Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Me, Frida, Winner of the FOCAL Award

This past spring I had the honor to serve on the committee to select a book for Friends of Children and Libraries (FOCAL) of LAPL (Los Angeles Public Library) annual award.   The committee chose the beautiful picture book,  Me, Frida (Abrams, 2011), written by Amy Novesky and illustrated by David Diaz.  Congratulations to Amy and David! 
     The FOCAL Award is presented to an author and/or illustrator for a creative work which enriches a child’s appreciation for and knowledge of California.  In Me, Frida, the reader joins the artist Frida Kahlo on a visit to San Francisco with her husband Diego Rivera, who has been invited to paint a mural there.  We see the city through Frida’s eyes, receiving a whole new perspective both on Frida Kahlo as a person and on the diverse qualities of the city itself.  As in all the best picture books, the words and pictures of this book work together to create a unified whole that is greater than the individual parts. 
     We will be honoring the author and illustrator of Me, Frida at the annual FOCAL Award Luncheon on Saturday, January 28, 2012.  Prizes will also be awarded to children who have read Me, Frida and written an essay about the book and how it has impacted their lives.  For more information about the luncheon or essay contest, contact the librarian at your school or local library or go to the FOCAL website.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

I Love Maps

Sharing A Koala's World with a First Grade Class
I love maps.  As a child, on long car trips, I followed the road maps we got at gas stations, noting the distance between towns and calculating how long it would take us to get to the next one.  And I loved the maps in my geography books at school, locating far away places that I hoped to travel to someday.  In the books that I write, if there is the possibility of including a map, I always like to do so.  In the Caroline Arnold’s Animals series, published by Picture Window Books, a map showing where each animal lives is part of the back matter of each book.  A map of Australia in A Koala’s World can be seen above.  The challenge in A Polar Bear’s World and A Walrus’s World was that the maps had to be a polar view, which is unfamiliar to many children.
My book, The Geography Book: Activities for Exploring, Mapping, and Enjoying Your World, is filled with projects for children  including twelve activities that help them learn about maps.  You can have fun making a balloon globe, a contour potato and other projects.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Something About the Author

Volume 228 of SATA (Something About the Author) Gale Publications, a reference book of children’s book authors and illustrators, is scheduled to be published in July; the online version will be available a month or so later.  It includes an updated entry for me and my books, prepared by the SATA editors.  As I previewed the copy, I was impressed with the thoroughness of the research and completeness of the entry.  It is a long way from the first entry about me in SATA, Volume 28, published in 1984, which featured a photo of a very young looking me and an illustration from my second book, Electric Fish (Morrow, 1980).

In 1987, I was asked to contribute a biographical essay for the SATA Biography Series, Volume 23.  This was my first time to reflect on my career at length. (I had 10,000 words to play with, which seemed like a lot at first, but really only allowed me to cover the high points.)  The timing of the essay was ideal.  I had just published my 100th book (African Animals, Morrow 1997) and was feeling amazed at my good fortune of having made a career out of something I loved.  In my final paragraph I wrote:
This essay has provided me with the opportunity to look back over what I have accomplished, but it is also a time to look forward.  I hope to continue to write about subjects I love, including natural science and ancient cultures.  I would also like to do more writing for younger children.  Although I have not had much time to write fiction recently, I would like to do more of that and perhaps even get back to doing some illustration.  Perhaps in the future I will have the chance to do some writing for CD-ROMS and the new electronic media.  No one has a crystal ball to see in to the future.  Each project is a new adventure and often leads to opportunities not yet imagined.  The dilemma is not what to do next, but how to choose which of many paths to follow.

As I read that paragraph now, I marvel at how much has happened in the fourteen years since it was written.  I HAVE done more writing for younger children, published two fiction books, and reestablished myself as an illustrator.  But the real changes have been in the electronic world.  Again, we need a crystal ball to know where that is leading us.  Meanwhile, though, I continue writing with the confidence that there will always be a place in the world for good books for children.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Writer's Block Tip #34

Are you stuck on your story?  Do you have writer’s block?  My friend Joanne Rocklin’s Anti-Block Blog is the perfect answer to solving the problem of what to do when you are stuck.  Twice a week she posts helpful tips for writers.  Drawing from her own experience and with contributions from other writers, she is up to 36 tips. (Her goal is 180!) Here are a few of the topics covered in her recent posts:  Focusing on your audience; getting support from your friends; using index cards; making lists, and so on.  You can look for my tip, reading your story aloud, in tip #34 posted on August 1st.
Joanne Rocklin is the author of the wonderful middle grade novel One Day and One Amazing Morning on Orange Street, inspired by the orange tree in her own backyard.  

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Curious Students

Recently, I received a letter from students in a third grade class who wanted to know more about my writing process.  Here are their questions and my answers:
1. When do you do your writing?
I usually write in the morning when I am fresh. When I am not writing, I am reading and doing research for my books. 
2. Do you write persuasive stories?
No. Almost all of my books are nonfiction books about animals.  
3. What do you do when you are stuck or don't feel like writing?
If I am stuck, I put my story away for the day. Usually, when I go back to it the next day I find ways to get unstuck. If I don't feel like writing, I sometimes take a walk, work in my garden, or read a book. 
4. Do you have stories for each season?
No, I write all the time.  
5.  Where do you keep all your writing ideas?
When I get an idea, I write it down on a piece of paper and put it in a box on my desk. Then, when I'm ready to start a new project I look at all my ideas and choose one. 
6. Which part of the writing process is the easiest/hardest for you (pre-writing, drafting, revising, or editing) and why?
The hardest part of the writing process is the first draft because I have so much to say and it is hard to get it all down in the right order. I usually forget things and then add them in the revising and editing process. That's my favorite part of writing. As I revise, I make small changes to make the story better. When I am finished, the story is exactly the way I want it!