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1. You had us at artisanal pickles.

Urban inferiority complex be damned! We Bostonians enjoy artisanal pickles and ironic facial hair as much as the next folks. That’s why we’re pleased to present author/illustrator Stephen Savage’s article on the people in his Brooklyn neighborhood. Or, as we like to call it, “the new Somerville.”

We’re so psyched, in fact, that we’ve decided to devote an entire week to the Brooklynites. Tomorrow you can read Savage’s article “The People in My Neighborhood: One Author/Illustrator’s Rambles Around Brooklyn.” As the week goes on, you’ll fine more Horn Book material on that mighty borough and the people who call it home. Because there really are a lot of them.* And good at what they do? Fuggedaboudit.

***

*In fact, there are many, many, MANY more talented Brooklynites than we could possibly highlight in one article. So, please remind us about them in the comments.

For example, this bears repeating:

Christopher Myers, Kwame Alexander, Jason Reynolds, Jacqueline Woodson, and Rita Wiliams-Garcia... in Brooklyn.

Christopher Myers, Kwame Alexander, Jason Reynolds, Jacqueline Woodson, and Rita Williams-Garcia commune in Brooklyn. Photo courtesy of Jason Reynolds.

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2. The Art of Giving Books

There’s something about books that makes them the ideal gift for children.

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3. Remember what the dormouse said

Here KittyDoing some reading for my upcoming interview with Bryan Collier tomorrow at the Simmons Institute, I got to spend a beautiful afternoon at the even more beautiful new children’s room at BPL. You should go see it. But if they ever legalize pot in this state there’s going to be a line out the door for the Pathway to Reading Sensory Wall.SensoryWallSensoryWall2More wall

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4. Are You My Daddy?, by Illanit Oliver | Book Review

This delightful touch-and-feel book is sure to be a hit with babies and toddlers. It features easy prose, colorful pictures and popular zoo animals.

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5. Edda: A Little Valkyrie’s First Day At School, by Adam Auerbach | Book Review

This book, wonderfully written and illustrated by Adam Auerbach, provides a fun and imaginative tale, with a uniquely voiced female character at its center.

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6. Can’t buy me love

The Gawker debacle has been very entertaining. I read and respect the site too much to enjoy the clusterfuck in a schadenfreudey kind of way, but I am enjoying the intellectual stimulation provided by the whole host of journalism questions set bristling. What’s a public figure? Was the subject in question a public figure, or a behind-the-scenes media rival? Would Gawker have pursued the story had the hooker been a lady? Would the commentariat be as outraged had the hooker been a lady? Will Twitter ever let the “die on that hill” metaphor die on that hill, already?

My take briefly: The story should not have been pursued. The editors should have known better. The publisher should have been–previously–clearer that this kind of story was no longer acceptable, and he should have taken his objections directly to the editors, not to the directors. Taking the story down, however symbolic, was the right thing to do. Rather than resigning in a high-minded huff, the editors should have considered that perhaps all the people screaming at them might have had a point. The advertising director sounds like a dick.

RejectsI’ve been very lucky that in nearly twenty years at the Horn Book I’ve never had to have the kind of conversation that should have gone on at Gawker. Reduce expenses, increase circulation, get your monthly reports in the month they are actually due, Roger–I hear those things all the time. But none of the people who has served as Horn Book publisher has ever tried to quash content. And in cases where outraged subscribers or aggrieved advertisers have complained, the publisher has always backed me up. Thank you, gentlemen and lady.

But when I read that one concern of the Gawker publisher was that the post in question might have lost them advertising dough worth seven figures in one week, my first thought was that I wanted to be very clear with you all about the relationship between Horn Book content and the advertisers who support it. (Actually, my first first thought was SEVEN FIGURES IN ONE WEEK? GIMME SOME.) So here’s the lowdown. You can’t buy a review in the Horn Book. Advertising in the Horn Book Magazine pages doesn’t get you anything beyond exposure for whatever it is you are advertising. Not advertising in our pages has no effect on our decision whether or not to review your book. The decision to give a book a starred review is made by the editors in consultation with the reviewers. As far as articles go, we welcome suggestions and submissions from all comers, but you can’t buy one of those, either.

