Saturday, May 31, 2008

Mock Children's Books or Mocking Children's Books?

Apparently there's a new trend in PR, the promotional "fairy tale."

"Entrepreneurs have a habit of describing their companies in David-and-Goliath terms. Now, some are taking cues from Eloise and James and the Giant Peach. A mini trend in the world of public relations has companies replacing their run-of-the-mill press releases with promotional materials that look and feel like children's books."

Here's the link to the entire article.

Monday, May 26, 2008

School Visits 101

I've had many more requests for school visits this year than I have had any other years. It's been a very fun, but busy, year and it's not over yet! If you are a teacher or librarian interested in hiring me or any other BC writer or illustrator for a visit, you might want to check out this info. from the CWILL-BC website. Funding assistance is available in some circumstances.

Huzzahs to Kathleen McNeely Kids

A big thanks to the children and teachers of Kathleen McNeely Elementary school in Richmond. I had a wonderful visit with you on Friday and you had such wonderful stories and questions. It was a pleasure! I had so much fun; I hope you did too!

Mark Your Calendars!

A couple of upcoming events you may want to attend if you're interested in the creators of Canadians books for kids.

Spring Book Hatching is June 14th at the Vancouver Public Library. You' ll have a chance to meet the authors and illustrators from CWILL-BC (Children's Writers and Illustrators of BC) that have new books to trot out. You can meet the creators, hear a bit about their book, get a book or three signed, win a door prize, and more fun. Here's a press release about the event.

And, BookFest: Vancouver Island Children's Book Festival, this coming Saturday, May 31st at Malaspina University. Here's an earlier post on the event. Hope to see you there!

Friday, May 16, 2008

Google Doodles

I'm not a hockey mother, but am a synchro mother, thus the very early mornings lately. Soon, soon, it will be over and the gloriously lazy mornings will be ours again. Into the pool for the team by 5:30, thus some early postings for me lately. I couldn't figure out today's Google banner, but my mouse tells me it's to celebrate the invention of the laser. Cool. If you ever wonder who makes those nifty logos and how they do it, check this out.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Just in case you think children's writers make the big bucks...

From time-to-time I peek in on Jane Yolen's journal, Telling the True, to see what she's up to. It's always an interesting read. She puts far more personal info. on-line than I'd ever be brave enough to do, but what I find most interesting is how damn hard this woman works. She is probably the most successful children's writer in North America; she's inevitably juggling several projects at a time, as well as speaking engagements, etc., (and she still gets turned down all the time BTW; that didn't surprise me, but it may surprise others), yet she still is watching her pennies. So...just in case you think writing a few children's books is going to make you rich, take a peruse through her journal for a reality check at just how hard one has to work. She recently posted a few tips on writing:

1. Eschew the exclamation point! If your prose is not exciting all on its own, a screamer (as it has been called in some circles, though not mine) is hardly going to help.

3. Don't let your characters float on the page. Unless, of course, they are birds, fairies, superheroes, or jet pilots. By that I mean anchor them with some action. Don't let them just talk and talk and talk. In theater, actors always have some bit of "business" that keeps their characters rooted in the real world. Even the birds, fairies, superheroes, or jet pilots.

8. Make your reader fall through the words into the story. As a wordophile, I love words like “furbelow” and “Taradiddles.” My favorite is the Scottish “Traghairm” which means to prophecy while wrapped in a bullock’s skin behind a waterfall.” But using a word that is unparsable at best and a bloody big STOP sign at worst is simply bad writing.

14. What about an editor? What do we want? What do we need? They are not necessarily the same thing. Well, this is what I want: truth, attention to detail AND the big picture, getting back to me on time, hard questions, and a love letter each bloody time we correspond. I want the editor to love the manuscript as it is, even though we both know it needs to be better. I want the editor to make the revision journey with me, sometimes leading me, sometimes a hand on my butt pushing me up the steep hill. I want the editor to be my voice in the publishing company, my cheerleading section, my advocate, and my sherpa. She (or he) does NOT have to be my best friend. In fact, sometimes having an editor as a best friend gets in the way of a good publishing relationship.

18. Dealing with the dreaded BLOCK. Here’s what I do if a project or piece of writing is being balky, threatening to stop up, or otherwise shut itself down. I stand up, walk about, eat a chocolate chip cookie (check this waistline if you want to know how I have been faring!). I have a cup of tea; watch a rerun of TOP CHEF or AMERICA’S NEXT TOP MODEL; check email; read blogs like Fuse # 8 or BlueJo or Making Light; peruse magazines like Newsweek or Style 1900 or Smithsonian. (You now know more about me than is good for you!) What one is trying to do is to sucker in the hind brain, the lizard brain, getting it to work while it thinks no one is paying attention. If none of these distractions help, I turn to a different writing project. Since there are always plenty of them around, I never have to worry. Notice, I never settle into reading someone else’s finely-wrought novel during work on my own. If I do, it will be many hours or days before I resurface, my own projects forgot, and the beat of the novelist’s language in my head instead of my own novel’s voice.
by Jane Yolen

Good advice all. Ms Yolen's site is a wealth of information and I recommend checking it out. Her book, Take Joy: A Writer's Guide to Loving the Craft is also a gem. (Here's a review.) Her classic picture book, Owl Moon, remains a favourite in our family and it's one book we'll never give away. It's a book very dear to her heart and family, too. One other thing I admire about Yolen is that she writes in almost all genres, from adult fiction to non-fiction to poetry. I find this encouraging and heartening, not being one who wants to be pegged...

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

All Hail the Query Shark!

