Wednesday, September 29, 2010

The Slippery Art of Book Reviewing

Because I often review books for or about kids on this blog I was happy to have Mayra Calvani give me a copy of her book, The Slippery Art of Book Reviewing to review.
But, wait! Do I really dare write a review of that book? What if I don't do it right?
Okay, I'll be brave and tell you about the book anyway, because it might be helpful to a lot of people.
The book, co-written by Calvani and Anne K Edwards, begins with basic information that would be familiar to most writers, but soon moves on to explain less obvious things. Some of the topics covered are various types of reviews, legal and moral aspects of publishing them, and the influence of reviews on book purchases. There are also lists of places to get reviews published and information about using them on the internet.
Anyone interested in becoming a professional reviewer would find the sections dealing with that especially helpful, but the book is also a good resource for amateurs. (I wish some of the people who reviewed my book, The Peril of the Sinister Scientist, had read the part about not giving away endings.)
I'll keep The Slippery Art of Book Reviewing near my desk and refer to it often in the future. Anyone who writes, or would like to write book reviews will probably find this book helpful.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Stop That Pudding!

My internet friend, Andi Houdek sent me a PDF of her new picture book, Stop That Pudding!
The book is about a boy who tries to defy his mother by eating chocolate pudding instead of a healthy snack, but the pudding comes to life and gets away, leading him on a merry chase through town.
In some ways the book reminds me of the classic tale of the Gingerbread Man, but it's quite original and different from the familiar story in many ways. Of course I won't give away the ending.
Kids will enjoy the amusing chase and I hope parents don't spoil the fun by using the book to lecture children about the importance of healthy eating and obedience. As with many classical tales, the moral is clear enough in the story without being preachy.
My only complaint is that sometimes the meter of the rhymes spoken by the pudding is slightly off unless read with certain emphasis, but those things are few and far between. Besides, who expects chocolate pudding to create classical poetry?
The illustrations by Kevin Collier are as energetic and funny as the text. Since the boy in the story is also named Kevin I wonder if he'll grow up to be an artist. I hope Houdek writes more books about him in the future because I have a feeling a mischievous kid like Kevin will have plenty of adventures.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Margaret Fieland

Today I'm interviewing a guest writer, Margaret Fieland.

Margaret, Thanks for being here. Have you had anything published?

Quite a lot of poetry – see press kit on my website – a couple of children's stories, one or two stories for adults. My first book, a chapter book, will be published by 4RV publishing in early 2012

My first book , which is about a boy who loses his mother in a fire, grew out of an incident many years ago where an acquaintance lost his wife and four children in a fire. The present book was pretty much because I'm an amateur musician and I wanted to write about that.

I have a file of story ideas I'd like to work on. A lot of them grow out of my reading fiction, where I find myself saying, “But what happens AFTER the end of the book? Just suppose that ...”

You've written some middle grade fiction. How did you make the decision to write for that audience?

{Grin} As a poet I'm pretty terse .. I started writing for kids initially because, first, it seemed less intimidating that writing for adults, and second, it seemed to require fewer words. Little did I know. In a lot of ways, writing for kids is more demanding than writing for an adult audience. But I fell into writing MG fiction and it somehow feels right.

Can you tell the readers a little bit about your story?

It's about a girl whose parents are divorcing and who wants to go to music camp. She starts out playing the flute, but ends up taking up the bassoon. This was at the suggestion of a friend of mine who is a middle school music director .. bassoons are in demand and get scholarships.

Unlike fantasy, your story deals with divorce, a very real drama. What, if any, are the challenges of writing about something that so many readers will have had personal experience with?

You know, I started writing about the “real-life trauma” stuff in order to deal with my own feelings around a real-life incident. In the process, I discovered that this kind of fiction for the MG group is rather under-represented. It felt like a golden opportunity to me.

But I do feel that I need to tread a delicate line between glossing over the real-life problems that the kids in my story face and presenting too bleak a view.

Who’s your favorite author and/or book?

My all-time favorite book is “Alice in Wonderland”/”Through the Looking Glass” by Lewis Carroll. I used to reread it every exam time when I was in college, as I would forgo trips to the library and would begin to suffer from book deprivation.

Do you have any writing related thoughts you’d like to share?

When I consider my fiction writing, I'm struck by the serendipity that led me to it in the first place. At the time I started writing fiction, I wasn't really “interested” in it, but the opportunity presented itself, so I took the plunge.

Then, too, getting my writing organized and accessible in the first place was a huge piece of what started me down the road to taking myself seriously as a writer. If I were still scribbling in notebooks I tossed in a corner, I'd have no perspective on my writing and I'd never have taken myself seriously as a writer. Yes, I've worked hard on my craft as a writer, but none of it would have happened if I hadn't started getting organized.

Thanks for the interview, Margaret. I hope your book does well.

