked not winning the Tony. Rush Limbaugh being named Author of the Year.

That last should not have been a surprise, though. The Children’s Book Council’s Author and Illustrator of the Year awards, part of their Children’s Choice Book Awards program, are chosen by amateurs. I say this not to deride Mr. Limbaugh’s win but because it is literally true: the five candidates for each of these two awards are chosen on the basis of how many books they have sold; the winner is determined by an online free-for-all vote. It really is a popularity contest.

I’m confident enough in Horn Book readers to believe they can dismiss this as just so much gimmickry and nonsense that means nothing. We watch the People’s Choice Awards on TV because we like to see celebrities in fancy clothes, not because we think the awards themselves are actually important. (Not that we necessarily think the Academy Awards are important, either, but they do have demonstrable effects beyond one starry night.) Does anyone remember who won last year’s Author of the Year award? No offense intended to that winner — Jeff Kinney — but the fact that we don’t automatically think, “Ah, yes, the 2013 Author of the Year,” when we hear his name means that the award is superfluous. (We already know he sells a lot of books.)

Not so the distinguished Newbery and Caldecott medals, whose prestige and influence we honor in this, our annual ALA Awards issue. These awards generate gossip and parsing and debate and drama — all good things — but have remained admirably if boringly scandal-free. But I am afraid that ALSC’s recent attempt to keep the awards that way is only going to bite itself in the butt.

While previously content to merely caution award committee members not to violate the confidentiality of committee discussions, at ALA’s Midwinter Conference earlier this year the ALSC Board of Directors approved revisions to its “Policy for Service on Award Committees.” The policy now states that “[committee] members should not engage in any print or electronic communication outside of the committee regarding eligible titles during their term of service.” If this seems little to ask, remember that any book with text is an “eligible title” for the Newbery Medal and that “any print or electronic communication” means not just The Horn Book and SLJ, etc., but also blogs, Goodreads, Facebook, Twitter, and professional listservs. Oh, and your e-mail.

Of course I have a vested interest here. I’m sorry that I and the other Horn Book editors may no longer serve on ALSC award committees. By swearing to refrain from public commentary on the books we read, when such commentary is exactly what the public is counting on us for, we are being asked to stop doing the job that presumably brought us to the attention of ALSC in the first place. But the larger problem is that ALSC is asking all of its award committee members to neglect their professional responsibilities for a year in favor of an awards program that needs more fresh air, not less. No librarian worthy of the name should ever put herself in the position of not being able to promote good books.

This is lawyering up with a vengeance, and it does the awards no good, putting them in a critical vacuum. And as far as keeping the discussions untainted by outside pressures goes, it is laughable, given that committee members are allowed to publish unsigned opinions — the perfect basis for a whisper campaign — and remain free to revel in the attentions of publishers eager to wine and dine them. ALSC is fixing a problem that isn’t a problem with a solution that is only going to create problems of its own. That’s a scandal just waiting to happen.

From the July/August 2014 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

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48. Alan Holly’s ‘Coda’ Wins Top Prize at Fest Anča

Irish filmmaker Alan Holly's "Coda"was the grand prize winner at Fest Anča, which wrapped up last Sunday in Žilina, Slovakia.

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49. Daniel Handler to Host National Book Awards Ceremony in November

Novelist and children’s book author Daniel Handler will host the 65th National Book Awards Ceremony in New York on November 19th.

The author, who often publishes under the pen name  Lemony Snickett, joins the likes of Andy Borowitz, Fran Lebowitz, Steve Martin, John Lithgow, Faith Salie and Garrison Keillor, all of whom have served as the Master of Ceremonies for the annual event.

“Daniel Handler is witty, charming, and one of the best writers in America,” explained Harold Augenbraum, the executive director of the National Book Foundation. “We are looking forward to a wonderful National Book Awards evening this year with him as host.”

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50. Kids Read Comics! Kids’ Comics Award Winners Unveiled

The winners of the Kids Read Comics! Kids’ Comics Awards have been announced. The organizers counted votes cast by kids to determine the winning comics and characters in eleven different categories. Below, we’ve created a list of all the nominated titles. (via ComicsAreGreat.com)

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