Childish Nonsense

Exploring Children's Literature

Looking Forward

2013As one year comes to a close and the next one starts, we inevitably look to expectations, accomplishments, and unfulfilled promises. This could take a long time, so I’ll try to restrict it to my writing life.

As with new year’s resolutions, my goals for 2013 are very similar to 2012, though slightly modified.

1. Submit more manuscripts. There are mini-goals within this. First, I need to continue to do my homework. Market research, both for the entire market and for the publishers to which I submit manuscripts. Second, attend writers conferences and workshops. Get to know the editors, agents, and writers and pick their brains with this regard. All other strategies are encapsulated in my other goals.

2. Improve my writing and make it the best it can be, improving the chances I will get more recognition. First, practice, practice, practice. Sitting down and writing is always a good strategy. Second, participate in challenges that make sense. I have a lot of ideas on paper from Tara Lazar’s Picture Book Idea Month. I’m now in a group on Facebook called Sub Six, as in submit six picture book manuscripts this year. I’m looking at other groups. Along with this, most of the how-to books have exercises and writing prompts to help keep me going.

3. Learn to recognize small steps can be big boosts. Is that rejection useful? Does anyone read my blog or the reviews I write? Where is that constructive criticism coming from? Is it a quick fix or am I totally missing on this one?

4. Continue reviewing. I’m continually amazed at how helpful reading like a writer is.

5. Be helpful to other writers. In March, my friend Sue Peters and I will be the new Co-Regional Advisors for the Maryland/Delaware/West Virginia region of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI). I’m still a little frightened at the prospect. I’ve seen how hard my friends Edie Hemingway and Lois Szymanski work to make this a good region. But I care about this group and know I do have the skills necessary. Thank goodness Edie and Lois will still be around. Sue and I will hit the ground running, but I’ll need a lot of help. In that regard, I already have events planned – for organizing or for attendance alone – in March, April, August, and September. More later.

I think most of these are attainable. We shall see.

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More Randomness

The children from Sandy Hook Elementary will begin classes again soon. Their new school is a former middle school in nearby Monroe. The efforts for the survivors continue to be creative. It’s not too late to do something.

Did you notice Ann Curry stole my random acts of kindness? Just kidding, but I did mention it before she did.

One campaign, organized by the Connecticut PTSA (Connecticut PTSA, 60 Connolly Parkway Building 12, Suite 103, Hamden, CT 06514), has children from across the country making paper snowflakes to hang in the new school to welcome the children.

Another campaign, partially spearheaded by the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI), is gathering age-appropriate books for the library. No word yet who will be coordinating this effort, but local chapters are gathering books as we speak.

Back to the business of books. Here are a couple of books I read recently.

 

Hoop GeniusHoop Genius: How a Desperate Teacher and a Rowdy Gym Class Invented Basketball

By John CoyFour stars

Illustrations by Joe Morse

When John Coy set out to tell the story of basketball, he may not have realized what a fascinating and totally relatable story it is. Apparently, James Naismith was unexpectedly thrown into a 1891 gym class with some very unruly students. Two of his predecessors had quit in frustration. It was only through desperation and quick thinking that Naismith was able to avoid injury to himself and the students and provide the students with some direction. He tried indoor football, soccer, and lacrosse before adapting a child’s game, Duck on a Rock. He used a soccer ball and peach baskets to get the game going. With penalties ejecting them from the game, the boys were so determined to keep playing that they soon adjusted to the rules. Basketball became popular very quickly. Morse’s illustrations realistically depict the atmosphere of Massachusetts in the 1890s and of rowdy boys trying to get the upper hand.

Reviewed by Sue Poduska

Carolrhoda Books/Lerner Publishing Group, March 2013 release

Picture Book, History.

E-book, 44 pages

ISBN: 978-0-7613-6617-1

 

Tillie PierceTillie Pierce: Teen Eyewitness to the Battle of GettysburgFour stars

By Tanya Anderson

When writing of war, it’s so very easy to forget that war involves people – not only soldiers but also people who live in the vicinity of the battle. Anderson reminds the reader about the residents during the Civil War battle of Gettysburg. The author manages to get in a lot of information without making the narrative dry. She begins with a long history of the town and of Tillie’s family and their neighbors. She also gives a good background of the war and its causes. Tillie’s own account exists, so we’re able to follow her from the time she first heard the shooting. Each time she and her companions tried to get away from the fighting, things got worse. Once they survived the battle, they had to deal with the wounded, dying, and dead and the destruction of property. Details of the destruction help make this palatable. For example, a lamb from a broken headstone had landed on top of a broken gun carriage. The entire town was devastated. The “Taking Tillie’s Path” section is a fun internet exercise.  The photographs accompanying the text are well thought out and instructional.

