Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Picture Book Article in PW

Here's a great article from Publisher's Weekly as a follow-up to the October NYT article that stirred up so much controversy about the state of picture books in today's market. I think this much better addresses the issues facing picture books.


Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Five Reasons Why Children NEED Picture Books

A New York Times article recently stirred up a lot of discussion amongst the children’s lit community about the future of picture books. I don’t think the decline in sales was news to anyone. Picture book sales have been slowly dropping for about the past ten years because of changing demographics. And with the economic downturn of 2008, no one is surprised that people are thinking twice before spending $16-$18 for a picture book.

However, the part of the article that concerned me was the claim that parents are “skipping” picture books and heading straight to chapter books in an effort to “advance their children’s skills.” The idea of doing this is simply absurd. This would be similar to a parent saying that they would not allow their baby to crawl because learning to walk sooner would make him/her a better runner, headed for an Olympic bid.

It just isn’t true. Or smart.

There are basic developmental stages a child progresses through in order to develop normally (by “normally” I mean develop according to the expected, universal stages of human development). And here is where picture books fit in.

Picture books offer benefits to children that no other genre can. One cannot simply “skip” them and advance onto chapter books because picture books and chapter books are NOT THE SAME. Just like crawling and walking. Crawling teaches forward movement, coordination of limbs and exercises both sides of the brain—all in the safety of being at ground level. Picture books enrich a child’s life in many aspects and prepare him for reading chapter books and his future learning--in the warm embrace of a parent or other caregiver. It is all good, and all necessary.

I hope there will be much discussion about picture books in the upcoming weeks, months and years. They are an important part of children’s literature and childhood. I believe the NYT article should serve as a reminder for us all to be picture book advocates. So, in my attempt to do just that, here are:


LANGUAGE:Young children (ages two-seven) are at a peak age for learning language. Dr. Jane Healy (Endangered Minds: Why Children Don't Think and What We Can Do About It) notes that the young child’s brain is ravenous for language stimulation. This is why it is often suggested that children learn a second language at this age. They soak up language like a sponge.

Because the average picture book only has about 500 words, an author must craft each and every word, sentence and paragraph with care. Editor Anne Hoppe once said of picture books: “The writer distills; the illustrator expands.” Picture book writers must distill language to its very essence. This is why the text in a picture book is often rich, evocative, and engaging. Hearing this type of language will enrich a child's language development.

BRAIN DEVELOPMENT:Dr. Healy (Your Childs’ Growing Mind) also explains that during early childhood, the brain buzzes with extra neurological connections that are trying to establish patterns, cause and effect, and sequences. Picture books, with their verbal and visual nature, offer this to a child’s growing mind. For example, in Bill Martin Jr.’s Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? a child hears the verbal clue of a rhyming word and sees the visual clue of the upcoming animal to be named on the next page. This type of pattern and sequencing helps to build the neurological pathways in a child's brain. This kind of patterning within a verbal/visual format is unique to picture books.

PHYSICAL PARTICIPATION:Another unique aspect of picture books is the child’s physical participation in the story via the page turn. The words and illustration allow the child to experience what is happening on any particular page; however, advancing the story—physically turning the page—requires action on his part. This type of participation sets up an interactive experience between the child and the story. This participation also keeps the child engaged and helps to establish cause-and-effect brain pathways, as mentioned above.

Because of their unique structure, picture books can help a child increase his attention span, going beyond an interesting story (which is common to all genres). How many picture books have you seen with a refrain that keeps a child listening—eagerly anticipating his moment to chime in? Children will sit on the edges of their seats (or knees) awaiting their moment to be an active part of a story. Have you ever seen a group of children listen to Don't Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus! by Mo Willems?

Children’s author Mem Fox says in her book, Reading Magic: "Children’s brains are only 25 percent developed at birth. From that moment, whenever a baby is fed, cuddled, played with, talked to, sung to or read to, the other 75 percent of its brain begins to develop. And the more stimulation the baby has through its senses of touch, taste, smell, sight, and hearing, the more rapidly that development will occur.” Re-read that last sentence. The more stimulation through the senses, the more rapid the development occurs.

