Monday, April 29, 2019

Bibliophile's Corner

Rice from Heaven
by Tina Cho

Flap Copy Description:
Rice from Heaven is based on a true story about compassion and bravery as a young girl and her community in South Korea help deliver rice via balloons to the starving and oppressed people in North Korea.

We reach a place where mountains become a wall. A wall so high, no one dares to climb. Beyond that wall and across the sea live children just like me, except they do not have food to eat.

Yoori lives in South Korea and doesn’t know what North Korea is like, but her father (Appa) does. Appa grew up in North Korea, where he did not have enough food to eat. Starving, he fled to South Korea in search of a better life. Yoori doesn’t know how she can help as she’s only a little "grain of rice" herself, but Appa tells her that they can secretly help the starving people by sending special balloons that carry rice over the border.

Villagers glare and grumble, and children protest feeding the enemy, but Yoori doesn’t back down. She has to help. People right over the border don’t have food. No rice, and no green fields.

With renewed spirit, volunteers gather in groups, fill the balloons with air, and tie the Styrofoam containers filled with rice to the tails of the balloons. With a little push, the balloons soar up and over the border, carrying rice in the darkness of the night over to North Korea.

My Thoughts:
I first heard about this picture book from an agent who was a featured speaker at an SCBWI Retreat in the fall of 2018 - I'm finally featuring it on Bibliophile's Corner! Rice from Heaven is not only an inspirational true story, but it is beautifully illustrated. In these turbulent times, I believe it is more important than ever that our youth hear stories of love, inclusiveness, and generosity. I highly recommend Tina Cho's picture book, Rice from Heaven, for children aged three to seven.

Click here to learn about the author, Tina Cho.

Friday, April 26, 2019

Storyteller's Journey

Working on my World Building

Several months ago I received a response from a literary agent regarding my middle grade novel. Unfortunately, it was a rejection. However, it was not only encouraging, it was helpful. In her response she mentioned that a weakness in my work was the fact that the world building was not developed enough to support some of the scenes in my first ten pages. While I winced, I knew she was correct. I also knew how it had happened: In learning that a MG novel needed to get to the action straightaway, I had primarily focused on that task, neglecting world building.

Since receiving that constructive criticism I've been studying up on world building. While setting is a big part of developing your protagonist's world, it's also important to develop her personal world: friends, family, current events, conflicts, antagonist, etc. Blending the correct setting to the set of events your main character will experience is important; it's also important that the personal world of other characters be sufficiently developed. (That's where I had failed.)

I've often received positive feedback on my ability to create a setting - it's something I love to do. However, when introducing a scene into your work it's important to ask: Does the world I've developed support this action? In other words, does it feel like this plot point came out of left field? It's wonderful to reveal a surprise in your story, essential in fact; however, it must feel as though you can follow a thread to where that surprise originated. World building is like constructing a castle - it takes a long time! That being said, doing research (including travel) for a story is one of my favorite things to do.

Visiting the iconic bookshop in Paris, France.
As I mentioned last Friday, we traveled to Europe in 2014.  Experiencing the sights and sounds of a location provides the writer with information no amount of reading can provide.

I recently created an outline for a new middle grade novel, also set in France. It will be historical fiction, set in WW II. (Once you've visited a country, you never know what inspiration it might provide in the future!)

Click here for just one of many great articles regarding world building.

Wish me luck!

Wednesday, April 24, 2019

Whimsical Word of the Week

Mendacity - (n.)
Example: The politician's comments were marked with mendacity.

Monday, April 22, 2019

Bibliophile's Corner

Ernestine's Milky Way
Kerry Madden-Lunsford & Emily Sutton

Flap Copy Description:
An empowering picture book set in the 1940s about a determined five-year-old girl who embarks on a journey to deliver milk to her neighbors in the holler.

Every morning, Ernestine shouts out her window to the Great Smoky Mountains, "I'm five years old and a big girl!" When Mama asks Ernestine--who helps with chores around the farm while Papa is away at war--to carry two mason jars filled with milk to their neighbor, Ernestine isn't sure she can do it. After all, she'd need to walk through thickets of crabapple and blackberry by the creek, not to mention past vines of climbing bittersweet. But Ernestine is five years old and a big girl, so off she sets. Along the way, one mason jar slips from her arms and rolls down the mountainside into the river, and Ernestine is sure it's lost forever . . . until her neighbor's son shows up with a muddy jar--and there's a surprise inside! With tons of flavor and a can-do spirit, here is a celebration of American history and a plucky girl who knows that helping a family in need is worth the trouble.

