THE BEST CHRISTMAS PAGEANT EVER

BestChristmasPageantEver6As KEM’s Christmas gift to you, we heartily recommend The Best Christmas Pageant Ever for December’s KEM GEM. It’s a universal story you’re sure to love. Just pouring over our notes makes us convulse with laughter. We all had difficulty choosing between one favorite line. Barbara Robinson, the late author, wrote too many gems.

It saddened us to hear that Robinson died of cancer in 2013, just like another famous Barbara–Barbara Park of Junie B. Jones fame. Lot of Barbara’s fill our children’s author files.  My eldest sister Barbara was a fluent, funny writer. I wonder if there is a special gift that comes with that name.

Anyway, go to our review page to see why we think The Best Christmas Pageant Ever is a KEM GEM. And we hope you’ll join us in the conversation.

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HOW KEM GEMS BEGAN
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PERSEPOLIS: THE STORY OF A CHILDHOOD

 “. . . Since then, (1979, after the Shah fled Iran to escape the Islāmic revolution), this old and great civilization has been discussed mostly in connection with fundamentalism, fanaticism, and terrorism. As an Iranian who has lived more than half of my life in Iran, I know that this image is far from the truth. This is why writing Persepolis was so important to me. I believe that an entire nation should not be judged by the wrongdoings of a few extremists. I also don’t want those Iranians who lost their lives in prison defending freedom, who died in the war against Iraq, who suffered under various repressive regimes, or who were forced to leave their families and flee their homeland to be forgotten.

One can forgive but one should never forget.”

~From the introduction of THE COMPLETE PERSEPOLIS
Marjane Satrapi, Paris, September 2002

PersepolisOur November KEM GEM, Persepolis, The Story of a Childhood changed everything I thought I knew about life in Iran. I had no idea that, pre-1979,  Iranian women and girls were free to dress as they choose. I had assumed their restrictive dress code had been a part of their culture since the time of Mohammed. In reality, the fundamentalist rulers made it law after the 1979 Islamic Revolution. Did you know that?

Read Persepolis:The Story of a Childhood to learn why we consider it a KEM GEM. Then, join the KEM GEM conversation. Please share your thoughts with us in the  COMMENTS section. We’ll post a new book recommendation on the 15th of next month, so plan to revisit to our KEM GEMs often. We’re excited to read and converse with you!

THECOMPLETEPERSEPOLISYoung adult and older readers may be interested in reading The Complete Persepolis, which includes Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood and Persepolis 2: The Story of a Return.

If you’ve already read the story, I highly recommend watching The Complete Persepolis motion picture, winner of the Cannes Film Jury Prize in 2007.  Your heart will break for the plight of the Iranian people while you fall in love with Marjane, her colorful grandmother and her courageous family. The artistically exquisite movie provides a perfect summary and refresher after reading the two-part memoir.

INTERVIEW WITH MARJANE SATRAPI

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2014 MN SCBWI Conference Highlights II

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Kelly Light and Peepy

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Peepy with Lisa Yee and me.

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Stephen Shaskan and Peepy

Trisha Speed Shaskan and Peepy

Trisha Speed Shaskan and Peepy

The 2014 MN SCBWI Conference brimmed with colorful characters. In her keynote “Schlemiel, Schlimazel, Give Us Any Chance, We’ll Take It,” KellyLight, creator of the Louise Loves Art series and illustrator of Elvis and the Underdogs and The Quirks, invited participants on her Laverne and Shirley-inspired  journey toward children’s book superstardom, encouraging us to take chances and push forward.
“I hope my story shows other SCBWI members that believing in yourself, along with a little goofy use of absolutely anything that helps to keep you going . . . can get you down that road to publication . . . maybe a bit bumped around and nauseous . . . But well on your way to realizing your dream.”  

See more at kellylight.com.

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Candice Keimig and Grace Hansen, ABDO Publishing

After an  ABDO Publishing  workshop by Candice Keimig, Art Director, and Grace Hansen, Editorial Marketing Coordinator, Lisa Yee, author of the Millicent Min and Bobby middle grade series presented her keynote, “From Slush Pile to Best-Seller: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly.”

