May 21, 2015

Writer’s Voice Contestant

Posted in books, Cinderella, steampunk, Writer's Voice at 11:25 am by elizabethcaulfieldfelt

QUERY:

THE STEPSISTERS is a young adult, steampunk Cinderella retelling complete at 55,000 words.

Drusilla “Dru” is a mildly autistic, scientifically-minded teen who doesn’t use pronouns. She wants to be just like her inventor father. Dru’s younger sister Charlotte “Lottie” is a socialite with a keen sense of fashion and the knack for being the center of attention. When their father dies, their mother quickly re-marries to save the family from poverty. They move to a two-room farmhouse and meet their stepsister Cyntia Rellah, a cheerful peasant girl who runs a messenger pigeon service.

The Rellah farm is near the country palace of the King and Queen, who are expecting a child. For centuries the Royalty of Jacobia have been born with weak hearts because of an ancient curse. The King brings Dru to the royal laboratory to finish her father’s work: the creation of a mechanical heart for an infant. As the day of birth draws near, Dru must complete the invention her father began or else the child won’t survive.

When the Queen entangles Lottie in her quest to find and kill the descendant of the sorceress who placed the curse, Lottie must choose between saving her family or serving the Queen.

I teach children’s literature at the University of Wisconsin, Stevens Point. My adult historical novel, SYNCOPATION: A MEMOIR OF ADELE HUGO was published by Cornerstone Press in 2012. My middle-grade mystery, THE STOLEN GOLDIN VIOLIN, was self-published in 2010. I am a member of SCBWI, AWP and the Historical Novels Society.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

FIRST 250 WORDS:

The gondola of the luxury airship Ludtwidge sways gently beneath its hydrogen-filled webwrought balloon. Pilot Brijit Eyre studies the darkness out the bridge window and taps the barometer. Something’s off. She can feel it in the air, in her bones.

“Betti, change course 5 degrees north-northwest. Alec, get a mech-pigeon ready.”

Captain Eyre flips a valve. Steam hisses through a pipe, moving the engine to full throttle.

The Ludtwidge uses a Steppe steam engine. Instead of creating steam by burning coal or gas, Steppe engines use the flameless heat of firestones.

In the largest cabin of the Ludtwidge, inventor Sir Ernest Steppe lies on his bunk, melting into sleep.

His youngest daughter Dru holds her hat, which begins to fly. She yells at Ernest.

No, it isn’t Dru. It’s the Queen. She’s angry at Ernest. He hasn’t done what he should’ve done.

Is it about Dru’s engagement to the Prince? He dreads explaining the situation to his wife.

The Queen expands to twice her size. Her red hair ignites into flames. She leans over—

Ernest wakes when his body hits the floor. The airship’s gondola rocks. The floor tilts. He slides from one side of the cabin to the other.

Ernest grabs the porthole’s raised edges and pulls himself up. Rain pelts the glass. Lighting flickers in the distance. Thunder rumbles.

“Heavens undone.”

Ernest puts on his shoes and heads to the engine room.

April 2, 2015

Septimus Heap and International Children’s Book Day

Posted in author, books, reading at 12:01 pm by elizabethcaulfieldfelt

Me reading to my boys (a few years ago)

Me reading to my boys (who no longer fit on my lap)

When my boys were little, we did a lot of reading aloud, including Angie Sage’s Septimus Heap books, a 7-book, middle-grade fantasy series about the seventh son of a seventh son. We read books 1-3, then got book 4 when it came out. By the time book 5 came out, we were reading them on our own, and I had forgotten so much about the earlier books, that I didn’t know what was going on all the time. I decided I’d wait for books 6 and 7 to come out and then start at the beginning again.

And then the years went by and I forgot….

Until I found book 7 in a store two weeks ago and re-started the series. Wow! It is even better than I remembered. Angie Sage’s world building is fabulous. She has many, many characters and they are well developed and interesting. The plot moves like an out-of-control roller coaster. The writing is clever and funny.

But the best thing. The most notable thing about this series: The number of female characters. The number of female characters either matches or is greater than the number of male characters. The female characters have important roles too.

The first in the series

The first in the series

This kingdom is a matriarchy, with power passing from Queen to Princess. Ten-year-old Princess Jenna is a main character, as “main” as the title character of Septimus. There are male and female wizards, but the top wizard, the Extra-Ordinary Wizard, is a woman. There is a coven of witches (all female) and a female boat builder. A series about a boy named Septimus Heap, who is the seventh son of a seventh son, is going to have a lot of boys in it. And it does. But not more boys than girls.

