Monday, December 28, 2009

Our Cristmas Feast

We celebrated Christmas with family at my brother-in-law's home and thought I'd share the food pictures. I have to admit getting the idea from Lisa Yee. After seeing her pics, I jumped right on sharing mine with the blogosphere -- well after a major snack (they made me VERY hungry).
Hope everyone had a great Christmas!

Thursday, October 15, 2009


Worked on my novel-in-verse during my commute home (and NO, I don't drive -- I ride the train). It's slow work and I'm afraid to see what year I could possibly finish it at this speed. Just now, however, I opened my autographed copy of CRANK. Ellen Hopkins gave a one universal word of encouragement: "Believe". I don't think she even knew what I need to belive in when she wrote it, but I'll be writing a bit more in verse tomorrow.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Poetry Friday Original

Reading CRANK by Ellen Hopkins inspired me to write the start of one of my works-in-progress in verse.

I offer this (fictional) original poem. I'm not sure who is hosting tomorrow, but I'll put it in comments when I find out.

Varsity team my senior year
That’s all I wanted
Instead I’m shamed
Shipped down to J.V.
But that was two months ago
Now coach wants me back
But it just can’t….................................................... BE

My perfect tryout strategy:
No mistakes
I knew the players
Did the math
I’d be a shoe-in for ninth or tenth
On a ten man roster
Only word I had to remember…......................... CAREFUL

Who’s the new kid?
Adam says “relax”
A kind word from my best friend
Thought tryout went great
Til coach announced the team
Then I thought WTF
But only said…........................................................ WHAT

Clearly fell on the new kid
Maybe he’d fail a class
Break a leg
Or go back where he came from
And give back my spot on varsity
Where players have names
Other than #45 or ….............................................. YOU

For something bad to happen
To the new kid – anything
I could regain my name
My spot on varsity
My best friend
I know it’s wrong
But each day I still …............................................. ASK

Mine gone amuck
Followed Adam home last week
It took shape as a SUV/drunk driver duo
But I know why
Adam never made it home
Why I can never replace him on varsity
Be careful what you ask …................................... FOR.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

More Pictures from Anderson's YA conference

As promised a few pictures from the Anderson's YA Conference last Saturday.

"Local Treasure Panel": Cythia Liu, Claire Zulkey, Susan Fine and Daniel Kraus

I bought Susan Fine's book Initiation later in the day , but missed getting it autographed.

Gennifer Choldenko

Lisa Yee

Ellen Hopkins ... if I could write verse one tenth as powerful as yours.............

James A. Owen.... I tried drawing four lines on a page, but the dragon hasn't appeared yet. I know the secret, however, and will figure out where the others go.

Contemporary Panel: Jill Wolfson, Lisa Yee and Ellen Hopkins

Libba Bray

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Anderson's YA Conference

Let me start by saying that last Saturday was an amazing day. I could try to put together an orderly proper report, but I'd rather give you that head spinning feeling I had while attending. So.........

Here are some of the notes I jotted down throughout the day:

Judy Blundell: Does entire first draft without any rewrites (and then goes back).

Ellen Hopkins: Goes back immediately if a change is needed due to something unforeseen occurring. She also said the longest revision for an editor she's done was -- 8 hours. She also said it's because each poem has to be perfect before she moves on. Still -- 8 hours -- WOW!

Lisa Yee listens to sad songs while writing? (That's what the notes say.)

Ellen likes quiet.

Libba Bray does an IPod playlist for each book.

James A. Owen is a total inspiration -- on writing -- on life.

Lisa Yee wrote the jingle "Pass the Old El Paso" (and a YA book about a girl who worked on a taco truck).

Libba says that YA matters because we never stop coming of age.

Libba is very funny, by the way.

Gennifer Choldenko mentioned another Al Capone book: "Al Capone is My Librarian"

James A. Owen: The secret of drawing is making lines and choosing where they go. That's kind of how he spoke of life in general too. (If ever you have the chance to hear him speak -- GO!)

Libba Bray loved DARK SHADOWS.

James A. Owen writes 4 pages/day every day. He outlines, but only a page. He also does thumbnail sketches.

I was fortunate enough to grab a seat next to Lisa Yee for all the non-breakout events (5 featured speakers and lunch). Unfortunately, my flash was off for the picture I had taken with her, so it's not the best....I'll post it anyway. You might note that Peepy is not in the picture. My theory is that Lisa was afraid Peepy might spill the beans about whatever Lisa might have planned for her next contest on her blog. (I did see Peepy briefly.)

More pics tomorrow.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Chicago Tribune Young Readers Book Reviews - Sept 12

Mary Harris Russell reviews three books including one by fellow Illinois-SCBWI member Esther Hershenhorn. I might add Esther recently stepped down as Regional Advisor for Illinois SCBWI (after serving for 17 years). She will always, however, be my writing Mom! Her book sounds wonderful.

