ART & MAX

Welcome to KidLit Gems!

Join Louise Aamodt, Kristi Janikula Herro, and me for a coffee-style chat about favorite children’s books and the elements that make them shine.

This month’s theme: Illustrative Gem

NameplateAnnasGemIART & MAX
Text and Illustrations © 2014, David Wiesner

ARTnMAX Picture Book, Fiction
Age Range:  4-8 years
Grade Level:
Preschool-3rd Grade
Clarion Books, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

ART & MAX: Three-time Caldecott Medal winner David Wiesner blew me away with this “Art”ful treat. His entertaining, sparsely worded storyline takes readers on a creative adventure through a lizard skin canvas. Art’s opaque scales flake off to a pastel then watercolor undercoating to a line drawn outline, then back again.  Look also for Max the Chameleon’s blend-action. It’ll make you snicker.

Illustrator acquaintance, Emmeline Hall, attended a recent Wiesner keynote.  Tidbits she shared: 1.) Salvador Dali’s work inspires Wiesner’s landscape and sky, 2.) and Roadrunner cartoons, his Acme props. 3.) Wiesner is pronounced Wheeze-ner, not Wise-ner. Emmeline encourages everyone to delve into his magnificent blog, especially his interactive and creative process pages. (See this older David Wiesner Blog, too. Fascinating!) ~ Anna

What a great example of focusing first on the story, and letting the message (explore the world in your own joyful way) come subtly through. If you like those old Sesame Street videos showing how crayons or noodles are made, you’ll love seeing Max recreate his friend.

A few years ago I visited the Dali museum in Florida. I can imagine how much inspiration a children’s book illustrator would find in there. Kids don’t see the world the same way as most adults, and there’s no doubt that Salvador Dali viewed things differently, too! ~ Lou

David Wiesner took the classic archetype of opposites to explore the artist’s creative process. I love the idea of starting the story with a blank slate, because for any artist, any medium, it is that very freedom, that can often times be so overwhelmingly stifling. So stifling, in fact, that you may feel the need for some reptilian armor to overcome it. Unless, of course, you allow yourself room to explore and laugh, which is what Wiesner seems to hint at, when he allows the armor to crumble into a new and exciting form of expression. ~ Kristi

GEMrub

We want to hear from you! What children’s book is your Illustrative Gem?

APRIL’S THEME - PLANTING SEEDS

Watch for Lou’s Gem next!

THE ADVENTURES OF BEEKLE: THE UNIMAGINARY FRIEND

Welcome to KidLit Gems!

Join Louise Aamodt, Kristi Janikula Herro, and me, for a coffee-style chat about favorite children’s books and the elements that make them shine.

This month’s theme: Illustrative Gem

NameplateKristisGemITHE ADVENTURES OF BEEKLE: THE UNIMAGINARY FRIEND
Text and Illustrations © 2014, Dan Santat

BEEKLEPicture Book, Fiction
Grade Level: Preschool-2nd Grade
Age Range: 3-7 years
Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Caldecott Medal Winner
Huffington Post Best Overall Picture Book of 2014
PBS Parents Best Picture Book of the Year
NPR “Great Read”
ALSC Notable Book for Children
A Chicago Public Library Best Picture Book of the Year

Dan Santat’s THE ADVENTURES OF BEEKLE THE UNIMAGINARY FRIEND is both a narrative and illustrative gem. Santat’s mastery is evident in his use of hues to create mood and tone. I delighted in the bursting colors of the imaginary world and felt the weight of the dark and dim “real world”. Told from the point of view of the imaginary friend, Santat wisely used varying vantage points to convey Beekle’s emotions. The breathtaking artwork has both humor and heart. The clever narrative has both wisdom and simplicity.  And, … I just bet, that you can’t read this book about friendship without asking: What would my imaginary friend look like? ~ Kristi

For our writers  group’s holiday celebration, we each brought a favorite 2014 picture book. Mine was Beekle. The story proves that Dan Santat is an exemplary author as well as a Caldecott-deserving illustrator. He deserves every honor he’s been awarded, and more. I can spend hours just contemplating Santat’s out-of-this-world end papers.

Fun story-behind-the-story facts: Beekle is a sweet tribute to Santat ‘s son. Santat is best of friends with Lisa Yee, author of the fabulous Millicent Min and Bobby series. Santat illustrated Yee’s Bobby series, which was inspired by Yee’s son. Their creative friendship inspires and motivates ours. ~ Anna

Who hasn’t felt a bit overlooked, nondescript, or dare I say . . . lumpy? All the more reason to root for Beekle. Santat’s dreamy, rainbow-zen artwork keeps the mood sweet and upbeat. Is it too late in life to shop around for my own special friend? ~ Lou

KEM Sapphire

Watch for my Gem next!