It is so rare to find as many female characters as male characters in a fantasy novel that this book seems female-heavy. Yet, when you sit down and count, the numbers of male and female characters are even. Just like real life.

Is this important? I think so.

Harry Potter has Hermione and Professor McGonagall and Bellatrix, but each of them stands in the shadow of a more important male character: Harry, Dumbledore, Voldemort. All the key characters are male.

I don’t blame JK Rowling. Would her books have gotten the same attention if Harry had been Henrietta, the girl who lived? I doubt it.

Angie Sage's Septimus Heap series (I must have loaned out book 2)

Angie Sage’s Septimus Heap series (I must have loaned out book 2)

So, please, on this International Children’s Book Day, buy (or borrow) the Septimus Heap series (Magyk, Flyte, Physik, Queste, Syren, Darke, and Fyre) and read them to your favorite children.

You will be struck by the number of female characters. But guess what? Your children won’t.

March 6, 2015

Rain Reign and Crossover

Posted in books, poetry, reading at 11:57 am by elizabethcaulfieldfelt

For the past several years, my ladies book club has decide to spend the months of December and January reading children’s novels that have a chance at the Newbery Medal. We do a bit of research, come up with about 15 to 20 titles, then share the books. We meet in January and talk about our favorites. The Newbery Medal is  announced at the end of January.

RainReignThis year, the book I liked most was Rain Reign by Ann M. Martin. The story is about an autistic girl and her dog. It is a beautiful, beautiful book.  I was extremely disappointed when the Newbery Medal was awarded to Kwame Alexander’s Crossover, a book I hadn’t even heard of.

crossoverWell, I just finished reading Crossover, and I am delighted that it won the award. It is a wonderful novel-in-verse about two African American brothers who love basketball.  I’m not male, I’m not African American, and I don’t much like basketball.  It doesn’t matter! The story is brilliant and the writing inspired. Alexander’s poetry jumps off the page and sings in your head.  Some poetry you have to read aloud to hear it as poetry, but I could hear the cadence and the rhymes in my head even in silent reading.

Crossover is not only a book for people who love to read, it is a book that will appeal to those who hardly ever read.  So, hats off to Kwame Alexander and the Newbery Award committee. Great book. Great choice.

February 27, 2015

Reading Challenge 2015: Update #1

Posted in author, books, reading at 11:04 am by elizabethcaulfieldfelt

A Facebook friend of mine is doing a reading challenge, and I agreed to do it with her. I’m not sure where she found the list, but I printed it (when I decided to do the challenge) and through a google search (just now) found an online copy on the blog of children’s author Julie Stroebel Barichello.

Two months into the year and I’ve read eighteen books. Here’s how they fit into some of the challenge categories:
A book with more than 500 pages: One Summer by Bill Bryson
A book published this year: The Eterna Files by Leanna Renee Hieber
A book with a number in the title: Ramona Quimby, Age 8 by Beverly Cleary
A book with nonhuman characters: The Mouse with the Question Mark Tail by Richard Peck
A book by a female author: Absolutely Almost by Lisa Graff
A book with a one-word title: Firegirl by Tony Abbott
A book set in a different country: The Dark is Rising by Susan Cooper
A book by an author you love that you have not read yet: The Madman of Piney Woods by Christopher Paul Curtis
A book a friend recommended: Just One Damned Thing After Another by Jodi Taylor
A book more than 100 years old: Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson
A book from your childhood: Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O’Dell
A book set in the future: The Ear, the Eye and the Arm by Nancy Farmer
A book that made you cry: Feathers by Jacqueline Woodson
A book with magic: First Frost by Sarah Addison Allen
A book by an author you’ve never read before: As Love Blooms by Lorna Seilstad

As the year progresses, I’ll match more books with more categories and post updates here. It isn’t too late to join the challenge!

November 30, 2014

Author Interview: Susan Manzke

Posted in author, books, interview at 9:45 pm by elizabethcaulfieldfelt

susan manskeToday I’m welcoming Susan Manzke to my series of author interviews. Susan is the author of the recently released middle-grade novel Chicken Charlie’s Year. Susan has been writing a weekly column for Wisconsin State Farmer since 1980. Her two adult romances, Never Bring Her Roses and When the Spotlight Fades were published by Doubleday.

Elizabeth: Can you tell us about your new book, Chicken Charlie’s Year?

