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Sep. 10th, 2012

12:35 pm - (TED talk:) Brené Brown: The power of vulnerability

We interrupt our regularly promised post to say, Listen to this TED talk:

Brené Brown: The power of vulnerability

Amazing. Freakin' amazing. We know these things to be true, but when you hear it, you can use it in a new way. Especially if it ties into your book. But your book comes from your life, too. So we really have to know what we're doing. embrace not knowing what we're doing?

Something like that.
In order to do it.


Kind of like what M.T. Anderson once said at a past SCBWI Summer Conference: "The experiment is the piece of literature, not the preparation for the piece of literature."

So with life!

P.P.S. With thanks to Irvin Lin at Eat the Love for leading me to this talk, after an amazing weekend of Irvin and AJ hosting me in SF. Love you guys so much.

Aug. 27th, 2012

12:51 pm - PPS. re: Photos: The 2012 SCBWI Summer Conference (#LA12SCBWI). Part I.5: The TALKS

P.P.S. One more SCBWI Summer Conference talk to add to my previous post in this "two-part" miniseries.

How crazy was it that Deborah Underwood relied on Jonah Lehrer's Imagine: How Creativity Works for part of her keynote, and then had to scramble when the scandal broke out three days before the conference?? (Jonah Lehrer had been caught making up Bob Dylan quotes so his whole book was called into question, and the publisher pulled it from stores everywhere immediately.) I was in the middle of reading it when that happened and had been talking to everyone I know about the content, so hearing Deborah Underwood reveal her dilemma onstage both confirmed and amplified how calamitous this news felt.

Deborah Underwood, "The Power of Quiet" (Photo credit: Rita Crayon Huang, Copyright ©2012.)

Amazingly, Deborah was able to email the scientists behind the studies she was specifically citing and get them to confirm their results so she could still give her talk. She started personally checking the book herself! Another of my friends at the conference was in the middle of reading it, too--just one chapter behind me!--so I know there were lots of us super interested in this. I'm still hoping the substance is true, even if the quotes are fudged. (Why anyone would think it's okay to make up quotes in a high-profile book in this day and age is beyond me. But I was getting annoying that all the people in the book talked the same. I thought maybe this was a function of the author being attracted to a certain style of quote, plus the fact I was listening to the audio version so maybe he was giving everyone the same cadence.)

Obviously I was super interested in Deborah's subject. I've been thinking a lot about the role of quiet and taking breaks in creativity (what Sara calls "magic brain"). But it was so cool that Deborah was able to start verifying the contents of Imagine when the rest of us have been left in the lurch, wondering if anyone was going to. The letter of apology she "quoted" from Jonah Lehrer was super funny.

As I mentioned in "Part I," all of my pictures from the 2012 SCBWI Summer Conference can be viewed on Facebook here and on Flickr here

"Part II" is still coming up, :)

Aug. 25th, 2012

04:32 pm - Photos: The 2012 SCBWI Summer Conference (#LA12SCBWI). Part I: The TALKS

Hi, Everyone! Fun stuff! My photos from the SCBWI 2012 Summer Conference are up!

The SCBWI 2012 International Summer Conference
August 3–6, 2012, in Los Angeles, CA USA

Lin Oliver kicks off SCBWI's 41st Annual Summer Conference with our own, very tiny Olympic torch, presented to Dan Gutman.

Click here to view all 234 photos on Facebook, where you can tag yourself and your friends.
Click here to view the same set on Flickr instead, where you can download full-size files.

Please credit Rita Crayon Huang if you use any of these images on your blogs, Facebook, Web sites, etc. Please also tweet, tag, and spread the word! Feel free to untag yourselves, too, if that is your wish. As always, if any picture makes you uncomfortable in any way, message me privately and I will take it down immediately, no questions asked.

I had lots of writer friends on the faculty this year. Here are a few from the Friday morning walk-in:

Authors Jennifer Bosworth; Greg Fishbone--a new friend!; Martha Brockenbrough and Jolie Stekly, also representing Team Blog;
and our very own Sara Wilson Etienne at Friday morning's Welcome & Introduction of Faculty. (Photo credit: Rita Crayon Huang, Copyright ©2012.)

So many of my friends are crossing over to the other side! Slowly but surely, I can feel the tide turning. Crazy how everyone's individual striving is adding up like this.

