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1. Ten Years Old! A Blogiversary Retrospective

Today I am celebrating 10 years in the blogosphere, and more specifically, the Kidlitosphere. It's been an amazing ride. I've found a community here that humbles, inspires, educates, and supports me in ways I never would have imagined when I started this journey. 

To celebrate the big day, I've decided to share some of my favorite posts, memories, and personal experiences that have grown out the real, live human connections I've made in this digital world. So, here we go!

When I started this blog, my son had just started kindergarten. He's now a sophomore in high school.
I'll admit to being a bit embarrassed about my early posts. I'm not really sure what I wanted to blog to be. I knew I wanted it to be about teaching and books and math and science and .... probably too many things in the beginning. What's interesting about reading those early posts is that some of the ideas and issues that I grappled with then, I continue to grapple with. For example, in an early post I wrote this after my first parent-teacher conference sitting on the parent side of the desk.
My biggest concern was in fact, his teacher's concern. I have a kid who hates to make mistakes, puts too much pressure on himself to get everything right, and just wants to be downright perfect.
I was thrilled with the fantastic report I received from William's teacher, but found myself wondering on the drive home, how do I fix this? How do I teach him it's okay to make mistakes, that everyone does, and that this is really what learning is all about? I'm not sure, but when I find out, I'll let you know.
Fast forward ten years. This week in class we focused on math talks and the "productive struggle" that's so important in math. And we talked about mistakes ... how we need to value them and how we can't fear them as kids do the hard work of learning something new.

In those first few posts I wrote about teaching, planning, historical fiction, "busy" children's books, and more. What led me down the rabbit hole, and opened up a new world on the blog was my post on January 1, 2007 highlighting the Cybils shortlist. That year, 482 books were nominated to produce a list of 45 finalists. This one post led me to the kidlitosphere, and it ultimately helped me find my tribe. My "tribe" consists of authors, teachers, librarians, poets, and a whole host of folks I never would have met were it not for this blog. My blogroll would be hundreds of links today if I actually listed every one on this blog. Now I can follow many of these folks on Twitter.

If I'd been thinking ahead, or much more creative, I would have turned this into a lengthy celebration and started weeks in advance, sharing some of the more interesting bits and bobs along the way. Ten years is a long time to do one thing. Heck, people today often don't hold a job that long! The blog has definitely morphed a bit, but it's still a place I love to hang out. Here are some of the highlights from my first year of blogging.

January 7, 2007
I entered Lisa Yee's Bodacious Book Title Contest. The rules were:
1. Think of a title from a children's/middle grade/young adult book.
2. Change the FIRST LETTER of ONE of the words to make it into a whole new title.
3. Then add a sentence describing the new book.

Here's one of my entries. It seems appropriate to share so close to election day.
Original Title: Duck for President
New Title: Puck for President
Summary: Upon escaping from the pages of A Midsummer Night's Dream, Puck finds himself in a land ruled by a ridiculous republican leader and, convinced he can do better, decides to run for President.

January 26, 2007
I participated in Poetry Friday for the first time! I didn't know to link up with others at that point, but I was finding a place to share and slowly finding my way into a community that I still participate in.

January 29, 2007
I posted my first thematic book list and Mary Lee Hahn of A Year of Reading stopped by to recommend a book. I'm so glad she did, and I'm so glad we're still talking about books and poetry together.

March 5, 2007
I wrote my first fib and walked through my writing/revising process. And Greg Pincus of GottaBook stopped by! (You're shocked, right?)

April 9, 2007
I wrote my first book review and was thrilled to find the author stopped by. This has happened a lot over the years, and it still makes me giddy. And that book I reviewed then is still in my teaching library and gets regular use.

May 15 - June 4, 2007
I traveled to Taiwan, China, and Tibet with a group of faculty members and blogged about my adventures. Here's a link to my summary post about what I learned.

July 16, 2007
I wrote about the book Ten Little Rabbits and the difficulty in evaluating books about other cultures. Debbie Reese of American Indians in Children's Literature stopped by and my education began. I still read her blog and am inspired by her tireless work.

August 6, 2007
I posted my very first poetry stretch. The form was the bouts-rímes. It's called the Monday Poetry Stretch now. I don't republish the poems in a new post, just hope folks will drop into the comments to read the great things people share.

September 28, 2007
John Green came to campus as part of a lecture series. (This was just one year after An Abundance of Katherines was published.) I'd been following the Vlog Brothers since he was awarded a Printz honor in January, so meeting him was great fun.

October 6, 2007
I attended the very first Kidlit conference in Chicago and met all these amazing people.

October 15, 2007
The kidlit community came together in an event called Blogging for a Cure, spearheaded by Jules and Eisha of Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast. More than 60 bloggers worked to highlight an amazing group of illustrators who created snowflakes in support of Robert's Snow 2007. I may have even purchased a few ...

And that, my friends, is just a recap of one year of blogging! I've written numerous thematic lists since then, continue to host poetry stretches, participate in Poetry Friday, still speculate on the nature of diversity in children's books, write about poetry in many varied forms, and post original poetry supported by my amazing poetry sisters. I've experienced the highest highs and some of the lowest lows with this community. I'm so very grateful to have you. Thank you for reading, commenting, and stopping in to share my little corner of the internet. I love seeing you here.

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2. never say never!

After years of stumbling into puppetry again and again, through strange coincidences and seemingly inherited family fate, this year I decided to fully embrace it and apply to the prestigious Eugene O'Neill National Puppetry Conference in Waterford, CT.

Heavens to Betsy, I got in! I was awarded a scholarship from the Terry and Taylor Fator fund, which is "intended to financially and emotionally support puppet artists with a 'never say never' spirit." I'm still $1,175 short of the remaining tuition balance for the 11 day conference, due April 28. This seems like a lot to raise in less than a week, but-- Never say never! So I am fundraising for myself for the first time. 

This series of blog posts is an appeal for donations, a history of my life-long tango with puppetry and community art, and why I want so badly this experience at the O'Neill, which you can read about here. Any small amount you can give to help me get there will be so appreciated for years to come!

To donate, please go to my GoFundMe page by clicking right here!



My grandparents David and Helen Bogdan started making and performing with marionettes in the 1950s in West Orange, New Jersey, along with their 2 daughters, Bonnie and Judy. They called their family theater company The Stringpullers, and put shows on for the community, built theaters for other puppeteers, and taught art and puppetry to school groups. This is Helen and Judy in my grandfather's stage construction diagrams.

By the time I came along in the 70's, their house and their lives were full of puppets. From before I can remember, I was making and playing with puppets, too. And there were always shows going on for neighborhood kids. That's me in the crowd on the right in a pink dress, looking very dramatic.

As I grew up, I strayed away from puppetry and towards the introversion of books. I trained in classical visual art at the Rhode Island School of Design and became a children's book illustrator. But I, too, went into schools and taught kids about illustration, as my grandfather had (he was also a cartoonist). Here's my grandfather and me, both talking about illustration to school groups, 30 years apart.

Though I wasn't making puppets, I couldn't stop making dolls. I joined the Original Doll Artisans of Connecticut and focused on figurative sculpting. But I always had an uneasy feeling when these dolls were stiff and posed, which for some reason I felt I had to make them. But secretly, I wanted them to be loose and moveable. Secretly, (obviously now) I wanted them to be puppets. This is "Grace", which I made for Robert's Snow, an art auction fundraiser for a dear friend's very personal cause. 

When my grandmother fell ill years after my grandfather passed away, she was most anxious about the future of their large family of marionettes. I had always promised I would take care of them, but she doubted me, expressing regret that I didn't become a puppeteer. These are just a few of the dozens of puppets my grandparents made together.

The last time I saw my grandmother, the day before she died, to comfort her I lied and said I had found people who I was going to puppeteer with, which brought her tremendous relief. Two weeks later, by the strangest of coincidences, I heard about an open apprentice puppetry position with Bob Bresnick, Leslie Weinberg, and Margaret Carl of Puppetsweat theater company, and suddenly I was in my first puppeteering roll in a show called James Mars. (I'm the one on the far left!)


I performed with Puppetsweat for many more shows, operating table top, rod, bunraku-esque, and shadow puppets. Puppetsweat productions are mature, dark, brooding, sophisticated, and gorgeous. Puppeteers are visible, and body awareness is crucial. I had never been a stage performer before, and I learned everything from Bob, Leslie and Margaret. With them I got to perform in amazing places, including the Pontine Movement Theater, Wesleyan University, Manhattan School of Music, and Galapagos Art Space. And I began helping them build puppets for Master Peter's Puppet Show, which we took to the Kennedy Center in DC. That's me in the center as Don Quixote's right hand, and the monkey puppet I built from Leslie's design on the right. 

In 2006 I began teaching for the first time, as co-instructor of an Intro to Puppetry class with Bob at Quinnipiac University. I taught building and operation of rod, hand, toy and shadow puppets, while Bob taught history, theory and direction. Again I found myself copying my grandfather. Here's his puppet building class at St. Cloud School in 1976, and my class at QU in 2006. 