Susan: Here’s my blurb about the book:

susan manske book ChickenTen-year-old Charlie Petkus isn’t surprised to get scratchy wool underwear from Aunt Mutzi for Christmas 1932, but he is surprised that her gift package includes a diary. To his dismay, his Lithuanian-immigrant mother thinks a diary is the perfect present. “You man of family, Casimir,” she says. “You learn to write the English like good American.” Charlie wants more than anything to make Mama proud. But he’s not sure education is the way to manhood, especially since he doesn’t like school. With the Great Depression on, Charlie thinks it would be much manlier to quit the 4th grade and go to work like his friend Ray.

From Christmas 1932 to Christmas 1933, Charlie finds plenty of fun and adventure in his ethnic neighborhood. He discovers that sledding on a car hood results in embarrassment and a very snowy bottom. He finds that a “dead” pheasant that isn’t quite as dead as he thought can make a big mess in a Ford Model B. He learns that if you take a job harvesting onions before school, you get your feet filthy on just the day they make you take your shoes off to be weighed and measured—but you also earn a whole dime for your work. By night, Charlie writes in his diary to make Mama proud. But by day, he watches Ray, who now dresses like a man, smokes like a man, and earns a man’s wage. Charlie wonders why his mama and sisters should live on cabbage soup and the occasional package of broken cookies while “the man of the family” sits in school writing a poem called “Spring is Here.” The decision Charlie makes next will determine the course of his life and his understanding of what it really means to be a man.

This story is filled with fun adventures and family moments. At times when I was writing it felt like I was channeling my father’s family.

Elizabeth: How long did it take from story idea until the book was published?

Susan: I think I’ve been working on this story most of my life. My father told funny stories about his childhood to put my sister and me to sleep. I always loved those stories and creating this novel was my way of using some of them.

I can’t exactly remember when I started writing this actual book. It has been a long time. My critique group has read bits and pieces of it for years.

The hardest part is deciding when the book was polished and ready to publish. I wanted it to be the best I could do, to honor my father and I didn’t want to mess up.

Elizabeth: You’ve been writing for Wisconsin State Farmer for many years. Can you tell us what sort of columns you write for that publication?

Susan: My column is my life. I write about things that happen to me and my family. I began writing this weekly column in 1980. Back then I had a new baby, a three-year-old, and a five-year-old. Subjects then were about raising a young family. Today I have grandchildren. They often end up in my column these days.

I like to write about the funny side of life. Sometimes something will happen on our farm, Sunnybook Farm, and it won’t seem funny until a day or two later. A stuck tractor isn’t funny when you are covered with mud and working hard to get it out, but a few days later it makes its way into my column and it is funny.

susan manske book wordsElizabeth: You’ve written a middle-grade novel, personal essays, columns (which have been published in the Words in My Pocket collections), and adult romances. How do you approach these very different kinds of writing?

Susan: I have a weekly deadline for my column, which runs about 650+ words. I’m always thinking about column ideas, so usually when I sit down I can start writing and get something done in one afternoon.

When I work on a novel, I get a germ of an idea and mull it over before starting to write. It may take me years to write a novel. I don’t outline, but I usually know the beginning and the end. The fun part is figuring out how to get from Chapter One to the end. For me it’s the journey that keeps me interested.

Elizabeth: You write in many genres, do you read in many genres? Which are your favorite?

Susan: I love to read middle-grade novels. I like anything that keeps my attention. Often ‘adult’ novels are too convoluted for me. I hate putting a book down, but my time is limited. Just tell me a good story. I have a form of dyslexia, so I’m a slow reader, but that hasn’t stopped me. I discovered my love for reading when I read Lassie Come Home in the seventh grade. Up until then reading was just a chore. I don’t want a book to be a chore to read.

Elizabeth: Tell us about yourself.

Susan: I live with my husband of 41 years, Bob, on Sunnybook Farm. We have 4 adult children, 6 grandchildren, 1 step grandson, and 1 step great granddaughter. We have 3 house cats and one dog. We also have 9 chickens and a bunch of barn cats. I love getting together with family. We laugh a lot and I never get enough of my grandchildren.

I went back to college in my 50s and graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay in 2009. It wasn’t easy going back to school after all those years, but every time I finished a class, I felt a great sense of accomplishment.

Elizabeth: Do you have any advice for young readers and writers?

Susan: I like to encourage writers who have dyslexia to charge ahead and write. I’m proof it can be done. Join a critique group to help improve your writing. Critiques may hurt at first, but I know I learned a lot from mine and I still do.

We’ve now reached the time in our interview for the let’s-get-to-know-the-author-better, nearly-pointless, sort-of-silly, rapid-fire questions:

Elizabeth: Pizza or salad?

Susan: Pizza!

Elizabeth: Ocean or mountain?

Susan: Mountain

Elizabeth: Tree house or doll house?

