Wednesday, June 26, 2019

I've Got A Cow Called Maureen: Interview with Erin Le Clerc: Review by Kathy Halsey

Do you like fun but heartfelt picture books? Then, "moo-ve" over, and make room I've Got a Cow Called Maureen by debut author Erin Le Clerc and illustrator Tisha Almas

This picture book, which debuted spring, 2019, from Clearfork Publishing, is aimed at readers ages 5-8 or grades K-3. However, older readers and adults will identify with poor Maureen, who is teased for her name. No matter where she goes, Maureen's name proceeds he it seems all the farmers have a cow called Maureen. Maureen however, is determined to make folks change their tunes about her when she teaches herself how to Swiss yodel. The townsfolk are impressed and enter her into a radio talent show and she wins! 

The book is inspired on the true story of Erin's Nana who became Australia's Swiss Champion Yodeler, in spite of the fact that she was partially deaf. Fun, whimsical illustrations lend a fresh, folkloric quality to the story, too.

Readers will root for Maureen and identify with her stage fright, her feelings that she's not good enough, and her spunk in facing challenges. Teachers and librarians will want to this story of diversity, bullying, and acceptance that kids will enjoy and can be use for class discussions.

Chat with Erin Le Clerc

How did you begin your writing career?

Erin: It all started at three years old, when I declared to my Nana “I’m going to be a writer when I grow up.” Turns out I was precocious! And bless my Nana, she said “of course you are, darling!” It’s feels hugely special that my debut picture book is all about her!

I’ve always loved reading, and I loved entering writing contests as a kid (I nearly won a trip to Japan when I was 11!). I’ve worked in professional blogging, and always dreamed of becoming a children’s author. It wasn’t until late 2015 that I decided I wanted to take action on this goal, and signed up for a Middle Grade writing course with Children’s Book Academy. I enjoyed it so much, that I signed up for their picture book writing course shortly after, and that’s where ‘I’ve Got A Cow Called Maureen’ was born!

Tell us about your publication journey.

Erin: My journey is a little bit of an odd one, I think! One of the courses I participated in with Children’s Book Academy had a “Golden Ticket” opportunity at the end, where you pitched your story to editors and agents. My story was quickly picked up by Clear Fork Publishing in late 2017, and was officially released in April 2019, about 18 months later.

At present, I’m working on several more picture book stories and a middle grade novel, and hoping to seek an agent. I would love to have a life-long career in writing, and my hope is that having an agent will help me navigate this!

Since you live in Queensland, AU, did you have an international audience in mind as you wrote MAUREEN? Is yodeling common in Australia today? 

Erin: To be honest, when I wrote Maureen, I was just focused on telling my Nana’s story, about how she became Australia’s champion yodeler in the 1940s, as best I could. I wanted it to be humorous and heartfelt, and wasn’t really thinking about the audience! That said, later rounds of editing saw me adjust some words to make sure a broader audience could engage with the story.

As for yodeling, I think it’s a fairly uncommon style of singing here, and definitely a niche hobby! I think this is part of what makes my Nana’s story so extraordinary!  

What stories are you working on now?  

Erin: I’m working on four picture book manuscripts that are quite varied. One’s about body boundaries, another about dealing with feeling grumpy, one about how to calm yourself down, and another about a community being impacted by a catastrophic flooding event! I do find, however, that my “psychologist brain” always has an impact on my writing, because the common theme is about coping and self-care!

How do you carve out time to write with a full-time job? Advice for other busy writers?

Erin: This is something I’m still working on, truth be told. I think it’s a hard technique to perfect! 

I tend to write in dribs and drabs, and my goal is to create more scheduled time for writing. I definitely find I work best when I’m alone at home, as I find the quiet helps me to think and imagine. 

I have a lot going on in my life, so the best advice I have for other busy aspiring writers in the same position is this: write in whatever space/time that works for you, and don’t beat yourself up! Writing and self-flogging don’t make good bedfellows! I try really hard to keep writing feeling like a choice and a relative joy, rather than an obligation/punishment.

