Saturday, May 30, 2009


The nine-year-old ended her gymnastic lessons with a bang today at the Recreational Fun Spring Fling -- earning a second place, a third place, and two fourth places. It helps that the very smart instructors put them in groups of five, so that everyone would earn some sort of medal.

Where was she actually in the over-all?
Nicely in the middle of the pack -- not the worst gymnast, but not the best either.

Her six-year-old sister (half-sister) is visiting and got to see the event. She loves seeing her big sister perform in sports or dance. However, this year the six-year-old (almost seven, don'tyouknow) spent the whole time either showing me that SHE could do 'that' (luckily the show was not over-crowded which gave her space to try her gymnastic stunts near our seat) or else declaring that she'd never be able to do 'THAT.'

Now for strawberries and ice cream over cake.
And then to bed.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Been there, done that

I had a good laugh at a recent SLUSHPILE cartoon. (a series of cartoons about the life of a children's book writer.)

This one showes the author of bunny books at a school visit where a child tells the author that he loves all of the author's books. What's his favorite? Where the Pigeon wants to drive the bus. (ooops, wrong author)

Been there/ done that.

Wa-a-ay back in 2003, when TO FLY won all those literary awards, I was invited to make author visits to schools and libraries like crazy. But I never knew how to respond to the joyful teachers and students who said they loved my book, as they pointed to a poster on the wall advertising that other guy's Wright brothers' book -- you know, the one that won the $10,000 James Madison award.
(Literary awards only give you silver plates or paper certificates.)

Lisa Yee did a wonderful post on her blog some time ago about the time she showed up for a booksigning, only to discover all the books on her booksigning table were books by a Lisa SEE!

Here is a link to Lisa Yee's wonderful blog. I'm sorry that I couldn't find the exact post about her author mix-up (I've spent too much time trying to find it--and I simply can't), but enjoy viewing her blog anyway.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Jigzone fun

I love jigsaw puzzles. Once I found Jigzone, I was happy as a clam. I can spend hours putting the same puzzle together different ways -- a few big pieces/ lots of small pieces/ stars/ lizards/ traditional jigsaw shapes/ whathaveyou. It's a great way to make your mind go blank and relax when you're up against a structural problem with your writing. Just work on the jigsaw puzzle and let your 'back brain' work on the writing problem. Eventually that hard working back brain will come up with a solution.

What's your favorite puzzle shape?
I used to like tetris, then moved on to the lizards. Right now, everything I do is stars.


Monday, May 25, 2009

Nonfiction Monday -- Jackson and Bud's Bumpy Ride

Jackson and Bud's Bumpy Ride, America's First Cross-Country Automobile Trip by Elizabeth Koehler-Pentacoff. Illustrated by Wes Hargis. Mineapolis, MN: Millbrooke Press, 2009. Available now.

I spent the last part of the 20th Century researching the December 1903 First Flight of a heavier-than-air flying machine. Imagine my surprise when I discovered that 1903 was also the year of the first trans-continental automobile trip.

Automobiles had recently been invented, but were still the toys of the rich. Most people still walked, rode bicycles, horses, or horse and wagons (or carriages) to get from one place to another.

On May 19, 1903, Horatio Jackson, sitting in a gentleman's club in San Francisco, California, accepts a bet that someone/ that HE can drive a horseless carriage from California to New York in less than three months! He buys a used Winton auto, hires a mechanic, Sewall Crocker, to be his co-driver and off they go on May 23. (His wife travels home by train, expecting to meet him in New York.)

The adventure is written in present tense and skips a lot of the hardships of their journey through the northern tier of states with no roads, no gas stations, and no easy way to get supplies when parts of the car get broken. (flat tires, etc.) In Oregon (I think) they pick up a bulldog named Bud, who travels the rest of the way with them, complete with his own goggles. (You can see those dog goggles on display at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C.)

(added later -- If you go to Elizabeth Koehler-Pentacoff's website, she has a link to a website for Ken Burn's film about this trip and there you will find information about the dog and a map of their trip which shows where dog was picked up in IDAHO.)

At one point the text says "Next day," (June 6) -- but on the previous page it was still mid-May. Skipping along (eliminating the boring parts?), one page has four quick paragraphs about June 23 -- and the facing page of the double page spread talks about July 7. Turn the page and it's July 12 where they drive through a huge swarm of grasshoppers.

This tiny taste of Jackson's adventurous trip leaves you wanting to know more. Luckily others (mentioned in the back of the book) have written longer, more detailed versions. There even was a Ken Burns PBS Special shown in 2003 about this cross-country trip -- not actually a race, since they knew of no one racing against them. However, it turned out that two other driving teams also attempted this feat that summer -- but Jackson, his co-driver Cocker, and Bud arrived first.

More Nonfiction Monday reviews can be found here.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Promotional Materials that Work

Elizabeth Bluemle from the Flying Pig bookstore in Vermont has a great post this week on the School Library Journal Blog, Shelftalker, about promotional materials -- what's useful -- and what people won't pick up and what people/ booksellers throw away.

Useful information for authors/ illustrators as well as publisher's reps.

(I've always loved LONG bookmarks (not those half-sized bookmarks) and pencils with advertising on them, myself. If you come to my signing at the Albert Whitman booth at ALA this summer, be sure to pick up both of these handouts. Even if you don't buy a signed book.)

