Saturday, February 05, 2005

Maya Running by Anjali Banerjee

Maya Running by Anjali Banerjee (Wendy Lamb Books, 2005). It's 1978, and Indian-born Maya is the only middle schooler with brown skin in her small Manitoba town. A bully taunts her, Maya's ultra-Indian cousin Pinky attracts Maya's boyfriend, and Maya's embarrassing parents want to move to California! Maybe the Hindu elephant god, Ganesh, can make all her wishes come true. But is that what she really wants? Ages 10-up.

My Thoughts

Wonderful debut! I was a kid in the 1970s, just a few years behind Maya, and Banerjee's historical references absolutely boogie! I won't give away too much of this page-turner, but it's a welcome addition to those precious few multicultural titles with humor. Seamless integration of cultural info. Ganesh leads readers in unexpected and enchanting directions. The "exotic"-loving boyfriend is nicely offset by Pinky's enthusiasm for all things American, er, Canadian. Both Indian and universal; who doesn't think their family is weird? Excellent cautionary reference to Nair. When you're ordering your copy of Maya Running, also be sure to pick up The Broken Tusk: Stories of the Hindu God Ganesha (Linnet Books, 1996) by Uma Krishnaswami, which Banerjee references in her acknowledgements.

Nifty Links

Mary E. Pearson: author of A Room On Lorelei Street (Henry Holt, June 2005); Scribbler Of Dreams (Harcourt, 2001); and David V. God (Harcourt, 2000). Visit also Mary E. Pearson's Journal.

Friday, February 04, 2005

The Scriptorium, Philip Pulman, Children's Book Press

The Scriptorium offers all kinds of products and things nifty for writers including some worksheets, such as: submission record; character builders (sketch and biography); and world-builder worksheets for fantasy and science fiction.

Articles of note include: "Writing A Picture Story Book" by Gay Ingram.

Features include: Scriptorium Scribbles: "the young writers resource WebZine."

The site also links to "Voluntary Service" by Philip Pulman from The Guardian (2002). It's an article about art, society, and the relationship and responsibilities of the artist to each.

Today's mail includes a couple of news releases from Children's Book Press. The latest titles are:

Antonio's Card/La Tarjeta de Antonio by Rigoberto Gonzalez, illustrated by Cecilia Concepcion Alvarez (CBP, February 2005), which is about a boy with two moms who's worried about how his classmates will react to his family; and

Moony Luna/Luna, Lunita Lunera by Jorge Argueta, illustrated by Elizabeth Gomez (CBP, February 2005), which is a first-day-of-school book.

Authors Ruth Pennebaker and Roseanne Thong

I had lunch yesterday with Austin author Ruth Pennebaker at Roaring Fork, which is at the (relatively) newly remodeled Stephen F. Austin Hotel.

Ruth lives in my zip code (much like, say, Farrah and Tori Spelling live in the same building), so I sometimes run into her at places like Central Market or Waterloo Ice House. When I'm lucky, we run into each other on purpose for lunch.

Maybe it's that whole journalist-lawyer-author thing we have in common... Nah, it's probably her dark wit and good heart, but Ruth is someone I not only like but also look up to.

She's an amazing writer. Her books include: Both Sides Now; Don't Think Twice; Conditions of Love; and A Texas Family Time Capsule. The first of these three are YAs, which have merited BBYA, BookSense, and like honors.

Nifty Link

Roseanne Thong's site: learn more about this picture book author. She offers some cool info about Dragon Boats, Moon Festival, Chinese New Year and Wishing Trees on her fun page. Her titles include: Round Is A Mooncake, illustrated by Grace Lin (Chronicle, 2000); Red Is A Dragon, illustrated by Lin (Chronicle, 2001); Once Is A Drummer, also illustrated by Lin (Chronicle 2003); The Wishing Tree, illustrated by Connie McLennan (Shen's 2004), and has forthcoming books from Harry Abrams, Henry Holt, and Houghton Mifflin.

Roseanne reports that she was referred to me by author Uma Krishnaswami and that she mentioned my site when they both spoke at the National Book Development Council in Singapore. Imagine anyone mentioning me in Signapore. I feel so international!