Inexplicably I started being asked to teach other places, including Jake Weinstein's Circus class at the Educational Center of the Arts in New Haven where I experimented with my first all-student-designed giant puppet project. We built a giant cardboard monkey puppet with rolling eyes and performed it on Audubon Street in New Haven. Now I was really hooked.

photo: Rich House

In 2007 I became a puppet cover girl (how many people can say that?) when Teaching PreK-8 Magazine came to my attic studio to interview me about book illustration and puppetry. 

In 2010 in my art class at the Common Ground Summer Ecology Camp, I used the resident chickens as study subjects for my elementary school students to translate live animal movement into giant puppet construction. The two giant chickens were completely designed, developed, built, and performed by them as a communal project. Here's my grandfather's students building at St. Cloud again, and mine at Common Ground. (You can see more of these amazing chickens and their design process at the Giant Chicken Blog.)

Around this time I began experimenting with producing my own short acts combining dance, shadow play, and puppetry for a vaudeville festival called Forgot to Laugh curated by Tony Juliano. Over a few years I recruited circus friends as cast members, and two recurring characters began developing who I called Polly and The Moon

photos: Mike Franzman & Chion Wolf

More and more opportunities began coming from my collaboration with circus artists, including building and teaching giant puppetry for student shows and street festivals. This giant sea spirit was built for the Torrington Main Street Market and Matica Arts in 2011. 

And, a whole new experiment combining living statue and puppetry called The Mermaid Statue that I built and performed for Hartford First Night on December 31, 2010, and has since been my most prolific project, appearing all over New England at county fairs, private parties, festivals, street corners and museums. 

But most epic yet: in 2011 I was commissioned by Cornerstone Playhouse and Mystic Aquarium to write, build, and perform a show about the ocean for family audiences. Polly and The Moon turned into Luna and The Moon, and became a 40 minute, full stage, 7 cast member production called Luna’s Sea, directed by Karl Gasteyer and choreographed by Christine Poland. After a summer run in Mystic Luna was unbelievably discovered and contracted by the American Museum of Natural History in NYC to perform in 2012. 

photo: American Museum of Natural History

The story isn't done with Luna's Sea yet! But I'll leave that for Part 2 of Puppet Appeal blog post series. Perhaps in the meantime you'll be dazzled enough to throw a dollar, or two, or a hundred into the virtual hat that will help send me to Eugene O'Neill this June by donating at this link! Or if you are unable, but still feel moved to help, please share this post. I promise more shows, more community events, and more participatory spectacles that will be a thousand times better for you having helped send me to the O'Neill!

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3. dear friends

For those of you who read my blog, you can probably guess that the word "extrovert" would never be used in a description of me. Even though I do a lot of public speaking, it is not something that comes naturally to me. It's taken me quite a while to be able to talk fairly comfortably in front of group and I am only able to do that after preparing and practicing hours ahead of time.

Having this blog does allow me to share and communicate more than I would in person. This is sometimes good, sometimes bad. During Robert's illness and death, I chose to let my personal life and emotions seep into the cyberworld-- even harnessing its power to create a fundraiser.

I know that these are things that I put "out there" and I do acknowledge that I have blurred the lines of public and private. However, those very things that I have chosen to share are difficult for me to discuss in a public forum. Yes, I have moved forward with my life and I live each of my days as fully and with as much happiness as possible. But that doesn't mean I ever forget about Robert or wish with all my heart that he could've lived the life we so desperately wished for him. There is never a day where I do not think of him, that is not tinged with the sorrow of a love lost.

So, dear friends, this is what I ask of you. I'm so honored and touched if you feel connection to my story--real life or fiction--and I am always happy to talk to you. But please do not ask me questions about Robert in a public forum in front of a large group, consider saving it for a one-on-one conversation afterwards. Or if you wish for me to speak about Robert's Snow to a group, please ask me ahead of time so that I can emotionally prepare myself.

And I will sincerely thank you.

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4. Source of the Last 15 Books I've Reviewed

So I'm really bad about remembering to post those FTC disclosure notices on the bottom of my review posts. So I'm borrowing this idea from Sharon Loves Books and Cats, who in turn got it from Presenting Lenore. Thank you to both blogs for giving me the idea for this format.

Instead of posting individually, I am going to list where the last 15 books I've reviewed came from. Now Lenore and Sharon both did this in groups of 20, but I haven't posted a lot of reviews lately, so I think 15 is a better number so I don't end up going back too far. So every 15 reviews you'll see a new list like this.

These are in reverse chronological order, starting with the most recent:

Never After by Dan Elconin - Received from the author after I responded to his email request
Penguin's Special Christmas Tree by Jeannie St. John Taylor and Molly Idle - From publisher
Believe: A Christmas Treasury by Mary Engelbreit - Public library
Mary Engelbreit's A Merry Little Christmas: Celebrate from A to Z by Mary Engelbreit - Public library
A Very Mary Christmas: A Collection of Holiday Art by Mary Engelbreit - Paperbackswap
The Legend of Holly Claus by Brittney Ryan and Laurel Long - Bookmooch
Holly Claus: The Christmas Princess by Brittney Ryan and Laurel Long - Purchased via Amazon
Christmastime by Sandra Boynton - I don't know where this came from, actually. It's been in our family since before I can remember. I assume we either got it as a gift or purchased it at some point.
Humphrey's First Christmas by Carol Heyer - Sent by publisher after interviewing the author for Robert's Snow 2007
Magic Trixie by Jill Thompson - From publisher
A Coming Evil by Vivian Vande Velde - School library
The House Next Door by Richie Tankersley Cusick - School library, then Bookmooch
The Haunted Mansion by Various - Purchased by me
The Ghost Files by The Ghost Society - From publisher
Halloween by Jerry Seinfeld and James Bennett - Children's Lit class at school

So that's 15. After another 15 reviews I'll be back to do this again, just in case I keep forgetting the FTC things.

7 Comments on Source of the Last 15 Books I've Reviewed, last added: 1/18/2010
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5. It's snowing! It's snowing random links, that is.

Re-posted from the Blue Rose Girls.

I'm on vacation, at my parents' home in Southern California for the holidays. I made it out of New York on the last non-canceled flight to Los Angeles Saturday afternoon during the snow storm! Speaking of the storm, I was actually a teeny tiny bit sad to have escaped, because I really love snow, and there's something so special about the first big snow of the season. But I was happy to live vicariously (whil in 70 degree weather) via lots of photos and videos online. Here's my favorite:

This year really flew by. I'll try to do a proper wrap-up in the next few weeks, but today I'll direct you to agent Nathan Bransford's great "Year in Publishing" post.

And here's a recent article about a business practice in publishing that nobody talks about. In fact, I know very little about how this works and found the article fascinating myself.

I was a guest blogger over at the Debutante Ball last week, and posted about research--how I researched to find my dream publishing job, that is! Read it here.

Also, related to Meghan's post about eBooks, this is an interesting article about an experiment regarding the issue of DRM, or digital rights management.

And finally, in honor of the sad news that actress Brittany Murphy died over the weekend, and also the recent news of Kirkus's demise, I was reminded of my post from this past May about Bad Reviews, which referenced both subjects (albeit somewhat indirectly). And will add that despite my negative feelings towards some of the reviews in Kirkus, I was saddened by the news. It really is a loss to publishing. You can read more thoughts about this over at the Horn Book blog.

And to conclude this random post, let's get back to snow. Anyone who knows me well knows that my favorite snow book, which is also my favorite picture book of all time, is The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats. Other snow books I love are Robert's Snow by Grace

1 Comments on It's snowing! It's snowing random links, that is., last added: 12/24/2009
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6. It's snowing! It's snowing random links, that is.

I'm on vacation, at my parents' home in Southern California for the holidays. I made it out of New York on the last non-canceled flight to Los Angeles Saturday afternoon during the snow storm! Speaking of the storm, I was actually a teeny tiny bit sad to have escaped, because I really love snow, and there's something so special about the first big snow of the season. But I was happy to live vicariously (whil in 70 degree weather) via lots of photos and videos online. Here's my favorite:

This year really flew by. I'll try to do a proper wrap-up in the next few weeks, but today I'll direct you to agent Nathan Bransford's great "Year in Publishing" post.

And here's a recent article about a business practice in publishing that nobody talks about. In fact, I know very little about how this works and found the article fascinating myself.

I was a guest blogger over at the Debutante Ball last week, and posted about research--how I researched to find my dream publishing job, that is! Read it here.

Also, related to Meghan's post about eBooks, this is an interesting article about an experiment regarding the issue of DRM, or digital rights management.

