Oliver Jeffers is one of my favorite author/illustrators and it was very kind of him (or the picture book fairies) to publish “It Wasn’t Me,” the second book about his slightly Twinkie-shaped characters, the Hueys. The first episode, “The New Sweater,” (which has a more darling name overseas, “The New Jumper”) introduces the Hueys as a group of content, nearly identical, unremarkable oval characters with stick legs and arms, and what looks like either a cute cowlick or a strangely low widow’s peak. ADORABLE! What could shake up this bunch except maybe a little “differentness”.

Rupert decides to knit himself a hipster, orange sweater and all heck breaks loose. Hueys are not supposed to be individuals! His friend Gillespie doesn’t find Rupert too strange and tries on a new sweater as well (odd that the Hueys seem to be accomplished knitters although they generally parade about in pretty spare outfits) causing the rest of the Hueys to wonder if they should hop on the bandwagon as well. The humor is subtle but clever and the illustrations, though simple, have plenty of personality. So, why not write a second episode?

“It Wasn’t Me” revisits the Hueys in a slightly more evolved form. They have more colorful clothing, and a couple of them are even wearing hoodies. They’ve gotten over one hurdle, what else could go wrong? If a Huey can look different, it stands to reason, a Huey can think different. But when Hueys can’t agree, someone has to intervene and sort things out. Gillespie tries to be the peacemaker but the Hueys can’t agree on who started the argument, let alone remember what the whole thing was about.

Oliver Jeffers’ work is charming and childish in its simplicity; he understands the short attention span of most kids and their tendency to think in literal terms. The minimalist illustrations may look like “something my kid could draw” but don’t be fooled––a lot of work goes into making something look this easy; reminds me of those people who say “anyone can write a picture book.” As a picture book writer I also look at the format for ideas for the layout of a story. Both of these books are self-ended––there are no blank end pages and Jeffers uses the inside covers as more real estate to tell the stories. Tara Lazar, author of “The Monstore,” has a good description of two typical picture book layouts here: http://taralazar.com/2009/02/22/picture-book-construction-know-your-layout/

If you hadn’t heard of Oliver Jeffers until just recently, as the illustrator for “The Day the Crayons Quit,” written by Drew Daywalt, then please look into his collection of author/illustrator works for fun, artful stories.

Happy reading!

Wonder

By RJ Palacio

Review By: Carmella Battoglia

Palacio’s Wonder is a gem of a novel.  Its protagonist, August Pullman (Auggie) is a ten year old boy born with craniofacial abnormalities. It is his story of transitioning from home to school in the fifth grade.  But, it is so much more than that! It is a story that accurately portrays the lives of kids who have ever felt different.  It is the story of the pressures of fitting in at school; the difficulties of parents being able to let go; the mixed emotions of being a sibling of a boy who requires so much attention.  And above all else, it is the story of triumph and kindness. Wonder will make you laugh, cry and cheer out loud!

The beauty of the novel is that it is it is narrated by six different characters. You not only get inside Auggie’s head, but those that matter to him most. And don’t be fooled by the young protagonist. This is a book for everyone – children and adults alike. Auggie’s narration will have young readers rooting for him from the start. He’s smart, funny and in many ways an average 10 year old boy. School aged children, will recognize the dilemma’s Auggie faces. Mainly, the social pressures of having friends based on the way you look.  Jack, Auggie’s friend, admits he didn’t want to be friends with Auggie because he is “deformed”.  But, when given a chance, Jack sees beyond Auggie’s face into his big kind heart.

Kindness is the underlying them through this novel. Each month Auggie’s English teacher writes a precept by someone famous on the board at the beginning of each month. Although these precepts are meant to have the characters identify with and learn from them, the readers do as well.  The first one is by Dr. Wayne D Dyer, “When given the choice between being right or being kind, choose kind”.  “Choosing kind” runs throughout the novel. It is not the easiest choice to make, but the characters that really matter in this novel, pull through and choose it.

