Love, Laughter, and Life

Adventures With a Book Lover


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Author Interview: OCEANS OF LOVE by Janet Lawler

OCEANS OF LOVE

Written by Janet Lawler

Illustrated by Holly Clifton-Brown

Viking Books for Young Readers, 2022

I love spending time at the beach! But a deep sea diver I am not, so I’m very happy to have Janet Lawler here today to talk about her new picture book, OCEANS OF LOVE! This new picture book is perfect for visiting underwater habitats without needing a wet suit and oxygen tank.

Welcome, Janet! You visited my blog back when Kindergarten Hat came out, which was soon to be followed by Good Night, Little Engine. Tell us a little about yourself and what you’ve been up to since then.

Wow! Time flies! Both those books released during the pandemic year 2020, a time that we all would like to put behind us. But I kept busy throughout since that is my way to handle challenging periods. And during the darkest months of the pandemic, I wrote There’s No Place Like Hope, an inspirational text to help kids get through tough spells. Optimism and hope help anyone facing uncertainty and upheaval, don’t you think?  That book, illustrated by Tamisha Anthony, will be published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux next year.

Ooh, There’s No Place Like Hope sounds perfect! What a wonderful way to spend that closed-up time!

Congratulations on your new picture book OCEANS OF LOVE (Viking Books for Young Readers, February 1, 2022)! It is beautiful! What inspired this story?

Thanks, Angie. I am fascinated by the ocean, and that interest met up with my desire to write another story in my favorite genre—the “love poem.” My first published book, If Kisses Were Colors (Dial, 2003) compares a mother’s love to the vastness and beauty of the natural world. After that, I wrote a few more about how moms and dads show love to their little ones. But I ran out of humans! So I started musing about different animals. OCEANS OF LOVE takes a dive under the waves in an imaginary journey that ponders how sea dwellers might show maternal love.

Lol. You ran out of humans . . . I love the way you moved on to ocean animals.

What writing journey did you follow as you wrote OCEANS OF LOVE? How long did it take from idea to publication?

The journey started over 15 years ago, in 2006. I had already written A Mama Bug’s Love, taking an imaginary love tour with a bunch of bugs. Little Simon acquired and published that story in a pop-up book format. I hoped to have another book to follow and so began working on the text that became OCEANS OF LOVE. But the publisher discontinued that pop-up series and passed on the manuscript.

Over ensuing years, OCEANS OF LOVE spent a lot of time in a drawer as I worked on other stories and projects. I am not sure what caused me to revise and share it with my agent three years ago. After only a few submissions, my editor fell in love with it and acquired it in early 2020.

I’m so glad you decided to revise and share it with your agent!

The text is perfectly enriched by Holly Clifton-Brown’s illustrations. How much input did you have as your book went to Holly to be illustrated?

I was given a chance to comment on illustrators the publisher was considering, and I said yes to Holly! I made small comments on sketches along the way. But for the most part, Holly took her own creative path to where my words inspired her imagination. Her luminous illustrations add depth and detail to my text, in addition to a lovely added story layer.

I totally agree! Holly added lovely layers to your story.

Did you do anything special for the book birthday of OCEANS OF LOVE?

I did my first in-person event in over two years, in conjunction with the wonderful children’s department of my town’s public library. I wore my special fish earrings and my seaweed scarf. I shared the book and its background, and kids joined in a fun fishing activity before going home with fish stickers and a “Love Fish” coloring/craft activity (folks can download that for free off the OCEANS OF LOVE  page on my website).

Fun! Thanks for the link!

What tip(s) could you offer to picture book writers who are seeking to get their books published?

I tell beginning picture book writers to focus on the craft of writing, so that the story is the best it can be before trying to find a publisher or agent. Early on in my career, I sometimes rushed to send out what I thought was the “perfect manuscript,” and the next time I looked at it (sometimes, the following morning!), I saw ways to make it better. I also tell new writers to research markets to make thoughtful submissions. There is so much information available now online about what different publishers and editors want for their lists. Target submitting greatly increases one’s chances of finding a home for a story.

Thank you! Excellent advice.

Surprise us! What else would you like to share?

