Tuesday, November 25, 2014

writing is like a lot like architecture

Before I decided that children's books were the best thing ever, I studied architecture.  For the record, architecture is pretty great too.

The Assistant Dean was my design instructor during my freshman year at Lawrence Tech University.  It was supposed to be an easy class.  One of our first assignments was to create a poster for a fashion show.  Before we proceeded to final art, the instructor had to approve our design direction.

I adored the first idea I submitted.
My instructor sent me back to the drawing board.
I came up with another idea.  He declined it.
We repeated this again and again and again.

Soon everyone else was painting—and finishing!—their finals, but I was still sketching.

Some students produced great designs.  There were also lots of not-great designs he approved with no revisions required.  Frustrated, I went to him.  The words he said turned out to be one of the greatest lessons I've ever learned.

He said, "I decided to teach you a more important lesson."

This was not what eighteen year old me wanted to hear.

He went on, "In real life you will never get to use your first idea.  You will rarely get to use your second, third or fourth.  If you can learn to approach each rendition of a project with a good attitude and equal passion and enthusiasm…if you believe you can always produce a result better than the last, you'll go far."

At the time, I was less than flattered.  My ears were steaming.  I didn't want to learn a different lesson.  I wanted an A on this lesson.  Thankfully there was a wiser part of my brain that perked up and took good notes.

It took twenty years to have another conversation as helpful as that one was.

Lately I've been pondering how very much his advice applies to the realm of writing.  Instead of getting that easy A on the first shot, I've been relearning the value of the process.  And that you can't get to the end version without first taking the journey through the others.  And that the winding road, while sometimes torturous, is also ridiculously fun.

Friday, November 7, 2014

happy news

It's an overwhelmingly good day when your favorite agent becomes your agent.  I am happy to announce that my dear Beatrice and I are now represented by the exceedingly wonderful Stephen Barr of Writers House.

"Yes, that's exciting," said my nine year old, "but have you seen my new Pokemon card?!"

Monday, June 23, 2014


Today Raina Telgemeier's graphic novel SMILE brought back all the drama, trauma & theatrics of my own childhood tooth loss accident, and the resulting reparative work over the years.

I may have dental nightmares tonight, but I thoroughly enjoyed being taken back to days long forgotten.

Also, I highly recommend diving into the land of graphic novels if it's not something you normally do.  It's a wonderful way to experience a story and add variety to your summer reading stack. For you, and your kids.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Make sure you catch the Number Five Bus

{source and photo credit}

I love listening to Philip and Erin Stead talk about books.  Their words are thoughtful, sensitive and genuine, and always stem from a true love of the craft.  They've started a wonderful series of written conversations with fellow book people and I have thoroughly enjoyed each installment.

Head on over to numberfivebus.com to read them all.  You won't be disappointed.  Perfect weekend reading.

So far they have chatted with:
ERIC ROHMANN, author/illustrator of My Friend Rabbit and Bone Dog, illustrator of Oh, No!
CECE BELL, author/illustrator of Rabbit & Robot, and the much-anticipated graphic novel, El Deafo.
REBECCA STEAD, author of two of my favorite MG novels, When You Reach Me and Liar & Spy.
JULIE DANIELSON of Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast (7-imp).

Coming soon:  Sergio Ruzzier and Mac Barnett.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Have You Seen My Dragon?

Here is a long overdue Nolan's Pick of the Week.

My five-year-old is obsessed with numbers, maps and seek-and-find books.  HAVE YOU SEEN MY DRAGON? by Steve Light was sure to hit his sweet spot.

I am in love with the cover illustration.

It was a sad day when we had to drop it back into the library return slot.  It's now on our To-Buy Wish List.  Apparently Nolan and I aren't the only ones who dig this book.  Here's what the reviewers have to say:

Elizabeth Bird for School Library Journal
Publishers Weekly
Also, Julie Danielson did a lovely post with tons of Steve's process sketches.

Saturday, May 31, 2014

we were liars

Last month I had a big, decade-flipping birthday.  My awesome husband threw me a surprise party and wonderful friends filled my evening with laughter and lots of love.  And lots of sweet bookish gifts.  One gave me a book I'd been wanting for a long time.  Another gave me her favorite book.  And a couple of others gave me gift cards to Barnes & Noble.

Yesterday, out in the breezy sunshine on my front porch, I finished one of my gift card books.

We Were Liars by E. Lockhart.

Its mystery is a large part of its charm, so I won't give anything away.  But the writing itself is so good.  As soon as I finished it, I wanted to read it again.  So just get yourself a copy, don't read any reviews or blurbs, and plop yourself down outside for a good read.