There are two venues in which Horn Book editorial and advertising intersect. One is our Talks With Roger series, in which a publisher will pay for me (not pay me)  to interview a given author or illustrator and disseminate said interview to our Notes from the Horn Book subscribers and on our website. These are friendly interviews–if I feel like I can’t be friendly to a given author or book, I turn the interview down. While we run the edited interview by the sponsor, it is only so they can offer factual corrections; they have no say over the content. The other advertorial product we create is the Fall and Spring Preview, a labelled supplement to the March/April and September/October issues of the Magazine. In these, a five-question interview of an author or illustrator of a new book faces a page of advertising from said book’s publisher, who pays for both pages. I write the questions but the publisher selects the book. Neither advertising in the Preview sections nor sponsoring a Talks With Roger gets you a review in the Magazine. (Reviews in the Horn Book Guide are essentially automatic, as the Guide is a nonselective  source reviewing all new hardback books for children from U.S. publishers listed in the current print edition of Literary Market Place.)

I hope this is all clear, or clear enough. (It isn’t always. More than one Talks With Roger subject has tried telling me how “honored” he or she is to have been “chosen” for an interview, and while I try to let them down gently, I do let them down.) Please leave any questions in the comments.

 

 

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7. Will Mabbitt, Author of The Unlikely Adventures of Mabel Jones | Speed Interview

Will Mabbitt writes. He writes in cafes, on trains, on the toilet, and sometimes in his head when his laptop runs out of power. The Unlikely Adventures of Mabel Jones is his first book. Another one is coming soon.

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8. Top 5 meta books to teach print concepts

As a Pre-K teacher, one of the things I am focused on is helping children learn concepts of print. These concepts include that books are read from left to right and top to bottom (in English at least); the role of punctuation; that print has meaning; the relationship between print and speech; that books have a beginning, middle, and end; and more. One of the fun ways to teach these concepts is using a meta book. Essentially, these are self-referential books that teach children concepts of print and how books work through their plot line and design. Below, are my top 5 favorite meta books:

It's a BookIt’s a Book by Lane Smith
I have seen children not old enough to crawl who know how to operate an iPad. This fact has inspired countless think pieces and studies regarding the benefits and drawbacks of both traditional books and books on tablets and computers. Lane Smith’s It’s A Book plays off of this divide between traditionalists and digital book readers in a way that will amuse both children and adults. In the story, we get one character pestering the other with persistent questions about the book he is reading such as “Can it text? Tweet? Blog?” Since many five year olds are already familiar with tablets and smart phones, this book can inspire discussions regarding the differences between digital books and traditional print books, and how those books work. (Note to educators and parents: the end of the book refers to the Donkey as a “Jackass.”)

We Are in a Book!We Are In a Book! by Mo Willems
Most readers of Lolly’s Classroom are most likely already familiar with Mo Willems Elephant and Piggie series. One of my class’s favorites in the series is the meta book We Are In A Book! In this book, Elephant and Piggie discover that they are in fact in a book and go on to explain how books work in a myriad of funny scenes. For example, Piggie informs Elephant that “a reader is reading us” which leads to the two characters trying to get the reader to say random silly words like “banana.” Concepts like page numbers and that all books end are also learned via the plot line.

novak_bookwithnopixThe Book With No Pictures by B. J. Novak
Most got to know Newton native B. J. Novak when he played Ryan Howard on the TV show The Office. Since the completion of the show, Novak has expanded his artistic oeuvre to include writing a children’s book called The Book With No Pictures. As you probably guessed from the title, this book contains no pictures. Instead, the book forces the adult who is reading the story to say ridiculous things like “blork,” “Bluurf,” and “I am a monkey who taught myself to read.” This is a great book to teach children that text can have meaning without pictures and can inspire a fun lesson plan for emerging writers by having the children try to author their own book with no pictures.