My Thoughts:
Kerry Madden-Lunsford set this lovely picture book in the 1940s - during World War II. While the young protagonist's father is away at the war, Ernestine helps her mother on their little farm beneath the Great Smoky Mountains. I found the enchanting look into American history that this special book offers to be so powerful. Allowing today's young readers a chance to look back at how children lived long ago is a much-needed message: A strong, yet subtle, reminder to be grateful. Introducing history to young readers in this fashion is fantastic. I highly recommend Ernestine's Milky Way to readers aged three to seven!

Click here to learn about the author, Kelly Madden-Lunsford.

Friday, April 19, 2019

Storyteller's Journey

Photos from my 2014 trip to France
Honoring Notre Dame Cathedral

On this Easter weekend my mind wanders to memories of Notre-Dame de Paris; we visited the landmark in 2014. Besides the fact that Notre Dame Cathedral is one of the most visited sites in Europe - Paris, and Notre Dame Cathedral in particular, is included in a middle grade series of books I'm working on. Researching the cathedral was one of my goals in visiting Paris. So on Monday, like so many around the world, I wept as I watched the spire and roof collapse.

While I'm an American, the part of my ancestry that is French is important to me. Seeing the majestic structure was a moving experience, to say the least. Knowing that the cathedral is centuries-old, walking into the nave of the church in 2014 & seeing the stained glass windows, silenced my soul. Famed French author and poet Victor Hugo wrote The Hunchback of Notre-Dame, in part, to celebrate the French Gothic cathedral that was about to be no more; instead, his novel served to resurrect the iconic landmark. 

Having this tragedy occur during Easter Week makes it all the more painful. However, maybe the fact that it did happen during this week will serve as inspiration and strength for the people of France in their monumental task of rebuilding Notre-Dame de Paris. 
Because that extraordinary European landmark is not just important to the French people, or to Catholics, but to all people of the world. 

Happy Easter! Happy Passover!

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Whimsical Word of the Week

Cobble - 
(v.) to mend, make, or patch together coarsely; repair or make hastily
(n.) a stone, the size of a lump of coal
Example: The artist cobbled together a collage.

Monday, April 15, 2019

Bibliophile's Corner

Raise Your Hand
by Alice Paul Tapper 
& illustrated by Marta Kissi

Flap Copy Description:
11-year-old Alice Paul Tapper--daughter of CNN's Jake Tapper--is challenging girls everywhere to speak up!

When Alice Tapper noticed that the girls in her class weren't participating as much as the boys, she knew she had to do something about it. With help from her Girl Scout troop and her parents, she came up with a patch that other girls could earn if they took a pledge to be more confident in school. Alice even wrote an op-ed about the experience for the New York Times! Inspired by that piece, this picture book illustrates her determination, bravery, and unwillingness to accept the status quo. With Marta Kissi's delightful illustrations depicting Alice's story, young readers everywhere will want to follow Alice's lead and raise their hand!

My Thoughts:
The fact that an eleven-year-old girl would not only pen a picture book, but would inspire young girls around the country to speak up, is astounding. However, the book is not only well-written, it's beautifully illustrated as well - by Marta Kissi. When I did a bit of research on Alice Paul Tapper, I learned that she was named after Alice Paul - who was a suffragist, feminist, and women's right's activist. It appears that the young author was given the perfect name! I highly recommend Raise You Hand to all young readers and their parents, as well as to elementary school teachers. Bravo, Alice Paul Tapper!

Click here to learn about the young debut author, Alice Paul Tapper.

Friday, April 12, 2019

Storyteller's Journey

Painting by Mary Ethel Hunter 1878 - 1936
My Junior Beta Reader

Right from the start of my storyteller's journey I've used beta readers - for portions of my writing, and for finished manuscripts as well. However, it wasn't until last year that I was lucky enough to find a junior beta reader; a girl that was eleven-years-old - the same age as the protagonist in my middle grade fantasy novel. The insightful feedback I received from her was invaluable!

My junior beta reader, Rayma, is the granddaughter of a very dear friend. (Who happens to also be one of my beta readers!) Laura, the grandmother, mentioned to me that  Rayma loves to read and she thought that my story might interest the young girl. The only hitch: she lives near Akron, Ohio, while I reside in the Pacific Northwest.

Laura corresponded with her granddaughter, and after learning that she was actually excited about the project, I printed off my 52,000 word manuscript, placed it in a 2.5 inch binder - complete with a mock cover, and sent it off to Rayma in Ohio. I attempted to make it easy for her, so I'd requested she do the following: Place a happy face 😄 next to portions she really liked; place a sad face 😞 next to portions she didn't like; and place a question mark ? next to places that she was confused.

