One Writer’s Journey

June 13, 2018

The Great American Read

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I wasn’t at home the night that The Great American Read premiered on PBS so I haven’t yet watched the two hour special.  It’s one of my goals for the upcoming week.  I’m going to watch it while on the treadmill.  But I did immediately go online and check the book list.  100 favorite American novels.  I wondered how many I would have already read.

The answer:  34.

I have to admit that I was pleasantly surprised by the number of books for teens and tweens including Charlotte’s Web, Ready Player One and The Harry Potter books.  And the classics such as The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and Don Quixote.  There were also modern titles, among them Gone Girl.  

Of course there were also a few books that made me shake my head.  But I’m not going to pan anyone here, so there.

Visit your local libraries and book stores now and you will find Great American Read displays.  You can also find the book list and other information, including how to vote, here.

If I understand correctly voting continues throughout the summer.  You can vote on the PBS site.  Or you can tweet your choices using the appropriate hash tags that can be found on the site.  Yes, this means that you can vote more than once which is kind of awesome.  I would hate to have to choose one book over 20 other favorites.  Serious readers will understand.

Why not use this as an excuse to revisit an old favorite or meet a new best friends?



November 7, 2017

Best Illustrated Children’s Books of 2017

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:30 am
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When I saw the announcement for the Best Illustrated Children’s Books of 2017, I knew that they’d be special. After all, they’d been chosen by the NYTBR (New York Times Book Review) and NYPL (New York Public Library).  What I wasn’t sure about is whether or not they would all be picture books. Then I clicked through and saw the above illustration.  Check.  They’re picture books.

But I thought I’d take a moment and discuss the variety of illustrated children’s books available.

For the youngest “readers,” or toddlers, we have board books.  These books are literally cardboard.  They are small and sturdy to hold up to rough handling.  Picture and text come together to tell super simple stories.  Sometimes they are adapted from picture books.  I tend to give Sandra Boynton board books as baby shower gifts.

Of course, we also have picture books.  Picture books are most often 32 pages long. They marry text and illustrations. Because most picture book readers aren’t technically readers, they are written to be read aloud to a young listener or group of listeners.  The books above are picture books.

Early readers are also highly illustrated. Like picture books, there tends to be an illustration on every spread.  The difference is that the illustrations don’t add to the story.  Instead they help the new reader interpret the text, looking for clues in the illustrations when they get stuck puzzling out a word.

Chapter books and some middle readers often have some line drawings.  The illustrations are fun but they aren’t a big part of the book.

Juvenile graphic novels are graphic novels with age appropriate content for . . . whatever age, usually chapter book through young adult.  They rely on sequential art to tell a story.  There is text but the illustrations are essential, bold and striking.

This is the 65th annual list for the NYTBR which, for the first time this year, paired up with the NYPL.  You can check out the brief article here and the books will be featured both in a special children’s books section on the November 12 in the NYTBR. They will also be featured in a reception at the New York Public Library on November 14.

Another great group of books to study to up your picture book writing game.


March 18, 2016

Summer Reading List: AKA Watch Me Try to Make Up My Mind

PicturePictureBreaking News for PAL* Members:  SCBWI is creating PAL Summer Reading Lists! Fifteen regional lists (the same regions used for Crystal Kites) will be created and divided by grades and within the grades, genres. These lists will be beautifully designed, then marketed and publicized to schools, libraries, bloggers, and more. Look for a special invitation to submit one book for the list. Submissions will be due by April 1st.



I was so excited when I got this message from Kim Pidding, the Missouri Regional Advisor for the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI).  Yay!  A chance to get my books into the hands of young readers!

PicturePictureThen reality hit home.  This means that I have to pick one and only one of my books for the list.  At this point, I have 6 books:

  • Ancient Maya (Abdo)
  • Getrude Ederle vs The English Channel (Schoolwide)
  • The Bombing of Pearl Harbor (Abdo)
  • Black Lives Matter (Abdo)
  • Trench Warfare (Abdo)
  • 12 Incredible Facts about the Cuban Missile Crisis (12 Story Library)

SCBWI plans to make electronic and print copies of the list available “to schools, libraries, bookstores, and consumers.”  This immediately eliminates Gertrude Ederle vs The English Channel.  It is part of Schoolwide’s electronic library.  What this means is that schools that pay for a subscription have access to the book.  There’s no point in putting it on the list because aren’t going to pay to access the whole library for one book.

PicturePictureThat still leaves 5 candidates and, let’s face reality, they are all about hard realities.  These aren’t your light and airy summer reads.