The talks were fantastic, as always. An obvious highlight this year was Ruta Sepetys's keynote, "You Can't Break the Broken," about how she went to a prison camp as research for her book. I've never seen anyone lay themselves so bare as a human being onstage before. She laid all of us bare in the process--and she did it while being funny. Even when she got to the soul-shaking bits, she kept on going, and she kept on being funny. I know that David Small took us on a profound journey last year, too, down into the deep, dark hearts we all know from our own lives and then back up, into the light--with dancing--but da--ng. Ruta made us confront who we are right now, in our chairs, as adults. It was unexpected, to say the least.

Ruta Sepetys, "You Can't Break the Broken: Writing Emotional Truth" (Photo credit: Rita Crayon Huang, Copyright ©2012.)

Standing ovation for Ruta Sepetys's emotional keynote at the SCBWI 2012 Summer Conference (Photo credit: Rita Crayon Huang, Copyright ©2012.)

I attended Ruta's breakout session on media prep, too, and it was wonderful. (That was before her keynote, so I had no idea what she had in store for us.)

Ruta Sepetys, "Media Prep: Author Tips for Radio, TV, and Print Coverage" (Photo credit: Rita Crayon Huang, Copyright ©2012.)

Did I feel ashamed of myself taking a picture of Ruta crying, by the way? Yes. But that didn't stop me from doing the same thing to my tablemate at the Golden Kite Awards.

Reaction to Golden Kite Awards speeches (Photo credit: Rita Crayon Huang, Copyright ©2012.)

But what I'm trying to say is, awesome talks and breakouts aside--

oh! But I also attended Eugene Yelchin's breakout on thinking "Outside the Trim," which was also fantastic! I went because his answers were so smart during the picture book panel that morning that he made a fan out of me on the spot. During the panel he brought up how, as children's book creators and creators of culture, we're all participating in a larger conversation that spans time and space and topics (my paraphrasing, sorry). We have to be aware of the current cultural moment in order to add what we want.

Jon Klassen, Antoinette Portis, Eugene Yelchin, and Lee Wardlaw on the Picture Book Panel, "The Picture Book: The Dance Between Words and Pictures." Moderated by Dan Yaccarino. (Photo credit: Rita Crayon Huang, Copyright ©2012.)

I was like, Yes!! I had forgotten that's what we're doing! I haven't thought about this business in a big-picture, intellectual way in a long time. You know, I confront the emotions and minutiae of what I'm trying to say day to day, and the audience I'm trying to reach, but not the big space-time continuum of how we fit in. And you don't need to think about that in order to participate--we're all participating all the time--but I'd become ungrounded in terms of how to think about issues like whom we're trying to speak for regarding multiculturalism in our books, for example. We speak for ourselves, always--and we do this by being aware of what other people are saying, and responding. That's all there is to it.

This echoes what Lee Wind once told me Jacqueline Woodson said on the subject of race in her books, which is that it helps to remember we don't have to start the discussion ourselves; we just have to add.

After that I spontaneously went to Eugene Yelchin's breakout session to hear more of how this guy thinks.

Eugene Yelchin, "Outside the Trim: Thinking Beyond the Literal Space of the Picture Book" (Photo credit: Rita Crayon Huang, Copyright ©2012.)

It was brilliant--of course. It was especially eye-opening for me as a writer who's been turning over in my mind how I might use photography in a picture book way someday. Eugene (if I may call him that) broke down a lot of visual concepts and gave me new vocabulary with which to think. I wasn't looking for that, and now I'm excited to take these ideas and play.

Of course, this meant I missed the talk I had originally planned to attend--Jenn Bosworth's "The Conspicuous Writer (Turning Readers Into Fans)"--which I heard later from Sara was amazing. But what can ya do. pang as fomo is confirmed I'm learning to follow the moment . . .

I also went to Matthew Kirby's session on Voice, which was outstanding.

Matthew Kirby, "Voice" (Photo credit: Rita Crayon Huang, Copyright ©2012.)

Everyone there agreed: we'd never heard anyone discuss voice so clearly before. It was just so clear. And it was right, everyone also agreed. We all knew it--the definition of voice--when we heard it. ;)

Ahh. That soothes a complaint I've had for a long time on how people should really be able to define voice, because are we writers or aren't we?? It also led to a revelation for me about what to do with the voice in my book. I had brought my niggling question to ask at the session's end, but Matthew's presentation was so clear that just thinking about how to phrase my question in his terms, answered it.


