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Picture Books Read in 2021: #1-50

31 Jan

One hundred books read in 2020 is just not enough. This year, I aim to truly immerse myself within the wonderful pages of never-before-read picture books FOUR HUNDRED TIMES. Here are the first fifty books I was fortunate enough to encounter. Each one offered something special, and the following books were my personal favorites:

Picture Book Look: Goldi Rocks and the Three Bears

13 Apr

PB Cover - Goldi Rocks and the Three Bears

The title Goldi Rocks and the Three Bears, with only a one-letter change, does little to let the reader know how fresh, fun, and phonetically pleasing this book truly is. The 2014 G.P. Putnam’s Sons’ release is actually one of five fractured fairy tales from author Corey Rosen Schwartz. Instead of cranking out book after book, it’s clear that Schwartz is a perfectionist with each book packing a punch, especially Goldi.

Library shelves will continue to add remixes and mashups of classic fairy-tales. In fact, the versions from our childhoods are typically retellings themselves. Take for instance Goldilocks and the Three Bears, which was originally a grim tale of an old lady trespassing into the home of three bachelor bears. Over time, the wrinkled gal devolved into the perky youngster Goldilocks while the bromance mutated into a traditional nuclear family.

The title Goldi Rocks doesn’t lie though, as the book is groovaliciously good. Schwartz replaces the mundane repetitions of Mamma, Papa, and Baby Bear with vivid variations and also brilliantly avoids mentioning them by name when possible. The musical diction along with an abccb rhyming cinquains renders the book a lyrically pleasing read-aloud. Applause to the editor, illustrator, and art director for intelligently splicing the stanzas between pages to avoid monotony, yet despite the continual cinquain caterpillar trail the read-aloud maintains the phonetic pleasantry of the rhyme scheme despite the back to back C rhymes feeling a little forced and cheesy.

Story wise, Goldi Rocks respects the classic tale’s framework but also keeps it fresh with cameos from other fairy tales while the bears seek out a lead singer. The illustrations are busy with colors, but are purposeful with each illustration from Nate Wragg centering on the appropriate action keeping it modern and attractive.

This book deserves a spot on every child’s (those who understand English) and kid lit writer’s bookshelves. Reserve the other fractured three bear tales for the library.

Rating: Five Hippos

Winning Reads – My Rhinoceros by Jon Agee

20 Dec

Aspiring picture book writers are repeatedly told “no more than 500.” Meaning, your manuscript better have a marketable, visual kid-friendly story crammed into 500 words or less. For most, their first few manuscripts tower well above a thousand. If anyone wants to be schooled on the brilliance of brevity, pour your eyes into Jon Agee‘s “My Rhinoceros.”  Continue reading

REVIEW: Fairy Tales by Terry Jones

8 Mar

Terry Jones is known more for his directorial work with Monty Python than his children’s writing. Though, his collection of fairy tales written in 1981 should not be ignored.

Instead of humorously remixing reveered stories like John Scieszka or Fractured Fairy Tales, Jones provides the reader with a sequel to Hans Christian Andersen’s collection. Though Andersen penned a parade of timeless classics, many of his tales are too personified and involve archaic objects modern children can’t relate too.

In ‘Fairy Tales,’ illustrated by Michael Foreman and published in 1993 by Puffin, the 30 tales spread over 160 pages are a light read and accesible to readers in the 21st century. For example, in ‘Three Raindrops,’ Jones elects to personify rain, and does so with a quick and comical yet devastatingly effective punch.

The beauty in these tales is how they are written in the vein of classic fairy tales without heavily invoking a medieval spirit. This work shows Jones as an author still discovering his talents. While ‘Katy-Make-Sure’ is a fun open-ended spattering of words, another tale, ‘The Silly Kings’ reads as though it was written merely to supply an all-too-predictable moral lesson. Regardless, ‘Fairy Tales’ is not only a delicious appetizer for any lover of the genre, but also an inspiring short-story collection blue print for writers.

PBM – Week 1

10 Feb

The first week of February is history, and we’re a quarter of the way through the Picture Book Marathon. I haven’t had nearly enough practice to near perfection, but this being my 2nd year the experience is paying off. This time last year I had already used my two vacation days and was far behind. Desperate to advance to the head of the pack I wrote several ‘visual heavy’ drafts as part of the Mission Imaginable series.

This year I’m not about to just add a stack of paper to my own slush pile. Instead, the goal is to produce 26 usable seeds that when planted, watered, and whispered to will blossom into a publishable bouqet of picture books. Ok, let’s be honest, I’d be happy to have 5 of them bloom, but I’m reaching for 20.

As of February 7th, I’ve managed to pen seven manuscripts. My heart rejoices at seeing old ideas spring to life. But seeing a great range in stories, style, voice is not only comforting but reassuring that I’m not just a one-trick humorous list generating pony.