'S is for Story: A Writer's Alphabet' By Esther Hershenhorn
Illustrated by Zachary Pullen
Sleeping Bear Press, $17.95 Ages 9-14

'The Ask and the Answer' By Patrick Ness
Candlewick Press, $18.99 Ages 13-15

'All the World' By Liz Garton Scanlon
Illustrated by Marla Frazee
Beach Lane Books, $17.99 Ages 4-8

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Chicago Tribune Young Readers Book Reviews 8/22/2009

Mary Harris Russell reviews three books including one by my fellow Illinois-SCBWIer Carolyn Crimi.

'Henry & the Crazed Chicken Pirates'
By Carolyn Crimi
Illustrated by John Manders
Candlewick Press, $15.99, ages 4-8

'Can You Make a Scary Face?'
By Jan Thomas
Simon & Schuster, $12.99, ages 3-5

'Lunch Lady and the Cyborg Substitute
'By Jarrett J. Krosoczka
Knopf, $5.99, ages 7-10

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Chicago Tribune Young Readers Book Reviews 8/9/2009

In todays' Chicago Tribune, Mary Harris Russell reviews three picture books.

'Applesauce Season'
By Eden Ross Lipson, illustrated by Mordicai Gerstein
Roaring Brook, $16.99, ages 4-8

'The Hair of Zoe Fleefenbacher Goes to School'
By Laurie Halse Anderson, illustrated by Ard Hoyt
Simon & Schuster, $16.99, ages 5-8

'Hush, Baby Ghostling'
By Andrea Beaty, illustrated by Pascal Lemaitre
McElderry Books, $14.99, ages 3-7

Special congrats to my Illinois-SCBWI friend Andrea Beaty for another published book!

Friday, August 7, 2009

The Smell of Good Fortune

I had posted earlier in the week that I needed to figure out my next project. Well, I had decided to jump into the other revision and.....I already got back my full MS critique. The other project will wait a bit longer.

I can't believe my good fortune to have gotten it back in such a short time -- and done so well.

One of the line comments refered to my MC's mom not liking the smell of vanilla as an interesting characteristic (Who doesn't like the smell of vanilla?). Well, there's a reason for it. She associates someone/something with it.

What smells do you like or dislike based upon association rather than normal perception? My wife, for example, likes the summertime smell of dead alewives because it reminds her of growing up near the Lake Michigan beach.

I'm going to light a vanilla candle.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Picking Next Writing Project

I'm at the point where I've just sent out a full MS for critique and need to figure out which of my unfinished projects is attended to next.

Project A: Completed novel requiring both 3rd to 1st person change and gender change for MC. General subject is time suspension.

Project B: Ghost/basketball story. Originally a 3500 word short story, but it's in reality the beginning of a novel. (I pretty much need more than 3500 words to tell any story.)

I like both stories. A requires less time than B, but I'm coming off a lot of revision work and the change of pace of new writing might be good. Then again if I procrastinate long enough I'll be back to the project I just "finished" for the next round of revisions.

I'll wake up tomorrow with a decision and it won't be based on blood type (I'm O).

Monday, July 27, 2009

Best Man Toast

As promised, here is Mark's wedding toast to his twin brother and Laurie. This was a draft version and I know he added one line in the Batman section about every superhero needs a cape. There may have been other small changes.

Good Evening. On behalf of the entire wedding party, I would like to thank everyone for being here tonight to join Jason and Laurie on their very special day. I would like to thank both Jason and Laurie’s families for all of their preparations for this day as well. I also need to thank Jason for giving me the privilege of being your best man. Last of all, I would like to thank Laurie. Thank you for your patience with me while learning what it’s like to have a brother around to tease you.

For those that don’t know me, my name is Mark. Jason and I go back a long time. (About 9 months before he or I were born, give or take a few days). Our mom always told us that we must have been playing football in her belly when she was giving birth and I must have tackled Jason to get out first. Must have been a pretty good tackle, took him 15 minutes after I was out. Today, I really doubt it would be me tackling Jason, most likely it would be the other way around. Even though I am Jason’s older brother, I have always looked up to him. He has always been their as a guide for me and I will always appreciate all you have done for me.

For those that don’t know Jason very well, he’s quite competitive. Just ask any of the guys on our softball team, or better yet, the umpires in our softball league. Perhaps that competitive edge makes him and Laurie a good match. One of my first memories of hanging out with Jason and Laurie involved losing to the two of them in bags, ladder ball, and tennis (they could probably list about 6 other things they beat me in that day as well). You would have thought we were playing in the Olympics they took things so seriously. But it was that day, not too long after their relationship started that I realized they share something special. They truly do have a lot in common.

