Friday, October 30, 2009

Ups and (Under)Downs

It's Book Business Friday. Harold Underdown has been in the book business for years. His website, The Purple Crayon, is a very helpful resource. Here is an article he wrote, "Working in Children's Books and the Recession of 2008-09" about the state of the children's book business now and what it may be in the future. He takes the long view. (He also wrote The Complete Idiot's Guide to Publishing Children's Books.)

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Best Friends

It's Thursday, Real Kids Day. Friendship is so important to children. Best friends understand you, they like to do the same stuff, they think the same things are funny, and sometimes, they're just great to nuzzle and run around with in circles. Books about friends are something friends can share, too.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

The Amelia Bloomer Project

It's Writing Wednesday. Heard of the Amelia Bloomer Project? It is an offshoot of the American Library Association, through its Feminist Task Force. Since 2002 it has been highlighting "exemplary books for girls and young women that celebrate their strengths and nourish their potential" through its annual list. The books "show girls and women-past and present, real and fictional-breaking stereotypes to follow their dreams and pursue their goals, challenging cultural and familial stereotypes to gain an education, taking charge and making plans for community, regional, national, and world change." See the list here. Below is a video about one of this year's books, A Girl Named Dan. The books we write can potentially have a powerful effect on the child who reads them by shaping her view of the world and her place in it.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Dick Bruna

It's Illustration Tuesday. Let's go European today. Clean, simple design. Beautiful and fun. Dutch picture book creator Dick Bruna is profiled in the first video below. In the second (more informal) video, he describes creating a particular book. Enjoy seeing the care and happiness he puts into his work. But first, get oriented on Wikipedia here. After watching the videos, see his artistic celebrity in Utrecht by visiting the Dick Bruna Huis here. Check out the website about his work here. It looks like he's having fun making books. And people around the world have been enjoying them for years.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Great or Terrible?

It's Monday, Picture Books Past. When children's books come up in the media, what aspects get talked about? Maybe sales figures of mega-hits, maybe reading and school success/failure, maybe bookstore/online/ebook futures. Here's something a bit different. It's a good old-fashioned discussion of the question: are these classic books great or terrible? It's entertaining to listen to the back and forth. Also, it's a reminder that the message in a book matters. Check it out here on the Los Angeles Times website.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Association of American Publishers

It's Book Business Friday. As picture book writers, some aspects of the publishing business are more important to us than others. But sometimes it's good to take the broad view the industry. That's why today we're taking a little look at the trade organization for publishers, the Association of American Publishers. This industry group focuses on the concerns of the companies who publish our books. They deal especially with intellectual property, technology, freedom to publish and read issues, and laws. We should take a few minutes to acquaint ourselves with the AAP through their website here. It's a business and we're in it.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Bath Time

It's Thursday--Real Kids Day. Sometimes, all it takes is a little bath water and a couple of bros to have a great time. Lots of picture books deal with sibling rivalry, but sometimes little siblings can be best friends, too. Being silly together makes for a great bond, doesn't it?

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

The Important Middle

It's Writing Wednesday. Without a plot, what have you got? (Repeat three times aloud.) Not a story, that's for sure. The result may be a good concept book, or a bad musing. Nothing beats a solid story with a beginning, middle, and end. Often, right smack in the middle of a picture book something important happens--an accident, a discovery, a loss, a storm, a wild rumpus--something important. Not every picture book is structured this way, but many are. Read some picture books and analyze the tales with this in mind. What's happening right at the midpoint of your story? Is it something that will make the child eager to keep listening?

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Fancy Illustrating

It's Illustration Tuesday. Borders has some video interviews with book people on their website. There's a great one with Jane O'Connor and Robin Preiss Glasser in which they describe how the Fancy Nancy books began and are developed now. They especially talk about the illustrations. There's been more collaboration between the two of them than is typical in the creation of a picture book. It's fun to hear about the process.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art

It's Monday, Picture Books Past. Isn't it great that since 2002 the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art has been open? There, great books of the past are celebrated and wonderful contemporary books are recognized. The mission of the museum is "to inspire, especially in children and their families, an appreciation for and an understanding of the art of the picture book." Watch the virtual tour here. And see what some of their past exhibits have been here. We can look all around the website while we're dreaming of our real trip there. It's a great way to glimpse some picture book history that's alive today.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Children's Lit Movie

It's Book Business Friday. In the book business, children's literature is often respected, but not fully respected, since, of course, it's for children. Lots of grown-ups have forgotten how wise they were when they were young. But there are people who remember, and who really love and understand children's books. Some good souls are involved in making a movie about children's literature and they're interviewing children's book folks. Check out some of the many short clips they've posted on the "Childrenslitproject" blog here. Just cruise around and watch. It's fun to hear our kind of people talk. Try a little sample below.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Early Reading

Today is Real Kids Thursday. Isn't it wonderful how a good picture book captivates a child? Girls and boys may be full of energy, or mischief, or play, but get them listening to the first couple of pages of an interesting book, and an amazing transformation takes place as they sit still, concentrate, and listen. That is, unless they are really little. Then their concentration is so intense that their little legs kick in response. Check it out in the video below, a follow up on Monday's post on Ezra Jack Keats. Watch the intensity on her face as she studies the pictures. Early exposure to books is such a gift.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Mem Fox

