Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Picture Book Life: Caldecott Dreamin'

The Caldecott Awards for 2013 were announced yesterday.

I didn't win.  (Mwaaaaaa.)

I didn't think I was going to win anything, but a girl can dream.

Someday  ... ah, someday.

But, in the meantime, BIG CONGRATULATIONS to those who did win!

The Big Prize went to Locomotive, illustrated by Brian Floca.

And the Caldecott Honors went to:

Journey, written and illustrated by Aaron Becker and published by Candlewick Press

Flora and the Flamingo, written and illustrated by Molly Idle and published by Chronicle Books LLC

Mr. Wuffles! written and illustrated by David Wiesner and published by Clarion Books, an imprint of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company

These books all look absolutely gorgeous and I can't wait to check them all out.  (I've already seen Mr. Wuffles and - like always, David Weiser is a master of illustration.  So much fun!  There's little aliens and an alien language.  It's wild!)

In the meantime, I am busy with my own projects.  One book is with the agent.  One book is almost with the agent.  And I need to start focusing on the book trailer for THE SIMPLES LOVE A PICNIC which comes out in April.  SQUEE!  It's coming up!

Thanks for stopping in!  Keep warm!

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Recent Clip Art

Hi guys -

I'm pretty busy this week polishing up two picture book dummy books for my agent to send out, so there won't be much blogging.

But I don't want to neglect you, so I thought I'd share some of the recent clip art products I've put on the Teachers Pay Teachers site recently.

There seemed to be a lack of President's Day Clip Art on the site.  I mean, there certainly is clip art for that holiday, but most of it is pretty cutsie.  Also, it's easy to find George Washington and Abraham Lincoln, but not many modern presidents.  I narrowed my collection down to five, out of which Kennedy was the hardest to get a good likeness!

The Natural Treasures collection was done on request.  There's a lovely teacher in New Zealand (I think that's where she's from) who wanted this set specifically for a project she was putting together.

Finally there are the Cocoa Critters.  I just wanted to have something fun and wintery.  And since I'm a big lover of cocoa, I thought I'd spread the joy.

I'm drinking cocoa right now.

Hope you're all keeping warm.  It only snowed a bit last night - we didn't even get a school delay - but MAN it's COLD!

Thanks for stopping in.

Sunday, January 19, 2014


A few weeks ago I was looking to make a scone that Magoo could eat and I came across a recipe for Banana, Espresso, Chocolate scones.  Mmmmmmm - right?

But as with all recipes, it needed some serious tweaking before it would fit into Magoo's diet.  So I tweaked.  The result came out good, but too wet.  Yesterday morning I retweaked.   I took away some liquid.  I added more flour.  Voila!  Yummy scone perfection!

And, because I've picked up a fun new hobby of making illustrated recipes, I decided to whip one up for anyone who wants to give it a go.

Click on the image.  It will enlarge.  From there - I think - you can print it.  (I should probably try it myself.  ...  OK, I just tried it.  I didn't really work.  I'm going to research how to attach or embed a printable worksheet into this blog, but I don't have the time right now.  What I would do is copy the image and paste it in Photoshop and print from there.  If you don't know what I'm talking about, just click on the original recipe below and tweak away.)

The original recipe can be found here on Food52.


Friday, January 17, 2014

Julie's Easy-Peasy Winter Socks

A couple years ago, I tried to knit a sock.  I was fine until I got to the heel, then I didn't know what the heck the directions were talking about, so I quit.

Years went by.

Recently, I had knit three hats and a scarf and I didn't want to dive into another sweater, so I thought, Hey Julie, you have a few more years of experience now.  Why not try socks again?

So I did.

I thought it might be nice to do a heavy winter sock, so I used a pattern for worsted weight socks.  I also bought a magazine on knitting socks, and looked at several videos on the internet to understand the heel.  It took all these resources combined before I really understood what I was doing because there weren't any diagrams or pictures in any of the patterns.

I'm a visual learner, people!  I need pictures!

So I took it upon myself to draw out step-by-step visual directions for making a worsted weight lady's sock for anyone out there, like me, who likes to know what they heck they're doing.  It's really not difficult if you take it step-by-step and have a sense of what's happening.

There are four sheets.  If you want to follow along, click on each one and print it out.

 There are two things I want to note:

One, it's OK to make mistakes.  These will go on your feet.  Who cares!

Two, the striped socks that I knit were done with self-striping yarn.  I didn't switch skeins or anythign that complicated.  The yarn did the work for me!


