Archive for January, 2009

Knitty Kitty by David Elliot

Knitty KittyI’m head over heels in love with someone new and my husband is perfectly okay with it. As a matter of fact he approves. It happens every so often and he’s gotten quite used to it. He’s always known that I’m quite fickle and can easily lose my head any time I crack the spine of a new book. This time it’s the sage and soothing Knitty Kitty by Daniel Elliott. I even love her cozy little cottage.

Everything about this wonderful new picture works. The text and illustrations meld together into one seamless piece. It has that wonderful quality of a really good picture book in that although, both text and illustrations could stand alone, in combination, each heightens the other. Elliott’s spare onomatopoetic “clickety-click” and “tickety-tick” set a cheerful, invigorating mood which, along with ”cuddly” words like toasty, cozy and comfy create a warm and wonderful backdrop for Knitty Kitty and her three exuberant kittens. And then there are the illustrations. They’re purr-fect. Even the snowman exudes personality. Illustrator, Christopher Denise uses that particular watery light seen on winter afternoons to construct a likewise cuddly yet active scene of wintry cold outside and glowy warmth indoors. His illustrations are both restful and dynamic at the same time conveying the love and patience of the older cat for her lively charges.

At this point, I’ve used 100 more words to express my delight in this book than there are in the entire text. It’s worth every extra syllable.

Now if only I can get my husband to recreate Knitty Kitty’s front door on my house, my life will be complete…until, at least, I fall in love again.

Posted by: Eileen

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Masterpiece by Elise Broach

MasterpieceMarvin is a beetle living in the same New York apartment as some materialistic and shallow humans.  Sensitive, thoughtful James is the son of the shallow mother, by a previous marriage of hers.  The whole family of beetles has watched for years and feels sympathy for poor James, yet there was never supposed to be species fraternization.  James’ 11th birthday and the pen and ink drawing set he receives become the catalyst for boy beetle Marvin to delicately create an exquisite, tiny drawing and then reveal himself to James as the artist.  All goes haywire from there because James’ mother enters the scene, snatches the drawing, proclaiming to the world the phenomenal talents of her son.  Everything escalates.  James’ artist father sees the similarity of the intricate drawing to those of artist Albrecht Durer.  A trip to a Durer exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art soon becomes more than just a fun day to show the similarities in drawings. Now a curator gets James and his dad aside to make a plea for James’ help with an elaborate plan to catch an art thief. That plan involves a planted forgery, and therefore, it involves Marvin’s secret talents once again.  Oh, what a tangled web we weave …

I liked this story of intriguing plot, miniature worlds, secret friendships, hidden lives, beetles with human characteristics, art appreciation of an artist I never knew, many pen and ink hatchings by illustrator Kelly Murphy  evocative of Durer’s work, and also many discussion points about honesty and truth, art and beauty, friendship and forgery.  I recommend this book for 5th grade and up.

Posted by: Fran D.

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Special! An Interview with Author Carmela Martino

Welcome to our second author interview! Carmela Martino, author of the wonderful book “Rosa, Sola,” graciously agreed to answer our interview questions.

Have you always wanted to be a writer? When did you start writing?
I first became interested in writing when I was in sixth or seventh grade. I started out keeping a journal and writing poetry. My first publication was a poem called “My Sanctuary” that I wrote in high school. It appeared in a book of creative writing by Chicago public school students. While in high school, I also had an essay published in the local newspaper and one of my poems appeared in the school yearbook. But as much as I loved writing poetry, I dreamed of writing a book “some day.”

If you weren’t a writer, what would your job be?
A teacher, which is what I am when I’m not writing. I teach creative writing to both children and adults.

What inspired you to write Rosa Sola?
The novel began as a short story called “Rosa’s Prayer,” which I wrote while working on my MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults. “Rosa’s Prayer” was my response to a writing assignment from my first advisor, Marion Dane Bauer. Marion asked me to write a short story about an event from my childhood that still aroused emotion in me. Any emotion. I chose to write about fear—the fear I’d felt at age ten, when my mother nearly died in childbirth.

After finishing the story, I submitted “Rosa’s Prayer” to my MFA workshop group for critique. The group provided terrific feedback. They also encouraged me to turn “Rosa’s Prayer” into a novel. I spent most of my remaining time in the MFA program working on the manuscript. The original short story spanned only a few weeks, ending on the day Rosa’s mother comes home from the hospital. The novel encompasses a year in Rosa’s life, and focuses not on Rosa’s fear as much as on her family’s struggle to heal from their loss.

Is the plot of the book autobiographical, or related to something that happened in your childhood?
The story is based on my feelings surrounding the loss of my own baby brother when I was ten years old. However, very few scenes in the book “really happened.” And even then, I’ve changed the scenes significantly from the way they occurred. Rosa is not me, and the other characters are not my family members. But all the characters are made up of bits and pieces of people I know.

How long did it take from starting to write to having the book published? Did you get many rejections?
I wrote the short story “Rosa’s Prayer” in Fall 1998. I spent the next 18 months turning it into a novel that became my creative thesis. When I graduated in July, 2000 though, the manuscript still needed work. After wasting lots of time, I finally finished the revisions in 2002 and started sending the novel out.

