Monday, February 27, 2012

A Diamond in the Desert Giveaway Winner!

And the winner of A DIAMOND IN THE DESERT by Kathyrn Fitzmaurice is


Congratulations!  I will be sending you an email soon.  Thanks to all of you who stopped by last Monday.  

Have a great week!

Friday, February 24, 2012

Perfect Picture Book Friday: Tweak Tweak

Welcome to Perfect Picture Book Friday! I hope this post will be a help to those who love picture books and want to share them with their own children or those they teach.

Written by: Eve Bunting
Illustrated by: Sergio Ruzzier

Clarion Books 2011
Fiction for ages 2 to 6

Themes: individuality, animals

Opening and brief synopsis:
“Hold on to my tail, Little Elephant,”
Mama Elephant said. “Today we are
going for a walk. If you want to ask me
a question, tweak twice.”

Mama Elephant and Little Elephant are going for a walk. Little Elephant has many questions, especially about the different animals that they find as they walk. Mama Elephant loves to answer, showing Little Elephant that even though the other animals have wonderful abilities, she too possesses great qualities special to her as an elephant. Mama answers the questions all to help Little Elephant grow big and strong and smart and beautiful.

Why I like this book:
This is a cute, simple book showing young children that asking questions is a great way to experience the world around them. (And it also shows parents the benefits of patience! I know too many questions can be unnerving at times.) I would identify this as a “quiet” picture book, and the illustrations go hand in hand. They are adorable and draw you in to the fun walk of the elephants. A great book for cuddling with a young child.

A variety of coloring pages for elephants can be found here.  Take your child(ren) on a curiosity walk, letting them ask questions about what they see and hear.

Perfect Picture Book Friday is a wonderful idea started by Susanna Leonard Hill.  For other “Just Right” books, visit her blog.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday: A Diamond in the Desert and a GIVEAWAY!

Today’s Marvelous Middle Grade Monday is special! Not only am I sharing an amazing new book that was released this past Thursday, but I’m also featuring a Q&A with the fabulous author, Kathryn Fitzmaurice, AND have a signed hardcover copy from Kathryn to giveaway. I did mention she’s fabulous, didn’t I? :)

By: Kathryn Fitzmaurice
Viking, a division of Penguin Young Readers Group 2012
Ages 10 and up

First, let me share from the jacket flap:

     Gila River camp isn’t technically a prison, but it might as well be. There’s nowhere to go and nothing to do. The camp is located on an Indian reservation in the middle of the harsh Arizona desert, and twelve-year-old Tetsu Kishi has been sent there with his mother and little sister-but without his father or his dog. Mr. Kishi was shipped to North Dakota for questioning after Pearl Harbor was bombed, and Japanese internment camps don’t allow dogs.
     Tetsu spends his days at Gila River like the thousands of other people who have been sent there-he just tries to pass the time. So when someone has the idea of building a baseball diamond and starting up a camp team, he’s thrilled to have something normal to do. Tetsu was a star first baseman back home in California, and he can’t wait to break out his glove. But just as practice starts, his sister Kimi gets sick. Dangerously sick. And suddenly Tetsu has something much bigger than baseball to think about.
     Kathryn Fitzmaurice has created a heartfelt story about honor, family and the pure joy that comes with throwing a perfect, game-winning pitch.

I must be a disclaimer out that I love baseball; my family is a baseball family. So, any book revolving around baseball automatically gets a “thumbs up” from me. But A DIAMOND IN THE DESERT is so much more than baseball. I didn’t realize that these amazing, and sad, events happened in our country. The book gave an in depth view of the internment camps, much of which was based on real-life events (more on that in the Q&A). It also showed the human strength and perseverance and honor that the Japanese Americans showed as they stood tall and survived. Through their friends and family AND baseball they united no matter what the circumstances.  The book was a great lesson in history as well as a story that pulled me in and held me in its grasp.

Now, let me share with you some words from Kathryn.
You used your own family history as inspiration for your first book, THE YEAR THE SWALLOWS CAME EARLY. Was it different writing a book that required much more research and fact-finding?