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Busy week -- and it's only Tuesday

Life during May has been, and is, busy - busy.
Besides the ongoing project of tagging all the library books with RFID tags, it's also the season for children's librarians to go out and visit the local schools, telling all the students about the Summer Reading Programs at the public libraries.

After talking to 8 groups, I came back to the library branch today and sat down at my office computer to type up a list of the books I talked about -- to be stored in the library and a copy sent to the school. BUT, I discovered that my computer had decided that it no longer wanted to talk to the network.
Dead computer.
Thanks to the kindness of a co-worker, I was able to type the list on her computer. (My computer was still not fixed by the time I went home. I'm hoping it will either cure itself overnight, or the IT people will come before I get to work and figure out what's wrong with it.)

I wanted to get those books out on display before school let out -- because I always tell the kids that the first ones to get to the library will be able to check them out. The rest will have to put a reserve on the title and we'll get copies from another branch for them. I always grab interesting new items (a Playaway/ a book in a round format) -- nonfiction as well as fiction to take to the schools.

With any luck, those books will all be checked out soon and I'll have to gather others to show to the next school. -wendie old

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Jump off a Cliff (part 2)

(read part 1, first)
I have to admit, I heard the same lecture at Vermont that the 'Through the Tollbooth' writers did (or else that faculty member uses this example every few years) and I heard the sound of over a hundred writers gasping. Maybe it was just my own intake of breath, but it seemed loud -- as if the whole room had done it.

Get your first draft written down
and then --
Hit the DELETE key?

How brave.
How foolish.
Are you certain you will remember enough of what you wrote to be able to recreate it?
If you delete it -- it's gone -- For-ev-er.

And yet.
And yet....
And yet, how many times have you been unable to find a file and had to recreate what you had done?
Misplaced a paper?
Woke up in the middle of the night with a thought/ wrote it down/ and were unable to read it in the morning?
You had to recreate it.

Did you decide that your second try might have been a tiny bit better than your first attempt? And, since you weren't locked into that first version, you were free to improve/ expand/ etc.
I'm just rambling here.

Have you done this? -wendieO

Jump off a Cliff

Are you brave enough to jump off a cliff?
Not literally.
Just writerly.

The writers over at theTollbooth blog talk today about jumping off a cliff -- completing the first draft of a novel and then -- hit the delete button and begin writing it all over again.

Are you brave enough to do this?
(Okay, if you are a coward like me, I give you permission to do like I do and save a copy somewhere.)
If you have tried this, did you discover that the second version was stronger/ tighter/ a better story?
-wendie old

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Children's Book Week

It's National Children's Book Week!
I know -- Children's Book Week used to be in the fall. But it came at the same time as National Education Week. People were so busy visiting their kid's schools that they hardly noticed that the public libraries were also having special events this week.

For this, or probably other reasons, Children's Book Week was changed to happen in May. This week, in fact.

So -- read a children's book. Read one a day.
Hurry, you are already several days behind. Luckily picture books are short, so go check out some of the wonderful picture books that Fuse #8 has been featuring on her blog the past couple of weeks.
-wendie old

Monday, May 11, 2009

NF Monday -- What to do About Alice?

What to Do About Alice? How Alice Roosevelt broke the rules, charmed the world and drove her father Teddy crazy! by Barbara Kerley, illustrated by Edwin Fotheringham. New York: Scholastic, 2008. Available now.

Obama family -- move over. Children in the White House aren't anything new. Teddy Roosevelt, who became president in 1901, had six children. His oldest child, Alice (the only daughter of his first wife), was a handful. Perhaps because she was the oldest. Perhaps because she was a teenager, kicking over the traces. But most likely because she simply had an unconquerable zest for life.

Alice's super energy jumps from the pages -- conveyed both by the exuberant writing AND by the energetic illustrations.

Other Nonfiction Monday reviews are here.
-wendie Old

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Piano recital

The 9-year old had her piano recital today. Hurrah! It went well and now we can relax a bit. Since she chose the May recital rather than the June one, I warned her that she was in for several intense weeks of practicing. She even skipped her gymnastic class so that she could get an extra practice in.

She's so frustrated. She creates new pieces of music, but doesn't have the knowledge to be able to write it down. This year her created music is technically more intricate than last year's. See -- I told her -- the more you know about playing piano, the better your composition is.

Her other frustration is that she wants to add things to her assigned pieces, "because they sound better that way." True, they do sound better that way, but we insisted she play the pieces as written for the recital.

On another note -- the new kitten is more of a monster cat than ever. Attacking people, attacking food, and having nap attacks. What a life. -wendieO

Thursday, May 7, 2009

"NaPiBoWriWee" comes to a close

Well, did you make it?
Did you write seven picture books in seven days.
They didn't have to be complete. They didn't have to be good. They just had to be different -- one a day.
They could be short. Look at my 'Busy' Books -- about 90 words (Fingers is longer) and still best sellers for my publisher.
They could be long -- over a thousand words. To Fly is over 3,000 words.

Was one of yours an alphabet book? Not as easy as you first thought, was it? Did it pass the Q and X test? Those are the most difficult parts of an alphabet book to do. And yet, it's not a complete alphabet book without them. (Wasn't there a recent picture book about the alphabet looking for these two lost letters? If not, maybe you could write it.)

Did you follow along with the encouraging posts at The Three Silly Chicks' blog? Or did you keep up with what everyone else was doing at Paula Yoo's blog?

Now, of course comes the hard part -- REVISION -- where you get to take this core of a story and build a picture book around it.