I hear Mike Jung is giving a talk on Voice soon for which he'll be borrowing heavily from this one (with attribution, of course). So if you want to know what was said, go hear Mike! Or go hear Matthew Kirby. :)

The guy in the hat plans to steal from Matthew Kirby's talkspeak on Voice soon.

And, I attended Sara's session on creating book trailers.

Sara Wilson Etienne, "Book Trailers: Storyboards, Scripts, Lookbooks, and Everything That Puts the 'Tease' in Teaser" (Photo credit: Rita Crayon Huang, Copyright ©2012.)

Amazing also. If you haven't seen Sara's astounding book trailer yet, check it out here. And be on the lookout for her article on making book trailers, which will appear in the next update to the SCBWI Publication Guide. Even though I had heard Sara talk about her trailer while they were making it, it was so enlightening to see the lookbooks and rough cuts she and her talented friends had made. The session was chock-a-block packed with real, how-to information, plus how one should think about different kinds of trailers before getting started. And she showed how much you can get done before you've spent one dollar, which I love.

Okay! But I actually didn't want to talk about the talks and inspiration and craft and business side of the conference--I wanted to talk about the people and the fun! With friends and at yoga and the party and afterparty . . .

All right, you know what? This post has gotten long enough. I'll do the fun stuff in a "Part II" post. Please come back.

So just one more talk--really quick. Because it made a difference.

Amy Goldman Koss said some really provocative stuff during her breakout, "Character Quirks and Credible Jerks! Nailing Character," about how she doesn't believe people change; that they come into the world the way they are. (She said if you believe differently, you can write books that show such, but she has to stay true to what she believes.) She also said the more individuality you give a character, the more you risk that character being disliked by readers. (Good for villains, potentially bad for protagonists.)

Amy Goldman Koss, "Character Quirks and Credible Jerks! Nailing Character" (Photo credit: Rita Crayon Huang, Copyright ©2012.)

I've turned these ideas over and over in my mind. Of course I want to argue, but she used compelling examples, plus I know what she's saying. It's gotten the dialog going pretty awesomely in my mind. I also just read one of her books, Poison Ivy, and wow, that book is brutal but brilliant. I mean, brilliant. And brutal. Those characters are alive in the most stubborn, maddening but real way possible. I recommend it to everyone. (Be forewarned, but definitely read it.)

I've been thinking over how I might test some of Amy's ideas in my book, through a couple of my characters, and the book is definitely benefiting.

Okay! So that's everything I'm going to say about craft, business, and inspiration in this two-part miniseries. Come back in a few days for the fun, fun, fun, okay? =)


P.S. Did you know that I have an SCBWI Events photo collection on Flickr?

SCBWI Events mosaic
Click on the image or link to visit my SCBWI Events Collection on Flickr, including International Summer Conferences and Los Angeles regional conferences from the last several years.

In addition to the latest, 2012 Summer Conference photos, it includes pictures from the 2011 Summer Conference, the 2010 Summer Conference, the 2009 Summer Conference, and the 2008 Summer Conference--with corresponding Facebook links--plus the last several SCBWI-Los Angeles Writer's Days and Illustrator's Days. I just glanced through them and wow. I totally recognize people--faces in the background--that I didn't know back then. And we're all younger. You should check it out.

Cheers, and enjoy,

Aug. 8th, 2012

06:01 pm - "Whoa . . .uh-oh! That's what makes you beau-ti-ful!" ♩♫♪

This is that time of year when I start going through my pictures from the SCBWI Summer Conference, reliving highlights as I discover what I got, all while listening to ridiculously poppy, boppy music (which helps me weed). The experience gets me high, even as I'm sure everyone else is either winding down or has already come back to reality.

Can't wait to share the pictures! In the meantime, please enjoy another delightful, illustrated recap of the Summer Conference--this time by my good friend Ken Min. Ken is an award-winning illustrator who has summed up the full range of what one experiences at the Summer Conference through personal examples, and illustrates his favorite takeaway by putting it into practice immediately--which inspires me. Check out Ken's "SCBWI 2012 Summer Conference Manifesto" here.

♥ ♩♫♪!
"Whoa . . . uh-oh! That's what makes you beau-ti-ful!!"

Aug. 7th, 2012

02:40 pm - SCBWI 2012 Summer Conference Pictures Are Coming!

Well, what do you know. All kinds of ideas are coming to me today as a direct result of the SCBWI 2012 Summer Conference, and I've been stymied a long time. Thank you to all of the good friends and faculty I had meaningful conversations with this weekend! And to all of the friends I'm going to have revelatory conversations with, going forward!