Grover_MonsterThe Monster At The End Of This Book by Jon Stone
In this book staring the iconic Sesame Street character, Grover sees the title and is fearful of the monster at the end of the book. As the reader turns the book, Grover gets increasingly scared and angry at the reader who, by turning the pages, is bringing him ever closer to the monster at the end of the book. (I won’t spoil the ending, but you can probably guess who the monster turns out to be)

! by Amy Krouse Rosenthal, illustrated by Tom Lichtenheld
Punctuation can be confusing to young children; fortunately, Amy Krouse Rosenthal and Tom Lichtenheld teamed up to create this great book simply titled !. In the story, the characters themselves are punctuation marks. At the beginning, we find the exclamation mark upset because he does not fit in with the periods. Eventually, the exclamation marks sets off and meets a question mark who can’t stop asking him questions, which leads to the exclamation mark finding his voice and purpose. This is a great book to read to set up a lesson plan about how different punctuation can change the tone and meaning of a sentence.

Finally, I will leave you with a simple lesson plan to create a “meta book” called “I Am In a Book” Get some small pieces of poster board and onto each piece of poster board attached a self-adhesive mirror tile (they are pretty cheap to buy). Use a hole-punch and book ring to turn it into a book. On the cover write “I am in a book”. On each subsequent page write phrases like “this is my happy face,” “this is my mad face,” “this is my sad face,” “this is my silly face,” and so on. As the children read the book they will make the face that goes along whatever is written underneath the mirror on that page.

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9. Alex and the Messy Monster, An Interview with Vanessa Newman

Alex and the Messy Monster is the first book in a series of children’s books that address the emotional and physical needs of kids.

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10. From the Guide: YA Memoirs

andrews_some assembly requiredAdolescence is a time of transition that for many teens is characterized by hurdles big and small. These new memoirs, written by and/or for young adults, and all recommended by The Horn Book Guide, offer teenage readers real-life stories of hardship and hard-won triumph.

—Katrina Hedeen
Associate Editor, The Horn Book Guide

Andrews, Arin  Some Assembly Required: The Not-So-Secret Life of a Transgender Teen
248 pp.     Simon     2014     ISBN 978-1-4814-1675-7
ebook isbn 978-1-4814-1677-1

YA With Joshua Lyon. The author, born female, suffered profound body dysmorphia until transitioning to male at age fourteen. Now seventeen, Andrews frankly discusses the physical and emotional challenges of his transition, activism, and very visible relationship with another transgender teen (Katie Rain Hill, author of Rethinking Normal, reviewed below). A “How to Talk to Your New  Transgender Friend” guide is appended. Reading list, websites.

Burcaw, Shane  Laughing at My Nightmare
250 pp.     Roaring Brook     2014     ISBN 978-1-62672-007-7

YA With brutal honesty, snarky humor, and a profound sense of absurdity, twenty-one-year-old wise-guy blogger Burcaw recounts the trials and tribulations of growing up with spinal muscular atrophy, with which he was diagnosed at age two. The conversational tone mixes information and personal anecdotes, putting a human face on a rare disability. An engaging, life-affirming memoir for teens.

DePrince, Michaela Taking Flight: From War Orphan to Star Ballerina
249 pp.     Knopf     2014     ISBN 978-0-385-75511-5
ebook ISBN 978-0-385-75513-9

YA With Elaine DePrince. This inspirational memoir traces Michaela’s journey from an orphanage in war-ravaged Sierra Leone through her adoption by an American couple to her rising ballet stardom (appearing in the documentary First Position; joining the Dutch National Ballet). Throughout, the daughter-and-mother writing team emphasizes how important optimism, love, and perseverance were to Michaela’s success. Striking textual imagery heightens the immediacy of Michaela’s experiences, whether tragic or triumphant.

Earl, Esther  This Star Won’t Go Out: The Life & Words of Esther Grace Earl
240 pp.     Dutton     2014     ISBN 978-0-525-42636-3

YA With Lori and Wayne Earl. John Green dedicated The Fault in Our Stars to Esther Earl, who, in her own words, “went through a life changing experience known as Thyroid Cancer.” This posthumous collection (with a moving introduction by Green) gathers her musings and drawings, which span her illness. Reflections by family and friends written both before and after her death at sixteen are also included. An ultimately hopeful offering.