It was a lot different because with this book, A DIAMOND IN THE DESERT, I took a long time reading through all of the newspapers they had printed while at the Gila River camp. I went to the Laguna Niguel National Archives building and they ordered all nine rolls of the newspaper from Washington DC, which was on microfiche. I would spend hours there, reading through it, printing some pages and making a lot of notes. I also interviewed three of the gentlemen who were on the team. The main character, Mr. Tetsuo Furukawa, allowed me to interview him over the course of two years as I wrote the book. He was so very helpful. I sent him each draft of the book so he could read through it to see if I had gotten it correct. We had many long telephone conversations, and then I went to meet him after I was finished. I think the best part about writing this book is that I had taped up a map of the area, many photos of the characters, a long timeline of everything that had happened at the camp, the major events of the war, and the major events in baseball those years, to the wall in my home office. I used this as a place keeper in my writing. Each day as I sat down to write, I would pick up where I left off. At the very end, when I was done writing the book, I left these things on my wall for a while. It was hard to take them down after spending so much time with them all those months. I wish I would have taken a photograph of it.

The "chapters" in A DIAMOND IN THE DESERT are short, some only a paragraph or two long, which are then grouped together by timeframe. As I read, I thought of them as excerpts in Tetsu's life. How did you decide to divide the book in this way?

Originally the book was not divided into seasons, but when Catherine Frank, my editor at Viking, read through the manuscript, she suggested we clump the excerpts into seasons in order to assist the reader with the long passage of time. Since the book covers over two years, by adding in the seasons, our hope was that it would ground readers. The short chapters, however, were always there. I think this happened because of the way I wrote the book and the extended timeline taped on my wall (which I described above). The result ended with some of the chapters, or excerpts, being shorter than others. Once I felt I had described that event, I went on to the next, kind of like a young boy would do, rarely over thinking it.

Was your writing process any different for this book as compared to the first?

Normally I don’t write with such a detailed outline, but I did with this book. I had to so that I wouldn’t leave anything out. 

Jennifer Rofe of the Andrea Brown Literary Agency is your agent. How did you find her, or did she find you?

I met Jennifer Rofe when I attended the Big Sur Writing conference back in 2006. I was assigned to the critique group Eric Elfman was mentoring, and he thought Jennifer would like the book I was working on, which was THE YEAR THE SWALLOWS CAME EARLY. He introduced us. She asked me to send it to her, so I did. Jennifer requested that I do a revision on the story after she read through it. I think that revision took me about four months to do. When she read it again, she asked if she could represent me.

In the back section of was THE YEAR THE SWALLOWS CAME EARLY, you describe your relationship with your grandmother and the huge influence she was in helping you become a writer. Are there any other writers you especially resonate with or whose writing has inspired you?

There are so many wonderful middle grade authors. My favorites are Kate DiCamillo, Gary D. Schmidt, Deborah Wiles, Sharon Creech, and Lauren Child.

Do you have any future projects you could tell us about?

I just finished another middle grade novel, which will be out in winter 2013. It’s entitled, DESTINY, REWRITTEN, and will be published by HarperCollins. It’s about an eleven-year-old girl named after Emily Dickinson, who is expected to become a poet, but she doesn’t like poetry at all. She tries to change her destiny. It’s a lot like the Swallows book, but sort of funnier, and with a happier ending. I’m currently writing another middle grade novel that is very different than anything I’ve ever written. It’s a contemporary novel that might be considered a fantasy.

In closing, what one piece of advice has helped you in your writing journey?

I think the one piece of advice that helped me the most in my writing journey was given to me from my grandmother. She told me to write what I know. In the case of this book, what I knew best was the setting because I had grown up outside of Phoenix. The rest of it, Gila River, etc., I took two years to read through the Gila River newspapers and interview the three gentlemen who were on the team until I felt confident enough to start writing the story. In addition, I sent each draft of the manuscript to the gentleman who was the pitcher for the team in Gila River, so he could review it and make certain my facts were correct. I am so grateful for all of his help. I remember this one day, I called him four times! I had a question about this or that, and he enjoyed talking about his experiences so much that at times, our conversations lasted more than an hour!

