Wednesday, December 20, 2006

I Like This--You Should Visit (an Ongoing Series)...

I just heard about an e-zine by children's lit bloggers. Check out The Edge of the Forest for reviews, author interviews, book picks and other articles of interest to children's writers and book lovers. It's pretty cool. You can subscribe and receive and e-mail whenever a new issue is posted.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Roger Sutton of The Horn Book Blogs...

I just got online to renew my subscription to The Horn Book and I discovered editor Roger Sutton's blog. Apparently he's been blogging for quite a while. How did I miss it? He definitely has a great perspective on the world of children's books. But if you check out his blog, you have to promise you won't read his instead of mine. (You can read them both!)

Savings tip: The mail-in renewal form HB sent me asked for $61 for a year--but online renewal was only $49.

I love love reading The Horn Book. It's tough for me to get much done the day a new one arrives in the mail. I'm just a big fan of book reviews. Besides giving me ideas for other titles to add to the ever-growing nightstand pile (which recently became 2 piles after I knocked it over trying to retrieve the second book from the bottom and my right foot got bonked by the corner of a hardcover and, yes, it did leave a mark), it also helps me become familiar with a lot of books I'll never read. (I like Entertainment Weekly for the same reason. I am a font of knowledge on TV shows, movies, books, music and the occasional Broadway play that I've never seen, read or listened to. Perhaps--one day--I can make it to the World Series of Pop Culture.)

Thursday, December 14, 2006

New Yorker Critic on Picture Books...

The other day my husband mentioned that the New Yorker had an article on the year in picture books. I was very excited to hear this. But I just got around to reading it, and it made me sort of annoyed. First, the writer of this piece, former New York Times reporter, New Yorker staff writer and nonfiction author Elizabeth Kolbert, starts by asking, "why do we tell stories to our children?" Her answer: "...mostly to get them to shut up." She explains it's an unspoken deal--parent reads story, kid goes to sleep.

I kind of feel bad for Kolbert if this is truly the case. That's not at all why I read books to my son. I read them because I love books. Because I want him to love books. Because I want him to learn. Because it makes me happy when he repeats lines or laughs or points out something in an illustration that I didn't see. But mostly because it's wonderful to have that quiet, kid-on-lap, one-on-one time together. (To get him to shut up, I give him an ice cream sandwich.)

Kolbert goes on to mention a number of classic picture books and some recently published titles by the likes of Peter McCarty, Ian Falconer, Lane Smith and David Wiesner. This also kind of annoyed me. Why do picture book roundups always include the books that everyone is going to buy anyway, the ones by Caldecott medalists that will be face out in B&N? I know publicists campaign to get their "A" titles mentioned in the press. But every now and them I'd love to see a piece about quieter picture books--some of those wonderful titles that don't have $100,000 marketing budgets, the ones that will get lost among the hundreds of others on store shelves.

As Kolbert discusses bedtime stories, she devotes several paragraphs to the ubiquitous Goodnight Moon, written by the bi-sexual, children hating, hunting club member Margaret Wise Brown, who apparently enjoyed watching bunnies "get ripped to pieces" despite the fact that she wrote about them in her books for young readers. "The arrangement in Goodnight Moon is completely uneven," Kolbert writes. "Time moves forward, and the little bunny doesn't stand a chance. Parent and child are, in this way, brought together, on tragic terms. You don't want to go to sleep. I don't want to die. But we both have to."

Never have I read an article on children's books that sucked the joy out of them. Never have I read an article on children's books that made me want to cry. Thank you Elizabeth Kolbert for doing both.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Finally--A Christmas Song Just for Children's Writers...

The apparently multi-talented author Kim Norman loaded a catchy little ditty on her website, "A Writer's Wish List," to the tune of "Santa Baby." I've been walking around singing it all morning. Just click the play button on her website.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Good Advice on Creating Characters...

I just visited the MediaBistro Toolbox and they linked to an article on creating good characters by Elaine Marie Alphin on the Writer's Digest magazine website. Elaine's a wonderful writer who writes great characters and her advice is useful. The WD mag piece is based on information from Elaine's book Creating Character's Kids Will Love, which we published in 2000. It's a few years old, but it's chock full of solid, timeless advice from a solid writer. So if characterization is getting you down, buy yourself a copy of CCKWL for Christmas. (And also check out Elaine's book Counterfeit Son which won an Edgar Award.)

Thursday, December 07, 2006

A Cool Holiday Book...

I just came across the holiday title A Creature Was Stirring, a new take on "'Twas the Night Before Christmas," published by Simon & Schuster. Maybe it's the fact that it snowed this morning in the Nati, or maybe I'm more excited about Christmas than usual because I have a 2-year-old, but when I saw the cover of this book, it gave me a warm happy holiday feeling in my tummy.

The illustrator/adaptor Carter Goodfinch uses humorous couplets from the persceptive of a little boy anticipating Santa's visit along side the classic lines from Moore's poem.

I have a soft spot for "'Twas the Night Before Christmas"--it played a part in my very first byline back in my intern days. I wrote a column for the now defunct Decorative Artist's Workbook magazine about traditional and nontraditional designs for painting Santa Claus, and Santa images from around the world. I got to talk about Moore's poem and the first depiction of Santa as fat and jolly:

He had a broad face and a little round belly,
That shook, when he laughed like a bowlful of jelly.
He was chubby and plump, a right jolly old elf,
And I laughed when I saw him, in spite of myself;

The opening illustration for the column was Thomas Nast's drawing that appeared with Moore's poem. (I also got to compose this brilliant line: "No, Virginia, there is not a Santa Claus--there are many.")

I wasn't planning on putting up a tree or decorating this year, but I've changed my mind. This weekend I'm getting out my Christmas tree (a fake silver one from the '50s that I got on eBay a few years ago). Maybe I'll wrap some gifts. Hang up some lights. Go to the mall. I'm having visions of sugar-plums!

I've been a pretty good girl this year, I'd say. I hope Mr. Claus is good to me. He's cordially invited to my roof.

Away to the window I flew like a flash,
Tore open the shutters and threw up the sash.
The moon on the breast of the new-fallen snow
Gave the lustre of mid-day to objects below,
When, what to my wondering eyes should appear,
But a miniature sleigh, and eight tiny reindeer,
With a little old driver, so lively and quick,
I knew in a moment it must be St. Nick.