I have seen Jason through a lot in his life. Little league games, football games, sleepovers, school, homework, hanging out with friends on weekends, driving around aimlessly because we had nothing better to do, visiting each other at college, college parties. We shared bunk beds, late night conversations, ups, downs, and everything in between. I want you to know Jason, that through all of that I have seen you grown into an extraordinary individual. You are successful in all that you do and I admire that. I admire your determination, your drive, and your desire to always be better at what you do. That competitiveness in you really is a great quality.

And Laurie, some advice for you in regards to making Jason happy:
1. Bears games are sacred…do not interrupt them.
2. Golfing with friends and Softball are necessary for his health…they are great forms of exercise.
3. Love him and support him with all of your heart
I know you will take good care of him. As his brother, it’s hard to believe he’s married. I am very happy for him, and I hope the two of you see all of the love here with you in this room today. You are surrounded by family and friends share a lot of love with you. Take example in the love your families have for each other and for you. Harness that love and always show that love to each other and the family you will begin to build.

While I started writing this speech, many childhood memories came into my head, but one stuck out. Being a twin had its advantages. When Jason and I were little, we used to pretend to be Batman and Robin. I was batman, Jason was Robin. We would play Batman and Robin, watch the show, the movie. We even had pajamas that were costumes. Now these pajamas were the coolest things. They even had velcro capes in the back. There was one problem. When you’re 3 or 4 it’s hard enough to get dressed, let alone put a cape on your own back. Of course our parents would help us, but I remember we would always help each other out by attaching the capes to each other’s backs. We were best friends, still are. There’s not a thing we wouldn’t do for each other. Jason and Laurie…you are now in this together. If I could leave you with one piece of advice, it would be to help each other put their capes on. You can both be superheroes in your own lives, but if you don’t have each other’s backs, you cannot be that superhero. You need to look after one another, help each other heal when one falls down, live every day to the fullest.
May everyone raise your glass and toast…to Jason and Laurie, may you have a lifetime of happiness, good health, and good fortune.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

The Real Winning Toast

I've been speaking of toasts this week. Well, the real blue ribbon winner was delivered last night by Jason's twin brother (and best man) Mark.

Mark spoke of how he and Jason loved Batman and Robin as small boys. How they had Batman and Robin pajamas, complete with capes. How it was dificult to attach those capes to the velcro tabs yourself, so they did each other's -- as Mark relayed "your not really a superhero without a cape". He tied that to how as twins, they always had each other's back. I know I'm a bit biased, but it was the best toast ever. I'm not doing it justice, but if by chance Mark has the whole thing typed out, I will try to post it.

Mark (Batman) and Jason (Robin) were my superheroes last night.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Toast Decision

I've decided to include this limerick as part of my toast at the rehersal dinner for my son's wedding. I also offer it for poetry Friday.

There once was a girl from Munster
Who would marry the one I call "son-ster"
Now I need a great toast
But must be a good host
Instead of the usual "pun-ster"

Roundup is at Year of Reading.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

The Toast

Today is the day set aside to write the toast for the rehersal dinner for my son's upcoming wedding. Now I've looked at the "Complete Guide to Wedding Toasts", but nothing quite fits right. So.... I can do better.... After all I am a writer!

Here's part of the problem: It's a serious thing. If I wanted to be funny and really didn't like them, the task would be trivial. But we're talking about my son and the girl (woman) he has chosen to spend his life with -- two very special people.

So, it's time for my serious/sentimental side to show.

Do you think a limerick could be appropriate?

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Digit Day

Did anyone celebrate Digit Day today at 12:34:56 7/8/9 ???????

My daughter the HS Math teacher pointed this one out to me this morning.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Writing Cleanup

I've spent a good deal of time over the last couple weeks cleaning up my MG fiction manuscript one last time before submitting. I'm roughly 50% done. Now having said this, most of you out there realize that my first sentence is an example of adult fiction -- once the other 50% is complete I'll wind up having it critiqued which means it should say "next to the last time". At that point I need to be ready to let go and move on to the next project.

Also, yesterday was spent cleaning out old writing papers and materials (from the coat closet). It actually feels good to get organized. Next step -- shredding old MS copies -- and the other 50%.

In other words, still making a little good out of my forced time off my foot. Had first bit of physical therapy today. It seemed to go okay.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Poetry Friday -- Lemonade

My original poem for today:


by Jim Danielson

A jumble of cliches

When life gives us lemons,
We make lemonade

We walk a mile in an other's moccasins
Or a hundred yards with their walker
One foot dangling in the air behind

If it doesn't kill you,
It'll make you stronger
I feel the strength
First and foremost
From the love that surrounds me
And second
From my personal lemonade
My writing.

Kelly Herold is hosting Poetry Friday this week :

Thanks Kelly!

