Tuesday, January 29, 2008

To Catch a Mermaid

To Catch a Mermaid 

To Catch a Mermaid by Suzanne Selfors, illustrated by Catia Chien, 2007

In an instant, Boom and his sister Mertyle lost their mother when a twister touched down in their front yard and swept her away. No trace of her was ever found causing their father to quit work and retreat to the attic in fear of the tornado's return.

Mertyle is certain that her mother will return so she stays home from school every day to wait for her. The family is barely functioning. Short on funds, Boom brings home a bucket of seafood rejects for their for dinner. Beneath the seaweed and fish, he and Mertyle find a merbaby and, soon, a world of trouble when Mertlye is stricken with a mysterious illness. Catia Chien's humorous illustrations underline that this merbaby is not the Garth Williams cherub from my childhood storybook nor is it a Disney baby Ariel. Rather, it is a growling, stinky, burping, razor-fanged creature that is a danger in many ways.

This is a light-hearted, middle grade reader but below the fantasy the story addresses the painful loss of a parent. Boom is a character to admire as he pushes forward when others in his family are paralyzed by their loss. I give Selfors great credit for the direction of the story. She surprised me with the ending which made the story richer and more meaningful.

All in all, a fun and very satisfying read.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Author: Katherine Paterson

Katherine Paterson will be speaking locally on February 24, 2008 at 3 pm as part of the COOL BRAINS! Inprint Readings for Young People series.

Admission is free!

I didn't hear her talk at TLA a few years ago but the folks who came out of that session were dabbing their eyes and mumbling things like, "most inspiring thing I've ever heard."

Saturday, January 26, 2008

School Visits

How does an author get the word out about their work?

Book signings at bookstores can be tough. Rick Riordan's account of some of his bookstore signings is a good reminder of how difficult and painful it can be to get books on the reading public's radar. I know his experiences are not unique.

Riordan's post reminded me of the story a parent told me about her family making a quick visit to a Books-a-Million, on a week-night, years ago. There was an author there selling his book. She said he was young and sitting pitifully alone in the less than crowded bookstore.

One of her daughters struck up a conversation with him while the rest of the family surfed the bookstore. As they got ready to leave, the daughter asked her mom to pu-leeze buy the guy's book. Feeling a bit cornered, but also like it was the least she could do, she agreed to buy a copy.

The young author turned out to be a guy named Christopher Paolini and for months afterward I was repeatedly asked,

"Mrs.P, have you read Eragon?

Aragorn like LOTR?

"No, ERAGON. It is sooooo... good."

Never heard of it.

In my defense this was when the book was still being self-published

BookMoot's Advice on School Visits

School visits are yet another way for authors to publicize their books. I have enjoyed the opportunity to host and participate in many school visits with wonderful writers and illustrators.

School visits are NOT for the faint of heart. Veterans of the school visit circuit have good advice to offer on the subject. Kelly Milner Haas has collected a page of pointers from authors that is well worth your attention if you are interested in advice from the writer's point of view. I have my own theories on what makes a successful visit so I offer these as you embark on this odyssey.

  • You have to develop a spine of steel and sang-froid. Kids can be a tough of audience and they can smell fear. This will come with experience though so, if your knees are knocking at first that is ok. You will get more comfortable as you gain experience.
  • You will be "Raptor-ed." So you will need a driver's license or other official ID with you.

  • You cannot smoke on campus.

  • If they forget to tell you, ask where the bathrooms are located.

  • Keep your presentation to approximately 30 minutes. It will naturally go longer if necessary.
  • You cannot assume the teachers and / or librarians will be in control of the kids. Most of my faculty were VERY conscientious about monitoring their student's behavior but it never fails that the one kid I need to make SERIOUS eye contact with will be in the middle of a sea of faces and I cannot reach him/her.

    can ask a kid to "cool it."

  • If you have 'question-answer' time just know that a sea of hands will launch skyward the moment you announce it.