What advice do you have for querying writers?

Erin: Don’t lose hope! Publishing is a very subjective industry, and there’s a lot of work that goes into finding the right agent and the right publisher at the right time! (A large amount of hard work and dash of luck!)

If you’ve had a few rejections, don’t despair, but also don’t be afraid to stop, take a few deep breaths, and take a harder look at your manuscript(s). Whenever I’ve had a couple of weeks away from a manuscript I thought was “just right,” I find that distance helps me see where I can strengthen it, or add a bit more flair. 

Readers can find I've Got a Cow Called Maureen here:
Amazon (UK, USA, AU), Barnes and Noble  and at independent bookstores by special order.  (We found it at Cover to Cover Books for Young Readers in Columbus, OH.)

Erin Le Clerc grew up with seven siblings, three ghosts, two eccentric parents, and a multitude of animals in a crumbling abandoned hospital in the suburbs. This vastly informed her imagination! She’s also tremendously proud of her Australian “bush heritage,” which she inherited from her Nana Maureen – Australia’s Champion Swiss Yodeller in the 1940s – the subject of her debut picture book I’ve Got A Cow Called Maureen. Erin spends her “9 to 5” working as a psychologist, and her “5 to 9” writing inspirational stories filled with adventure and fun.

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

Sarah Aronson Writes Just Like Rube

by Sue Heavenrich

Last Friday I reviewed Sarah Aronson’s new book, Just Like Rube Goldberg over at Archimedes Notebook. It’s a biography of cartoonist – and incidental inventor – Ruben Garrett Lucius Goldberg who wielded pen with wit and also just happened to have a degree in engineering.

I loved the book so much that I bribed Sarah to join me today on GROG. Sarah – that chocolate I promised you? Welp, it never made it to the post office….

Sarah has written middle grade and young adult novels. Just Like Rube Goldberg is her first picture book, she says, “and it’s been a lifetime in the making.” Pretty much since she saw Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and tried to build her own breakfast machine.

As fascinated as she was with the Rube Goldberg-ishness of that idea, Sarah never saw herself as a nonfiction writer. And that meant (insert scary music here) Research! Fortunately for her, she has a mentor and friend in nonfiction writer Tanya Stone. But research wasn’t so bad, Sarah confesses. And she discovered that she likes writing things on index cards.

“I find myself becoming more organized with each book,” Sarah says. (Did I mention she’s working on a couple more?) And for anyone out there working on nonfiction, she has this bit of wisdom: write down where you find information, whether on a note card or in a footnote. 

“Doing the research was a fun exploration, and there is nothing about Rube Goldberg that doesn’t crack me up!” Sarah even discovered that she and Rube have some things in common:

  • they both follow their dreams;
  • they both work hard; and
  • they never give up!

The icing on the cake: now Sarah’s working on another book that grew out of her research.

So what was it that drew Sarah to Rube? “His story is a wonderful immigrant story,” she says, “and as a Jewish writer, I was happy to be writing about a Jewish person who came to this country.” Sarah’s relatives also immigrated to the US, so she felt a personal connection. Plus the breakfast machine….

While Sarah was developing nonfiction writing skills, she was also learning to write a picture book. And that meant thinking about page turns and how to fit a story into 32 pages. “I made lots of dummies to see how the text would fit on the page,” she says. Many, many, many dummies later, she figured she had it – and all that time spent working on Rube was totally okay because Sarah LOVES picture books!

Picture books aren’t just for little kids any more. Nonfiction picture books are often the first step for kids when they begin researching a topic. “Fourth, fifth – even seventh graders pick them up,” says Sarah. She loves seeing how teachers incorporate them into their classroom. “We built a Rube Goldberg machine out of kids!” she laughed.

Every writer hits stumbling blocks, and Sarah thinks one of the important gifts we can give kids is to talk about failure. “Writing is a practice,” she says, “and it’s never going to be easy to share your heart. Even when it’s nonfiction.”

