Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Continuing the agony

So, is writing a story supposed to be as agonizing as it is for me? Am I alone on this one? Does anybody else experience this? I'm not talking about writer's block - I'm talking about the simple, lazy at my core, I'd-rather-listen-to-music-on-Pandora-than-write-this-story type of agony. When I actually muster the discipline to sit down and begin to write, the lines flow and the story develops rather quickly. Some are amazed that I pen as quickly as I do. I, on the other hand, am constantly wondering if it's any good, no matter how fast or how slow I write!

Yesterday was a day of some discipline, so I have uploaded a few more pages to the story. Check it out here: Samuel's Umbrella. Please let me know what you think - and if you think there is any hope. Please, be brutally honest. I'm not interested in wasting my time on something that I'm ultimately not any good at. If there are seeds of potential, then let me know that too.

OK, writing this blog has given me some renewed discipline - I'm off to write a little more!! Wish me luck!

Sunday, July 29, 2007

BookSprouting Review: The Golden Rule by Ilene Cooper

The Golden Rule by Ilene Cooper

Illustrated by Gabi Swiatowska

Reading Level: Preschool-2nd grade

Hardcover, 32 pages

Published: March 2007

Estimated Price: 16.95 USD

I hate to give away too much about the plot of a book but The Golden Rule by Ilene Cooper is about...the golden rule! The story consists of a sweet dialog between a young boy and his grandfather after they see the rule graffitied across a wall. My favorite part is when the grandfather explains the different ways the golden rule is described in religions from Christianity to Buddhism. Gabi Swiatowska's illustration are beautiful and add an almost dream-like quality to the innocence of the text. Empathy, respect, and general consideration for the well-being of others is encouraged in this sweet and simple story. Scenarios ask the reader to consider how one should treat a new child at school and whether wars would exist if we all lived by the golden rule, making this a perfect tool to teach a vital lesson. After all, as the book explains, it all starts with us!

4 out of 5 sprouts

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Thursday, July 26, 2007

BookSprouting Review: Whopper Cake by Karma Wilson

Whopper Cake by Karma Wilson

Illustrated by Will Hillenbrand

Reading Level: Baby-preschool

Comb binding, 40 pages

Published: July 2007

Estimated Price: 16.99 USD

There's not much I can say about Whopper Cake by Karma Wilson. The book is sweet as icing but as dense as sponge cake. Plot: Grandpa wishes to bake Grandma the largest cake ever for her birthday. Why? To show his love. Final result? Town party. It's fun to see the large quantity of ingredients that are needed for this feat and the batter that must be mixed and baked in the back of a pick-up truck, but I'm not sure how many times it will be read with each time keeping the humor and interest of the listener. The illustrations are amusing and perhaps 'take the cake' in this book. Found in the back pages is a recipe to make your very own 'whopper cake' guaranteed to fit in your oven. A nice touch I admit, but not enough for me to recommend this book.

2 out of 5 sprouts

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

BookSprouting Review: The Three Fishing Brothers Gruff by Ben Galbraith

The Three Fishing Brothers Gruff by Ben Galbraith

Reading Level: Ages 4-8

Paperback, 32 pages

Published: March 2007

Estimated Price: $9.99 USD

The classic tale, Three Billy Goats Gruff, is given a smart update in this story of three grumpy, greedy, and grouchy fishing brothers who are responsible for capturing all the fish in a bay and polluting its waters. Naturally, the neighboring villagers are angered, as is the giant whale who calls the bay home.

While the ending of Ben Galbraith’s story may be a little dark, his work reminds me of some of Roald Dahl’s best: as in Matilda and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, horrible and selfish characters get their come-uppance.The author also manages to weave into the narrative an environmentally friendly message.
Alongside some of the most visually appealing and creative illustrations I’ve seen in a children’s book – the artwork is a blended collage of paintings and sketches layered with scanned images - tiny fish implore the reader in speech bubbles to recycle and think of the environment.

More of Galbraith's fantastic artwork can be found at his website

4 out of 5 sprouts

Monday, July 23, 2007

Better the Second Time Around?

“Who kills a man kills a reasonable creature, God’s image; but he who destroys a good book, kills reason itself…”

John Milton

After failing to pre-order my Harry Potter book and therefore receive some kind of groundbreaking discount, I was forced to run to the bookstore down the block and pick up a copy off the shelf. I know I wasn’t at the midnight release, but I assure you, I’m a loyal fan. The 20% off sticker on the cover had me thinking I wasn’t losing out too much on the crazy online deals, but my glance to the back of the book had me cringing; how could any book be $45 CAN?! I know books are pricier up North than in the States, but $45?! It reminded me why I love used bookstores and lucky for me, the popularity of used books according to Publisher's Weekly makes it look like I won't have to buy new (and expensive) books too often!

