Monday, January 31, 2011

Some of My Favorite Picture Books of 2010

I, like many of you who live in the children's book subculture, tuned into the Today Show a couple of weeks ago to hear who won the Newbery and Caldecott Awards.  Most of you know that the producers of the Today Show shunned the highest awards in children's literature in order to feature the brilliant and talented Snooki.    I'm not going to rehash the controversy that ensued over the Today Show decision.  You can read about it all over the internet ... but I did want to mention that the award winners are on the NY Times bestseller list.  Snooki's book?  Nope.

So there.

I'm proud of the big award and honor winners--especially Erin Stead who won for illustrating A Sick Day for Amos McGee--which is a sweet, gorgeously illustrated story. But, I'd like to highlight a few of my favorites from last year that didn't win the big awards ...

Oh, and these aren't in any order, and this is not scientifically done.  I simply grabbed books off of our nightstands and bookshelves--the books that we have read over and over and over.

CHILDREN MAKE TERRIBLE PETS written and illustrated by Peter Brown.

Full disclosure--I adore Peter Brown. I went to one of his breakout sessions at the LA SCBWI Conference a few years ago, and not only was he charming, he taught me how to make a picture book dummy.  Plus, he has a wicked sense of humor.

Children Make Terrible Pets is one of those fun, silly picture books that leave you giggly all over.  In it, a tutu-wearing bear named Lucy happens upon a small child in the woods and decides that he would make the perfect pet. After much begging, Lucy's mother lets her keep him, but Lucy finds out quickly just how much trouble a pet can be (especially a human one).   And, the ending is hilarious.  No spoilers here, though.  Go and get this book!

HENRY IN LOVE written and illustrated by Peter McCarty.

This book is quieter--both the story and illustrations--but it is the sweetest and most perfect little story of adoration and love that I've ever seen.  It starts and ends with a blueberry muffin, and the story is infused with subtle anticipation.  Love it.

CLEVER JACK TAKES THE CAKE written by Candace Fleming and illustrated by G. Brian Karas.

This book is perfect for someone looking for a picture book that has a little more text.  It's beautifully written in the style of an older fairy tale, and it stars a young boy who gives up everything to take the princess a cake for her birthday.  He runs into obstacles along the way as his beautiful cake loses its special decorations in ways that are sometimes scary and sometimes silly.  This one is truly a story that is best read aloud (and read over and over again).  The illustrations are quirky and fun.

BIG RED LOLLIPOP written by Rukhsana Khan and illustrated by Sophie Blackall.

I especially love this book because I have three daughters, and the book shows sisters having to deal with younger siblings.  In this book, the oldest girl's mother makes her take her little sister with her to a birthday party--which is NOT okay.  The ending is completely unexpected but exactly right.  And, oh my goodness, the illustrations are some of the most beautiful that I've ever seen (and, how about that incredible eye-catching cover?).  Sophie Blackall is a master.

Hope you have a great week!


Monday, January 24, 2011

Carpool line writing class

Finally.  The first full week of school for the kiddos since early December.

No. More. Snow.  


It was fun and all, but one good snow in Mississippi every five years is about all we can handle.  Even my snow-happy children have cried "Uncle!"

We're ready to get back on a regular schedule of school, carpool lines, piano, guitar, tennis, ballet, choir, gymnastics ... So, yes.  I pretty much live in my mini-van after school (yes, I admitted it--I drive a mini-van).

But, I do have a luxurious block of time during the day, and I'm tackling my final illustrations during that time.  I've just recently found my groove, and while I still have to redo entire paintings from time to time because of a giant out of control blob of brown paint or a dropped paintbrush right in the middle of my main character's face (argh) or a millions other reasons ... I feel like I finally have the time to really get rolling.

Of course, the weather man has predicted another snowfall for Wednesday.


How do you people who live up north handle it?  Oh.  Right.  You have snow plows and snow removal equipment.  We just don't have all that stuff, and the tiniest dusting of sleet causes our entire town to shut down ... except for the toothless people who find a way to show up at Walmart in their tank tops and house shoes--is THAT what the zombie apocalypse is going to look like??  Yikes.

But, one of the main reasons that I'm hoping for a normal schedule (second only to getting to work on my illustrations) is my latest discovery--The New Yorker Fiction podcasts.

In these free downloads from iTunes, writers choose and read a short story that has been previously published in the New Yorker.  The podcasts last anywhere from twenty to forty-five minutes (perfect carpool-line length) and include a discussion between the fiction editor and the writer who is reading the work.  