And finally, in honor of the sad news that actress Brittany Murphy died over the weekend, and also the recent news of Kirkus's demise, I was reminded of my post from this past May about Bad Reviews, which referenced both subjects (albeit somewhat indirectly). And will add that despite my negative feelings towards some of the reviews in Kirkus, I was saddened by the news. It really is a loss to publishing. You can read more thoughts about this over at the Horn Book blog.

And to conclude this random post, let's get back to snow. Anyone who knows me well knows that my favorite snow book, which is also my favorite picture book of all time, is The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats. Other snow books I love are Robert's Snow by Grace Lin, and Uri Shulevitz's Snow.

What are some of your favorite snow books?

5 Comments on It's snowing! It's snowing random links, that is., last added: 12/21/2009
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7. Review: Humphrey's First Christmas

Humphrey's First Christmas by Carol Heyer

Those of you who are familiar with the biblical Christmas story know about the three kings who brought gold, frankincense, and myrrh to the baby Jesus. The wise men are a staple in every Christmas nativity scene. But what about that camel that stand off on the side.

Humphrey's First Christmas is about the camels who carry the three kings to the holy land. Or rather, one camel named Humphrey. Humphrey is, for lack of a better phrase, a self-entitled camel. You pretty much get this right off when you read the first sentence of the book: "Beloved, Most Beauteous and Exalted King of All should be my name." But participating in the events of the very first Christmas are going to give Humphrey an attitude makeover.

This book has a great message about remembering the true meaning of Christmas, and the text is very entertaining. I love hearing the story of the first Christmas through Humphrey's voice. But the thing that really makes this book are the illustrations. Heyer's attention to detail is absolutely amazing.

I had the opportunity to introduce Carol Heyer's snowflake during Robert's Snow 2007. I posted some of the magnificent illustrations from this book over on that post, so if you'd like some close ups head over to that post. I mean, really, you need to see the crooked teeth on this camel!

Overall, this is one of the best children's books I've read about this particular part of the Christmas story, and it's one I'll be keeping around to read to my future children in December.

Shady Glade Rating: 9/10

5 Comments on Review: Humphrey's First Christmas, last added: 12/7/2009
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8. My To-Read List

It is one of those times of the year where my Next Read stack is getting way too big. I just can't decide what to read next. I have pretty much set aside my adult novels--the ones I was hoping to finish this summer. And I am trying to read some new children's books. But even with that goal, there are many OLD children's books that I need to catch up on. I haven't read MISS SPITFIRE or any books in the Percy Jackson series or the Warrior series. I am not sure how to catch up. I guess it is something you never do as a reader--catch up on all the books you are dying to read. I worry about students who don't have a next read stack--those kids who have no idea what to read next. I have trouble prioritizing my Next Read Stack but I ALWAYS have several piles of books waiting to be read.

As of today, here is what I am hoping to read soon:

I picked up a copy of OPERATION YES by Sarah Lewis Holmes at the Book Fair. I read the first chapter aloud to several classes and I am totally hooked. I can already see why Mary Lee added Miss Loupe to our Cool Teachers list. I am thinking that this book would make a great read aloud for 5thish grade.

ICE by Sarah Beth Durst--I received a review copy of this book and am SOOO excited about it. I LOVE this author and have loved her books (INTO THE WILD and OUT OF THE WILD) I so love what Sarah Beth Durst does with fairy tales. I want to read this one when I have time to totally lose myself in it.

I am not a great reader of Graphic Novels but am very excited about this one. I have heard amazing things about it and have been waiting for it to be released. I love Matt Phalen--decided he was on my favorites list when I read WHERE I LIVE. I also LOVED his snowflake that was part of Robert's Snow. I am excited that he has a new book out and that it is a graphic novel.

And I am thrilled that Katherine Paterson has a new book out. THE DAY OF THE PELICAN looks as wonderful as all of her books. She has been one of my favorites for as long as I can remember.

I visited Cover to Cover yesterday and was reminded at how BUSY this time of year is for new books. It is always exciting when there is lots of time to read. This is the time of year that I have the most trouble prioritizing my Next Read Stack. The time of year that the pile gets bigger and bigger and bigger..BUT, I do love my pile!

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9. Reading Minnesota

Stampede is on the Reading Minnesota blog today. I love the idea of featuring local authors. When I participated in the Robert's Snow auction last year, I purposely chose Minnesota/Wisconsin authors and illustrators to feature. Hmm...I think I need to do a little series highlighting some of the many wonderful children's writers live here. Thinking cap is securely in place. We'll see what, if anything, I end up doing with it!

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10. Surprise Guest: Top Dog Diane deGroat!

Diane with her collaborator, Shelley Rotner.

Woof woof! Hot diggety dog!

I'm pleased as punch today to welcome back supremely talented and prolific author/illustrator Diane deGroat, who has totally gone to the dogs with fellow author Shelley Rotner to create a thoroughly delightful, tickle your funny bone picture book, Dogs Don't Brush Their Teeth

     Picture book for ages 4-8, 32 pp.     

Just released by Orchard/Scholastic on August 1st, this fold-out concept book combines photographs with digital art to illustrate what dogs do, and what they don't do, and has readers of all ages howling with laughter and begging for more.

You don't have to be a dog lover to appreciate these charismatic canines, who, thanks to Shelley's expert photography and Diane's clever Photoshop manipulations, can be seen doing fun things like playing tennis, eating with a knife and fork, playing in a rock band, and of course, brushing their teeth (with White Fang toothpaste, no less). The fold-out format is highly effective at keeping the suspense and surprise padding along at a good clip with nary a whimper. And if all this adorableness isn't enough, the acknowlegement page features all the dogs' names and breeds with their profile pictures. Yip!

Some of you may remember that Diane was my very first alphabet soup interviewee back in October 2007, when she stopped by to talk about the snowflake she had created for the Robert's Snow auction. That's when we all found out about this:

Yes, Diane's famous taxidermy collection! Quite fascinating, no? Since then, Diane has published two more titles featuring everyone's favorite possum, Gilbert, in addition to the new dogs book. So, why did Diane have to remove the canine's canines? And what other tricks did she and Shelley perform for these perky posable pups? 

Sit. Stay. Read on:

Such a pleasure to have you back, Diane. How did you and Shelley come to work together on this project?

Shelley Rotner and I became friends when I moved to MA and joined the Western Massachusetts Illustrators' Guild in 1995. Shelley always had good ideas, and I was anxious to try something different from my usual picture book art. We planned a brainstorming session to find a book idea that could combine her photographs with my art. With pad and pencil in hand, we tossed a lot of ideas around. We both agreed that dogs were a good subject, but we weren't on the same page with it.


Late into the night (and after a good bottle of wine), I was still pushing for a picture book story about a lost dog, which had the potential for some interesting artwork, but the story kept falling flat. Shelley was leaning toward a concept book, as most of her books are nonfiction. Finally, Shelley came up with the "dogs do, dogs don't" idea. It sounded almost too simple, but when we started making a list of what dogs do, and the human equivalent of what they don't do, it really took shape. That was the fun part -- coming up with silly ideas. The rest was hard work!

Was this the first time both of you had worked on something like this?

It was my first collaboration, and it was Shelley's first book that was "silly," rather than serious.

How did you make the illustrations?

I made the full-sized dummy art by drawing right into my computer with my Wacom tablet. I had to figure out the best way to position the dogs in the illustrations. They had to work with the flaps closed (Dogs do . . .), and with the flaps opened (Dogs don't!). Shelley photographed the dogs as close as possible to my sketch, but of course she couldn't shoot a dog blowing a bubble or using a hula hoop!

That's when Photoshop came in. I had to manipulate the photograph to look like the dog was performing a human action. Sometimes I used pieces from many different photos to do this. The harder part was figuring out what the background art should look like. There were many ways I could have handled it: collage-y, scribbly, cartoony or realistic. I had to try many different styles until I found the one that I was most comfortable with.

Do you have a favorite picture? Which one took the longest/was the most difficult?

My favorite illustration, and one of the hardest, is the dog with the braces on his teeth. I spent almost a week getting the teeth to look right!

Here's the dummy sketch with the flap opened:

This is the photograph that Shelley took:

I scanned canine teeth from an animal anatomy book:

I placed them in the Cocker Spaniel's mouth. Then I drew over the teeth and added gums. I had to guess how they would fit, and what the smile would look like! I'm sure any veterinarian looking at this would cringe at its inaccuracy!


It looked really creepy, so I shortened the canine teeth and closed the mouth some:

I Googled an image of braces. Then I drew over one to make it clearer:

I then copied and pasted it onto each of the teeth, and added the wires.

Then I tried different backgrounds. 

The paws came from a different dog.


At this point, the cartoony style of drawing in the above art didn't feel right, as it was too great a contrast with the photograph. I made the drawing more realistic in the final version below, and the toothbrush was replaced with a photograph. Shelley thought the purple Victorian wallpaper in the background looked too formal; she suggested using bones instead. I drew the bones onto the background, and I agree that it looks much better. And finally, the canine teeth were removed altogether. Even though it's not anatomically correct, it doesn't look as creepy!


