Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Book Review: The Tiny Caterpillar and the Great Big Tree, by Kelly Moran

This review is written by guest reviewer Karen Cioffi.

Title: The Tiny Caterpillar and the Great Big Tree
Author: Kelly Moran
Illustrator: Lyn Lorbeske
Publisher: Lulu.com
Genre: Children's Picture Book

The Tiny Caterpillar is a wonderfully illustrated and written book. The tiny caterpillar lives in a big tree; the tree is also his friend. One day the caterpillar leaves his to explore the world around him. He is saddened when the insects he meets won't be his friend. The tiny caterpillar goes back to his friend the tree, and finds comfort. Each insect has its own reason for at first dismissing the tiny caterpillar, but when the caterpillar wrapped itself in a cocoon and emerged a butterfly, he wins over the friendship of the insects.

The Tiny Caterpillar provides an important message about the differences between us all. I read The Tiny Caterpillar to my 3-year-old grandson and he enjoyed it. He listened attentively and was concerned about the tiny caterpillar. He also enjoyed the illustrations. This is the reaction an author wants from a young child.

As I mentioned, it is a wonderful young children's book, but I did find one drawback to it. The message it is sending may be construed differently than what the author intended. When the caterpillar ventured out in search of new things and friends, the insects he met all found fault with him because he didn't meet their criteria for a friend. The first insect he came to, a ladybug, told him they couldn't be friends because he didn't have spots and couldn't fly. Next, he met the spider. The spider told him he lacked the ability to spin a web. Then, came the ant. The ant felt the caterpillar wasn't strong enough. The only way the caterpillar was able to meet their criteria for friendship was to become a butterfly. This changed the caterpillar's appearance and physical attributes, thus the drawback.

Although the book is engaging and charming, showing children that the only way for the caterpillar to gain the friendship of the insects was to become something else, something stronger and more attractive, may not be the message we want to convey to children. It is important for children to know that they will be accepted and liked for who they are; they don't have to become psychically different to be liked and accepted. Although, the caterpillar was surprised by his metamorphosis (he didn't intentionally change), it still shows a need for change to be accepted. But, you should read it for yourself to determine if I am off base. Aside from this one drawback, it is a delightful book.

About the author: Kelly Moran is an author of several published books in romance, literature, and children's genres, a recipient of an Editor's Choice Award for Outstanding Achievement, inducted into the Who's Who Book of Americans, a Finalist in the 2009 Indie Excellence Book Awards, and a Finalist in the 2008 Best Books Awards. She resides in Milwaukee, WI with her husband, twin sons, and black lab.

About the illustrator: Lynn Lorbeske is a native of Milwaukee, WI. She obtained a Graphic Design degree from UWM and works as a full time veterinarian's assistant.

About the reviewer: Karen Cioffi is a freelance writer; a reviewer for BookPleasures.com; and a co-moderator of a children's critique group. She is also the co-author of Day's End Lullaby, a lyrical and rhyming children's bedtime picture book.

Her blogsite, Karen and Robyn - Writing for Children, at http://karenandrobyn.blogspot.com, offers two FREE ebooks on writing for children (A Children's Writer's Checklist, and Dealing With Writer's Stress). It also offers writing and marketing articles, as well as book reviews. In addition to this, it is a hosting site for VBT - Writers on the Move (a group of authors who cross-promote using a number of marketing strategies).

Karen is also on the team of DKV Writing 4 U at .com. If you're interested in writing for children, check out our Learn to Write page at: http://dkvwriting4u.com/learn-to-write/

DKV Writing 4 U also offers a number of affordable and professional writing services.


Saturday, October 24, 2009

"How to Write a Book That Children Will Love - And Children's Book Publishers Will Love Too," by Laura Backes

I recently opened up my email to find this message: "Can I get published as a children's book author if I'm not a good writer?" I was taken aback at first, but the more I thought about it, the more I appreciated the question. The sender knows her limitations, but dreams of getting published anyway. She's not suffering under the delusion that she's the next Dr. Seuss, and I admire that. She's going to look at her work with a critical eye, and search for ways to make it better. This is assuming that it's possible to learn to write well. I believe that it is.

Very few writers have the innate ability to create vibrant, relevant, compelling stories right out of the gate. Most have to work at it. And those who see writing as a skill that is never quite mastered, requiring a lifelong devotion to the learning process, will be most successful. Where this gets tricky is that unlike other skills -- such as baking a cake -- there is no foolproof way to learn how to write. So while I can't give you a one-size-fits-all method, I can give you some ideas on how you can find the path that works best for you.

