Old Familiar Brown Bear

Each time I go to the library with my daughter, I show her books. “This one’s got dogs!” “Look, a duck!” But she sits in the rocker, or chews on a train, or presses her snotting nose against the glass of a papier mache Charlotte’s Web display.

Then we’re in the picture books. She sees one, and she points, excited. Finally, I think, a book she wants. And I go to grab it…

…and it’s Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See?

“What? We own this book.”


“It’s sitting on our bookshelf.”


“I read it four times yesterday!”

She looks at me as if to say, What part of “Ehn!” don’t you understand?


I plop her on the carpet. I place the book between us, and open the first page. And for the first time since I brought her inside, she sits still.

“Brown Bear, Brown bear, what do you see…”


Books with Baby

Here are some books my daughter has enjoyed having me read to her — and that I’ve enjoyed reading right back.

Duck and Goose Colors by Tad Hill. A cute book with the Duck and Goose characters, comparing things that are the same color. “The tip of Goose’s beak is black, like ants.” I think she likes the shortness, and the bright colors.

Babies on the Farm. A lift-the-flap book where a couple of goat kids go around meeting the other baby animals. It’s a thick board book with thick board book flaps, so she can’t easily destroy this book, and the art is very cute.

Hello, Cape Cod! by Martha Zschock. A pair of seagulls show you all the things you can do on Cape Cod. The rhyming is fun and easy to read in an upbeat voice. I also love when the seagulls are obviously in Provincetown, and you see a book store, a candy shop, and an LGBT flag.

Llama Llama Trick or Treat by Anna Dewdney. She loves baby Llama and has no sense of when holidays take place, so this book is perfect.

God Bless You, and Good Night. This was a gift for my daughter from my mother-in-law after her baptism. Sweet-looking fuzzy animals going to bed. I love how the text reinforces how much the parent loves the baby.

I Love You Through and Through by Bernadette Rossetti Shustak. Speaking of reinforcing how much I love my baby, the text declares love for all parts of the baby, both fun and difficult. “I love your happy side, your sad side, your silly side, your mad side.” Plus Church’s illustrations are very sweet, and my daughter has actually leaned forward to kiss the baby on the face while I’ve been reading. (And yes, I almost died because my insides melted from the raging fire of adorable.)

Those are some of my daughter’s favorites, this week at least. What do you read to your kids over, and over, and over again?


Weekend Links: Bucky and Books

Here are some fun things I’ve seen around the Internet recently.

On the blog Writing for Kids (While Raising Them) author Meghan E. Bryant describes her long process of getting her picture book, Dump Truck Duck, published. That she kept at it for so long is inspiring in itself, but I find it really fantastic that she was able to get publishing deals for several books right afterward, because of the simple fact that she never stopped writing. I think about all the stories sitting in my drawer right now, waiting to be polished, and the ideas swimming in my cluttered brain waiting to be written while I  query other things, and I have hope that if I can get one book published, maybe something else will start.

Women Write About Comics published an article, The Feminization of Bucky Barnes, where they parse out why the Bucky Barnes/Winter Soldier character is so particularly popular among female fans. I’ve really liked that character for a while, mainly because of the angst (I’m a horrible person that likes to see my favorite characters tortured). But the writers on WWAC bring up other points, like how Bucky replaces the “girl” character, which rang true for me as far as why I feel so attached to that character. (Chicken or egg: which came first, my love of Bucky or my love of Sebastian Stan? Both evolved so closely together…)

Maggie Stiefvater drew a diagram of what her character Gansey from the Raven Boys series looks like when “His fingers lightly touched his temple and his cheekbone, and his eyes looked off at nothing”. I laughed for one full minute.


Review Recap: Kitty & Dino, Wonderful Wizard of Oz

Last week I reviewed a picture book (not manga) that I got from Yen Press, Kitty & Dino. The basic premise is a boy brings home a dinosaur egg, which hatches. The resident cat is pretty perturbed, but then slowly becomes the dinosaur’s best friend. It’s a very adorable book, and I loved it.

Also, the latest installment of my Manga Bookshelf column was posted. This time I looked at the adaptation of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, which I really enjoyed, though of course I had a few problems with it.

If I can manage to find the time this week (lots of MFA work due for me) I want to read and review the second Lou! graphic novel, as well as catch up on my reviews for Fandom Post. Let’s see if that happens!


Children’s Books: Swirl by Swirl, Red Sled

As a member of the New England SCBWI, I became aware of the Crystal Kite award, where members vote on the best children’s book written by a local member in the past year. Although I’ve missed the voting date, I still wanted to track down as many of the nominees as possible. I don’t have the money to buy all of them, and unfortunately only some are available through my library, but I was able to gather up a few, starting with two picture books: Swirl by Swirl and Red Sled.