It's Writing Wednesday. You've got to believe in yourself and think positive. Boy, doesn't that take the cake as cliche advice? But after listening to Mem Fox, it's impossible NOT to tell yourself that. She sounds so convincingly delighted with herself and her work (in a good way... she writes great books!) that we have to believe that such a positive attitude helps make good things happen. Watch an interview here. Let's take a page from her book and give ourselves a pat on the back. Go ahead. Reach around there. Pat, pat, pat, Good job! Now, think positive and believe in yourself. It's gotta help.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Jerry Pinkney

It's Illustration Tuesday. Jerry Pinkney has been illustrating children's books for many years. He brings his African American heritage and his storytelling abilities together in the art he creates. Read his brief bio, here, in which he discusses his work, then visit his website, here. In the video below, he talks about his latest book, The Lion & the Mouse, and how he approaches the storytelling aspect of illustrating. His enjoyment of making picture books comes through clearly when he talks about the process.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Ezra Jack Keats

It's Monday, Picture Books Past. Ezra Jack Keats, born in 1916, grew up the son of poor Polish immigrants in Brooklyn during the Depression. It was apparent early on that he was a gifted artist. Eventually, he wrote and illustrated many children's books, including the Caldecott winner, The Snowy Day. For that book, he is recognized and applauded as the first American picture book creator to give an African American child the starring role in a picture book. The Ezra Jack Keats Foundation watches over his legacy. On their website, here, enjoy an excerpt from a film about him. Check out the rest of website, too, including the biographical section, "About Ezra," and all about his books.

Friday, October 9, 2009

e-Book Pirates

It's Book Business Friday. Most people are aware of the big hit the music industry has taken from illegal downloading of files. Musicians just can't sell CD's like they used to because it's so easy for people to get the songs for free. Well, there is an e-book equivalent looming large in the book business. Stay informed and read about it here. We won't let this sort of thing rain on our picture-book-creating-parade, but it does make the sky a bit cloudy, doesn't it?

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Yard Work

It's Thursday--Real Kids Day.
Many things that adults do are so boooorrring. But a few things that adults do...wonderful! Lots of young kids just love to watch and imitate yard work. Being outside and seeing noisy, exciting equipment in use is heaven to some toddlers. Unfortunately, that fascination is long gone by the time they are teenagers and safely old enough to actually mow the lawn. Then it's boooorrring. But aren't they cute when they are little? Those same kids would enjoy a picture book about their passion.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Picture Book Check List

It's Writing Wednesday. When we are writing a picture book story, it may be short, but that doesn't mean it's simple. There are lots of things to consider about the plot, character, language, etc. Isn't it nice when someone puts together a list of writing pointers to refer to? Things to consider as we start to dream up a story, or after, when we evaluate what we've written? Here's a nice reminder list from Dianne Ochiltree, on Kathleen Temean's blog. How about using it to critique our latest stories?

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

You and YouTube

It's Tuesday--Illustration Day.
One of the amazing benefits of the internet for illustrators is the cornucopia of videos available on YouTube. These can help when one is trying to create a character with life. Searching for subject matter is so easy and the variety of clips available is wonderful. To be able to see things in motion is really helpful in drawing. Writers can use it, too, especially for thinking about animal characteristics. Just look this great crab, which one commenter dubbed the "Evil Hypnocrab."

Monday, October 5, 2009

Virginia Lee Burton

It's Monday--Picture Books Past. Virginia Lee Burton was born 100 years ago this year. She wrote and illustrated seven books, the first of which, Choo Choo, was published in 1937. The second, the beloved, Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel, came out in 1939. There's a biographic DVD called, "Virginia Lee Burton: A Sense of Place" available from Weston Woods (which is part of Scholastic.) Try to find it in your public library system. Here is the website for the show. In this article, in Publisher's Weekly, read about Houghton Mifflin's effects to keep Burton's books selling decades after they were created. See some of her work here from an exhibit at the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art. And below, have fun watching a real old time steam shovel. No wonder kids still love to read about these great pieces of machinery, like Mary Anne (one of Burton's several strong female characters.)

Friday, October 2, 2009


It's Book Business Friday. Wow! Like it or not, Disney sells about 250 million children's books a year. And now they are starting a new digital service to sell reading on a subscription website: "Disney Digital Books." The e-book business is evolving and we want to stay informed. Read all about their ambitious plunge into the unfolding electronic book world here. See the new website here.

Thursday, October 1, 2009


It's Real Kids Thursday. An important form of play in childhood is pretending--pretend cooking, pretend monsters, pretend driving a truck. Very young children often play and pretend alone. Older children can build more complex scenes to act out together. They take their parts, and interact in their roles, improvising as they go. It's fun. And it may be a very important aspect of cognitive growth, too. This article here explores the possible benefits of pretending for real kids. When children are pretending, they are making up stories, just like us.