Read, read, read. Why are editors always telling aspiring authors to read piles of children's books? Because they give you a concrete representation of what works. Be sure you read good books (check reviews or ask a librarian or teacher for recommendations). By simply reading, you'll learn about the ebb and flow of a story, how a character is introduced and developed, the types of conflicts appropriate for each age group, how to build tension in scenes and chapters, the relation of sub-plots to the main storyline, how dialogue moves the plot along, and much more. You'll experience firsthand how a skilled author uses sensory images to immerse the reader completely in the story. By comparing several authors writing for the same age group, you'll hear different literary voices.

I suggest reading books like those you wish to write, as well as books one level younger and one level older. So, if your goal is to write a middle grade mystery for ages 8-12, also read mysteries for ages 7-10 and 10-14. In this way, you'll become educated about precisely what makes up a middle grade novel and how it's different from fiction for older and younger readers. You might even learn that your story isn't really for middle grades after all.

Another reason for reading a lot of quality books is that you need a yardstick against which to judge your own work. You'll learn which "rules" can't be broken and those that have more wiggle room. For example, you'll be hardpressed to find a 60-page picture book in the stores, even by a wellknown author. If you picture book's that long, you'll have no choice but to rethink the story and fit it into 32 pages. However, you can experiment with unconventional characters and unexpected viewpoints. And the older the reader, the fewer rules apply. But no matter what you do with your plot, characters or writing style, make sure you know why you're doing it. Don't write the story in present tense unless it needs to unfold in real time for the reader. Don't incorporate flashbacks unless they're vital for understanding what's going on in the story now.

Find a system that works for you. The first step toward learning how to write a book that engages readers is figuring out how you learn the best. Some authors I know are very left-brained; they love charts and graphs and lists. They thrive on tracking their scenes and plotting out their book on every level before they start to write. Those left-brainers will analyze published books and count the words per page, note which scene contains the plot's catalyst, chart out where the tension rises and falls in each chapter. Others prefer to learn more intuitively. They read books, absorb the different writing styles, and maybe jot down a few notes with overall impressions or key points they want to remember. They have a general idea of where their own story is going, and aren't afraid to experiment and take detours along the way.

If you don't know where you fall on the spectrum, try different approaches and see what feels right. Remember that there is no one way of doing this, and every method has its pros and cons. Plotting out your story beforehand can prevent you from wandering off track, but the lists can become an evasive technique to keep you from actually writing the book. Letting the words spill onto the page with no grand plan feels very creative, but usually results in huge first drafts that have to be significantly trimmed and shaped. If you write long enough you'll discover your weaknesses and devise ways to work around them. Maybe you outline first, then put it away while you write your first draft. Maybe you lay out your scenes on a plotline after each chapter, then revise as needed before moving on to the next chapter. If your dialogue tends to wander in circles before coming to the point, you'll learn to get it on paper and then tighten it in the second draft.

Recognize your strengths. Some authors are brilliant nonfiction writers but can't sell a fiction story. Others write wonderful picture books but are overwhelmed by all the layers to a novel. Instead of trying to force a style that isn't you, start with what you're naturally good at. You don't have to publish fiction to be a successful author. You may dream of writing picture books, but if you have a knack for relating to teenagers, maybe young adult novels are your future.

Discovering your strengths involves experimenting with several writing styles and age groups. If you don't know where to start, think about the kinds of children's books you most like to read. Then play around with writing dialogue or scenes for the same age group. If you're naturally drawn to nonfiction, make a list of topics that excite you. Start by writing about one of the subjects in the style of some of your favorite children's magazines.

Practice. Over the years I've worked with writers who have gotten published through sheer force of will. They've gone over manuscripts again and again, taking them from mediocre to polished. They've put aside ideas that simply didn't work and turned to something new. And they never submitted the first or second draft to an editor, because those manuscripts could always be improved. They weren't very good writers when they began, but they learned. And you can too.

And my #1 tip? Learn how to become a successful children's book author by hanging with the Fightin' Bookworms at http://cbiclubhouse.com Whether is writing picture books, chapter books, young adult novels, finding children's book publishers -- or anything else -- you'll find all the answers at the CBI Clubhouse!

Laura Backes - EzineArticles Expert Author

Monday, October 19, 2009

This Week's Guests on Book Bites for Kids

Book Bites For Kids is an internet radio show hosted by children's author and writing coach Suzanne Lieurance.

