Monday, May 31, 2010

procrastination technique...or help me decide what to wear to the newbery banquet!

So I've been pretty busy and have lots of things to blog about-- BEA, my last school visit of the year, visiting my parents in Upstate NY...but my current obsession is trying to figure out what I should wear for the Newbery Award Banquet at the end of June. This truly has become an obsession. Such a distracting obsession that I have promised Squatchie that I will get the dress question settled by the end of the week and actually get some work done (did I mention that I have a novel I have to write?)

But can you blame me? This is like the Oscars for children's book authors! Really! I've been scouring the web to see what people have worn before and found this:

So, I've been mulling over my dress options. The practical side of me says I should wear a dress that I already have in my closet...but you know me and dresses!

For a while I have had my heart on this Anthropologie dress that I saw online:

but I can't find it ANYWHERE in my size (or even a size that could fit with some tailoring). I have searched and searched. sigh. So, I've had to discard this dress dream and move onto other possibilities (fyi, it's the "painted lotus" dress if anyone has any connections with Anthropologie outlets or has it and wants to sell it to me...)

And the other possibilities include this green lace dress, the same color as my lucky jade bracelet:

Or this raspberry one, that reminds me of the roses that blooming outside:

What do you think?

Moving...back next week!

Happy Memorial Day, everyone! Especially to our troops, veterans, and family members and friends of the aforementioned.

I moved from Manhattan to Brooklyn (Park Slope, specifically) on Saturday, and have been surrounded by boxes and furniture and relative chaos ever since. But as little orphan Annie sings, "I think I'm gonna like it here!" It's certainly the children's publishing mecca, as proven yesterday, as I went on my first run as a Brooklyn resident in Prospect Park. And who was I to run into coincidentally? Peter Brown. And after seeing my Tweet and Facebook status update about my run, Greenwillow editor Martha Mihalick commented that she, too, had just come back from a run in Prospect Park! No doubt I'll be running (literally, perhaps) into other authors and editors in the 'hood.

I'm sad to leave my beautiful apartment and terrace on the Upper East Side, but I'm excited for this new chapter in my life!

Good-bye terrace! (this was my last sunset)

Friday, May 28, 2010

POETRY FRIDAY: A Book Spine Poem

I’ve been extremely busy with a number of things lately. I haven’t had much time for blogging—but I didn’t want to miss Poetry Friday again at Blue Rose Girls. I decided to have a little fun with book spine poems this morning. Here is one of the poems “wrote.” I have five more at Wild Rose Reader. NOTE: I used only poetry books to create the book spine poems.

Tricia has the Poetry Friday Roundup at The Miss Rumphius Effect.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

A Greta spot

Just finished this one the other day. I love doing spots, so tiny and self contained and simple. A few more weeks to go on A Photo for Greta! I'll have more art to show soon.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010


On Sunday afternoon BRG friend Alissa offered me an extra ticket she had to Cartoonapalooza, a fundraiser at the Northampton Academy for the local library's children's room. So I took a couple hours off of painting Greta to go see what it was all about.

The afternoon was hosted by Mo Willems, and consisted of animations of his books and some clips from his many years writing for Sesame Street. I was psyched since I've never seen him present before and I loved Sesame Street as a kid. Also I was sitting in an audience of tiny children who laughed hysterically at the slap stick, yelled heartily that NO, you canNOT drive the bus pigeon!, and seemed to generally be having a jolly old time.

Mo introduced the clips, then answered questions at the end (questions such as "will you do the pigeon's voice?" to which he responded "I am doing it right now"):

They also showed Knuffle Bunny and Knuffle Bunny Too, narrated by Mo, his wife, and his daughter Trixie:

And of course all the great Sesame Street clips we know and love were just as funny and bizarre as they always were:

Monday, May 24, 2010

Wow. A my very first video review!

This cracked me up! I really think Fuse aka Betsy is meant to do TV. Thanks for the great review and for doing it using a computer robot voice! This was my very first! This has also gotten me thinking - perhaps I should have a contest - a video contest - the person who can blow the biggest bubble via video, be it kid or adult will get a signed book and a signed original drawing. What do you guys think? I should tell the schools. This is too bad because I did my last school visit last week!

My first school visit!

