Thursday, December 10, 2020
Wednesday, November 25, 2020
Mary Quattlebaum: Author, Teacher, Book Reviewer—Plus Some of Her Favorite 2020 Books-- by Julie Phend
Mary Quattlebaum is the author of 27 award-winning picture books, chapter books, novels, poetry, and nonfiction for children. Her most recent titles are Hero Dogs and Brother, Sister, Me and You. She teaches in the MFA program in writing for children and young adults at the Vermont College of Fine Arts, and at the Writer’s Center in Bethesda, MD. She reviews children’s books regularly for Washington Post/KidsPost and Washington Parent and speaks frequently at schools and conferences.
I talked to Mary about her career in children’s literature. Here’s a peek into her busy life.
You’ve had a varied career in children’s literature, writing, teaching, and reviewing books for children. Is there one of those “jobs” you love most—or is it the variety that inspires you?
I really enjoy the variety of what I do: writing, teaching, reviewing, and speaking. I find that I glean insights from each that help me grow and improve in the others. I’m grateful to be part of a community filled with people who work hard to share beauty, playfulness, and emotional truth with children.
How did you get started in the field of children’s literature?
I hadn’t really
thought about writing for children until I started working as a medical writer
at Children’s National Medical Center in Washington, DC. I had just finished my
M.A. in English, with a focus on the teaching of writing, and was starting to
publish stories and poems in literary journals for adults. At Children’s, my
good friend (and now husband) and I started a program called Magic Words. Each
week, we met with a child in the hospital and helped them to express themselves
through words, writing down the poems and stories they dictated. We strove to
make the experience playful and creative—Chris always began by performing some
magic. I enjoyed working with those kids so much that I started writing
for children—learning, of course, that there were important differences between
writing for youngsters and for adults.
What was your favorite book to write and why?
That is such a tough question! I loved writing all my books—for different reasons. My favorites: Pirate vs. Pirate, because I was inspired by my husband’s request to write a pirate book, which I did as a playful piratical love story and dedicated to him. I loved visiting the country landscape of my childhood with the three Jo MacDonald narrative nonfiction picture books. They made me think about my dad, who so generously shared his knowledge of the natural world with his children and grandchildren. Mighty Mole and Super Soil holds a special place My most recent nonfiction picture book—Brother, Sister, Me and You—is about animal siblings and is dedicated to my six sisters and brothers. I loved researching and exploring the connections that animals have with their siblings.
As a teacher, what’s your top tip for writers of children’s books?
To read widely, all genres of children’s books, and try writing in all of them. Take creative risks, try new forms and topics, follow your curiosity! Beginning writers seem to grapple with one of two personal challenges: They rarely finish a given project but instead go on to the next new shiny idea—or they tend to polish and polish one manuscript, hoping it will sell. The students and writers I know who continue to develop and publish are able to balance these two tendencies. They recognize the importance of bringing a project to completion and stringently revising it, but they also know the value of moving beyond one project to grow by embracing new material and engaging with new elements of craft.
As a reviewer, what qualities make a book for children stand out?
For me, what truly makes a book shine is quality of language. I’ve found that if a writer finesses sentences, attends to word choice, and plays with sound … s/he also tends to be diligent with character, plot, setting, and theme. I remember as a kid going back to re-read poems or passages just to savor the language. That’s how I discovered Elizabeth Bishop, in a big anthology of poetry for children. The images in her poem, “The Fish,” were so precise and amazing that—well, I was hooked as firmly as that eponymous creature.
Can you share a story from a child who’s been impacted by a book that you’ve written?
This happened after I had published only one or two books, and this boy’s comment has proved heartening over the years, as I, like all writers, deal with the ups and downs, disappointments and challenges of the business. During the Q&A at the end of a presentation, a fourth grader raised his hand and asked: “Who are your influences?” I had noticed this boy—quiet and very focused—during my talk and guessed he might be a writer, too. So I asked him: “And who are your influences?” He answered, rather shyly: “Now you are.” I was touched by his response and the thought that my book had connected like that with a reader.
And here’s my favorite funny comment:
After a school presentation, I found a note written by a child on a table displaying my books. It read: “I thought this was going to be really boring but I was wrong!!!” Yes, there were at least three exclamation points and even a few hearts.