We want to hear from you! What children’s book is your Illustrative Gem?

IT’S AN ORANGE AARDVARK

Welcome to KidLit Gems!

Join Louise Aamodt, Kristi Janikula Herro, and me, for a coffee-style chat about favorite children’s books and the elements that make them shine.

This month’s theme: Illustrative Gem

NameplateLousGemIIT’S AN ORANGE AARDVARK!
Text and Illustrations © 2014, Michael Hall

ITSANORANGEAARDVARKPicture Book, Fiction
Age Range: 3-7 years
Grade Level:
Preschool-2nd Grade
Greenwillow Books,
HarperCollins Publishers

IT’S AN ORANGE AARDVARK! by Michael Hall actually got me laughing aloud. The uncluttered illustrations and the fun hole punches piqued my interest. But what really tickled me was the good, old-fashioned page turns leading to unexpected surprises, each sillier than the previous.

It’s tricky to write a cumulative pattern that doesn’t read like a tedious list of chores, but Hall’s repetition rolls right off the tongue. Gentle tension builds smoothly right up to the final page turn, keeping readers guessing. As a reread, it’s refreshingly funny even when the reader knows what’s coming. In one word: surprising. ~ Lou

Since Michael Hall is a Minnesota talent, we might be biased, but orange aardvarks in blue pajamas are funny, I don’t care where you’re from. Hall’s NY Times bestselling creations are reminiscent of Lois Ehlert’s–flamboyant, mischievous, and colorful. Through Hall’s creative use of mystery readers will learn without trying. After all, who can resist discovery when it lurks behind a peephole? ~ Anna

KEM Diamond

Watch for Kristi’s pick next!

We want to hear from you! What children’s book is your Illustrative Gem?

Announcing KidLit Gems!

KEM GEMS WILL BECOME KIDLIT GEMS!

Elise, our E in KEMs, will retire from KEM Gems to make time for a good cause: creating children’s picture books. Her début title, If You Ever Want to Bring Your Alligator to School, Don’t!, comes out July 14, 2015. Plus she’s writing new stories, all  while illustrating The Magic Word, written by Mac Barnett. Unfortunately, (or fortunately, depending on how you look at it), she no longer has time to review books.

Kristi Janikula Herro

Kristi  Herro

Me, Anna Marras

Me, Anna Marras

Louise Aamodt

Louise Aamodt

 
Kristi Janikula Herro, co-owner and editor of SpotOn Editing, Minnesota SCBWI Meet-up Coordinator, and Literacy Volunteer of America  will continue reading, reviewing, and recommending Gems with me.

We’re pleased to announce that critique buddy, Louise Aamodt, 2015 MN Book Awards judge for Children’s Literature, runner-up of the 2011 Cheerios Spoonful of Stories Contest, and bilingual ESL teacher, joins us to form KidLit Gems. We think you’ll agree, Lou has the perfect qualifications to serve as a children’s literature ambassador.

We chose our new name because KLM Gems sounds too much like an airline and MLK Gems . . . well, you get the gist.

To properly close our KEM Gem Chapter we awarded a “thank you” gift to our most faithful KEM Gem supporter, Randy Holland.

The Grand Poobah of all KEM Gem supporters, Randy Holland. Kidlit Gems supporters, there will be more awards to come. Just sayin . . .

To properly close our KEM Gem Chapter we awarded our most faithful KEM Gem supporter, Randy Holland, a “thank you” gift of To Kill A Mockingbird.

Lucky for us, Elise will still be a constant in our lives as a critique partner, but we will miss her keen illustrator’s-eye  appreciation for the visual artistry of each Gem. We hope she’ll continue to educate us with regular cameo appearances in the Comment Section.

ELISE’S FAREWELL

Elise Parsley

Elise Parsley

“I want to thank Marlys for hosting our Gem reviews for the past year! Personally, I tend to stick to short, funny books with lots and lots of illustrations. Marlys and Kristi, however, have pushed me to read a wider range of titles than I otherwise would, and I’ve learned much from their unique perspectives and book choices. I’ll do my best to keep up with the monthly KidLit titles reviewed on this blog, and I hope you’ll do the same.

 

KIDLIT GEM’S MISSION

To have a coffee-style chat about children’s books and the elements that make them shine.

 

It’s just like KEM Gems with a twist. Each month Kristi, Lou, and I will recommend three books that match a theme. We’d like to hear your selections, too!


Gems can come from any children’s genre–picture book, chapter book/easy reader, middle grade, graphic novel, or YA.


MARCH’S THEME (A tribute to all illustrators out there!)

Illustrative Gem

What illustrative gem would you recommend?