Thursday, February 03, 2005

Laurie Halse Anderson and Sharyn November

Laurie Halse Anderson and her editor Sharyn November (of the Artemis-like visage) have their own blogs. It's all good, so to speak. Ha! Speak? Get it?

Well, I find myself amusing anyway.

Children's Authors And Illustrators Too Good To Miss

Children's Authors And Illustrators Too Good To Miss: Biographical Sketches and Bibliographies by Sharron L. McElmeel (Libraries Unlimited, 2004). From the blurb: "Who are today's must-know children's authors and illustrators? McElmeel's ready reference introduces you to some of the hottest new names in children's literature, and reaquaints you with established authors and illustrators who are just now becoming recognized for their contributions to the field."

My Thoughts

First off, I'm hugely honored to be included among those 45 authors and illustrators "too good to miss." I won't mention everyone featured (though you can check out the list and purchasing information for yourself).

Today, I'm also excited to have received an ARC for Maya Running by Anjali Banerjee (Wendy Lamb Books, 2005).

Ready Or Not, Dawdle Duckling

Congratulations to author Toni Buzzeo on the Korean-language edition of Dawdle Duckling (Dial, 2003) and the publication of Ready Or Not, Dawdle Duckling (Dial, January 2005), both illustrated by Margaret Spengler.

I seldom find myself envying my various famous friends, but I must admit I'm turning green that Toni's Dawdle Duckling (Dial, 2003) was selected for Dolly Parton's 2004 Imagination Library.

May I just say, I adore Dolly.

I first saw her on an early elementary field trip to the American Royal Rodeo in Kansas City. Dolly was singing, and I thought she looked and sounded like a fairy princess.

(While we're on the subject, this author also looks like a fairy princess, though lighter on the wigs, makeup, and sequins).

But back to Toni, who is also quite regal, and will be appearing at the TLA conference in Austin this spring. While you're on her site, check out the bounty of author/illustrator school visit info.

Nifty Links

Interview With Children's Book Author Coleen Murtagh Paratore from Debbi Michiko Florence. Paratore is the author of The Wedding Planner's Daughter (Simon & Schuster 2005); it's her debut novel.

The National Council of Social Studies has put out its call for entries for the Carter G. Woodson Book Award for informational nonfiction books published in 2004. See the list of previous recipients.

Wednesday, February 02, 2005


Library uber goddess Teri Lesesne blogs: "Someday, I want to be Cyn."

I'm all aflutter!

Nifty Links

"Recent History In Threes: Fiction, Nonfiction, and the Web" by Marjorie R. Hancock (Book Links, September 2004). A PDF file. Book Links is a highly recommend children's literature journal.

"Great Lives For Girls--And Boys" by Jeannine Atkins from Children's Book Council. Her books include How Far Can We Climb: The Story of Women Explorers (FSG, 2005).

"On Poetry, War, Language, and Baseball: An Interview With Martin Espada" by Catherine Crohan and Lyn Miller-Lachmann from Multicultural Review (also highly recommended).

Under Her Skin: How Girls Experience Race In America

Author Pooja Makhijani has a new anthology out, Under Her Skin: How Girls Experience Race In America (Seal Press, December 2004), which is described as "essays by women that explore through a child's lens the sometimes savage, sometimes innocent, and always complex ways in which race shapes American lives and families." Though published for adults, this volume may be well suited to teen readers as well; read the introduction to find out more.

Also be on the look-out for Pooja's upcoming picture book, Mama's Saris (Little Brown, 2006).

In other news, I'm sending out get-well wishes today to Julie Lake, Austin SCBWI RA and author of Galveston's Summer of the Storm. Her site offers a cute article on "Getting Published" and another on research, "Digging Up The Facts."

And I'd like to offer congratulations to author Ann S. Manheimer, who writes with news that her book Martin Luther King, Jr.: Dreaming Of Equality (Carolrhoda, 2004) was recently selected as a Notable Social Studies Trade Book for Young People for 2005 by the NCSS and CBC.

