Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Guest Blog Post by Lori Calabrese

Children's book reviewer, blogger, and author Lori Calabrese is on a blog tour and today she is stopping by Into the Wardrobe! Lori's picture book The Bug That Plagued the Entire Third Grade (Dragonfly Publishing, 2010) is about a boy who has caught a bug - both literally and figuratively! I love how it is a rhyming picture book. Unfortunately, the illustrations by Chet Taylor look amateur and they do not do justice to Lori's great writing. Still, the story is cute. And by cute I do not mean trite. I mean you will smile and your kids will smile because of it! :o) So I am very happy to host Lori today. Thank you so much for sharing with us, Lori!

Discovering My Writing Process by Lori Calabrese

So what exactly is the writing process and how do you find your voice? As a new writer, those were just a few of the questions I often pondered. Was there some secret veteran writers weren’t sharing or was it something that just came naturally? Whether we know it or not, all authors have a writing process. As I dived into writing my first picture book, The Bug That Plagued the Entire Third Grade, I discovered that although writing is a task no two people do the same, every writer follows the same basic steps to create their manuscript. And I was no different.

First comes the prewriting. I love this stage because it’s all about generating an idea and the possibilities are endless. I get most of my inspiration from my two boys and the idea for The Bug That Plagued the Entire Third Grade was one of the first they gave me. When my son got a vicious stomach bug, friends and family called to see how he was doing. I always replied, “He caught the bug.” It’s something we always say when we’re sick, but it made me question why we say that. Of course, I needed to build on the idea, but the play on words of catching an insect and catching a cold was enough to get me started.

With the idea brewing, I grabbed my laptop and let my fingers do the walking. However, the writing that eventually came out would not be winning any children’s literature awards. Fortunately, it was a little reassuring to learn this is normal for many—it doesn’t always come out right the first time. So I wrote several drafts and ventured on to revising.

With most of the writing laid out, it became easier to rework. But this was when a light bulb went off in my head and I realized that, although I had a fun rhyming story, my plot wasn’t working. So I decided to write the story without the rhymes. As soon as I did this, I really discovered what my beginning, middle and ending were. I also discovered I hadn’t chosen a bug! The bug was one of the main characters in my story, so it had to be a good one. It also had to be able to cause havoc and it needed to be rare. I researched until I found a story about the Hine’s Emerald Dragonfly. I always loved dragonflies and am continually amazed how they can dart and hover in mid-air. When I learned that the Hine’s Emerald Dragonfly is the only dragonfly on the federal endangered species list, I knew it was the one! From there, the story just seemed to come to life and I was able to rework it into a rhyming story once again.

I love rhyming picture books and have been influenced by so many I really find this stage fun. I often compare it to putting together a jigsaw puzzle. It definitely helped to immerse myself in some of the stories I loved growing up and reading to my boys. Some of my favorites are A Fly Went By by Mike McClintock, All Aboard the Dinotrain by Deb Lund, Parts by Tedd Arnold and If I Built a Car by Chris Van Dusen. Of course, it took about a year, but after scratching paper copies with that dreaded red pen, consulting Rhymezone.com often to make sure I had the perfect rhyming words, and submitting to my critique group, all of the vivid details added up to a manuscript that was ready to submit. What a surprise it was to learn The Bug That Plagued the Entire Third Grade won DFP’s Best Children’s Book Award.

Some people say that as soon as you write one book, the rest are a bit easier because you get your writing process down. Others say each book presents its own difficulties. Frankly, I agree with both. But although every author’s writing process is different, it’s important to note we all start staring at that blank page and finish with a manuscript we can’t help but feel has the potential to line book store shelves. So as you may be settling down to discover your writing process, don’t forget to start with the basics.

About the guest blogger: Lori Calabrese is an award-winning children’s author. Her first picture book, The Bug That Plagued the Entire Third Grade, was awarded DFP’s Best Children’s Book Award. She writes for various children’s magazines, is the National Children’s Books Examiner at Examiner.com and enjoys sharing her passion for children’s books at festivals, schools and events. Visit her website to learn more.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

The Dancing Pancake by Eileen Spinelli

Illustrated by Joanne Lew-Vriethoff

The Dancing Pancake, written by Eileen Spinelli and illustrated by Joanne Lew-Vriethoff (Knopf Books for Young Readers, 2010), is a middle grade novel in verse. Eleven-year-old Bindi is really struggling with the fact that her dad has left her and her mom. She also has to adjust to the new apartment she and her mom have moved into and The Dancing Pancake, the diner her mom and Aunt Darnell have just opened. There are definite perks to being part of a diner: Bindi and her friends Albert, Megan, and Kyra sit in the back booth and eat waffles with strawberries and whipped cream or triple-decker grilled sandwiches with root beer floats. But mostly Bindi is feeling mad-sad-bad about all the changes in her life. Then there is Grace, the homeless woman who is a regular customer at The Dancing Pancake. Bindi wants to rent a room for Grace but her mom won't help her. Why must everything be so frustrating???