We need to allow kids time and space to try things and fail. “I’ve got a mission,” Sarah says. “I’m a member of the 100 rejection club. And I want kids to understand that the word ‘no’ really means ‘not yet’ or ‘try again’. We have to model how we dust ourselves off and do it again.”

Moving forward, Sarah’s working on a middle grade novel and finishing two more picture books. You can find out more about her and her books at her website.

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

Global Read Aloud

Global Read Aloud with Padma Venkatraman
by JG Annino 

Hello this lovely Wednesday in June. We become world travelers today,
whether the trip is by story or through seagoing or air-riding.
The Global Read Aloud & one of its 2019 authors,
Padma Venkatraman  take us out into the larger community.

Do you see the kids running across a bridge on the cover, above?
They won my heart & they broke it, so many times.
Such is the power of this story, a singular MG novel about unfortunate
children. It is unusual in the way the street-living children appear naturally
with their full humanity, including humor, creativity, joy & deep intelligence.
I also love how they question each other about Faith & their various beliefs
in the goodness of people.

This month the two girls, a younger sister & an older sister & two boys who aren't
related except through the community of life on the streets,  are
front and center characters
at the annual American Library Association meeting, in Washington, D.C.

These kid characters mesmerized me and they are deservedly here there
everywhere in reading groups, classrooms, home study programs
& award considerations. 

Readers in Global Read Aloud, whether they choose one of several listed
picture books or YA,  or THE BRIDGE HOME, or FRONT DESK by Kelly Yang
(see below) connect with other young readers in creative & deep ways,
to exchange ideas about Story.
Checking out the Global Read Aloud Facebook page I found that after
summer recess, classrooms from South Africa
to North Carolina are lined up to participate with their thoughts on
THE BRIDGE HOME, as is the lucky class of Group Blog's
own Patricia Toht - who told me about this neat connection.

Some children will have a jump start at the book before school resumes
if their families are TV watchers, because
a parents Super Summer list from the popular TODAY show
gave THE BRIDGE HOME a groovy shout-out.

The creator of of Global Read Aloud has been called
out as a cool teacher by Scholastic:

Here is the Global Read Aloud website:

                               Who is the author of THE BRIDGE HOME?

                                                     photo: Highlights Foundation
                                                     Author Padma Venkatraman

Padma Venkatram, Ph.D. worked as a scientist-oceanographer,
sailing world seas researching with and directing scientists onboard
research vessels.
She left her native India, where all of her novels are set, for the UK &
later for the USA East Coast, where she lives with her young family.
She is a popular mentor at reading & writing conferences,  in the USA
& outside the country.

THE BRIDGE HOME follows four characters who form bonds during
difficult times, as children living on the streets of Chennai,
(once known as Madras,) a coastal tourism area of India.
The characters are multi-dimensional, seen as complete
feeling thinking doing youngsters.
Tears may flow during tragic scenes - they did for me -
but because of the author's skillful framing of the story,
the reader is left with great hope.

For more on Padma Venkatraman, here is a lengthy recent Q/A interview
where she discusses craft, research, family & how characters stick
with her, among reader-friendly, writer-friendly, topics.

If your reading days are more often spent among 
Picture Books or Early Readers
you will also want to know that
the talented & prolific artist/ author 
amazing Yuyi Morales
is the 2019 Global Read Aloud picture book author.

And the Early Reader Author is Angela Dominguez, who is new to me,
which is part of what this global connection is all about - finding
books & authors new to you &
outside the place or culture in which you or your students/family/friends,
At Global Read Aloud,
alongside THE BRIDGE HOME by Padma Venkatraman,
please meet
(if you don't already know her p.b Where's Broccoli?)
the awesome Kelly Yang, with FRONT DESK, who is knew to me.
Kelly's poignant story is inspired on her immigrant family life as a child.
If I were a school, I would select each of these MG stories - THE BRIDGE HOME &
We will be reading & hearing much about each of the Global Read Aloud Authors
for many years to come. 