Well, it turns out, I had totally underestimated Rayma's commitment to her task as a beta reader! She left numerous notes throughout the manuscript (like the ones on the left), that totally warmed my heart. Receiving a glowing report from a beta reader - not about structure, grammar, plot, etc. - but just about whether she liked it or not, blew me away. She liked it! She really, really liked it. (I always did like Sally Field.)

So when it was time for Spring Break, Rayma & her family came out to see her grandmother, Laura, my dear friend. The Friday before she was set to return home to Ohio, Rayma, her father, little sister Rylee, Laura, and I, all enjoyed a delightful lunch. What an extraordinary young lady (now twelve), and a super special family. (Rayma's mom was back in Ohio where she works as a 3rd grade teacher in another school district. 💙) It was an incredible experience to meet this young lady. Thanks again, Rayma; your feedback, and now your friendship, mean so much!

Wednesday, April 10, 2019

Whimsical Word of the Week

Reliquary (n.)
a container for holy relics.
Example: The ornate gold box served as a reliquary for the cathedral's important documents.

Monday, April 8, 2019

Bibliophile's Corner

Hello Lighthouse
by Sophie Blackall

Flap Copy Description:
A new picture book that will transport readers to the seaside.

Watch the days and seasons pass as the wind blows, the fog rolls in, and icebergs drift by. Outside, there is water all around. Inside, the daily life of a lighthouse keeper and his family unfolds as the keeper boils water for tea, lights the lamp's wick, and writes every detail in his logbook.

My Thoughts:
It is not surprising that Sophie Blackall's picture book Hello Lighthouse won the 2019 Caldecott Medal - the artwork is exquisite! However, it's not just that the illustrations are beautiful, it's the way they illuminate the lovely story of the lighthouse keeper. The text seems to whisk you away to the sights and sounds of the sea in a bygone era. I highly recommend Hello Lighthouse to all young readers. Bravo, Ms. Blackall!

Click here to learn about the author/illustrator, Sophie Blackall.

Thursday, April 4, 2019

Champion of Creativity

Maya Angelou

The extraordinary poet, writer, and civil rights activist, Maya Angelou was born on this day in 1928 in St. Louis, Missouri. Today I am featuring her as a true Champion of Creativity; she was an American icon & cultural treasure.

Maya Angelou was born Marguerite Annie Johnson, but as a little girl her older brother Bailey nicknamed her "Maya." Following her parents' divorce, when she was three and her brother four, they were sent to their grandmother's home in Stamps, Arkansas - all alone. They lived happily there for four years, when, for some unknown reason, her father arrived in Stamps and removed Maya and Bailey from their home, and took them back to live with there mother in St. Louis.

Unfortunately, it was in their mother's home that Maya was sexually abused and raped by her mother's boyfriend. She told Bailey about what her mother's boyfriend, Freeman, had done. The man was tried and convicted, but only served one day in jail. Within days after his release, Freeman was murdered. Shortly after Freeman's murder, Maya and her brother were sent back to their grandmother's home in Stamps, Arkansas. She subsequently became mute for five years. She later stated, "I thought, my voice killed him; I killed that man, because I told his name. And I thought I would never speak again, because my voice would kill anyone." It was during this period of silence that she developed her amazing memory, her love of literature, and her ability to observe the world around her. Angelou credited a teacher and family friend, Mrs. Bertha Flowers, with helping her to speak again. The woman introduced young Maya to books by numerous authors including: Charles Dickens, William Shakespeare, and Frances Harper.

One reason I've chosen to feature Maya Angelou as a Champion of Creativity is due to the way she lived her life; the way she made choices. At times she seemed to make only poor choices, and at other times, her choices seemed brilliant. One thing that is clear is that, as an adult, Ms. Angelou was led by her heart. This deep connection to her inner spirit is what made her such an iconic author and poet. I believe it is also what fueled her deep commitment to civil rights.

In 1969, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings was published. That autobiography quickly won Angelou international acclaim. Maya went on to publish six more autobiographies, three books of essays, several books of poetry, and numerous plays, movies, and television shows. On January 20, 1993, she recited her poem On the Pulse of Morning at the inauguration of President Bill Clinton.

Maya Angelou received numerous degrees from a variety of universities. She received three Grammy Awards for her spoken word albums. Angelou was also honored by being nominated for a Pulitzer Prize and a Tony Award. Her autobiographies have been widely used in institutes of higher education to teach students such subjects as literary techniques, race relations, psychology, and child development.

Maya Angelou died on May 28, 2014 in Winston, North Carolina.

Ms. Angelou had an extraordinary way of illuminating the human condition. I often read her quotes for inspiration along my storyteller's journey. Here's one of my favorites:

"There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you."