What were some of the most notable things you learned from working on this book? Any tips for other illustrators who might be interested in combining photographs with digital art?

This was my first collaboration, and it took some getting used to. But it paid off: neither Shelley nor I could have done this book by ourselves, so a collaboration really worked in this case. Artistically, I learned to take risks and to try new things that I would never have attempted with watercolor. With digital art, you can't mess up your work, so trial and error is a great way to go. I also had help from other illustrators who work more with digital art than I do. Their expertise was invaluable when I ran into a technical problem. And sometimes our illustrator's group was a good venue for suggestions and comments.


How were the dogs chosen?

Shelley had an Australian Shepherd, Ginger, who sadly passed away while we were working on this book. While walking Ginger in town or on the trails, Shelley met many other dogs and their owners. She was also acquainted with breeders and she had friends who owned dogs. There never seemed to be a lack of dogs to photograph! We tried to use breeds that best fit the activity, such as using a greyhound for the "running" art, and a bulldog for the eating scene.

Did Shelley have any especially funny/challenging/memorable incidents occur when she was photographing them?

The dogs were sometimes given treats to get them to pose. If a dog moved, or if the lighting was poor, the photo would be out of focus. They had to be shot outdoors where there was enough light, but not in the sun, which would cause strong shadows. Weather was always a factor! The owners were eager to help whenever possible. If you check the outtake slides on the website, you'll see some of the owners trying to position their dogs for Shelley. One of the hardest dogs to photograph was the pooping dog. Shelley had to follow the dog around until just the right moment!


Please tell us all about the Dogs Don't Brush Their Teeth website.

We made the website because we had a lot to share about the making of the book and about the dogs themselves. For the site, we gave each dog a profile page with his stats -- best friend, favorite toy, likes and dislikes, etc. It gives the reader a chance to see that the dogs in the books are real dogs. There are book-related activities for kids to download, too. And dog biscuit recipes!

What are you working on now?

Right now, I'm working on the 13th book in the "Gilbert and Friends" series. It's for Earth Day, and Gilbert's issue is his inability to come up with ideas (for a project). The title is a long one: Ants in Your Pants, Worms in Your Plants! (Gilbert Goes Green), (HarperCollins, 2011).

And of course we are thinking of a sequel to the dog book -- cats!

Before you go, please tell us about the new Gilbert titles that were released this year.


April Fool! Watch Out at School! is a little different because it has a gimmick. There are hidden "tricks" in the art that the reader has to find. (Hint: The picture of George Washington on the classroom wall is a portrait of me!) And Gilbert, The Surfer Dude is my first I Can Read book for HarperCollins. I'm running out of holidays for Gilbert's picture books, so I started a spin-off series that will cover Gilbert's everyday adventures. The second I Can Read book will be Gilbert and the Lost Tooth (2011). Again, the issues covered in these books are things that every first grader can relate to.

Thanks so much for visiting today, Diane. And thanks for writing such wonderful books! Ruff ruff!


Dogs Don't Brush Their Teeth Website: You'll love all the dog profiles, process pics and downloads. You can also purchase prints, mugs and t-shirts featuring some of the illos from the book.

Booksigning Alert: Diane and Shelley will be signing books on Martha's Vineyard this weekend.
Click here for their appearance schedule.

Diane deGroat Official Website.

Shelley Rotner Official Website.

Must-watch video interview with Diane over at 
Just One More Book: take a look at her studio and watch her draw and paint with the computer.

Online review of Dogs at
Jen Robinson's Book Page

*Spreads and photos posted by permission, copyright © 2009 Diane deGroat and Shelley Rotner, published by Orchard Books/Scholastic. All rights reserved.


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11. Guys Lit Wire, Incarerated Boys, and How You Can Help

One of my favorite things about the kidlitosphere is the trouble--ahem, initiatives--we regularly cook up. See Robert's Snow, the Bridget Zinn auction, Operation Teen Book Drop, etc. Guys Lit Wire is getting in on the fun with their own project, the Guys Lit Wire Book Fair for Boys. In a nutshell:

We are moving today into the second phase of GLW, where we put our money where our mouth is and physically act on getting books into the hands of boys that otherwise have none. Today we start the first two week Guys Lit Wire Book Fair for Boys to help the teens incarcerated in the LA County Juvenile Justice System. They have no books - at all - and they need them; they need them desperately.
Since it started last Wednesday, I take it that the GLWBFB runs until the 27th. Drop by Guys Lit Wire to find out more, especially how you can help.

0 Comments on Guys Lit Wire, Incarerated Boys, and How You Can Help as of 5/17/2009 9:13:00 PM
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12. Where the Mountain Meets the Moon TRAILER and more

So lots of little bits of news to share!

First, here is the extended trailer I promised after last month's teaser. It's a sneak peak of some of the color illustrations inside (even though WHERE THE MOUNTAIN MEETS THE MOON is a novel-grades 3 to 6- it will have full color illustrations, like the classic fairytale books). If your band width allows, please view it in High Quality (hit the HQ button at the bottom)--it makes a big difference.

I am so, so, so impressed with what my friend Alex (film editor) and my cousin Austin (composer/musician) created. I think they should start a book trailer business!

(PS--if you are a teacher and cannot access youtube, I also have the trailer available here on teachertube.com: Where the Mountain Meets the Moon Book Trailer on Teacher Tube)

Secondly, I'm on auction! Or rather my art is:

My monthly painting for small graces is now taking bidders. Just in case you don't remember, I'm donating a painting a month to the Foundation of Children's Books to fund author visits to under served schools. Here is this month's painting:
You can bid on it NOW!

Also my donation to the Bridget Zinn auction is up too!

This is an auction to benefit Bridget Zinn, an author and librarian recently diagnosed with colon cancer. I donated original art and books from Robert's Snow. Both books are out of print now and the art is original--so this is a great chance!

You can bid on my art and books by leaving a comment on the auction listing.

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13. Bridget Zinn auction

Check out the Bridget Zinn auction! The children's book community have donated various cool items to help Bridget Zinn, an author and librarian recently diagnosed with colon cancer. It's a wonderful thing. I donated original art and books from Robert's Snow (though it isn't up on the blog yet). I haven't parted with any of the original art from that book yet and I had a slight twinges when I decided to; but when I looked at my work it just felt like the right thing to do.

Go an bid!

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14. CPSIA and Original Book Art: The One of a Kind Problem

Copyright 2009, Carol Baicker-McKee

 Cost of One Piece Original Art by Carol Baicker-McKee from An Apple Pie for Dinner by Susan vanHecke (Marshall Cavendish, Fall, 2009)

Testing for:
Foamcore for backing and supports $100
Mat board for support $100
Chenille stems (metal plus fabric) $200
3 colors of acrylic paint $300
13 colors of polymer clay $1300
12 different fabrics $1200
5 different threads and floss $500
4 different textile trims $400
Polyester batting $100
Metallic powder $100
2 colors pastels $200

Labor, artistry $500
Total: $5,000

Cost of destroying my one of a kind artwork so I can sell it: Priceless

My mixed media artwork is undeniably more complex, with many more components than most illustrators' work (the above photo is of a much simpler book in progress, and you can see there are lots of parts), but non-artists would still be shocked to break down the components in even a typical painting. Plus the parts of a frame. But either way, illustrators who want to sell their artwork on the open market, especially if like me they haven't yet achieved the level of fame and fortune that would allow their work to be classified as "collectible" (and thus not intended for use in a children's bedroom) are probably in deep doo-doo under CPSIA. My estimate above of the testing costs is surely a low ball figure, as I used only $100 per component and I know that's low, and I've undoubtedly overlooked a few pieces to boot. Unframed, testing costs would drive up the price to 10 times what I'd guess would be a top, top make-me-very happy price for that piece. Framing would add a couple hundred dollars more. And then there's the wee final problem: I'd have nothing left to sell after I got it tested.

When I spoke with Joe Martyak, the Chief of Staff at CPSC, for information for my article for the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI), he initially seemed bewildered about my questions about original artwork and CPSIA; he didn't seem to think wall artwork was covered. When I said I'd read several documents from CPSC that specifically mentioned posters and other wall decor, he hemmed and hawed, and said, well, if it was intended for a child's room, it probably would be. Then he said art wouldn't be considered accessible once it was framed. I said, "How is art protected by a piece of fragile glass on one side and a thin piece of cardboard on the other less accessible than the inside of a bike tire valve stem? And how does an artist judge what is "normal use and abuse" for a framed picture? Because if it includes throwing something that knocks it off the wall, it could certainly become accessible, though of course the broken glass might be a more immediate worry." I also asked about the problem of testing one of a kind items (known among the crafty set as OOAK items). At that point, he decided he'd have to get back to me about original art. 

Of course he hasn't yet, and I don't blame him; among the millions of details the CPSC has to sort through and rule on, questions about original art surely rank very low - unless you're an artist creating work that would be bought for kids and you'd like to keep earning a living. (Or in my case, would also like to clear a little shelf space to accommodate all the other bulky art work you're producing.)