One of the first things I noticed about The Dancing Pancake (and this is just an observation, not criticism) was that, unlike a few other novels-in-verse, each "chapter" cannot stand as an individual poem. The Dancing Pancake is one long poem. My first impression of The Dancing Pancake was that it was a surface level exploration of a preteen dealing with her parents' separation. It didn't seem to go very deep into the thoughts and feelings of Bindi. This was initially disappointing, as I believe the novel's form and content were naturally ripe for "deep exploration." As I continued reading, my opinion of the book changed. I saw that The Dancing Pancake was not a shallow story; it was actually a compelling story that stirred young readers and left gaps here and there for them to fill in with their own imagination and their own thoughts and feelings about the characters and what was happening.

There seems to be a bit too much going on in the novel because aside from Bindi's family, The Dancing Pancake is also about business at The Dancing Pancake (the diner), Bindi's friendships, and Bindi trying to help the homeless Grace. But having all these side stories works out. At its heart, The Dancing Pancake - as it should be - is about LIFE from a child's point of view.

I'd like to mention something I especially appreciate about the timeless illustrations that accompany this timeless story. Joanne Lew-Vriethoff has illustrated Bindi's Uncle Tim (Aunt Darnell's husband) as African American and Bindi's cousin Jackson (Uncle Tim and Aunt Darnell's son) is illustrated as obviously of mixed race. Nowhere in the story is Uncle Tim's and Jackson's skin color mentioned, so this is just the illustrator's touch and contribution to the story. So many illustrations in children's books seem to use white as the default for characters' skin color when the stories could easily apply to different races. I am happy that Lew-Vriethoff's illustrations realistically reflect America's multicolored society.

To end this blog post/book review, I'd like to tell you how a young reader responded to the novel: I read several pages of The Dancing Pancake aloud to my sixteen-year-old cousin Bobby. He listened very attentively and when I didn't want to read aloud anymore, he asked if he could borrow the book - and he finished reading it. (By the way, Bobby's parents are divorced. I am certain this is part of why the book appealed to him.) Bobby is what teachers and librarians call a "reluctant reader." It's true what they say. Give a reluctant reader an interesting book to read and he will be reluctant no more.

[I bought my own copy of The Dancing Pancake.]

Monday, November 22, 2010

The Second Filipino Book Bloggers' Meet Up

Last Saturday (the 13th), I attended the second Filipino Book Bloggers' meet up at Libreria Bookstore. Libreria is a cozy bookstore where you can sit, read or talk, and drink good coffee - and buy cheap books! The meet up was fun because I got to connect faces with blogs and we all talked about bookish and blog-ish things. I've posted a few pictures from the meet up below. I stole these pictures from Philippine Genre Stories and Chachic's Book Nook. =P

See you all again soon! :o)

Monday, November 08, 2010

Radioactive by Lauren Redniss

Marie & Pierre Curie
A Tale of Love and Fallout

The October issue of my favorite fashion magazine, Nylon (it's a little more street, a little more relatable and down-to-earth compared to other fashion magazines), had this book review by Ali Hoffman for Radioactive (IT Books, December 2010):

Author and artist Lauren Redniss opens her latest book, Radioactive, with the following disclaimer: "With apologies to Marie Curie, who said, 'There is no connection between my scientific work and the facts about my private life.'" It's an apt opening for a book that goes on to convey the astonishing life of a woman who, aside from coining the term "radioactivity" and winning two Nobel Prizes, is barely remembered today. In addition to her life as a scientist, Redniss tells of Curie's struggles as a wife, a mother, a foreigner, and a teacher. But that's not to say that Radioactive is just a good biography: Like her multifaceted protagonist, Redniss tells Curie's story through a continuously changing style of prose and more than 100 hand-made photographic collages. Whether looking for a new art book for your coffee table, a history lesson, or a tragic love story, Radioactive delivers.

I want this cool book! And doesn't it sound like a perfect Christmas gift for your daughter/granddaughter/niece/goddaughter/sister who wants to be a scientist? =D