I would like to thank Kathryn very much for sharing her thoughts and more on the background of the book. I definitely recommend you all read it and if you haven’t read Kathryn’s first book, you can read more about it here. Be sure to check out Kathryn’s website as well for a book trailer, discussion questions and more!

Now, for the giveaway. I’m so thankful to my followers and appreciate your time and comments on my blog. I reached my goal of 50 followers by the end of January and now would like to celebrate with you. To enter to win a signed hardcover of A DIAMOND IN THE DESERT you must be a follower of my blog and comment below with your email address by Friday, February 24th midnight EST. International entries are welcome. I will announce the winner on Monday, February 27th. 

Happy Reading!

Friday, February 17, 2012

Perfect Picture Book Friday

I don't have anything prepared for today's Perfect Picture Book Friday, but I will be back next week. I loaded up on books at the library today, so I will definitely have something to share!  For those of you who also enjoy middle grade, visit me on Monday for my Marvelous Middle Grade Monday post. I will be featuring A DIAMOND IN THE DESERT by Kathryn Fitzmaurice, which is available in bookstores as of today! It's amazing book and I will also have an interview with Kathryn AND my first giveaway! 

I would also like to share a bit of exciting news for me.  My story "Snowy Move," can be found in the current issue of Stories for Children Magazine.  Every publishing credit is so thrilling; seeing something I created being shared with kids is so cool!

See you all next week!

Friday, February 10, 2012

Perfect Picture Book Friday: Dino-Baseball

Welcome to Perfect Picture Book Friday! I hope this post will be a help to those who love picture books and want to share them with their own children or those they teach.

Written by: Lisa Wheeler and Illustrated by: Barry Gott

Carolrhoda Books 2010
Fiction for ages 5 and up

Themes: sports, team play, books for boys

Opening and brief synopsis:
Jurassic Park … a perfect day.
Dino-Baseball’s under way!

The Green Sox are playing the Rib-Eye Reds in a tight and exciting baseball game.

Why I like this book:
Dino-Baseball is part of Lisa’s dino sports series including soccer, basketball, hockey and soon to come out - football. Our family is all about baseball, so I automatically love it! The rhyme is so precise and flows through the game. It is even easy to read the dinosaur names, especially since many of them are abbreviated as nicknames. The illustrations are very colorful, cool and full of action. My son loves these books, and can’t wait for the football book.

A book trailer can be found on Lisa’s site; other activities would include playing baseball in the backyard or going to a baseball game as a family.

Perfect Picture Book Friday is a wonderful idea started by Susanna Leonard Hill.  For other “Just Right” books, visit her blog.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Blog Awards and Shout Outs

Over the last week of I've been awarded the Liebster Blog Award twice. Once by Elizabeth Stevens Omlor and once by Beth Stilborn.  A huge thank you to these wonderful fellow bloggers for their kind gesture!

Now I know many of you might have seen this award floating around and have seen various descriptions.  Yes, Liebster means dearest or beloved in German and the origins of the award are unknown or at least undocumented.  The purpose of the award is to give bloggers with less than 200 followers a shout-out and more exposure.  Now there are a few other items tied to the award, but I'm going to go a different route with my post.  I guess I'm probably breaking the "Liebster Award" rules, but oh well!