    As you take the questions, it is ok, in fact I will bless you, if YOU tell the kids to put their hands down while you answer.

    Kids need to be told to lower their hands. Besides hoping to be picked for the next question, they honestly also forget that their hands are hanging in the air like laundry on a clothesline.

    It is part of audience etiquette to listen politely to answers to questions. This is a skill that needs to be taught to grown ups as well as children.

  • You WILL be asked "where do you get your ideas from" and "how much money do you make?" I always threatened warned my kids against asking these questions but you just never know. Have an answer ready.

  • Watch the librarian for cues on which kids to pick. They have good instincts about who will ask an interesting question or which child needs the "face time" and recognition from you for other reasons.

  • You will be asked questions like "I have a puppy" or "my brother threw-up last night."

    I know...
    These aren't questions.

  • Don't start signing autographs at the end of your presentations. You will be crushed in on onslaught of humanity as kids shove hands, arms, and stinky shoes at you to sign. Their teachers will valiantly try to restore order but it may be too late for you. The librarian can create a page of bookmarks for you to sign and they can be copied for everyone.

  • Have a good time. There is nothing like the energy and wave of enthusiasm that hits you when young readers are hanging on your every word.

Tell me a story.

So now, the ponder, what to talk about or do during this presentation. Authors have a gift. Their words move us, thrill us, take us away to other worlds or times and let us walk, for a time in another character's life and footsteps.

Now, sometimes writers can share this gift with their readers face to face and sometimes they cannot. All authors have unique styles and presentations. I've decided that the most engaging and interesting presentations occur when a writer is able to do, in front of an audience, what they do so well on the page--tell stories.

This does not mean you have to join a storyteller's guild although it wouldn't hurt to read up on their tips. Do practice your stories so you will get better. You will also learn timing and where the "gasp" moments or laugh lines are the more you tell in front of an audience.

The stories you share don't have to be out of the storytellers handbook.

  • Jonathan Stroud told the "story" of how he come up with the character of Nathaniel in his Bartimaeus trilogy. He drew the character on an oversize pad, adding items to Nathaniel as the audience added their input. He admitted that he really only began "drawing" in order to add to his presentation but it was an effective story telling technique and kept the audience focused.

  • Eric Kimmel tells folktales from his rich repetoire of books. He plays the banjo too.

  • Susan Stevens Crummel tells the story of her family with anecdotes and pictures. Her "embellishment" of sister Janet Steven's photo resonates with every child (and adult) in the audience. If she just did a this-is-my-family or this-is-where-I-live slide show it would fall flat. It is the stories about her family members that make it so much fun.

  • Brian Jacques knows his audience, connecting with rollicking tales for all ages. He saved the story of his early experience as a youthful member of the Merchant Marine for the "grown-ups" at the librarian's conference. He was serving with older uncles who would not let him off the ship to see the "naughty ladies."

It is ok to be a little gross.

A little mayhem goes a long way with a youthful audience (as does the word...underpants.)

  • K.M. (Katie) Grant shares the amazing story of her Uncle Frank, the last Jacobite beheaded in England for helping Bonnie Prince Charlie. She had us at "beheaded."

  • Eoin Colfer told a tale of his first experience with flight which involved a bike, a ramp and a desire to set a world record which ended up "in hospital." His hilarious description of an arm, broken in two places is not for the squeamish. You can meld hilarious with squeamish.

  • In the mayhem department, and in a league of his own, there is the sublime Jack Gantos. His stories of growing up with neighbors like the Pagoda family or how he acquired the cat that would be later known as Rotten Ralph may cause problems for you as you try to breathe, cry and laugh simultaneously.

Do not instruct.

1. Generally, kids know how a manuscript becomes a book.
They've been there, done that.
What was something exciting, horrible, difficult that happened during the process?

2. Students have been taught how to use a library or how to do research . Share something interesting that happened or that surprised you while you did your research.