Hill, Katie Rain  Rethinking Normal: A Memoir in Transition
264 pp.     Simon     2014     ISBN 978-1-4814-1823-2
ebook ISBN 978-1-4814-1825-6

YA With Ariel Schrag. The author lived as a male — suicidally depressed due to body dysmorphia — until transitioning to female at age fifteen. This candid, touching memoir relates her transition, activism, public relationship with another transgender teen (Arin Andrews, Some Assembly Required, reviewed above) and hopes for the future. “Tips for Talking to Transgender People” are appended. Reading list, websites.

Rawl, Paige  Positive: Surviving My Bullies, Finding Hope, and Living to Change the World
272 pp.     HarperCollins/Harper     2014     ISBN 978-0-06-234251-5

YA With Ali Benjamin. HIV-positive teen Rawl recounts her journey through discovery, bullying, suicidal despair, and activism, tying her story into larger messages about difference, acceptance, healing, and courage, with additional focus on her anti-bullying platform. Rawl is frank and likable; her memoir’s strong narrative arc and relatable emotional reference points make it a highly readable conduit to multiple timely issues. Abundant resources are appended.

Rose, Mary  Dear Nobody: The True Diary of Mary Rose
329 pp.     Sourcebooks/Fire     2014     ISBN 978-1-4022-8758-9

YA Edited by Gillian McCain and Legs McNeil. A posthumously published diary (supplemented by occasional letters and drawings) chronicles a troubled teen’s experiments with sex, drugs, and alcohol in the late 1990s; her conflicted relationship with her single mother; and her eventual decline and death from cystic fibrosis. A series of impressions rather than a shaped narrative, the book’s rawness and angst will nevertheless resonate with many teens.

Sundquist, Josh  We Should Hang Out Sometime: Embarrassingly, a True Story
290 pp.     Little, Brown     2015     ISBN 978-0-316-25102-0
ebook isbn 978-0-316-25101-3

YA Paralympian skier, motivational speaker, and video blogger Sundquist’s funny and endearing memoir chronicles his attempt to examine his romantic encounters after he realizes, at age twenty-five, that he’s never actually had a girlfriend. The resulting investigation — presented in a report-like format with footnotes, charts, and graphs — covers ten years of would-be relationships cut short by uncertainty, awkwardness, and misunderstandings.

From the July/August 2015 issue of The Horn Book Magazine. These reviews are from The Horn Book Guide and The Horn Book Guide Online. For information about subscribing to the Guide and the Guide Online, please click here.

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11. Transportation Books For Lovers of Things That Go

Construction trucks. School buses. Airplanes. You name it, kids can’t get enough of it. Here are a few of our favorite books of Things That Go ... Read the rest of this post

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12. Meet the IF Team – Chloe Baldwin

ifri_profile

Hello Illustration Friday friends!

As part of our ongoing efforts to celebrate all the fine folks who help to keep you inspired and keep the IF fires burning, we’d like to take a moment to highlight one of our key contributors, Chloe Baldwin!

Chloe is a freelance illustrator and designer who makes up one half of the collective, Buttercrumble. She is currently studying a degree in Graphic and Communication Design at The University of Leeds. When she is not drawing, she can be found baking or trawling vintage shops and loves all things quirky and sweet. Her work is inspired by mid-century design, folk art and anything cute.

Chloe also happens to be an Illustration Friday Editor, helping to curate our blog with a steady stream creative inspiration.

Thanks Chloe!

A few of Chloe’s recent posts:

Illustrator Clare Owen

Illustrator Submission :: Lizzy Stewart

Illustration Alice Pattullo

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13. If You Happen To Have A Dinosaur, by Linda Bailey | Book Review

This book offers an imaginative twist on children’s abiding love of dinosaurs.

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14. Each Kindness

Each KindnessDarn you, Charlotte Zolotow committee! You beat me to the punch, awarding this fine book your award last week! The CCBC website explains, “The Charlotte Zolotow Award is given annually to the author of the best picture book text published in the United States in the preceding year….The award is administered by the Cooperative Children’s Book Center, a children’s literature library of the School of Education, University of Wisconsin-Madison. Each year a committee of children’s literature experts selects the winner from the books published in the preceding year. The winner is announced in January each year. A bronze medallion is formally presented to the winning author in the spring during an annual public event that honors the career of Charlotte Zolotow.”  If you have never attended the Zolotow celebration, you are really missing out. First, you get to go to Madison, Wisconsin, and second, you get to be with people who love children’s books, and third, the lectures are always terrific. 