Spurred by Amazon’s choice to sell used trade books in 2004, Book Industry Study Group commissioned a study finding that “used trade books had grown into a significant market, with sales estimated at $589 million in 2004.”

Still, after finding my go-to used bookstore out of business, I have to wonder, are they sure about the success of used books? They are, of course, just not about the used books in that quaint little store on the corner with the many dusty shelves and the lazy cats lolling about in the aisles (there’s actually a shop like that here in Montreal!) The competition has gone online. The article notes that “having no online presence can be fatal in the used book market. Jackie Smith is co-owner of Acres of Books in Long Beach, Calif., which her husband's grandfather opened in 1934. Though the company stocks 800,000 titles, it does not sell online and sales have been soft. Between competition from the Web and high rent, Smith said, she is watching the traditional used book business die.”

That’s a sad idea to this particular reader. The internet is great for many things, but there’s nothing like going into your favorite little bookstore to have a chat with the owner who can recommend you something he thinks you would like. That humanity lost in the tradition of books frightens me.

Read the whole Publisher's Weekly article here

And donate your used children's books to a worthy cause!

Saturday, July 21, 2007

BookSprouting Review: Fancy Nancy by Jane O'Connor

Fancy Nancy by Jane O'Connor

Illustrated by Robin Preiss Glasser

Reading Level: Ages 4-8

Hardcover, 32 pages

Published: December 2005

Estimated Price: $16.99 USD

Fancy Nancy by Jane O'Connor will be adored by any child who loves the game of dress-up. Nancy lives in a flamboyant and "fancy" world of her own creation where things like lace socks are a must in order to play soccer well. Frustrated with her own family's lack of originality, she gives them lessons on how to be "fancy" like her. The family gets into the spirit of dress-up and make-believe and they all decide to go out and celebrate. An embarrassing moment for Nancy brings this little girl down to earth and back to the fact that her family is still her plain, old family and that that fact is okay with her. Although a sweet and fanciful frolic of a book, I still prefer a story with good lessons and this one just doesn't cut it for me. It pushes materialism a little too much and promotes originality through one's possessions, a fact I wouldn't love to teach to my own child. Still, the illustrations are fun and frilly and it teaches some "fancy" alternatives to "plain" adjectives. Although I turn up my idealistic nose to what this book says, as a young girl, I would have enjoyed it!

2 out of 5 sprouts

Friday, July 20, 2007

Booksprouting Review: Elsewhere by Gabrielle Zevin

Elsewhere by Gabrielle Zevin

Reading Level: Ages 12 and up

Paperback Reprint, 304 pages

Published: May 2007

Estimated Price: $6.95 USD

Elsewhere is the story of just that: a Bizarro World in which people grow younger with each passing year, mermaids swim lengths in the oceans, and dogs speak with humans. But before you dismiss this book as a knock-off of Peter Pan, know that Elsewhere is not a magical land that one enters through a wardrobe or by tapping the bricks in Diagon Alley; Elsewhere is where we go after we die.

Author Gabrielle Zevin offers readers a fresh imagining of the afterlife in her novel. Instead of writing about the often-iterated ideas found in life-after-death musings (moral judgment, the role of God), Zevin focuses her story on Liz, a recent arrival to Elsewhere following a fatal hit-and-run accident. Only 15 years old, Liz is understandably shaken at the idea of leaving her life, family, and friends. She struggles with accepting the loss and is bitterly convinced that there is nothing for her in her life-after-life. Her reluctance to let go proves to be a strong metaphor for grieving others and it almost seems as if it is not Liz herself who has died, but her loved ones.

While Zevin’s story deals with death, it is much more concerned with moving on and living - albeit in a world a little different than the one we know. The concept of aging backwards in Elsewhere allows for peculiar and humorous situations (think old men eagerly awaiting the years in which they will have a full head of hair again, and characters who must re-learn how to be a child after living for so long as an adult) that will have readers smiling.

5 out of 5 sprouts

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

The Series that Must Not be Named?

