Thursday, September 21, 2017

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Great Picture Book - Will Make You Smile

I suppose it's not politically correct to say I wasn't too sure about this book when I saw the title. But trust me, this is a book you and your kids will love.

Mother Bruce by Ryan T. Higgins is about Bruce, a bear that likes to keep to himself. He doesn't like sunny days, rainy days and above all cute little animals. You wouldn't be wrong to think he could be nominated for grump of the forest. But there is one thing Bruce does like: eggs. However, one fateful day the unexpected happens after his search for eggs, salmon, and honey. The eggs hatch! And Bruce becomes the victim of mistaken identity.

Not until lately have I found such great author/illustrators. What adult and child wouldn't laugh when there is an illustration of Bruce taking the hatched geese back to Mrs. Goose in a shopping basket no less. He wants to check out her return policy!

I'm so glad I didn't let my misconceived notions regarding the title keep me from reading this book. I would easily rate it 5 stars. And I plan to read more books by Ryan T. Higgins.

  • Disney Hyperion 2016

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Grumpy Frog

While this book's text and illustrations are simple, there are many things that can be discussed after reading this story.  Grumpy Frog by Ed Vere starts with a happy frog that loves winning, hopping, and the color green. All other colors can easily turn him from happy to grumpy. But pink is his all-time worst color. While his friends are just fine with all colors, his reluctance to accept anything but green leaves him unable to join his friends when they are swimming (blue water), bouncing (yellow trampoline) and enjoying other things together. Frog holds tight to his thinking that all colors except green just don’t work for him and cause him to be grumpy. So he sits alone. Without friends. Convincing himself that he is fine. But will something help him change his mind? Or will he remain strong regarding his thoughts and feelings? And is there even a legitimate reason to feel happy and grumpy?

Though it is a very simple story with few words, the depth of discussion can be branched out in several layers and directions. And for very young children it can even be used to help identify colors.
This book was received by me and reviewed on NetGalley.
Publisher: Puffin 2017

Monday, September 18, 2017

Lion Lessons

At the risk of sounding repetitive, I'm really excited to be finding so many good picture books to share. Lion Lessons by Jon Agee is one of the books at the top of my recommended list.

This book is so cute. But when I say that, it takes both text and good illustrations to make a picture book work. And this has both. When a little boy takes Lion Lessons he falls short of the teacher's expectations (a lion). His frightening poses and roar, among other things, just don't cut it. Will the boy pass the class? It doesn't look too promising. But maybe something will happen to warrant acting the part of a lion?

The illustrations are wonderful for both kids and adults since adult humor is thrown in here and there: Harvard School of Claw, the menu the lion shows to the boy, etc.

I totally recommend this since it should appeal to both adults (who get the privilege of reading these books over and over) and children.
Dial Books for Young Readers, A division of Penguin Young Readers Group 2016

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Stranger Danger

While it's disappointing that we find it necessary to teach "stranger danger", it doesn't appear to be something we can wish away. Fairytales Gone Wrong: Who's Bad and Who's Good, Little Red Riding Hood? by Steve Smallman and illustrated by Neil Price is a wonderful teaching tool.

When Little Red Riding Hood is asked to deliver cupcakes and soup to her grandma she is instructed to stay on the path and avoid talking to strangers. Then she is told to yell, tell a policeman or a person in a shop if she needs help. Of course, who should she meet but a wolf. New to the story, however, is a rabbit. And there is where the real story begins. The illustrations, colorful and fun, totally add to the story.

One thing both parents and teachers should like is the fact that the last page has some great discussion questions.
QED Publishing 2016

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Creating a Picture Book

As many parents know, it's terrible when a child loves a certain picture book but you have to mentally groan at the prospect of reading it one more time. I remember my mom laughing about a certain picture book that my daughter always wanted her to read. In retrospect, that book should have disappeared, although it was quite a popular title at the time. (I'm so glad we didn't have it at our house!)

