Monday, April 30, 2018

Bibliophile's Corner

Bronze and Sunflower
by Cao Wenxuan

Flap Copy Description:
When Sunflower, a young city girl, moves to the countryside, she grows to love the reed marsh lands - the endlessly flowing river, the friendly buffalo with their strong backs and shiny, round heads, the sky that stretches on and on in its vastness. However, the days are long, and the little girl is lonely. Then she meets Bronze, who, unable to speak, is ostracized by the other village boys. Soon the pair are inseparable, and when Bronze's family agree to take Sunflower in, it seems that fate has brought him the sister he has always longed for. But life in Damaidi is hard, and Bronze's family can barely afford to feed themselves. Can the little city girl stay here, in this place where she has finally found happiness?

My Thoughts:
The author, Cao Wenxuan, first became known to me when I learned he had won the Hans Christian Andersen Award in 2016. Then, earlier this month I read an amazing interview by Publisher's Weekly with the award-winning author (see below) and decided I just must read his middle grade novel. Bronze and Sunflower is a literary delight with complex characters who must overcome great obstacles - I loved it! The lyrical prose penned by Cao Wexuan is beautiful; it slowly weaves an epic tale between two unlikely friends - set during the Cultural Revolution of China. At 380 pages, I highly recommend Bronze and Sunflower to avid readers aged eight to eighty!

Click here to learn more about the extraordinary author, Cao Wenxuan.
Click here to read "Bologna 2018: A Talk with Cao Wenxuan."

Friday, April 27, 2018

Storyteller's Journey

Photo Credit: Public Domain

The Courage to be Confident

Most creative souls I've met struggle to be confident. Who would want to presume to be talented in their chosen field if they are not sure they have the abilities needed to back up that belief?

This has been a subject I've thought a lot about. However, after the difficult work of penning several stories for over a decade - and reading hundreds of children's books - I think I've finally found my own confidence. That being said, it doesn't mean my writing couldn't benefit from the experienced eye of a great agent, editor, or publisher. It just means I have the knowledge and ability to be in the game. It still takes courage every day to hold my head up as a writer.

In fact, in the last two years I've submitted my middle grade manuscript a total of two times. While I have claimed that I'm still revising my story, my critique partners have said it's time to consistently submit. (After all, my story has been rewritten three times, revised numerous times, and has been scrutinized by two independent editors.) The real reason for my hesitancy, is that the pain of rejection is something I've never been able to easily accept.

No one can. But for me, it has previously thrown me into an emotional ditch. Only recently have I arrived at a place where I know that with or without an agent I will write. There is freedom in realizing that fact. I know that I'm in the world of children's literature not for the destination, but for the journey. The writing is more important than the publishing.

That being said, today I'm sending my manuscript off to a few agents.
Wish me luck!

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Whimsical Word of the Week

Philocaly - (n.)
the love of beauty.
Example: The poet was inspired by her intense philocaly.

Monday, April 23, 2018

Bibliophile's Corner

A Different Pond
Written by Bao Phi
Illustrated by Thi Bui

Amazon Description:
As a young boy, Bao Phi awoke early, hours before his father's long workday began, to fish on the shores of a small pond in Minneapolis. Unlike many other anglers, Bao and his father fished for food, not recreation. A successful catch meant a fed family. Between hope-filled casts, Bao's father told him about a different pond in their homeland of Vietnam.

My Thoughts:
This beautiful picture book recently received the award as a Caldecott Honor Book; it will touch every young heart with its message of love and family. It is a window into the world of a Vietnamese American refugee family - a father and son in particular - who must make ends meet in the United States. Bao Phi's story is brilliantly understated; it allows the illustrations by Thi Bui to perfectly illuminate his lovely text. I highly recommend A Different Pond to readers aged four to seven! 

Click here to read an interview with author, Bao Phi, and the illustrator, Thi Bui. It's a fascinating discussion on why they became artists.

Friday, April 20, 2018

Storyteller's Journey

Strength from Nature

While recently working in my backyard, I was again reminded that Nature is one of my greatest inspirations. (I actually like to weed my flower garden!) As I nestled down in the moist earth, the sights, sounds, and smells permeated my soul. I was strengthened as the cares of my life fell away.