Susan: Tree House, like the one in Swiss Family Robinson

Elizabeth: Violin or piano?

Susan: Piano

Elizabeth: Comic story or learn-something story?

Susan: Tough one….I like to learn something in a story by accident, not on purpose. It has to be part of the story, even a comic story.

Elizabeth: Laura Ingalls Wilder or Hermione Granger?

Susan: Another tough one….Hermione Granger

Thanks, Susan for joining me today.  For more about Susan Manzke, visit her website: http://www.susanmanzke.net

Chicken Charlie’s Year is available here on amazon.com

Susan’s columns are available in the Words in my Pocket collections

October 21, 2014

Nano 2014

Posted in author, books, Cinderella, NaNoWriMo, steampunk at 1:08 pm by elizabethcaulfieldfelt

Want to write a book? Want to do it fast?  Want encouragement from famous people?  Want to connect with other writers in your local area?

Nano 2014Then you need to join NaNoWriMo! I went to the National Novel Writing Month website and got myself signed up to write (finish) a novel in November.  If you join NaNoWriMo, be sure to make me one of your writing buddies.

This year, my NaNo project is once again The Stepsisters. It feels as if I’ve been writing this book  f – o – r – e – v – e – r .

I’m two-thirds finished with my third revision, and I think this is the one. My goal for November is to finish The Stepsisters.  For those of you who haven’t already heard about this novel, The Stepsisters is a steampunk Cinderella, told in alternating first person by the two stepsisters.  And not to brag or anything, but it is la-la fabulous.  Or will be. When I finish it. In November.

OK, so go do the NaNo thing.  You know you want to. Here’s the link again: National Novel Writing Month website.

October 1, 2014

Author Interview: Jamie Swenson

Posted in author, books, interview, writing at 4:28 pm by elizabethcaulfieldfelt

jamie swensonToday I’m welcoming Jamie Swenson to my series of author interviews. Jamie is the picture book author of Big Rig, Boom Boom Boom, and If You Were a Dog.

Elizabeth: Can you tell us about If You Were a Dog?

Jamie: If You Were a Dog released yesterday – Sept.30th. jamie book dog

When I think about this book – it makes me smile. The book asks a series of questions for kids to consider about what sort of animal they would be if they were, say, a dog, a cat, a bird, a fish, a frog – even a dinosaur. The book opens with the dog question:

If you were a dog, would you be a speedy-quick,

Lickety-sloppidy,

Scavenge-the-garbage,

Frisbee catching,

Hotdog stealing,

Pillow hogging,

Best-friend-ever sort of dog?

Would you howl at the moon?

ARRRRRROOOOOOOOOOOOO!

Some dogs do.

Elizabeth: How long did it take from story idea until the book was published?

Jamie: Sometimes the initial idea for a book just flows from me in a matter of hours. That’s what happened with If You Were a Dog. I’d been talking with a little boy who was pretending to be a dog and I asked him, “What sort of dog are you? Are you going to bark in storytime today?” And that’s really all it took – I practically ran home that day and wrote the first few lines of the book about what type of dog a child might be. I’ve had dogs my whole life – so all the questions are based on the dogs I’ve known.

Of course, a book needs more than just one fun thought … and it took me a little while to focus on only animals – and even longer to get all the descriptive words right. Plus, I believe I spent months putting hyphens in and taking hyphens out again … in total, I think it took over a year to get the text into a form I was ready to submit to publishers.

When I finally did start submitting, I sent it to five open houses that I loved – into slush piles. I didn’t hear anything for months and then one morning I saw that I had an email message from Janine O’Malley at Farrar, Straus & Giroux. She wondered if the book was still available and if I would email her a copy so she could share it with her colleagues. That was in December of 2009. I think Janine made me an offer in January and the book was scheduled to release in 2012.

AND THEN … the most amazing thing happened. Caldecott-winning illustrator Chris Raschka signed onto the project. I was stunned when I found out. I knew and respected Chris’ work – it was an unbelievable thought that he would be bringing my text to life. Of course, he’s busy. The publication date ended up moving back to 2014 to accommodate his schedule. So, the first book I sold has ended up being the third to be released. In my mind, Chris’ work was well worth the extra two year wait!

Elizabeth: Chris Raschka! How exciting! Well worth the wait. I’ve noticed that your books are each by a different illustrator. Do you, as an author, have any input on who gets to illustrate your story?

jamie book bigrigJamie: As the author, I have had no say in who the illustrators for my books would be – beyond giving a general “yes” or “no” to the choices made by my editors. So far, I have only said, “AWESOME!” to all three of the illustrators: David Walker, Ned Young, and Chris Raschka.