Of course, not everyone is kind in the novel. We go through Auggie’s entire school year with him. We feel each heartache with him. We overcome each hardship with him. We are inspired by him. Auggie wants to quit school after Halloween because he overhears his closest friend making fun of him. But, he doesn’t. He trudges on.  When the whole school starts a “war” against him, he doesn’t tattle or give up. He trudges on. When he has to face parents at public speaking events, he wants to hide, but he doesn’t. He trudges on.  We see Auggie struggle with being different in each case. Auggie shows readers that kids get it. He understands the strange stares, fake smiles and even sarcastic remarks from adults and his peers. But, he tries to see passed them and just fit in. Auggie’s resilience will make you want to jump into the book and be his friend.

Reading Wonder will forever change the way you view anything and anyone different. RJ Palacio tackles a heavy subject with tremendous heart and humor. I highly recommend this book for anyone looking for a little inspiration in their lives

Contributed and written by Melisa Kraehenbuehl

Fading Stripes is truly a whimsical tale of how one little girl can illuminate an issue and make others see it through different eyes. The author does a wonderful job of being a storyteller of a mythical tale that turns out to be nothing short of reality. Through Fading Stripes children can see what a series of events can lead to and how to change the course of history. By standing up for animals and the world we live in some of the wonderment can be preserved and protected for generations to come.
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Contributed and written by Carmella Battoglia

Last year, I entered the BookRemarks contest as an active member of the NJ CWG. I was honored that my story, No You Can’t, came in second place. The money I was awarded helped me attend the Annual NJSCBWI Conference in June.

The conference was a wonderful, yet overwhelming experience. It was a weekend packed with opportunities to grow as a children’s writer and meet plenty of authors, agents and editors. Below are some tips to help you make the most of your experience if you choose to attend the conference this June. (more…)

Ruby Lu: Star of the Show, a review by Dr. Michele Blood

Ruby Lu is a virtual fountain of charm and joie de vivre. This chapter book is perfect for the reluctant reader who seeks a touch of childlike fantasy skillfully woven into a mostly realistic plot.

Lenore Look, author of the Alvin Ho series, is a master at creating lovable characters who are also believable. She provides the perfect balance of highlighting Asian-American culture while maintaining relatability to children from any background. In addition to a main character of Asian descent, Look also features a supporting character, Flying Duck, who is hearing impaired.

Ruby’s spunk and determination are inspirational. The issues through which she and her family walk, including job loss, poverty, occupational stress, and even a touch of depression are portrayed realistically; however, the author takes great care not to overwhelm her young readers with too much detail. In addition, Look has her main character solve her own problems (or work with others to do so), rather than have adults step in to solve them on her behalf.

From lost and found dogs to well-intended counterfeiting and exceptionally bad haircuts, Ruby Lu:Star of the Show is sure to delight elementary school aged readers with its endearing characters, compelling plot line, quaint cartoon-like illustrations and clever use of humor.

Halloween is drawing near and a great pick for the season is The Legend of the Jersey Devil, a picture book by Trinka Hakes Noble (2013). Review by Sheila Wright.

Travel, if you dare, into the dark, misty swamps of the Pine Barrens, with award-winning author Trinka Hakes Noble, as she retells the legend of the Jersey Devil. With language reminiscent of the early 18th century, the story recounts a stormy night when one Mrs. Leeds, a suspected witch, gives birth to her 13th child—the Jersey Devil. The author weaves a wondrous tale of woe about colonial inhabitants of the “Pines” who are tormented by this awful creature with the head of a horse, wings of a bat, hooves of a goat, and fiery blazing eyes.


Reviewer Sheila Wright,
NJCWG Co-Founder

The author’s language is rich in description, and the artwork by Gerald Kelley completes the spooky atmosphere that keeps us on the edge of our seats. Readers can almost feel the night coolness from the fog-laden swamps and breathe the dank air of the bogs as the Jersey Devil roams the countryside preying on his victims. Though a frightening tale, the illustrations also draw upon humorous aspects of the story, which to some degree, lighten and add to the fun of reading it.