3. Talking about the revision process is interesting IF you can relate your challenges with their writing. It helps if the kids can see a manuscript page bleeding with corrections and suggestions. Have a visual (slide or overhead) that all kids can see easily. If you are lucky you will be presenting in the school library but be prepared for a gymnasium-sized venue. Do you have a funny nickname for your editor like Crummel does?

4. Writers of historical fiction sometimes share artifacts or facts from the time period they write about. That is interesting but share some true stories from that time too. Something drew you to writing about that event or time period, what was it?

Participation is a plus

  • Susan Stevens Crummel (who was a teacher) asks a student to be in charge of her slide show. I was amazed how she instinctively picked a child who needed to bask in that responsibility.

    She also involves the children in a reenactment of her stories. She finds the best participants for key roles by asking the kids "who is the funniest person in your class?" It never fails that all hands point in the same direction. By putting that child on-stage you are helping them, eliminating a distraction in the audience and making a wonderful memory for everyone watching. Kids like watching their classmates perform and they really do know who is the funniest person.

  • Illustrator Michael Dooling gives kids an opportunity to hold his paint brush and add their own touch to a painting. He also tells stories about the people or events he writes about.

  • Illustrators and artists like Mike Artell give drawing lessons. To watch an ocean of children earnestly bent over their drawing paper and following directions (especially the "following directions" part) is enough to raise a lump in your throat.

Finally, know that librarians talk to each other and word of mouth is your best friend. A successful event at one school will lead to others.

Author: Rick Riordan

Rockstar Rick Riordan reads from his next Percy Jackson book, Battle of the Labyrinth. My daughter laughed out loud at the first line.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Author: Eoin Colfer

When I heard that Eoin Colfer was going to be in Texas this past weekend, I cleared the calendar and prepared to drive 'where ever' in order to see him. Then my newsletter from Murder by the Book announced his visit here in H-Town, right in my own backyard.

In Eoin Colfer's video appearances and in interviews, he comes off as a very low key fellow. In person he is a riotously funny, sarcastic, quick, self-deprecating, and witty storyteller whose childhood adventures made for one of the funniest hours I have spent in a very, very, long time.

The fact that the entling and I relived his presentation, story by story, bit by bit, on the drive home was a testament to our enjoyment.

Colfer is on tour to promote his new book Airman. At least 160 people attended along with Radio Disney and a video crew (Airman is published by Hyperion, which is part of Disney & Co.) In honor of Airman, Colfer shared a "flying" story from his childhood (do all boys go through a bicycle ramp phase?) and a more recent story involving a parachute jump.

He did not do a reading from Airman, opting instead to take questions "because he didn't want to put people to sleep." He is obviously a veteran of kids' frequently vague and unfocused questions as he was able to take questions like the perennial "where do you get your ideas from?" and turn it into a very funny riff about going through Philip Pullman's trash bins.

When one young lady asked the question, "Is there a character in your books that is like you?" he was so grateful, he told her she was a genius. He allowed that he is probably a great deal like Foaly, the centaur in the AF world because he messes about with his computer and "makes smart remarks all day."

In response to the question about an Artemis Fowl movie , he announced that he will play "Butler," the ever vigilant and well muscled bodyguard to Artemis. He then shot wounded looks at the audience who greeted this statement with laughter. As for the timing of the film, he thinks it will finally come out "two weeks after I die."

He has an idea for a sequel to The Supernaturalist and hopes to start work on it next year. He has just completed Artemis #6 which will be called AF and the Time Paradox. The greatest paradox about AF, he added, was that it was supposed to be a trilogy "but then Mr. MasterCard called."

The success of Artemis allowed him to take a year to write Airman which is a story that has been kicking around in his imagination for at least 15 years. He added that "those islands" are visible from his parents home (dying to read it now and find out about "those islands.)