Multi-sensory learning is critical during the early childhood years, and no other book genre offers this kind of sensory-based experience. While listening to and looking at a picture book, a child sees the pictures, hears the words, touches the pages (or other tactile features, such as touch-and-feel books), and smells the pages (such as scratch-and-sniff books). The only thing a child wouldn’t do with a picture book is taste it (although infants and toddlers might disagree).

Dr. Maria Montessori advocated that children absorb impressions and knowledge directly from their environment via their senses. Picture books are an important part of the learning process. No other type of books gives young children the opportunity to experience a story on so many sensory levels.

I hope this has given you some reasons to consider the benefits that picture books uniquely offer a young child. For a comprehensive list of excellent picture books, please visit Elizabeth Bird’s Fuse #8 blog.

Happy reading!

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Time is flying...

Good heavens, I can't believe how quickly time passes by. This week I handed in my mid-semester evaluation for Vermont College (halfway through my third semester). Next week I turn in my (hopefully) final draft of my critical thesis (more on that later). And I just did my first virtual classroom visit via Skype with R.A Mitchell Elementary School in Alabama (and what a delightful group of third graders!).

It's been a busy week!

Oh, and for a good laugh, check out this book-related video clip. This one came from Julie Larios, my advisor extraordinaire. Not only is Julie an awesome writer and teacher, she's great at finding fun "distractions."

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Check Out This Article

Check out this article from Hunger Mountain by Nikki Grimes. She speaks to such an important topic, and just about says it all. People need to hear this.
Especially now.

Friday, July 16, 2010

The "Everything Under the Moon" Group

This is the "Everything Under the Moon, Writing with Fingers on Fire" VCFA fall 2009 picture book semester group; and some of my most favorite writer friends on the planet.

Left to right, front row: me, Mary Cronin, and Kathi Appelt (advisor extraordinaire). Left to right, back row: Barabara Bishop (graduating on Tuesday--yea, Barbara!), Abby Aguirre and Meredith Davis.

Having lunch with these lovely ladies has been one of my personal highlights of the residency thus far because really--isn't there nothing like getting together with "old" friends?

Thursday, July 15, 2010

My New Advisor!!!

Yes, it's been forever since I've posted as I've allowed my wrist and thumb to heal, but I just found out who my next advisor will be for my 3rd semester at Vermont College. Drum roll, please........ Julie Larios! Okay, I'll admit it, when I saw my name in her group I let out a whoop. Julie is a fabulous poet, brilliant and just plain delightful. I AM THRILLED!

Monday, May 31, 2010

On the Injured Reserved List...

It seems that I've injured my hand, writing and riding. Too much writing for the VC Master's program, and too much riding my bike (which keeps me grounded with all the work in the Master's program). Yes, torn tendons are a real pain. Anyway, it loooks like I won't be blogging 'til the end of the summer, most likely--that's when I'm anticipating my hand to be completely healed.

BTW, for my VC writing, I've been using a software program called, Dragon Naturally Speaking, an excellent voice-activated program. Unofrtunately, it doesn't seem to work for dictating posts for my blog though! But it's saving me with my other writing. Phew!!!

So, have a fantastic summer--sip some lemonade, read lots of good books and don't forget your sunscreen!

Monday, May 3, 2010

Upcoming Event: KRA Young Author Fair

Next week, I'll be in Bakersfield, CA for the Kern Reading Association's Young Author Fair. I'll be speaking at the following sites:

May 10: Almondale School
May 11: Casa Loma School
May 12: Wayside SchoolMay 13: McKinley School
May 14: Owens Primary
May 14: YAF Author Dinner, Doubletree Hotel, 6:30 (open to public)
May 15: YAF Fair at University Square (corner of 20th and K Streets, Bakersfield, CA). 8:30-12:30. Free to public.

For the whole scoop, click here.

This is said to be one of the top author events in the nation, so I'm deeply honored to be a part of it. If you're in the area, please stop by and say hi!

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Ya Gotta Love Squidoo!