So, this lovely book won an award for the text. Do the illustrations hold up as well as the words?

If you have not read Each Kindness, please do. I just gave a talk to 80 or so second graders at a local school and this (along with Island) was the book they appreciated the most. This school does a fantastic Caldecott exploration each year, and by the time I drag in with my little dog-and-pony show, they have some strong opinions about current picture books. I get to tell the story of how I got to be on the committee…blah blah…but then I get to sneak in a few questions about what they are liking and not liking. When I held up Woodson’s book, there was a collective intake of breath and a murmur of oohs and ahhs.

Second/third  grade might be the perfect age for this one. Somewhere around this time, kids start to notice things like clothing and wealth and what makes kids fit in or not. These are the same grades where teachers find themselves reaching for The One Hundred Dresses, a book which deals with a similar theme.

Let’s look at the art, shall we? Lewis’s watercolors never disappoint, do they? The first spread is a lovely school shot– rural school,  snow-covered. A lone child walks up the front steps. Turn the page and Lewis captures the perfect feel of a New Kid. Maya’s eyes are cast down, the teacher is holding her hand, and the perspective lets us know that she is not comfortable. Her clothes reflect the text–her clothes look a tad ragged, especially for the first day. Turn the page and we see the other main character, the narrator Chloe, looking out the window at the reader, a sour look on her face. Maya is faded in the background, but she has a little smile, a little hope on her face. The playground page is almost too painful to look at–three little girls, holding hands, while Maya walks with her hands behind her back. Lewis puts a bit of sunlight around the girls and has the rest of the group looking at Maya. No one is including her.

The art goes on, gently documenting the social strata of this classroom. Chloe rejects Maya and sets the tone for the rest of the class. The seasons change, Maya keeps trying to fit in, but Chloe and her friends do not allow it. We see her in her fancy (but used) dress and shoes or holding the wrong doll and her eyes always remind us of her pain. Even while she skips rope, she skips alone.

The story and illustrations change once the teacher (finally, I say) gets involved. Maya is absent when the teacher presents a lesson on kindness that finally gets through to Chloe.  We see the faces reflected in the ripples of the bowl of water–a nice change of perspective. The art now highlights Chloe. First, her somber face stares at that stone that stands in for the idea of kindness. Then, her eyes are cast down (like Maya’s) on her way home, slowly walking how from the school with the backpack seeming to drag her down. The next page is the only dark page in the book–Maya’s empty desk which will stay empty. The last two pages let us know the truth–that Chloe will never get a chance to make it better. Chloe looks sad and sorry, her body slightly slumped as she contemplates what has happened. She becomes smaller on that final page turn, less powerful, but with a hopeful shaft of light pointing to the future. 

This is a true teacher’s book–with plenty to talk about in a classroom. Will the committee find it too teacher-y or a new classic in the literature of bullying and kindness?

What say you?

 

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15. ALA, the Sunday version

Here are a few pictures from my day. I did not take pictures at the publisher breakfast. It was a tad crowded and I was balancing a coffee cup on my knee. But I did get to hear about a bunch of new books. Always a good thing. Some librarians had volunteered to help out in the presentations. There was storytelling. At 7:00 AM. I am not really a storytelling sort of girl at any hour, so that was a little rough on me. However, I did love thinking about that new Brian Pinkney book.

I am having some issues with these silly pictures…so I will just caption them and hope for the best!

I visited the Horn Book booth for a bit.

 

I ran into two of my favorite guys. One is Roger Sutton. The other is my husband, Dean Schneider, fresh off his book committee work.

 

The Notables Committee members have a LOT of books to consider…and they cannot have a list of four hundred books…

 

Here they are, talking about Notable books.