So, in the spirit of spreading some blog love, I would like to share a few of my favorite blogs that I always make a point to read.  I realize some may have more than 200 followers, but I think they are all amazing and worth checking out.
  • Barbara Watson - Check out her MMGM posts (I love her book picks!), as well as her A-B-C's of Middle Grade on Thursdays. 
  • Joanne Fritz - Also a participant in MMGM and a great resource for children's books.  Joanne is actually on a revision holiday right now, so for now check out her blog archives.
  • Writer's First Aid- Written by Kristi Holl, it is a great source of inspiration and advice.
  • Shannon Messenger - I started following Shannon right before her book deal announcements and have enjoyed reading about her publication journey.
  • Susanna Leonard Hill - Creator of Perfect Picture Book Friday, Susanna's blog is a great resource for picture book writers and a fun place to stop. 
  • Julie Hedlund - Julie is the creator and organizer of 12 x 12 in 2012. Her blog is a great place for encouragement in the writing journey.
I list many other blogs and websites that I follow either in the lists to the right or in my tabs at the top.

Looking at this list, I'm amazed at what great friends I have found through my writing journey.  Finding my spot in the writing community has been such a blessing to me. As so many say, finding great critique partners and writing friends is so necessary for a writer. A big thank you, as well, to my followers. Whether you are a writer or just a book lover I'm so glad that I've given you something worthwhile to read.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday: Hill Hawk Hattie

Welcome to another Marvelous Middle Grade Monday!  Today's book is special as it was written by current my ICL (Institute of Children's Literature) Instructor. It's an historical novel taking place in the rafting era of the last 1800's. 

by: Clara Gillow Clark
Candlewick Press 2003

First - from the book jacket:
Pa used to call Ma and me his girls. Now, he just says, "girl," orders me around with curse words like I’m nothing. I’m not nothing, though, ’cause I feel too mean inside to be that.

When Ma died, she took with her the sugar that kept Hattie and Pa sweet. Now Hattie can't lose that ornery feeling, and Pa stops calling her "girl" altogether and wants her to dress as a boy and join him on his next river-rafting trip.

Hattie finds herself working alongside two other Hill Hawks - loners who live up in the hills above the river valley. Her pluck is sorely tested as she fields Pa’s criticism, plunges down waterfalls, and tries to keep the river men and her new friend, Jasper, from discovering her true identity.

Gritty and full of heart, Clara Gillow Clark’s fascinating historical novel rides the rapids of a tumultuous father-daughter relationship. It’s a story of how death can undo a family - and how, against all odds, it can unite them.

This description really sums up the background and themes of the book.  I really liked that the book was written in first person in a terse sort of way. It drew me into the character of Hattie and made me feel like I was back in the 1800's on the river with the Hill Hawks.

What really makes the book is the relationship between Hattie and her father. The end really helps put into perspective why things happened the way they did. As an eleven-year-old Hattie can't understand her Pa and how the events of her Ma's death have changed their life. But by the end, it all comes full circle.

HILL HAWK HATTIE also has two sequels which I plan to check out: HATTIE ON HER WAY and SECRETS OF GREYMOOR.

Thanks for stopping by and watch for my next MMGM - February 20th -which will include a great giveaway!

Friday, February 3, 2012

Perfect Picture Book Friday: Sylvie

Welcome to Perfect Picture Book Friday! I hope this post will be a help to those who love picture books and want to share them with their own children or those they teach.
Written and Illustrated by: Jennifer Sattler

Random House Children’s Books 2009
Fiction for ages 4-8

Themes: animals, be yourself/individuality, colors

Opening and brief synopsis:
One morning, Sylvie looked at her family.
Sylvie is a beautiful pink flamingo who finds out she is pink because she eats pink shrimp. When she looks at the world around her, she decides to expand her eating choices, and much to her dismay, overdoing it.

Why I like this book:
I loved little Sylvie as she looked at all the beautiful colors of the world and decided to try them all out.  By eating grapes, chocolate, a red kite and so on, she not only becomes the color of what she ate, but sees that changing colors isn’t at all what she expected. When her stomach tells her to stop, she becomes a mish-mash of color and realizes being herself with her pink family is the best color for her after all. I also loved the illustrations - so cute and the colors so vivid.

Flamingo Coloring Page, Fun activity – Have children draw a rainbow and think of other items that are the same color as the colors of the rainbow.

Perfect Picture Book Friday is a wonderful idea started by Susanna Leonard Hill.  For other “Just Right” books, visit her blog.