He spoke thoughtfully about the importance of folklore in Ireland and how teaching Irish mythology is actually part of the curriculum there. Listening to the stories was always the best part of his day as a student and reading them to a class was his favorite part of being a teacher, a job that he only quit seven years ago to be a full time writer. He pointed out that Artemis Fowl is essentially an update and twist on the oldest story in Ireland, a boy sets out to capture a leprechaun and steal his pot of gold.

His rapport with his fans was polite but personal. I was touched that he took time to visit and joke with the entling as he signed her books, even though the line was long.

Colfer's terrific presentation helped me think about what makes for a great author visit and I will write more about that soon. There are some folks I will travel afar to see and Eoin Colfer has now joined that pantheon

Friday, January 18, 2008

Head Spinning Ann Curry

For some on the scene reporting about this Caldecott and Newbery announcements this week, please dial your computer to Fuse #8's report and Educating Alice. Mother Reader has a nice roundup of links including David Lubar's reflection and vent space for authors whose phones did NOT ring Monday a.m.

All of them Fuse and MR commented on Today Show's Ann-I'm-a-professional-newsreader-Curry's rapid fire monologuistic "interview" with Selznick and Schlitz. Now I am sure Selznick and Schlitz did not have high expectations for their 180 seconds on camera but "Good Gad, Peabody!" Someone get that woman on decaf.

Even the camera man had trouble following Curry's staccato tear through her script, missing a head shot of Laura and barely getting focused on Brian before giving up altogether and retreating for a group shot. I don't expect in depth knowledge from these interviewers. I realize they are supposed to ask the questions of the "great uninformed" but Curry's shock and awe that the winner of the Caldecott Medal had created a book filled with ... illustrations...well that was just too funny.

"Curry: I have to say that I found them [thebooks] surprising in many ways.
[to Brian Selznick] "Your book is filled with illustrations that you did yourself... I mean, these images we're seeing, you did these!"

Poor Brian and Laura could barely interject a single syllable. Not only did Curry, professional newsreader and journalist, repeatedly bungle Laura "Ann" Amy Schlitz's name, oblivious to Selznick's gallant attempt to correct her, but she tags Schlitz as a "school teacher" when she is actually the librarian at her school. Now I am a teacher. My teaching certificate says so but if asked to designate my profession, I am a librarian.

The funniest moment was when Curry mangled Schlitz's name for the umpteenth time and mistook Laura's eye roll for embarrassment over the precious photo in the newspaper. Maybe it really was the picture that caused Laura's action but that is not why I was rolling MY eyes. If I had been Laura I would have been thinking, "how much does this woman make to do this?"

I'm thinking, probably more, alas, than a Newbery author.

As Curry tried to get it all done in three minutes, her words accelerated to the point that I thought her head was going to snap off and go shooting through the roof of the studio. She reminded me of the windup artillery my brothers aimed at me when we were kids which has now morphed into the Flying Alarm Clock.

As she brought the segment to an end, she braked hard on her delivery to gush, "Well, there you go...congratulations..."

I agree with Fuse, next time, give it to Al Roker.

TV: Persuasion

I am looking forward to the Jane Austen Extravaganza on PBS over the next weeks. This past Sunday's Persuasion was ... ok. ... but nothing beats the despair, the tension, hope and sheer romance of the 1995 version with Amanda Root and Ciaran Hinds. This version is still my favorite.

Watch this clip. There is NOTHING better than this, well, except for Colin Firth coming out of that lake in P&P.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Song of Summer

A Song for Summer by Eva Ibbotson, 1997

The first Eva Ibbotson books I ever read were her ghost stories such as Dial-A-Ghost and The Great Ghost Rescue. Her humor and sly writing caused me to shout with laughter. Journey to the River Sea and The Star of Kazan took me back to my childhood reading of Noel Streatfield and Frances Hodgson Burnett.