One of the hard things a picture book author has to deal with is creating a book that is appealing to both adults and children. Although it seems like kids are pretty forgiving; it's the adults who can be hard to figure out. When I read a picture book and check the reviews, more often than not I'm pretty shocked. A book that I would easily mark as one star or less might be rated four or five stars by many reviewers. And of course, that works both ways. 

I've always found it helpful to read what's being published, but I've never done it to the degree I have lately. Surprisingly, I'm finding that many of the current books are very good. Something I haven't been able to say in the past.

I'd like to share some information that I hope is helpful, if you're planning on writing a picture book. How to Create a Fantastic Picture Book by Emma Blackburn. And this excerpt from Writing Picture Books by Ann Whitford Paul.

While many think writing a picture book is pretty easy, and admittedly some books look like they . . . well, that's another story. But I'm finding it's hard to pass the test of trying to please agents, publishers, parents, and kids.

But it can be fun trying . . . 

Dragons: Father and Son

I promised I would be posting lots of recommended picture books, so I didn't want to let you down!

While Dragons: Father and Son by Alexandre Lacroix felt a little wordy the first time I read it, the second read through it felt just right. I think all of the text was necessary to the story.  There was only one part of the book that I really questioned, and that was when the son slightly stretched the truth when he returned to his Father.

When Father Dragon asks his son to go out and burn some of the village, which is a tradition in growing up, his son sets out to do just that. But the first house has a little boy looking out the window. It just doesn't seem right to destroy the house for no good reason, especially when the little boy races out of the house, delighted to see a real live dragon! But the boy has an idea, they can go burn down the schoolhouse, especially since he hasn't finished his homework.  As the story progresses the son is forced to evaluate tradition and whether he wants to return and disappoint his Father.

The illustrations add to the story with their colorful depiction of all the characters. And of course, dragons should be of interest to boys, for sure. Even though the book will appeal to girls, too.

The story itself can be read just for fun, but there is an obvious message that can be discussed. This is a good classroom read or individual book to share.
QED Publishing 2017

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Another Book to Share!

I was excited to read another picture book by one of my favorite publishers: Kids Can Press.  Not all picture books meet everyone's criteria,  but I find most of their books click with my need for humor and great illustrations.

While the story of The Tiny Tale of Little Pea by Davide Cali, illustrated by Sebastian Mourrain, is not necessarily a humorous one,  the wonderful illustrations make you smile.  As you might guess,  The Tiny Tale of Little Pea is about a teeny-tiny baby.  A baby boy who wears discarded doll shoes, learns to swim in the sink and enjoys tightrope walking over the waste basket.  There are many cute illustrations showing him loving life in spite of his size.  That is until he starts school.  By comparison,  not much goes right for him at school,  so he sits alone drawing. We then move to Little Pea as a grown up,  which mainly means age not stature. He has a house,  but can he find a job?

This is a fun book just to enjoy reading,  but most would be remiss not to talk about acceptance of "different" people,  and the thought that hopefully all of us can find a place to put our talents and gifts to work.

I received this copy from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. If you follow my posts at all, you know that's the only type of review I seem capable of writing. Which sometimes might not be a good thing! :-)

Kids Can Press 2017

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Two New Books To Share

I had every intention of posting information about writing this time, but I'm reading so many great picture books that I think that's what I'll be sharing for a little while.

Grumpy Pants, illustrated and written by Clair Messer, is a very simple book about a penguin who is in a grumpy mood, something everyone deals with at one time or another. This book has very few words on each page, allowing children to focus on the cute illustrations depicting Penguin's grumpy attitude. This book feels geared to a young audience. But the lesson really applies to everyone: It's okay to be grumpy; the important thing is how we handle grumpiness.
And Penguin finds a way that works for him.