Authors and illustrators do school visits all the time, but how often to editors do school visits? Uh, never? Well, a few weeks ago, as a favor to two friends of mine, I spoke at a school out in Newark, NJ to help them kick off their Literacy Week. I was a little nervous about it, because although I'm used to speaking in front of adults, I can't remember the last time I had to speak to a roomful of kids--if ever! But I had a wonderful time, and the kids were well behaved. I spoke to two different groups, one large group of sixth, seventh, and eighth graders, and then a slightly smaller group of fifth and sixth graders.
I was asked to talk about what my job as a children's book editor entails. I talked about my company, and started off by showing some slides of the books that we publish. When I showed a slide for the Twilight books, the uproar in the room lasted a good five minutes. I have to say, it was really wonderful to see kids get so excited about books!
The kids also got excited when I showed the cover of Where the Mountain Meets the Moon, because it was one of four finalists for the school's book award, voted on by 5th to 7th graders.
I talked a little bit about how I became an editor and the steps they all could take if they wanted to be an editor, too (read a lot, go to college, work at a bookstore or library, do internships, etc.). I also showed some videos, including both the official and unofficial trailers for Shark vs Train (they all applauded at the end of the official trailer), as well as a video of Grace showing off the interior of Where the Mountain Meets the Moon.

I hope that there were some future editors, authors, illustrators, designers, etc. in the room!

Read about my visit on the school library's blog here.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

now presenting...

The Ling and Ting Book Trailer:

Official release date is July 1st, 2010 but if you come to my party you get it before everyone else!

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

year of the tiger

As Anna wrote in her post, some of the BRG got together this weekend. Destiny or fate, most of the time it was the four of us that were born in the Chinese Year of the Tiger, which is the year it is right now. This means that is it is a life changing year for us. When it is YOUR year, it doesn't mean it is a lucky year, it means it is an important year--a year where you will make decisions that will effect the next 12 year cycle.

Which was probably why the question: If you could wish for any other author or illustrator or editor's career, whose would it be (that is who has a path you relate to and hope for)? came up.

This is the year we have to decide "which way the twig bends before it becomes a branch," and it's nice to look at others for examples. And while we talked and dreamed about careers like luminaries such Rosemary Wells, Kate DiCamillio, Sharon Creech, and Kevin Henkes, Libby pointed out, that in the end, you really shouldn't want anyone else's career but your own. In fact, you shouldn't be trying to emulate someone else's path but be making your own.

Which is completely true and is the journey we are all on. However, I do admit to a couple of hopeful glances in other directions!

What children's book creator do YOU emulate?

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

it's an honor just to be nominated... the standard line, but this time I REALLY mean it. Because the kind people at Papertigers have nominated ME for the Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award!

I'm sooo flattered, though I will not be holding my breath for a win...the last two Americans to win were Maurice Sendak and Katherine Patterson! Still, it's pretty fun to think my name is somewhere circling around theirs though (albeit probably in the broad periphery!).

Publicity? Just copy this guy!

Jesus, I don't know what to say anymore. I can't get any publicity but then a guy like Mr. "yo-yo master" comes along and gets on every local tv channel and can't even yo-yo! He's a fake! The guy claims that he goes around to schools talking to kids about the environment, but that's a lie too... because he sucks at it, by his own admission. I don't get it. A liar like him can get all over TV networks but I can't - and I'm for real! I write books! I actually talk to school children and don't spank them! What gives?

Gotta love Youtube:

BRG Weekend

This weekend some of us BRG met up at Libby's new place in Stonington, CT, a small coastal village with water on three sides. The town looks like it comes right out of a children's novel with its sweet little manicured gardens, historic houses from the 1700's, and city center with an old church whose bell rings to mark every hour. Alvina will have better pictures (as is usually the case), but I got a couple on a walk by the water:

We ate gelato and sang happy birthday to Grace and wandered along crooked rock walls. A nice break from painting to say the least. Some topics discussed:

*If you could wish for any other author or illustrator or editor's career, whose would it be (that is who has a path you relate to and hope for)?

*What are the differences between a chapter book and a middle grade novel?

*Do most writers have just a small number of truly great books in them? Does it matter?

What do you think?

Monday, May 17, 2010

Kids know best!

Last week was a pretty good week--I attended the awards ceremonies for two awards voted on by kids. The first was the Children's Choice Books Awards sponsored by the Children's Book Council. It was held at Guastavino's under the 59th Street Bridge. I live less than 15 blocks away and I never knew it existed. But it was a gorgeous space.
Peter Brown was up for Illustrator of the Year for The Curious Garden. As soon as we entered we checked out the competition:
The authors were given colored name tags so that the kids could identify them and ask for autographs:
After noshing on heavy hors d'oeuvres (Sliders! Mac 'n cheese!) and wine, it was time for the award ceremony. It was emceed by the incomparable Mo Willems:
The first award was for Kindergarten to 1st grade. And the winner was...