Photos are coming soon! In the meantime, check out this lovely illustrated recap of Mary Peterson's Conference takeaways. Mary is the wonderful illustrator behind such picture book delights as Piggies in the Pumpkin Patch, written by herself and Jennifer Rofé, and the forthcoming Wooby and Peep, written by Cynthea Liu, and was on the Summer Conference faculty this year.

Mary Peterson's 2012 Summer Conference Takeaways

Says Mary,

Another fun, exhausting, exhilerating, hilarious conference! I love seeing so many old friends and making new ones. The images above were scanned from the notes I took over the weekend. Credits for each bit of wisdom...

1. Personal observation
2. Linda Pratt, Literary Agent
3. John Klassen, author/illustrator
4. Arthur A. Levine, Arthur A. Levine Books
5. Tony diTerlizzi, author/illustrator
6. Rubin Pfeffer, Literary Agent

Shared with permission from marypeterson.com.


May. 1st, 2012

03:10 pm - Photos: SCBWI-LA Writer's Days 2012 (Saturday AND Sunday)

Friends! Photos from last weekend's SCBWI-LA Writer's Days are up!

SCBWI-LA Writer's Days: "Books and Beyond: How To Make A Living (And A Life!) As A Writer"
Sat. & Sun., April 21-22, 2012

Lee Wardlaw Dawne Knobbe Bonnie Berry LaMon Monica Haven Terri Farley Jennifer Bosworth, Kristen Kittscher, Sara Wilson Etienne, Tony Etienne Anne Tibbets
Lee Wardlaw: "Ten Things I've Learned from My Cats about Being A Children's Book Author."
Dawne Knobbe: "Busting out of the Box--Creative Marketing for Published/Unpublished Writers."
Bonnie Berry LaMon (Professional Forum): "More Than You Ever Wanted To Know About Children's Book Publishing Agreements."
Monica Haven giving a tip on how to make a living as a writer. She led a Professional Forum on Taxes, "Fact of Fiction?"
Terri Farley: "Fetch Me A Dream, PDQ."
Jennifer Bosworth, Kristen Kittscher, Sara Wilson Etienne, and Tony Etienne kickin' it at lunch.
Anne Tibbets during a mid-morning creativity exercise involving pipe cleaners.

View the whole SCBWI-LA Writer's Days 2012 album by clicking here. 
See original Writer's Days event details here.

This year was the first time SCBWI-LA added Sunday intensives to Writer's Day, creating Writer's Days plural--a full, weekend conference. It was so much fun!! Check out the album to see the kind of joyful learning we experienced together, including glimpses into the new Sunday intensives. Some of these pictures will be featured in Kite Tales, SCBWI-LA's online newsletter, soon.

Highlights for me include seeing Sara from my writing group speaking on an amazing, super entertaining editor/agent/author panel with Stacey Barney and Michael Bourret, her editor and agent, respectively. And again in her own talk on how she's been brilliantly promoting Harbinger. (Which totally sold out of copies Saturday morning after the panel alone, before she even showed her book trailer. Which knocked people's socks off.)

Stacey Barney, Michael Bourret, and Sara Wilson Etienne's panel "Traditional Publishing Case Study: Harbinger," moderated by Lee Wind.
(That's my writing group! Represent!!)

Harbinger, by Sara Wilson Etienne
Last copy standing--and then it was gone. Lee told me to take a picture, and the funny thing was, I already had.

The Harbinger team: Michael Bourret, Sara Wilson Etienne, and Stacey Barney
Look at this camaraderie. When I first showed up at Writer's Days, these three were literally joined at the hip.

We also got to hear Lee Wardlaw speak, whose delightful picture book Won Ton: A Cat Tale Told In Haiku I have given out many times this year. (Your autographed book plates are coming soon, friends!) In addition, thanks to my role as official event photographer, I got to meet and hang out with esteemed faculty members Dawne Knobbe (okay, I knew Dawne already, but I got to learn more about what she does), Bonnie Berry LaMon ("objective correlative!"), Monica Haven, Terri Farley, Alexis O'Neill, and, and, and.

[deleted here: an ill-fated attempt to name-check all the other awesome people I got to hang out with or at least waved to during the conference.]