 

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16. Rural juror

The Morning News started its tournament of books yesterday with a match between Louise Erdrich’s The Round House and John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars. I thought the critic, Edan Lepucki, did a great job of assessing each book’s strengths and shortcomings and coming up with a winner. Today, the match between Adam Johnson’s The Orphan Master’s Son and Maria’ Semple’s Where’d You Go Bernadette is judged by a more milquetoasted Elliot Holt, but I found a useful link in the commentary. I seem to have missed Jacob Silverman’s “Against Enthusiasm” when it appeared in Slate last August, but I hope every member of the kidlitosphere reads it.

 

Our sis School Library Journal begins its Battle of the Books on Monday Tuesday and I’ll be over here critiquing the judges in brackets of two and allowing one to “move forward,” where, eventually (and if I’ve done the math right) one shall face the BoB’s Big Kahuna judge, Frank Cottrell Boyce. I’m not doing this to be mean–unless somebody drives me to it–but to test my frequent assertion that there’s too much diplomacy in children’s book discussion (again, see the Silverman essay linked above). I am also interested in exploring what kind of criticism these non-professionals will employ: will they argue from personal taste, moral significance, reader appeal, aesthetic value? Each or all of these can work; what matters most in this contest is that the judge is able to express a clear preference for one book over another and say why. The prize is two one-year subscriptions to the Horn Book Magazine, one to the winning judge and another to the library of his or her choice.I’ll be judge and jury (shades of SLJ’s Lillian Gerhardt: raise your hand if you’re old enough to remember her infamous Billy Budd Button and Huck Finn Pin!)

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17. Mock Caldecott techniques

My Caldecott Committee in January 2005, soon after our final vote. Caffeine and snacks are an important part of any deliberation.

My Caldecott Committee in January 2005 soon after our final vote. Caffeine and snacks are an important part of any deliberation.

Robin posted yesterday, asking for the titles that won your own mock Caldecotts. Today I want to hear how you organize your mock award deliberations. We’ve asked this question before, but I think it’s worth asking again.

For the first time this spring, I plan to do mock award sessions (Caldecott, Geisel, possibly Sibert) with my adult students at a school of education. One problem I’m facing is that this process will happen just a couple of months after the actual award is announced, AND we have no budget for extra books. I will need to use books that the school already owns or ones I will lend them. I thought about using library books, but I want them to have access for the nominated books for the six weeks leading up to Mock Award Day. Has anyone else tried something like this? — you choose 15 or 20 books that you think are exemplary or otherwise worth discussing, and then just let them go at it, guided by the actual ALSC guidelines.

I think this is going to work, but I’d love to hear your advice.  We also want to use these comments for you to provide a rundown of how you all have run your own mocks. Be sure to tell us what ages you were working with, what kind of time-frame you used, etc.

 

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18. My Writing and Reading Life: Dan Scott

Dan Scott was born in Surrey, England. Growing up, he became interested in ancient Rome and his love of historical fiction provided plenty of inspiration for the adventure stories he began to write as a child. Eventually, his characters and stories developed into the action-packed Gladiator School series.

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19. Smithsonian Everything You Need to Know | Giveaway

Enter to win a set of Smithsonian Everything You Need to Know fact cards! Giveaway begins July 1, 2015, at 12:01 A.M. PST and ends July 31, 2015, at 11:59 P.M. PST.

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20. Profile of 2015 Caldecott Medal winner Dan Santat

bigbook

Dan Santat is one of the hardest-working people in publishing. This is widely known among his followers on Twitter and Facebook, who often see him burning the midnight oil, and the editors and art directors at the several publishing houses with which he’s worked.

This is obvious in the number of books that bear his dynamic illustrations, in everything from picture books and chapter books to graphic novels. This is undeniable, because last year he created over five hundred pages of four-color illustrations.

This is unheard of.

bikechickenBut what Dan does isn’t just hard work. It takes a lot of guts too, a blind leap of faith that gave him the drive to sleep for only four hours a night for ten years, so that he could, time and again, turn in consistently great work — all while raising two young sons, Alek and Kyle, with his wife Leah, and taking care of a menagerie of pets.

Like Beekle, Dan Santat has been on a journey.