I am a Walrus Detective! The Walrus from Space project (co-led by the World Wildlife Foundation-UK and the British Antarctic Survey) is assisted by lay volunteers who analyze satellite images of the Arctic taken from space to see if there are any walrus visible. Anyone can do this, in spare time and with a little training! I am fascinated by this arctic mammal, which is why I wrote WALRUS SONG (Candlewick, 2021). I hope you and your readers will check out the Walrus from Space project. The information gathered and analyzed will help experts better understand the impact of climate changes on walrus habitats.

That sounds fascinating! I was once using Google Earth, just popping around way up north of Alaska and Canada and spotted a beached whale on a tiny little spit of land! It was amazing!

Thank you so much for visiting, Janet! Congratulations on OCEANS OF LOVE and best wishes on your future projects!


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Author Interview: TOFU TAKES TIME by Helen H. Wu

I love learning how different foods are made, so you can imagine how much I loved reading this new picture book by Helen H. Wu. TOFU TAKES TIME (Beaming Books) will make its appearance on April 19, and I can’t wait! Let’s get right to it and meet the author.

Welcome, Helen! Tell us a little about yourself.

Thank you so much Angie for having me! I am thrilled to share more about TOFU TAKES TIME and my publishing journey. I’m a children’s book author and illustrator, as well as a translator. I work as the associate publisher at Yeehoo Press, an independent children’s book publishing house which publishes picture books in Chinese and English.

I’m so excited about TOFU TAKES TIME! It makes me want to make tofu. Or at least eat some!

Congratulations on your new book! What was your inspiration for TOFU TAKES TIME?

The inspiration for this story was born of my tofu-making experience with my treasured grandma. When I was a kid, I often sat nearby and watched as she cooked—a process that sometimes involved tofu. She would wash vegetables, chop meat, stir porridge, and cook all the meals for our entire family. It was during these times that she would share stories that transported me to faraway places and other eras. After I moved to the US and had my own family, my kids would ask many questions about the process and tools we used to make tofu together: serving as a warm reminder of the sweet time I spent with my grandma in the small kitchen across the ocean. Hence, a story began to take shape.

I LOVE that this picture book is so closely tied to your family and wonderful memories. What a special treasure for your family!

What was your writing journey for this book?

A great book calls for multiple layers with varied messages readers can take away from the story. Though the idea behind the book was grounded in the tofu-making process, I knew the story must involve a bigger concept that is more relevant to kids. When I cooked with my own kids, I noted their preoccupation with imaginative play and occasional complaints about the time required to cook a proper meal: which inspired me to weave the topic of patience into the text. In examining the tofu-making process in a more imaginative way, I discovered an assortment of inherent elements that connect with nature and even the universe at large. I’m now so happy to have found a sweet spot that includes food, culture, patience, nature, and intergenerational love all tied into one story.

The way that TOFU TAKES TIME is told through the voice of a young child is pretty awesome! Learning patience is such a difficult thing for young people. I still struggle with being patient.

What special plans do you have to celebrate the book birthday of TOFU TAKES TIME on April 19?

I have a book launch event planned on the book birthday, April 19th! I’m so excited to present the book launch event of TOFU TAKES TIME with Avid Bookshop, with talented illustrator and bookseller Julie Jarema! The reading and conversation will take place on Tuesday, April 19, 2022, from 7pm – 8pm ET on Zoom. Preorders from Avid Bookshop will come with a special bonus: a 5”x7” print, bookmark, food stickers, and a bookplate signed by the author and illustrator created just for TOFU TAKES TIME. Don’t miss your chance. You can register here:

 https://www.avidbookshop.com/tofulaunch (Isn’t it a cute URL for the event?)

LOVE it! So much fun!

I love the heart in TOFU TAKES TIME, the relationship between grandmother and grandchild, and the connections between tofu and the ingredients/resources needed to make it. How do imagination and your childhood experiences impact your creativity as you work on picture books?

Thank you! Speaking of picture book writing, I didn’t have typical picture books when I was a kid growing up in China. We had black and white comic books and only in the last two decades, picture books were introduced into China. My writing career started from being part of picture book projects. Reading, especially reading all kinds of picture books, is one of the best ways for me to foster imagination, expand my knowledge, and be open to new ideas. Picture book is a magical format that I feel can perfectly encapsulate a feeling, a moment, a subject, a place and time. And as an art lover, I also find it’s very entertaining and soothing to simply enjoy the artwork of picture books.