This piece is a very simple one, one of several I made at my publisher's request as promotional giveaways to promote one of my books (Merry Christmas, Cheeps! by Julie Stiegemeyer, Bloomsbury, 2007). Paying to test it would of course be foolish on many fronts, but even a small simple piece like this has an insane number of components (at least 22 by my quick count), thus putting an end to cool promotional items. These matter because buyers for book chains base their orders on initial buzz for the book at BEA and other venues - and special promotional tactics get attention.
The photos above and below are of a piece I made for a charity, Robert's Snow, that raises funds for cancer research. The event honors the husband of the enormously talented and well-loved children's book author and illustrator Grace Lin, who was stricken with a rare cancer. Children's book illustrators are invited to create artwork on wooden snowflakes which are then auctioned. Again, mine is probably more complex than most, but many others are incredible 3-D creations too. (And little did I realize by adding a box intended for long term storage I'd be adding to the components in need of testing.) Some of the snowflakes by top illustrators fetch collectible level prices, but others are not out of question for hanging in a child's room. It's yet another very gray area under CPSIA, surely not one that anyone intended, but one that looms ominously over people trying to do a good thing nonetheless.

If you have a few more minutes, go check out this post at Deputy Headmistress's The Common Room. She finally found someone to kind of debate the merits (or at least intentions) of CPSIA with her. PJFry via BoingBoing mentions a number of the misconceptions about lead in books, and Deputy Headmistress walks her through the science and real-life reasons why they're wrong.

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15. award

So, here is some free advice to children's book authors and illustrators who know they probably will not win one of those fancy library awards: plan a school visit on the day the awards are announced.

Or maybe it should be "plan a school visit in San Antonio, TX." Because, that's where I was, and thanks to the lovely librarians and their excited students it was a fantastic day. I didn't even think about being a non-contender. I didn't even care.

And why should I?

I had wonderful and extremely fashionable teachers waiting for me and my Bringing in the New Year presentation with hand-made dragons--one even had eyes that lit up.

And there were the welcoming librarians, such as Kim Green the super-coordinator who not only organized my visits (I was there a week) but also organized an amazing Robert's Snow-inspired fundraiser at her school (proceeds going to Dana-Farber). See that big bag she is holding? It is all full of coins that the students brought in. There is a reason why she has to hold it with two hands--it is HEAVY. They were still counting when I left, they were over $600 at that point. Isn't that amazing? And that is just her school. All the schools I visited that week did some sort of charity, inspired by Robert's Snow. Wow.

And then of course the students! What can be better than a captive audience, thrilled to hear your book? They enthusiastic and attentive and, also, very sweet. Not only did they say the loved my books (and I was their favorite author ever), they even told me I was pretty. What are the chances the award-winners were told that?

Because, this is what we make children's books for--the children. As I've said before, kids loving your book(s)is truly the best award. Better than one of those stickers. Or at least close.


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16. Five on a Friday: Nice Surprises

1. I had been debating whether or not to blog about this particular sweet surprise, not wanting to embarrass a friend, but this is such a delight, that I have to share this with the world.  A couple weeks ago, I came home and found a package at the door. Inside, was this little poppy doll nestled in tissue paper.  

Isn't she the sweetest? (Picture on the left is Poppy exploring my 70-year-old clover--click on the photo to see the detailing.)

Farida surprised me with this handmade flower doll!  She knew poppies were one of my favorite flowers (which I always associated with hope and my sister) and made Poppy for me!  See her inspiration photo on the right.  Thank you so much Farida!  You cannot know what this means so much to me. I am so honored and blessed and will take very good care of Poppy.  And folks, if you want a treat, check out the lion Farida made!

2.  I've been working on my 2009 New Year 30 Day Challenge this week and it's ALL about organizing and decluttering.  Yesterday, I cleaned the mounds of paperwork around my printer, and found a gift card I'd been searching for.  Now I can go to the bookstore!

3.  I tried this new salmon recipe and my family raved.  RAVED.  My husband was suspect of how the salmon looked.  Pale pink salmon without the nice crisp edges from my regular method of broiling.  Reluctance spread across his face; change is hard for my man.  But, my kids were enthusiastic about this meal and my husband took a bite.  And another.  And declared his surprise at how good it was.  Emeril, we have a winner!    

4.  David Ezra Stein is one of my favorite illustrators.  Here's his most recent interview over at 7-Imp.  I discovered David's work when I interviewed him last year to highlight his artwork for the Robert's Snow Auction.  I bid on his lion snowflake and won!  Now I can add an autographed copy of his latest creation, THE NICE BOOK to my collection. Thank you, David!.  This sweet book will get the kids talking about what's nice...and what isn't.   

Case in point.  Middle child was reading the book and youngest reached over to grab it.  Middle child whisked the book away and was ready to smack little one with it.  Little one ran off, put her hands at her waist and said, "That's not nice!"  Middle one hestitated.  "I know."  She looked at the book, looked at her sister and sat down on the rug.  "Come sit here and I'll read the book to you."

If that's not nice, I don't know what is.  Go get the book!

5.  I pick up my kids from school every day.  Sometimes they've had a bad day and it takes awhile to draw out what happened.  This week, they couldn't wait to tell me what was going on at school and we had such a great time talking about the day's events.  That made me so happy.

Have a great weekend!    

9 Comments on Five on a Friday: Nice Surprises, last added: 1/10/2009
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17. friday feast: a soothing lullaby and a side of chocolate!

"In Hawai'i the warm breeze often carries the sound of the ocean waves, the rustling leaves, and the rhythmic chants of the hula. It is not difficult to imagine rocking one's child, or keiki (keh kee), to sleep to the accompaniment of this gentle cadence." ~ Foreword, Hula Lullaby, by Erin Eitter Kono.

HULA LULLABY by Erin Eitter Kono (Little, Brown, 2005),
picture book for ages 4-8, 32 pp.

I first heard about Hula Lullaby when Sam Riddleburger interviewed Erin Eitter Kono for Robert's Snow: Blogging for a Cure 2007, organized by Jules and Eisha at 7-Imp.

High quality picture books about Hawai'i always get my immediate attention because they are so few and far between. This one just happens to be beautifully produced and culturally authentic, making it even rarer and cause for unabashed adulation.

Hula Lullaby is pitch perfect -- from the title page, awash in deep, Prussian blue and graced by red anthuriums, to the Foreword spread, set against the red-orange sky of a Hawaiian sunset, to the simple, soothing, repetitive rhyme of the lullaby itself, as it enfolds the reader in its warm, tropical spell:

Come little keiki
Crawl into my lap
Listen to the ipu
thump tap thump-a-tap.

See the fire's glow
Toss its golden light
Watch the dancers sway
Against the starry night.

There is a wonderful feeling of completeness here, a reverence for and connection to the natural world, which is underscored by a prevalence of round/circular images -- mother's arms caressing her child, hula skirts, lei, waves, moon, flowers. The lilting chant is accompanied by instruments made from natural materials -- a pahu, or drum made from a hollowed tree, an ipu heke, made from two gourds, and the pu'ili, bamboo rattles.

The reference to sky, mountain, land, and sea reminds me of a well-known chant by Hawaiian translator, enthnographer, and composer, Mary Kawena Pukui, entitled, "Behold," which is often taught to grade school children.

Above, above
all birds in air

Below, below
all earth's flowers

inland, inland
all forest trees

seaward, seaward
all ocean fish

sing out and say
again the refrain

Behold this lovely world.

In Erin Eitter Kono's entrancing book, the whole world partakes in this nighttime symphony.

The primitive acrylic and pencil illustrations are rendered in lush jewel tones, remniscent of Tahitian paintings by Gauguin. The movement of the dancers, the rolling and crashing of the sea waves, and the drift of warm breezes, all perfectly complement the pacing of the text, as the mother rocks, rocks, her baby to sleep. I love the sensual detail, too -- smell of the sea, fragrance of flowers, sounds both natural and manmade, which further envelops the reader in its comforting embrace.

Hula Lullaby received the Excellence in a Picture Book Award from the Children's Literature Council, and was named Best Lullaby and Goodnight Book by Nick, Jr. Magazine. Because of the traditional hula instruments (explained briefly in the Foreword), various Hawaiian flora and fauna, and its lyric beauty, this book, aside from being a lovely bedtime story, is an excellent resource for general Hawaiian study.

*As a special treat, Erin has agreed to share one of her favorite recipes, Chocolate Truffles!  She says it's not Hawaiian, but "really really good." Since it calls for Belgian chocolate, I need no convincing. Now, this is what I call the perfect way to sweeten the new year!

from Erin Eitter Kono

1/2 lb. bitter sweet chocolate (preferably Belgian)

10 tablespoons unsalted butter (preferably Irish)

crushed almonds


Melt chocolate and butter over simmering water.  Refrigerate until firm.  Scoop 1/2 inch balls and roll in hands until round, drop into crushed almonds and roll until coated.  Try not to eat all in one sitting.  Can also substitute almonds with other nuts, or cocoa.