I love the Harry Potter series just as much as the next person. Who was at the midnight show of the last movie? Well, let's just say two of the BookSprouting writers and I may or may not have been included in the two. With the release of the final book, I've never seen such hubub about children's book related news in the mainstream news. Sure, when looking for the latest publishing information, I'll go to publishing or devout book sites, but The Globe and Mail? It seems they have run something about Harry Potter everyday for the last month! It makes me wonder what about this book has made it so crazy popular, completely overshadowing other favourite books of my past like The Phantom Tollbooth, From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, and so many others? I know they were written way before I was even born, but I hope two things:
  1. I hope they had just as much as a Harry-Potter-buzz when they came out (sadly, I'm not too hopeful).
  2. I hope they will endure and not be overshadowed by the glamorous wizard books released today.
Honestly,what is keeping the Harry Potter series going and will it have what it takes to be made a classic? The Phantom Tollbooth was published in 1961 and my peers still talk of it with fond memories. I hope 46 years from now, future generations of kids will smile with such affection over this perhaps media-induced craze.

Links for thought:

Harry Potter Versus Ramona Cleary?
Harry Potter and the Curse of the Book Sellers' Price Wars (8th book, perhaps?)
You Mean Someone has a Copy of the Book Before We Do?! There will be anarchy!

Monday, July 16, 2007

BookSprouting Review: Can You See a Little Bear? By James Mayhew

Can You See a Little Bear? by James Mayhew

Illustrated by Jackie Morris

Reading level: Ages 3-6

Hardcover, 32 Pages

Published: September 2005

Estimated price: $16.95 USD

I am enraptured by the charm of the illustrations in Can You See a Little Bear? by James Mayfew. I know it’s easy to steal the show as an illustrator in books designed for very young children, but honestly, I could stare at these illustrations for hours just appreciating the colors and the fun details. The fantastical illustrations depict a carnivalesque/gypsy-like animal procession accompanied by minstrels and dancers. I know if I were still a child, I would have loved the thought of being able to ride a lion, or a polar bear, or even a dolphin! Inviting interaction, the reader is asked to find the cute polar bear baby on each page. My only concern is that younger children might be overwhelmed by the busyness of the artwork and therefore not be able to truly appreciate the fun. The text is made of simple rhyme, using basic adjectives to describe the colourful and exotic animals. Although the story doesn’t have a real purpose or a profound moral, it’s still a delightful book. After all, who goes to the carnival for morals? It’s purely a time for fun and whimsy!

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Booksprouting Review: Just Like Heaven by Patrick McDonnell

Just Like Heaven by Patrick McDonnell

Reading Level: Ages 4 -8

Hardcover, 44 pages

Published: October 2006

Estimated Price: $14.99 USD

Patrick McDonnell, author and illustrator of the Mutts comic strip, tries his hand at picture books in Just Like Heaven. Mutts character, Mooch the cat, awakes one day from his afternoon nap to a cloud of fog. Believing himself to be in heaven, Mooch explores his surroundings and comes to the realization that the good things he has in life aren’t much different from those found in the afterlife. McDonnell’s heaven-on-earth idea creates a delightful premise that asks the reader “What would you do in heaven?” and such is showcased by Mooch’s adoption of a new attitude and his courage to hug an intimidating-looking dog. While Mooch’s exploration of the afterlife and his appreciation for his own life provide a pleasant (and profound) message to readers, the dark and simple illustrations, which might seem more at home on a newspaper funnies page than in a children’s book, might not appeal to kids looking for bright and fun pictures.

3 out of 5 sprouts

Friday, July 13, 2007

BookSprouting Review: A Good Day by Kevin Henkes

A Good Day by Kevin Henkes

Reading level: Baby-Preschool

Hardcover, 32 Pages

Published: February 2007

Estimated price: $16.99 USD

From my experience, the range of books for preschoolers and below is quite limited. It’s as if authors and publishers alike do not think toddlers can handle anything above the simplest of ABC books. Luckily there is a book like A Good Day by Kevin Henkes. This delightful story has all the elements of a preschooler book such as cheerful, bright illustrations accompanied by large and simple text, but the story is a little more complex than a book that identifies a girl and monkey doing little more than say, ‘look at me!’ (I kid you not—I found this silly book). A Good Day is about how a different point of view can completely transform a bad day into a good one. It teaches us that no matter how sad or helpless we may feel about a certain hiccup in our lives, with a little love, luck and persistence, anything is possible!

5 out of 5 sprouts

Thursday, July 12, 2007

The Struggles of Composition

So, now that BookSprouting.com is live, it's time to get some stories posted to jump-start this community. Toward that end I have begun the long, laborious love of composing a book. But let's not call it a book, because it will likely never be published and will probably only be enjoyed by my mother and my not-old-enough-to-be-critical daughter. And then when she is old enough, she'll read it for nostalgic reasons and likely few others. That is, if she can find it.