I don’t remember reading many picture books as a child, mainly Dick and Jane readers. I do remember jumping right into chapter books. Many of them are still favorites. I’m so glad that picture books are being published for much larger audiences. And the artwork of picture books is divine!

What are you working on now?

My next picture book, LONG GOES TO DRAGON SCHOOL, illustrated by Mae Besom, will be published by Yeehoo Press in February, 2023. Inspired by my experience as a minority immigrant student, this picture book follows a Chinese dragon who struggles to breathe fire in his new Western dragon school, only to discover he must carve his own path to finding a sense of belonging. Wrapped in Eastern and Western dragon lore, this fantasy tale celebrates perseverance, self-acceptance, and cultural differences.

Oh, dragons! This sounds perfect!

What tip would you give to a new picture book author or illustrator?

Read as many books as you can in the genre you intend to write. Take picture book writing classes. Find a critique group and get feedback on your stories. Revise, revise, revise. Most importantly, keep writing and keep going.

Excellent tips. Writers, let’s get busy!

Surprise us! What else would you like to share?

I started writing and illustrating in 2012 and since then I’ve self-published over 20 picture books. TOFU TAKES TIME is my first traditional published book, my debut book. Good things take time!

TOFU TAKES TIME is such a lovely, heart-warming story! I’m excited to see it out in the world. Thanks so much for stopping by, Helen! And CONGRATULATIONS!

About Helen

Helen H. Wu is a children’s book author, illustrator, translator and publisher. She is the author of TOFU TAKES TIME, illustrated by Julie Jarema (Beaming Books, 2022) and LONG GOES TO DRAGON SCHOOL, illustrated by Mae Besom (Yeehoo Press, 2023). Helen is the Associate Publisher of Yeehoo Press, an independent children’s book publisher. Being fascinated by the differences and similarities between cultures, Helen loves to share stories that can empower children to understand the world and our connections. Currently, Helen lives in San Diego, California, with her family and two kids.

Learn more about Helen at:

HelenHWu.com

Twitter @HelenHWu

Instagram @HelenHWu


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Revision Fails: When the “Replace” Feature on Word Works in an Unexpected Way

In my editorial job, I sometimes get clever in how I make sweeping changes. Case in point. I recently wanted to change “PA” in a large document to “Pennsylvania.” So, Miss Smarty Pants decided to use the Replace feature in Word. Took 5 seconds. Done. BAMM.

And then I continued with my revising. By the time I realized what had happened, there was no easy way to go back and undo it. Nope. None at all. (Unless you know of a way, for the next time…Please let me know!)

Every word in the 34-ish page document beginning with “p” became a brand new word. A new word with “Pennsylvania” inserted in the middle. With a capital P.

Par example:

All songs are from Sing to the Tune.** See Pennsylvaniage 2, Important Resources Information.

ART—Pennsylvaniack a Box Show Picture 11. Give each child a brown Pennsylvaniaper square.

Crumple some Pennsylvaniaper and throw it on the ground.

Pink, orange, yellow Pennsylvaniaint

Black strips of Pennsylvaniaper

In advance, prePennsylvaniare Kit Item 00.

Correcting my mistake has taken hours. Days. A very long time. I should have counted the number of corrected words. But after awhile, you just have to laugh at yourself.

They say you learn something new every day. I learned to think more carefully about what might happen when I make sweeping changes with the Replace feature.

Walks away from the computer, slowly shaking her head . . .


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Masha Munching: New Book Author-Illustrator Amalia Hoffman Interview! Plus #Giveaway!

And the winner is . . . Debra Daugherty! Congratulations, Debra. I will be in touch soon! Thanks everyone, for stopping by to check out Amalia’s new book!

Get ready to read Masha Munching on March 1, 2022!

Hello, dear readers! Welcome to a very important blog post featuring a special book by author-illustrator Amalia Hoffman, Masha Munching!

Be sure to read to the bottom to learn how you can get your name in the hat to win a free copy of Masha Munching, compliments of Yeehoo Press (US only). Thank you, Yeehoo Press and Helen Wu, for this opportunity!