This link came across my desk this morning. Don't you just love Squidoo? If you're not familiar with it, it's a site where folks can post articles. For example, this one is about "Picture Books about Bears" and features a few favorite titles of the author's. And of course, Blackberry Banquet is featured!

Click here to find a Squidoo article that I wrote called, Ten Things to Do with a Children's Book.

You can find almost anything on Squidoo---now keep in mind that anyone can post an article, and there's a sort of "honor system" that people write about things with which they actually have some expertise--in other words, reader beware! I wouldn't want my doctor gleeming info from this site about practicing medician, if he's written a book and wants some book promotion ideas, then let him have at it!

Saturday, March 27, 2010

A Lecture Everyone Should Hear or Read

As you know, I had the priviledge of having Kathi Appelt as my advisor last semester at Vermont College. Last year, at the summer residency, Kathi gave a fabulous lecture that left me saying, "Everyone should hear that lecture. Every single person in the world. Especially if they're a writer and/or educator."

Well folks, I've got great news. Kathi's lecture, Blurring the Lines, is available online on the Hunger Mountain website. Please-please-please click here to read it (it's long, but worth every second of your time). Hunger Mountain is the journal of the Vermont College Fine Arts program. I was so happy to see Kathi's lecture in print, as I could savor it slowly (yes, like fine wine or Belgian chocolate).

In Kathi's poignant writing style, she gives us so many things to consider--as writers, parents, teachers, humans. With compassion and the knowledge of the scholar she is, she discusses the reactions to her award-winning novel The Underneath, the importance of reading, embracing your past, the overuse of standardized tests in today's schools, becoming more humanitarian, censorship, Ferdinand the Bull and the importance of blurring the lines that we often put up to distinguish "us" from "them." I laughed, cheered, and even gasped at times. You will be enlightened, comforted, and want to become a "book whisperer."

Here is one of my favorite quotes:

I’m worried that our children, expert test takers by the time they reach fifteen where every answer is true or false, will not have Ferdinand or the little old woman eating mush or beautiful Ginger [Black Beauty] because tests have taken over and the language of their childhood will always be age appropriate and standardized. It will be too conscious and not conscious enough. And someone whom we could drink a beer with will stand in front of the world and say, “bring it on,” without the ability to imagine the ramifications or the feelings of others, someone who forgot Ferdinand.

This is a beautifully written lecture/essay. Pour yourself a glass of wine, sit back and enjoy...

Monday, March 15, 2010

Good Golly, Where Is the Time Going?

My goodness, I looked up at the calendar (which was still on February so I flipped it) and saw that we're halfway through March already. Ack!!!

WHERE is the time going?

Oh wait...I turned in my second packet today. Surely THAT'S where the time went. Into my packet preparation.

But I now have two more essays done, six chapters of my novel turned in and a bibliography (check-check-check!). Oh, and this time around I included a structural summary of my novel-in-progress. I think structure is *finally* starting to sink in with me. Finally!

I'd like to say I've earned a couple of days off to relax, catch up, and flip the rest of the calendars in the house, but with spring break next week (which translates to husband and kids being home), there's no time to rest. Gotta get as much done as I can this week. But maybe I can solicite some help in flipping the calendars next week. Of course by then we'll practically be in April. Maybe we should just skip March...

Monday, March 1, 2010

West Boron Elementary, Here I Come!

Tomorrow I'll be heading down to Boron, CA, a small town in the high desert just south of where I live, to help the students of West Boron Elementary School celebrate Read Across America Day. I'm so excited about my visit--I love speaking to students about the writing process and getting them excited about reading. I still remember my fabulous fourth grade teacher, Mrs. Barnes, and how she turned me onto reading. Talk about a keystone year!

How are YOU celebrating Read Across America Day?

Thursday, February 25, 2010

THIS is Why I Write for Kids

Okay, I'm sitting here, teary-eyed. Truly touched.

Check out this article in the Chelsea Standard (it's short).

All I can say is: THIS is why I write for kids. It's just that simple.

Monday, February 22, 2010


Pint-sized interviews that leave you smiling.