Albert Whitman & Company 2016

Giggle, Giggle, Quack by Doreen Cronin and illustrated by Betsy Lewin is for sure a winner! This time Duck has found a pencil. When Farmer Brown asks his brother to watch the farm while he goes on vacation, Duck makes sure that Bob, Farmer Brown's brother, gets some interesting instructions regarding taking care of the animals. The animals enjoy pizza that Bob orders in for them, and Bob is instructed to wash the pigs with bubble bath and to dry them off with Farmer Brown's good towels. The animals are having a great time with the instructions Duck has created, but how long can it last?

Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers

Since I'm finding such good books, watch for my next post. I'll have two or three more to share.

Monday, September 4, 2017

Dog On A Frog?

The library must think I'm running a preschool. I've been reading stacks and stacks of picture books for two reasons. One, I want to see what is being published. Two, I love sharing books with other readers.

Dog On A Frog? by Kes & Claire Gray and illustrated by Jim Field is a book I think kids will love. The cute rhymes and humorous illustrations are perfect for reading aloud with PreK-2.

It all starts when Frog has a problem with dogs sitting on frogs. But when cat agrees that dogs sit on frogs, Frog decides to change the rules. "From now on, dogs sit on logs, and not frogs!" And so the rhyming begins. The book is filled with illustrations that all kids should love and a fun ending.

Published 2016 by Scholastic Press

Sunday, August 27, 2017

Too Many Carrots

Not often am I able to post recommended picture books right after the other. But this book feels age appropriate for young children (lower end, as well as many who are older, will appreciate it), and the illustrations are very cute.

While rabbit starts out somewhat preoccupied with his own selfish concerns of loving carrots and not knowing where to store all of them, toward the end we see that "Rabbit felt terrible. His friends were cold, tired, and homeless, and it was all his fault." I think he does realize his mistakes and knows there is only one thing to do.

Too Many Carrots, written and illustrated by Katy Hudson is a good story with fun illustrations.
Capstone Young Readers, 2016

Saturday, August 26, 2017

New Picture Book to Share

Most picture books don't live up to my expectations. In fact, it can get pretty disappointing as I read book after book. But when I find a good one, I'm pretty excited to post it.  This picture book, though for a little older child (not most three and four-year-olds), is definitely worth sharing. The illustrations are exceptionally good, and most adults won't tire of reading it with children.

It's All About Me-ow, written and illustrated by Hudson Talbott is about Buddy, the resident house cat, giving advice to three kittens who are joining the family. Buddy's personality is fun and the book is filled with hilarious illustrations. There are diagrams comparing humans and cats, a timeline of cat history, and lots of advice for the new kittens such as training humans to sit and stay and fetch feline toys. Many of the illustrations will no doubt make you laugh out loud. I loved the advice on how to remind humans that it's dinner time and if the cat decides to dine out what is okay to eat. Gerbil: no. Rat: yes. Fish in a bowl: no.

I think this is a book you'll want to take a look at.
Published 2012 by Nancy Paulsen Books - A division of Penguin Young Readers Group

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

uPS and DOwns of Writing

Finding a Publisher

My writing career has been like traveling through the years on a bumpy roller coaster.  I started by sending my writing to magazines. Over the course of a few years, I had over thirty stories/filler published. However, my earnings added up to about enough to purchase one large coffee (but certainly not Starbucks)! I then decided it would be exciting to have a book published. The thought of having my name on a hardcover book was enough to cause me to dance on my desktop. Okay, maybe that's a bit of an exaggeration. With time my memory has faded some. But I did get a book published and it was a hardcover. But, the excitement was short-lived. The publisher soon closed their doors. Not just to me. As in closed for business.

Chapter Two. I signed a contract with a new publisher for a very short book to accompany their reading series. I was later excited to sign a contract with them for a full-length middle reader. But. That word seems to always interrupt my happiness as an author. When that publisher discovered that I had attained an agent, they stopped replying to my correspondence completely. After talking with legal aid, I gave the whole thing up and went to step 4 above.