The realism in Lisa Yee’s work stems from her inspirations, real live people. Yee’s son Benny inspired Bobby vs. Girls (Accidentally) and Bobby the Brave (Sometimes). Marley Sandelski first drew notice as a supporting character in Stanford Wong Flunks Big-Time. But, when he became an inadvertent stop-bullying ambassador for real kids, Marley earned his own book as the protagonist in Warp Speed. The Kidney Hypothetical–How to Ruin Your Life in Seven Days came about when Yee’s daughter took a dangerous dare. Learn more about Lisa Yee, the 2014 Sid Fleischman Humor Award-winning author, at lisayee.com

2014 MN SCBWI Conference Intensives

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SCBWI Friend Shannon Berg

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Bruce Hale and Quinette Cook, SCBWI Regional Advisor

Sunday intensives by Bruce Hale, Carter Hasegawa, Lisa Yee, and Kelly Light proved to be a bittersweet opportunity–like being told you can only have one Lays Potato Chip.

I’d registered for Bruce Hale’s intensive, “Funny Business: The 7 1/2 Secrets of Writing Humor.”

Then I waffled, thinking, “Really, isn’t a sense of humor a natural gift either you have or you don’t? Maybe I made a mistake.”

Turns out I could have used another hour/week/year of Hale’s instruction. Funny can be dissected and analyzed.

Three Funny Business Don’ts:

  • Don’t use topical humor
  • Don’t try to get too cutesy.
  • Don’t telegraph your jokes

Three Funny Business Do’s:HumorComesFromCharacter600

  • Do respect your audience.
  • Do give them the humor they like.
  • Do let them finish the punchline.
  • Do work in threes. (Oops.)

For more writing tips, see BruceHaleWritingTips.com.IfWeAreNotFunny

Against the assault of laughter, nothing can stand.
~ Mark Twain

My conference highlight was being selected for the 2014-2015 Writer Mentorship. Mentor  Trisha Speed Shaskan, I won't take this blessing lightly. (No pun intended, Kelly Light.) Congratulations, Illustrator Mentorship winner Joanna Ward! You'll love working with Illustrator Mentor Nina Crittenden.

My conference highlight was being selected for the 2014-2015 Writer Mentorship.  Mentor Trisha Speed Shaskan, I won’t take this blessing lightly. (No pun intended, Kelly Light.) Congratulations, Illustrator Mentorship winner Joanna Ward! You’ll love working with Illustrator Mentor Nina Crittenden.

 

 

 

2014-2015 MN SCBWI Conference Highlights I

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L to R: Jessica Freeburg, Celia Waldock, Quinette Freeburg, and Alicia Schwab

L to R: Jessica Freeburg, Celia Waldock, Quinette Cook, and Alicia Schwab

Thanks to the leadership and volunteers of the Minnesota Society of Children’s Book Writer’s and Illustrators (SCBWI) for coordinating a fabulous 2014-2015 conference.
Event organizers usually hear more from participants about technology glitches and rest room malfunctions than when the life-bettering experiences they orchestrate. I hope that wasn’t the case this October.

Jessica and Quinette pictured with SCBWI member, Cynthia Weishapple

Jessica and Quinette pictured with SCBWI member, Cynthia Weishapple

These are the unsung leaders:

  • Quinette Cook – Regional Advisor
  • Jessica Freeburg – Assistant Regional Advisor
  • Alicia Schwab – Regional Illustrator Coordinator
  • Nina Crittendon – Registration Coordinator
  • Celia Waldock – Mentorship Coordinator
Alicia, Nina, and conference volunteer and MN SCBWI Banner Contest winner Sara Weingartner

Alicia, Nina, and conference volunteer and MN SCBWI Banner Contest winner Sara Weingartner

I don’t think any toilets overflowed, but our cups sure did, with professional guidance,  reinvigorated vision, and fellowship with other writers and illustrators.

Saturday, October 11, keynotes, workshops, and manuscript reviews were topped off by book signings, a reception, and a portfolio showcase.