KATHI APPELT is the author of over thirty books for children and young adults. Her book, MY FATHER’S SUMMERS (Henry Holt, 2004) won the Paterson Poetry Prize for Young Adult Literature and was selected as “Book for the Teen Age,” by the New York Public Library, as well as a “Quick Pick for Reluctant Young Readers.” Her picture book, BUBBA AND BEAU, BEST FRIENDS was given the Irma and Simon Black Award for excellence in children’s literature.

Her first novel, THE UNDERNEATH, was a finalist for The National Book Award, a Newbery Honor book, and the winner of the PEN USA Award for Children’s Literature.

Ms. Appelt is on the faculty in the Masters of Creative Writing for Children and Young Adults at Vermont College of Fine Arts. She and her husband Ken live in College Station, TX. For more information, check her website: http://www.kathiappelt.com/.

You're a master of picture book writing, whether it be non-fiction (MISS LADY BIRD’S WILDFLOWERS, ELEPHANTS ALOFT) or fiction (BATS ON PARADE, or your newest title, BRAND NEW BABY BLUES), to prose (the BUBBA AND BEAU series) to rhyme (ALLEYCAT’S MEOW, OH MY BABY LITTLE ONE). Can you tell us about your process? Are there some things that you consistently do with every story or is each one a new journey its own right?

What a good question! And oh, if only I had an answer. To be honest,
I used to pay a lot more attention to process than I do now. I hope that this lack of attention-paying is because I've just gotten more used to writing rather than a laziness on my part, but I'm not so sure about that. Certainly, each book has its own path. Some come a lot faster to me. Some, not so much. Most of my stories require multiple drafts, and we're talking multiple, like fifteen, twenty, more. I think I rewrote Miss Lady Bird's Wildflowers about fifty times.

If there is, in fact, a common process element, it's that I always begin with something from my own experience and life, even it means bats or cats or hound dogs. I'm also really kind to myself when it comes to early drafting. I try not to be too judgmental about what shows up on the page, at least not until I've gotten a couple of drafts down.

I also never talk about a book in progress. It's a superstition of mine. I learned this when I was a graduate student--that if I talked about a project before I had words on the page, then I found that I couldn't write it. My brain was already convinced that the project had been completed. And it's funny because when people start to tell me, "I have an idea for a book," I'm quick to say, "No, don't tell me. Write it. Then we can talk."

You're also an accomplished writer for older readers with many books for teens on writing, poetry and novels, including THE UNDERNEATH, which won a 2009 ALA Newbery Honor. Could you briefly share with us how winning a Newbery Honor affected your life? Can you tell us a little about your next novel?

In a million ways, writing The Underneath changed my life. Just the writing itself was where the change occurred. It's hard to explain, but I felt as though I had to simultaneously step out of my own skin in order to get the story down, but at the same time I had to dive as deeply as I could into the darkest realms of my own life in order to find the true story. Winning the Newbery Honor was amazing. Truly. It was a gift. I'm still amazed by it.

Next novel: Keeper. It's due out in mid-May and is about ten-year-old Keeper who lives with her foster mother, Signe, along the Texas coast. Keeper believes that her real mother, Meggie Marie, is a mermaid because the last time she saw her, Meggie Marie swam away. So, the book is Keeper's quest for her mermaid mother, who may or may not be a real mermaid. There's a companion dog and an errant seagull who go along for the ride. August Hall has created some beautiful art for the interior and his jacket is drop-dead gorgeous. I told my editor that I want to blow it up and paper my bedroom wall with it.

What's your favorite children's joke?

Q: What do you have when you have snakes on the windshield?
A: Windshield vipers!

Hee-hee! Thanks so much, Kathi!

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Semester Two: Packet One. Done!

I turned in my first packet for this semester over the weekend. This semester my advisor is the fabulous Laura Kvasnosky. Whenever I turn in a packet I never quite feel like I'm done until I receive the feedback from my advisor. So, I sit on pins and needles, eagerly anticipating...