Thanks, Erin!!

For more about Erin, visit her website or blog, and read this great article at THonline.com.

For more about Mary Kawena Pukui, see my Poetry Friday post here.

And be sure to check in with Anastasia Suen's Picture Book of the Day for today's Roundup!


**Interior spreads posted by permission, copyright © 2005 Erin Eitter Kono, published by Little, Brown. All rights reserved.

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18. Small Graces: A Painting a Month for the FCB

As I mentioned in my 2009 post, I was very proud of Robert's Snow. It is probably one of the most meaningful things I have ever done and it made me a true believer in the Winston Churchill quote, "We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give."

While I don't feel capable of running a large project like that again, I do want to continue its spirit if only in a small way.

So, I am proud to announce my new charity project:

Small Graces: A Painting a Month For the FCB

Once a month a small(roughly 5x5 inch), unpublished, original painting of mine will be auctioned off through eBay with 100% of the proceeds to benefit the Foundation of Children's Books. This painting(above) will go on auction from Monday, January 12 through Friday, January 16.
(I'll post a link then!)

It is a variation on Robert's Snow except:

1. I'm the only artist, and there is only one painting during each auction

2. It will happen once a month for the year of 2009

3. The original paintings will all be illustrated small bits of wisdom (inspired by the collecting I've been doing for Fortune Cookie Fridays)

4. The money (all of it) will go to the Foundation of Children's Books to support author visits in low-income schools. Why? Read HERE.

This is just my small way to give back to schools and the community, and it can be yours too! Please spread the word and bid!

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19. 2009

2008 is almost over! The number 8 in Chinese culture is lucky, so 2008 was supposed to be a lucky year. Looking back, it was rather a good year for me. I fulfilled some dreams--like walking on the Great Wall of China and visiting Taiwan with my parents. I also finished my novel which definitely took some luck.

The number 9 is synonymous with longevity in Chinese culture (hope that bodes well for the longevity WHERE THE MOUNTAIN MEETS THE MOON!), so 2009 is a year to think of long term ambitions. Here are 9 of my personal goals for the year (some are a little less aspiring than others):

1. Write a new good novel. Make books without any excuses-- work that I know that I have done to the best of my ability so that it doesn't matter what anyone says.

2. Grow my hair at least 3 more inches so I can donate it. This is actually kind of hard, because my hair is driving me a little crazy. I haven't had it this long for a while.)

3. Charity. Robert's Snow is a project that I am proud of but, not only is it too much responsibility for me to take on again, it is also a project of the past that, for now, I want to leave in the past. But I feel strongly about my art and charitable giving...so I'm working on a new project that will be revealed in the new year. Stay tuned!

4. Make dumplings. This is something I haven't done since I was a child with my mother. If I remember correctly, they were far superior than store-bought ones. I think this is a good year to find out if that is true.

5. Participate. I read a fair amount of blogs and lists but I never comment. I rarely even respond to comments on my own blog. I guess I am still in a weird-shy-lurking phase...that I will get over this year.

6. Do every school visit to the best of my ability. I've booked quite a few visits this spring, and I am SO grateful and honored that schools have requested me. The only problem is that sometimes my introverted nature takes over and students, schools, librarians and teachers begin to blur. I am going to make a special effort to check myself this year.

7. Learn how to make a frosting flower. I really want to get some impressive cake decorating skills down!

8. Embrace marketing, but know my limits. In this current climate, I need to give my books all the help they can get. I don't want to be QVC salesperson, but I'd like to get as many people who might be interested in my new book know about it.

9. Be thankful. No matter what this year brings, I know there will always be something to be grateful for. With thankfulness, nothing is ever that bad and the best things are even better. And that is something I hope stays with me for a long, long time.

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20. it looks a lot like christmas!

Well, hello there!

Please come in . . .

We've been very busy here at alphabet soup -- decking the halls, jingling those bells, and decorating trees. Thought you'd like a little peek:

For most of the year, Nick Galeski works as a mild-mannered insurance salesman in a non-descript office.

But every December, he dons the red robe and becomes a harbinger of joy: Uncle Nicky Claws!

He and the other bears have their own little trees.

Like this one,

and this one.

Aside from baking and eating cookies, my favorite holiday tradition is sifting through all the ornaments that will go on our big tree (8-1/2 feet tall).

I love handmade ornaments most of all. I'm not crafty, so I thoroughly appreciate people who can come up with clever ideas and translate them into salable products.

I usually hang up some angels first.

Some of these are made from antique quilts or handkerchiefs.

Then, I wade through boxes and boxes of teddy bear ornaments. I can't possibly hang them all, so I rotate them each year.

They're made of everything, including felt, wood, resin, porcelain, metal, clay, paper, plastic, and glass.

Of course our tree always includes some food ornaments, mostly dessert:

And since I love children's books, I'm partial to characters, rag dolls, and toys.

Tree decorating is fun, but also nostalgic and poignant. I like to remember faraway friends by always including the ornaments they have given me.

Lynn, a long-time friend from Hawai'i, is very artistic and once made some wonderful clothespin ornaments:

Kristin, who's now a kindergarten teacher, has been my penpal since she was 6 years old. She got me this cute bear ornament from Japan, which is made from special kimono fabric.

Of course I honor new friends, too. Marie, who lives about ten minutes away, used to work on Capitol Hill. Every year, for the last ten years or so, she's given us a White House ornament.

If you don't know about these, go to the
White House Historical Association and take a look. There's a new ornament issued every year, based on a different Presidential administration. They come in a nice presentation box with a booklet, and make great mail-away gifts.

A couple of writer friends have blessed me with
Laini Taylor ladies:

Every tree has got to have at least one!

Then there's the travel memories. I always include these handpainted egg ornaments, which we found on a trip to Switzerland over 20 years ago.

Can't forget the Hawaiian hula girls,

and I'm especially fond of my
Linas Alsenas handpainted snowflake which I won in last year's Robert's Snow auction.

Mrs. Claus on one side,

and Santa himself on the other.

Once the tree looks full, I add some little red touches, in the form of strawberries, candy apples, and red hearts.

Then Len gets out the stepladder, and hangs up the international teddies:

Finally, he carefully places Melanie, the Victorian angel with feather wings, at the very top.

To us, our tree represents the true joys of Christmas: friends, family, food, dreams, and memories.

I'd love to see your tree. Have you posted a photo of it yet? Please do!!

Till then, wherever you are, have a magical day!!


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21. Business Holiday Cards

Today, I pop my holiday cards in the mail to the people I work with in the publishing industry. I started doing this a few years ago because it seemed a nice way to keep my name in front of some editors I worked with in the educational publishing industry. I could wish them happy holidays and implicitly let them know it was a relationship I wanted to continue. Now I have a couple of trade editors in the mix, too, which is nice, plus my agent, my critique group folks, etc.

Since I write poetry, it's fun to use a poem on my card. I chose a photo card (at Snapfish) with a snowman theme, and I inserted an image that was actually a snowman poem I wrote last year (it's in the pink square in this post) while participating in Robert's Snow. I ordered 60 cards and had them about a week later.

I was wondering if other writers send out holiday cards, and, if so, do you put any writing on them? I thought different kinds of writers could be really creative in choosing a writing sample to feature on their cards...so it's kind of like a mini-portfolio. Nonfiction writers could include a short piece or a bulleted list of fun facts that are holiday-related. Picture book writers could include a mini-story or vignette...something with that picture book feel. Novelists could include the opening paragraph of a novel. I don't know. Maybe this is all totally ridiculous?

Do any of y'all do holiday cards? If so, have you sent them out yet? Even if you don't want to send a ton of them, it might be nice to send a little holiday cheer to your favorite editors, who are surely facing tough times right now.

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22. TMRE Turns Two Today!

See that cute little countdown button over there? (Psst! Look right!) It's reminded me that today is an important day in the life of TMRE. My little blog turns two today. After more than 760 posts since it's auspicious birth, I've come to see this as a rather grand adventure. There just aren't that many other places where I get to discuss/write about things I love with others who so genuinely share my passions.

I didn't add a Sitemeter counter to my site until April 2007, but I imagine there weren't many folks tuned in to my early ramblings, so it's probably pretty accurate. Since the counter was installed I have had close to 76,000 visits and more than 131,000 page views. What's the difference? Page views represent the number of individual pages viewed on a site, while a visit is a series of page views by one person.

Right around the time of Robert's Snow last year I added a NeoCounter to track visitors from different countries. This is a very cool widget that shows the flags of nations and the number of visitors from each. Today it lists more than 60,000 visitors from 146 countries.