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

The Doc Says I Need a Better Story

Let me set the scene. We were in a joint garage sale with my wife's sister and S-I-L. Her brother and S-I-L have a 3 yr old (our niece) who is cute as anything. I read her "Cinderella" and "Sleeping Beauty and the Seven Dwarfs" -- she insisted Snow White was Sleeping Beauty. Then she wanted me to play with chalk on the driveway. WARNING: Playing hopscotch can be dangerous to the achiles tendon. Hopping on one foot was a very bad idea. My achiles underwent surgery this morning. Just goes to show how healthy reading is -- should have stuck to the books.

The foot/ankle doctor thinks I might want to change the story to basketball or football or ........

Hey, my few readers are primarily fiction writers......who can make up a better story for me???

(I actually think the truth is pretty funny, but I'm betting someone can come up with a better one.)

Jim aka Bigfoot

Friday, June 5, 2009

Poetry Friday Haiku Review

A lunchtime posting of the haiku I wrote upon finishing THE GRAVEYARD BOOK by Neil Gaiman (who I will see speak at Noon tomorrow).

Once Jack of All Trades
Frost is taught by the graveyard
He's master of one

Thanks go out to Sara who is hosting this week.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Poetry Friday - Late Edition

It's been a long time since I've posted anything for Poetry Friday and this just kind of came to me tonight and I thoughtI'd share:

Sounds of Night

By Jim Danielson

I sit in silence, reading
Family away or asleep
Little by little
I hear the sounds of night
A distant train whistle
The neighbor’s dog barking
Both amplified by lack of reality TV
And then a clicking
The sound of sleet against glass?
On night late in May?
I turn off the light
And peek through the blinds
But the noise stops
I turn back on the light
Light off again and tiptoe to the window
I return to my book
Once more I tiptoe to peek out
No warning – the light still on
A soft laughter fills the room
My laughter
As I watch large moths
Bounce against the glass

Sunday, April 12, 2009

2009 Danielson Easter Egg Hunt Help

Okay, my two kids still at home are 21 and 24, but still wanted an egg hunt. I hid 3 eggs. They found 2. This is their hint.

I greet the playfield
Edge to edge
While perched upon
A tiny ledge.

By the way, feel free to offer help in comments if the verse rings a bell with any hiding places you've used.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Chicago Tribune Young Readers Book Reviews - April 11

Mary Harris Russell reviews three books about man's trip to to the moon. It's hard for me to believe it will be 40 years ago this July! I'm happy to see new books coming out about an exciting period in history that I lived through, but obviously the 5-10 year olds the books are aimed at did not -- nor did their parents in all likelyhood.

Monday, April 6, 2009

April Snow poem revisited

I notice a number of people visited an entry from two years ago. If you live in Chicago (or I'm sure many other areas that suffered the same weather fate), you know why.

I'll just repeat the poem here -- it needed a spelling correction anyway:


by Jim Danielson

Here's a fact
You really must know
I'm allergic
To all April snow


It's ugly and cold
It's slushy and wet
My shoe sprung a leak
Now I'm really upset

Grrrrrrrrrrr !!!!!
Oh that snow in December
Was fluffy and white
With soft flowing drifts
That glistened at night


Here's a fact
You really must know
I'm allergic
To all April snow

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Chicago Tribune Young Readers Book Reviews -- March 21

Mary Harris Russell reviews three books in this week's Saturday Chicago Tribune. All are for children seven or under.

Duck! Rabbit! By Amy Krouse Rosenthal Illustrated by Tom Lichtenheld
Chronicle, $16.99 Ages 4-7

Little Chick By Amy Hest Illustrated by Anita Jeram Candlewick, $17.99 Ages 3-5

All In A Day By Cynthia Rylant Illustrated by Nikki McClure Abrams, $17.95 Ages 4-7

Kristin Kloberdanz does one-minute reads on two books for teens.

Becoming Billie Holiday By Carole Boston Weatherford; Illustrated by Floyd Cooper Wordsong, $19.95; Ages 12 and up

Marcello in the Real World By Francisco X. Stork; Arthur A. Levine Books, $17.99; Ages 14 and up

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

2 More Things I'm Learning After Darcy (Pattison Retreat)

1) Shrunken manuscripts can be good for searching for where things occur in the manuscript. I have a lot of ghosts that pop in to give my main character clues to solve a mystery. I picked all eleven out what would normally be a 120 page mss. in a 25 minute train commute, took notes and made a family tree. (I'd still be fumbling with the full 120 pages!)

2) I have a breakfast scene with no taste or smell sensory detail! Sure, there's conversation saying it's a special breakfast, but sensory detail. It was obvious in about 2 minutes when I started using five color highlighters to mark the different kinds of sensory detail. (I'm definitely a visual person.)