Lulu the Big Little Chick written and illustrated by Paulette Bogan, as presented by Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs author Judi Barrett.

Next up was the award for Third Grade to Fourth Grade Book of the Year. And the winner (as presented by Jacqueline Woodson) is...

Friend of the Blue Rose Girls, Jarrett J. Krosoczka for Lunch Lady and the Cyborg Substitute

OMG, who is the next presenter?!
Judy Blume!!! She announced that the Book of the Year for Fifth to Sixth Grade was...
Dork Diaries: Tales from a Not-so-fabulous Life written and illustrated by Rachel Renee Russell

The next award was for the Teen Choice Book of the Year. Future Little, Brown author Libba Bray was the presenter, and announced the winner as...

Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins.

And finally, the big two awards, Author of the Year and Illustrator of the Year. First up was for author of the year. And the winner is (as presented by Newbery Award-winner Rebecca Stead)...
James Patterson for Max.

And the moment of truth...Caldecott Medal winner Jerry Pinkney was on hand to present the Illustrator of the Year award. And the children's choice is...
(sorry, Peter, for some reason my only pic of your speech is you with your eyes closed.)

Peter gave a lovely, heartfelt speech. But the night wasn't over yet. Next on the stage was none other than our National Ambassador for Young People's Literature, Katherine Patterson,
who presented a special honor to First Book President and co-founder Kyle Zimmer:
A few more pics from the night:


Two mornings later, I attended an event with a very different feel, but with the same spirit. The Irma Black Award is sponsored by Bank Street College of Education:
The Award goes to an outstanding book for young children — a book in which text and illustrations are inseparable, each enhancing and enlarging on the other to produce a singular whole.
Kids selected four finalists, and Sergio Saves the Game by Edel Rodriguez was one of the four. It wasn't ultimately the winner--that was Robot Zot by Jon Scieszka and illustrated by David Shannon. But I was happy to celebrate the Honor win with Edel at a breakfast ceremony.

Carmen Agra Deedy gave the keynote. She's an amazing storyteller, and I swear, I could listen to her forever. She made us laugh, she made us cry, she surprised us, she inspired us:
And then Edel gave a short thank you, and commented that like Carmen, he too was from Cuba, having come to the U.S. when he was eight. He said, "I hope that Americans realize that we need immigrants." Hear, hear.

And there's the Scieszka guy again, making us all laugh as usual:
Check out more pictures on Edel's blog here.

Congratulations to all the honorees, nominees, and winners. And a hip hip hurray for the REAL winners: the kids, of course!

P.S. Here's a video of Carmen speaking at TED:

P.P.S. Happy Birthday, Grace!!

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

years go by

During my recent event in Albany, NY, a young girl brought me a photo of the last time we had met:

The date on the photo says 2003, and the book I am signing The Seven Chinese Sisters was published that year...yet I can't believe it was 7 years ago. The picture book reader is now reading my novels:

That's pretty neat, don't you think?

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

A new Greta painting

I am in full on deadline mode with the art for A Photo for Greta due in one month! I've been painting morning til night, building up the momentum to finish the art. I've been happy with how its coming out... I'm combining acrylic with watercolor and colored pencil to make the art for this book a little softer and lighter. Here is one of my favorite pieces so far (its a scene where Greta is dreaming, and its always been my favorite spread in the book). The sky is in watercolor and the tree and characters are in acrylic, to make them pop against the sky...

(click to enlarge)

Monday, May 10, 2010

Beyond the Book: SHARK VS TRAIN by Chris Barton and Tom Lichtenheld

Beyond the Book: SHARK VS TRAIN by Chris Barton and Tom Lichtenheld
First, watch the official trailer:

Then, watch the unofficial trailer (filmed at our company Halloween party last year):

Shark: me
Train: Maria Mercado, also the designer of the book
Narrator: Connie Hsu

How did we get to this wackiness? Well, it went like this:

I'd been corresponding here and there with author Chris Barton for probably over five years--and by "corresponding" I mean that he would send me a manuscript and then I would decline it, but invite him to send more. During that time he eventually found a fantastic agent, who sent me a manuscript titled "Shark vs. Train." I was intrigued by that title. And when I read the manuscript, I was intrigued even more. Heck, I was more than intrigued, I was in love. It was so wacky, so deliciously random and bizarre, and best of all, it was so childlike and child friendly.