SCBWI_LA_Writers_Days_2012-17 SCBWI_LA_Writers_Days_2012-34
SCBWI_LA_Writers_Days_2012-122 SCBWI_LA_Writers_Days_2012-123
What's up, Friends! You are all looking so fresh and beautiful this fine Saturday and Sunday morning.

I saw tons of awesome peeps from the Westside and Hollywood Schmooze, and even more writer friends at Saturday's Kid Lit Drink Night, whom I had met at other Kid Lit Drink Nights. And I made new friends, too! But the thing that was so bonding this weekend, even when I didn't get to talk to everyone as much as I wanted, was how we all participated in these intensives together. I felt closer even to people I hadn't met properly. After spending that Sunday morning and afternoon together, discussing our stories, when I see their faces in photos now, I'm like, Oh, hey--What's up!! 

Sunday morning I took Stacey's Revision Workshop for Middle Grade and YA novels,


and on Sunday afternoon I took Michael's intensive on "Pitching (a How-To Workshop)":

Guess I've found Michael Bourret's Pitching workshop. This violent image made me laugh, probably because I was freaked the hell out.

Both workshops gave me excellent tools that I have continued to use since. The pitching workshop was particularly exhilarating, because I normally avoid that activity like the plague, and this class was capped at 15 people so we all got lots of personal attention. Michael really clarified the tone and content of pitches, and the group collaboration was fantastic. I learned so much from going over everyone else's before we even got to mine! I also enjoyed sitting in an open circle in a classroom decorated as a forest. (I can't believe, after all my talking about it, that I didn't document the overhead canopy, giant tree trunks, or doorframe filled with trailing, painted, paper leaves. See?? Nerves.) Whoo! I had some good adrenaline going by the end. As I told Michael, I would be ready for this workshop by 1 pm on Sunday and not one moment sooner. (I used to be both an extrovert and an introvert, but these days I have to make appointments with my extrovert.) I really enjoyed getting to the nut of what 14 other people's stories were about.

I want to thank all of the hardworking SCBWI-LA volunteers for making this weekend happen--especially our new Regional Advisors Sarah Laurenson and Lee Wind, who spearheaded this groundbreaking expansion of an already fabulous event. Congratulations to all of the contest winners--and to Rilla Jaggia for winning this year's Sue Alexander Service & Encouragement (SASE) Award--in addition to a writing contest--for her work on Kite Tales these past several years. I've been reliving Writer's Days thanks to these photos, and now I hope you like them, too.


P.S. As always, everyone is invited to use these pictures in your blogs, Web sites, etc. Please credit Rita Crayon Huang, but otherwise, I would be honored. You can download images directly from Flickr. Also, if you have any concerns whatsoever about pictures I have taken of you, message me privately. I am here to be your professional ally.

P.P.S. As mentioned earlier, Kid Lit Drink Night took place that same Saturday evening. I did take some pictures that I'll post later, but not as many as you'd think considering the cornucopia of nuttiness going on. What a weekend.

Apr. 16th, 2012

11:02 pm - SCBWI-LA Writer's Days and Kid Lit Drink Night this weekend!

What's up, people!!

Chocolate-covered strawberries from my good friend Vicki, just because. Chocolate-covered strawberries from my good friend Vicki, just because.
(Chocolate-covered strawberries from my good friend Vicki, just because.)

We have two (2) exciting treats for the creators of children's book in the LA region coming up this weekend.

1. SCBWI-LA Writer's Days is happening this Saturday and Sunday--April 21st & 22nd. You can sign up for one or both days here. Read all about the Writer's Days speakers and their talks at the first link. Non-SCBWI members are welcome, too!

SCBWI-LA's Regional Advisors, Lee Wind and Sarah Laurenson, posted a fun video about the event: "10 Hot Tips from SCBWI Los Angeles Writer's Days Faculty!" Check it out!

Sara is a Writer's Day speaker this year! Woo hooo!!

2. The next LA Kid Lit Drink Night--which is not sponsored by SCBWI but is also open to all who love children's books--takes place that same Saturday evening, April 21st, in that same area. Kid Lit Drink Night is an informal mixer where everyone buys their own libations and mingles away. This one is sure to be attended by many Writer's Days attendees and faculty.

That's Saturday April 21, 2012

at the outdoor patio/bar area of the
Monrovia DoubleTree
924 West Huntington Drive
Monrovia, CA 91016
(4 miles east of the SCBWI-Los Angeles Writer's Day location)

Facebook event page here.