Right now, my choice is Black Lives Matter.  Yeah, I might just hack someone else off but I might also get my book into the hands of a young reader who really and truly wants to know what it is all about.


*A PAL member is a member of SCBWI who has published a book with a recognized, professional publisher.  The list of publishers is available on the SCBWI site.

December 15, 2015

Diversity in Literature: Reading around the world

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:17 am
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The children’s publishing community is an amazing thing.  We step forward and help each other all the time.  But I learned about another astonishing community to day — the community of book lovers world wide.

Ann Morgan is a British author and editor who realized that she wasn’t too terribly impressed by what her bookshelves said about her.  You’ve heard the saying — a person’s bookshelves say a lot about them.  Morgan thought of herself as a fairly worldly person but her bookshelves told another story.  Yes, they were full but they were full of books from Britain and North America.

She admitted to herself that this was not who she wanted to be — a xenophobic reader — so she issued herself a challenge for 2012.  She would read a book from every country in the world.  I’m not sure she really had any clue what she was getting into when she started this project but as she progressed she not only found amazing books, she connected with fellow book lovers.

Check out her story in the video below.

You can find her book list here.  It includes the list of countries, the books she considered from each and a link to her comments on the book she ultimately read.

Maybe just maybe some of you would like to issue yourself a challenge for the new year?



July 8, 2014

Alphabet Books and my June Reading

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:41 am
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I’ve been playing around with the idea of writing an alphabet book so, understandably, I’ve been reading a variety of alphabet books (see lines 11, 12, 14, and 15).  Read enough of them and you start to figure a few things out:

  • X and Q are the tough letters.  Figure them out and you’ve got it nailed.
  • “Figure it out” means that crossing doesn’t count as a X word.  Get it?  X.  Cross.  Crossing.  Yeah.  Cheating.  Using a word with X in the middle of it (like eXit) is better than crossing and it still feels like cheating.
  • Read a variety of alphabet books in your topic and you are going to find the overused choices.  That would be Koala for an Australian K and Wall for a Chinese W.  If you can avoid the obvious, you will have a teaching moment on your hands.
  • Play and have fun!  Do something exciting.  In Jon Muth’s book, the text is written in haiku but the first word may not begin with the Letter for that page.

Here’s the whole list of what I read for the month.  I have three more books in progress but I’ll save those for July.

  1. Albee, Sarah. Bugged: How Insects Changed History (Walker/Bloomsbury)
  2. Barakiva, Michael.  One Man Guy.
  3. Beaton, M.C.  Death of a Bore: A Hamish Macbeth Mystery (Mysterious Press)
  4. Bell, Cece. Rabbit and Robot: The Sleepover (Candlewick Press)
  5. Bluemle, Elizabeth.  Tap Tap Boom Boom (Candlewick)
  6. Carlisle, Kate.  A Cookbook Conspiracy (An Obsidian Mystery)
  7. Cordell, Matthew.  Another Brother (Feiwel and Friends)
  8. Fisher, Doris.  Army Camels: Texas Ships of the Desert (Pelican)
  9. Gandhi, Arun and Bethany Hegedus. Grandfather Gandhi (Atheneum Books for Young Readers)
  10. Goldenbaum, Sally.  Death by Cashmere (An Obsidian Mystery)
  11. Magee, Doug and Robert Newman.  All Aboard ABC (Puffin)
  12. Mayer, Bill.  All Aboard! A Traveling Alphabet (Margaret K. McElderry)
  13. Moundlic, Charlotte. The Scar (Candlewick Press)
  14. Muth, Jon J. Hi, Koo! A Year of Seasons (Scholastic Press)
  15. Pallotta, Jerry.  The Yucky Reptile Alphabet Book (Charlesbridge)
  16. Rake, Jody Sullivan.  Why Feet Smell and other Gross Facts about Your Body (Capstone Press)
  17. Robins, Jacqui.  The New Girl . . . And Me (Atheneum)
  18. Rockliff, Mara.  The Grudge Keeper (Peachtree)
  19. Royston, Angela.  Why Do I Vomit?  And Other Questions about Digestion (Heinemann Library)
  20. Sutton, Sally.  Demolition (Candlewick Press)



March 3, 2014

Red Herrings: What I Learned in my February Reading

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:43 am
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Not the mystery in question! In fact, none of the books I’ve imaged are.

I’ve been doing a lot of mystery reading lately in part because I’m contemplating writing a mystery. I know I want to write one, and I even have a few ideas, but I’m trying to decide which one to write.  So, in a grand act of perseverance, I’m reading instead.