Monday, January 13, 2014

Picture Book Workshop: Twist Endings

I recently sent some stories to my agent.  He liked the stories, but worried that the end twists weren't twist-y enough.

That got me thinking about twist endings in picture books.

On one hand, I get it.  The more clever your story, the better.  Editors see the same kinds of stories over and over again so yours has to be too clever, charming, insightful and fun to refuse.  Jeepers, right!

On the other hand, do young readers need big twists in their stories before they even fully understand what a predictable ending is?  (That's an idea for another blog post though.)  Right now, if I want to see my stories published - and I do - I need to make sure I can master a twist ending.

A lot of times when I'm looking to learn something specific, I'll go look for a book on it.  The problem is, most books on writing craft are for longer works such as adult fiction.  What works for adult fiction does not necessarily work for a picture book.  Yanno?

But I did find a lovely little essay on Twist Endings by sci-fi author Charles Gramlich.  I borrowed it on my Kindle so it didn't even cost anything.

Mr. Gramlich had two good points which I wanted to share.  One, in order to write a twist, you must first know what the audience will expect.  What's the predictable ending?

Then, you have to figure out how to turn it around.  (Easier said than done.)

The other point wonderful point he made was about being careful not to trick your readers too much.  An audience that has come to care about a certain character will be upset if you pull a twist and make that character something that the audience doesn't like.  For example, if you write a bully story about poor little Billy, and the twist at the end is that Poor Little Billy is, in fact, the bully, your readers aren't going to like that.

The twist has to serve the story but not overwhelm it.

I looked through my stacks to find some good examples of picture book twists.

In LITTLE PEA by Amy Krouse Rosenthal and Jen Corace the whole concept is a bit of a twist.  Little Pea does not like to eat candy for dinner, you see.  But he has to eat it every night.  The bonus twist is that when he has finished eating the candy that he can't stand, he is rewarded with dessert: spinach!  Hi favorite!  Yum, yum, yum!

In a slightly more straight-forward story, BACKBEARD AND THE BIRTHDAY SUIT by Matthew McElligott, Backbeard is a mean, smelly, disgusting pirate who ruins his clothes when his birthday party gets too rowdy.  He goes to town to get new clothes, but they don't really have pirate clothes.  He ends up getting a boater hat and a colorful suit.  One twist is that he likes his new look, even though he looks kind of ridiculous. 

At the end, he is worried if he will be accepted by this crew.  What's the predicable ending?  Well, because it's a picture book, he's obviously going to be OK.  But the story is clever in how it gets to that point because the crew doesn't even recognize Backbeard at first, then they do, in fact, think he looks a little silly.  They have a big pirate brawl.  In the end, because he is still the same old mean, smelly, disgusting Backbeard underneath it all, his new look is accepted.

This, to me, is a good picture book twist.  I don't think you want something that blows the top off of reality, like a Twilight Zone episode, but you want a good, justified ending that had some surprises along the way.

Is your ending twisty enough?  I guess only the editors and the readers can decide!

Friday, January 10, 2014

Cancelled Author Visit

Well, it finally happened.  Something I had feared.  Something I have never had to do before.  Today I had to cancel an author visit.

Here's what was supposed to happen.

Last night I was supposed to drive to Clinton, MA (about a 90 minute drive from my house) and stay over -night with a friend who worked at the school I was supposed to visit.  Then we were going to drive into school in Waltham, MA int he morning.  Then I was going to do a regular, full-day author visit.  Drive home.

The first glitch came earlier this week.  My friend had the flu.  She said I could still stay with her though, which was very kind.  But I had two thoughts: 1.)  I don't want the flu.  2.) If I had the flu, I wouldn't want a house guest.   So I declined.

I decided that I would simply get up early on Friday, leave around 6am, and drive 2 hours to Waltham. It's not my idea of a good morning, but I'd do it.

Last night I was ready to go.  I had my bag packed.  I had my clothes layed out.  I had written directions and my GPS ready to go.  I even had a book on tape to keep me company on the road.

But this morning at 5:30am, there was snow on the road.  I turned on the TV.  The weatherman said it was sticky snow and that there were "spin-outs, spin-outs, and more spin-outs."  Then I looked at the school delays across CT - 90-minute delays were posted all over the state.


I felt terrible, but it was not a morning to take a 2-hour drive.  It simply wasn't safe.  I had to cancel.

I've left a few emails, a few texts, and one voice mail message.  It is now 7:30, so I just want to make sure everyone can make their plans for my absence.

