Monday, March 31, 2014

Do talking animals make our kids dumb?

image In case you don’t feel like reading on, the answer is no.

But the question has been raking up headlines all week anyway, thanks to a University of Toronto (my alma mater !  so proud !) study proving that they do. 

Or at least, kind of proving they do. 

As it turns out, what they’ve done says very little about children’s books – in particular, not much we have to pay attention to as writers or as parents.

But along the way we can have a bit of a laugh looking at the samples of the stories they used, and looking at examples of talking animals who help our kids learn… so keep right on reading!

The Claim:  Talking Animals Hinder Learning

These results indicate that anthropomorphized animals in books may not only lead to less learning but also influence children’s conceptual knowledge of animals. (read the full study here)

This kind of sensationalistic stuff adapts really well to headlines!

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Making space for… nothing. 5 books, 5 experts on white space.

It’s called “white space,” but it doesn’t have to be white.  Are you using enough of it in your kids’ books?  I’m going to show you five books that do a GREAT job with white space – in a couple of cases, becoming classics along the way.

And then, because (gasp!) creating white space is one of my weak points… I’m going to share with you not my own wisdom, but that of five experts who have Things to Say and manage to say them far better than I could.

To get us in the mood, here are five kids’ picture books that make GREAT use of white space:

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Seven picture books that heal the diversity gap. & Low Publishers reports that the “diversity gap” in kids’ books hasn’t changed in the last 18 years – even though 37% of the U.S. population now comprises people of colour (a term I don’t like because it includes purple and cyan, but there you go). 

Pale-skinned people like me are slated to become a minority by 2060, yet up to 91% of kids’ books today are about people roughly the same shade as me & my family. 

This isn’t good for anyone – especially whitish folks like my kids, who look up from their reading to see a nation far more diverse than anything they see in books.

(True, we live in Israel, not the U.S., but yeah, it’s far more ethnically diverse than anything you might picture!)

The solution isn’t stocking up on books about black kids, written by black writers.  Change will only come when our shelves are stocked with TRUE diversity, books that reflect the true cultural context of our lives.  Books by every-colour authors, about every-colour kids. 

Not all-black or all-white, but a rainbow

Here are five “every-colour” books you can keep on your bookshelf and read to your kids to help them understand what a big, wide, wonderful world this is!

Saturday, March 22, 2014

What’s the Rush (Limbaugh)?

Commentators are screeching that Rush Limbaugh shouldn’t get an award for a kids’ book he published late last year.  What do you think?

Now, I’m not American, never have been.  I like to think that makes me more objective about U.S. history, politics and political commentary.  So okay, Rush Limbaugh came out with a kids’ book – on that, I’m kind of neutral. 

But when I hear everyone shrieking that he shouldn’t even be short-listed for an award for that same book, yeah, I start getting nervous.

Three tips to write kids’ rhymes that don’t suck.

I’ve talked about rhyme before… but today, I’m here to help you make your rhymes better.

Let’s imagine we’re writing a cute rhyming book about a little penguin named Bridget.  Here’s Bridget:

Let’s introduce her – along the with the central story problem – with a rhyming couplet:

Bridget’s a penguin who lives by the sea
But when it comes to fish, she’s rather picky.

We’re off to a great start, except…this rhyme sucks.

Here are three tips to tweak your own rhymes and help make Bridget’s story great along the way!

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Apps? Software? Nope! 27 low-tech toys for the writer in your life.

penguin Forget books, amIright?  Everybody always gets us books! 

Let’s just imagine THAT thought process for a second… “Hmm… she’s a writer, she likes books, let’s buy her a… book!”  There’s a reason you’re the creative genius in the family! 

Forget gadgets, forget software… next time you have a gift occasion, point ‘em this way to help pick out a gift you, as a writer, truly will adore.

(Heck, if nobody buys them for you, or you have no occasion coming up, I say… buy ‘em all for yourself!)

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Better World Books’ new strategy: destroying books for profit?

Excuse me, but I only just found out – and I’m still reeling.

As of last month, Better World Books, my favourite online used-book retailer (by far!) has started offering an “eDelivery” option when you order a used book.

At first glance, I didn’t think anything of it – and then I did a double-take.  What is eDelivery? I wondered.


I quickly found out.  Think they’re doing something like this to your book???

Think again… eDelivery is BWB’s code for “destroying a book.”

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

The worst advice about writing: “a writer writes.”

In the movie Throw Momma from the Train, Billy Crystal’s memorable character, a frustrated writing teacher, used to intone wisely, “a writer writes… always.”

Probably the most common advice given to writers:  “writers write.”  It’s also balderdash.

Which you realize if you consider the flip side of the equation:  if you have written anything – an email, an excuse note for your kid’s teacher, a “Lost Kitten” poster – you’re automatically a writer.

Sometimes, even the best advice is wrong.  Like when you have a baby and everybody says, “sleep when the baby sleeps.”  Of course, it’s great advice in a universe where you have nothing else to do but look after the baby.