One of the things that I’ve noticed is how hard it is to position the red herrings in your story so that they work and work well.  For those of you who don’t know, a red herring is a false lead.  Red herrings are what make both the reader and the sleuth suspect that an innocent person is the bad guy.  They are essential but difficult to place well:

Make them too subtle and your readers feel cheated.  “Hey, there was no way we could solve this!:

Make them too obvious and you give away your surprise ending.

Make them too similiar and things feel weird.  This one is going to require some explanation.  I recently listened to an urban fantasy/mystery in which the killer obviously had medical knowledge.  His kills revealed the skill of a surgeon.  Suspect number 1 (a lawyer), briefly went to medical school.  Suspect #2 was thrown out of medical school.  The detective could go toe-to-toe with the bad guy because, in spite of the fact that she is an archaeology specializing in the Anasazi, she too has a medical school background.

Seriously?  I could see if one was ex-military trained in field medicine, one was ex-medical school and one had veterinary training but all three had gone to medical school.  I feel like I’m the only one who missed out.

When you lay out your clues and give your characters the background needed to make your story work, don’t always go with your first thought (medical school).  Get creative.  Come at some of the clues sideways.  Lay them out there but make sure they are believable.

Here is my February reading list:

  1. Admirand, C.H.  Welcome Back to Apple Grove (Sourcebooks/Cacablanca)
  2. Averbeck, Jim.  Oh No, Little Dragon! (Atheneum Books for Young Readers)
  3. Averbeck, Jim.  The Market Bowl (Charlesbridge)
  4. Baker, Jeanie.  Mirror (Candlewick Press)
  5. Blackwell, Juliet.  Home for the Haunting (Obsidian/Penguin Group)
  6. Campbell, K. G. The Mermaid and the Shoe (Kids Can Press)
  7. Carleson, C.J., The Tyrant’s Daughter (Alfred A. Knopf)
  8. da Costa, Deboarh.  Snow in Jerusalem (Albert Whitman and Company)
  9. Fleming, Candace.  Papa’s Mechanical Fish (Margaret Ferguson Books/Farrar Straus Giroux)
  10. Ilibagiza, Immaculee.  Left to Tell.  
  11. Kiefer, Erica.  Lingering Echoes (Clean Teen Press)
  12. LaRochelle, David.  Moo! (Walker Books for Young Readers)
  13. Preston, Douglas and Lincoln Child.  The Cabinet of Curiosities.  
  14. Root, Phyllis. Plant a Pocket of Prairie (University of Minnesota Press)
  15. Turnage, Sheila.  Three Times Lucky 


December 28, 2011

Reading — One Last List for 2011

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:03 am
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I’ve been reading a lot of picture books lately, so I thought I better go ahead and post a last reading list for 2011.  Of course, even knowing that these are picture books, I look at the list and wonder if I’ve accomplished anything else in the last month or so.  Whew!