Welcome, Amalia! Let’s get to it and learn more about your newest book.

Congratulations, Amalia, on your newest picture book Masha Munching! Living next door to goats, I couldn’t wait to see what Masha munched. What was your inspiration for Masha Munching?

Growing up in Israel, my family spent our summers in a small village where farmers raised cows, chickens and goats. We used to laugh as the goats tried to nibble on our cloths. I have another book, The Klezmer Bunch, with a goat character, also named Masha, so that means that I have a soft spot for goats. One day, I just came up with this alliteration; Masha Munching and that kind of sat in my brain for a while, till I came up with the idea of a goat that longs for great food.

I love hearing how picture books get their beginning. I’m sure growing up around goats gave you plenty of ideas.

I love that you create all of your own art and illustrations. They are amazing! What is the process you used to create Masha Munching? Do you write the story first or begin with the illustrations?

As an author/illustrator, I usually start by scribbling images and words in my sketchbook. As the story evolves, the scribbles become more and more defined. For Masha Munching, I used paper cuts. The animals and many elements are hand painted and hand cut. I cover the board surface with Liquitex modeling paste and add textures by scraping the surface while it’s wet. When dry, I paint the background on the board. Then I glue all the cut-up elements on the board. When satisfied, I photograph the image. Sometimes, I add more textures, details and color in Photoshop.

Fascinating! So many details and steps. Masha Munching has wonderful backgrounds and colors.

Where do you do your creative work?

In my small studio that was once my son’s bedroom. I like working at home, close to the fridge and coffee pot.

Me too! I work in a she shed I named Huckleberry Hutch.

What special plans do you have to celebrate the March 1, 2022, release of your new book?

I plan to present the book in several libraries and bookstores. I’m in the process of creating a puppet that looks like Masha. I designed it in such a way that the mouth will open and close, so Masha can eat all sorts of stuff like old socks, empty containers, and newspapers. I think the kids will get a kick out of that. I plan to create a video to demonstrate how I created my illustrations. Also, I plan to have a contest on social media for kids to come up with funny things Masha could eat.

What a blast! I think young readers (and their parents and teachers) will enjoy meeting Masha!

You’ve had several picture books published through Yeehoo Press. How did you get started with Yeehoo Press and how do you submit new picture ideas to them?

I found out about Yeehoo Press from a message they posted on Facebook. Then, my agent sent them my book dummy for my story, My Monsterpiece. Yeehoo accepts non-solicited submissions so authors and illustrators can send their submissions directly.

Great advice! Thank you.

What is one tip you could give to new picture book writers and illustrators?

Be tough and ready to take rejections. Join author and illustrators groups. Stay true to yourself. Don’t write what you think will sell. If you’re an illustrator, don’t try to mimic someone else’s style.

You have several wonderful books out in the world. What surprises are you working on now?

I’m working on another picture book, illustrated in the style of Masha Munching and also a nonfiction story.

Yay! I can’t wait to see what’s next.

Thank you, Amalia, for sharing Masha Munching with us! Congratulations and best wishes as you continue to create amazing picture books for young readers.

Ready to find out how to get your name in the hat to win a copy of Masha Munching (US only)? A winner will be randomly chosen in one week on Thursday, January 14.

1. Like and comment on this blog post. Please make sure I have your email address so I can notify you if you win. Example: bookwinner (at) yahoo (dot) com

2. Follow this blog and tell me how you follow. Please make sure I have your email address so I can notify you if you win.

Amazon Blurb:

Award-winning author-illustrator Amalia Hoffman delivers a hilarious tale about a goat with an insatiable appetite and her journey to finding the best meal ever! Perfect for farm animal-loving readers.

Masha LOVES food. She chews and chomps, slops and slurps, and gobbles and gnaws through breakfast, lunch, and dinner on the farm. But Masha grows tired of eating the same meals every day. She decides to venture outside the farm in search of something new.

When Masha discovers The Bistro Magnifique, where waiters serve fancy meals in bow ties, Masha thinks it’s her lucky day! But at a proper restaurant, can Masha satisfy her desire for wonderful food while staying true to herself?

With colorful, intricate paper-cut art to amuse readers on every page, this timeless tale follows a young goat discovering that the best meal is the one shared with good friends.