Here's this week's schedule:

The Children's Writers' Coaching Club brings you Book Bites for Kids every weekday afternoon at 2:00 central time on blogtalkradio.

Listen to the show at www.blogtalkradio.com/bookbitesforkids.

Monday's guest is PJ Hoover
Author of The Navel of The World
Navel of the World

Tuesday's Guest is Michael J Dowling
Author of Boosting Your Pet's Self Esteem
Boosting Your Pet's Self Esteem

Wednesday is Promo Day on Book Bites for Kids
Call in to Promote your
own children's book or other writing event at

Thursday's guest is Harriettt Ruderman
Author of The Laceyville Monkeys
The Laceyville Monkeys

Friday's guest is Jennifer Swanson
Author of Penny and Rio
Penny and Rio

Be a Guest on Book Bites for Kids:If you're a published children's book author and you'd like to be a guest on Book Bites for Kids, send an email to Tyler, program director, at: bookbitesforkids@yahoo.com


Thursday, October 15, 2009

"As You Write Your Children's Book, Consider 'The Slow Reveal'", by Laura Backes

Eighteen months ago, I took up karate. It's a great workout, but the biggest reason I train is I want to be a formidable senior citizen. If someone tries to nab my purse or deny my senior discount at Denny's, I'll be able to answer with a quick roundhouse kick to the solar plexus. By laying the foundation now, I'll be a badass when I'm 65.

But the coolest thing about taking up karate when you're a woman in her mid-40's is that people don't automatically expect it. If you're just a casual acquaintance, you won't know I'm working toward my black belt. And by the time I'm collecting Social Security, the possibility won't even cross your mind. Unless you try to steal my purse.

In life most people become more complex as we get to know them. This should also be true for characters in children's books. At a conference recently, Lyron Bennett, editor for Sourcebooks Jabberwocky, called it "the slow reveal". It means giving your characters enough varied qualities that some can be withheld until called for in the plot.

The slow reveal is especially important when writing a series. If J.K. Rowling had allowed Harry Potter to reach his full power as a wizard in Book 1, would fans have waited nine years and six more books to learn if he finally defeated you-know-who? But equally important is planting the seeds early on for who you want your character to become. From the start, readers saw Harry's potential, and Rowling allowed greatness to surface in Harry when it was least expected. Those qualities grew along with Harry as the series unfolded.

You don't want to give away everything at once in stand-alone books either. Picture books and easy readers, with their lower word counts and straightforward plots, do best with characters who have one or two surprises up their sleeve. In Peggy Parish's classic easy reader Amelia Bedelia, the child sees that Amelia is doing a bad job on her first day as a housekeeper because she doesn't understand the list her employer left her. But even before Amelia starts on the list, she whips up a lemon merengue pie. What the reader doesn't know is that Amelia makes the best pies anywhere, which eventually saves her job at the end of the book.

Parceling out your protagonist's strengths and weaknesses keeps the tension taut in a novel. In Gary Paulsen's beloved Hatchet (ages 11-14), Brian, a city kid, is stranded in the Canadian wilderness after the his bush plane crashes, killing the pilot. Neither Brian nor the reader know if he's got what it takes to survive on his own. Can he figure out how to start a fire? Yes, quite by accident. Can he fish? Eventually. Kill and cook a bird? How about survive a moose attack or weather a tornado? Brian evolves from reacting to his predicament and stumbling upon solutions to carefully taking control of his situation. But nothing Brian does is out of character. Though he must teach himself to live in the wild, he draws upon bits of information he learned from watching television or at school, and reserves of strength that were in him all along.

Even if you're writing a single title, make your children's book characters complex enough to live for several books, just in case. Fans loved Brian so much that Paulsen was persuaded to use the character in several other wilderness adventures. Picture book series (such as Mo Willem's Pigeon books) or easy reader series like Amelia Bedelia generally grow because the protagonist's quirks are open-ended and funny enough that readers don't mind exploring them over and over in different circumstances.