Chapter Three. I located another publisher. At the time I was blinded by my desire to be published and their love for my writing. I didn't notice that their publishing house was built out of cards and not long for this world. And, as the saying goes, hindsight is 20/20.  I began to see the red flags as they slowly climbed the flag pole. Four books later that publisher closed their doors.

Chapter Four. Yes! After licking my wounds I located yet another publisher. I signed a contract on a picture book. He then began sending me illustrations that were being made for the book. But. . . the publisher then decided to go another direction since he decided picture books were too costly, etc. etc.  
I picked myself up off the floor and located a new publisher who published my latest book. But. Oh, no, there's that nasty word. I got an email that they are closing this month. I'm very sad, not just for me, but for them. 

Chapter Five. I'm busy doing my four-step program above. And of course, it's fun. Why? Because my passion is reading, creating, finding a publisher, and . . . 

If you share that passion, I have some informational sites for you to take a look at.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Recommended Middle Grade Novel

     I've posted very few Middle Grade Novels that I would recommend. Partly because I don't read them that often, but mostly I haven't found many that I care to pass on. My last posting was A Million Ways Home by Dianna Dorisi Winget. If you haven't read it, be sure to pick up a copy.
     I'm so excited to have found another great book to share: Fish in a Tree by Lynda Mullaly Hunt.

          This book is about finding true friends, bravery, second chances, about asking for help when you need it, and offering help when you see it is needed. It's about struggling with something in school (dyslexia) but realizing at the same time that you are not stupid, but have amazing gifts and talents.
            I loved the fact that Lynda Mullaly Hunt tied so many aspects of the story together. I loved the sentence structure and short chapters (since the book is so long). I loved the characters but at the same time felt a bit uncomfortable with them. Many of the characters felt exaggerated and like stereotypes. (But even with that possible downfall, I did still like them.) I was also concerned that a sixth grader had slipped through the education system without someone realizing her true problem, fairly unlikely in this day and age. 

I know it sounds like I've given several negatives, but the positives totally outweighed the concerns for me. Give it a try and let me know what you think.



Another Winning Picture Book

If you've been following any of my posts on Goodreads, you know I'm pretty hard on my ratings of picture books. Many books don't seem cute, clever, kid-friendly vocabularies, good text, fun illustrations . . . . Need I go on? I can't tell you how many books I have to read to find one I like. Of course, I'm always interested to see if others agree with me so I check reviews. I'm constantly shocked at the books rated at five stars that I would rate one star. Although I don't. That seems downright mean. But alas, after reading many, many books I found another to share. If You Ever Want to Bring a Circus to the Library. Don't by Elise Parsley is a winner. After reading a poster at the library saying, You can do anything at the library, Magnolia decides to take a circus there. As Magnolia performs acrobatics, she reminds her audience to hold their applause, because you can do anything at the library except clap. But there might have been one important thing Magnolia missed when she read the poster. And it might have even helped if she'd been paying attention during story time at the library. Bright, fun illustration. A book most adults won't quickly tire of reading to a child multiple times.

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Dear Publishers . . .

Ever feel like you dive into something you love, but find you're just treading water? I think many people don't realize how hard it is to break into the writing world. I've silently laughed when I hear people say, "Well, after retirement I think I'll write a book and see if I can't get it published." For some, it's about that easy (though I don't think many). For others, lots of time is spent swimming a few strokes then being dragged back by the current.

I tend to fall in the latter group. After hard work, I find a publisher then manage to watch the business fold like it's made of a deck of playing cards.

So far I've been standing inside when two publishers close their doors. And yesterday I received a very nice letter from my newest publisher saying they will be closing at the end of August.

Once again, I will take the dive, since writing is my passion. But if you are a member of Scholastic Press, Harper, Philomel Books, or Little Brown and Company, will you please watch for wonderful stories submitted by Debbie Shakespeare Smith? I promise to do my best to keep the cards standing in an upright position!

Friday, August 4, 2017

Lily and Bear Grumpy Feet

I am posting this picture book mainly because of the cute illustrations.  I thought the story was just okay, but the illustrations overshadowed any short comings in the text. I think most children will really enjoy the book.