With each project, at some point, I do see rough sketches or early drafts of the art and I am able to give feedback. There were a few instances in each manuscript when I did give feedback that affected the final book. In all cases, I was so happy with the overall style/tone/feel of the book – I really think each illustrator brought exactly what the text needed to the project. When I look at the art in my books – I simply can’t imagine any other style/look. I’ve heard of authors being disappointed in the art in their books – or feeling a loss of control, but I have never felt that way. I go into every book – even in the early writing stage—saying, “I’m leaving space right there for an illustrator to play and have fun creating.” I have never wanted to have too much control – and I try to stay away from exacting illustration directions/notes.

jamie book boomIn my mind, every person connected with the book process knows what he/she is doing and each person adds a richness to the book that wouldn’t exist if I were the one making all the choices. I love how books represent many creative spirits coming together for the best product – because they are created for the best people on the planet – kids.

Elizabeth: Can you tell us a little about your writing process?

Jamie: My writing process is dictated by the project I’m working on. If I need to research a topic – I will spend a few weeks reading or watching everything I can that is connected to the topic and taking notes or just letting it sink into my brain. Finally, I’ll spend two or three straight days writing the first draft (if it’s a picture book) and then I’ll spend days, weeks, months, or years revising the manuscript. Usually, it’s just a matter of a month or two of writing and revising. I often write for about two hours, take a break such as a walk with my dogs, and then come back to write/revise for a few more hours. Breaks are essential – and knowing that I need to find perfect words and not settle for just okay keeps me motivated. Picture books are like a puzzle where you keep taking out and replacing pieces until they all fit together perfectly.

Elizabeth: To write for children, do you think an author needs to have regular interaction with children?

Jamie: No, I do not think that writers have to have regular interaction with kids to write for kids – I think writers have to have once been a kid and be interested in topics of interest to kids. Of course, for me, it certainly helps that I do work with kids. My work is very much affected by my daily interactions with kids, and I would certainly miss that inspiration if I suddenly went to live in a cabin in a forest without any people around me (and believe me, I have considered this – hee hee).

For me, being a storyteller/associate librarian gives me a unique perspective on the types of books that I write. I write books that I would want to use in storytime with preschoolers. My books all have opportunities for the kids to become a part of the reading – be it with howling or clapping or making the “URRRRNNNT-URRRRNNNT!” of big rig’s horn. When I write, I visualize the way the book will work with the kids I will read it to one day.

But, I know many successful authors who do not interact with kids on a daily or even weekly basis. This does not mean they ignore what today’s kids are like or what interests them or what kids need from books – it just means, like any writer – they know their subject and their audience. Some writers write for the child they once were. That’s fantastic!

Of course, if you’re writing for children/teens, it helps to understand their developmental needs. For instance, most two year olds have not yet lost a tooth, been to the principal’s office, or learned to ride a two-wheeler. I wouldn’t pick those topics in writing for a preschooler – on the flip side, most fifth graders are no longer interested in how to tie their shoes, or put on pants, or button a shirt. They don’t worry so much about nap time either. A teen might be very interested in getting his/her driver’s license, but not that interested in stories about spelling bees or first slumber parties. Knowing what your audience is currently experiencing, or will soon experience, helps you write a story that they will enjoy.

My advice to those writing for kids who are not able to be around kids – read books currently published for the age group you want to write for and think about the big emotional issues you experienced at that age. The specifics may have changed since you were a kid (What do you mean you didn’t have a cell phone? How did you text people?), but the emotions haven’t changed. It still hurts to be left out. It’s still scary to be alone in your bed in the dark. And it’s still awesome to find out that a special someone LIKE likes you.

Elizabeth: Can you tell us a little more about yourself?

Jamie: I’ve been writing for kids for about fourteen years now. My early books were certainly inspired by a combination of raising children (my husband and I have two amazing daughters) and working as an associate librarian doing early literacy storytimes. I graduated from Hamline University’s MFAC program in 2009 – that experience remains a highlight of my writing life. Through Hamline and SCBWI, I have been fortunate to meet and be inspired by an array of incredible writers and illustrators.

For me, being a writer isn’t a career as much as it is simply who I am. Words and stories float around me and inspire me. Stories and words make me happy. I love being a part of a world that creates stories for children. Writing for kids and inspiring them become readers is my vocation, I can’t image doing anything else. People ask me all the time what the best part of being a writer is – and I always answer – the best thing about being a writer is the opportunity to meet interesting, passionate, fabulous people: readers, writers, illustrators, editors, agents, book-lovers of all sorts. I honestly believe book people are the best sort of people – and people who dedicate their lives to giving kids the world through books – well, I’m blessed to be a part of that.