Finally, at this time of year, readers are looking for books to give as gifts for Christmas. Would you be willing to share some titles?
So many amazing books in 2020! Here are some of my top choices:
Picture books: You Matter, a poetic celebration of the interconnection of life by Caldecott Honoree Christian Robinson.
Nonfiction: Condor Comeback by Sibert winner Sy Montgomery.
Middle-grade Graphic Novel: Twins, a lively coming-of-age graphic novel by Varian Johnson and Shannon Wright.
Middle-grade novel: A Whale of the Wild, a compelling drama about the undersea world of orcas, by Rosanne Parry.
YA: Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You, a timely, informative book by two of America’s most important writers Jason Reynolds and Ibram X. Kendi.
Thank you, Mary, for sharing your insights!
For more 2020 book ideas, visit the Washington Post’s list of Best Books for Children at:
Visit Mary on the web at www.maryquattlebaum.com
Wednesday, November 18, 2020
Fall is a wonderful, refreshing time of the year and especially the Thanksgiving season and all it means to friends and family. Lots of great children's books are out there that celebrate the season. I contacted the children's librarian, Heather McCue, in Columbia, SC, at the Richland County Library. They have a fabulous, up-to-date collection of kidlit books. She was gracious enough to send me a list of the more popular books in her downtown library. She broke them down into three categories--Families and Food, Gratitude, and Thanksgiving. I decided to pick two from each group. You may have your own favorites, but maybe you will add some of these to your list.
FAMILIES AND FOOD
Grandma's Tiny House by Janay Brown Wood
We Are Grateful: Otsaliheliga by Traci Sorrell.
This book rings true because Traci's mom was a part of the Cherokee nation, and Traci herself lives within that nation. The book starts with fall, since that represents the Cherokee New Year, and goes through each season with bright and colorful illustrations of everyday things that are celebrated. This book is good for all ages and introduces Cherokee culture in a charming and relatable way. For added interest, the illustrator decided to put a pileated woodpecker in each spread so the reader would have something to look forward to.
Gracias Thanks by Pat Moira
A young Mexican/Caucasian boy shares everyday things to be grateful for. The acrylic illustrations by John Parra are full of fun details that pop with color and vibrancy. From the moment he wakes up to the bright sunshine's warmth until he goes to bed to the sound of chirping crickets, he gives thanks for the things and people in his life. The poetic writing on each page gives us the Spanish version of what's being said. (I got to practice my Spanish) This bilingual book would be a great read-aloud for classroom story time. The author's endnote challenges the reader to make a list of what he's thankful for.
One is a Feast for Mouse by Judy Cox.
What a fun book with lively and engaging illustrations. Mouse peeps out of his hidey hole and spies the leftovers of a big Thanksgiving feast. One green pea catches his eye and seems to be the perfect feast for one little mouse. Or is it? Reading the online reviews, I especially liked one idea of a home-schooling mom who concocted a sequencing activity. She traced the mouse and drew a picture of each food that he adds to his stack. The kids colored and cut out the mouse, along with the foods. Then, she had them recall the foods added and glue each item in order, just like in the book. Maybe some other families would like to try this idea.
Some other books you might want to add to your list are Fry Bread: A Native American Family Story by Kevin Noble Maillard, Before We Eat: From Farm to Table by Pat Brisson, and Sharing the Bread: An Old-Fashioned Thanksgiving Story by Pat Zietlow Miller. Happy Thanksgiving, one and all!
Wednesday, November 11, 2020
Welcome to the GROG Blog, Hope Lim! It’s always a pleasure to showcase the work of picture book authors and to learn more about the craft of writing for children.
I AM A BIRD
Written by Hope Lim
Illustrated by Hyewon Yum
Candlewick, February 2, 2021
To help our GROG Blog followers learn more about you, Hope, please share five facts.
1. The ideas for my stories are drawn from real-life experiences.
2. I’m originally from South Korea.
3. I have many notebooks filled with my favorite poems and my own drawings from my childhood.
4. I like to have espresso with sparkling water.
5. I run almost every day and use it as time to reflect.
Share the inspiration behind your debut book I AM A BIRD.
