Thursday, November 29, 2007

Gift Ideas: Cybil Nominees!

Appearing on the sidebar over there to your right is a promo for the 2007 Cybil nominees. Each time you visit (or refresh your screen), you'll find a different book pictured ... you can click on the cover to find out more about that book or click on the "buy" links to order the book at Amazon or at your local bookstore.

The Cybils is an awards program run by a group of kid lit bloggers and reviewers, recognizing both quality and "kid appeal" among books published in 2007.

Two of my personal favs have been nominated, Sam Riddleburger's Qwikpick Adventure Society and Jay Asher's Thirteen Reasons Why. Good luck to both!

Update: Having had some more time to peruse the nominees, I want to point out a few other deserving books: Sara Lewis Holmes' Letters from Rapunzel, Beckie Weinheimer's Converting Kate and Laura Bowers' Beauty Shop for Rent. Congratulations to these talented authors and to all who were nominated!

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Five Random Things

Kimberly Lynn has tagged me to reveal five random things about myself.

Earlier this year, I was tagged by Jay Asher of the Disco Mermaids for something similar (which you can find here), but I figure those of you visiting this blog are probably dying to know more about the person behind these deep thoughts and witty observations, not to mention the engaging prose, so here goes:

1. I am modest to a fault.

2. Little about me is truly random. I am, after all, a quintessential Virgo, i.e., a control freak.

3. I once rubbed shoulders (literally) with Mark Victor Hansen, one of the “Chicken Soup” authors. It was ... weird.

4. I write just about every blog post, including this one, with a 4-pound chihuahua on my lap.

5. I love the Philadelphia Eagles, even this season.

Bonus (since #1 was probably self-evident): I use ketchup when I eat rice. In fact, the entire Acorn clan does ... I thought it was as natural as ketchup on fries until I was about 11 years old and totally grossed some friends out with it.

Feeling confessorial today? Then you, my friend, can consider yourself tagged!

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Oh, Happy, Happy Day!

Two fantabulous pieces of news today!

First and foremost ... I am an aunt (again)! As of this morning I now have an adorable baby nephew. (Actually, I haven't seen him yet, but I'm told on good authority he's adorable.)

This is the first boy on the Acorn side of the family, joining my three lovely nieces. And because he is the son of my baby brother and his wife, he can carry on the Acorn family name. This was a cause of some concern, cuz there ain't that many of us out here. So ... hurrah, huzzah and hallelujah!

Second, I just received confirmation that I won the Robert's Snow snowflake I'd bid on in the first round of auctions!

Here is "Give a Little Push," created by children's book illustrator, writer and poet extraordinaire Elizabeth Dulemba.

I love this flake's humor and the fact that it tells a little story ... a picture-book snowflake of sorts! You can read the profile of Elizabeth and her snowflake at sruble's world, and you can check out her process for creating it on Elizabeth's Web site.

Of course, the real winner yesterday was the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, which according to my calculations earned more than $9,000 toward cancer research during the first auction. If you missed the auction or were outbid for a favorite snowflake, don't despair! There are two more rounds to go. Visit the Robert's Snow Web site for details.

(BTW, I have been tagged by Kimberly Lynn to reveal five random things about myself. I'd said I'd post on that today, but with all the excitement ... it'll need to wait until tomorrow.)

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Converting Kate: The Sympathetic ‘Villain’

In Converting Kate, YA author Beckie Weinheimer pits teenaged Kate against her mother in a battle for the soul. Kate rebels against her mother’s fanatical, cult-like church to discover mainstream religion, literature and boys.

The challenge: How to relate this conflict without depicting Kate’s mom as cold and heartless?

The complicating factor: The novel is told in first person, from Kate’s point of view, so the entire story is filtered through her perspective.

The solution: Right off the bat, Weinheimer portrays the concern Kate’s mother has for her.

In the very first chapter, we get a hint of Kate’s conflict, both with the church (I wish I could just wash my mind, scrub it clean, of all the rules, all the scriptures, and start over.) and with her mother (… my personal interrogator, with hands on her hips, eyes zooming into me like telescopic lenses, won’t be leaving me alone until I give her an answer.)

But we also hear directly from her mother, via dialogue that reveals a caring nature beneath the woman’s severe demeanor:
  • When Kate says she plans to ride her bike to school: “It’s seven miles and still dark out. Why aren’t you taking the bus?” Mom whispers.

  • When Kate explains that she wants to get to school early to sign up for cross country: “Cross country? Why, that’s wonderful. But I haven’t made your lunch yet.”

  • When Kate tells her she’s already packed her own lunch: “I hope it’s got something healthy in it. And please tell me you’re changing out of those running shorts and into one of your school skirts when you get there.”

  • And when Kate says she won’t be coming straight home from school because cross country starts that afternoon: “Well, don’t be too late,” her voice pleads, suddenly soft and kind. “Remember the dinner at church? I was thinking you could come with me.”