Reviewed by Sue Poduska

Twenty-First Century Books/Lerner Publishing Group, April 2013 release

Chapter Book, History.

E-book, 100 pages

ISBN: 978-1-4677-0692-6

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About Sandy Hook

Yes, these are only my opinions. I’m no great expert on any of this. But, as a parent and as a person who spends a lot of time being concerned with children, I think I have a right to my opinions.

About Gun Control

This may not be the right time to talk about gun control. The gun lobbies are correct that people who carry out horrors such as the one in Connecticut are going to find a way to get their mission accomplished. The school at Sandy Hook apparently had locked doors and a no-entry policy. Had it not been for a shooter’s gun jamming, more lives would have been lost. The main reason to talk about this now is that such a tragedy draws attention to the issue.

First, they’re also correct that people kill people. But guns make it easier to kill people. If a killer can stand back and not even have to look the victim in the eye, it’s easier to dehumanize the victim. If a killer has to find a knife or baseball bat and get close enough to use the weapon, the victim can duck or get away or try to talk down the violence.

Second, automatic and semi-automatic weapons have no place in this world other than to kill people. No one – not a hunter, not a person protecting a family – needs these weapons in a home. The gun used to kill one of the Sandy Hook victims was bought by that victim FOR PROTECTION.

Third, arming everyone is not the answer. If the teachers had had access to weapons, so would the children. The teachers would have had to stop shepherding the children, unlock the weapons from storage, load the weapons, and aim. How would they have had time for all that? And an untrained person with a weapon is also dangerous. Would teachers then need to pass a weapons certification as part of their training?

About Mental Health

The shooter in Connecticut was apparently a disturbed person. But he was also apparently under a doctor’s care. No one was likely to predict his actions. Like gun control, the tragedy mostly draws attention to our inadequacies in treating mental illness. We need to make easier to get help and stop stigmatizing those who do seek help. Admitting you need to talk to a counselor is a sign of strength, not a sign of weakness.

What Can Individuals Do?

Individuals can do a lot.

  • Hugs all around. Hold your loved ones a little tighter. Plan times to spend together, talking or just being there.
  • Random acts of kindness. Seems like a cliché, but they really do make you feel better. And they really do have a ripple effect. You really do change the world with each one. Really. Even a simple smile can change those around you.
  • Volunteer. Or give blood. Nothing says commitment like life’s blood.
  • Attend a vigil. It may not seem as good as talking to the survivors, but the news media are reporting about the vigils and the survivors will hear about it.
  • Write out your feelings. That’s what I’m doing. Even if no one reads it, it’s therapeutic.
  • Send money to organizations providing counseling or first response.
  • If you’re a knitter, many places are providing prayer shawls and hand knitted toys to the survivors.
  • Listen to the feelings of those around you. We’re all suffering with this.
  • Learn the names of the victims and hold them in your heart.
  • Don’t wallow. Get away from the news coverage. Take a walk. Bake some muffins.
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Some New Children’s Books

I keep getting more and more books to review, which is not necessarily a bad thing. It tells me what’s out there and what publishers are interested in. Here are a few that I’ve gotten independently of any clearinghouse.

One thing: I don’t often give 5 out of 5 stars. I reserve that for To Kill a Mockingbird and Shakespeare. Four stars means I really like it. Three means it is more than worth reading.

Muddled-up Farm

By Mike Dumbleton

Illustrated by Jobi MurphyFour stars

Muddled Up FarmWhat does the cat say? Well, on this farm, it says “moo.” When the farm inspector tries to straighten out the animals, he falls victim to the craziness himself. This hilarious and very readable book was first published in Australia and is due to premiere in the states. Open it if you dare. You may walk away with a moo or woof of your own. Murphy’s cartoon-like art helps make this a fun romp through the farm. This is a great read aloud book, with all the sounds coming out and discussion about what these animals usually say.

Reviewed by Sue Poduska

Star Bright Books, March 2013 release

Picture Book, Humor, Animals.

E-book, 18 pages

ISBN: 978-1-59572-631-5

Calvert the Raven in the Battle of Baltimore

Written and Illustrated by J. Scott FuquaThree stars

  Calvert the Raven                      History is boring. Or at least that’s what Daniel believes, and he expresses that opinion in a school-assigned paper. Needless to say, his teacher is not pleased and Daniel suspects his parents will not be, either. Daniel meets a magical raven named Calvert, who shrinks the boy and takes him back in time to the Battle of Baltimore. With a literal bird’s eye view, Daniel learns that the battle was anything but boring. The survival of the United States hangs in the balance. Francis Scott Key’s joy at seeing the flag felt real. Readers will enjoy the ideas of time travel and of flying with a bird. And they might accidentally learn something. Fuqua’s realistic artwork, as well as the cover art by Susan Mangan, make this volume especially attractive. Recommended for classrooms.