The idea for I AM A BIRD started after an encounter with a stranger in Golden Gate Park. I thought she was strange at first, but I immediately recognized my perception was unfair and started to reflect on our innate fears and biases toward each other. When I came home, my husband told me about how my daughter made joyful birdcalls on their way to school on the back of his bike. I was struck by the contrast between my daughter and my simultaneous experiences. At that moment, I knew I had to write a story about exploring the fear of the unknown and combined it my daughter’s soaring spirit. That’s how I AM A BIRD was born - a story of celebrating kindred spirits discovered unexpectedly all told from a child’s perspective.
List three words to encapsulate the spirit of I AM BIRD.
1. kindred spirit
To become effective and proficient writers, students in my classes follow five-steps to write a polished/published piece of writing. Students learn skills and strategies and gain confidence through practice and revision. This third step of revision needs dedicated time to write and rewrite, redo, reconfigure, and reconsider.Writers of children’s literature understand the importance of revision, too. Writing manuscripts requires numerous revisions and edits and countless hours prior to publication.
Hope understands the importance of revision. She shares meaningful tips for the craft of revision and the process she uses to work from a draft to revision as she polishes her manuscripts preparing them for publication.
Everyone has a different revision process and technique. For me, the revision stage begins when I share my story with critique partners. They all offer different suggestions and I read them and try to see their suggestions from their perspective.
The revision process needs time, patience and a lot of re-imagination. As a writer, self-editing skills can be very helpful. Self-editing begins when I have a complete draft, no matter how rough it is. I keep rewriting until the draft loses its roughness and generates ideas for a new structure, character, or ending. After going through multiple re-writes, I stop when I feel it’s close enough to share with my critique partners. I wait at least a few days to make sure it’s ready before I solicit opinions from my CPs. I find the feedback on a polished manuscript helpful.
With early drafts, I often receive conflicting ideas on undeveloped areas, whereas polished ones tend to get similar feedback on an outstanding issue. When I receive the comments, I let them sit for a few days before applying them. I may share the revised version with them again or share it with my agent. My approach to revisions with my agent or an editor is similar. I try to look at my story from their perspectives based on their comments and start to revise only when I understand the direction they suggest.
Thank you, Hope, for sharing your thoughts and perspective about the craft of revision and how you make your stories better through time and rewriting.
These two spreads share the just right words, including onomatopoeia, that Hope created after numerous revisions. The bright and colorful illustrations by Hyewon Yon compliment the story line.
Just a few more wonderings . . . Tell us about five objects that sit on your writing desk. Perhaps some are functional and others provide inspiration.
1. A journal
2. Essential Tales and Poems of Edgar Allan Poe
3. Piles of picture books and New Yorker Magazines
5. A glass of water and a cup of coffee
Please share a favorite literary quote.
“What is essential is invisible to the eye.” — The Little Prince
What stories are you currently hard at work writing and creating? What books should we look for in the near future?
I am currently working on several stories, some new and some old. I’m trying to find a new way to transform my old stories while slowly putting time into new ones. MY TREE by Neal Porter Books will be out in May 2021, and MOMMY’S HOMETOWN by Candlewick will be out in fall 2022.
Congratulations, Hope, on your debut book, I AM A BIRD, and two more books to follow! Thank you for sharing your success and a craft of revision tip on the GROG Blog today. Wishing you all the best as you continue to read, write, revise, edit, polish, and repeat.
Hope Lim is a children’s book author from South Korea and currently lives in San Francisco. Her debut book, I AM A BIRD, is to be released by Candlewick on February 2, 2021. Her debut will be followed by MY TREE, Neal Porter Books/Holiday House in May 2021 and MOMMY’S HOMETOWN, Candlewick, in Fall 2022. You can find Hope on Instagram @hopelim_sf, Twitter @hope_lim or hopelim.com.
Wednesday, November 4, 2020
What exactly is Onomatopoeia?
Besides being a word that we all have trouble spelling correctly, Merriam-Webster defines onomatopoeia as “the naming of a thing of action by a vocal imitation of the sound associated with it (such as buzz or hiss).” Simply put, onomatopoeia words are sound words. Clap, growl, jangle, vroom—all of these choices have distinctive sounds and are examples of onomatopoeia.