Critique friends Elise Parsley. Kristi Herro, Alicia Schwab, Louise Aamodt, and me. Elise will pass the Gem reviewing torch to Lou, starting March 15th.

Critique friends, including Alicia Schwab, center. Elise says, “Here’s the torch, Lou! Thanks for picking up my slack!”

 

Writer Mentorship Lesson #3

COWABUNGA

Trisha’s jewelry was udderly divine.

Cowabunga! My last meeting  with MN SCBWI Writers Mentor Trisha Speed Shaskan moo-ved me. Charming bovines  surrounded us, rendering me defenseless  against cheesy puns.

Oh, no!
I can’t stop!

All bull aside, I’m so thankful for Trisha’s encouragement,  gently prodding me to a new level of children’s book writing. I hope my notes will encourage you, too.

Cow! Cows! Cows! And a little bull.

Café Latte art. Didn’t I notice it before? Cows! Cows! Cows! And a little bull.

 ANNIHILATE THOSE DARLINGS!

Killing darlings is especially essential for picture books, where low word count is optimum. Darlings can be extra characters, clever twists, funny dialog, or witty phrases–any words we think we can’t live without (but can). Writers’ minds understand killing darlings, but our hearts are reluctant to sacrifice our beloved(s).

Regarding my manuscript, my critique group had already encouraged the execution of a funny old knight and some annoying songbirds, so I thought I’d whittled to its bare bones. But Trisha still Cow!found phrases and adjectives that needed to march to the guillotine.

Since my picture book is bordering long, at 560 words, I needed to cut the fat. (Sorry about my grizzly metaphors.)

Could the illustrator show that “wigs, walking sticks, and wooden teeth flew” without those seven extra words?

Could the illustrator show that the environment is cramped, dark, and musty, even if I just call it a cellar?

CowCould the illustrator deliver more punch?

YES! YES! YES!

Killing your darlings is all about trusting the illustrator!

WORLD BUILDING

Trisha reminded me to ponder the world I’d created. Is it authentic?

Cows, Cows, Cows! And a little bull.

For instance, my tale is set in medieval times and I needed a place for my characters to escape an impending threat. Only one of these truly fit my story:

  • a cramped tunnel
  • a cellar
  • a dark dungeon
  • the musty basement

If you picked “cellar,” I know you read the “Annihilate Those Darlings” segment.  Cramped, dark, and musty can be illustrated with colors, space, and character expressions and mannerisms.

I originally chose tunnel, but after Trisha encouraged me to reconsider, it occurred to me that I wanted the next scene to flow up, not to another destination. I passed on a dungeon, because a dungeon infers imprisonment and I already had a prison in a different place. I rejected the basement, because the word “basement” originated in 1730, after the middle ages.  Cellars were underground chambers–usually cramped, dark, and musty–where medievals kept perishables. Cellar was perfect.

Certainly, some time travel stories are built to interject medieval with modern themes, but mine wasn’t one of them.

Scrutinize your word choices. Are they consistent with the rules you have set?

BE PATIENT AND PERSISTENT!

I love writing stories, but I hadn’t done any querying since my early days of children’s book writing when I naïvely thought the process was easy. Now I’m embarrassed and would like a do-over. Since then, there is one bit of advice I’d like to extend to all picture book writers: BE PATIENT! Do NOT query agents and editors until two experienced  critique partners and one mentor says your manuscript is perfect. And, wait–still don’t send that query until you write another manuscript and have that approved.

After three and a half years of hard work, I’ve finally received the thumbs up I need for two stories, plus I’ve accumulated almost a dozen other manuscripts in various stages of polish. But I’m far from done.

Here’s where the next stage of PERSISTENCE comes in. Finding the perfect agent or editor may be as hard as writing the perfect manuscript. Be selective and ask the right questions.

  1. Does she represent picture books? Editors who prefer YA? Probably not for me.
  2. Does my work fit his taste? Vampire seeking agents? Nada.
  3. Is she accepting new clients? This question should be #1.
  4. Does he accept authors who don’t illustrate? My list just got smaller.
  5. Do she have a sense of humor? You vill write and you vill like it! Nyet.
  6. Which publishing houses represent my favorite illustrators? There are so many!
  7. Which publishing houses distribute my favorite books? Publishers, like people, have unique tastes.

When I showed Trisha my list of ten well-researched possibilities, she encouraged me to increase it to 30-40, and start sending three or four at a time, (each a personalized query, of course). She also advised me to consider newer agents, as well as the experienced. She reminded me that new agents are building their base and would work hard for their clients.

Back to the search engines.

In gratitude, these blog posts are my small effort to pay my mentorship experience forward, hoping you will benefit from Trisha’s wisdom as well.

On behalf of both of us, may you learn a latte’! (Lucky for you, I couldn’t think of another cow pun.)