Additional folks I've heard from lately: author Kathi Appelt (welcome home!), Rosemary Brosnan (my Harper editor), author/illustrator Katie Davis (whom I'm sure had great fun at Kindling Words), Lisa Firke (my valiant Web designer), mentee Debbi Michiko Florence, uber librarian Sharron L. McElmeel, and National Book Award winning novelist Kimberly Willis Holt (who has some picture books forthcoming). Speaking of Kimberly, you can visit the "When Zachary Beaver Came To Town" movie site (note: only works if you have "Flash").

Tuesday, February 01, 2005

Cats Love Housecalls

My kitties--Mercury Boo, Sebastian "Bashi" Doe, Galileo "Leo" Gailei, and Blizzard "Blizzy" Bentley--received a home visit today from their new vet, Dr. Cecilia Burnside, DVM, of Cats Love Housecalls. We love our new vet! Being owned by multi cats, it's just too stressy to lug them to a clinic, and Dr. Burnside is excellent with kitty relations and treatment.

Good news: Bashi is responding well to the inhaler for his asthma, and Mercury has lost a pound (he's down to 18 now, at about a-pound-a-year loss, from an all-time high of 20).

Under the "small world" category, I'd also like to note that Dr. Burnside is the daughter of fellow children's author Pat Mora.

If you're an Austinite with kitties, we highly recommend Dr. B!

WLT Manuscript Contest

The Writers' League of Texas has expanded the eligible catagories in its Annual Novel Contest to include children's and YA (both long works only, such as novels, memoirs, etc.). Entries must be postmarked by March 1 (or dropped off at the league office by 6 p.m. that day); the "winner in each category will meet individually with an agent at the Writers' League of Texas Agents & Editors Conference, June 10-12, 2005, at Austin's Omni Hotel Downtown."

Nifty Link

"The Muddle Machine: Confessions of a Textbook Editor" by Tamim Ansary from Edutopia Magazine (November, 2004).

The Goddess of YA Literature

If you have not already done so, bookmark The Goddess of YA Literature AKA Teri Lesesne's blog. It's jam-packed with info and insights from Mount Olympus, and--on a personal note--mentions Greg's Tofu And T.Rex (Little Brown, 2005) as "a terrific follow-up to his first novel." She also calls T&T "humorous" and "a quick read."

While you're surfing, be sure to see what Greg himself is blogging about two new Texas-y picture books: Miss Lady Bird's Wildflowers: How A First Lady Changed America by Kathi Appelt, illustrated by Joy Hein (HarperCollins, 2005) and Buddy: The Story Of Buddy Holly by Anne Bustard, illustrated by Kurt Cyrus (Paula Wiseman/S&S, 2005).

Monday, January 31, 2005

One Mitten Imagination Challenge

Author Kristine O'Connell George is sponsoring the "One Mitten Imagination Challenge" for students in grades K to 3. Features prizes, curriculum info, and more. Classes, libraries, bookstores, and homeschoolers are welcome. The deadline is March 19, 2005.

Prom by Laurie Halse Anderson

Prom by Laurie Halse Anderson (Viking, 2005). Ashley Hannigan isn't nearly as into the upcoming prom as her pals, including her best friend (and head of the prom committee) Natalia. But then the faculty advisor swipes the prom money and Natalia is temporary out of commission. Despite an unforgiving school administration (and, okay, a few detentions), can Ashley pull together the perfect night after all? Filled with an eclectic array of godmothers and set in a sometimes unforgiving upper-poor-to-lower-middle-class community, Prom offers up heart, sass, hope, and possibly the first believable Cinderella. Ages 12-up.

My Thoughts

Remember when I was running around, fretting that I lost my ARC of Prom by Laurie Halse Anderson (Viking, 2005)? Found it! It was under a pile of notes on my night stand.

Anyway, I hear Prom is racking up stars all over the place, which is no surprise. It's particularly good with its voice, rising stakes, and rising action.

Chapters come furious and fast without page breaks, all numbered, some no longer than a line or two. Yes, I noticed the 100-ticket minimum at chapter 100. The comedic timing is fabulous, and it's a rare look at a population (aka "the majority") largely ignored by the body of YA lit. In short, I loved it. A one-sitting read.

