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 story 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?

Looking at my own novels, I see an imbalance of male characters to female characters. We are products of our culture, and this emphasis on the importance of men is so ingrained, it is invisible.

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!

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!

June 1, 2014

Author Interview: Gayle Rosengren

Posted in author, books, interview, reading at 1:06 pm by elizabethcaulfieldfelt

 

gayleToday I’m welcoming Gayle Rosengren to my series of author interviews. Gayle is the author of the middle-grade historical novel What the Moon Said.

Q: Can you tell us a little about What the Moon Said ?

gayle coverGayle: I’d love to! It’s a novel inspired by some events in my mother’s childhood. The story takes place during the early days of the Great Depression and follows ten-year-old Esther’s experiences when her father loses his job and moves the family from an apartment in Chicago to a ramshackle farm in southern Wisconsin. In addition to the challenges of adapting from city life to country life (especially life without electricity or indoor plumbing!) Esther struggles to elicit some expression of love from her undemonstrative and very superstitious mother. Ma emigrated from Russia as a young woman and brought superstitions with her the way many other newcomers brought seeds, and she planted and nurtured them just as carefully as they did, but in her family. As life becomes more difficult on the farm, she clings to them ever tighter and forces Esther to make difficult decisions about her own beliefs.

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

Gayle: Oh dear, this will surely horrify and scare off struggling writers, but in my case it was a ridiculously long fifteen years. However, this is an excellent example of how important timing is in the publishing business. I wrote this story in 1998. Three different well-known editors loved it and wanted to acquire it, but for various reasons their acquisitions committees wouldn’t approve it so they had to pass. I gave up on the manuscript and tucked it away, never dreaming that it would have a second chance years later. But when I was going to an annual weekend retreat three years ago something made me think of it and I decided to submit it. To my shock and delight the editor who saw it fell in love with the character of Esther and her story. She worked with me on some tweaks to heighten the tension, and a year later I had a contract and not quite two years after that I was published. The writers I know all agree that it takes more than a good manuscript to be published. One must get the right manuscript to the right editor at the right time–and all the stars must be in the right alignment!

Q: Do you have any books in the works?

Gayle: I have another middle grade book coming out from Putnam/Penguin Young Readers in the summer of 2015. It’s called Cold War on Maplewood Street. It’s more recent historical fiction set in Chicago in 1962.

Q: Why do you write for middle grade readers rather than YA or adults?

Gayle: Most of the books I read when I was their age are with me still. They opened my eyes to different worlds and my heart to different people. They played a large part in shaping the person I would become. Their impact was immeasurable and lasting. I hope to make the same difference in my readers’ lives as the writers I loved so much made in mine.

Q: How are you able to get into the mind of a child?

Gayle: I have a lot of very vivid memories from the different stages of my own childhood, and I raised three children separated by eleven years, so I had a lot of time to observe two girls and one boy up close and personal; also, I worked as a youth services librarian for several years, which was yet another source of experience; and, oh yes, I was a Girl Scout leader. That totals a lot of my life being in touch with my inner and outer child.

Q: What is your writing process?

Gayle: When I get an idea, I mull it over for a while, then I make a really rough outline of how it would flow–just a few words or a sentence about what I envision might happen in each chapter. These ideas often change if I think of something better while writing, but they are my first vision of the story and like sign posts on a road, keep me from losing my focus and direction. If I think there’s enough substance to the idea, I write the first chapter. This is the true test of whether I’ll go forward with the idea or not. I’m very picky about first chapters. To me, they’re like the foundation of a house and must support everything else that will be built on it. I may rewrite a first chapter dozens of times, in different voices and tenses, and starting at slightly different points in order to get everything basic to the story into the chapter and have a good cliff-hanger ending in less than ten pages so it will keep readers reading. If I remain excited–or even better, get even more excited about the story–it’s a keeper. Then my process is to sit down every morning with my first cup of coffee and write until I know it’s time to stop because I’m tired both in body and brain. I keep at it the next day and the next until the first draft is finished–generally this takes about a month. I read it through and self-edit to the best of my ability, and then share it with my critique partners who will see it through far more objective eyes, since at this point I’m so close to the story it’s difficult to see the missteps. A few weeks later when I have their invaluable feedback as well as a little bit of distance from the story, I go back and edit again in light of their suggestions. Then I go through it again line-editing for the tiniest of changes to make it just as strong and beautiful as I can before I send it out into the world to see if it will fly.