Better advice:  a writer writes… sometimes.

When I first saw the title of this QuickSprout blog post, A Simple Plan for Writing a Powerful Blog Post in Less Than 2 Hours (yeah, I read blogs about blogging, and QuickSprout is among the best!), I was horrified. 

Two tips for older writers that Keith Richards will probably ignore – but you shouldn’t.

Mr. Richards’s “Gus & Me: The Story of My Granddad and My First Guitar,” will be published on Sept. 9.Keith Richards is writing a kids’ book, and frankly, I’m not all that excited.

Certainly, all the headlines make it seem like he’s performing brain surgery:  at 70, the Stones guitarist is a five-time grandfather himself already!  Stop the presses!  Bring in the Dalai Lama or the Nobel committee!

But no, I’m not excited, and it’s not because he’s 70, either.  I think you can write as good a kids’ book at 60, or 70, or 80, as anyone can in their 20s or 30s.  So that’s not the reason I’m not digging Keith’s new project – as I’ll explain below.

It’s true – you can write a great kids’ book at any age, if you keep these two key tips in mind to make sure you come up with something great.  Keith would do well to read these, but I honestly don’t think he will (hint: he’s not really planning to write the book himself).

Two tips for writers of a certain age

Here’s my open letter to Keith Richards, or any older writer:

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

To snot or not to snot? (help me out here!)

This is a little more of a personal question than I usually share here, but I figure, what’s a community for, if not learning and growing together.

So here’s the thing:  I wrote a book.

Yay, me!  Right?

Thing #2:  It’s a rhyming book.

Thing #3:  The rhymes are good.  Yeah, I’m sure.  I’d be mighty proud of them, except for…

Thing #4:  The book is about… snot.

I made it up one day while fantasizing with my 6-year-old, who has allergies and also gets colds a LOT of the time.  He sniffles a LOT.  And I thought out loud – what if you could take a pill and just get rid of all that snot at once?

So I sat down and in a particularly boring Hebrew class, I dreamed up and wrote out the entire story – in verse.

Like I said, it’s good.  But also like I said, it’s about snot.

The trouble with snot, farts, etc

Monday, March 10, 2014

Choose me a logo!

Did I mention my husband is an illustrator?  Ooops… Yes, he’s very talented, but no, he’s never illustrated any of my books.  But he HAS put together a few possibilities for a logo design for my site.

Anybody want to help me pick the best one???  Here are my favourites out of what he’s come up with – along with a couple I don’t like much, just to mix things up…

 a2 a2b p12a2c a2d a3 

I could seriously use some help here… Let me know in the comments which you like best!

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Exploring nature with Israeli author/illustrator Miri Leshem-Pelly

I have to admit, I debated putting the word “Israeli” in the title of this post.  Kids are kids, writers are writers, and illustrators are illustrators.  There shouldn’t be any distinctions based on where they live.

But I’m also a happy, proud citizen of my new country, and I love both discovering and sharing the best of its culture.  So I approached a couple of well-known authors here and Miri Leshem-Pelly, reigonal advisor of SCBWI’s tiny Israel chapter (SCBWI is the of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators) actually agreed to “chat” with me.  I’m so honoured!

I also discovered a couple of key differences between the children’s writers’ market here and in the U.S. – including a possibly-unhealthy obsession of American publishers.  But more about that a bit later on.

Israeli author, universal themes

I’m not sure what comes to mind when I say “Israeli author,” but Miri’s work is so much more universal than whatever that phrase invokes. 

Saturday, March 8, 2014

6 reasons to hate blogging in 2014 – and why I do it anyway.

blogging-15968_1920 When I started blogging, way back in 2005, “blogging” was a newish word, and not so many people did it.  A blog was a way of sharing your interests, usually painfully specific, with perhaps a few dozen readers who may have been mostly family members.

Blogging has changed.  A lot.

1.  A decade ago, “monetize” was a joke.  Today, it’s the primary reason someone starts a blog.  Many people start blogs just to drive traffic to another blog, which then, in turn, drives traffic to a main marketing site where the big sell takes place – an ebook, an online “course,” or some collection of substandard products.  And sometimes, there isn’t even a “big sell,” the blogs generate money on their own, through ad revenue – it’s their sole raison d'ĂȘtre.

2.  A decade ago, bloggers loved their blogs. 

Sunday, March 2, 2014

A Trip Back in Time: 15 books from 30 years ago that are still great today.

Do you remember 1984?  I hate to admit it, but yeah, I do, too.

Realizing for the first time that my kid is turning 20 this year (a “duh” moment, because he turned 19 last year!), I decided to do something “historical.”  But then I did the math wrong and pulled together a quick roundup of kids’ books from 1984 that are still great today.  That’s 30, mom, not 20. 

But never mind!  I’m happy I did… it’s been a great chance to rediscover some old favourites.