Generally, I don't go out of my way to gush about books by already-famous people, even if I do adore them (which is the case with LHA; full disclosure). It impresses me so much, though, how she's always taking chances--writing books that are very different from one another--and still hitting it out of the literary ballpark.

Sunday, January 30, 2005

Critique: Giving & Receiving

I was just reading illustrator Don Tate's recent blog post, "a critique: there's room for growth."*

Right now, in my "in" e-box, there are two thank you notes from writers whose manuscripts I've read of late. Both are gracious. One mentions having climbed off the bridge first (I'm positive she's kidding) and the other calls me "incredibly helpful," which is always nice to hear. The latter is someone I exchange with regularly, and she's incredibly helpful herself.

I pay forward the help I received early on from authors like Jane Kurtz and Kathi Appelt by meeting periodically with beginning writers, mentoring, teaching, and occasionally offering to read once for free. I also exchange regularly with top writers here in Austin, less frequently via email with peers from across the country, and on an annual basis invite folks over to the house for a multi-day wine, shrimp, and morphing extravaganza. Really.

I've had non-writers question my spending time doing this, not so much with peers but with beginners, and the thing is, it's part of the tradition of children's writing. Especially at a time where editors may not have the opportunity they once did to nurture, it's important for us to look after our own. In addition, reading counts as writing time, and critical reading counts even more. I've noticeably improved in the past year, and I attribute that to an epiphany, a renewed attitude, and reading/critiquing.

In any case, I read for any number of folks. It's true that some are looking for quick validation and the golden key (or preferably to borrow mine). They won't take meaningful criticism (or offer it to others) because, ultimately, they just don't want to work that hard. That's totally fine, but basically, these folks are hobbyists, not professionals.

Reading a novel and scribbling a few complimentary notes at the end or in the margins is not critiquing. It may be encouragement, and that's valid--especially at the early draft stage (in fact too much detailed feedback too early can be paralyzing). But...

In critiquing: (a) it's important to tell someone what they're doing right; they may not honestly know; (b) important to say what you need to say in a proactive, upbeat, and hopeful manner; there's nothing that can't be said with kindness; but (c) the best love is tough love.

Some resistance to critique is natural. In fact, the last thing you want is someone who automatically takes all of your suggestions (yikes!).

What the receiving writer should do is consider the feedback, perhaps try out some ideas, and go with what ultimately resonates. It's also totally okay to discuss, banter, play devil's advocate, etc. Often these discussions will lead to an even better solution. Plus, those of us in the recovering lawyer category can't help ourselves.

It always makes me sigh, though, when someone makes a show of being put off or acts exceedingly defensive. I get this sometimes from unpublished writers, but virtually never from published authors unless it's just a personality issue.

Over time, you learn to separate yourself from your work. It's hard--we're still talking about a piece of your soul here. But you come to realize that the critiquer isn't criticizing you. She's trying to make your story be the best it can be. This is a huge gift. And if there are challenges, better to hear it from her than have the manuscript declined by a publisher for those reasons.

(If you've never worked with a NYC editor; trust me, they're usually a lot less gentle--they don't have time to be--than any other writer).

I'm gentle, but thorough. More thorough with the more advanced. I think different people are ready to handle different degrees of depth as they grow. A couple of weeks ago, I put together five, single-spaced pages for a new novelist who I know without doubt will be enormously successful. I went to all that effort because he's open to growing, because he's one of the best writers I've ever read, and because I want that debut novel to shine like the finest of diamonds. It's a competitive business. The literary trade standard is high.

But of course I don't just give feedback, I also receive/crave it. Have I always been so circumspect? No, I've cried, ground my teeth, threatened to quit (again), and then gotten over myself and got back to work. But heaven knows, I'm always grateful.

I also live with another writer, so there's always someone around I can beg to read. I guarantee I would've never reached this point on my own, and whenever I start a new manuscript, in some ways it's like beginning again.

A couple of the best readers I've ever had are available, if you're looking for someone. Esther Hershenhorn (funny, brilliant, great hair) critiques manuscripts for a fee; and Uma Krishnaswami (insightful, diplomatic, also great hair) teaches online classes. I highly recommend them both.

*He's talking more about reviews though, and I'm referring more to pre-submission feedback.
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