Why use Onomatopoeia?
Using effective sound words in your writing—such as clang or achoo—will certainly help you come up with the most creative way to convey what is happening in a scene. Importantly, it also enhances the sensory experience for the reader. And it’s FUN!
You’ll also find that your sentences can be trimmed of unnecessary words—one onomatopoeia word choice usually replaces a much lengthier description. If you are writing children’s picture books where the economy of words is especially important, utilizing sound words will help you keep your word count low. Consider these examples:
“She made a low, mournful sound as if she were in pain” or She groaned
“He ejected gas spasmodically and noisily from his stomach through his mouth” or He belched
You get the picture. Onomatopoeia allows you to be concise. Additionally, sound words inject an element of humor and playfulness into your piece.
Children’s Books that showcase Onomatopoeia:
There are oodles of children’s picture books that effectively employ onomatopoeia. Here are a few of my favorites:
A Mouthful of Onomatopoeia, by Bette Blaisdell
Bear Snores On, by Karma Wilson
Boom Boom, by Sarvinder Naberhaus
“Buzz,” said the Bee, by Wendy Lewison
Click, Clack, Moo, Cows that Type, by Doreen Cronin
Hush!: a Thai Lullaby, by Minfong Ho
Muncha! Muncha! Muncha!, by Candace Fleming
Roller Coaster, by Marla Frazee
Split! Splat!, by Amy Gibson
Squeak! Rumble! Whomp! Whomp! Whomp!: A Sonic Adventure, by Wynton Marsalis
The Little Old Lady Who Was Not Afraid of Anything, by Linda Williams
Watersong, by Tim McCanna
We’re Going on a Bear Hunt, by Michael Rosen
Who Likes Rain?, by Wong Herbert Yee
Whoosh, Crunch, Roar: Football Onomatopoeia, by Mark Weakland
Zin! Zin! Zin!: A Violin, by Lloyd Moss
A Handy-Dandy Onomatopoeia Word List
Writers love tools that save them time—at least, I know I do. I recently began working on a picture book project where I wanted to associate a key sound with each of my anthropomorphic characters. I searched on the internet for an expansive list of sound words. I found a few pretty good listings, but I couldn’t find ONE complete list that included the entire universe (or close to it) of great onomatopoeia words. So I took one for the team and gave up an afternoon to put all those lists into one comprehensive onomatopoeia word list. And POW!— I’m sharing it with YOU, our devoted GROG Blog Readers so that you may take advantage of it, too.
Find my list on this page on my website:
Note: I’m sure that YOU, our whip-smart blog readers may know some onomatopoeia words that I missed. If so, comment with additional words on this GROG post and I’ll add them to this handy listing. In a few weeks, I’ll reshare the document. Happy writing!
AND the winner of the picture book, SMELLY KELLY, by Beth Anderson is Angie Quantrell. Congratulations!
Wednesday, October 28, 2020
Leslie Colin Tribble
Years ago, when there was such a thing as in-person conferences, I traveled from Wyoming to Georgia to a lovely state park to participate in WOW, A Week of Writing. I met the other Groggers there as well as many other talented writers, one of whom was Shannon Hitchcock. Shannon recently released her debut picture book biography, Saving Granddaddy's Stories. I caught up with her via email and I'm so happy she let me tell the story of this wonderful book.
Where did the idea for your book come from? Why was it important for you to write this story?
In 1983, the year I graduated from Appalachian State University, Ray Hicks was named a National Heritage Fellow by the National Endowment for the Arts. I tucked that information away in my mind, and many years later when I was searching for my next writing project, I dreamed about Ray. Ray is famous for telling Jack Tales, and my mother read Jack and the Beanstalk to me many times when I growing up.
How long did you work on the manuscript?
This is a really embarrassing question. I tried writing picture book biographies, (with no success), before I ever tried writing middle grade novels. In 2009, an early draft of this manuscript was nominated for the Sue Alexander Most Promising New Work Award, but never published. The feedback I received was it was too regional.
You usually write MG novels? Why did you want to write a picture book?
I never wanted to write a picture book, but a picture book biography. They are my favorite kind of picture book—probably because I love history.
Do you have other pb manuscripts in the works?