I was interested to see her adult fiction showing up in the YA sections of the bookstores. I received A Song for Summer for Christmas and I have to say it was a perfect "vacation" book. The story of Ellen and her gift for "life making" was utterly and deliciously satisfying.

As the daughter and niece of notorious suffragettes, Ellen could have had a brilliant future as a political leader, an eminent scholar or scientist. But she found true happiness cooking with grandfather's housekeeper and "doing things with her hands." Instead of finishing college she graduated from a school of cooking and household management and found a job as a housekeeper and house mother at a boarding school in Austria.

Eccentric teachers, needy children and a handy-man who is actually a world famous composer are living, working and learning together at an "innovative school" housed in the dilapidated Schloss Hallendorf. Ellen's healing presence improves all their lives even as the threat of Nazism and WWII looms. Ibbotson fills the story with rich supporting characters who each deserve a book of their own and takes the storyline in many directions before bringing all the threads back together again at the end.

There is a decorous romance along with good food, gardens and music that make the book a curl-up-by-the-fire-with-a-pot-of-tea treat. I read a passage like the following and I'm ready to book a trip to England.

If only it had rained, she thought afterward...but all that weekend the Lake District preened itself, the air as soft as wine, a silken sheen lay on the waters of Crowthorpe Tarn, and when she climbed the hill where the hikers had perished she saw a view to make her catch her breath. In Kendrick's woods the bluebells lay, like a lake; there were kingfishers in the stream...

Ibbotson's low key humor punctuates the storyline.

And then, because they were both Englishwomen and their hearts were somewhat broken, they turned back into the room and put on the kettle and made themselves a cup of tea.

I can't make a trip to England or Austria but now that I've finished the book, I feel like I have already been there.

It was Elaine at Random Jottings of a Book and Opera Lover who first alerted me to Ibbotson's "grown up" books. I will be reading more of them.

Our Jen!

Not only has our Jen Robinson at Jen Robinson's Book Page started a marvelous weekly newsletter, Growing Bookworms (you can subscribe here) but she is the featured expert at the PBS 'Expert Q&A' Parents site, this month. There is a splendid conversation about books going on over there.

In her article there, "The Power and Wonder of Children's Books," Jen says something so profound that it stopped me and I re-read it again.

Books have repaid my affection time and time again.

That is such a true statement.

Books have ever been my friends They provided a way to think about my world, and were a gateway to many worlds. They formed the calling for my profession. My husband's love of books was one of the first things I liked about him when we met. This blog, my kidlitosphere community, the circle of brilliant librarians I know--they have all come from books.

Just as I have shared my passion for reading and books with my own children, I owe my love of books, no doubt, to my own mother who always had books for us and who always read to me and my siblings.

My dad often recalls the last lines of Strickland Gillilan's poem The Reading Mother:

You may have tangible wealth untold;
Caskets of jewels and coffers of gold.
Richer than I you can never be --
I had a Mother who read to me.

Monday, January 14, 2008


Teri Lesesne, blogging for YALSA has the first announcement online that I've found.
The winners are:

Bored....nothing to do...

So what did you do on your Christmas break when it was cold outside?

Miss(ed) Manners recreated the Battle of Pelennor Fields and the White City of Minas Tirith with...gummi bears and candy. Check their site for detailed photographs and a link to last year's effort, the Battle of Helm's Deep.

No gingerbread in sight.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Author: Anthony Horowitz

Anthony Horowitz is on his Snakehead tour here in the USA and Canada this month. Author Sue Corbett (Free Baseball, 12 Again) has a nice profile of Horowitz in the Miami Herald. I'd never heard this part of Horowitz's story before:

The family's fortunes then shifted dramatically when his father, threatened with bankruptcy over some business dealings, deposited all of his money in Swiss bank accounts under a false name, and died without leaving instructions on how to retrieve it. Horowitz's mother searched unsuccessfully for years.

A Snakehead trailer is on YouTube.