The Mt. Dew is optional, but for better or worse, I highly recommend it.

Friday, May 16, 2014

I'm going to have to learn to share...

This afternoon I let Matthew, my eight-year-old, use Photoshop for the first time.  I'm usually psycho-protective of my computer, but he's been creating such great artwork on paper and in KidPix lately that I couldn't ignore his interest any longer.

I let him go to it on his own, with no instruction, because I was in the middle of something else.  I came back to my computer an hour later to find this.

I love that cat.

There is hardly anything more inspirational than watching kids make art.  But now I'm afraid I may have to share my Mac.

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Sparky! (aka My Current Favorite Picture Book of 2014)

This week I fell in love unexpectedly.  

With a sloth. 

His name is Sparky! and odds are,
 if you give him a chance, you'll develop a soft spot too.

Every member of my family has a different favorite page.
Which means there is a lot to love.
Topping the list:  gorgeous artwork, witty dialogue and endearing characters.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Aviary Wonders Inc.

I never know what I'm going to find at the library any given Tuesday.  When I spotted Aviary Wonders Inc. Spring Catalog and Instruction Manual, I knew immediately it was right up my second grader's alley.

And my own.

He's a bird-loving artist and I have a fondness for the wonderfully bizarre.

Source: Kate Samworth

I don't know if my eight-year-old completely digested the satirical humor, but he spent an entire afternoon crafting and drawing birds.  It became a family affair as we each selected bodies, beaks, wings and speciality items.   Anytime a book inspires creativity and rivals the Xbox for the afternoon, you know you've found a winner.  Congrats to Kate Samworth for creating this delightfully quirky debut.

Friday, April 25, 2014

Noggin by John Corey Whaley

This morning I made a special stop at Barnes & Noble, to buy myself a birthday gift.  Is there a better way to kick off a birthday weekend than starting a great book?  I think not.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

The answer is Stephan Pastis

If you're wondering what's been cracking me up lately, it's this :

And this :

And sometimes this :

You're welcome.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Because I love to hear book makers talk about books...

and I really, really like these guys, here you go:


About halfway through, they do an awesome Q&A session with the children in the audience.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

First there is brown, and you hope for a sign

I love ushering in each new season with books.

Last year I posted a {Spring Picture Book List}.  I don't know how, but I had not yet made the acquaintance of a certain wonderful springy book that definitely deserves rank near of the top of any springy booklist.  And Then It's Spring by Julie Fogliano, illustrated by the amazing Erin E. Stead.

Image source: MacMillan 

It's the absolutely perfect book to say hello to the rebirth of green.

It's a quiet, lovely book that begs to be read out loud.  On my last library visit I spontaneously read it aloud to a very accommodating friend.  (Beware if you run into me at the library, you may be subject to random read-alouds!).

I'd love to read it to each of you, but instead I'll just post the trailer and implore you to go and grab your own copy as soon as possible…while "all around there is brown, a very possible sort of brown".

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

On reality, Calvin and Hobbes, and the wisdom of an eight-year-old

We've been inhaling Calvin and Hobbes around here lately.

A few days ago, I made a confession:
Every time Hobbes is depicted as a lifeless stuffed animal, it makes me really, really sad.

My eight-year-old was baffled.  "Why?" he wanted to know.

"Because," I tried to explain, "he's not real, and Calvin is really just completely alone."





"You do know that Calvin's not real either, right?  They're just comics!"


Monday, April 7, 2014

Beware of Pothole!

This afternoon the boys and I had a little Mac Barnett reading session around the kitchen table.   We, not surprisingly if you know me, read Extra Yarn.  In my defense, it had been awhile.  Then we followed it up with Mustache!.

Source: illustrator Kevin Cornell {here}

Allow me to share one of my favorite book pages of all time.  It never fails to crack me up.  Let me set it up.  The books opens with: "King Duncan was a terrible king, but he was terribly handsome."  The billboards get me every time.  Enjoy and beware of potholes!

Source: illustrator Kevin Cornell {here}

Kudos to Mac Barnett and Kevin Cornell.  If you like to laugh (please tell me you do!), this one is a must-own.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014


My boys are tough customers these days.  Their book bar is set so high it's difficult to find anything that meets their approval.  They are in full-on Calvin and Hobbes mode, so if anything has a shot at breaking them away—it had better be funny.

Today I found a winner.

Weasels by Elys Dolan.