  1. Manners Mash-Up: A Goofy Guide to Good Behavior (Dial)
  2. Adler, David A. Bones and the Dinosaur Mystery (Viking)
  3. Adler, David A. Young Cam Jansen and the 100th Day of School.  (Viking)
  4. Adler, David A. Young Cam Jansen and the Ice Skate Mystery.  (Viking)
  5. Alexander, Tasha. A Poisoned Season: A Novel of Suspense (William Morrow)
  6. Auch, Mary Jane and Herm. The Plot Chickens (Holiday House)
  7. Barretta, Gene. Now and Ben: The Modern Inventions of Ben Franklin (Henry Holt)
  8. Beecher, Suzanne. Muffins and Mayhem (Touchstone: Simon & Schuster)
  9. Black, Michael Ian. Chicken Cheeks (Simon and Schuster)
  10. Black, Michael Ian. The Purple Kangaroo (Simon and Schuster)
  11. Blackall, Sophie Are You Awake (Christy Ottaviano Books: Henry Holt)
  12. Brett, Jan. Home for Christmas (GP Putnams)
  13. Brown, Peter. Children Make Terrible Pets (Little Brown and Co)
  14. Capaldi, Gina and Q.L. Pearce. Red Bird Sings: The Story of Zitkala-Sa, Native American Author, Musician, and Activist (Carolrhoda Books)
  15. Carlstrom, Nancy White. This Is the Day! (Zonderkidz)
  16. Chaconas, Dori. Cork and Fuzz: Good Sports.   (Viking)
  17. Chast, Roz. Too Busy Marco (Atheneum)
  18. Chin, Jason. Redwoods (A Neal Porter Book: Roaring Brook Press)
  19. Collins, Ross. Dear Vampa (Katherine Tegan Books)
  20. Crisp, Marty. Titanicat (Sleeping Bear Press)
  21. Cronin, Doreen. Rescue Bunnies (Balzer + Bray)
  22. Dewdney, Anna. Llama Llama Holiday Drama (Viking)
  23. Dewdney, Anna. Llama Llama Home with Mama (Viking)
  24. Dewdney, Anna. Llama Llama Red Pajama (Viking)
  25. DiPucchio, Kelly and Matthew Myers. Clink (Balzer + Bray)
  26. Dormer, Frank. Socksquatch (Henry Holt and Company)
  27. Edwardson, Debby Dahl. My Name is Not Easy (Marshall Cavendish)
  28. Feiffer, Kate. My Side of the Car (Candlewick Press)
  29. Ferraris, Zoe. City of Veils
  30. Grey, Mini. Three by the Sea (Alfred A. Knopf)
  31. Haskell, Merrie. The Princess Curse (HarperCollins)
  32. Hawkes, Kevin. The Wicked Big Toddlah Goes to New York (Alfred A. Knopf)
  33. Huntley, Amy. The Everafter (Balzer +Bray).
  34. Krensky, Stephen. Lionel’s Birthday  (Viking)
  35. Lehman, Barbara. The Secret Box (Houghton Mifflin Children’s books)
  36. Loewen, Nancy. The Last Day of Kindergarten (Marshall Cavendish)
  37. Lunda, Darrin. After the Kill (Charlesbridge)
  38. Lunde, Darrin. Hello, Baby Beluga (Charlesbridge)
  39. Lyon, George Ella and Katherine Tillotson. All the Water in the World (Richard Jackson: Atheneum)
  40. Marshall, Edward.. Fox and His Friends (Viking)
  41. McDonnell, Christine. Goyangi Means Cat (Viking)
  42. McMullan, Kate. Park and Wagner: One Funny Day (Viking)
  43. Myers, Walter Dean. Looking for the Easy Life (Harper)
  44. Nargi, Lela. The Honeybee Man (Schwartz & Wade)
  45. Numeroff, Laura. If You Give a Dog a Doughnut (Balzer and Bray)
  46. Penny, Louise. A Trick of the Light: A Chief Inspector Gamache Novel (Minotaur Books)
  47. Pulver, Robin. Happy Endings: A Story about Suffixes (Holiday House)
  48. Roberts, Sheila. The Nine Lives of Christmas (St. Martins Press)
  49. Sands, Lynsay. The Deed (Avon)
  50. Sayre, April Pulley. Rah, Rah, Radishes! (Beach Lane Books)
  51. Sayre, April Pulley. If You’re Hoppy (Greenwillow Books)
  52. Sill, Cathryn. About Hummingbirds (Peachtree)
  53. Sill, Cathryn. About Raptors (Peachtree)
  54. Smallcomb, Pam. I’m Not (Schwartz & Wade)
  55. Stein, David Ezra. Interrupting Chicken (Candlewick Press)
  56. Stockdale, Susan. Bring on the Birds (Peachtree)
  57. Sullivan, Sarah. Passing the Music Down (Candlewick Press)
  58. Tillman, Nancy. The Crown on Your Head (Feiwel and Friends)
  59. Tullet, Hervé. Press Here. (Handprint Books: Chronicle Books)
  60. Van Leeuwen, Jean. Oliver and Amanda: Amanda Pig, First Grader. (Viking)
  61. Walsh, Dan. Remembering Christmas (Revell)
  62. Weston, Mark. Honda: The Boy who Dreamed of Cars (Lee & Low)
  63. Wild, Margaret. Harry & Hopper (Feiwel and Friends)
  64. Willems, Mo City Dog, Country Frog (Hyperion)
  65. Willems, Mo Knuffle Bunny Free (Balzer + Bray)
  66. Yorinks, Arthur. The Invisible Man (Harper)

What did I learn doing so blasted much reading?  First of all, accuracy is a must.  I avoided reviewing a book by an author that I adore because of an inaccurate illustration.

I’ve also started reading some more beginning readers and can now see just how hard it is to create a beginning reader that is simple, has a story and also text that flows.  Its that flow that is so often the hard part.  So many read short and choppy.

But most of all I marveled at the wide variety of books out there.  Its like a smorgasbord.  Yum!

Be sure to visit your local library or bookstore soon and gather together a variety of titles to enjoy!




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