There are other things I've been doing, but these two struck me as interesting.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Links to Chicago Tribune

This week Mary Harris Russell reviews three:

Lucky Breaks By Susan Patron Atheneum Ages 8-12

Bob's Best Ever Friend By Simon Bartram Templar Books Ages 5-8

Crocodile Safari By Jim Arnosky Scholastic Ages 9-12

As an added bonus, Kristin Kloberdanz reviews JUMPED by Rita Williams-Garcia and WINTERGIRLS by Laurie Halse Anderson. I think Wintergirls is due out right around now, but I won an ARC at the Anderson's Breakfast three weeks ago. I'm only a short way into it, but it is a strong story dealing with anorexia. Both of these books are for ages 12 and up.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Poetry Friday - Robins

Well, I saw snowflakes and subfreezing temps today, but....

IT IS SPRING!!!!!!! I know this because I saw two robins in my yard when I came home tonight. So for poetry friday tomorrow I offer an original young children's poem:


by James Danielson

Mother robin
On the nest.
Warm blue eggs
Beneath your chest.

Baby robins
Hatch, hatch, hatch.
Call for food
Dad goes to catch.

Father robin
Brings food back.
Open beaks
Stretch for their snack.

Poetry Friday is hosted this week by Tricia at The Miss Rumphius Effect. THANKS!!!

Monday, March 9, 2009

Contests, Contests, Contests!!!

March is the season of contests! There are books and gift cards to be won and I'll share the links with all of you.

Contest #1: Deadline is Thursday, March 12. Win a copy of UNDERCOVER by Beth Kephart from HipWriterMama by drawing of those commenting on her blog.

Contest #2: Enter a Snarfy Subtitle Contest to win a $25.00 gift card from Carrie Harris at The Wonder That is my Blog. Click on the link for details, but deadline is Noon EST on Thursday, March 12. Note: Multiple entries encouraged! This is a chance to show how clever you can be with a few words.

Contest #3: Win a copy of THE FOREST OF HANDS AND TEETH by Carrie Ryan from Tabitha at Writer Musings by posting a comment by Saturday, March 28.

Good Luck!!

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Post Retreat Darcy Pattison Advice and Chicago Trib Link

Darcy Pattison posted an additional piece of advice about revision -- it takes time. Although in the back of my mind I know, seeing it on her blog allows me to take that necessary revision time guilt free. Darcy, thanks once more for sharing your wisdom.

A couple weeks ago PJ Hoover talked about the trend to have butterflies on the covers of books. Among the three reviews by Mary Harris Russell we have another one. Well, I guess PJ was talking fiction, but let's face it -- the world loves butterflies.

Butterflies and Moths By Nic Bishop
Scholastic, Ages 8-10

Claudette Colvin Twice Toward Justice By Phillip Hoose
Farrar Straus and Giroux, Ages 10-15

Living Sunlight How Plants Bring the Earth to Life By Molly Bang and Penny Chisholm
The Blue Sky Press, Ages 5-8

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Darcy Pattison Revision Retreat -- Shrunken Manuscripts

I had the great fortune to attend a novel revision retreat instructed by Darcy Pattison and organized by the Illinois-SCBWI people from central Illinois. First of all, hats off to all who planned the retreat!

One of the things I've always kept in mind when reporting on conferences and retreats is that the information taught is not mine to reteach. Reporting on Darcy's retreat will be easy -- I can point you straight to sections of her blog.

The above link will give you insight into shrinking your own manuscript and how it can be helpful. The basic idea is condense it into 30 or less page and use highlighters to mark different aspects of the book (a different color for each aspect). These might be strong chapters, conflict, interaction between two certain characters and so on. You then lay out the pages and can get an overall view of your work.

I encourage you to try this. Shrinking the manuscript is really easy, too. (I think it took me about 3 minutes.)

Here are a few of my plans (which will use multiple shrunken manuscripts):

1. Track when five of my supporting characters are in the book. (Mom, Dad, best friend, brother and the young guy-ghost. My MC is a girl.) I'll also track conflict here.

Problems to check: Dad, I believe got lost for a while -- little brother too. Looking for more Mom in early section and conflict with her.

2. Check overall strong chapters and conflict (internal and external).

Problems to check: Sagging middle (or Chapters 2-6 of 25). Story arch.

3. And similarly with small sections (scenes and probably individually as opposed to a shrunken manuscripts) highlight sensory details, color coded by type.

Problem to check: Making each scene strong with varied sensory details -- not just sight.

The multicolor highlighting and shrunken manuscripts are tools that can be applied to meet our own needs. Make sure you click on the link to Darcy's blog/website for infinitely more free information.

Fun moment #1 from retreat -- We did charades of a few manuscript titles as an ice breaker:

Monday, March 2, 2009

Chicago Tribune Young Readers Book Reviews -- Feb 28 (a bit late)

I'm a little late posting the link to the Chicago Tribune book reviews this week -- I was out of town at a revision retreat given by Darcy Pattison. I'll be posting more on that later (including lighter moments such as pirates, purple hair and letting go of the condom chapter).