Hardly the words of a cold-hearted monster. Even the dialogue tags -- “whispers” and “pleads” -- elicit sympathy.

Yes, Kate's mom's comments regarding changing into a skirt and going to the church dinner can be viewed as nagging, and they are in fact perceived and related that way by Kate. But the reader can sense in the dialogue itself a quiet concern that tempers this portrayal.

It’s all too easy to create a one-dimensional villain, and that would seem particularly tempting when the antagonist is a religious fanatic. Weinheimer avoids this trap by introducing Kate’s mother in a maternal light within the first three pages of the novel. We know immediately that her mother cares for her, and thus we know part of Kate’s struggle will be to come to terms with their relationship and begin to heal the rift between them.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Poetry Friday: A Thanksgiving Poem

This piece encapsulates my thoughts and sentiments as we in the United States approach the Thanksgiving holiday.

Not sure who wrote it. Most references credit Ralph Waldo Emerson, including The Art Literature Readers: Book Two, a primer compiled by Frances Elizabeth Chutter and published by Atkinson, Mentzer and Company in 1905.

However, the Ralph Waldo Emerson Society states he is not the author.

Father in Heaven, We Thank Thee
For flowers that bloom about our feet,
For tender grass so fresh, so sweet,
For song of bird and hum of bee,
For all things fair we hear or see,
For blue of stream and blue of sky,
For pleasant shade of branches high,
For fragrant air and cooling breeze,
For beauty of the blooming trees.

For mother-love and father-care,
For brothers strong and sisters fair,
For love at home and here each day,
For guidance lest we go astray,
For this new morning with its light,
For rest and shelter of the night,
For health and food, for love and friends
For ev'ry thing His goodness sends,
Father in heaven, we thank Thee.

Thanks to Big A, little a for hosting this week's edition of Poetry Friday!

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Leanne Franson: A Final Taste of Snow

This will be the last “taste” of snowflakes for the Robert's Snow benefit auction for Just Like the Nut, as we welcome illustrator Leanne Franson and her delicious flake, “Gretchen’s Snow.”

By now, you know the drill.

First, the snowflake:

Here’s the front:

And the back:

Next, Leanne’s bio:

Leanne Franson was born in 1963 in Regina, Saskatchewan. She says she started drawing earlier than she can remember: “My father brought home leftover paper from his drafting job, so I had unlimited supplies. We also always had books, with bedtime stories every night, shelves of books to read ourselves and a public library card. I filled my notebook pages with drawings, and read books in class when I was supposed to be reading textbooks. Even though I got great marks in math, science and English, I frustrated my academic teachers by going into fine arts in university.”

She graduated from Concordia University in Montreal with a BFA in 1985. She says her degree was, “weirdly enough, in ceramics and lithography, as my painting teacher told me my drawings were illustrative and narrative, which were very bad words in art school. I stopped drawing for years!”

After graduating and holding a series of odd job, she met a mentor, Francis Back, who was a previous president of the Association of Illustrators of Québec and who introduced her to the world of children's book illustration in 1991. Since then she have illustrated numerous school books, and more than 80 trade books including both picture books and novel covers. In 1997, “L'Ourson qui voulait une Juliette” (written by Jasmine Dubé) was nominated for the Canada Governor General's award in illustration, and in 2005 “The Girl Who Hated Books” (by Manjusha Pawagi) was chosen to be given to all Canadian children in grade 1 for Toronto Dominion Bank's Canada Children's Book Week.

Leanne is am currently on maternity leave as she has recently adopted a son, Benjamin Taotao, from China. She and Benjamin share their home in Montreal with lots of books, art supplies, two cats and their Saint Bernard, Gretchen.

And, the interview:

What inspired you to pursue a career in illustration? And why for kids?

I wanted a better job than selling paint brushes at an art supply store for barely minimum wage. I wanted to settle down and have kids, have a stable job. And with a fine arts bachelor's degree (which I was still paying for), I wasn't qualified to do much else other than draw and couldn't afford to go back to school.

People had been telling me I should illustrate children's books since I was perhaps ten years old, but I am contrary and went into ceramics and unfired clay sculptures, concept art and environmental art. I was young and didn't want to do "over the sofa" art, or anything that was "for sale." After being broke for years I changed my ways and listened to their wisdom. The cool thing about children's books is that they are on-the-sofa art, and don't need to match the sofa at all!! They are functional items that are used daily (like a ceramic mug or bowl) and loved to death rather than a precious decorative object. They're hands on.

I have always loved books, read books, collected books, so illustrating them came to me naturally. And my style lends itself to children's books. I love the stories, the large number of illutrations needed per text, the audience. I also do comics for adults, which I write and illustrate myself, which is a very different thing. Sometimes I think I would love to be like Edward Gorey or Charles Schultz and create something that appeals to children and adults alike, but that is a lofty goal I will likely never achieve.