I think my story, Samuel's Umbrella, will be a short story. Hopefully this stems less from my lack of creativity and more from the fact that I want children to be able to consume it in one or two sittings. And yet I face so many questions that I can, as of yet, not answer. For instance - what age group would be best suited to read this story? Am I using words too advanced for this group? A brief perusal of my first few paragraphs already reveals words like fraught and trekked, but then again there are kids knocking out words at the spelling bee that make me wonder if the competition is in English or Latin. And then I think of how Tolkien intended The Hobbit to be read by young children; I think he expected 5-7 year olds to read it. So, either I'm doing just fine or I'll only be able to market the work to spelling bee participants.

Other issues I'm wondering about (besides the ever-present 'will anybody like it, ever??') are:
  1. Who will illustrate it? (because I will sound its death knell if I do)
  2. Will it appeal to my intended audience? (which raises the aforementioned - who is my intended audience?)
  3. Will it evoke wonder, joy, or admiration? (or the opposite - dread, disdain, and disgust?)
  4. Will it further learning?

The list could go on, but I'll spare you.

Ok, I just had a realization - I'll just upload the story to BookSprouting.com now and then you can go there (here) and tell me what you think. It's obviously unfinished but I'm open game for your collaborative feedback. And I'm not sure of the value of posting it with only a handful of paragraphs complete, but hey, why not?

I look forward to hearing from you!

Sunday, July 8, 2007

BookSprouting's Inspiration

Having been a lover of books for most of my days, I guess it's natural (but perhaps not) that as I grew older I read fewer children's stories and more grown-up books. Attracted to the classics I lost sight of my roots. Having a daughter changed all of that. Reading to her from her infancy, she naturally began to love and devour books on her own. Christmas and other gift-giving occasions couldn't come fast enough to fill her reading pipeline but fortunately mommy used to teach 3rd grade and Estelle had a bookcase full of books. But what surprised me was that a number of books, which will forever remain nameless, lacked the literary quality that I expect to see in a book. Hey, even if it's for an infant, I still expect that it be creative, witty if called for, prosaic when necessary, and just downright well done. Yet to my surprise many works lacked many of these qualities - as if they had been written by a computer program and proofread by a robot. There has to be a better way!

Enter BookSprouting.com. BookSprouting is a result of channeling this realization into a healthy enterprise. Germinated late last year as I attended a partner conference for a software company (completely and totally unrelated), my hope is that we can attract and build a community that creates the best Children's literature available. As a community of lovers of children's books we will read and then vote on works written by members of the community. Top-voted stories will then receive attractive, sizable prizes as well as exposure for publishing. Now live in Beta, we need your help in building this into the community that we all need it to be. By next week the site will have a forum area where you can give us feedback on how to make the site better. I'm also planning on writing my first children's book and posting it in the hopes that it will help motivate others to do the same. The more stories we can get posted, the more quickly we can get quality works in the hands of our kids.

And that, my friends, is what this hoopla is all about. So check us out at http://www.booksprouting.com/ and join up and participate in the community built for us.

Saturday, July 7, 2007

BookSprouting Review: Something From Nothing by Phoebe Gilman

Something From Nothing

Reading Level: Ages 4-8

Hardcover-Reprint, 32 pages

Published: October 1993

Estimated Price: $18.95 USD

This gem of a book may be difficult to find, but I assure you, it’s worth the hunt. Although not an original story, this Yiddish folktale has taken many versions. Still, Something From Nothing rules over them all. The story is about Joseph and his grandfather’s gift to him when he was born: a blanket. As Joseph ages, the blanket takes many forms as it too ages and must be altered. When finally the blanket is lost entirely, Joseph is crushed and even his grandfather admits that he cannot make something from nothing. Joseph’s decision of how to continue after his loss is something truly remarkable and heart-warming. The quaint illustrations tell stories in their own right that will have children marvelling over the sweet little nuances long after they have read the text. Each depiction contains the richness of the old-world and is an excellent tool in teaching or celebrating Jewish culture and traditions. The story is one of appreciation for the simple things in life provided by the loved-ones who mean the most to us, which is a thing to remember in this day of forgetfulness for what truly matters.

4 out of 5 sprouts

Wednesday, July 4, 2007

It Must be Like Saying Goodbye to Children

At the European premiere of the latest Harry Potter film, J.K. Rowling expressed relief and sadness after completing the final book in the series.