So come one, come all! Hope to see you all at SCBWI-L.A. Writer's Days--and at Kid Lit Drink Night!

Chocolate-covered strawberries from my good friend Vicki, just because.Cheers,

P.S. Bonus!! Registration for the SCBWI Summer Conference 2012 starts this Wednesday at 10 AM. Check it out!!

Mar. 2nd, 2012

06:00 am - Photos: Book Launch for HARBINGER, by Sara Wilson Etienne—w/ details for Harbinger Launch Party 2.0!

Sara's debut YA novel Harbinger came out on Feb. 2nd, 2012, and I had the privilege of attending her first book launch for it on Saturday, Feb. 4th, at Children's Book World in L.A.

Sara Wilson Etienne mingling at the book launch for HARBINGER
Sara Wilson Etienne mingling at the book launch for Harbinger
at Children's Book World in Los Angeles, CA, Feb. 4th, 2012

Click here to view all 53 photos on Flickr.
(Photos are by my husband and me, because I had fractured my foot and needed help. Thank you, D!)

I've included some favorite photos here, and they should speak for themselves (especially because I wrote captions for them). This book launch was phenomenal. Children's Book World was packed to silliness, and Sara delivered a silky smooth, perfect talk, and then friends and family and fans from all over the country lined up to get their copies signed.

Sara's proud writing group—me (Rita Crayon Huang) and Lee Wind—at the book launch for HARBINGER
Sara's proud writing group—me (Rita Crayon Huang) and Lee Wind—at the book launch for Harbinger

Sara's fans applaud wildly Sara's fans applaud wildly
Sara receives a warm welcome. "Author! Author!"

Sara Wilson Etienne shows off HARBINGER's endpapers, illustrated by artist husband Tony Etienne
Sara shows off Harbinger's beautiful endpapers, illustrated by artist husband Tony Etienne

Author Kristen Kittscher listens appreciatively to Sara's talk
Author Kristen Kittscher listens appreciatively to Sara's talk

Let the autographing begin! Sara Wilson Etienne signs copies of HARBINGER for fans.
Let the autographing begin! Sara Wilson Etienne signs copies of Harbinger for fans

Sara's book brings new customers to Children's Book World
Sara's book brings new customers to Children's Book World

But, but, but!! That was so one month ago! Everyone should know that Sara's next major signing event is happening this Saturday, March 3rd, at the Hive Gallery and Studios in downtown Los Angeles. She's throwing "Launch Party 2.0: HARBINGER Art Gallery Opening and Signing!" where she is going to showcase all of the artwork contributed by 25 incredible illustrators and artists in one glorious, Harbinger-inspired, gallery gala! It's going to be so fun all over again, in an entirely new way!

From the "Launch Party 2.0" Facebook event page:
Twenty-five incredible illustrators and artists have picked their favorite scenes and characters from HARBINGER to give you a taste of Faye’s life at Holbrook Academy. . . .

6pm-8pm: Book selling and signing; pre-gallery opening hang-outs; and FREE ENTRY

Starting at 8pm: COVER CHARGE of $8, music, bar, partytime!

Featuring art by: Jason Puliti, Joan Charles, Amy Kim Kibuishi, Andrew Mitchell, Marilyn Scott Waters, Aileen Holmes, Brian Ormiston, Ken Min, Katie McDee, Drew Etienne, Wilson Swain, Jane Smith, Dave Fass, Israel Sanchez, J.H. Everett, Karyn Raz, Mary Peterson, Patricia Cantor, Angela Matteson, Mary Etienne, Su Moon, Andrea Offermann, Tony Etienne, Ken Wong, Kelice Penney . . .

If you want a little taste of what these amazing artists have been up to, check out the Holbrook Academy website.

What a line-up of incredible talent—and how awesome to have a gallery opening for your debut novel! I hear there's going to be tasty refreshments, and the company and conversation are guaranteed to be brilliant, soul-scintillating, and maybe even downright scandalous.

So come one, come all! Check out the Facebook Event Page for "Launch Party 2.0: HARBINGER Art Gallery Opening and Signing!" for more details. I hope to see you there!

Congratulations again, Sara. You deserve every bit of the accolades coming to you, and so much more.


Me and Sara, just after she signed my copy. Congratulations, Sara!!

Jan. 31st, 2012

10:00 am - Rita Book Today: My Top Picture Books Picks from The Year of the Rabbit (2011)

Happy Chinese New Year, Everyone! Gong Xi Fa Cai!!