Yes, I recently signed a contract for two more picture books. Saving Granddaddy’s Stories will be the first book in an Appalachian trilogy. I asked my editor, Wiley Blevins, if he would be interested in looking at a second manuscript of mine about an Appalachian ballad singer. He really liked the manuscript, but thought it should be a trilogy. I didn't have a third book written so I got busy and wrote one. It really was a case of an editor connecting with a story. Wiley is from West Virginia so the mountains and Appalachian culture resonated with him. I also included in my pitch that educators could use Saving Granddaddy's Stories as a tool to teach figurative language, for analyzing how Jack and the Beanstalk has been retold by different cultures, and for exploring the Appalachian Region and its traditions.
Do you have an agent and who publishes your works?
My agent is Deborah Warren at East/West Literary Agency. My middle grade novels are published by Scholastic Trade and my picture books by Reycraft.
Do you have a favorite page in the book?
Yes, I like the spread with the beanstalk and the cow.
Did the publisher pair you with the illustrator? What do you like about her illustrations?
Reycraft chose Sophie Page to illustrate the entire series. Sophie is a graduate of the Rhode Island School of Design, and the folk art feel of her illustrations pairs perfectly with my figurative language. Sophie crafts her images in two and three dimensions using clay, paper, fabric, and wire.
How are you promoting your book during COVID time?
Covid complicates everything, but I’m doing virtual events and blog posts and hoping for the best. I will be participating in an SLJ event tomorrow, but it will be taped and available until December: https://www.slj.com/
Wednesday, October 21, 2020
Beth Anderson is no stranger to the Grog Blog. She offers wonderful picture book biography wisdom. Her new book, "Smelly" Kelly and His Super Senses: How James Kelly's Nose Saved the New York City Subway debuts October 13th from Calkins Creek, & it is fabulous! Today Beth shares about setting in picture book biographies.
Setting is one of the basic elements of story, and when a story is set in a different time or place than our own, it calls for research. Searching out clothing, technology, buildings, transportation, and more, we aim to avoid anachronisms and make our characters’ world come to life. But setting is more than a “costume” or façade to make a story look right. Setting creates conflict, brings meaning, and is a vital part of point of view. So how can you “be there” as a character when you can’t travel to a place or time?
When I researched Elizabeth Jennings for Lizzie Demands a Seat, I pored over maps to get the lay of the land and locate her home, streetcar route, church, and courthouse. Putting myself in 1854 New York City, I imagined her footsteps clicking…wait…was there pavement? Basic questions like this lead us to seek out and examine images. Details on daily life, clothing, and weather help enhance scenes.
But as I got to the heart of Lizzie’s story, I needed information on social aspects of life like class, gender, race, traditions, “unspoken rules,” and attitudes. How did she fit in her time and place? How did setting clash with her character? We can understand segregation on transportation being unjust, but how did it impact black lives? And Lizzie as a teacher—an educated, African American female who likely loved children—isn’t unusual today. But when we embed that fact in setting, we see her as exceptional. And when we look deeper, Lizzie as educator indicates she’s part of the abolitionist movement to secure equal rights and end slavery. Looking at her world through her eyes intensifies the emotions and adds meaning. Learning about the social fabric came from reading widely beyond her immediate surroundings, and about what happened before and after her actions.
“Smelly” Kelly and His Super Senses called for setting research with a different focus. James Kelly’s story was more dependent on understanding the physical setting. I studied photographs of New York City from the 1930s to 1950s. I pored over subway maps to find locations of various incidents. And to “be there” as a character with super senses, I had to perceive his world as he did—through his senses. What would he have smelled with his super sniffer? What sounds would’ve bombarded his ears? I found some amazing historical maps— stench, sound, and industry maps! The sound map linked to newsreel clips! Though I didn’t use much of what I discovered, I could immerse myself in his sensory world.
Skyscrapers went up…their foundations went down. The city grew. How did that impact Kelly? Broken lines and mains, more miles of track to inspect [museum records]. Drips and leaks threatened cave-ins and explosions. Kelly could be electrocuted by the third rail. Inherent dangers inspire fear, tension, action.