Q: Enough of your books—tell us about yourself.

gayle dog

Fiona

Gayle: Like my main character Esther I love books, dogs and horses. I lived the first 40 years of my life in or near Chicago, and (again like Esther) then moved to Wisconsin due to my husband’s job transfer. I have lived in Wisconsin long enough now that I feel I can honestly claim to be both an Illinois and a Wisconsin author. I love doing school visits. The kids are so interested in hearing about my writing journey and so full of really great questions, the allotted time always goes too quickly. I love to travel. And I have a Bichon Frise rescue dog named Fiona who always tries to come between my husband and me when we hug.

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?

Gayle: Pizza.

Q: Ocean or mountain?

Gayle: Ocean. There is nothing more relaxing than listening to the surf coming in…

Q: Tree house or doll house?

Gayle: Tree house.

Q: Violin or piano?

Gayle: Violin to listen to; piano to play.

Q: Comic story or learn-something story?

Gayle: Learn-something story, but a little humor along the way never hurts.

Q: Laura Ingalls Wilder or Hermione Granger?

Gayle: Laura Ingalls Wilder. I’m all about realistic fiction.

To learn more about Gayle Rosengren and to win a copy of her new novel, What the Moon Said, visit her website: http://www.gaylerosengren.com

Her website includes a page of discussion questions for book groups and teachers.

Thanks to Gayle for visiting with me today.
 

May 5, 2014

Meet My Main Character

Posted in author, blog hop, books, reading, writing at 10:04 am by elizabethcaulfieldfelt

I’m playing along in the most recent blog tag game. This one has me sharing my main character with you. I was tagged by historical novelist Kim Rendfeld, author of The Cross and the Dragon and the forthcoming The Ashes of Heaven’s Pillar.

What is the name of your character? Is he/she fictional or a historic person?
My main character is Snow White. Both fictional and historic!

When and where is the story set?
Snow White and the Queen takes place in a standard fairy-tale world, with dwarfs, elves, wisps and an evil Queen.

What should we know about him/her?
My Snow White is a more well-developed character than the one you know from the original fairy tale. She is left with the dwarfs as a baby, and as she grows she wonders why she was left there. Who is she? Where did she come from? When she leaves the dwarf kingdom, she is searching for her identity.

What is the main conflict? What messes up his/her life?
We, the reader, know that the Queen wants Snow White dead, and Snow White eventually learns this too.

What is the personal goal of the character?
At first, Snow White wants to learn who she is and why she was left with the dwarfs. When she learns that the Queen is her enemy, she decides that she will defeat the Queen.

Is there a working title for this novel, and can we read more about it?
My working title is Snow White and the Queen. I have talked about this story in another blog hop and as part of my 2013 NaNoWriMo project.

When can we expect the book to be published?
Snow White and the Queen is being submitted to agents at the moment. A publication date will hopefully be forthcoming.

Now it is my turn to tag some author friends:

Sandy Brehl, author of Odin’s Promise

Stephanie Golightly Lowden, author of Jingo Fever

and historical novelist Rebecca Henderson Palmer .

You can visit these authors’ websites next week to learn about their main characters.

May 1, 2014

Author Interview: Eileen Meyer

Posted in author, books, interview, poetry, reading, school visits, writing at 3:25 pm by elizabethcaulfieldfelt

eileen

Today I’m welcoming Eileen Meyer to my series of author interviews. Eileen is the author of the recently released picture book Ballpark, for ages 4 to 8.