He was born in Brooklyn in 1975 to Adam and Nancy Santat, a Thai couple who immigrated to the United States in 1968. When he turned three, his parents moved the family to California, where they both eagerly awaited the day their only child would become a doctor.

When Dan graduated from the University of California, San Diego in microbiology, he found himself pulled by a calling that he’d had for many years but had never acted on. Rather than going on to dental school, he instead enrolled at the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena. There he saw something familiar — other students just like him who dreamed of a life filled with art. This is also where he met one of his closest friends, illustrator Peter Brown.

He then sailed through unknown waters and took on many different jobs, from texture artist and 3D modeler to concept art designer for video games, until he reached the children’s book world. In 2002, he met Scholastic editor Arthur Levine at a Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators conference, which led to his first book, The Guild of Geniuses. Aside from developing a Disney animated television series, The Replacements, it was all books from there on.

Children’s book publishing is a strange place. The process is slow. It takes a lot of work. And most people don’t get paid very much.

In 2010, Dan was offered what most people would call a dream job. Google approached him, wanting him to become one of their Google Doodlers. Taking that job meant financial stability for his family. It would prove art school wasn’t a mistake. It would change his life.

He turned the job down.

It was not an easy decision, but he loved creating children’s books, and deep down, he knew he would look back and wonder “What if?” He also thought about the example he was setting for his sons and how he wanted them to also follow their dreams no matter how difficult. Determined to have no regrets, Dan became a work machine.

surlyasian2He took on as many projects as he could, always pushing himself to make the next book better. He woke up every morning at 6:30 to help his boys get to school and worked until 2 a.m. He illustrated over sixty books, and in 2014 alone, he had thirteen books published that featured his art. He drank so much coffee that he began roasting his own beans, even creating his own brand he called “Surly Asian Guy,” which he shared with friends, family, and colleagues. The coffee is bold, strong, and a touch bitter, but still quite pleasing — a little like Dan himself.

This grueling routine went on for years, and Dan assumed he could do it for more, but 2014 was rough. Family health emergencies led to hospitalizations, and multiple deadlines for big books left him with as few as twelve hours of sleep in an entire week. He was exhausted, and on his birthday last October he shared the following in a blog post: “I want and expect far too much than what I may be capable of. I’m thirty-nine and I feel tired.”

A few weeks later, The Adventures of Beekle: The Unimaginary Friend began to appear on year-end “best of ” lists. Minh Le at The Huffington Post blog named it the Best Overall picture book of the year, and in his review he wrote, “As with all great books, Beekle has an air of inevitability about it. As if somewhere out there is an island of perfect stories just waiting for the right person to come along and imagine it into being.”

Up until then, Dan was known for his action-packed illustrations, full of humor and high energy, as seen in books such as Oh No!: Or How My Science Project Destroyed the World, The Three Ninja Pigs, and Chicken Dance. Beekle’sstory reflected his softer side and was inspired by Dan’s first child, his son Alek. Like Beekle imagining his real friend, Dan had wondered, before Alek’s birth, what his child would look and be like. A few years later, on Alek’s first day of school, Dan eased his son’s worries about making friends. “All it takes is one,” he’d said, just as when Alice finally meets Beekle and his friendship opens up for her the possibility for more.

santatfamilyThe name “Beekle” itself comes from Alek’s first word, an early attempt at “bicycle.” There’s a video of one-year-old Alek pedaling a tricycle at Christmas, cheerfully exclaiming, “Beekle!” At the time, Dan’s wife Leah said the name would make a great picture book character. Years later, “Beekle” became an unimaginary friend.

The book began as a very short script, a few black-and-white sketches, and one full-color sample. Beekle had one eye, a hat and scarf, and a story that hinted at journey and adventure. Since he’d written only one picture-book text, and that over ten years earlier, writing did not come quickly to Dan. He took an ambitious approach at first. At one point, the story was a metaphor for the creative process, a tale of how
an author and illustrator come together on a picture book. But then he took a step back and adhered to the old adage of “speaking from the heart.” The minute you meet Dan you can tell he’s a captivating storyteller and speaker, and he soon realized that all he had to do was take those words out of his mouth and put them onto paper.

santat_adventures of beekleThroughout the process, Beekle and his story changed. Dan believes that in character design, every single element must serve a purpose. So Beekle got two eyes, because there was no reason for him to have just one. Beekle became even more amorphous, an ambiguous blob, because he was meant to be dreamed up by a shy young girl who thought she didn’t deserve any imaginary friend, much less an awesome one. Like a white sheet of paper, Beekle represented possibility and imagination.