Elizabeth: We’ve now reached the time in our interview for the let’s-get-to-know-the-author-better, nearly-pointless, sort-of-silly, rapid-fire questions:

Q: Pizza or salad?

A: Both.

Q: Ocean or mountain?

A: Midwest forest. As northern as possible.

Q: Tree house or doll house?

A: Doll house in a tree house.

Q: Violin or piano?

A: Lalalalala – I’m a singer.

Q: Comic story or learn-something story?

A: Both – I hope to take something away from every story I read – but if there is no comic-relief in a book – I’m not likely to keep reading it for long. That is NOT to say that I wouldn’t read a dark topic or a serious topic – but even in those scary places – there is still joy in this world. So, I do appreciate a little bit of levity with every topic.

Q: Laura Ingalls Wilder or Hermione Granger?

A: Hmmm… both of these characters have spunk and do not take no for an answer. They also both make some big mistakes due to overconfidence… They are smart, brave, women of their time. One, of course is based on a real person – but the two characters are iconic. Too hard to answer –both Laura and Hermione would be preferred over a Bella Swan any day of the week.

For more information about Jamie Swenson visit her website: www.jamieswenson.com

Her books are available at: http://www.indiebound.org/ and other bookstores.

August 1, 2014

Author Interview: Kashmira Sheth

Posted in author, books, interview, reading, school visits, writing at 9:34 am by elizabethcaulfieldfelt

kashmiraToday I’m welcoming Kashmira Sheth to my series of author interviews. Kashmira is the author of many children’s books. Her picture books include the recent Tiger in My Soup, as well as My Dadima Wears a Sari and Monsoon Afternoon. For middle grade readers, Kashmira has written The No Dogs Allowed Rule, Boys Without Names, and Blue Jasmine. Kashmira also has two young adult novels: Keeping Corner and Koyal Dark, Mango Sweet.

Elizabeth: Can you tell us about your new picture book, Tiger in My Soup?

Kashmira: Tiger in My Soup came out of my desire to capture the relationship between my brother and me. The narrator of the story, a young boy, is very much like my brother. Growing up, he always wanted me to read to him. Once I took that concept and started writing the story, the imagination of the little boy took over and tiger steamed out of his soup. It was a fun process.

Elizabeth: Can you tell me a little about the illustrations?kashmira tiger book

Kashmira: My publisher wanted to pair this story with an illustrator who could bring the story alive. I can’t imagine anyone better than Jeffery Ebbeler to illustrate this story. Here are his comments about illustrating Tiger in My Soup:

Jeffery Ebbeler:

The main focus of Tiger in my Soup is the interaction between the boy and his sister, and the tiger that only the boy can see. I wanted to keep backgrounds pretty minimal so the focus was on the interaction between the characters.

Most of the book takes place in one room (the kitchen/dining room) inside the house. It can be hard sometimes add variety to a book that only has one setting. Since this book had so much action, that wasn’t a problem.

The first few page of the story don’t specifically mention where the characters are, so I thought I would put them outside to establish a setting for where they live. Since I illustrate books for many different authors, I try to approach each new book with a fresh perspective. I want to imagine as much as I can about the specific world that these characters live in.  Anything that might add additional character or uniqueness, including where the story is set, the type of house they live in, the kind of clothes they wear.

I was working on my rough sketches for Tiger in My Soup while I was on vacation with a friend that I have known since grade school. His extended family owns a small one-acre island, far out in a lake in Canada. The islands in the lake are all bare granite rocks dotted with pine trees. Several years back I had helped build the new cabin on the island that sits high up on the rocks. I was sitting on the cabin’s porch looking down at the old, red-roofed cabin that my friend’s great-grandfather had built in the 30’s, and I thought– why not set the book here? The image of the boy chasing his sister up the stairs with his book was taken from that view from the cabin porch. (I posted pictures of the cabin on my web site http://jeffillustration.com/tiger.html) I did embellish the look of the house to give a more mid-century modern style.

I was also inspired by all the seagulls flying around the island. I wanted to add a background character that followed the boy around through the whole story. The seagull is the only character that can see the tiger chasing the boy around, and I liked the interactions between the two of them, especially the scene on the porch where the two of them are trying to read the book together.

Tiger in My Soup is one of the favorite books that I have illustrated. It’s such a clever and unique story and I’m really pleased with how it all came together.