I was going to post my "Top Picture Book Picks from The Year of the Rabbit" list last weekend (before the Year of the Rabbit ran out), but I ran out of time. Little did I know that last Monday--the first day of the Year of the Dragon--was also the day ALA would announce all of their major book awards for this year. And that so many off my list would get picked!

Now I don't get to say I found them first. :(

For what it's worth, here are my top picks of picture books from the past year. I went through a lot of picture books to come up with these, and if I'd had more time, I would have kept on going. But now that the Big Awards have come out, I feel pretty good about my coverage. :)

As with last year, in annual countdown fashion . . .

(drumroll . . . )


Shoes for MeShoes for Me by Sue Fliess, illustrated by Mike Laughead

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Cute, exuberant pictures and words, perfect for all the parents I know who have been charmed by their kids' first pairs of shoes. The book is decidedly girly, although the shoes Hippo chooses from aren't. The styles include lots of favorite shoe trends I recognize from both boys and girls I know.

I recently had the pleasure of overhearing one two year old shout, "Shooss for Me!" as her mom pulled this book off my shelf. (They had their own copy at home--from me, of course!) I've given out lots of copies this year, because this book is a charmer.

There's a sequel coming out in 2012: A Dress for Me! I can't wait to check it out.


That's How!That's How! by Christoph Niemann

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I couldn't resist this punchy picture book by Christoph Niemann, the same artist who brought us Subway last year, which made my "Top Picture Books from The Year of the Tiger" list.

Just tested this out on our friend C's four year old and, man, it was a hit. He loves all things that go and is mechanically inclined, so we wondered whether he might object to the "unreality" of these answers. Nope, he burst out giggling at every page, and it was music to hear him explain how each picture worked. Not only that, the repetitive text meant that after my husband read it the first time, and I read it the second, our pal was able to "read" the entire book to his dad on his third time through (slight variations included), and show off all the fun, extra pictures on the book's hard cover (under the dust jacket).

I read the debate on GoodReads with great interest about whether this book offends, because the girl does most of the asking and the boy most of the explaining, even though the girl gets the final say. That thought crossed my mind, too, actually, but I decided to read this book as being about the fun bigger siblings get out of explaining the world to their youngers. Our pal has a little sister, so this was perfect, and I gave this out to plenty of other boys this year, too.

Would I give this book directly to a girl, especially one that didn't have siblings? Um . . . maybe? What do you guys think?

One girl I know is going through a phase right now where she asks how everything works, all day long. At first I thought, That's great! That's How! is perfect for her! Then I hesitated, because she's seven and seems so intent, she might not want these silly answers anymore. (I could be wrong.) Anyway, that's a question of age, not gender representation.

I haven't let this concern get in the way of sharing lots of copies, but I would love some more insight. Chime in!


Hot, Hot Roti for Dada-jiHot, Hot Roti for Dada-ji by F. Zia, illustrated by Ken Min

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

* * Winner!! Winner!! * * Of the 2012 APALA Honor in Picture Books! * *

Hot, Hot Roti for Dada-ji is just beautiful. The illustrations by Ken Min are warm and all-embracing, just like the relationships and fantastical feats described, with bold, textured colors and crisp, clean shapes, and innovative close-ups and camera angles. It also doesn't hurt that the book is about food. By the end you'll feel inspired to whip up some roti yourself on the spot, yum, yum--which is great for kids, not to mention grown-ups. The process is described so clearly, you don't even need a recipe at the back of the book. It sounds just like making Chinese scallion pancakes, which really are that easy (and mouth-watering).

But you don't have to take my word for it. Fuse #8 gave this book an awesome review on School Library Journal--and she's a pretty good predictor of awards; maybe even better than me. ;) And now--as of last Monday--the book has won the 2012 APALA (Asian Pacific American Librarians Association) Honor in the Picture Book category! Go, Ken!! Woot, woot! YEAH!!!


A Ball for DaisyA Ball for Daisy by Chris Raschka

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

* * Winner! Winner! * * Of the 2012 Caldecott Medal! * *

My husband and I argued about this one, so ha hahh to him. It won! It won! It won the 2012 Caldecott Medal! (Well, okay, my husband didn't "argue." He liked it. He just didn't go as nuts as I did--which still offended me.)