What do all these data tell me?
First, that people search for some strange things! No matter how you find your way here, I'm glad you've come, and equally grateful that you keep returning. It's an amazing thing to throw your ideas out into the void and find that they actually take wing and reach others. The fact that you take the time to comment and engage in conversation, however brief, is immensely gratifying.

Second, that I am in some small way fulfilling the mission I set for myself when this blog was started. Here's what I had to say in that very first post.
So today I launch The Miss Rumphius Effect. As for the title, I selected it because I am living my life in the shadow of Miss Rumphius and trying to live by these words:
"When I grow up, I too will go to faraway places, and when I grow old, I too will live beside the sea."
That is all very well, little Alice," said her grandfather, "but there is a third thing you must do."
"What is that?" asked Alice.
You must do something to make the world more beautiful," said her grandfather.
"All right," said Alice. But she did not know what that could be.
Miss Rumphius planted lupines, but I want to do so much more. What could that be? Like young Alice, I still do not know. When I find the answer, I'll let you know.
I suppose my goal all along has been to contribute in some meaningful way to a community that embraces a love of books and reading in a variety of ways. I hope that teachers, librarians, parents, home schoolers and others find value in what I share.

Finally, they tell me that what I am doing is indeed worth the time I am investing.

While TMRE celebrates her second birthday, let me offer my thanks to YOU--my supportive, kind, and thoughtful readers. I would not be here without you.

12 Comments on TMRE Turns Two Today!, last added: 11/7/2008
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23. SOUP'S ON: Zoë B. Alley in the Kitchen Interview!

Grab your coffee or tea and settle in, folks. We've got such a treat today! Debut children's book author, Zoë B. Alley, is in the alphabet soup kitchen!

I first heard about There's a Wolf at the Door (Roaring Brook Press, 2008), last year, when I interviewed Zoë's very talented husband, Paddington illustrator, R.W. Alley, for Robert's Snow: Blogging for a Cure. He was excited about the book, and shared a sketch and finished cover art. I asked how he liked working with his wife, and he said everything went very smoothly. She wrote the text, then simply handed it over, giving him free rein.


Together, the Alleys have created "a graphic folklore wonder" for picture book fans, though, as I mentioned in my review last week, the humor and sheer exuberance of the stories will appeal to all ages. Judging from the many accolades the book has already received, it's more than safe to say that this husband and wife team have struck gold.

Zoë is visiting today from her home in Barrington, Rhode Island, where she and Bob live with their two children, Cassie (18) and Max (15).

Welcome to alphabet soup, Zoë, and congratulations on the publication of your first book! What’s the best part about being a published author?

Thanks, Jama! I am really excited to be a "published author." I think the best part is actually being able to say that I am! My ego is very gratified! (Sorry -- daughter of a child psychologist.) It's also great to have a "career" without wardrobe restrictions!


How did this project come about, and did you start out wanting to retell all five of these wolf stories and tie them together?

Originally, this project came about through the desire of my editor/publisher (Neal Porter/Roaring Brook Press), to fill a market niche (i.e., the graphic novel/comic book/panel format for the picture book market). Traditionally, this genre had been done for the young adult (and older) demographic (don't you hate words like that?!), but not for this younger one.

My terrific husband and illustrator, Bob, thought this might best be presented with a more recognized storyline -- as a longtime fan of being read to, I selected the 5 tales I thought the most "fun" thematically. Actually, the tying of the stories together was an idea I came up with at the conclusion of writing the first story of "The Three Little Pigs." It just seemed to make sense and to be a lot of fun to watch this poor wolf miss out every time!

Have you always had an interest in traditional tales? What’s the best part about retelling them?

Hmmmm .  . . I guess I've always had an interest in a story with a moral. I enjoy seeing a character learn something from his/her experience. As a mother, I always enjoyed reading books to them that were somehow twisted versions (in a good sense) of recognizable storylines. In retelling these stories, I really enjoyed giving my voice and new characteristics to these very well known characters. I had great fun giving them all names!

Cassie and Max


Did you have to do any research before you began writing? What was the greatest challenge in completing this book?

My research before writing consisted mainly of reading and rereading other versions of these stories, and getting a sense of the pacing I wished to use. I am especially fond of James Marshall's retellings of well-known tales, as well as his "George and Martha" books. I love his use of words and phrasings that don't necessarily talk down to children.

My greatest challenge in this, and in all things in my life, has been being patient! I was basically absent the day they handed out this gene in my childhood! The publication process, from start to finish, moves at a pace much slower than my internal workings!


Do you have a particular favorite of the five tales, and if so, explain why.

I really don't have a favorite. What I do have are favorite pieces of the characters that are based on people in my life (nope -- there's no such thing as "fiction"!). I must admit that I smile (okay, sometimes laugh!) when rereading the book, as those references make me happy!

from Little Red Riding Hood


In his 2007 Robert’s Snow interview, Bob said that you presented him with the text, and then let him have at it. Had you also written all the speech balloons beforehand as well, or did the two of you go back and forth on these once he started the illustrations?

Yes, I wrote the speech balloons myself as part of the original manuscript, before handing it off to Bob for his amazing illustrations!


I love how you gave distinct personalities to these well-known characters. How did you come up with the names for the Three Pigs, Little Red Riding Hood, and the Boy Who Cried Wolf?

Well, as I mentioned a minute ago, creating these characters was truly one of my favorite things about writing this book. The names themselves? I'm not really sure, other than trying to select the antithesis (ooh, another fancy word!), of what I thought a particular character's name should be! Does that make sense? I mean, whoever heard of pigs named Alan, Gordon and Blake? They're usually named things like Porky or Chubby! I felt that they, and my other characters, deserved more!

from The Three Little Pigs


It must have been very interesting and exciting to work together. Did you gain a new appreciation for and understanding of Bob’s work because of this book? What are some of the things he brought to the table that you didn’t expect, or that impressed you? What’s the hardest part of collaboration? The best part?

People are always saying to me how hard or difficult it must be to work together with my husband (I mean, not Bob in particular, but the generic "husband"!). That couldn't be farther from the truth for me. We've been married for 27 years (don't do the math!), and for 25 of those years, he's worked from home. I've been home, as well, for the past 18 years, as a stay-at-home mom, and we've gotten very good at what we do!

R.W. Alley

We've really gained great respect for what the other does, and learned to adapt to each other's schedules and needs. I don't think either of us could be as happy without the other around. (Awww . . .!) So, in writing this book, I really wrote it knowing Bob's illustration talents as I do. It really was not hard to collaborate. The "best part" is that he loves what I write and I love what he draws!


What I love most about this book is the unexpected, razor sharp, snarky humor. Are you a naturally funny person? And since Bob’s pictures certainly extend the hilarity, I think it’s fair to ask who is funnier in everyday life. Who plays the straight man?

Ok, now I feel great pressure to give a funny answer! There was a priest, a rabbi . . . no, forget that! Maybe this answers your question: no, I am not naturally funny! I think it's fair to say that each of us thinks that we are each the funnier! Isn't that sad?! I bet my kids would say, however, that Bob is funnier than me. I think that's the mother's lot in life!

from The Boy Who Cried Wolf


Please tell us a little about your path to authorship. Was writing a children’s book always on your agenda, or were you naturally drawn to it as a result of being married to an illustrator?

Well, I must say with all candor, that these past 6 years or so have become named (affectionately?) my "rejection years"! This has been the most active period spent towards "authorship" -- and, you'll remember that patience is not my default setting! I think that being with Bob has definitely sparked my creative tendencies, although I have always "written" either professionally or personally.


What kind of child were you? What books or authors made a lasting impression on you?

Not sure how deeply to get into this here! Maybe discretion should be the better part of this format, as well! Well, I was definitely happy and outgoing. Always nurturing and somewhat cautious (still am!). I'm big on "doing the right thing" -- much as I was then. I love a good family gathering -- food and words -- I think that's genetic in my family!

One of my early favorite books was called "My Hopping Bunny," by Robert Bright (I believe). My family and I still quote from it occasionally, and I remember my mom's voice inflection warmly, as she read it to my sister and me. I also loved the hundreds of Little Golden Books we owned -- I loved their small size. (Ironic, isn't it, that the Wolf book is so large ?!) 


Who are some of your favorite children’s authors and illustrators working today?

Well, I adore the Frances books by Lillian and Russell Hoban, and I've already mentioned James Marshall. I think he was funny, brilliant, and poignant. Of those working today, I can think of Tim Egan, Raymond Briggs, Rosemary Wells, and (although not new), Sendak's Nutshell Library collection. I guess those all stand out for me.

Describe your typical day.

A typical working day? (As opposed to those other "regular" days filled with the stuff life is made up of, things like going to the post office, or being surprised that the "kids" would like dinner tonight as well, when they had a perfectly good dinner last night?!)