This week Mary Harris Russell reviewed three books:

Gertrude is Gertrude is Gertrude is Gertrude By Jonah Winter Illustrated by Calef Brown
Atheneum Ages 8-11

Lexi By L.S. Matthews Delacorte Press Ages 9-12

The One and Only Marigold By Florence Parry Heide Illustrated by Jill McElmurry
Schwartz & Wade Ages 4-8

Friday, February 27, 2009

Poetry Friday -- Original Lipogram: SCRABBLE

A few weeks ago Lisa Chellman posted a fantastic lipogram on her blog. The following week she posted a "Scrabble" poem (trying for max. average points per letter). My original for this week is a lipogram about Scrabble (with no attempt at high points).


I play my word,
Replace each tile,
Look there's a Q,
Drawn from the pile.

Now Qs are good,
Except near game's end,
When I'm missing,
Q's best friend.

They all are played,
And both blanks too,
No sole mates for,
A lonely Q.

My spelling's fishy,
As yew can see,
With Q's friend gone,
I'm in a tree.

But I'll charge ahead,
A fearless ram,
I'll prove the player,
That I am.

And Q-A-T,
Will have to do,
Scrabble's not as good,
When there's no ewe.

Roundup is at Mommy's Favorite Children's Books . Thanks go out to Karen for hosting!

Monday, February 23, 2009

Deborah Hopkinson Blog Tour

I welcome Deborah Hopkinson to my blog as part of her blog tour. We will be discussing her recently released picture book Abe Lincoln Crosses a Creek. I might point out that not only did I love the book, but it has been named an ALA Notable Book for 2009 and was a Cybil Award finalist.

Where did you first come across the story behind Abe Lincoln Crosses a Creek ?

My editor, Anne Schwartz, had asked me to think about writing a book in honor of the Lincoln Bicentennial. I wanted to find a relatively untold story about Lincoln’s life, and to find a way to tell it that would get young readers excited about history.

When I came across this incident of Abe being rescued from Knob Creek by a childhood friend when he was seven, it seemed like the perfect match. I found the incident mentioned in several places, including the Lincoln birthplace site. There is also a historical marker honoring Austin Gollaher.

Do you think having an unknown historical hero like Austin Gollaher will help children feel closer to history?

I do think that children, like adults, are drawn to stories about people to whom they can relate. History is only before if it is reduced to memorizing the dates of battles and the names of presidents. Luckily, there are many more historical fiction and nonfiction books for young readers than there were when I was growing up.

In ABE LINCOLN CROSSES A CREEK I explore a specific incident in Lincoln’s childhood in which he was saved from drowning by his friend, Austin Gollaher. I wanted not just to introduce an unknown hero, but also to encourage children to ask questions about the role of ordinary people in history. I also hope the story reminds readers that our individual lives and choices matter, whether we’re famous or not.

Can you tell me a little about the research that went into the book?

While I wasn’t able to travel to Kentucky, I did try to read all the early biographies of Lincoln, as well as a “told to” autobiography by Austin Gollaher, who was apparently interviewed in his later years by a newspaper reporter. Of course, the book is historical fiction, so I fabricated all the dialogue.

Which is more fun: the research or the writing?

That’s easy: I love research! In fact, I sometimes have a hard time stopping the research to begin the writing process.

While I was reading Abe Lincoln Crosses a Creek, it felt like you and illustrator John Hendrix were in the same room, creating the finished book together. I'm guessing that isn't true, but was there any contact during the illustration process? Or have you met John after the book was completed?

You’re right. There was no contact during the illustration process and, in fact, the text in the book is exactly what John Hendrix received when he first was given the manuscript to illustrate. However, coincidentally I have been invited to speak in St. Louis this spring so we will have the chance to meet and autograph books together.

I loved the fact that the story felt whole and still prompted my imagination to wonder how Abe and Austin did on their journey back home that day. Have you ever daydreamed about it? I'm also curious if you've heard of any teachers challenging their students to speculate what might have happened?

The book is fairly new, so I haven’t met any teachers who have used it in their classrooms as yet.

Actually, I don’t think so much of Austin and Abe heading home that day. To me the bittersweet, lingering part of this story is the incident years later during the Civil War, when Lincoln remembers his childhood friend, apparently with great affection.

One can imagine him taking a moment to look back at some of his pranks – and perhaps that near drowning in the creek that day – and reflect just how far he had come from that simple frontier boyhood, wandering by Knob Creek with his good friend, Austin.


Thank you, Deborah, for taking the time to answer my questions and thanks to Michele at Provato Marketing for arranging the blog tour. Click here to see other tour stops.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Anderson's Breakfast

Today was Anderson Bookstore's 7th annual Children's Literature Breakfast.