Q: Can you tell us about your new book?

eileen ballpark coverA: Thank you for inviting me to take part in your author interviews, Elizabeth. I’m thrilled to see this sweet story become a picture book. Written in rhyme, Ballpark brings to life all the sights and sounds of the big game. A boy and his grandpa are heading to their first big league baseball game together. They’ll cheer on their team, keep an eye out for fly balls, eat some peanuts, and hopefully watch their team win the game! Illustrator Carlynn Whitt’s adorable characters showcase all the fun and action of a day at the ballpark. The book celebrates the simple joy of spending a day together.

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

A: This manuscript had a lengthy journey to become a published picture book. In its original form, it was a story about the two main characters and also focused on our five senses, incorporating the experience at the ballpark in what we see, hear, taste, touch and smell. After writing it, in 2008 I had submitted the story to a number of publishing houses with no success.

Then I attended the Illinois Prairie Writer’s Day Conference in November, 2010. There I heard a Marshall Cavendish editor express an interest in receiving sports-related picture book submissions – so I made a note to send the editor my manuscript, Ballpark.

Fast forward to Fall 2011. I received an email from the editor. The editorial team had reviewed my manuscript and they were interested in Ballpark, but the story would need some revisions. The editor wanted to play up the experience between the grandfather and grandson and eliminate the sensory focus. I was excited to revise the manuscript with that in mind. In fact, it was a nice challenge. It certainly helped that the fall baseball playoffs were underway and I sensed baseball fever all around.

The editor accepted my revised manuscript and offered me a contract in late 2011 for a spot on their spring 2014 list. Then, the publishing house experienced some corporate changes – Marshall Cavendish merged with Amazon Children’s Publishing, and some of the final paperwork took a bit longer. All told – I wrote the original manuscript in 2008 and six years later, I’m delighted to hold this colorful and beautiful picture book in my hands!

Q: Your book Sweet Dreams, Wild Animals will be coming out in spring of 2015. Can you tell us a little about this book?

A: I’m very excited about this new picture book; this bedtime story presents the varied sleep habits of 14 different animals. Each animal’s sleep habit is introduced with a short poem, followed by a brief factual paragraph, and all are linked with the story thread of a child settling in for the night and wishing “sweet dreams” to each animal.

Q: Your poetry was included in the poetry collection And the Crowd Goes Wild. What do you find the most fun and the most difficult about writing poetry for children?

A: I love writing poetry. I think the challenge of writing poetry (for me, at least) is the mental work I do before I sit down to write. I like to think about what I’m trying to achieve with the piece and find my way “in” – will the poem be humorous, should there be a punch line or a twist at the end, or is it lyrical in style, more informative, etc. Once I have an idea of where I would like to go with the poem, I like the creative challenge of achieving that goal and creating my best work.

Cathy Cronin, Michelle Schaub, Heidi Roemer, Pat Cooley and Eileen Meyer

Cathy Cronin, Michelle Schaub, Heidi Roemer, Pat Cooley and Eileen Meyer

One very rewarding aspect of my inclusion in the anthology And the Crowd Goes Wild has been the opportunity to continue to work with a number of Illinois poets. A few of us have created a wonderful sports poetry elementary school program and we’ve taken our show on the road to a number of schools this past year. Heidi Roemer, co-editor of the book, helped organize all of us and our team includes Michelle Schaub, Pat Cooley, Cathy Cronin, Patty Toht, and me. We’ve had loads of fun working with K-5th graders, presenting both auditorium programs and grade-level break-out sessions. We all wear our favorite sports jerseys, act out a number of skits for the students, and talk about one of our favorite topics – poetry!

Q: What is your writing process?

A: To boil it down to the most basic steps: I like to think about my project for quite a while and brainstorm ideas, then of course I write an awful first draft, revise – revise – revise, then polish the final draft. If it’s a nonfiction piece, of course there is a heavy research component in the early stages, and that is something I truly enjoy.

Q: To write for children, do you think an author needs to have regular interaction with children? How does that work for you?

eileen schoolA: Yes – our young readers are such a key component to everything we do as we write books for their listening and reading enjoyment. My sons are in high school and college, so they’ve graduated well beyond the scope of what I write for young readers and listeners. I make a point of spending a lot of time with young children during my school and library programs. I enjoy the time together and young kids always make me laugh with their great comments! Most of all, I think you have to be young at heart. I love writing days when I can channel what a 6-year-old wants to read in one of my books. It’s a great day to spend time thinking like a 6-year-old!