Kashmira: Thank you, Jeffery, for providing such insightful detail about your illustrations.

kashmira dadima bookElizabeth: I also love the illustrations in My Dadima Wears a Sari and Monsoon Afternoon. Were they done by the same person?kashmira monsoon book

Kashmira: The illustrations for My Dadima Wears a Sari and Monsoon Afternoon were both done by Yoshiko Jaeggi. She used watercolor and captured the essence of saris as well as of monsoon perfectly.  She is also illustrating my next picture book which will be available in April 2015.

Elizabeth: What do you find the greatest challenge in writing picture books?

Kashmira: I think revising the text of a picture book is the greatest challenge. When I first put down the story there is a flow to it that I like. When I revise I may take out parts of it, change words or sentences and yet want to make sure the text has a lilt to it. Since pictures books are read aloud and read more than once, it’s important that they have a rhythm.

Elizabeth: You also write for middle-grade readers and young adults. What different ways do you approach each audience?

Kashmira: I write in the first person, so when I create a story I try to become that person and write from his/her point of view. The most important and challenging thing a children’s writer has to do is to dig down, reach back in time, and think about how it felt when she/he was nine, or eleven or sixteen. All my stories depict an Indian protagonist, so even though the situation, locale or culture is unfamiliar to the readers they must be able to connect with the protagonist at a deeper level. I try to communicate a story that has resonance with young readers by providing emotional honesty so they can read the book and say, “yes, I know how that feels.”

kashmira keeping bookElizabeth: As you’ve mentioned, many of your books take place in India. Keeping Corner is the story of a young woman in India during the time of Mohandas Gandhi’s movement for independence. Koyal Dark, Mango Sweet and Boys Without Names take place in modern-day India. Can you tell us about your own childhood in India?

Kashmira: My childhood was happy but disjointed. I lived in Bhavnagar (a city in the Western state of Gujarat) with my grandparents until I was eight, and then moved with my parents to Mumbai. When I was seventeen, I came to this country to attend college. Leaving places has preserved memories very distinctly in my mind. Imagining and dreaming about those places has kept me connected to them and helped me become a writer.

Another theme of my childhood was listening to my grandparents tell stories. Listening to and reading the great epics Mahabharata and Ramayana, as well getting an education in my own native language, Gujarati, have been among the biggest influences of my life.

Elizabeth: What do you want young American readers to learn about India?

Kashmira: I would like young readers to know that India has rich history and tradition that are passed on from one generation to other. Even though the culture is old, it isn’t stagnant; rather, it’s always changing. I just read an article in The Wall Street Journal about how the stories from Ramayana and Mahabharata are now being depicted with gods and angels who have an updated muscular and strong look. This is just one example of how India has always been able to reinvent itself. It does have its share of problems, including poverty and corruption, but it is also the largest democracy and is a dynamic, multicultural, multiethnic, and vibrant country.

Elizabeth: Can you tell us about some of your school visits?

kashmira boys bookKashmira: In March 2014 I went to Mattoon, Illinois, for their Read Across Mattoon book. Every year 50 students from Mattoon read the twenty books selected from the Rebecca Caudill Young Readers Book Award. After much lively discussion, they select one book as the winner. Last year they chose Boys Without Names. They order 1,000 copies to use in their schools and to distribute in the community. They keep the book choice a top secret until their holiday assembly when the principal presents the winner and challenges the students and staff to read the book.  Starting in January the Student Reading Committee gives copies of the book to various service organizations.

kashmira frameWhat amazed me was the dedication and passion these young students had for the books and how much work went in to making the entire community aware of the book. Not only I was fortunate to visit the school and give several programs, including an evening one for the entire community, but I also had the opportunity to have lunch with the Student Reading Committee. There were so many things they had created to celebrate the book, including posters, artwork, maps, a mannequin wrapped in a sari, and a wooden frame with beads, just like the one Gopal (the protagonists from Boys Without Names) and the other boys had to make. They gave me the wooden frame as a gift. I have it on my desk and whenever I look at it inspires me. As an author, whenever I do a school visit I am amazed and humbled by young readers, their teachers, parents and community.

In early 2015 I will be traveling to Lacey, Washington for their program called “Lacey Loves to Read.” It is a one-city, one-author program, and I am excited about my visit.

Elizabeth: We’ve now reached the time in our interview for the let’s-get-to-know-the-author-better, nearly-pointless, sort-of-silly, rapid-fire questions:

Q: Pizza or salad?

A: Salad most of the time. Pizza when I am super hungry

Q: Ocean or mountain?

A: Ocean

Q: Tree house or doll house?

A: Tree house

Q: Violin or piano?

A: Piano

Q: Comic story or learn-something story?