Swirl by Swirl: Spirals in NatureSwirl by Swirl: Spirals in Nature (written by Joyce Sidman, picture by Beth Krommes) is basically one free-verse poem about how spirals appear in nature, featuring things from animals hibernating (“A spiral is a snuggling shape. / It fits neatly / in small places.”) to a whirlpool in the ocean (“A spiral moves. / It swirls through water, / gathering bubbles.”). The text is very simple, but also so beautiful, something that I would love to read to a child. Krommes’ art is also very interesting to look at; made from brightly painted woodblock prints, the highly detailed illustrations gives you something to look for on every page. Different animals and plants, showing off their spirals, are given unobtrusive labels so that kids can identify these things and nature. This also lets them match these animals and objects up with a couple pages of explanation in the back, wisely separated from the actual text.

Red SledRed Sled (written and drawn by Lita Judge) is even more simplistic. The first page shows a child walking through the snow to his house, with only the sound effect “Scrinch scrunch scrinch scrunch scrinch scrunch”. After that we discover that the pages are either entirely silent, or given only a sound effect. We soon see a bear discover the sled (“Hrmmm?”) and take it for a ride, with more and more animals joining him as he goes (“Rooooooooooooooeoeoee”). As calming as it would be to read Swirl by Swirl outloud, I can imagine Red Sled being massive amounts of fun, shouting out the sound effects. The sound effects lead you to bigger reactions as the text swoops and enlarges, making this book pretty interactive, and in the end it’s just a fun premise of woodland animals borrowing a sled so they can have fun, too.

Despite how delightful I found Red Sled, for my own personal tastes I’d have to pick Swirl by Swirl due to its soft verse and subtle way of teaching you things.

Writing Updates: So Much Homework!

Sorry to my regular readers (all 2 of you) for not posting much recently. The due date for my next MFA submission is coming up, and I’ve been hammering away at that.

In his response to my last submission, Tony Abbott gave me a lot of excellent advice, from little things like changing a word, to ideas for new chapters or scenes that could flesh out my plot and characters. Unfortunately, I don’t have nearly enough time to actually get those ideas out – the submission’s due Monday, and I still have about 7 or 8 chapters I want to get through and fix, not to mention my annotations…. I shall not sleep much this week.

For my picture book IS, I haven’t been doing too much work… but when I’m done with this submission, I plan on reworking parts of my manuscript, along with reading quite a few more picture books. I have done some work, by researching frogs (the story’s about frogs, it makes sense).

Also, after reading Hate That Cat, my poetry brain woke up. I started reading my William Carlos Williams collection again, and have even written a couple of poems (in a notebook that no one will see, ever). Too bad it’s actually my “kid lit” brain I need this week…

Writing Updates: July 13 2011

I haven’t written any writing updates in a while, and that’s why I originally started this blog!

Since getting back from Lesley, my work on my MG fantasy has consisted of edits and rearrangements. I’m trying to find the right place to start the story, while also getting the characters fully introduced and into the action as quickly as possible. It’s really hard. I think I’ve gotten the correct order of events for the first part of the story, but I may still need to figure out what parts to chop out to pick up the pace.

I’ve also been working on work for my IS. Aside from just reading picture books and craft books, I’ve tried my hand at writing a couple of manuscripts. The first one is completely self-indulgent and overly sentimental, so I don’t think I’ll be sending it to anyone anytime soon. Another one I wrote, while very rough, has a lot more potential, I think. I’m letting it sit for a few days, then I’m going to use some of the revision ideas I got from Writing Picture Books. I’ve also got another story started, which I want to tell in rhyme, but I only have three stanzas written. Rhyme comes difficultly to me, so I’m letting that story reveal itself to me bit by bit. Walking helps it.

I’ve also been working on my reviews since getting back. A review for a Campfire graphic novel, The Three Musketeers, went up on Suite 101 a few days ago. I’ve also gotten the start of my review for the manga A Bride’s Story written, but I’m having trouble finishing it off. That book may be too intelligent for me to write about, heh.

Before work today I want to get a good start on more edits for another chapter of my novel and maybe have another stanza or two for that rhyming book.

What I’m Reading: A Drifting Life, Picture Books

When I came back from my week at Lesley, I was happy to see that my order from Thwipster, a daily deal website for comics and nerdy things, had come in, and I got my copy of the manga A Drifting Life.