I am learning so much about subtle character building and plot from listening to these readings.  I love the sparseness and empty spaces found within short stories--it reminds me of how important it is sometimes to leave things out, things that keep the reader wondering and questioning.   Plus, just like in children's writing, word choice is all important because you don't have the luxury of pages and pages of description and character building.  The art of "showing not telling" is mastered in the pages of short stories.

And, sometimes the stories are just plain off-the-wall weird.  Like crazy, mind-blowing bizarre.  Kind of like the people who show up at Walmart in an ice storm.

So, wow.  I just realized that whatever the weather, I'll have some good story ideas.  I'll either be sitting in carpool line sipping tea and listening to literature ...
                                                                                           or shoveling a path to the Walmart.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Chasing Cats

I'm working on the final artwork for my picture book with Viking. It's super exciting (and a little scary, I mean--this is IT).

But, before I could begin painting, I had to do some "cat homework".  There's a cat in my book who follows one of my main characters (Izzy) throughout the story.  The kitty's name is Jinx and she's a pretty important character.  Unfortunately, my art director noticed that in my sketches, my cat was kind of looking like a chihuahua.  Ooops.  Maybe I was channeling this guy:

Or maybe I was channelling my agent's brilliant canine PeeWee who is happy to answer your publishing questions here.

Or maybe it's because the simple truth is that  I am NOT a cat person (sorry to offend any cat lovers out there).  Dogs?  Love them.

But cats?

First of all, I'm horribly allergic to them, so it makes any sort of endearing snuggle impossible.  But the main reason that I'll never be one of those elderly cat ladies holing up in her NY apartment is that you can't trust a cat.  They've got their own agenda.  They could take you or leave you, depending upon their mood.  They slink around with a hint of evil in their gait. They're killers (have you ever watched a cat hunt down, kill and torture a bird?  shudder).

Even though, a cat would never be the perfect pal for me, all of those things I listed make Jinx a perfect best friend for my mysterious little character Izzy.  Her personality practically screams CAT.

The other major character in my book is Izzy's little sister Rose who has a different personality altogether.  Basically, Rose is a golden retriever puppy.  She is the type of kid who comes bounding into a room and licks everyone's face.  NOT a cat person.

But, there is no puppy in my story.  Maybe, the sequel ... Anyway, I had to do some serious cat research over the holidays.  I bought a book on drawing cats.  I found cat reference books at the library.  I found zillions of cat pictures on the internet (okay folks--I've gotta say it--some of these cat sites are positively CULTISH).  And, I chased my friend's feral cats all over a vacant lot with a catnip stuffed mouse and got some major cat footage.

This shot is moments before Miss Kitty climbed up a tree to get away from me--go figure!

I'm happy to report that I received "cat approval" from my art director when I sent in a couple of new sketches last week.  Yay!

Lastly, as we were idiotically chasing cats around Oxford one of my daughters commented, "You know, Mom, this really doesn't seem like work.  I mean, we're crawling around meowing at cats.  It's kind of fun."

Yep.  It is fun.


Monday, January 10, 2011


Okay.  So, yes.  It snowed here in Oxford, but my world didn't completely shut down (just the schools, stores, roads...).  Looky!!

It's REAL snow this time.  Not "snow" which is what we usually get.

And because the Snow-pocalypse was predicted early last week, I went ahead and drafted my first post as a solo-blogger.  Here 'tis--


 Well, hello!!   Thank you so much for following me over here.  I must admit that I feel a little bit like I'm wandering into a party all alone ...

But, it'll be okay.  Katie promises to visit me, and you can find her blog here.   Please go and see her.  I'll wait ...

Soooo ... let me get you up to date.  Katie and I decided to branch off from our PlotThis blog and venture out on our own.  Since I'm immersed in the world of picture books and middle grade, and she is rockin' the young adult and adult non-fiction world (yep--she's working on a memoir), we decided that it made sense to split off and start new blogs--each having a different focus.

Since last fall, I have finished up revisions on my picture book and have been given the go-ahead by my wonderful editor and art directors at Viking to start on final illustrations--that's 30 little paintings that I've got to whip out in the next few months!!   Plus, I've been working on my middle grade novel, sketching new characters and brainstorming new picture book ideas.

Over the next few months, I'll be blogging about things like:

                                       *favorite picture books and middle grade novels                          
                                       *illustrating for children
                                       *revising, plotting and creating characters
                                       *chasing cats, juggling creativity with responsibility,
                                         carpool lines, and general Southern randomness

I hope you'll come back.  Here's to 2011!!!!!

Now I'm off to find our sleds.


Thursday, January 6, 2011

Coming soon ...

Very soon.

Like, Monday (unless it snows here in Mississippi and then my whole world will shut down).