A: Learn-something story that has humor in it

Q: Laura Ingalls Wilder or Hermione Granger?

A: First, Laura Ingalls Wilder, because she came in my life first.

Elizabeth: Kashmira, it has been a pleasure learning about you and your books.

Kashmira: Thank you for inviting me to do the author interview and for asking thoughtful questions. I enjoyed answering them.

Elizabeth: For more information about Kashmira Sheth and her books, visit her website:

http://www.kashmirasheth.com and the bookstores hosting her works:

Indiebound:

http://www.indiebound.org/hybrid?filter0=kashmira+sheth&x=0&y=0

Amazon:

http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_noss_1?url=search-alias%3Daps&field-keywords=kashmira+sheth

Barnes and Noble

http://www.barnesandnoble.com/c/kashmira-sheth

Thanks!

July 21, 2014

My Little Free Library

Posted in books, little free library, reading, travel, Wisconsin at 4:40 pm by elizabethcaulfieldfelt

The first Little Free Library was started in 2009 in Wisconsin.  Since that time, more than 15,000 Little Free Libraries have been built.

I am happy to announce that my family has built a Little Free Library:

lflfar

Our little library is near the end of our driveway (so the snow plow doesn’t knock it over in the winter).  Books are available to anyone who walks by and wants to borrow one.  The Little Free Library works on the honor system.  Readers can borrow and return a book, or swap books.

People ask: Aren’t you worried that someone will steal the books?  The answer is: a free book cannot be stolen!

My little free library is filled with books for both children and adults representing a variety of genres.  My friend Sally helped paint the library and suggested the text above the door.

lflclose

If you are ever in my neighborhood, stop by and borrow a book! To learn more about Little Free Libraries, visit the official website.

June 20, 2014

Good Books and Fit Bods

Posted in books, exercise, reading at 4:27 pm by elizabethcaulfieldfelt

Are you an obsessive reader? Do you realize you need to exercise more than you do, but feel like you don’t want to give up your reading time? You don’t have to!

Here are several ideas to keep your body healthy and fit and keep your mind engaged in a good book.

The stationary bike. This is obvious. Reading and spinning. I do this about once a week during the school year—take my book with me to the YMCA, get on the bike, set up the workout, and read. After 30 minutes or so, I close my book and go shower. The exercise happens. The reading happens. I’m a happy camper. But not everyone has access to a stationary bike, so….

Walking and reading, inside. I’ve been doing this for most of my life. As a teenager, I was insecure about my weight, but wanted to spend my free time reading. This activity helped me stay healthy, feel good about myself, and not lose valuable reading time.

How: In a large room, walk in a circle while reading. Don’t have a large room? Create a “track” and walk from room to room on the same path. Have stairs? Walk up and down those stairs while reading.

Warning: If you have never walked and read at the same time, begin slowly and carefully. You need to be able to read while still being aware of your surroundings.

Am I the only one who does this? It seems so reasonable to me, but others seem to find it odd. Inside works for when the weather is bad. It is a good option for those of you too embarrassed to read and walk outdoors.

Walking and reading, outside. First of all, leave the car at home and walk places—even if you don’t take your book. But why not take your book? Combining errands and walking and reading just makes sense.

I often walk to and from work with a book in hand. A grocery store, a drug store, a movie rental place are all within a mile for me, so I walk there while reading.  A thirty minute walk, with a book in hand, feels like about five minutes.

If you live in a big city, you will have lots of opportunities for walking and reading. No need to worry what others will think. Everyone else will be texting and won’t even notice that you are holding a book and not a phone.

If you live in the suburbs, you might think this option doesn’t work for you. On the contrary! Take a walk and read. I realize many suburban streets don’t have sidewalks, so you’ll need to walk on lawns or the edge of streets. I say, be that eccentric person in your neighborhood. Life is too short to pretend you aren’t different. Embrace your passion for books!

Live in the country? Wander your quiet roads with a book. Look up from time to time to greet the horses or sheep. Fresh air, exercise and a good story. This is what life is all about.

Warning: If you have never walked and read at the same time, practice inside. You need to be able to read while still being aware of your surroundings—don’t fall off a sidewalk or walk into a car!

Audiobooks? Yes, yes, yes. I know many of you are thinking: exercise while listening to a book. For those of you who listen to audiobooks, there are many exercise options. So far, audiobooks have not become a part of my life. I like to see words on a page. But for those of you who do like audiobooks, think of all the ways you can exercise and listen. Don’t limit yourself to listening to your book while driving places.

Do you have other suggestions for combining exercising and reading? Please let us know!

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