The author, a longtime New Jersey resident, writes about the Pine Barrens with the confidence of someone who knows this intriguing coastal region and its historic mysteries well. The illustrations are an excellent match to a fresh look at an old legend.

Rated on Amazon.com as being best for grades 2-5. In my own view, I would lean towards the upper end of this grade range.

David Ezra Stein

On a gorgeous autumn afternoon at the end of September, I was privileged to attend a phenomenal, free, open-air event organized by the Princeton Public Library.

The 8th Annual Children’s Book Festival was a glorious whirlwind of author presentations, book signings, and live music. The list of children’s authors and illustrators was lengthy and impressive. In addition to the picture of David Ezra Stein above, candid shots of the many other authors, illustrators and event attendees we met are available on our Facebook page.

Not only were festival goers able to meet and greet A-list children’s authors and illustrators, but they were also treated to short presentations. One presentation featured a live art demo of a 3-eared Cyclops moose, another included a surprise visit by Amelia Bedelia, and a third involved hilarious audience participation in the form of giggling children sporting animal skulls as talking “hats”! Every presentation was unique and engaging. Presentations cycled in 10-15 minute increments throughout the day-long event.

The riveting presentations were topped only by the opportunity to personally meet and chat with authors and illustrators at their individual tables. Without exception, these award-winning professionals were gracious, engaging, and kind.

My first stop in the tent area was to meet one of my personal middle grade writing heroines, the talented and prolific Ann M. Martin, award winning author and creator of the original Baby-sitters Club series. Despite a wrist injury, she signed books all day, one of which I now own (couldn’t resist!).

Trying (and probably failing) not to appear too overtly star-struck, I moved on to Lenore Look’s table, and got to chat with the creator of the Alvin Ho series.  Though her publisher didn’t get a batch of her new books to her in time for the event, there were many of her other gems from which to choose. She was personable and kind, and even shared a link with us to her website, which offers advice for up-and-coming children’s authors.

The remainder of the afternoon was filled to the brim with more of the same awesome experiences. We met several authors from right here in central NJ, including Jen Bryant and John (Bemelmans) Marciano.

It was an incredible day that I will never forget. I strongly encourage those interested in children’s writing and illustration to consider attending next year’s event. It is definitely time well-spent!

Saturday & Sunday, Nov. 9-10, 2013
NJ SCBWI Fall Craft Weekend

Princeton Theological Seminary
Stuart Hall and Mackay Campus Center
Princeton, NJ
Event kicks off at noon on Saturday and parts run through Sunday, finishing at 5 p.m.
FIVE Ways to enjoy this event!

  • PART A: Saturday Craft Afternoon
  • PART B1: Saturday evening dinner with the faculty of editor and agents
  • PART B2: Saturday night Peer Group Critique Session
  • PART C1: Sunday Writers’ Day
  • PART C2: Sunday Illustrators’ Day

Or simply throw caution to the literary wind and attend the whole darn weekend!

Featured editors/agents/art director/mentors:
Katie Bignell (editor, Katherine Tegen Books); Joanna Cardenas (editor, Viking Children’s Books); Gisueppe Castellano (art director, Penguin Group USA); Emily Feinberg (editor, Roaring Brook Press); Jennifer Laughran (agent, Andrea Brown Literary); Sean McCarthy (agent, Sheldon Fogelman); Jenna Pocius (editor, Bloomsbury USA) and Liza Voges (agent, Eden Street Literary); Tracey Baptiste (author/freelance editor); Laurie Calkhoven (author); Kristi Cook (author); Lizzie Foley (author); Bryan Langdo (illustrator/author), Tara Lazar (author); Sudipta Bardhan-Quallen (author) and Kathy Temean (illustrator/author).

Lodging Info: There are rooms available ON-CAMPUS at the Theological Seminary at great rates, as well as an opportunity for a more traditional OFF-CAMPUS hotel stay. Click this link to find out more about lodging for this event. An OFF-CAMPUS response is required before Sept. 20, 2013.

For full details, or to register, click here!

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“When I write, I am always struck at how magical and unexpected the process turns out to be.”
— Ralph Fletcher