Q: Enough about writing—tell us about yourself.

A: Thanks, Elizabeth. On the personal side, I’m a mom who is working herself out of a job, which is what we’re supposed to do! I have three sons – one is a sophomore in college, and I have twin sons who are seniors in high school about to graduate. We’re a big sports family –I’ve watched my sons play soccer since they were very young so I really enjoy going to their games. Next year I plan to travel quite a bit to watch their games at their various colleges. When I’m home, I enjoy spending time with my husband and sons. I walk outdoors each morning to start my day and it’s also a good time to do some thinking about projects; I’m also a devoted reader of books and newspapers, and I enjoy traveling, cooking and watching sports. I came to writing children’s books later in life; in college I studied business and then worked for a dozen years with software products and marketing programs. It’s been a rewarding journey.

Q: Do you have any advice for aspiring children’s writers?

A: Of course, join SCBWI- The Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators. And get involved in your state chapter – attend programs, serve as a volunteer, join a critique group and get to know the community of writers in your state. Not only will you learn a great deal, but you’ll also enjoy getting to know other writers and make close friends. Writing can be a lonely business, so it’s wonderful to connect with other kindred spirits! I’m very close to a number of friends in my writing groups (two groups – one for all genres, one specifically for poetry) and they are very important to me.

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: I love salads, but can’t resist cheese pizza! So both.

Q: Ocean or mountain?

A: I love hearing the sound of the ocean. It’s always a thrill to vacation near the water

Q: Tree house or doll house?

A: Tree house – I’m a mom of all boys.

Q: Violin or piano?

A: Piano.

Q: Comic story or learn-something story?

A: Learn-something story. I love to research interesting topics and weave the information into my books.

Q: Laura Ingalls Wilder or Hermione Granger?

A: Can’t decide – a tie. I read both series aloud to my kids when they were young, and they enjoyed both immensely.

For more information about Eileen, visit her website: www.eileenmeyerbooks.com

To purchase Ballpark, visit: http://goo.gl/WAkVzG

You can also like her on Facebook: Eileen Meyer, Children’s Author

 

April 23, 2014

World Book Night

Posted in books, reading, World Book Night at 8:48 pm by elizabethcaulfieldfelt

April 23rd is William Shakespeare’s birthday, the UNESCO International Day of the Book, the day of Miguel de Cervantes’ death and World Book Night.

To celebrate, volunteers all over the world are offering free books to reluctant readers, encouraging people to read more.  I was fortunate to be chosen as a volunteer this year.

The book I distributed was Doris Kearns Goodwin’s memoir Wait Till Next Year, a story of baseball, family, and growing up in Brooklyn in the 1950s.

Wishing I'd taken a better picture of the book before giving them all away.

Wishing I’d taken a better picture of the book before giving them all away.

The Stevens Point YMCA seemed like a good place to find a diverse group of people who might not be regular readers.

ymca

I was a little nervous about asking people if they liked to read, and then telling them if they did they couldn’t have a free book.  It seemed tricky to me, so mostly I offered the books to everyone who walked by. I explained the purpose of World Book Night and, to my surprise, several people who loved to read gave me the book back and told me to find someone else; they also wanted to spread the love of reading to non-readers.

book giving

I hope the people who got books today, from me and from others around the world, give reading a chance. I am crazy happy to have been a part of World Book Night 2014.

If you would like to apply to be a volunteer next year, to donate to the cause, or just want more information about World Book Night, visit World Book Night US or World Book Night UK and Ireland.

My impression is that World Book Night/World Book Day was started in Spain. The Spanish website is  La Noche de los Libros (I think. I don’t speak Spanish, so can’t read much of the site.)

If you know of any other countries participating and have their websites, please post in the comments below.

Happy Reading!

 

 

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