I heard a flock of geese flying overhead, then saw them glide through the air in perfect formation. Later, our neighborhood eagle squawked as he soared over my head and then landed lightly atop the evergreen where he's nested for over a decade. (His view of the Columbia River from that tree upon the hill must be magnificent!) My life is always refreshed and rejuvenated when I commune with the natural world.

As a writer, it is imperative that I have a clear conscience and a clear mind when penning my stories for children. Spending time amongst God's creation is not only inspirational, it cleanses my soul. My being is centered and I am better equipped to tap into my creativity. But more than that, I'm reminded of what is truly important in my life. Living each moment is easier to do when my hands are in touch with the soil of our planet. Trees, flowers, and birds have become my family, my friends. It's not surprising, then, that every story for children that I've ever written includes the flora and fauna of the settings in each of my tales.

This quote helps me during the current climate of chaos in our world:

Happy Earth Day!

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Whimsical Word of the Week

Trouvaille - (n.)
something lovely discovered by chance.
Example: The metal trinket was a trouvaille found in an antique shop.

Monday, April 16, 2018

Bibliophile's Corner

by Alan Gratz

Flap Copy Description:
Three different kids.
One mission in common: ESCAPE.

Josef is a Jewish boy in 1930s Nazi Germany. With the threat of concentration camps looming, he and his family board a ship bound for the other side of the world…

Isabel is a Cuban girl in 1994. With riots and unrest plaguing her country, she and her family set out on a raft, hoping to find safety and freedom in America…

Mahmoud is a Syrian boy in 2015. With his homeland torn apart by violence and destruction, he and his family begin a long trek toward Europe…

All three young people will go on harrowing journeys in search of refuge. All will face unimaginable dangers–from drownings to bombings to betrayals. But for each of them, there is always the hope of tomorrow. And although Josef, Isabel, and Mahmoud are separated by continents and decades, surprising connections will tie their stories together in the end.

My Thoughts:
Author Alan Gratz has written a must-read novel for young readers! Refugee intertwines the escape stories of three youths that have surprising similarities even though they all hail from different parts of the world. While I was reading this masterpiece penned by Mr. Gratz, all I kept thinking was that everyone - especially tweens and teens - needs to read this book. The knowledge and understanding it bestows regarding the plight of refugees - no matter what their country of origin - is something so important to the future of not only our country of the U.S., but to the entire world. When I read the conclusion to this well-written and engaging novel I wept tears of sorrow. While the three protagonists' stories are fictional, their extraordinary tales are based on true events. I highly recommend Refugee to readers of all ages. 

Mr. Gratz is generously donating a portion of his proceeds from the sale of Refugee to UNICEF to support their relief efforts with refugee children around the world. You may donate here: UNICEF

Friday, April 13, 2018

Storyteller's Journey

The Gift of Solitude

It's been ten years since my youngest son left home for college and subsequently settled in Brooklyn, New York. That was the same year our little dog, Robin, passed away. Since my husband still has a day job, it's been pretty quiet around here since then. At first I struggled with the change of dynamics in our home, and dealt with depression, as I mentioned a few weeks ago. However, as the months and years have passed by, I've come to appreciate the fact that I have a quiet place in which to write my stories.

In fact, I realize that I'm actually lucky! Many writers have told me they struggle with day jobs and/or the schedules of their children. Since I'm an introvert, the solitude has allowed me to read, blog, and grow as a writer. Having so much free time has enabled me to do extensive research for my manuscripts - which made my stories so much better. I've even published two of my three books, which taught me so much about the world of publishing, and marketing, books for children.

However, the biggest benefit I've realized from my solitude is the ability to reconnect with my own soul. After being a full-time health care professional for many years - and a hands-on mom of three boys - like many women, my own hobbies and desires got lost along the way. We recently joined an athletic club which has allowed me to participate in yoga and meditation again. It's added a sense of peace to my life. I've also picked up other long lost hobbies - like playing my flute.

All this started by being alone - by having the freedom and solitude in which to explore my creativity. Solitude allowed me to reinvent myself.

This process hasn't been easy. In fact, is was one of the toughest things I've ever done. Like many difficult tasks, once they're completed they often offer the most satisfaction. This journey has been worth it. Now all I have to do is keep creating stories to inspire young readers. In fact, it's time for this scribe to get back to blissful solitude!