Here in Fangorn, as the estimable Kelly F. so aptly described it, folks are slowly returning from the abyss of fever and illness.

I am feeling better but my voice has assumed either a basso timbre or gasping squeak reminiscent of small animated animals. Therefore I am forgoing speech altogether this morning or as Treebeard pointed out to Entling no. 3, "Be alert, she's using sign language."

This has reminded me of the time I totally lost my voice when I was librarian-ing full time.

As each class came in I seated them and began to write on the board that I had no voice and they would have to follow written directions for our lesson that day. I don't recall exactly what I had them do but I had the directions on the overhead projector and I revealed each step as we proceeded.

Amazingly, as I was silent, so were the kids. They read my instructions (and interjections, "Horatio, stop tipping your chair) aloud as I wrote them on the board but as they realized that I was truly voiceless, they lowered their own voices to the point where everyone was whispering. I daresay the effect would not have lasted an entire day but for the 45 minutes they were in the library, we experienced some of the quietest lessons and browsing ever in my usually noisy and boisterous library.

Ha, I just pointed to my coffee cup ="please refill my coffee!" and Entling no. 3 did so, whispering, "here you go, Mom."

Thursday, January 10, 2008

First week back to school/work

How it is spread, I don't know.

First Entling no. 3 began to cough and sniff, then the low grade temp took hold.

Entling no. 2, preparing to make her way back to college, began to sniffle a day later.

Entling no. 1's low grade temp began to rise and the cough set in with a rhythm and cadence of its own.

"Really, I'm feeling pretty good," said Entling no. 2 as we drove northward towards her college.

The next day I am at the doctor with Entling no. 3,

Entling no. 2 has called for help with dosages of decongestants and for help deciphering Rx labels.

The next day Entling no. 2 texts me with the news she is at the college clinic and has a temperature.

I email Treebeard to let him know and he answers back that his throat is beginning to tickle and he thinks he might be running a temp. Oh no. We are in serious trouble now because he takes care of all of us in so many ways.

He gets home early and succumbs to a temperature that way too high for a grown-up to have.

Entling no. 1 checks in, hale and hearty and obviously relieved she escaped our holiday revelries and contagion, just in time.

We have an appointment with the doctor tomorrow. The fact that Treebeard has agreed to go the doctor, is an indicator of his weakened state.

Listening to the local news tonight, I note the sports guy sounds...just like my family. A friend called today and she sounds...just like my family.

I don't know when Miss BookMoot will be back to post again...I have a tickle in my throat and I've started to cough a little bit...

Monday, January 07, 2008

Movie: The Ranger's Apprentice

United Artists has optioned John Flanagan's series, The Ranger's Apprentice.

I'm a book behind on my reading in this series but the boys I know, who have been following the books, were frustrated with the ending of the latest one.


Nice trailer about the series from Penguin.

Thursday, January 03, 2008


Jon Scieszka has been named the first National Ambassador for Young People's Literature.

Great article in the New York Times profiling Scieszka and his new role.

Update: NPR Interview with Jon Scieszka

Family News

Miss BookMoot as been distracted by some family news of great import.
I'm going to be a MOB!

I need to give Hailey Abbott's The Bridesmaid to Entling No. 1.

Her parents were the proprietors of the Dove's Roost Chateau, one of suburban Boston's most popular catering halls. There young men and women came together to vow to love one another forever and ever. And there, mothers of the bride threw hissy fits over flower arrangements...

(Me? Oh dear, I hope not)

...fathers of the groom shook their groove thangs on the floor until their pants rode down.

(No, he seems much too dignified)

Grandmothers and great-aunts and first cousins once removed drank exceptionally large amounts of pink champagne and went onstage to deliver very, very embarrassing speeches.

(Well, maybe some French champagne.)
(also, thanks to the ent-niece for helping me find this quote)

It will be a grand celebration and great fun!

Apparently, the Lord of the Rings theme wedding will have to wait for Entling No. 2.