The concept is this: a train and a shark battle it out in different environments. For example, who wins when they're underwater, in Shark's natural habitat? Shark, of course--Train helplessly sinks to the bottom of the ocean. But Train wins on the train tracks, while Shark struggles to pull heavy cars. But then Shark wins at a pie-eating contest, and Train wins in a burping contest. The battle goes back and forth until towards the end you realize that neither one is winning. This is one of my favorite "nobody wins" pages:

Train: Sure would help if we had thumbs. 
Shark: Yep.

I knew that it might be hard to imagine the final product without illustrations. And so before I brought this to our acquisitions meeting, I had to think very carefully how I would present the project. I wanted to make it clear how one should think about the book, and so this was how I positioned it on the proposal:

Handle: Celebrity Deathmatch meets the World Wrestling Entertainment as a shark and a train battle it out
This is what I placed at the beginning of description:
WARNING: this picture book manuscript is wonderfully bizarre, and requires imagination
And because I knew the book was so visual, I decided to ask two of the designers here to do a quick sketch for some of the scenes. Then I literally cut and pasted them into the manuscript that was distributed. Arts and crafts, anyone? Here is an example (my apologies for the quality--didn't have a scanner available):

And so how did illustrator Tom Lichtenheld come into the picture? Little, Brown had published two of his books previously, What Are You So Grumpy About? and What's With This Room? I became Tom's contact editor after his original editor left the company, and we had been discussing possible future projects when Shark vs. Train crossed my desk. Tom was immediately one of the illustrators I thoughts of. And when I asked Chris who was on his dream illustrator list, Tom was also one of his choices--it felt meant to be! ALSO a good sign: Tom, who lives in the Chicago area, happened to be in NY the week before our acquisitions meeting, and even though we generally don't ask for an illustrator to commit to a project before we sign it up officially, I decided to just run it by him to see if he would be at all interested. Tom sat in my office and read the manuscript and chuckled all the way through it. A good sign. He went home and did some character sketches for the book, even though he knew we had yet to sign it up. Also a good sign. These sketches were also included in the materials I distributed to our acquisitions committee.
Shark vs Train VS the Acquisitions Committe: Who will win?
Both were winners! The committee approved the project, and we made an offer. But wait...another publisher was also bringing the project to their acquisitions committee, and they also made an offer.

Little, Brown vs. Other Publisher: Who Will Win?

Well, duh.

We won the text in a two-round auction, and then officially approached Tom to illustrate. He accepted with the caveat that he could work closely with the author on the text, something that Chris agreed to readily. This was an unusual process, because generally the author and illustrate do not collaborate directly. Every book "takes a village" to create, but in this case, it was a true collaboration in every sense of the word, from Tom and Chris, to me, the designer Maria Mercado, our art director, editor-in-chief, production manager, etc etc. Tom and Chris met in person to work on the book. Tom, Chris, and I had many many conference calls to hash out the different scenarios. I would talk to both Chris and Tom separately as well. Tom and Maria would go back and forth regarding the design. Even the final cover and the bright green color was a collaboration--the original cover design was yellow, but when we saw a mock-up of a catalog cover that our marketing designers had done, we decided that the green with lightening bolts was the way to go--it was a eleventh hour change. So, what do you think, was it a good choice?

The beginning was another challenge. This was a book that not everyone "got" right away, and we felt we needed a framing device that made the match-up make sense. Why were Shark and Train battling it out in the first place? It came down to two options.  The first was an ellaborate comic-style sequence that had Shark and Train meeting in an antagonistic way:
But we settled on the perfect opening of two kids playing with toys. After all, Chris's original inspiration for the book was watching his two sons play. So this felt right:

Check out this great post about Shark vs Train over at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast, including a ton of outtakes that didn't make it into the final book. The possibilities are endless!

I love this book, and I think little boys (and girls!) are going to love it, too. And of all of the picture books I've edited, this is the one that all of the men in the office ask about. One in particular come into my office on several occasions asking if the book was in yet. He pretended to want it for his baby daughter, but I knew better. But here's a picture of the little fan:
So, are you Team Shark or Team Train? Visit the website to vote!

Shark vs Train has received three starred reviews so far:
"This inspired pairing, executed with ingenuity and packed with action and humor, is a sure winner." --School Library Journal, starred review

"This is a genius concept." --Publisher's Weekly, starred review

"A glum train in smoky dejection, or a bewildered, crestfallen shark? It's hard to choose; both are winners." --Kirkus, starred review