Why did you decide to participate in the Robert’s Snow fund-raiser?

I heard about it on the group emails and wanted to join in. I jumped at the chance to do something that was again, a three dimensional functional object, and something where what I created was directly in the hands of the user (unlike children's books, where my originals are in drawers in my studio and the public gets printed reproductions). And I especially liked that it was for a fundraiser for a good cause. I was happy and excited to be able to contribute.

Why did you decide to illustrate your snowflake the way you did?

When I think of snow, I think of Saint Bernards. My beloved Muesli, who figured in many books, was a passionate devotee of snow. She died last fall at nearly 11 years old, and I have a new puppy, Gretchen, whom I got at Easter. She also loves snow, so it is her I put on the snowflake. And being as it has two sides, which would normally be equally seen on a tree as it twirls, I painted both sides equally. I wanted something wintery and fun, with a little wink.

What’s your favorite thing about snow?

That we have it. With global warming, it is coming later each year and staying less long, and it is very sad. I grew up in Saskatchewan where we had snowbanks big enough to build forts and tunnels my father could go through, and you could tell how cold it was by how high-pitched a squeak the snow made under your boots. It was so cold the snow was like sand and didn't make you wet, so you could play all day. Then the warmer days you could mold it into balls and snowsculptures. In Montreal where I live now, the snow is often almost rain, or it melts two days later so it doesn't accumulate. I feel very nostalgic about snow, and I feel incredibly sad that my son may never see snow like I have known.

They say there are no two snowflakes alike. Name something that makes you different from anyone else on earth.

My, my. I so seldom have the feeling that I am not different from everyone else on earth, that is a hard question. Even in my own family, we were all different colors, ages, races, genders, with such different personalities. I am a western anglophone prairie Canadian living in a francophone eastern Canada. I am a single mom with a Saint Bernard and a little boy from China and I could go on. I think we are all unique collections of our origins, experiences, thoughts, likes, dislikes, feelings and hopes and that sometimes we need to look hard to find our similarities, what brings us together as people, our common aspirations and interests. But OK, I finally thought of something that may be unique: I have a tattoo of an onion on my head. But even if someone else has a tattoo of an onion on their head, the collection of who they are will be so very different from me.

I guess the short obvious answer would have been "my genes" (cuz I am not a twin).

And finally, the pitch:

Leanne Franson’s "Gretchen's Snow" will go up for bid in an online auction next week ... November 19-23!

To check out the other snowflakes and illustrators featured on kid lit blogs this week, see the sidebar at the right of your screen. For a complete schedule of the snowflake auctions and to learn how you can purchase a unique piece of art while also supporting a good cause, head on over to the Robert's Snow site now!

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

These Words Mean a Lot

Test your vocabulary, learn some new words and help feed the world!

Free Rice

My vocab level hovered in the 39-40 range. Frustrating how many words I recognized but then I didn't know what they meant. I need to make better use of my dictionary!

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Jane Dippold: A Robert's Snow Angel

Such a thrill to have one of the many "angels" who are creating snowflakes for the Robert's Snow benefit auction featured here today … Jane Dippold and her fun flake, "Snow Angels."

First, the snowflake:

Check out the front:

And the back:

Onto the bio:

Jane Dippold was born in Coldwater, Ohio, and graduated from Miami University in Ohio with a degree in Fine Arts. She started her art career at Gibson Greeting Cards, and after having children, has worked as a freelance artist for the past 14 years. Her first freelance job was a puzzle page for the children’s magazine, Spider. This led to illustrating books for many children’s book publishers, such as Reader’s Digest, Harper Festival, Tyndale House, and Zonderkids, as well as other children’s magazines such as Highlights For Children, Highlights HighFive, Weekly Reader, LadyBug, and Your Big Backyard. Jane also designs greeting cards, gift wrap, and gift products.

Her most recent children’s book is “Papa Jethro,” written by Deborah Bodin Cohen, and published by KarBen Publishing in 2007. Other recent books include “Traveling Babies,” written by Kathryn O. Galbraith, published by Northword Press in 2006, as well as three books in the “My Favorite Verses” series written by Dandi Daley Mackall and published by Standard Publishing in 2005 and 2006.

Next, the interview:

What inspired you to pursue a career in illustration? And why for kids?

I was drawn to read as a child by the artwork on the pages of books. We did not own a lot of books, but my Mom took us to the library often. We also had the "Childcraft" series which had great pictures that I still remember today...especially the "Poems and Rhymes" volume, which was my favorite. I loved to draw and really did not realize until I was much more grown up that there were actual people drawing these pictures and being paid for it! Really?!! What a revelation. I would like to create illustrations that draw kids into reading.