'"Finishing it was very, very emotional. It was a combination of relief and sadness really," she said in London on Tuesday night about Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, to be published July 21.

"It's been a hell of a month," said the 41-year-old author, who added that she plans to take a long holiday soon.'

Rowling has remained silent on plot details from even those in her family but has let go the fact that two main characters are fated to die.

The book has reached 1.6 million pre-sales on Amazon alone, making it its most pre-ordered book of all time.


Monday, July 2, 2007

BookSprouting Review: Imagine a Night by Sarah Thomson

Imagine a Night by Sarah Thomson

Illustrations by Rob Gonsalves

Reading level: Ages 4-8

Hardcover, 40 pages

Published: June 2003

Estimated price: $18.99 USD

Imagine a Night is a creative book that will show your child how to take the ordinary and make it magical through their own imaginations. The extraordinary and haunting illustrations of Rob Gonsalves steal the show as he turns a beautiful albeit simple setting into something absolutely enchanting. A farmer playing a violin to his field of sunflowers may be charming in its own right, but look closely and you’ll see how the sunflowers slowly metamorphose into women with yellow bonnets and green, leafy dresses. A word of caution to those with skittish children, the illustrations are described as “ghostly” and “haunting” for a reason; some of them are a bit eerie even to this no-nonsense 21-year old! The text is whimsical as it encourages children to look beyond the mundane to what possibilities might lie beyond. After all, sometimes lullabies are not only needed for fussy babies, but for “leaf and stem / and dreaming root.”

4 out of 5 Sprouts

First Book Celebrates the distribution of their 50 Millionth Book!

First Book, a non profit organization with a mission to give children from low-income families the opportunity to read and own their first new books, is celebrating the distribution of their 50 millionth book this summer. To help them celebrate, tell them what book got you hooked 'way back when' and you'll have the chance to share the same magic you once felt with thousands of children in one lucky state. Fill out the entry form chronicling your experience and then vote for a state to receive a donation of 50,000 free books. They’ll post the list of the 50 children’s books with the highest votes in August.

Before they were writing books for children, these authors were inspired by the greats who came before them. Here are their memories:

Laura Numeroff

Author of If You Give a Mouse a Cookie

The book that got me hooked was Eloise, by Kay Thompson and illustrated by Hilary Knight! I loved her antics and the way Kay Thompson wrote in run on sentences! And Hilary Knight's art captured the essence of Eloise's delightful character! It inspired me to write my own stories!

Eric Carle

Author of The Very Hungry Caterpillar

While I didn't have many books as a child, the experience of reading the funny pages in the newspaper while sitting on my father's lap has stayed with me over the years. This closeness with my father impressed upon me that he loved me and cared about me and that our time together, reading or walking in the woods looking at insects underneath the peeled away bark of a tree, mattered a great deal to him. Sharing books together can provide such important moments for children and their parents or caregivers.

Amy Schwartz

Author and illustrator of Begin at the Beginning

At the risk of being politically incorrect, I'll admit that the volume that got me started on a lifelong love of books was a Dick and Jane reader. This was the first book that I could read in its entirety, and I was thrilled by the experience. Miss Miller had her first graders share their early reading successes with the class, and I remember resisting all efforts to cut me short, as I read aloud the whole, glorious, book.

Arthur Yorinks

Author of Mommy?

Many books had profound importance to me, but one memory stands out — I was alone for the first time as a child, waiting for my parents to come home from an evening out, and I sat and read a story by Edgar Allen Poe called The Black Cat. It was dark out and even with my large dog beside me I was scared out of my wits. I was paralyzed with fear — every sound in the house now seemed like impending doom! Wow, I thought, the power of words...

Sunday, July 1, 2007

BookSprouting Review: Dogabet by Dianna Bonder

Dogabet by Dianna Bonder

Reading level: Ages 4-8

Hardcover, 32 pages

Published: March 2007

Estimated price: $16.95 USD

Dogabet is the newest book by Canadian author/illustrator Dianna Bonder and her third addition to the alphabet book category. Zany, alliterated descriptions accompany richly detailed, full-page illustrations of dog breeds from A to Z. Although some of the vocabulary may be difficult for most adults to define (e.g. “ideograms”), some well-placed, tricky adjectives like “gluttonous,” “dapper,” and “vivacious” are sprinkled throughout the text, gently adding beautiful words to your child’s growing vocabulary. Each illustration is bursting with hidden images that coincide with the featured letter, allowing for continued fun even after you’ve read through the book. Dogabet would be a delightful addition to any child’s library.

3 out of 5 Sprouts