The first two editors I sent to rejected the novel. A third editor was interested, but she didn’t get back to me for a long time. Meanwhile, I submitted the manuscript to Candlewick Press in October 2002. Four months later, in January 2003, a Candlewick editor called to say they wanted to buy Rosa, Sola. The other interested editor eventually contacted me about publishing it too, but by then I was under contract with Candlewick. The book was published in Fall 2005, so it took about 7 years from beginning to publication.

Do you find it hard to stop editing/revising, or do you have a definite ending point?
Good question! I think I could keep revising forever, especially with a book. Eventually, though, I start to get tired of a story if I’ve worked on it a long time. If I think it’s in decent shape, that’s when I start sending it out to editors. On the other hand, if I’m not satisfied with it, I may put it away for awhile. When I take it out again, I can see it with a fresh perspective. That often helps me see how to fix problems.

For you, what is the hardest part of writing a book?
I’d say it’s having the discipline to keep plugging away at it day after day. Writing a book is a big investment of time and energy. When you don’t have a contract, there’s no guarantee that someone will want to publish it when you’re done, especially in the current economy. I can’t let myself think about that, though, or I’d never have the discipline to finish. Instead, I try to focus on enjoying the process.

What advice would you give to young writers?
I have four tips posted on the “For Writers” page of my website:

1. Read! Read! Read!
To grow as a writer, it helps to study what works, and what doesn’t, in the work of others.

2. Write! Write! Write!
Like anything else, the only way to improve is with practice, practice, practice.

3. Revise! Revise! Revise!
Let your writing “cool off,” then return to it with a critical eye to see how to make it better. (This is where what you learned in Step 1 pays off.)

4. Submit! Submit! Submit!
Your writing will never get published if it’s sitting in a desk drawer (or on your computer’s hard drive). If you get any “encouraging” rejections, be sure to send the editor a “thank you” along with another manuscript. (If you’ve followed Step 2, you should have plenty of manuscripts to choose from!)

Are you working on a new book right now?
I’m always working on something. I have two picture book manuscripts circulating that I hope to sell. I’m also working on a nonfiction biography, and I have plans to start a historical novel set in 18th-century Italy. I’m pleased to say that I have a poem in the brand new Chicken Soup for the Teen Soul: Teens Talk High School. I also have a humorous short story that will be published in a middle-school anthology coming out from Candlewick Press in 2010.

Who is YOUR favorite author or book?
My favorite authors include Katherine Paterson, Karen Hesse and Lois Lowry. I love too many books to decide on a favorite.

What are your hobbies when you aren’t writing?
I love to read. I also enjoy cooking, though I hate cleaning up afterward.

Thank you, Carmela Martino! We hardly need say that we are extremely grateful that she took time away from writing and teaching to answer our questions. For more information on Ms. Martino and her book, check out her website,

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Penguins by Liz Pichon

PenguinsWith winter in full swing, it’s a great time to check out a book about penguins.  Although you may not be planning a trip to the zoo at this time, Pichon’s story may change your mind.

Who would have guessed that penguins could be great photographers?  This story is about the fun some penguins have with a found camera and the surprise a little girl gets when she develops her pictures.

Posted by: Liz

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Mr. Popper’s Penguins by Richard and Florence Atwater

Mr. Popper's Penguins
Are you fascinated by penguins? If you had a penguin, could you figure out how to take care of it and make it happy? How about 12 penguins? The funny story of how Mr. Popper got and took care of all those penguins is well worth reading. The pictures add to the fun. It’s a great read-aloud for younger children and it captures the interest of fourth to sixth grade readers as well. Adults may have read it as a child and will want to read it again. Don’t miss it, whatever your age.

Posted by: Iris

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Princess Academy by Shannon Hale

Princess AcademyOne day the people of Mt. Eskle are informed that the priests have divined that the next princess will come from their village and that all of the eligible girls are to report to an academy so that they will be prepared for their duties if they are chosen to marry the prince. Miri is among the eligible girls but she has mixed feelings. She hates leaving her father and sister and she loves a boy named Peder who has been her friend since childhood and can’t imagine marrying someone she has never met.

The girls learn much at the academy and also face much including prejudice, unfairness and homesickness. However, they are strong and resourceful and intelligent and they are very capable of using the education they are being given in surprising ways especially Miri.

The miners of Mt. Eskle had developed what they call “Quarry Speak” which is a form of telepathy. They use it to give information or warning while cutting the rock. Miri, though her Dad doesn’t let her work in the mine, learns to use Quarry Speak and changes it so that she can communicate much more than just quarrying information. I liked this element of fantasy in the book and it plays an important role when the academy is attacked by bandits.

This is a good book for girls from 5th grade through 8th if they like fantasy and strong girl heroines.

Posted by: Fran W.

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Big Kicks by Bob Kolar

Big KicksSometimes the best stories are the ones that you can imagine being written by a child.  That is why I like Big Kicks by Bob Kolar.  The characters are like the kids you might have encountered in school (little Twirly Squirrel or fraidy Chicken Rabbit) and even Biggie himself, who seems like he would be great at sports since he is so BIG, but that really is not the case.  The kids invite Biggie to fill in at their soccer game, and Biggie goes along even though he would much rather be playing jazz, eating peanut-butter-and-banana-sandwiches, or collecting stamps.  In the end, the kids realize that they have misjudged Biggie as a soccer player (he really stinks), but that he has many other talens that make for a great friend.  There are lots of good lessons to be learned from this book, but mostly it is just a fun read with really fun pictures.

Posted by: Mary

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