Reviewed by Sue Poduska

Historyworks, Inc./Bancroft Press, February 2013 release

Creative Nonfiction, History.

E-book, 39 pages

ISBN: 978-1-61088-080-0

Goodnight Baseball

By Michael Dahl

Illustrated by Christina ForshayFour stars

Goodnight Baseball                        What is it like to go to a major league baseball game? In answer, the reader is taken along on a trip to a generic ballpark. Through the gates, into the seats, and through the good eats, the reader experiences it all. The little hero even catches a ball. After a long, exciting day, he says good night to everyone and everything. Though drawn with cartoon-like figures, the illustrations are accurate and add to the feel of being at the ballpark. The moon as a baseball is an added touch of whimsy. Recommended for baseball fans of all ages.

Reviewed by Sue Poduska

Capstone Young Readers, March 2013 release

Picture Book, Sports.

E-book, 40 pages

ISBN: 978-1-62370-000-3

World War II Pilots: An Interactive History Adventure

By Michael BurganFour stars

World War II Pilots                        What was it like to fly during the early days of air combat? This is a “You Choose” the path adventure, allowing the reader to explore this question. The author gives a very realistic view of the pilots, right down to the loss of many brave men during the fights. The reader can pretend to be British or American, including a Tuskegee Airman. You go through the training. Messerschmidts or Zeroes hound your Spitfire or B-29. Or you sit out the war with the other black pilots. The twenty different endings make sure this is a book many will be read again and again. The page design and photographs and maps chosen add to the feel of being there. The very extensive tools make further learning easy and inviting. This includes a table of contents, introduction, timeline, “other paths to explore,” books, internet site, glossary, bibliography, and index.

Reviewed by Sue Poduska

Capstone Press, February 2013 release

Chapter Book, History.

E-book, 114 pages

ISBN: 978-1-4765-1813-8

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Picture Book Idea Month – Gone, But Not Forgotten

piboidmo12winnerlargeYay! I’m a winner! I made it through November with thirty new ideas on my picture book list.

I am so sorry to see Picture Book Idea Month leave, I want to try to keep the idea-a-day concept alive for a while longer. I started a journal (on paper) of all the ideas for November, so let’s say I’ll at least fill the journal with daily entries. (By the way, the blank journal was provided to me by a dear friend, Lois Szymanski.)

I also hope to keep contact with the wonderful people who participated in in PiBoIdMo. What a great group of writers and illustrators! Hope to see more of them in person at SCBWI conferences and the like. I know I’ll be at all MD/DE/WV events. I will most likely be in LA next August and at some Mid Atlantic and Pennsylvania events.

Meanwhile, I plan to work on turning some of these ideas into workable manuscripts and get my current manuscripts out into the world. Partly, I need to work on not being so easily distracted. Life will happen whether or not I’m working on stories. (Translation: More hours of Butt In Chair.)

Here are musings from the last week of PiBoIdMo 2012.

Sun. Nov. 25 – Most kids think, if my mom were somebody famous, wouldn’t that be wonderful? Would you get tired of the travel and eating desserts all the time? Or might it go the other way – you have to be perfect all the time because of the paparazzi?

Mon. Nov. 26 – It would be fun to follow a goldfinch through a year of changes. Or maybe some animal such as a weasel whose coat changes. But the migrations of the find might make the illustrations more interesting.

Tues. Nov. 27 – Talk about a mash up! This is about a (future) space-traveling kid who helps maintain her family’s spaceship. I had a lot more thoughts about this one, but I don’t want to give away everything.

With the light visible at the end of the tunnel, the ideas are coming fast and loose, but I refuse to let them overwhelm me. I AM making notes on stray thoughts, though, so I don’t lose anything.

Wed. Nov. 28 – Inspired by a fellow PiBoIdMo sufferer, Jim Hill, and the old, old joke about God, I’m thinking what if Santa Claus were black … and female. Could be fun.

Thurs. Nov. 29 – I’m not sure whether this will be nonfiction or creative nonfiction. There was an article on Tuesday about a woman, Sue Haig, a wildlife ecologist who has spent three decades trying to figure out where the piping plovers spend the winter months. Their numbers are dwindling, so it’s important for saving the little birds. Where have all the plovers gone?

Fri. Nov. 30 – I still need to come up with the perfect name for my character because it all centers around a character who feels like people never quite get her name right.

And that’s thirty. I know not all of them are workable, but I do feel all of them have possibilities – even if they only spark a different idea.  Thank you, once again to Tara Lazar, all her guest bloggers, and to the wonderful writers and illustrators who were part of this challenge. It was a month of perfect inspiration.

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