This manga is an autobiographical work by Yoshiro Tatsumi, chronicling everything he went through to become, and continue to live as, a manga artist. On the one hand it doesn’t seem that Tatsumi had a terribly difficult life; though he had jealousy issues from his sickly elder brother, his family as a whole seemed very supportive of his dreams. But as a writer, I find it really inspiring to see how he dealt with his creative ups and downs, and his insecurities as he inevitably compares himself to people he believes are better. It’s also amazing to see just how much work he was able to produce as a high school student, and then as a young man! It’s certainly gotten me up from the book and in front of the computer to finish a chapter, or start a new story idea.  A Drifting Life is a pretty big honking book (over 800 pages!), and since I’ve only been reading a couple chapters at a time, I’m just barely past the halfway point.

I also spent a day last week in the children’s section of the library. As I mentioned earlier, I’m doing a picture book interdisciplinary study with Lesley this semester, so I can learn how to write picture books. And to learn, you have to read. I need to read a lot of books for this, and picture books aren’t the cheapest, (and even buying them used, I don’t have the space for them) so the best thing to do is plop down in the library and read for a couple of hours. Among the books I read were Miss Rumphius and Snow. I can only assume I looked really weird, if not downright creepy, reading and rereading my little stack. I’ll have to get over that, though; I’ll need read quite a few more books before this semester’s over. Guess the librarians are going to have to get used to me.

MFA Day 6

This morning we had Susan Goodman’s Writing Dynamic Non-Fiction seminar, for the Writing for Young People group. This seminar was great, not only because Susan is an amazing person, but because the subject was actually really interesting, despite the fact that we all write fiction. This was the class where we had to bring in a nonfiction book we enjoyed and talk about it, which for me was Me…Jane. We looked at some other interesting books, and how they employ narrative arc to make the story really fascinating. After class I also bugged Susan about the process of writing a picture book, and how much you need to have mapped out as far as the page count and where the words fall on the page. Turns out, not much.

The afternoon was the last round of large group workshops, and I was up first. After some nice comments, Tony Abbott looks at me and says “You don’t need us to compliment you, right?” My response, “…no….” And then they started in. It wasn’t that my piece was bad, as I did receive a number of compliments from the others and Tony, but since the time is so limited he focused on my problems. I think he figured I could handle it, or something.

I also ran into Janet this afternoon, and bugged her more about how my proposal for a picture book independent study was going. She’s sent it off to the potential adviser, so now it’s just a waiting game. She doesn’t seem to think it will be a problem, but I have my fingers crossed all the same.

Children’s Books: Me…Jane by Patrick McDonnel

One of the seminars I’ll be taking at the MFA residency focuses on writing non-fiction for young people. The professor wants to read and bring in a non-fiction book, and gave us a nice list of readings we could pick from, if we chose. As much as I trust her judgment in books, I decided to take this chance to read Me . . . Jane, a biography of Jane Goodall by Patrick McDonnell. I think I made the right choice.

Me…Jane focuses on Goodall’s early years, starting with the day she was given a toy chimp: “Jane had a stuffed toy chimpanzee named Jubilee.” We are then shown how much Jane loves to be outside and watch the animals. She even likes to study them, drawing pictures and taking notes (we’re given an interesting two-page spread of these, showing how passionate and meticulous the young Goodall was). She hides in a chicken coop to see where eggs come from, “and observed the miracle.” Small Jane climbed a tree to read about Tarzan, and dreamed of going to Africa. She imagines giraffes and elephants, and that she is swinging through a jungle. At the end she falls asleep, and then awakes an adult, “to her dream come true.” The last image is the only photograph, as she reaches and touches fingers with a baby chimpanzee.

The story is simply told, with one or two short sentences, or even just phrases, opposite the main art. The simplicity reminds you that this is the story of a child, but it also makes the emotion more poignant:

Jane often climbed her favorite tree,
which she named Beech.

She would lay her cheek against its trunk
and seem to feel the sap
flowing beneath the bark.

Jane could feel her own heart

The art is very cute, drawn by the same person who created the newspaper comic Mutts. While I’m not a regular reader, I’ve always found that comic charming and heartwarming. That charm is visible here as Jane smiles at every animal, and Jubilee could be real as Jane holds his hand. The art is also still simple enough that any little girl could imagine herself as Jane, dreaming her big dream and watching it become real. That’s also why I like the photograph at the end of the book; going to Africa is no longer some fantasy, but something that actually happened, because she wanted it so badly.

Jane Goodall has done a lot of good in her adult life, as the more direct biography at the end of the book explains. But it’s so much easier to feel close to and happy for a person when you see her as a child, and McDonnell does a fine job of creating that empathy. There’s no large drama in this book to make it exciting, but Me…Jane is an uplifting, and empowering, story.