The illustrations are adorable!! This dog's emotions are right there on the surface, which is exactly what you want in, well, a dog, but also in a wordless picture book. I read this story as a lesson on a theme near and dear to my heart, which is that I've always had a hard time learning to let go of favorite possessions. But even if you see this as a simple story about a dog who loses a favorite toy and then has all made well again, it will bring you joy. Daisy's happiness at the end makes us root for her and love her more.

This is my favorite wordless picture book to come out in a long time.


All the Water in the WorldAll the Water in the World by George Ella Lyon, illustrated by Katherine Tillotson

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Gorgeous words. Gorgeous illustrations. This book leaves you with a delicious feeling of how precious water is to all of us. The illustrations make me feel cool and wet, and then thirsty and expectant, just the way they should. The rhythm of the words makes me want to dance, as does the traveling of the scenes all around the world. There is a conservation message and a discussion of the water cycle lightly embedded in here, but the main focus is on poetry and sensation.

I love it. Spread the message, spread the word!

And my number one pick out of all the picture books I read from The Year of the Rabbit is . . .


Me...JaneMe...Jane by Patrick McDonnell

* * WINNER! WINNER! * * Of a 2012 Caldecott Honor! * *

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The blend of illustration, stamp art, and memorabilia from Jane Goodall's real life teased out a sense of wonder even before I knew where the story was going, and the transition from daydreams to reality at the end--from illustration to an unexpected photo of her real, adult life--gave me chills. This is a picture book biography that packs a punch. Simple, neat, fascinating, empowering.

A must for every child!

And, one that my husband and I agreed on.

I'm going to be ordering copies of all of the above by the dozens for my friends.

Cheers, Everyone! Gong Xi Fa Cai!!

P.S. BONUS! This book came out in 2010 but I discovered it too late for inclusion in last year's "Top Picture Books from The Year of the Tiger" list.

A Pig Parade Is a Terrible IdeaA Pig Parade Is a Terrible Idea by Michael Ian Black, illustrated by Kevin Hawkes

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Wonderful! Such excellent Voice. Such excellent illustrations. I am delighted.

The voice reminds me of my friend Irvin, who loves to set up what sounds like "a good idea" and then hilariously shoot it down. (So, Irvin, if you're looking for books to read to little ones, get this one! No one will know you're reading! They'll just think you're talking!)

Anyway, everyone should get this book. I'm guessing I'll give it to kids who are on the slightly older side--by which I mean 5 and up. But I could go younger if I know the parents already say ridiculous things to their kids all day long. It's a matter of tone.

A pig parade is a terrible idea. After you buy this book, you'll know why. :)

P.P.S. Oh, nuts, I forgot to add Swirl by Swirl: Spirals in Nature, by Joyce Sidman and Beth Krommes! It's because I discovered this one last, and I don't have my own copy yet. (I should note, by the way, that my "Top Picks" lists are based both on debate between my husband and me, and on how many copies we actually buy for our friends. So I don't know where this fits in yet, but it definitely goes on the list.)

One More Tip Top Picture Book from The Year of the Rabbit

Swirl by Swirl: Spirals in NatureSwirl by Swirl: Spirals in Nature by Joyce Sidman, illustrated by Beth Krommes

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Wow, what is not to love? This book combines art and science, teaching us to find beauty and shapes in the natural world. It shows us the many special functions a spiral has for all different kinds of animals and plants, and it's . . . so . . . beautiful.

I loved Joyce Sidman's past books--a poetry book called Red Sings From the Treetops, illustrated (phenomenally) by Pamela Zagarenski; and Ubiquitous, illustrated by Beckie Prange, all about how long various life forms have existed and which has the best endpapers ever; to name a couple--and she keeps knocking them out of the park. She is my nonfiction and poetry hero.

You should also check out:

Red Sings from Treetops: A Year in ColorsRed Sings from Treetops: A Year in Colors by Joyce Sidman, illustrated by Pamela Zagarenski

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


Ubiquitous: Celebrating Nature's SurvivorsUbiquitous: Celebrating Nature's Survivors by Joyce Sidman, illustrated by Beckie Prange

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Click the "Rita Book Today" tag to read all of my book reviews on this blog. And don't be shy about telling me what I've missed!

Dec. 23rd, 2011

06:12 pm - Dear Santa, About Your Lists... (a paradox) - a Christmas poem by Greg Pincus

Just in time for the holidays comes this high-larious poem by Greg Pincus. Check it out:

Dear Santa, About Your Lists... (a paradox) - a Christmas poem by Greg Pincus

Wishing you a wonderful holiday season!


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