Thanks for Fuse #8 for alerting me to this blog, Query Shark, on which "The Shark" evaluates query letters. As far as public service and what-to-read-before-you-submit, she's (I'm assuming said shark is a she, of course) is right up there with my other fav, Editorial Anonymous. If you think you're ready to submit, spend some time with these editors first.

The Museum Book

I like to think that I'm a pretty with-it gal, but I never made the connection that the origin of the word museum is the word muse. Duh. There, I've admitted it for all to see. This is just one of the little gems I learned in The Museum Book by Jan Mark, illustrated by Richard Holland. (Subtitle: A Guide to Strange and Wonderful Collections.) If you've ever been in my house, you'll know that I'm a bit of a pack-rat myself and rather fond of strange and wonderful collections. My own "collections" (a word which might be a tad rich for my ephemera) have no particular purpose other than being things that please me for one reason or another (and, of course, don't cost too much), so this book--explaining the origin and purpose of museums--is right up my alley.

Before you move on, thinking this is all rather dull, take a moment to see how Mark writes this gem. This is from Chapter 4: "By Aldrovandi's time, every collector wanted the most curious cabinet of curiosities, the most wonderful chamber of wonders, the biggest collection. A century later, things were really getting out of hand. The collections grew too large for boxes, too large for rooms. It was all very well for kings and rich men, as they had plenty of space, but not all collectors were kings and rich men.

Perhaps one day the collector's wife looked at her house, overflowing with fossils and dried toads and corals and plants and books and dragons' teeth, the stuffed crocodile and the nasty shriveled thing under the stairs that gave her the creeps, and said, "Either all that goes or I do!" The collector would think about this for a while and then find someone to take the collection off his hands."

I love how she speaks directly to the reader, as if they are truly in the know, on her side. It's a kind of nudge-nudge, wink-wink style that is very appealing and fun (to me at least!). I've never heard of Jan Mark before, but she was prolific in her day. (She died in 2006.) Here's a site maintained by her Flemish fans. I'll have to check out Thunder and Lightnings and Handles, which both won the Carnegie Medal.

The art by Richard Holland is a wonderful mixed-media collage style--perfectly eclectic for a book about museums, the most eclectic of things. Here's a peek at the first spread.

Here's what a reviewer at The Observer had to say:

There could not be a more marvellous memorial of Jan Mark, who died last year, than The Museum Book, illustrated with bright elegance by Richard Holland. This is an argument she must have wanted to make. There is nothing dustily didactic about it. It is a passionate, unpatronising, offbeat paean to museums and multiplicity.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Musing on Writing About Science for Kids

An interesting post from Steve Jenkins over at INK (Interesting Non-fiction for Kids) on the challenges of writing about science for children. Here's the crux of what he has to say:

I’m more interested in the problems that arise from the nature of contemporary scientific inquiry itself. These aren’t social or philosophical issues. Rather, they bring us up against the limits of human intellect and imagination. Much current science deals with the very large or the very small. The units of measurement used in astronomy and sub-atomic physics are so remote from our direct experience that they are nothing more than abstractions. The same is true of time. The impossibly short life spans of man-made elements or the billion-year intervals that describe the development of life are, once again, too extreme for most of us (perhaps any of us) to really grasp. I’m convinced that an inability to appreciate the time scale of the earth is at the root of many people’s refusal to accept evolution as an explanation of life’s diversity. It just doesn’t feel like it makes sense.

Beware the Moral

A tip from my favourite snarky, sarcastic New York children's book editor, Editorial Anonymous, just in case you're thinking along the lines of, "I have this great idea for a book that teaches kids [insert lesson here]." It won't fly and here's why.

Monday, May 05, 2008

Hockey Books in Canada

It seems that the Stanley Cup with be awarded to a team south of the border this year. I'm not the biggest hockey fan, but I do feel nostalgic about the game, which I consider to be quintisentially Canadian. Somehow teams with names like the "Mighty Ducks" just doesn't cut it for me. It will always be a game of the Maple Leafs, Canucks, Canadiens, and such pour moi. Given that it's playoff season, here are a couple of great books about our favourite game.

The Hockey Sweater (originally published in French as Le chandail de hockey) by Roch Carrier. This classic begins: "The winters of my childhood were long, long seasons. We lived in three places -- the school, the church and the skating-rink--but our real life was on the skating rink." Young Roch adores Maurice Richard and, when his own hockey sweater is ripped, his mother writes to "Mr. Eaton" and orders a Canadien's sweater. But, horror of horrors, when the sweater arrives it is a Toronto Maple Leafs sweater. A classic for sure.

You can listen to Roch reading the story from this clip from the CBC Archives. You can also watch the animated short The Sweater from the National Film Board here. The Hockey Sweater is illustrated by Sheldon Cohen. Here's his blog.

And then there's The Moccasin Goalie, which is also told in the first person. ("A long time ago when I was a boy, my family lived on the prairies in a small town called Willow. The winters there were very cold, with the wind blowing the deep snow into huge drifts. My friends and I didn't mind. This was our favourite time of year. Cold temperatures meant ice, and ice meant hockey!") In this tale, four friends--Anita, Marcel, Petou and Danny (the narrator) live for hockey. Danny is always the goalie. Since he has a crippled leg and foot he can't wear skates so plays in his moccasins, thus "the moccasin goalie." There's much excitement in town when a "real" hockey team is formed, with uniforms and all. But...Anita, Petou and Danny are not picked for the new team. ("Girls don't play hockey, Petou is too small and Danny can't skate.") I'll leave the rest for you to discover. This classic is written and illustrated by William Roy Brownridge. Here's a review.