He was also bestowed with a crown; while Beekle was simple and indistinct, he was always a king in Alice’s mind. He got one of the cutest butts in picture books, because creative director Dave Caplan would exclaim, “Look at that tuchus!” every time he saw it, and Dan, ever a professional with publishers, aimed to please.

While Dan took out some of the layers of the story, he added much to the overall design and illustration. The endpapers feature various children with their imaginary friends, each one specifically paired with the child’s interests. In the front endpapers Beekle stands alone, and in the back, there he is with Alice. The case cover reveals a cruder Beekle, as though he were hand-drawn by a child — in this case, we imagine it was done by Alice. On the front cover and in the book we see that while adults never pay attention to Beekle, animals do. The colors embark on a journey too, from the psychedelic rainbow palette of the imaginary world to the dark grays and blues of the real world. As the sun sets, Beekle sits perched atop a bare tree waiting for his friend, the sepia tones in the background matching his melancholy, and when he meets Alice at last, the world blooms with bright color.

Though the story itself took a step away from being about the creative process, the message is still there, on the pages where Alice shares her drawings with Beekle — each one echoing the previous pages in the story. So he got that in there after all. Touché, Dan.

The Adventures of Beekle: The Unimaginary Friend is the culmination of hard work and hard-earned experience. With this book Dan felt he had finally reached his destination, which is why, for the first time in his career, he allowed himself a little hope. He thought that if all the stars were aligned, he might be in the running for a Caldecott Honor. That was all he could imagine.

When his cover appeared on that last Caldecott slide at the ALA Youth Media Awards, cheers erupted, and everyone, from the publishers he’s worked with to the large and loving community of authors and illustrators who’ve had his back for years, knew.

Dan Santat had done the unimaginable.

Dan Santat is the winner of the 2015 Caldecott Medal for The Adventures of Beekle: An Unimaginary Friend (Little, Brown). From the July/August 2015 issue of The Horn Book Magazine. For more speeches, profiles, and articles click the tag ala 2015.

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21. Best Selling Picture Books | July 2015

This month, our best selling picture book from our affiliate store is the gorgeously illustrated Gaston, written by Kelly DiPucchio and pictures by Christian Robinson.

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22. 2015 Mind the Gap Awards: The books that didn’t win at ALA

mindthegap2015__237x203

Mad, man! The Madman of Piney Woods
by Christopher Paul Curtis
No Printz for the princes The Children of the King
by Sonya Hartnett
#WWBYD
(What Would Baba Yaga Do?)
Egg & Spoon
by Gregory Maguire
Slow and steady didn’t win the race The Turtle of Oman
by Naomi Shihab Nye,
illustrated by Betsy Peterschmidt
Locked out The Key That Swallowed Joey Pigza
by Jack Gantos
Eclipsed West of the Moon by Margi Preus
Not its day in the sun Buried Sunlight
by Molly Bang and Penny Chisholm,
illustrated by Molly Bang
Stalled My Bus by Byron Barton
Drat! Draw! by Raúl Colón
There. Are. No. Words. The Farmer and the Clown
by Marla Frazee

 

From the July/August 2015 issue of The Horn Book Magazine. For more speeches, profiles, and articles click the tag ala 2015.

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23. Picture of Grace, by Josh Armstrong | Dedicated Review

Picture of Grace, by Josh Armstrong, is certainly moving and will be well received by families who are suffering or have suffered from loss.

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24. Best Selling Young Adult Books | July 2015

This month, the award-winning classic Hatchet, by Gary Paulsen, is The Children’s Book Review’s best selling young adult book.

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25. Best Selling Kids Series | July 2015

This month's best selling kids series from The Children's Book Review's affiliate store is perfect for avoiding the summer slide, it's the new popular series Star Wars Workbooks.

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