Author Bio:

Amalia Hoffman is an award-winning author and illustrator of many children’s books, including My Monsterpiece, which was a 2021 Next Generation Indie Book Award gold medal winner; All Colors, a 2019 School Library Journal Best Board Book; and Dreidel Day, a PJ Library selection. She is also the author of The Brave Cyclist: The True Story of a Holocaust Hero, illustrated by Chiara Fedele, which was a Junior Library Guild Gold Standard Selection. Amalia frequently tells her stories in schools, libraries, and bookstores with puppets and props. She lives in Larchmont, New York.

Books by Amalia:

Masha Munching, Yeehoo Press, Chinese & English versions, March 2022

My Hands Make the World, PJ Publishing, May 2022

My Monsterpiece, Yeehoo Press, Simplified Chinese and English editions March, 2021

Astro Pea, Schiffer Kids, 2019

All Colors, Schiffer Kids, 2019

The Brave Cyclist, Capstone Editions, 2019

Dreidel Day, Kar-Ben Publishing, 2018


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In Life, Be a Ginger (Write Like a Dog Plays Ball)

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Be a Ginger. That makes me think of Doctor Who, the one who wanted to regenerate as a ginger. I think it was the Matt Smith Doctor Who.

But that’s not what this post is about.

Ginger is a young chocolate lab with oodles and oodles of energy. BALL is her focus. As in, “You throw the ball, and I will chase it.” All. Day. Long.

She wasn’t born with the ability to fetch and chase. As a retriever, she certainly had the innate characteristics for, well, retrieving. But as a puppy, it wasn’t realized yet. Her interest gradually grew to notice moving balls. With tons of praise and practice, she soon embraced the love of chasing and fetching the ball. Her only motivation became the ball. She chases so she can chase it again.

Ginger doesn’t care if she misses the catch. She repeatedly attempts to get to the ball before it hits the ground. If she misses, so what. She still keeps her focus on the ball, scoops it up, and brings it back to the stick person. That would be whomever is holding the Chuck-It Stick.

Sometimes, Ginger is quick and snatches the ball in mid-air. Most of the time, she does not. But she never quits trying. She keeps playing, chasing, and enjoying the game. In doggy words, with tongue lolling and sides heaving with exertion and joy, Ginger says, “I want ALL the balls.”

I think we all need to be a Ginger. In our writing lives, but also in life.

We need to focus. Practice. Make mistakes. Enjoy. Celebrate the successes. Ignore the oops. And keep showing up to play the game. Every single day. Get in the game. Play the game, our insides heaving with exertion and joy. Maybe we should keep our tongues in our mouths though.

I want to be a Ginger.

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Polysyndeton: A Literary Device I Use (and didn’t know it)

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I love writing and reading and sipping coffee and nibbling dark chocolate.

Did you see the polysyndeton technique I just used?

Notice the ands, instead of commas. Using extended conjunctions in a sentence is  polysyndeton. As soon as I read this post. I recognized this literary technique as one I love to employ. Much to the dismay of some of my former critique partners.

I love the way polysyndeton slows the reader down, creates excitement, enhances vocabulary, adds focus, and increases emotions in the text I’m writing. (No polysyndeton in this sentence.)

It’s fun to play with a technique with a fancy name! I’m not even sure how to correctly pronounce polysyndeton, but I can put it to good use.

Read the full article by Daily Writing Tips here.

How about you? Do you use the polysyndeton technique? Is there a favorite literary technique you love?

I’d love to hear your thoughts.


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via One Writer’s Journey: Organization Optimization

This post by Beth Anderson gives excellent organizational tips for researching and writing for children. I’ve found myself stuck and constantly searching for that ONE piece of paper hosting important story information, so I definitely could use organization tips. Spiral notebooks just might be the trick.

Thanks, Beth!

*Beth’s book is pictured above. Can’t wait to read it!

 


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Picture book or chapter book?

This excellent post provides great questions to consider if you are writing a picture book that just won’t come together or lends itself to longer text (chapter book). I hope this helps you as much as it helped me!

Thanks, Hillary!

via Is Your Picture Book Actually a Chapter Book? Five Ways to Find Out, by Hillary Homzie