SOLD

“Fact: There are more individuals in slavery today than at the height of trans-Atlantic slave trade.” Polaris, a non-profit organization working to combat human trafficking

SOLDPatriciaMcCormickYoung Adult,
Fiction

Age Range:
14 years & up

Grade Level:
9 and up

Text copyright:
Patricia McCormick © 2006

Published by:
Disney-Hyperion

 

 

 

 

 

AWARDS

  • ALA Top 10 Best Book for Young Adults 2007
  • National Book Award Finalist 2007
  • National Public Radio – Top 100 Books of the Year 2007
  • Book Sense Pick 2007
  • California Young Reader Medal 2007
  • Quill Award 2007
  • Gustav-Heinemann-Peace Prize 2008
  • Elliot Rosewater Award 2009-2010

SOLD, THE MOVIE

  • Executive Producer Emma Thompson and Director Jeffrey Brown will bring SOLD to screens March 15, 2015, limited release.

WHY SOLD IS A KidLit GEM

KKRISTI’S TAKE
The YA novel, SOLD, is told with rich, lyrical metaphors, each vignette, more masterful than the next. Like a playmate, Patricia McCormick takes your hand and guides you to see, hear and feel what Lakshmi’s life in Nepal is like. And then, like the monsoon, washes it all away, as the metaphors shift from land and sky to survival and endurance.

Unlike the endearing Tali, the black and white billy goat, SOLD is a story about all that is gray in life. Meehhhh!

McCormick wisely uses the voice of an eager, innocent, thirteen-year-old narrator to help the reader endure this haunting journey, for without the element of hope, I’d sooner endure a monsoon. The very element that make’s the harsh reality of sex trafficking palatable, Lakshmi’s innocence, makes the taking of it, all the more heart wrenching. I applaud McCormick for not tiptoeing around the harsh reality of sex trafficking.

Favorite line
 “Simply to endure is to triumph.”

KEM Sapphire
E
ELISE’S TAKE
SOLD is both convicting and compelling for those of us privileged with a secure, loving environment. Patricia McCormick’s well-researched novel is gripping, not only because of its personal perspective and thoughtful, emotionally charged vignettes, but also because this story could belong to any of the millions of women and children imprisoned in sex trafficking today. McCormick doesn’t soften the edges, staying true to the callous reality of Lakshmi’s nightmare. But instead of focusing on the details of Lakshmi’s forced sexual encounters, she concentrates on the emotional trauma of a girl robbed of her home, health, identity, and innocence.

While the novel’s intimate point of view will certainly draw cruel disappointment time after time as Lakshmi is repeatedly abused and abandoned, readers are also given hope through this young woman’s stunning resilience and the compassion and courage of those who save her.

Favorite line
How odd he is, this man who pays for a girl and does nothing but talk.
KEM Diamond
MGrayANNA MARRAS’ TAKE
I won’t kid you. SOLD is a difficult read. Patricia McCormick’s first-person  account from thirteen-year-old sex trafficking victim, Lakshmi, will drain the color from your face and develop knots in your gut. As I read the book, lounging under a cozy blanket on my comfortable couch in my comfortable home, it repulsed and horrified me to consider the young children that were being violated in all parts of the world at that very moment. And that repulsion and horror won’t leave until their nightmare stops.

After entering Lakshmi’s world, where a hug and a pencil meant everything, I felt ashamed of my apathy and ingratitude. Lakshmi’s gentle narrative shook me to say, “Look! See! Do something!” And that’s good. After all, that’s what the gutsy author/activist intended.

Favorite lines
I have been beaten here, locked away, violated a hundred times and a hundred times more. I have been starved and cheated, tricked and disgraced.

How odd it is that I am undone by the simple kindness of a small boy with a yellow pencil.

GEMrub

I must admit, we didn’t consider the Valentine’s  weekend timing when we selected this Gem. But there’s no better story to show what happens without love.

Consider the gravity of the statistics. According to Polaris, trafficking affects 161 countries worldwide, enslaving an estimated 20.9 million men, women, and children for forced labor or commercial sex.

Educate Yourself:

Do Something:

Get Help:

Please share your SOLD comments with us!

If You Ever Want to Buy These Alligator/Bigfoot Books, Do!

It’s your lucky day!  I’m pleased to announce the preorder availability of two amazing picture books by two amazing talents:

  • Elise Parsley’s If You Ever Want to Bring an Alligator to School, DON’T!
  • Jill Esbaum’s Elwood Bigfoot: Wanted: Birdie Friends!

Click on the boxes below to get yours before the rush!

Trust me. You’ll be the coolest picture book aficionados around.

Another perk: you’ll know what to buy for your friends from the independent bookstores this summer and fall.

IFYOUWANTBIGFOOT