A 2016 Highlights Foundation verse novel workshop brought my opportunity
to meet Padma (& other generous souls - bookstore maven Joanne Fritz, in particular,
who wrote the article linked to, just above.)
Padma asked me probing questions about my abolitionist-topic novel manuscript,
which is no where near revised enough,
but I'm glad we have stayed in touch on other topics.
                  Highlights Foundation - Padma Venkatraman,  Jan Godown Annino

Wednesday, June 5, 2019

A Creative Life: Book Recommendations for Writers

by Suzy Leopold

When something makes you want to do something and when something gives you an idea about what to create, this is inspiration. Writers need inspiration. Clever ideas create sparks in a writer's mind along with feelings of emotion.

And this book does just that.

by Elizabeth Gilbert

Riverhead Books

The instant #1 NEW YORK TIMES bestseller
by Elizabeth Gilbert
Many may recognize Elizabeth Gilbert as the author of EAT PRAY LOVE.

In BIG MAGIC: CREATIVE LIVING BEYOND FEAR, Elizabeth Gilbert "digs deep into her own generative process to share her wisdom and unique perspective on creativity, offering potent insights into the mysterious nature of inspiration".

Inspiration is needed to be a writer. This book is inspiring.

Elizabeth Gilbert writes about the mysterious nature of inspiration. She offers attitudes, habits, and ideas for living a creative life. She encourages creatives to look within for the strange jewels.

The book is divided into six sections and includes:
Part I     Courage
Part II    Enchantment
Part III   Permission
Part IV  Persistence
Part V   Trust
Part VI  Divinity

Enjoy listening to the first chapter, Hidden Treasure pages 3-7 of Part I, Courage.

And if you want more, here's more to read as a pdf.

Discover what you were meant to do. Hope you feel curious, encouraged, and most of all inspired to live a creative life.

Writers will find inspiration in this book, too.

by Cheryl B. Klein

W. W. Norton & Company
by Cheryl B. Klein
Perhaps you recognize Cheryl B. Klein as the Editor Lee & Low Books.

"Insightful, enlightening, and practical, The Magic Words is a book that belongs on every writer's shelf. Loaded with concrete examples and specific strategies, it's likely to end up dog-eared and well worn--that favorite book on craft that writers revisit again and again with each new project."
Kate Messner, author

Do you note my many Post-its?

It's like a master class inside a book. It's like a handbook with useful tools for writing children's and YA fiction.

The author guides writers on a practical writing journey from writing principles, crafting a strong story, and publishing.

Take a few moments to check out her excellent web site, blog, and many resources. You'll note additional book titles Cheryl authored along with two picture books.

WINGS made its debut in March 2019 and is illustrated by Caldecott winner, Tomie de Paola. Read more about this book in a dual interview with Cheryl and Tomie. The book is written with one dozen rhyming words: wings, clings, flings, stings, wrings, dings, things, brings, springs, sings, rings, and zings.
by Cheryl B. Klein
Illustrated by Tomie de Paola
In September 2019, look for THUNDER TRUCKS. Cheryl partnered up with Katy Beebe are the a dual author team of this book. The bright, bold illustrations are by Mike Boldt.
by Cheryl Klein & Katy Beebe
Illustrated by Mike Boldt
While we know creating a picture book is a team effort between author and illustrator, have you ever considered writing a book with a writerly friend? The idea is something to consider.

"If you have a writer friend whose strengths complement yours,
AND you can manage your respective writerly egos,
consider drafting a book together to use both of your types of genius."
~Cheryl Klein

The idea is something to consider. Just ask fellow GROGgers Christy Mihaly and Sue Heavenrich. Together they wrote and co-authored DIET FOR A CHANGING CLIMATE: FOOD FOR THOUGHT.
by Christy Mihaly and
Sue Heavenrich
May these books inspire and encourage your writing journey.
Read, write, and create
Every day


From the desk of Sherri Jones Rivers:

Jillanne Hoffman
is the winner of:

By Lydia Lukidis
Illustrated by Tara J. Hannon

From the desk of Kathy Halsey:

Whispering Pines' Writing Retreat
A Working Retreat
October 25-27, 2019

For more information click here and on the New England SCBWI site.