The slow reveal works particularly well in mysteries. In this genre, the readers gradually get to know the victim (perhaps an honor student who is discovered to be running an Internet business selling test answers), and the villain (who may seem like a good guy at the beginning of the book). Or, how about a first person narrator in any genre who appears normal and likable early on, but becomes more unreliable as the story unfolds? Read Robert Cormier's timeless young adult I Am the Cheese for a masterful example of a shifting first person reality. If you prefer a broader perspective, try Avi's Nothing But the Truth: A Documentary Novel for ages 11-14, which looks at one incident from several viewpoints, gradually separating fact from fiction. So when you first breath life into your characters, don't stop too soon. Add layers that can be exposed later on. These surprises will keep readers enthralled, whether you're writing about a boy wizard, a demanding pigeon, or a ninja grandma.

Laura Backes is the publisher of Children's Book Insider, the Newsletter for Children's Writers. For more information about how to write children's books, including free articles, market tips, insider secrets and much more, visit Children's Book Insider's home on the web at http://write4kids.com and the CBI Clubhouse at http://cbiclubhouse.com

Laura Backes - EzineArticles Expert Author

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Children's Dog Books and Reviews

Charlotte Mielziner is a mom, writer, speaker, dog trainer and member of The Society of Childrens Book Writers and Illustrators. She's also a premier writer at Helium and Animal Behavior College. The dog world knows her more as an AKC Rally judge, certified in canine behavior from Purdue University and creator of the Safety Sam dog bite prevention program. She's keeps a blog, Children's Dog Books and Reviews.

Thanks for the interview, Charlotte. Tell us a little about yourself and your blog. What made you decide to start Children's Dog Books and Reviews?

When I ran a search, there were potloads of book review blogs and some by moms, but none reviewing dog books from the aspect of a mom who also knows and trains dogs. It sounded like a good niche.

I’ve worked with animals for most of my life, both exotic and domestic and studied canine behavior on my own and at the college level. It is one of my pet peeves that kids today learn more about dinosaurs than the companion animals that can actually share and enrich their lives. A dog’s social construct so beautifully fits into our family unit like hand in glove. More and more dogs are one of the last connections to nature with which some kids interact.

So many of us grew up in with Lassie, Rin TinTin, Benjie, even Scoobie Doo that people today ascribe human characteristics to dog behavior. It has been the source of a lot of ignorance and even abuse. In the dog world, we even have a name for it, The Disney Dilemma, coined by Jean Donaldson in her wonderful book, The Culture Clash. I highly recommend it.

I see you're a member of The Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators. Have you published any books?

SCBWI has taught me so much. I’m shopping around a series of children’s dog books about dogs with various real world jobs, such as therapy dogs, search and rescue. I wrote a book on dog bite prevention that was published only to Visiting Nurses, I’m rewriting it for a larger audience. I used to be a contributor to a couple of newspapers and the editor of a nationally distributed credit management newsletter. I’m a premier writer on Helium.com and love doing that. So far, no traditionally published works, but I’m hopeful. My manuscripts have definitely improved.

Several of the books I’ve reviewed have been self or small press published. Some of them have been very well done; on a par with the big houses. With the publishing world changing so rapidly, self publishing may be an alternative, but it must be a quality production.

How may writers contact you for a review? Do you also review ebooks?

Writers of dog themed children’s books are quite welcome to contact me through the blog at www.childrensdogbooks.blogspot.com. I don’t mind in the least if an author sends me an ebook over a hard copy. Let’s save the trees. I like how ebooks are evolving, but there is something special about cuddling up with a child in your lap and turning pages. It’s good for the reader and the listener.


Sunday, October 4, 2009

Read an interview with Patches, Beverly McClure's cat

Hi all,

My golden retriever just interviewed Beverly McClure's cat. Here's a preview!

Hello, woof, my faithful readers! Today I'd like to introduce you to Patches, owner of young adult author Beverly McClure. Beverly is a super nice lady (or so my mom keeps saying) and the author of many young adult novels published by Twilight Times Books and 4RV Publishing. Check out her website and her blog!

Hey Patches, how you doing, Man?

I’m trying to stay out of trouble, but it isn’t easy.

That sounds like the story of my life. Anyway, thanks for stopping by! Woof! Here are some questions for you, dude.

Meow! Goodie! I like to talk.

Who is Patches, the Cat?

I don’t know my exact birthday, but I’m about three years old, according to the vet. I’m a calico, and I guess my former owners decided they didn’t want me. One day I found myself in the country, no home, nobody to love me, nothing to eat. That’s when I learned to keep trying. This pretty white house had a patio with lots of insects flying around the floodlights. I’m a great jumper, so I sprang up and caught a moth. It took several to fill my empty stomach. Then Beverly saw me. It was love at first sight, at least for me. She brought me in the house and fed me chicken from a can. I’ve been her cat ever since.