Lily loves to draw, but one morning Lily finds herself out of sorts: nothing is quite right. The day is too rainy, the teapot too dribbly. Even her pencils are too pointy. It is clear nothing will be right until Lily draws . . . bear!

Lily and Bear Grumpy Feet by Lisa Stubbs is definitely worth checking out.

Monday, July 31, 2017

Picture Books: Concept or Plot-Driven

I’ve been sending out my picture book manuscript to several agents and at the same time reviewing some newer, published picture books. A few books are very good, and those are the ones I try to share on my blog. But if you've noticed, I haven't been sharing very many. This is only my opinion regarding picture books, but I still say it's hard to find a good one.
Most of us are familiar with this type of picture book:
Setup- Tells a little bit about the characters and maybe the setting.

Problem- Something the main character needs to solve.

Attempt to Solve- Picture books typically will have three attempts.

Try. Fail.

Try. Fail.

Try. Fail.

Drum Roll-Moment of overcoming or solving the problem. 

Resolution- Wrapping up loose ends, and showing positive consequences.  
I'm not going to list the titles of some of the books I'm reading since it might be conceived that I'm criticizing them, I’m not, I’m trying to make a point.
Published 2017 by G.P. Putnam’s Sons: The main character’s friends solve his problem.
Published 2017 by Roaring Brook Press: The problem is solved quite by accident.
Published 2017 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt: Problem not solved by the main character.
Published 2017 by Tiger Tales: Problem solved, but perhaps not by ways you’d recommend?? (However, I realize it’s a picture book and shouldn’t be taken too seriously.)
More and more picture books seem to be drawing away from Plot-Driven and moving toward Character-Driven.
A Character-Driven Book (be it a child or an animal), is about the main character’s wants, dreams, hopes, plans, problems, and more. These are characters the reader comes to care about, root for, and relate to. The author of character-driven stories needs to understand the main character’s motivations, weakness,  strengths, inspirations, internal struggles. . . well, the author needs to know the character just about as well as he knows himself.
In summary, a Plot-Driven Story features a sequence of events in which the protagonist fights to attain a goal. Character-Driven: A unique and fun character makes internal changes.
You can Google to find examples of each type of book, which can be helpful.

Friday, July 7, 2017

Sale Ends Today!

If you haven't picked up my book, The Blabbermouth Club, now is the time to do it!

20% off any item at Barnes and Noble
Offer ends today 7-07-17
**Some exclusions apply

Don't wait!

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Surprise! Another Picture Book Post

The animals on the farm are preparing to celebrate a birthday. But duckling isn't quite sure how to prepare for a birthday party since he's never experienced one. The sheep are snippity-clipping, the chickens are shimmy-shaking. But what should duckling be doing?

Not only did I choose to post this book because it's cute, but also to show that not all books (as I'm sure you know) follow the rules that authors are taught to use when writing. You may want to refer to my previous post regarding feedback that I received from an agent on one of my picture book manuscripts. The bold print indicates recommendations to my manuscript. The regular print refers to Click, Clack, Surprise!.

  • I needed "more suspense in the beginning" 
    • There is some suspense in the beginning of Click, Clack, but minimal
  • I needed "tension with higher stakes in the middle"
    • no tension (that I could tell)
  • I needed "more character growth"
    • if duckling grew it was on the last page
  • While I didn't post anything about this earlier, as authors we are always told to have the main character solve his/her own problem.
    • character growth only on last page
So, while I wholeheartedly recommend Click, Clack, Surprise!, I wanted to point out that if you have a certain feel and love for what you are creating, don't immediately dismiss it because it doesn't follow the guidelines you've been taught. One of the best examples of this is the Harry Potter series. This book didn't sell quickly, but when it did it flew to the top of the charts and exceeded all expectations.

My thoughts are to follow the guidelines, but if your heart says to veer off the path, I say Go For It!