...until, TA-DA! My amazing advisor (at a lightspeed pace) sends back a complete and thorough set of comments about my entire packet of work. I love this aspect of the semester because I find out specifically what is working with my writing, and more importantly, what I need to learn more about--craft issues, suggested readings, revision tips, etc. It's like going to the candy store for writing-improvement.

This morning I fist-pumped and yelled, "YES!" when I read Laura's comment that I'd successfully used "objective correlative." (chuckle if you will, but this was new to me). I loved seeing her revision suggestions for my picture books--seeing how I can sculpt my stories into better pieces of art. I wrote an essay comparing dialogue in beginning readers and picture books; I knew, with her being an expert at this, that she'd have a lot to say on this subject. I definitely have a lot to think about on that topic and am looking forward to having a discussion with her about it.

Yes, packets are a stressful and joyful part of the Vermont College experience. To me, they're like a compass. They give direction and the hope that I'm heading the correct way.

Now, onto re-reading Laura's comments so they can sink in even more...

Monday, January 25, 2010

National Wildlife Federation Reading List

I'm delighted to announce that Blackberry Banquet has been named on the National Wildlife Federation's Grab Bag list of recommended books.

I've always respected the NWF as a sensible animal conservation organization so I'm very proud to see my book included on their list. AND if you order a book through their website, NWF received a portion of the payment to help their efforts in conserving wildlife. How cool is that???

So please, hop on over and check out their Grab Bag list and learn more about their fabulous organization while you're there.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Back from Vermont

As the old joke goes, I just flew back from Vermont and boy are my arms tired ;-). Getting home was an exhausting affair, but I’ll spare you the details.

However, I do want to share something. I realized that in all my ramblings (okay, freaking out) about my participation in the picture book panel presentation, I never really explained what it was all about and how it worked (at least that's what some of you have told me). So, here goes:

The Picture Book Semester is an intensive study of picture books offered as part of the Vermont College of Fine Arts MFA WCYA program. It can also be taken as a single semester class for those not interested in doing the entire MFA program. Each semester a different advisor teaches the class, usually with five students. One of the requirements of the class is participation in a panel presentation during the residency that follows the semester.

During the semester, students are required to do critical work in the form of essays. One of these essays must be a minimum of ten pages long. This essay is what forms the basis for your topic in the panel presentation. For example, my long essay was on anthropomorphism with a focus on cats, so that became the subject of my talk, "Cats in Picture Books: Taking a "Paws" to Look at Anthropomorphism." We each had 12-15 minutes to speak. Around mid-semester, we decided that each of us would create a PowerPoint presentation (after all, picture books are a visual art).

We each spoke on different topics but coordinated our efforts to have some unifying themes throughout. With the suggestion of our advisor, Kathi Appelt, we titled our presentation, Everything Under the Moon: Shedding Light on Picture Books. We spoke about the moon, cats/anthropomorphism, pretend play, turning points and digging holes (leaving space). Afterwards, Kathi read a writing sample from each of us and presented us with our official certificates. Photos and wild applause followed ;-)

It was definitely a group effort, as we coordinated on many aspects of our talk, from establishing goals, determining our topics, working through the PowerPoints and finally, at the residency, working out all the technical glitches (which would have been IMPOSSIBLE if not for the fabulous efforts from grad assistant Debbie Gonzales).

It was a lot of work but so much fun, and extremely satisfying when it was over, not only because IT WAS OVER ;-) but because many people from the audience commented that they learned something. Which was our primary goal. We consciously set out to give our audience something that they could take away and apply to their own writing. Yep, reaching a goal is a great feeling!

The panel presentation also served as one other thing: the end to a fabulous experience (the “bitter” part of bittersweet). But as one chapter ends, another begins. Here is a photo of myself with Kathi, and my new advisor for spring 2010, Laura Kvasnosky (of Zelda & Ivy fame). I’m so excited to begin my work with Laura!

Monday, January 18, 2010

Okay, I've been very bad, no good, terrible, horrible about posting on my blog during this residency. I'm not sure why I seemed to have more time last summer, although I hear other students commenting that this rez's schedule seems more packed than last summer's. Oh well, it is what it is. Needless to say, I've been busy.