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Bruce Hale

Bruce Hale, author of over 30 books for young readers, including the award-winning Chet Gecko Mysteries, School for S.P.I.E.S, and the Clark the Shark picture books, led the charge with Writer’s Mind, Warrior’s Mind: Winning the War of Art.

Hale instructed us with humor and inspiration, quoting the likes of  E. L. Doctorow: “Writing is a socially acceptable form of schizophrenia.” And Steven Pressfield: “Never forget: This very moment, we can change our lives. This second, we can sit down and do our work.”

Bruce Hale’s checklist for victory:

  1. Start good habits.
  2. Write like your hair is on fire.
  3. Think it through, take the big view.
  4. Teamwork makes the dream work.
  5. Face the iron tiger.
  6. Beat resistance with persistence.

See more at BruceHaleWritingTips.com

Carter Hasegawa

Carter Hasegawa

EmilyClement

Emily Clement

Saturday workshops included Carter Hasegawa, Assistant Editor, Candlewick Press, presenting Researching the Fantastic; and Emily Clement, Associate Editor, Arthur A. Levine Books presenting Love at First Sight: The Great First Page.

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MN SCBWI Conference Volunteer, Mark Ceilley, introducing Emily Clement

Since the workshops occurred simultaneously, I only have notes on Emily Clement’s workshop.

When Clement  receives a manuscript she asks herself these questions: Does it evoke emotion? Does it have that little something extra? Does it make her feel something? Does it exude authority and confidence, a language and style that intrigues, and expectations, hints, or promises?

Some of her examples of great first pages:

  • Lisa Yee’s Millicent Min, Girl Genius
  • Bobbie Pyron’s Lucky Strike
  • Kate Milford’s Greenglass House
  • Nikki Loftin’s Nightingale Nest

Look for more conference highlights about Lisa Yee, Kelly Light, and ABDO Publishing in upcoming posts. In the meantime, check out my 2014 MN SCBWI Conference Photo Album where you’ll see the photos from this story and more.

Ann Page, me, Bruce Hale, and Louise Aamodt

Ann Page, me, Bruce Hale, and Louise Aamodt

My BATTLE BUNNY Regret

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A few Mac Barnett favorites that aren’t pictured here: SAM AND DAVE DIG A BIG HOLE, MUSTACHE, OH NO!, OH NO! NOT AGAIN!, GUESS AGAIN, and EXTRA YARN

If you get the opportunity to meet Mac Barnett, read Battle Bunny first.  Take it from me. I blew it. When Barnett visited  the Red Balloon bookstore in my neighborhood I hadn’t read it yet. MacBarnett Sept2014MacBarnettSept2014KEM friend, Elise, even pulled the  book out of a Barnes and Noble book shelf and told me I’d like it. But  I figured I’d look at it later.

Now I’m thinking the only thing I would have liked better is an autographed copy of Battle Bunny and a chance to gush about it. Dang it.

BATTLEBUNNYBOOKThe strange-looking treasure is two books in one.

 

 

It began as Birthday Bunny, written by Jon Scieszka and Mac Barnett in the style of a syrupy, grandma-friendly Golden Book.

Then it was given to  protagonist Alex (Scieszka and Barnett’s alter ego) by who else, but his doting Gran Gran. “Alex”  transforms it into a disturbingly entertaining, testosterone-ridden, hare-raising tale of doom and destruction.  (Alex’s artistic side comes compliments of Matthew Myers).

ToAlexanderLook closely.
The raw beauty of this book lurks in the details.  For instance, check out Gran Gran’s sentiments.

 

This note looks so real, I first assumed the library had a used book on their shelves. I can picture Alex gagging, choking, then gritting his teeth in response to his grandma’s  saccharine birthday endearments.

I’d type excerpts, but half the brilliance comes from “Alex’s” illustrations.AlexCredits

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AlexToTheRescueAlexToTheRescueII

BackCoverBattleBunnyOur son wrote and drew BATTLE  stories in grade school. We know this because of the calls to the principal’s office.
CRACKLINOATBRANDThe principal would run his hand over his face and  suggest Ritalin. We’d try to look concerned, then save the confiscated manuscripts in scrapbooks.

Luckily, Josh had a revolutionary teacher with revolutionary ideas about letting kids be kids.