So what's it like living with Beverly?

She’s easy to live with. She gives me yummy food and makes sure my water dish is full. I snuggle beside her at night, and she doesn’t roll over and crush me. When I tell her I want to go outside, she opens the door for me. She has her moments, though, like when I sharpen my toenails on her furniture. Then she fusses at me. She bought a couple of scratching posts, she calls them, for me to use. But they aren’t as good as the chair. She also moves me when I try to type on her computer. How’s a cat to write a story, without a keyboard? I can’t hold a pencil in my paw to write on a yellow tablet.

She looks so sweet in the photo. Is she as harmless as she looks?

Looking over my shoulder to see where she is. No Beverly in sight. Good. This is just between you and me, Amigo. Yup, she is harmless, except when she’s working on a story, which is most of each morning. If I want to take a nap in her lap then, she says I distract her and tells me to sleep on the sofa. I pout a little, but being the understanding cat that I am, I do what she says.

I'm not as understanding, I admit. I sulk BIG TIME. I hear Beverly writes stories for young adults--that's teenagers, right? How does she know what teenagers want to read?

I think she’s never grown up. Inside she’s still a teenager and likes to relive those years through her characters. Kids today have some of the same problems kids years ago had. (No, I’m not telling you how many years ago; Beverly has sworn me to secrecy.) Another reason she knows a little about teenagers (no one knows everything about teens, not even teens themselves) is because she has three sons who were once teenagers and gets ideas from things they did.

Of all of Beverly's books, which one is your favorite? Are you in any of them?

I like Rebel in Blue Jeans best, because of the animals in it. No, she hasn’t included me in any of her books, and I don’t understand why. I’m loyal, loveable, and pretty. But do you know what kind of cat she put in Rebel? A Siamese. Do you believe it? A Siamese. Beverly claims she wrote the story before she met me, or she’d have put me in, and she can’t change it now. I still think I’d be a more interesting character.

I heard those Siamese are really infantile, always begging for affection. Anyway, tell us about Beverly's latest novel. How long did it take her to write it?

She has two novels coming out this fall/winter: Caves, Cannons and Crinolines and Just Breeze. She told me from start—getting the idea and doing the research for Caves—to finish took about four years. At the same time she worked on that one, she wrote Breeze, in about three years.

Read the rest of the interview on Pets and Their Authors! www.tips-fb.com

Friday, October 2, 2009

Interview with Children's Author Janet Ann Collins

Janet Ann Collins used to write feature articles for a San Francisco Bay Area newspaper and her work has appeared in many other publications. She worked in the dormitories at California School for the Deaf for many years and raised three deaf foster sons with special needs in addition to a birth daughter. She is a retired teacher and enjoys public speaking. Since retiring, Collins and her husband moved to the foothills of the Sierra Nevada Mountains in Northern California, but often go back to the San Francisco Bay Area to visit family, including their grandson. Her first novel has just been released by Guardian Angel Publishing.

Tell us about your recent middle-grade novel, The Peril of the Sinister Scientist. What was your inspiration for it?

The Peril of the Sinister Scientist is about a boy who thinks he was cloned from the blood on the Shroud of Turin because a scientist who had worked on that experiment is stalking him. It’s a fiction book for kids from eight to thirteen years old.

The “What Would Jesus Do” movement made me think about how Jesus would act in Middle School back when I was a substitute teacher there, but I didn’t realize it was a plot idea until years later.

Probably my experiences working with people who have special needs led to the development of a character who uses a wheel chair. She just sort of popped into the story and turned out to be important to the plot.

Have you written other children's books?

Besides this one I have a picture book under contract that will be published in October. It’s about Nicholas, who discovers the adventure of secret giving and eventually becomes known as Santa Claus, and is loosely based on legends about Saint Nicholas. I signed the contract for that one before the stock market crash but I’m hoping it will help kids whose parents can’t afford expensive gifts this year to enjoy Christmas by inspiring them to help others secretly.

Did you always want to be a writer?

The summer before my seventh birthday my father died of polio. I was already reading at fifth grade level and escaped into the world of books as a way to deal with my grief. Ever since I’ve wanted to write fiction books for kids to help repay the solace, inspiration, and enjoyment books gave me. I used to write feature articles for a newspaper and have had things published in lots of other periodicals but The Peril of the Sinister Scientist is my first fiction book for kids. Having it published is a dream come true.