My Picture Book Semester Panel Presentation: Everything Under the Moon: Shedding Light on Picture Books is this afternoon. I woke up this morning relieved that the migraine that's been with me since Saturday night has left. Phew! That was the last thing I needed. I'm quite excited that it's finally our turn to present. More than anything, because I want to be able to stop thinking about my talk. I'm just tired of it hanging in my mind. But I am excited for our audience and hope that some people will walk away feeling a bit more enlightened about picture books. It is such an important and amazing genre to write. And it's been fun organizing the presentation with the four other writers in my group--Abby Aguirre, Meredith Davis, Barbara Bishop and Mary Cronin (all led by our fearless leader, Kathi Appelt).

And... it's snowing!!!!!
(this is the view from my dorm room)

Thursday, January 14, 2010

VCFA Winter Residency '10

Okay, so I'm not being quite as prompt about posting on my blog during the rez, but you should see the schedule they created. These people never sleep. Sometimes I don't think they even take time to breathe!

It's definitely cold here, I think our lowest temps were -3 one night, but the rooms are well-heated and the walks to class are short (sometimes shorter--depending on how cold it is!). As you can see, the campus is quite lovely covered in snow, and I delight at the beauty just outside my window every morning; quaint New England houses across the street, layered in snow with white puffs rising from their chimneys.

The academic experience has been fabulous thus far; amazing and insightful lectures from the faculty and graduating students, critiquing of manuscripts that cause you to have so many lightbulb moments that your head looks like a fourth of July nightsky. Yesterday the picture book semester group had the treat of having Lynne Rae Perkins speak to us. Lynne Rae shared her process (writing and illustrating) and let us pick her brain for about two hours.

This morning we'll hear Lynne Rae speak to the entire student body, and this afternoon Kimberly Willis Holt well speak to us. Tomorrow we get her all to ourselves for our PB workshop group. I can't wait to hear her talk about Waiting for Gregory. If you haven't seen this book, get your hands on a copy. The art is amazing and transformed the sweet text to a whole new level.

Today our faculty preference forms are due--this is the list we give of the advisors that we'd like to work with next semester. Honestly, the staff is so fabulous that I couldn't narrow it down to just five, so I listed six. We had a chance to "speed date" them on Tuesday, where we ask them questions and get to know how they work. It was enjoyable to sit a bit with the advisors and chat about our upcoming projects. It doesn't really matter which advisor I'll get because I know they'll all be good, plus I trust the VCFA system to match me with the best advisor. I'll find out who my new advisor is on Friday morning (technically at midnight, but I'm not so sure I'll be up at that hour).

Speaking of advisors, I know I'll miss working with Kathi Appelt terribly (horribly, no goodly, very badly) but that's just the way it is. I'm sure with each advisor I'll grow in a different way--at least my writing will!

Okay, must get ready for the next lecture...

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Holy Cow, Another Residency!

I really did have the best of intentions--I was going to get back to posting regular entries on my blog, set up some more Mini-Views and do some more book reviews.

I wish I could blame my lack of attention to the holidays, but considering that I didn't put up a single decoration and am still hunting for gifts, I can't blame them. I haven't even made any New Year's resolutions, other than to just do what Vermont College tells me to do. To the best of my ability. Period.

The fact is, when you enroll in the Vermont College MFA program, the universe applies a vortex that sucks time out of your life. Seriously. You get up each morning, with the intention of running this errand, posting a blog entry, calling that old friend, baking cookies for your kids, but no. Evening rolls around and as you drop into bed, you realize that once again, you've left all those things uncrossed on your "to do" list. Now don't get me wrong--the great sucking vortex does leave you room for reading, writing, listening to lectures on CDs and researching-- but time for anything else? Nuh-uh. Nada. Zippo.

And now I'm staring at the winter residency that begins on Sunday. I have two days to pack all my "stuff" (AKA, school materials and anything that will help prevent me from freezing to death) then hit the Saturday 5:00 AM flight (yes, you read that right, A.M.) from the high desert down to LA. Oy.

I will try to post from Vermont when I can. No promises, but I'll try!