Tall Tales of PurplelandA hearty congratulations to CWG member Robert Peyser, whose book Tall Tales of Purpleland is now available on Amazon.

Interview by Anne Mazer

To me no man is himself; he is the sum total of his past. . .–William Faulkner

There are many reasons why I am a writer. I would say that the need to write came from the sudden death of my father when I was six and the upheaval of family and the ensuing poverty—not immediately, but certainly by my middle grade and high school years. But I ALSO became a writer because of teachers.

First there was my mean 2nd grade teacher, Miss Lampart. She wasn’t only mean, she was terrifying, somewhat like the teacher in Roald Dahl’s book Matilda. She wore spiky heels and There are lots of jangly bracelets; she had big red lips and long, red, very sharp fingernails, which she often dug into the cheeks of little second graders. At least she dug them into mine! Nearly every morning of second grade, when it was time for school, I’d tell my mother that I was sick and should stay home. Mostly, she made me go to school, but I got really good at play-acting illness and did stay home a lot. One day, Miss Lampart made me stay in at recess to write a story or poem to go along with my drawing of a rabbit. My best friend stayed in with me and encouraged me, “Hurry up and write something! Recess will be over,” she told me. I held my head and moaned, “I can’t think of anything to write,” I said. “Just write something!” she told me. So faced with my first deadline, I wrote a poem because a story was too many words. The poem turned out to be my first published piece, thanks to Miss Lampart. She was still mean, but I wouldn’t have had that wonderful feeling of accomplishment without her. So it was that ART got me into writing, and then it was MUSIC that taught me how to keep going.

I started playing the violin in fifth grade, and by sixth grade I thought I was getting pretty good. Not as good as Irene Wetzelberg the Concertmistress of the orchestra, but not bad. Then my music teacher taped me playing an etude from a Samual Applebaum book. I sounded like a screechy cat fight and wanted to end my failed career as a violinist. My music teacher wouldn’t let me. Thank you, Mr. Pierce, because I did keep practicing and I did get better! I ended up becoming the Concertmistress in high school, but if I had quit I never would have known or believed that I could do that! I learned that playing an instrument is a process, much the same way that learning to write is a process. You don’t start out writing publishable prose. At least I didn’t, but I knew that if I kept working at it I’d get better. If I’d quit the violin in sixth grade, I don’t think that I’d have become successful as a writer or have a book with my name on it. I am a writer because someone believed in my talent and wouldn’t let me quit. Believing in myself then was very very hard for me, but, now, fortunately, it’s only about every other day.

Later on there were others—my senior English teacher, Mrs. Chamberlin who submitted a poem of mine that was published, and Patricia Reilly Giff, who read an early attempt of mine and told me, “Oh, you are a writer!” Of course, I believed her and kept writing and writing and writing for ten more years before my first book contract came for Annie’s Choice.

Today I write historical fiction. I love to read history and to research, but what I really love are people. Not just people living now, but people who were alive before I was born. I want to know what they wore, what they did from jobs to favorite pastimes, how their lives were like mine and how they differed. I’ve been told that what I write isn’t really historical fiction because I don’t connect my stories to famous people or important historical events like war, for example. But what is more important than people in everyday life going about their business and creating the real fabric of our society? They are the people I want to capture, the people I want to put in my books.

“This Is Not My Hat” is a very simple book. The characters are a big fish, a small fish, a lobster, a hat and a very thick bed of seaweed.

The small fish takes the big fish’s hat while he is sleeping and swims away with it. The small fish thinks he will be able to keep the hat and the big fish will not notice it is missing.

When the big fish wakes up and notices his hat is gone, the chase begins. The small fish passes a lobster on a rock and heads towards a thick bed of seaweed where he could hide.

The big fish swims the same path as the small fish, passes the lobster (the lobster points to where the small fish went) and swims into the seaweed. The big fish comes out of the seaweed with his hat.

Most of the chase is pictures. No words are needed to see where the fish are going. Only the small fish has a speaking part and the reader will be able to tell what the big fish and lobster are doing by their actions.

I enjoyed this book very much because of its simple pictures and how a picture can explain what is going on without any words.