Guest speakers were:

Meg Cabot

Check out "Meg's Rules" #1 Never pass up a bathroom without going in (because you never know when you'll have another chance to go) #2 Treat other people the way you would want to be treated #3 Never give up

Steven Kellogg who drew this picture in about 27 seconds while talking.

Sharon Draper

And Peter Yarrow who invited a crowd of us on the stage to sing Puff the Magic Dragon with him. Among the writers up there were Trina Sotira, Adam Selzer, Alice McGintey (well she was just off to the side, but part of the group) and me. (Apologies to all I missed.)

If that wouldn't be enough, there were about 50 Illinois authors and illustrators who rotated from table to table (each table got to visit with four of them). My table was visited by

Kevin Luthardt

Andrea Beaty

Robert Burleigh

Laura Crawford (center with Trina on right and me on left)

(Stop by Trina's blog for a fantastic summary of the day.)

Chicago Tribune Young Readers Book Reviews -- Feb 21

Today, Mary Harris Russell reviews two books:

The Graveyard Book By Neil Gaiman Ages 11-15


Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Last Straw By Jeff Kinney Ages 9-12

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Busy Writing Times Ahead

The next couple weeks are really packed with writing things. I mentioned a while back that I'll be attending a revision retreat run by Darcy Pattison. I'm on track with my prep, which is around 1000 pages of reading (two craft books and 3 mss.) and brief critiquing. I'm in the home stretch and getting excited.

This Saturday is the annual Anderson's Bookstore Literary Breakfast with guest speakers Meg Cabot, Sharon Draper, Steven Kellogg and Peter Yarrow. (I will refrain from asking what Puff the Magic Dragon is really about.) Oh, and I'm typing this with Princess Diaries on the Lifetime channel. Another Meg Cabot note: she was interviewed on ABC News midday.

A final note: Remember that Deborah Hopkinson will be here on blog tour this coming Monday to talk about her picture book ABE LINCOLN CROSSES A CREEK. Chicago Parent Magazine had an article this month mentioning her book. Okay...confession time....I haven't read that article, but the person sitting next to me on the train tonight did (I recognized the picture of the book cover)....and I will read it.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Chicago Tribune Young Readers Book Reviews are back online!

Mary Harris Russell is back online with this weeks two reviews.

This week she reviews:

Tales From Outer Suburbia By Shaun Tan Ages 11-15


Heroes of the Valley By Jonathan Stroud Ages 10-15

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Chicago Tribune Young Readers Book Reviews -- Feb 7th Link MIA

The link for Mary Harris Russell's book reviews for yesterday is MIA.

I did buy the newspaper and she did review three books -- just no link. Hopefully this is a fluke and not a trend of things to come.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Poetry Friday Scrabble Challange

Jenn Knoblock at Ink for Lit threw out the gauntlet to write Scrabble poems. The goal is to have the highest average letter score for your poem. Here's my entry:

An HP Ditty

Wizardly quizzes
Quidditch game flights
Phoenix quilled wand
JK's dazzling delights

Average letter score (title not included): 2.8194 (203 points; 72 letters)

Saturday, January 31, 2009

Chicago Tribune Young Readers Book Reviews -- January 31

This Saturday's Chicago Tribune offers three reviews from Mary Harris Russell aimed at readers from 10 to 15 years old.

I Heard God Talking To Me William Edmondson and His Stone Carvings By Elizabeth Spires
Ages 10-14

Amiri & Odette, A Love Story Poem by Walter Dean Myers Paintings by Javaka Steptoe Ages 12-15

Ashley Bryan: Words To My Life's Song By Ashley Bryan Ages 11-14

Friday, January 30, 2009

Deborah Hopkinson Blog Tour Date and more

On February 23rd Deborah Hopkinson will be visiting this humble blog in the land of Lincoln to talk about her picture book Abe Lincoln Crosses A Creek.

I received an e-mail promo from Anderson's Bookshops featuring books to celebrate Lincoln's upcoming 200th Birthday and guess what one of the featured books was.....

Here's the book description featured in their ad:


This is a tale of two boys who get themselves into more trouble than bear cubs in a candy store during the year 1816. Abe is only seven years old, and his pal, Austin, is ten. Abe and Austin decide to journey down to Knob Creek. The water looks scary and deep, and Austin points out that they don't know how to swim. Nevertheless, they decide to traverse it. We won't tell you what happens, but let's just say that our country wouldn't be the same if Austin hadn't been there to help his friend.

Remember to stop by this blog on February 23 for my interview with Deborah Hopkinson, but you might want to go to Anderson's or your own local bookstore by February 12 and add her book to your library!

Sunday, January 25, 2009

OT: Xanadu

Xanadu is coming to Chicago. Here is a link to the article in today's Chicago Tribune. I mentioned Xanadu in my post last June.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Darcy Pattison Retreat Prep #1

I will be attending a revision retreat in very late February hosted by SCBWI-Illinois, taught by Darcy Pattison. I thought it might be nice to step everyone through the experience, which has already begun. I'll warn you up front -- I will not be sharing detailed notes from the retreat.