I feel bad for the kids who were excited about my visit, for those who helped organize it, and for those who got the art supplies together, but as I watch the morning news and see the traffic map lit up with car accidents and spin-outs, I feel I made the right call.  (I probably wouldn't have gotten there anyway with slow roads and traffic jams.)

As the day progresses I'll hopefully be able to reschedule the visit.

This winter has been so weird.  Last weekend we had a polar vortex and this weekend it'll be 50 degrees and rain showers.   Maybe I should aim for Spring?

Hope you all are safe and sound wherever you are!

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Oh the Weather Outside is CRAZY!

Friday there was enough snow for a snow day.  That, combined with the early release on Thursday, mean that Magoo attended school for 4 1/2 hours last week.  Woo-hoo!

(Above) We shook things up and went to Elizabeth Park for some sledding action.  See Hartford in the distance?

There were some bumps at the bottom of these unfamiliar hills.

But we all survived.

Yesterday the temperature rose to 50 degrees and it rained all day, which left a lot of yucky mush.

Overnight, it dropped crazy low and everything froze.  There's a 90 minute delay today and I'm trying to figure out whether it's worth my time to defrost my car.  You see, my car gets moisture on the inside and SOMEONE forgot to close all the windows the other day, letting some of that rain in, so there's ice on the windows inside of the car as well as the outside.

Grrrrr.  Eye roll.  Grumble.

Someone in this family has the right idea, though.

Java has curled up on a nice, cozy blanket by the radiator.

It's CRAZY COLD all over - so wherever you are, bundle up and keep warm!

Take care!

Friday, January 3, 2014

Snow Day #1 2014

The first snow day of 2014 arrived.  We got about one inch of light stuff yesterday morning.  I had the whole walk, driveway, and car cleared in about 25 minutes.

Not today.

We probably got about 8" last night and it's not wet but it is much heavier.

Magoo is eleven now, so he has to help his poor mother with the shoveling.  He was a trouper too.   Did 50% of the driveway and helped with the stuff the plow crammed into the driveway.  (That's always the worst, isn't it?)  And between work periods, he got some snow angel action in.

Here's a shot of the ash can in the backyard.  I thought it was kind of pretty sitting back there in the untouched snow.  And it illustrates about how much we got.

I doubt there'll be sledding today - it's frickin'-frackin' cold out there.  But I'm happy to have some snow back.  And even though it's basically still winter break - it's always great to have a snow day!

Thanks for stopping by!

Thursday, January 2, 2014

He Goes to Eleven

Like Nigel's speakers in Spinal Tap, Magoo now goes to eleven!  Woo-hoo!

As he gets older, the parties are starting to swindle down.  Magoo only wanted his two best firends, Curly and Mo, to come for a birthday sleep over.

He wanted pizza and honey cake.  Check and check.

One other birthday tradition that he wanted was his wall.  Every year I tape up a wall of numbers and a photo of Magoo at that age.  He was on the fence this year as to how "cool" it would be to have it up, but I think he really likes it.  He decided to go for it.  Here's a wee Vine video of his progression.

I also included a treasure hunt around the house.  It was a nice little activity for the boys to do between dinner, gifts, and dessert.  I actually enjoy making these too.  The key, I've learned, is to go backwards.  I hid clues behind his swim ribbons, in graphic novels, behind magnets, etc.  They needed a little help from time to time.  Firs example, they realized a clue lead them to the Bone graphic novels, but they were in such a hurry and Magoo has so many of them that they went right past the clue, so I had to help them backtrack.

Also, an added challenge for me was what to put in the treasure box at the end.  These kids are a little old for the tiny junk you get at iParty.  I didn't want to do candy b/c Magoo can't eat it and one of the other boys has a nut allergy and I don't know what brands he can eat.  I didn't want gift cards.  Ear-buds seemed like a good possibility (b/c I am constantly searching for my own ear buds) but it seemed too practical and not enough fun.  Finally I settled on books.  Hard to go wrong with a book.

After all the planned activities were over, the boys settled in for some video games and "scary" stories in the dark.

All in all I think he had a very nice birthday.
(THANK YOU to all who sent gifts.  Thank you notes will be out shortly.)

In other news:

THE SNOW IS COMING!  We got a little snow last night, but it's supposed to his hard this evening.  It might be one day of school and then a snow day, then the weekend.  I just hope it doesn't snow next week.  I have an author visit in Waltham, MA.  I DO NOT want to drive in weather.

Thanks for stopping in for the first post of 2014!