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Whimsical Word of Week

Coddiwomple (v.)
to travel purposefully toward a vague destination.
Example: The hitchhiker began to coddiwomple in a southerly direction.

Monday, April 9, 2018

Bibliophile's Corner

La La La
by Kate DiCamillo
and Illustrated by Jaime Kim

Amazon Description:
This nearly wordless graphic story follows a little girl in search of a friend.
"La la la . . . la." A little girl stands alone and sings, but hears no response. Gathering her courage and her curiosity, she skips farther out into the world, singing away to the trees and the pond and the reeds -- but no song comes back to her. Day passes into night, and the girl dares to venture into the darkness toward the light of the moon, becoming more insistent in her singing, climbing as high as she can, but still there is silence in return. Dejected, she falls asleep on the ground, only to be awakened by an amazing sound. . . . She has been heard. At last.

My Thoughts:
When you're as gifted an author as Kate DiCamillo, you can create a masterpiece with just one word! That's just what the two-time Newbery Medalist did in La La La, along with the extraordinary illustrator Jaime Kim. This powerful picture book reminds us all to have courage enough to speak, and the faith enough to believe that someone, somewhere, will respond. I highly recommend La La La to children of all ages!

Click here to learn more about the author, Kate DiCamillo.

I was lucky enough to hear Ms. DiCamillo in Portland, Oregon at the Alberta Rose Theatre during one of her book signing events. She's not only a talented author, she's a pretty good comedienne, as well!

Friday, April 6, 2018

Storyteller's Journey

The Power of Books

Since the Parkland, Florida shooting, I've come across a few comments like:
"I'm not sure why people are so surprised that the students are rising up - we've been feeding them a steady diet of dystopian literature showing teens leading the charge for years. We have told teen girls they are empowered. What, you thought it was fiction? It was preparation."
Tweet by teacher, Jennifer Ansbach

The tragedy those high school students of Margory Stoneman Douglas experienced was horrific, and something no human being - anywhere - should ever endure. That being said, the response from those brave teenagers stunned the world, and is still impacting society by their March For Our Lives two weeks ago in Washington D.C. and the "NeverAgain" movement. Their courage has caused me to ponder just what I can do, as a writer. Believing that the power of books may have played a small part in the way the MSD students responded is no little thing. It's a reminder that the role we play, as children's book authors, is abundantly important. Whether you're an author of picture books, middle grade novels, or books for young adults we all need to remember that we're speaking to the generation that will carry on long after we're gone. If one child finds solace, strength, courage, or inspiration from a book I've written, it will have been worth all my toil and effort to bring my words to life. That knowledge makes my task a responsibility, realizing that books can truly impact not only the lives of young readers, but the entire world.

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Whimsical Word of the Week

Resfeber (n.)
the tangled feelings of fear and excitement before a journey begins.
Example: The young man was full of refeber as he boarded the plane for Peru.

Monday, April 2, 2018

Bibliophile's Corner

Hello, Universe
by Erin Entrada Kelly

Flap Copy Description:
In one day, four lives weave together in unexpected ways. Virgil Salinas is shy and kindhearted and feels out of place in his loud and boisterous family. Valencia Somerset, who is deaf, is smart, brave, and secretly lonely, and loves everything about nature. Kaori Tanaka is a self-proclaimed psychic, whose little sister Gen is always following her around. And Chet Bullens wishes the weird kids would just act normal so that he can concentrate on basketball. They aren’t friends -- at least not until Chet pulls a prank that traps Virgil and his pet guinea pig at the bottom of a well. This disaster leads Kaori, Gen, and Valencia on an epic quest to find the missing Virgil. Through luck, smarts, bravery, and a little help from the universe, a rescue is performed, a bully is put in his place, and friendship blooms.

My Thoughts:
When a book is awarded the Newbery Medal, I quickly grab a copy. Hello, Universe, by Erin Entrada Kelly, was just given that high honor in February; I must say, it's well-deserved! The element I most love about this middle grade novel is definitely the twists and turns in its plot, executed by a diverse cast of characters. The authentic and heartfelt dialogue magically brings this tale to life. Congratulations to Erin Entrada Kelly for this beautiful book; it's destined to be a classic.
I highly recommend this novel to readers aged eight to twelve!

Click here to learn more about the author, Erin Entrada Kelly.