The first Chautauqua East launched this past week at Highlights in the Poconos! I was fortunate to have attended, and you are invited to return online in July to read my full account of the best writer’s event that I have ever experienced!

See you in July!

Sheila Wright
President/Cofounder
The Children’s Writer’s Guild

The Invisible Boy
Written by Trudy Ludwig
Illustrated by Patrice Barton

The Invisible Boy by Trudy Ludwig and illustrated by Patrice Barton brings a new perspective on acceptance. What makes this story stand out is that acceptance is also necessary for the individual who has a quieter presence amongst a group. Brian, the boy who is hardly noticed, is depicted with meaningful illustrations that captivates the importance of acceptance to young readers. While most of the pictures are in color, Brian is illustrated in black and white since he goes unseen and is excluded by his classmates. The story continues to show how much Brian goes through the school day and is completely unnoticed. When a new student comes to school, Brian realizes that maybe being new and different is harder than being “invisible”. The Invisible Boy is an eloquent story to teach all readers, young and old, how one person can make a difference with finding acceptance for others and oneself.

For our inaugural edition of the Kids on Kids’ Books blog series, Gabe T. has kindly and expertly reviewed the award-winning Tale of Despereaux by Kate DiCamillo. Nine-year old Gabe lives with his mother and father in California. He enjoys field trips, creating great music on piano and violin, playing tennis, hanging out with friends and family, and spending time with his awesome pets. He read the whole book in just three days! A big thank you from CWG for your review and your enthusiasm.

And without further ado, we give you Gabe’s response to the DiCamillo’s Tale of Despereaux.

The Tale of Despereaux was written from the points of view of four characters – Despereaux, Princess Pea, Roscuro and Miggey Sow. The best saying in the book was when Gregory the old jailer told Despereaux that stories are light and that light is precious in a world so dark. The Tale of Despereaux was a good book because it had realistic characters, a cool castle, knights with swords and an interesting plot.

The character Despereaux is a mouse. He can talk which was not realistic. But what was realistic was the way Despereaux’s heart hurt, when, the Mouse Council and even his dad cast him out. That’s why the character of Despereaux was realistic because everyone has a heart, even animals. Princess Pea was realistic because even though she did not like it that Miggery Sow and Roscuro threatened her, she still had empathy for them. She was kind to people and animals. Roscuro was realistic because he had a good side and a bad side. Miggery Sow was realistic because even though she was poor and had no family she still had hopes and dreams.

The castle was cool because it had an upper area where all of the royalty, knights and servants lived. It had a throne room and a banquet hall with a long table where everyone would eat soup, until it was outlawed. Behind the castle walls lived the mouse community. The castle also had a deep, deep dungeon. Hardly anyone ever came back from there. There was a place called Ratville in the dungeon where Roscuro and the other rats lived.

In the book there were lots of knights. Knights chased Roscuro the rat when he fell in the Queen’s soup and she was so scared she died. Also when Despereaux was visiting the princess they would read books about knights and talk about them. Despereaux dreamed about a knight once who was swinging a sword and took off his armor but there was nothing inside.

The plot was interesting because it was about the people, mice, and rats living in the land of Gor. In the land of Gor there was a Queen who loved soup but a rat named Roscuro fell in her soup and caused her to die of fright. After that soup was outlawed along with rats, until the brave mouse Despereaux and the kind princess saved the day. It’s an interesting plot, right? See why I think it’s a good book?!

As children’s writers, most of us have asked ourselves this question time and time again when developing new story ideas:

Sure, I like it, but will kids like it?

You can read countless books on the craft of children’s writing, pour over all the blogs, or even take courses  to help you answer this question.

Or. . . you can take a more direct approach.

Our “Kids on Kids’ Books” blog series is designed to capture kids’ raw, real, relevant responses to some of today’s best children’s and young adult literature. In some cases, the posts will be in the format of a book report/review composed by the child him or herself. In other cases, the format may be interview style, with a CWG member’s perspective along side. We may even feature a bit of kid-created artwork related to the featured book, as well.

We hope you enjoy this new blog feature series and welcome your feedback.

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.
(more…)

Next Page »

“The golden rule of writing is to write what you care about.”
— Jerry Spinelli