Saturday, March 29, 2008

INK, Camouflage, and other newsy bits of questionable worth

The sun is shining, the sky is blue -- could it be that spring has finally arrived here in Tough City? At least there's no snow, which would be unusual here anyway, but things were verging on bizarre because it snowed almost every day for about a week. Memories of Kaua'i are fading (as is my measly tan) as my To Do list grows. We probably should finally unpack sometime this weekend! Anyhow, I feel energized and vow to catch up on some posts and other things I've been meaning to do...

Last night the hubbie and I actually had a date -- amazing. There was no protest from our youngest sprog, so we could depart guilt-free for a few hours. Took in a concert by Ian Tamblyn at the cozy venue, Trilogy Garden Cafe in the lovely Tofino Botanical Gardens. A smallish turnout, but it was a wonderful evening of music with friends. I have this sort of "six degrees of separation" with Ian Tamblyn as my friend Bill, whom I met at Lakehead U. in Thunder Bay way, way back when (could it really be 26 years ago?), roomed with Ian's brother. And, of course, we started listening to Ian's music back then, too. I'm a fan of his pieces, as in the albums Over My Head or Antarctica, where he's combined nature/animal sounds with his music. It was a treat to hear Ian in concert and to finally have a chance to say hello. He's got an impressively lengthy discography. We picked up two new ones; the latest - Superior: Spirit and Light and an older one from 1992, Through the Years.

Since I'm primarily a non-fiction writer, it was a treat to hear of a new blog dedicated solely to children's non-fiction. INK - Interesting Non-fiction for Kids, is hosted by a variety of authors who take turns posting. Here's a great link on poetry in non-fiction by David M. Schwartz.

I was first introduced to David's work when we were doing the measurement issue of KNOW. David has written some wonderful books on measurement and math, such as G is for Googol or Millions to Measure. So I was delighted to come across his Where in the Wild? (written with Yael Schy, with photos by Dwight Kuhn) when I was on the Cybil's jury for non-fiction picture books.

He talks about Where in the Wild? in his INK post. Judging the Cybils was so difficult because, really, any of the books could have won. They were all fabulous and each had different strengths and styles and, of course, appealed to the jurists in different ways. Anyhow, Where in the Wild was a worthy finalist. The subtitle of this book is Camouflaged Creature Concealed...and Revealed. Even the creator line gives clues to the book's contents: "Ear-tickling poems" and "Eye-tricking Photos." Each spread has a poem (check out David's blog entry to see some of the pages) with an accompanying photo. In each photo an animal is hiding, well hidden by its camouflaged fur, feathers, scales, or skin. This was one of my favourite poems:


speckled treasures lie
bare upon the pebbled bank
fragile life within

The photo is, indeed, of a pebbled bank and it hides the speckled eggs of a killdeer. When you lift the flap the eggs are revealed and there is a page of non-fiction information about killdeers. Such a nice combo. of photographs, poetry, non-fiction, with an added "Where's Waldo" quality. Other animals included in the title are the coyote, tree frog, deer, weasel, moth, crab spider, flounder, green snake and red-spotted newt. Other than a few small quibbles of complex ideas being glossed over (e.g., the evolution of peppered moths from light to dark) and some unexplained words (e.g., exoskeleton) it's a wonderful book sure to please. When I went to the Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) conference in Boston last month, Schwartz and Schy were awarded the 2008 AAAS/Subarus Excellence in Science Books awards. It was also noted as a 20087 Outstanding Science Trade Book by the National Science Teachers' Association.

You can listen to a review of the book on Just One More Book. They also have some great links, and can direct you to a teacher's guide and other goodies.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Celebrating Literary Canada

Okay, so I've been on holidays. That's my excuse. I log onto Fuse #8 to see what she has to say today and her post is entitled "Canada Day Posting." Now, once my initial "humrumphings" were quelled (ahem, Canada Day is July 1st folks) I got it. Oh, it's Canada Day in the lit (at least kid's lit?) blogosphere. Kewl. So here is Fuse #8's post and she linked me to another great one at Chasing Ray. Mind you, Pierre Berton wouldn't have been at the top of my list, but, so be it. Make sure you get to the end of Chasing Ray's post as she links you in to a lot of other blogs.

Humble Hears, Yes, You!

(With apologies to Dr. Seuss for the less-than-stellar title of this post.) Soon, soon, I promise, I'll get back the in saddle with some reviews and other meaty bits. (That pesky holiday on Kaua'i broke my stride this last time. Sigh. It's presently snowing as payback.) For now, though, here's a great article from the archives of the Children's Book Insider. The Mindset of a Successful Author by Laura Backes is spot on. You'll need to scroll down to the bottom of this site to see the article, but here's the gist of it:

So how do you earn the trust of editors and readers to the point where you'll be free to experiment with a book's form? It all boils down to another common denominator of successful writers: humility.

Humble writers hear editors say, "It's extremely difficult to create a protagonist from an inanimate object that children will care about," and don't think, "Well, she's not talking to me. My story about Erin the Eraser is different." Instead, these writers scrutinize their work in the light of advice they get from experts, and try to judge their writing as objectively as possible. They're constantly putting their work to the test, asking if their characters are interesting and believable enough, if their plot is truly original, if their voice has yet to emerge. If you only follow one piece of advice toward your dream of some day creating a book that sports a gold medal on the cover, it's this:

Be humble. Every time you hear a writing "do" or "don't" from an editor, published author or respected teacher, assume they're talking about you.

This doesn't mean you shouldn't have confidence in your work. But it does mean that your work has to pass a strict test before it's ready to send to an editor. And the only way you'll get objective parameters for that test is to listen to what other qualified people say about writing a children's book. Use those lessons to judge your work, bring it up to par with what's being published, and then exceed it. Don't assume your work is already good enough—prove it.

This is the sort of advice I tell new writers -- listen to what publishers, editors and other writers are telling you. Most are, very likely, trying to be as nice as possible without breaking your heart. Maybe, sometimes, we need to be harsher. There are times we need to be told that something is crap. We all write crap and, yes, some crap even gets published. The writers who "make it" as a writer keep persevering, writing, re-writing, reading, reading, reading some more, and doing their own homework. There are dozens, nay gazillions, of ways to learn about the craft: books, magazine articles, websites galore, conferences, etc. If you want to be a writer, you need to put in the grunt work. There is no silver bullet, it's just hard work. Take yourself (and, I might add, the others around you who've been at this for awhile) seriously. As I've said before, a peruse through Editorial Anonymous's site is an education in itself. (Plus it's often good for a laugh.)

Friday, March 07, 2008

Books: New and Forthcoming

I'm very slow in posting about a few new books—one of which I can hold in my hot little hands and one which I'll be able to hold in a few months. Lost and Found is the latest offering from my detective doggy duo, Lu and Clancy. This is an early reader in Kids Can Press's Kids Can Read series. Silly fun.

At the other end of the spectrum, I have an essay in the anthology, Writing the West Coast: In Love with Place, which is being published by Ronsdale later this spring. It's edited by my buddy, Chris Lowther, who has been working very hard, on this, her love letter to Clayoquot Sound and all this wild and west coast. Here's a link to the Ronsdale site with more info. Cover image by my other buddy, Joanna Streetly.

Finally, congratulations to all BC writers who were short-listed for this year's BC Book Prizes.