THE BEST STORY OF HANSEL AND GRETTEL Personally, I think the wrong family member creates children’s books.

 THE BEST STORY OF HANSEL AND GRETTEL

Text and spelling copyright 1991, Joshua Honeyman,
5th grade

T’was a time when sheep smoked cigars and elephants had cars and there lived a gangster group called the devils. In that group was two of the baddest, the leader Hansel and his evil side kick Grettel. Hansel and Grettel went into the woods in their nuclear tank while they redecorated it with spray paint. When they were nearly done they saw a house full of candy. They spray painted it with black, green, and purple paint. Then they knocked it down with a silver battle axe. hen I glanced at brats wrecking her  house, I got out my ninja stuff. Sharp like a knife I knocked the axes out of there hands. Suddenly Hansel kicked me into the microwave. I kicked the door down.

“You SKUM!” I yelled “NO ONE MESSES WITH ME!”

“Except us,” chuckled Gretel.

“HI-YA!” I yelled while kicking Gretel to the ground. Hansel took a missile lancher from the tank so I threw a sword it nocked it away from him.

“DIE DANDREFF DOG!” I yelled kicking them both to the TV set. I chained them to the couch and switched the channel to PBS.

“NO!” yelled Hansel and Gretel. Mr. Rogers was on. “AAAAAAAAAAHHH!!!!!”

(Incidentally, this valiant superhero is now an Army Captain.)

BattleDuckiesWhile reading Battle Bunny to children, one must read it first as originally written, then reread it Alex’s way. Our grandkids’ faces light up as they notice each detail and witness the unleashing of an imagination (Technically, three imaginations: Scieszka, Barnett, and Myer’s).

During a recent overnight stay, our youngest granddaughter forced me (Okay, she said, “Please.”)  BattleDuckiesIIto read Battle Bunny to her twice–which, technically, means four times. The next morning she asked if she could play with the bath toys. I thought her request was unusual, because A.) she wasn’t taking a bath, and B.) we have way cooler toys than bath toys. Later, as I cooked breakfast, I overheard her, deeply immersed in her play world. “Take that! Evil Battle Bunny! You’re no match for my Superhero Duckies!”

When I looked under the coffee table, her request made perfect sense. A rebel  squeeze toy rabbit peered through his transparent plastic cup prison at an intimidating fleet of rubber ducky wardens.

I never thought I’d say this, but I’m so proud of my bunny-trapping granddaughter. (Sheer genius, like her Gretel-kicking uncle.)

Gran Grans, Nanas, Grandmas–whatever you call yourself–UNITE! We owe it to our grandkids to supply each one of them with a copy of Battle Bunny (for inspiration), a box of markers,  and a mushy Golden Book with a title page note from us urging them to go wild and re-create.

I do hope their parents (and their school principals) will forgive us.BATTLEBUNNYMEETSBATTLEDUCKIES

THE ONE AND ONLY IVAN

“One day, a still day when the hot air hummed, the humans came.”
~ Ivan, page 128 in THE ONE AND ONLY IVAN

THEONEANDONLYIVAN600Folks, there’s one and only book like Katherine Applegate’s THE ONE AND ONLY IVAN. It’s no wonder that it won the 2013 Newbery Medal  and became a #1 New York Times bestseller. And that’s why we’ve featured the middle grade novel as our October KEM GEM. Based on a true story, it’s written in the truly unique voice of a silverback gorilla with an unusual penchant for painting.

Patricia Castaleo’s illustrations are . . . Well, see for yourself. Don’t they tug at your heart?IVANBACKCOVER

Our library had so many holds on this book, I finally purchased my own copy.  Read The One and Only Ivan to learn why this book is so popular among people of all ages and why we think it’s a story that needed to be told. Read our KEM GEM review and join the conversation.   Please share your thoughts with us in The One and Only Ivan COMMENTS section. We’ll post a new book recommendation on the 15th of every month, so plan to visit often. We’re excited to read and learn with you!

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HOW KEM GEMS BEGAN.

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B J Brilliant

Someone once said “A picture book without pictures is like the Pips without Gladys Knight.”

BJ Novak proved this wrong.