Of the seven, one is ready for the critique group, another needs an editing bath, four require time to runaway from my ego so that I may slash it to pieces later on, while one is a short cut excuse to jump start the process.

Overall, I’m enjoying this marathon. Not behind, nor needing to rush promotes a kinder attention to detail and editing while writing.

Sadly I’m not an illustrator, so I can’t provide delicious covers like imaginators Nathan Hale, Jed Henry, and Julie Olson. Please visit their blogs, view their impressive work and drop them a comment or three.

I’ll leave you with week one’s marathon roster members. I hope one day we can enjoy them together.

  1. Pin the Tail on the…: There’s a box full of animal tails, help the lost and found find each tail’s owner.
  2. Just Bailey (working title): Bailey doesn’t know if he is a she or she is a he.
  3. Mingo the Dingo Plays Bingo: Through Bingo, Grandma Dingo teaches Mingo the purpose of winning.
  4. Ropunzel: The Boy Who Wouldn’t Get a Haircut: A boy is interrogated about his long hair, but what will he do when the questions stop coming? 
  5. Witches Day: A little boy plans to stop the witches from crashing the school dance.
  6. Coastergeist: A scaredy-ghost must overcome his fears and haunt Mammoth Mountain.
  7. Airhog Day: To avoid the suffocating attention of Groundhod Day, Wilbur takes to the sky.

Job Done!

6 Dec

In November, 2010, children’s book author Tara Lazar issued a challenge: “Write 30 picture book ideas in 30 days.” In the end, 198 dedicated writers answered the call.

For anyone wishing to explore the innocent world of picture book writing, I highly recommend Picture Book Idea Month (PiBoIdMo). Each daybrought a new guest blog post from an established author, editor, or agent arriving in my mailbox which also allowed me to make several new contacts. In addition, there were hoards of tasty prizes from jewelry, to signed picture books, to manuscript critiques.

Compared to the 50,000 words demanded in NanoWrimo, creating 30 ideas in one month is not as severe of a challenge. Though typically each month I’d probably only produce 5 or 6 original ideas. The beauty of PiBoIdMo is that it keeps your imagination focused on strictly picture books.

Even if you missed out, and don’t want to wait until November 2011, you can always do it another month on your own. Visit the PiBoIdMo site to access the motivational posts.

Overall, I feel accomplished. PiBoIdMo helped me launch into my 10th Children’s Book Ideas journal, and gave me a handful of ‘ready-to-write’ ideas.

Special thanks to everyone involved and congratulations to all who participated.

Btw…for laughs/lollipops below is a list of some of my titles for ideas generated during PiBoIdMo:

  • Are You Really a Kid?
  • Wild Wando
  • Ropunzel
  • We’re Not For Dinner
  • The Cheercrow
  • Christmas Palm Tree
  • The Best Man is a Boy
  • Witches Day
  • Foolish Frederick
  • Mr. French Toast

Recommendation: Children’s Writer

3 Nov

Living in Japan’s northern countryside, I’m isolated from the English-speaking world of Children’s Literature. Thankfully, my friend the internet provides me with plenty to stay informed. Though, I crave words written on (recycled) dead trees. I need to physically read the paper, which explains why I’m constantly restocking the printer at work. But one source spares me the hassle. “Children’s Writer” is geared towards professionals in Children’s Literature. It’s similar to “Children’s Book Insider,” (which I also enjoy) but something sets it apart. They deliver!

Most of the snail mail I receive is written in complex characters I fail to recognize, but once a month I look forward to the day there is a surprise (in English) waiting for me. Astoundingly, international delivery costs only an additional $1.75 per issue. It’s well worth it, especially when in Japan charges usually 20-40% more for foreign books. It’s comforting to see a publisher refusing to profit off of delivery.

Each 12-page issue of “Children’s Writer” includes in-depth features with a parade of useful links and resources covering all mediums and genres. Not all of the topics, including November’s piece on Children’s plays, play to my interests, but they do offer perspective and motivation. My favorite part is the 4-page “Marketplace” insert that profiles publishing houses, agents, and contests. While some of this information is repeated in other sources, being reminded of the opportunities available to writers is priceless.

Each month, ignoring my work duties, I rescue the hi-lighters from the desk drawer and search for juicy tidbits, inspiration quotes, and professional leads. My tip for readers is to make check boxes with goals next to each useful article. For example, “Look at this publisher’s list to see if their needs fit your style.” Instead of gathering dust, I constantly revisit each issue to ensure that I am following up on my to-do list and check off and date my accomplishments.

More than an enjoyable read, “Children’s Writer” is a motivational tool, and an effective one. If you have yet to subscribe, why not take a look today! Or print this post out, and draw a check-box. : )