Why did you decide to participate in the Robert’s Snow fund-raiser?
Many people are affected by cancer in their world today. A painted snowflake is a small way that an artist can help the cause to find a cure. I contacted Grace Lin to do a snowflake in 2006 and then was asked to paint another for this year. I consider it an honor to be involved with Robert's Snow.

Here's Jane's 2006 snowflake:

Why did you decide to illustrate your 2007 snowflake the way you did?

Laying in a snowpile creating a snow angel makes everyone an instant kid. If you haven't made a snow angel lately, this winter might be a good time to try it again. Snow creeping up your sleeves and mittens, and getting into the tops of your boots can make you really happy! And, of course, the angels are always watching, protecting and delivering the magical stuff.

What’s your favorite thing about snow?

My favorite thing about snow is how quiet it makes everything, as if the world has been put to bed. And the crunch, crunch of walking in it. I also still secretly love a snowday when my kids have the day off school. Free for all!

They say there are no two snowflakes alike. Name something that makes you different from anyone else on earth.

This is a hard question because I don't know everyone on earth and when I was a kid I thought the odds were that somewhere, someplace there had to be someone exactly like me, but... Do they love rhubarb and all things made with rhubarb? Do they paint pictures with bright, bold colors, and fill their house with lots of colors, and still prefer to wear a white t-shirt and jeans on most days? They may not be exactly like me then.

And last but not least, the pitch:

Jane Dippold's "Snow Angels" will be put up for bid in an online auction November 26-30. To check out the other snowflakes and illustrators featured on kid lit blogs this week, see the sidebar at the right of your screen. For a complete schedule of the snowflake auctions and to learn how you can purchase a unique piece of art while also supporting a good cause, head on over to the Robert's Snow site now!

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Tools of the Trade: The I-Never-Quite-Knew-What-That-Word-Meant Edition

Thanks to Sam Riddleburger for his comment re: words he "skips over" when reading because he doesn't quite know what they mean. Sam's comment provided the inspiration for this post, in which I've researched a few words that have befuddled me in the past, and combined it with my Tools of the Trade feature exploring word origins. (Previous editions of TOTT can be found here.)

Today's words:

"Horripilation" is a great word for us mystery writers ... it basically means "goose bumps"! It comes from the Latin word horrere, meaning "stand on end" and pilus, "hair." The word "horrible" also comes from horrere (and I imagine "horror" must be related as well). So those words actually take their names from the physical reaction people have to them. Pretty cool. Bonus word origin ... the medical term for goose bumps is "cutis anserina." In Latin, cutis means "skin" and anser means "goose." Source:

The word "mendacious" first came to my attention two weeks ago, when Australian children's writer Jen McVeity used it during the SCBWI Mid-Atlantic Fall Conference. I had no earthly idea what Jen was talking about, so I wrote the word down and looked it up when I got home. According to Merriam-Webster Online, its definition is: "given to or characterized by deception or falsehood or divergence from absolute truth." According to the Online Etymology Dictionary, it hails from the Latin mendacium, "a lie," related to menda, "fault, defect, carelessness in writing."

"Feckless" is one of those words I've seen in print many times, and while I had some sense of its meaning, I was never quite sure. My husband asked about its meaning a couple of months ago, which finally prompted me to look it up. Someone or something who is feckless is "lacking purpose or vitality; feeble or ineffective; careless and irresponsible." It originates in the Scottish word feck, which is simply a shortened version of the word "effect."

Friday, November 2, 2007

Poetry Friday: An Acorn Nut Poem

Many of my blog's hits come from people searching for acorn+nut+poem. Yes, a surprising number of people are out there in search of a good poem about the lowly acorn.

I always feel kind of bad, knowing they didn't actually find what they were looking for here. So I decided for this week's Poetry Friday to find an Acorn Nut Poem to make their visit to my site worthwhile.

Step One: Google acorn+nut+poem. (Hey, I'm the first one to come up! No wonder I get those hits!)

Step Two: Find a site that actually has an acorn nut poem.

Step Three: Squeeeeee! for joy over my discovery. OMG, it's the coolest thing ever: First Lessons in English by F.B. Greene, published in 1888. I urge you, after reading this post, to follow that link to check out this delightful 19th century primer.

The poem itself appears on page 56:


The squirrel hastens to and fro
With acorn, nut, and corn.
His hall to fill; he's much to do,
For winter's coming on.
He does not stop for friends or foes
Until his work is done;
He needs no telling: well he knows
Cold winter's coming on.
His storehouse filled with all that's good
His eyes look proudly on;
Then chatters he throughout the wood,
"Now let cold winter come."
Come, children; like the squirrel try,
In life's bright, sunny morn,
To seek a good, a wise supply,
Before old age comes.

Many thanks to Mentor Texts for hosting Poetry Friday this week.