At first glance I knew it had great potential to catapult itself over their ridiculously-high bar.
It's about weasels on a quest for world domination.  How could it go wrong?

They smirked.  They laughed.   They pulled the book closer to investigate the illustrations.

And I celebrated my victory.
We wage weird wars around here.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Eric, the Boy who Lost His Gravity

Since discovering Red Cat, Blue Cat, I have been dying for some more Jenni Desmond in my life.

Today marks the long-awaited release of Eric, The Boy Who Lost His Gravity .  You can read about it directly from Jenni {here}.  I can't wait to get my hands on a copy.

Source: www.jennidesmond.com

If you haven't met Jenni Desmond yet, do yourself a favor and make her acquaintance. 

Source: www.jennidesmond.com

You'll be mad at yourself for not getting to know her sooner.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

insomniac's lament

Image source:
 from The Insomniacs by Katrina Wolf,
Art by The Brothers Hilts.
One of my faves.  Read my review {here}.

teeth clench the slip 
of slumber
waiting to usher me under
while flickers of films
the day kept at bay
seep under my lashes
I coax my fingers 
calm my skin
beg my brain
to walk the path
to quiet

10 | 2013

I thought I lost this poem.  It turned up tonight, a long lost friend.  Last year was the year of insomnia.  Thankfully I have remembered how to sleep again.  

Friday, February 14, 2014

Be still my heart.

Oh my.

Cue the excitement.

It seems that 2014 will bring the world a new Mac Barnett/Jon Klassen collaboration:

EXTRA YARN is my book crush of all book crushes, so I will be counting the days to hold this book in my hands.  As if Autumn didn't already have enough awesomeness.

p.s.  If anyone wants me to gush about this in advance, I'd love a copy to gush about.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

THE FAULT IN OUR STARS Official Trailer is Out!

In case you missed it, the official The Fault in our Stars movie trailer was released yesterday.  Watch and enjoy while you count down to June.

If you haven't read the book yet (gasp) and want to read about how much I love it, my original review is posted {here}.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014


I felt like a little kid watching the ALA Awards live on my phone Monday morning.  For me, book awards are much more exciting than the Oscars.  My three favorite awards each year are the Randolph Caldecott Medal (for most distinguished American picture book), the John Newberry Medal (for the most outstanding contribution to children's literature), and the Michael L. Printz Award (for excellence in literature written for young adults).

If you remember my 31 Days of Young Adult Book Reviews, you'll remember how I gushed about my crush for Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell.  These two kids, in all their achingly sweet awkwardness, stitched themselves permanently into my heart.   So I wanted to jump up & down and cheer when they announced that Eleanor & Park  was named a Printz Honor Book.

I love this John Green quote:
Eleanor & Park reminded me not just what it’s like 
to be young and in love with a girl, but also 
what it’s like to be young and in love with a book.”
—John Green, The New York Times Book Review

I am not familiar with the Michael L. Printz Award winner, Midwinterblood by Marcus Sedgwick, but I've added it to my To-Read List.  The Printz Award is my favorite go-to source for excellent books.  Former unforgettable Printz books are The Book Thief, Jellicoe Road, and Code Name Verity.  Though I haven't {yet} made the acquaintance of the other Printz Honor Books for 2014, here they are: The Kingdom of Little Wounds by Susann Cokal, Maggot Moon by Sally Gardner, and Navigating Early by Clare Vanderpool.  Perhaps I will be declaring my undying love for some of them later this year, because I will most likely introduce myself to each of them.

{Click here} to view the official list of ALA Awards.

Monday, January 27, 2014

CALDECOTT 2014: And the winner is...

Brian Floca took home the biggest honor for an illustrator this morning when his artwork for Locomotive was awarded the 2014 Caldecott Medal.  Though it wasn't my first choice, it's definitely worthy.

I was routing for Aaron Becker and his gorgeous watercolor and ink book, Journey , so I was thrilled when it was declared a Caldecott Honor Book.  Another favorite of mine, Flora and the Flamingo by Molly Idle, was also named as an Honor Book.  The great David Wiesner was also honored for Mr. Wuffles! .

Also, a little shout out to Peter Brown's Mr. Tiger Goes Wild and Jon Klassen's The Dark .  Though neither got it, I thought they both deserved some Caldecott attention.  And Erin Stead too, for If You Want to See a Whale .  There were so many great, beautiful books this year.

Tomorrow I'll talk about some of my other favorite selections from the 2014 ALA Awards.  I love celebrating great books, and the people who create them.

You can view the official ALA extensive list of winners {here}.