Let's start with a to do list:

  1. Complete a middle grade or YA manuscript and share it with the three other writers in my retreat critique group. (completed)
  2. Read the three manuscripts of the other critique group members. (shortest of the three read, started on the second)
  3. Read The First Five Pages by Noah Lukeman and Self-Editing for Fiction Writers by Renni Browne and Dave King. (both purchased)
  4. Read your own MS so it is fresh in your mind. (complete)
  5. Mail first chapter/query letter/synopsis of your MS to Darcy Pattison. (complete)
  6. Fill out short critique forms on the critique group manuscripts. (Okay, I should have done the first one before starting the second book.....)

The retreat is set up for a max of twenty attendees -- as of January 12th there were still three openings. I'm looking forward to the retreat. Now, I have a lot of reading to do!

Oh, one last thing. Since I have so much reading to do, here's a little quiz I found at Writer Musings with my results:

What Kind of Reader Are You?
Your Result: Literate Good Citizen

You read to inform or entertain yourself, but you're not nerdy about it. You've read most major classics (in school) and you have a favorite genre or two.

Dedicated Reader
Fad Reader
Obsessive-Compulsive Bookworm
Book Snob
What Kind of Reader Are You?
Quiz Created on GoToQuiz

Chicago Tribune Young Readers Book Reviews

Today in the Chicago Tribune, Mary Harris Russell reviews three new books:

3 Willows: The Sisterhood Grows By Ann Brashares Delacorte Press, $18.99 Ages 11-14

Naked Mole Rat Gets Dressed By Mo Willems Hyperion, $16.99; Ages 4-6

The Odd Egg By Emily Gravett; Simon & Schuster, $15.99; Ages 3-6

Saturday, January 17, 2009

January 17 Chicago Tribune Book Reviews

This week Mary Harris Russell reviews four books about our nation's presidents.

Change Has Come: An Artist Celebrates Our American Spirit Drawings by Kadir Nelson with the words of Barack Obama Ages 8 and up

Our Country's Presidents By Ann Bausum Ages 10-14

Encyclopedia of the Presidents and Their Times By David Rubel Ages 10-14

The Look-It-Up Book of Presidents By Wyatt Blassingame, 2008 edition Ages 9-12

Another book about one of our presidents will visit Haunts of a Children's Writer the last week in February. I am pleased to announce that I will be doing a Blog Tour interview of author Deborah Hopkinson talking about her book Abe Lincoln Crossing a Creek. Watch for the exact date which is still to be determined. (Deborah's book Home on the Range: John A. Lomax and His Cowboy Songs was reviewed by Mary Harris Russell last week.)

Saturday, January 10, 2009

January 10 Tribune Book Reviews + Wired

Gail at The Riant Writer alerted our SCBWI-Illinois listserv of an article in WIRED magazine featuring a soon to be published book by Alice McGinty titled DARWIN. Alice is the assistant regional advisor for SCBWI-Illinois and a well published author of fiction and non-fiction. The link takes you directly to Alice's book, but 7 or 8 other books about Darwin are also featured.

This week's reviews in the Chicago Tribune by Mary Harris Russell are:

The Mostly True Adventures of Homer P. Figg By Rodman Philbrick Ages 10-13

Home on the Range: John A. Lomax and His Cowboy Songs By Deborah Hopkinson; Illustrated by S.D. Schindler Ages 8-11

Always in Trouble By Corinne Demas; Pictures by Noah Z. Jones Ages 5-8

The Snow Day By Komako Sakai Ages 3-5

Saturday, January 3, 2009

January 3 Tribune Book Reviews -- plus last weeks

Okay, part of the reason I decided to post the link was to make it easy. Guess what. Last week I posted the reviews from December 20 as those from December 27. What that means is this: BONUS WEEK!! I'm posting the real December 27 plus January 3 reviews.

December 27 reviews:

Savvy By Ingrid Law Ages 10-14

The Willoughbys: A Novel By Lois Lowry Ages 9-14

The Knife of Never Letting Go By Patrick Ness Ages 13-16

January 3 reviews:

Charles and Emma: The Darwins' Leap of Faith By Deborah Heiligman Ages 12-15

One Beetle Too Many: The Extraordinary Adventures of Charles Darwin By Kathryn Lasky Illustrated by Matthew Trueman Ages 8-11

Posy By Linda Newbery Illustrated by Catherine Rayner Ages 3-5

Yatandou By Gloria Whelan Illustrated by Peter Sylvada Ages 7-10

If anyone finds any links from other newspapers that they would like me to post next week, e-mail me at jdwrites4kids (at) gmail (dot) com or post them in comments.