(If you're interested in books and writing, here's another writer whose blog you might want to visit tomorrow

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Learning to Love Language

It's probably because of two things that happened when I was a little kid that I became fascinated with the science of Linguistics.
When my brother was born I was two-and-a-half years old. As he began learning to speak I could understand him when the grown-ups couldn't. Looking back I realize that was because the adults were trying to decipher his attempted words, but I tuned in to his intonation patterns and body language.
Not long afterwards we moved from New Jersey to California and I was amazed at the differences in the way people talked. Instead of pushing baby carriages they used baby buggies. Instead of sitting on sofas people in CA sat on couches.
One day we were visiting some of my mother's friends when the older kids told me there was a whale on the kitchen table for me. I assumed they were teasing me, especially since they were all eating ice cream and didn't offer me any. Later an adult asked me why I'd let the whale melt instead of eating it and I discovered it was a chocolate-covered ice cream popsicle. "Whale" was the brand name. In the neighborhood where I'd lived before we called that kind of treat winter popsicles because the little neighborhood grocery store only had them for sale during the cold part of the year. In the warmer months they sold summer popsicles, the kind made of fruit-flavored ice.
The difference in names was so interesting it almost made up for my disappointment in not getting to eat the delicious thing.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Reading to Kids

I've kept many of the books I had as a child and recently looked through some of the old picture books. Among my favorites were Cheeky Chipmunk and Chatterduck by Helen and Alf Evers, The Pokey Little Puppy by Janette Sebring Lowrey, and Ferdinand by Munro Leaf. How I loved hearing those books read over and over by my parents at bedtime.
It's a good thing I kept them because later I shared them with my preschool and Kindergarten classes as a teacher and read them aloud again as a grandmother.
Years ago I read about a scientific study intended to discover which method of reading instruction worked best. It showed the only thing the highest achieving college students had in common was that they had all been read to frequently as kids. Of course it might also be that those students had been read to a lot because their parents were smart and they had inherited that intelligence, but it certainly can't hurt to read to children.
When I was a child parents were discouraged from trying to teach kids to read because they might do it "wrong" and their children would have to unlearn what the parents had taught them when they reached first grade. My parents followed that recommendation, but I was among a group of kids that entered second grade reading at fifth grade level. All of us had been read to a lot by our parents.
When my daughter was young I wanted to be a stay-at-home mom so I operated a preschool family daycare home. I only spent a few minutes a day doing things like singing The Alphabet Song and showing them how to write their names, and didn't try to teach reading. However I read to the kids a lot and several of them spontaneously began reading on their own.
Reading to young children is a wonderful way for parents and kids to share time together and it can make a big difference in the rest of their lives.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Writers' Groups

I'm currently active in two critique groups and another group for writers where we hear speakers and do other related-to-writing things at our monthly meetings. I've also remained a distance member of a critique group I belonged to before moving, although we don't do any critiques by e-mail. At least this lets me stay in touch. And I'm in several Yahoo discussion groups for writers, most of which include quite a few members I've met at conferences and other events.
Because writing is a solitary job, but writers are communicators, when we get together it's easy for us to become friends.
Of course the groups help us improve our craft and learn about professional opportunities. But, to be honest, I confess the main reason I participate in those groups is for the relationships. Even when we work in totally different genres and may not all agree with each others' points of view, we can still relate to each other and share one of the most important things in our lives.
In my opinion, anyone who is or wants to be a professional writer needs to get involved in at least one such group.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Published, Oh, No!

My senior year in High School the English teacher, Mr. Kuehnl, asked to keep something I'd written for an assignment because he liked it. I was pleased to be asked and said, Yes."
Months later the school was going to put out a magazine and I submitted something for it. Mr Kuehnl asked if it would be okay if they used something else I'd written for his class instead and I told him that was fine with me.
I'd completely forgotten about the assignment he had kept, and when the magazine was published I was embarrassed to see that was in it. Thinking nobody but the teacher would ever read it, I'd shared some embarrassing personal information.
Fortunately the publication came out near the end of the school year and I wouldn't have to see most of the other kids much longer.
It was the first thing I ever had published and, while even then I wanted to become a professional writer, it certainly wasn't a completely positive experience. Yes, it was well written, but I would never have consented for it to be published where my fellow students could read it if I'd realized it was what the teacher had asked about.
Since he was in charge of the school magazine every year, I suspect he'd kept it specifically to be used there. He probably knew I wouldn't give permission for publication if I remembered what he had kept.
In spite of the way he tricked me, I still consider Mr. Kuehnl one of the best teachers I ever had.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Reading Books for Kids

When I was a kid I read voraciously, and that hasn't changed. In fact I still often read books written for kids because:
A. That's what I write.
B. They're usually short enough so I don't have to put them down in the middle of an exciting plot.
C. They aren't depressing or sordid, and
D. I'm still a kid at heart.
To tell the truth, the first reason is really just an excuse. I'd read that kind of book even if I didn't write them. Or maybe I'm confusing cause and effect; I write books for kids because I read them.