Well, given those parameters, my day would consist of working out at the local Y in the morning (stupid exercise!), coming home and going to my "office" -- aka, the living room couch! (I write everything longhand with my favorite pen. Just can't sit at the blank computer screen with that damned cursor blinking at me! Makes me feel inferior!) Usually, I work for a few hours and break for lunch with Bob. Afternoons are not my most productive time, so I try to stick to an a.m. schedule. Before you know it, dinner is surprising me once again! (I wonder what we're having tonight?!)

What are you working on now?

You mean, besides answering these questions? (Which are hard, by the way!) Well, the "sequel" to the Wolf book is done and will be out next year (tentatively titled, There's a Princess in the Palace. Same type of format and size, but with well-known tales of princesses). After that, I have a few ideas ruminating, and have to get down to seeing what the living room couch produces.


The five tales in There’s a Wolf at the Door are strung together by the wolf’s quest for dinner. He hungers for everything from pork chops to roast lamb to shepherd’s pie to goose dumplings. What’s your favorite childhood food-related memory?

I have some great ones, actually. My parents' fondue dinner parties in the 60s, some really spectacular tuna sandwiches made in our car's trunk (!) while overlooking Peggy's Cove in Nova Scotia, this weird sandwich loaf thing my mom used to make for our birthdays, and my elementary school teachers coming for lunch once each year (wow, that'd never happen today, would it?!) I love food, I guess!


If you could invite anyone, dead or alive, to dinner, who would it be, and what would you serve? What would you ask him or her?

I think I would have to assemble a large group of my Eastern European relatives from the early part of the 1900s -- people I obviously never got to meet, but who could provide me with a lot of really amazing information about my family's culture, from which I feel so distant.

I guess I'd have to serve them something, wouldn't I? We'd probably order out! Dinner would come as a complete surprise to me once again!


Bob mentioned your supremely wonderful culinary skills in his interview. Could you please share a favorite recipe with us (I don’t suppose you have a good recipe for pork chops)?

No pork chops -- although I did make a really great barbecued spareribs last night (apologies to Alan, Gordon and Blake!). Actually, I've included a family favorite cake recipe, passed down from someone connected to our family, named Willa Mae! It's fabulous, and I make it every year for my children's birthdays.



Food that inspires your best work.

Chocolate -- dark only!


Describe yourself in 5 words.

Grammatical, political, musical, comical, and family-ical!


Describe Bob in 5 words.

Funny (really funny!), goofy (is that the same thing?), talented, protective, and loving.


Three fondest wishes.

1. At the risk of too much self revelation, that the right person wins on November 4th!

2. That my children grow into the fabulous adults that currently live inside them.

3. So as not to get overly deep here, that the world learns the right and wrong ways to use apostrophes!


Passions besides reading and writing.

My family, theatre, singing, and car vacations.


Any other questions you wish I had asked?

Jama, my dear, any more and I'd need therapy!

(makes a 2-layer cake)

1 cup hot water
4-5 squares bittersweet chocolate
1/2 lb butter
2 cups sugar
2 cups flour
1 cup sour cream
2 eggs, beaten
1 tsp vanilla
1/4 tsp salt
1-1/2 tsp baking soda


2 oz. bittersweet chocolate
3 T butter
1/4 cup cream (or coffee)
1/8 tsp salt
1 tsp vanilla
2 cups confectioner's sugar (approx., to texture)

Melt chocolate in double boiler. Pour hot water over melting chocolate. Add butter. Then add to sugar, flour, salt, sour cream, and baking soda mixture. Add eggs and vanilla. Beat. Bake for 30-35 minutes in 2 round cake pans that have been buttered and floured, in 350 degree oven. Cool and remove from pans.

To make frosting: melt chocolate with butter in double boiler. Add cream and salt. Remove from heat and add vanilla. Gradually add confectioner's sugar to desired consistency. Frost.


Visit the Roaring Brook website for a better peek inside the book.

R.W. Alley's website is here.

Publishers Weekly interview with the Alleys is here.

*All interior spreads posted by permission, copyright © 2008 R.W. Alley, published by Roaring Brook Press. All rights reserved.

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24. Illustrator Interview: Don Tate on the "Duke Ellington" Raffle and TLA Disaster Relief Fund

Don Tate is a renowned children's book illustrator, based in Austin, Texas. Read a previous Cynsations interview with Don and an interview about his efforts as a co-founder of The Brown Bookshelf.

How did you come to donate a painting to the raffle for the Texas Library Association Disaster Relief Fund?

Actually it began for me earlier this year at your Tantalize (Candlewick, 2007) launch party.

[Librarian] Jeanette Larson approached me with very kind words about a snowflake I'd donated to Robert's Snow: for Cancer's Cure and asked about my interest in donating art to the raffle.

Why is it important to you?

I think it's always important to help people in need. None of us are exempt from the possibility of a natural disaster, and so I think it's our duty to help when we can.

I'm not always able to help financially, but my time and talent are valuable resources, too. It gratifies me to know my art will help children and families.

Could you tell us about the portrait in terms of its subject?

The piece I donated is actually a character study of jazz great Duke Ellington, for a book to be published by Charlesbridge, tentatively titled "Duke Ellington's Nutcracker Suite," written by Anna Harwell Celenza.

In terms of its artistic approach?

Normally I use a tight, stylized realism. But for this book, I wanted to do something very different, something bold, loose.

So I approached this study with the plan to throw away the final piece. That way, I'd loosen up, not care so much.

I sketched my subject with a Sharpie marker. That way there would be no erasing. Then I used a photocopying process to make several copies for experimenting with (that was my only short cut). When it came to painting, the trick for me was not to think, not to plan, to just let it happen.

But I liked the final piece and couldn't throw it away. So I made myself another and donated the original to the Disaster Relief fund.

What about Duke Ellington speaks to you?

Initially, I didn't know anything about Duke Ellington or his music. As far as I was concerned, Duke Ellington was for my 97-year-old grandpa. I grew up on a diet of funk and hip-hop.

For this book, I had to do some research. And I liked what I found. I downloaded Ellington's Three Suites album; I purchased several videos and CDs of his performances.

I also watched a lot of YouTube. I was blown away.

Now, not only am I a Duke Ellington fan, but Tchaikovsky, too. On several occasions, I found myself jogging to Ellington's "Sugar Rum Cherry" and Tchaikovsky's "Miniature Overture," and liking it! Both these guys were geniuses.

When will we see the book itself?

Well, that depends. The project is in an editorial holding pattern, and now I'm up against the deadline for another book. But it's supposed to drop in 2010.

Is there anything you'd like to add?

I hope people will like the art and will support the cause.

Following Hurricane Ike, I had to do a lot of graphics and video editing of the disaster. The stories were heartbreaking. Many people lost everything. [Note: Don also works as an illustrator for The Austin-American Statesman].

The Texas Library Association's Disaster Relief fund will go a long way in helping families.

Cynsational Notes

Reminder: "Buy a couple of raffle tickets and 'take a chance on art' or simply make a donation to the fund (information is online at https://secure.txla.org/secure/forms/donmenu.asp)."

Read a companion interview with Austin-based librarian Jeanette Larson.

Please pass on news of the TLA Disaster Fund and raffle!

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25. Oh, I So Needed That

What I Did:

Yesterday I attended a New England Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators event in Massachusetts. It was a three-hour "salon" for published writers and illustrators on the topic of working with booksellers. Three very enthusiastic, professional booksellers discussed making connections with booksellers, bookstore events, and maintaining relationships with booksellers. At the end of the presentation, I was feeling really depressed (a couple of other people I spoke to seemed to be, too) because going up to strange booksellers in their stores for a cold chat, as they all advised, is probably not one of my best skills. But then I ate lunch and felt much better, so maybe it was just low blood sugar.

Who I Saw:

Toni Buzzeo, a children's author and librarian who is active in the NESCBWI. Several years ago, I attended a workshop she conducted on author presentations in schools.

Mary Newell DePalma, who I met nearly a year ago. I had dinner with her, in fact. She was one of the artists for Robert's Snow for Cancer's Cure last year.

Melissa Stewart and I had sort of met at an earlier NESCBWI event. I asked her yesterday if she had been published at that time, and she very modestly just said, "Yes." I'll say she's been published. The books' section of her website has to be divided into categories she's published so many.

Who I Met:

Loree Griffin Burns. I sat right next to her. I said, "Gee, your name sounds so familiar." Here's why.

Terry Golson, a food writer whose first children's book, Tillie Lays an Egg, comes out next year from Scholastic. Terry had an unbound galley with her. I didn't get a chance to read the text, but the illustrations are a hoot. They're photographs of chickens posed in tableaux. Terry collected the retro items in the pictures and trained the chickens to pose among them. She has a hen cam with an international following. She says there are troops in Iraq following her hens.

Alison Morris, the children's buyer at Wellesley Booksmith and the Shelftalker. Yes, people! I met another blogger!

Carol Chittenden from Eight Cousins Bookstore. I often see her name on the Association of Booksellers for Children listserv.

I believe a good time was had by all.

4 Comments on Oh, I So Needed That, last added: 10/21/2008
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