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

On Writing Picture Books

Though they look short and simple, picture books can be challenging to write. I know that first hand, from replies I've received from agents.

"...I especially enjoyed the humor and know that the illustrations will expand in greater depth visually. Overall, this is entertaining for young readers.
Here's where the but comes in:
"When considering your story further, I'm wanting more suspense in the beginning, a tad more tension with higher stakes in the middle, and more depth in the end. For plot I'd like to see more character growth . . . "
Don't misunderstand me. This personal reply is very encouraging. But I want to reply, "Hello, I've read so many non-exciting picture books with no plot or . . . ." well, you know what I mean. It's a tough business, but one I find exciting.

My suggestion for you is to read lots of picture books to see what's being published. Some books will make you chuckle and marvel at an author's creativity; you might even consider that he/she is totally out of your league. But other books will cause you to shake your head. That being said, I still recommend you read and find authors who inspire your creative thoughts. Sometimes writing is in your blood. You've got to do it! If that happens to be how you feel, I understand.

I will be posting picture books that match my style and ones that I hold up as examples of good writing. I will also share some great articles to guide you through the writing process.

You may want to look at the picture books I've recommended in the past, as well.

Want to write a good children's book? Here are 7 tips to guide you

Saturday, May 27, 2017

Those Darn Squirrels

Love good Picture Books with sequels? Then these books are winners, especially if you’ve ever watched squirrels raid your bird feeders and thought, Those Darn Squirrels.  Look at the covers of these books. They just about say it all, don’t they?  What? you say.  You can’t judge a book by its cover. Well, if it makes you smile, usually you can.

Old Man Fookwire (so old that dust comes out his nose when he sneezes) is a grump who likes birds. With lots and lots of bird feeders, he is able to attract more birds. And what could be better than birds unless it’s painting birds? But Old Man Fookwire soon realizes he is attracting squirrels, too. And those pesky squirrels are smart!

All of the books are filled with cute illustrations that children and adults will love. Those Darn Squirrels and the Cat Next Door and Those Darn Squirrels Fly South are sequels to Those Darn Squirrels

Author: Adam Rubin

Illustrator: Daniel Salmieri

Monday, May 1, 2017

Young Authors Conference

Saturday, April 29, I had the pleasure of participating in the 32nd Annual Young Authors
Conference at Fort Osage School District. Many school districts have discontinued this learning opportunity for students, but I  commend Fort Osage for seeing the importance and finding a way to make it happen.

It thrills me to experience their undivided attention and passion for something that I love as well.

Thanks, Fort Osage School District for another enjoyable day.

Friday, April 7, 2017

Mark Twain Readers Award 2016-17: A Million Ways Home

I am so happy to be able to share that my Goodreads friend Dianna Dorisi Winget won the 2016-17 Mark Twain Readers Award for her book, A Million Ways HomeThis terrific book was chosen as a finalist on five other state lists as well. The books on this list are then read and voted on by students throughout the school year. Congratulations Missouri students for choosing a great book!

Missouri's Association of School Librarians (MASL) offers four different reader awards broken down by age groups.
A Million Ways Home
A Sliver of Sun
A Smidgen of Sky
Show Me Readers Award (Grades 1-3)
Mark Twain Readers Award (Grades 4-6)
Truman Readers Award (Grades 6-8)
Gateway Readers Award (Grades 9-12)

I have to agree with so many readers. This book made my list too. I loved it. In fact, I purchased it so I wouldn’t have to borrow it from the library. Dianna’s writing is exceptional. Not often do I read a book that brings out so much emotion in such a short time. After reading A Million Ways Home I decided to search for more of her writing. In all honesty, when I started reading A Smidgen of Sky I was certain I was going to be disappointed since nothing could live up to the first book I’d read of hers. However, it only took a few pages to fall in love with that book too. And now I’m anxious to read the sequel: A Sliver of Sun

So what does Dianna do besides write? Check out her cool website to find out.