Different stories and characters require you to dig into different aspects of setting. In An Inconvenient Alphabet, I needed to delve into education, reading, writing, and language of the Revolutionary War period. Primary sources revealed traditions, attitudes, implications, and plenty of odd spellings which provided conflict and helped me take readers into the mix.
It’s important to get the details of setting right and present your character’s world accurately. Even if you’re writing fiction, setting details make your world real and enhance the telling. There are plenty of online tools to gain access to a character’s world: maps of all kinds, Google Earth, You Tube, photographs, images, personal narratives, first-hand accounts, town records, digitized archive materials, varied media of the time, and EXPERTS! But to get past merely “dressing” your story in setting, consider the impact of all you’ve learned about the time and place on your character and the deeper meanings that emerge. Setting isn’t a backdrop and props, it’s sort of a living entity that affects character decisions, actions, and emotions. Some of the most important parts of setting involve aspects you can’t see.
Thank you, Beth! To win a copy of "Smelly" Kelly & His Super Senses, please leave a comment for Beth by October 31. (U.S. addresses only)Beth Anderson, a former English as a Second Language teacher, has always marveled at the power of books. Armed with linguistics and reading degrees, a fascination with language, and penchant for untold tales, she strives for accidental learning in the midst of a great story. Beth lives in Loveland, Colorado where she laughs, wonders, thinks, and questions; and hopes to inspire kids to do the same. Author of AN INCONVENIENT ALPHABET (S&S 2018), LIZZIE DEMANDS A SEAT! (Calkins Creek, 2020), and “SMELLY” KELLY AND HIS SUPER SENSES (Calkins Creek, Oct. 2020), Beth has more historical gems on the way.
Book Trailer for Smelly Kelly: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EfUyhYJbJBk
Wednesday, October 14, 2020
In March, the schools and businesses in my county closed down for, what we thought at the time would be, a short period of time. But seven months later here we are, still in the midst of a pandemic. Humans have faced plagues and pandemics for at least as long as recorded history. Surely, in the last thousand years, we must have learned something?
“With any new disease there are so many unknowns,” says Gail. When bubonic plague came to the US in the late 1890s-1900, scientists and doctors had some knowledge of bacteria. But they still had no understanding about how the plague was spread. The disease showed up in San Francisco, brought by ship from China, and scientists scrambled to find the cause and a cure. While public health officials fought the disease, politicians tried to hide it. They didn’t want people to know that it was in their community. Meanwhile, a French scientist working in India had written up a report on fleas as the agent of transmission – but it took 10 years for the scientific community to accept his findings.
“We see many of these same tensions being played out with Covid,” says Gail. Pharmaceutical companies, local businesses, politicians, public health officials, and community residents each bring their own concerns and interests to a pandemic.
“Just as with bubonic plague, we are learning things every day [about Covid-19],” says Gail. “We are going to make mistakes. In 1900 they made the best decisions they could with the information they had.” This is where we are at this point with the Covid pandemic: scientists continue to learn about the disease and public health officials are trying to make the best decisions they can.
- Both originated in China, spread from animals to humans and carried around the world. In 1900 is was ships, in 2020 it’s planes.
- In 1900 San Francisco initiated a travel ban, and California monitored train stations and ports to make sure people wouldn’t carry the disease in or out of the communities.
- Public health officials tested people for the disease at the ports. In 2020 there were some travel bans and airports instituted temperature checks. But the US didn’t have the capacity to test vast populations and, at least in February and early March our airports were still open.
Quarantine is an age-old approach to isolating disease. In Gail’s book about Typhoid Mary, medical detective George Soper eventually traced the outbreak of typhoid to Mary Mallon. But Mary refused to comply with quarantine and other medical directives because she never had any symptoms. With Mary, it became a battle of personal freedom versus public health – and here we are, once again deliberating quarantines, lockdowns, and contact tracing.
Check out Gail’s video on Covid-19, Pandemics & Disease
Most Notorious! A True Crime History Podcast features Gail in a podcast about deadly diseases in early 20th century America.
Gail’s newest book, Blood and Germs: The Civil War Battle Against Wounds and Disease, is out this month and kicks off her new trilogy on Medical Fiascoes. She explores the science and history of Civil War medicine through actual medical cases and first-person accounts by soldiers, doctors, and nurses. You can find out more about Gail and her books at her website.