Picture Books We’re Loving Right Now

Need some inspiration for your next bookstore or library trip? Some Christmas gift ideas for the littles in your life? Here are a few new or recent titles that get the Bandy Girl stamp of approval.

King Arthur’s Very Great Grandson by Kenneth Kraegel

King Arthur's very great grandson

Follow Henry Alfred Grummorson as he sets out to find adventure on his sixth birthday, with his trusty donkey, Knuckles- challenging a dragon, a cyclops, a griffin, and a leviathan to a “battle to the uttermost.” Disappointingly, the beasts are more interested in blowing smoke rings, having staring contests, and playing chess. However, in the end, Henry finds something even better than sword-clashing adventure! Publisher’s Weekly says of Kraegel,

“He has a Monty Pythonesque sense of language, humor, pacing, and character—the text’s mixture of bombastic and deadpan deliveries makes for a stirring read-aloud. This fine sense of the epically absurd also animates Kraegel’s rococo watercolor and ink renderings: in his hands, a dragon’s scales coalesce into an intricate mosaic, a tree is a swirl of mazelike lines, and the sea becomes a tangled mass of blue ribbons.”

I LOVE the artwork, and the text is absolutely hilarious and fun to read! Though it looks like a “boy book,” my girls and I found it irresistible.

13 Words by Lemony Snicket


Any book that has gotten the words haberdashery and panache in my kids’ vocabulary is pretty spiffy. The illustrations by Maira Kalman are wonderfully bizarre and colorful, with delightfully strange surprises on every page.

The Dark by Lemony Snicket

The Dark

This book is so different, I promise you’ve never read anything quite like it. Personifying the dark, Lemony Snicket creates the wonderfully ominous atmosphere his readers love, while delivering a highly comforting and satisfying ending. Jon Klassen’s pictures are really cool, too!

If I Never Forever Endeavor by Holly Meade


Readers of all ages will find this sweet, poetic story comforting and inspiring. Follow baby bird as he weighs the pluses and minuses of attempting to fly, and ultimately decides to take the risk to become who he’s meant to be. Read it with your kids to encourage them to try new things; read it to yourself when you’re feeling scared that you can’t reach your own dreams.

The Black Rabbit by Philippa Leathers


This book is so clever and cute, I experience author envy every time I read it. The fast pace keeps the attention of the littlest of readers (my two-year-old loves shouting “sha-tow!” over and over), and bigger kids will love being in on the little secret of the black rabbit’s identity from the start – and surprised and delighted by the way the black rabbit saves the white rabbit from a hungry wolf!

Because I Am Your Daddy by Sherry North

because I am your daddy

This is a perfect gift book FOR a Daddy! Kids will love snuggling up with Daddy while he reads this sweet story at bedtime, or any time. After a series of imaginary adventures together where he does some cool, fun stuff for his daughter, the Daddy tells her, “If I were a wizard, I would make your dreams come true…Because I am your daddy, I would do anything for you.”


Watch “The Words”

Never mind that the Tomatometer gives it a 22%, this movie is artwork. Most people just don’t get it, and hey, that’s okay. There are no car chases, nobody gets naked, and it takes some thought afterword to really make sense of it. But, if you have an attention span, get thee to Netflix and put “The Words” in your queue!

This movie captures a writer’s fears, insecurities, desires, and obstacles , but more broadly, the human experience of reaching for your dreams, accepting your own limitations, and living your life for what truly matters – the people in it. There is a fantastic ethical dilemma that will keep you sympathizing with the main character. Bradley Cooper is great as Rory Jansen, and I think any writer worth his salt will identify with him in the struggle to remain true to yourself, to balance life and work, to create something that really matters to someone else, and to realize that even if you never “make it,” the people in your life matter more than success – even, and especially, writing success.

I don’t want to put any spoilers in here, because you probably haven’t seen this movie, and you should! If you find Bradley Cooper’s Hangover movies to be less-than-awesome, you just might finish this movie thinking he’s a real actor. Watch it with a friend and talk about it. Better yet, comment on my blog about it!


See the trailer here: http://www.bing.com/videos/search?q=the+words+trailer&FORM=VIRE1#view=detail&mid=E9B1EEFD31EEEC5097A1E9B1EED31EEEC5097A1

What to Expect When You’re Expecting A Novel

“Mommy, are you going to write a dear good novel?”

Living with a 4-year-old who reads well can be interesting. And when I brought home a copy of James Frey’s “How to Write a Damn Good Novel,” I wondered how long I could conceal the title from her. Luckily, her skills really only extend to print, and the word-in-question is written in bright-red cursive. My answer, of course, was “Yes, Mommy is going to try.” But, a little naughty part of me did want to reply, “No, Honey, Mommy’s going to write a damn good novel.”

If novel-writing is like pregnancy, think of this book as the “What to Expect When You’re Expecting.” I would highly recommend it to any writer, but also to anyone who enjoys being an amateur critic. You’ll come a way with a better appreciation of what makes a good story good, what makes a bad story bad, and the blood, sweat, and tears the writer of any story puts into their work. You’ll get some encouragement in that hard task of casting aside your fears and self-doubts to devote yourself to the craft. And you will probably close the book ready to buckle down and write something pretty dear good.

If fiction immitates life, its formation does, too. In a flash of brilliant inspiration, an idea appears in the mind. That’s the easy part. The exciting part. But then, comes the growing part. Ergh, not so fun. There is the morning sickness–the queasy anxiety that this idea might never even make it. But then, you start to feel it moving around, see it taking shape on a screen, realize that the little parts are forming quite nicely, and you breathe a sigh of relief. You start to get excited. You consider names.

The problem is, the little bugger just won’t quit–it’s always moving around inside, kicking you in the night, distracting you during dinner. It makes your back sore. Complete strangers rub your belly and conjecture about the size and gender, and friends exclaim about how long the whole process seems to be taking–any day now, right? And all the while, you hold your belly wondering what the heck is really going on in there–knowing that when this thing is over, you’re going to have something with a life of its own, outside of you, that’s going to have to make it in the world.

Mothers do have the secret fear that their kid will come out not cute. Sure, relatives will adore the little one, but strangers will speak the truth. Relatives will speak the truth behind closed doors. So it goes with the novel. Your mother will adore it, but what about the rest of the world? And if it gets a rough start–you know, still hairy-backed, baby-acned, jaunticed, wall-eyed–is there hope that it will grow out of it and end up looking pretty good?

Love and devotion are the only thing that gets you through. You are a mother, and this is your baby, come what may. It’s what makes it possible to be patient for nearly 10 months, it’s what gets you through labor, it’s what gets you through the bleary first weeks of endless feedings and screaming. You hold to the belief that it matters, that time invested into something beautiful, something that has the capacity to touch other lives and make a difference in the world, is time well-spent. And when you put the papers in that awful manilla envelope and send it off to an agent, like sending your precious baby off to school, you have the confidence that you’ve put every ounce of yourself–your patience, your brains, your love–into that little package. Will it come home Harvard-bound, winning awards and straight-A’s, or get D’s and F’s and live in your basement forever? Well, you’ll love it anyway, because it’s yours.

So getting back to the book in question, a few passages stood out to me as particularly helpful and revealing about the process of writing a novel. Frey says on pages 164-5: “…Most of these folks with so much raw talent will not make it as novelists. Why? Because they lack what’s truly necessary: self-discipline, dogged determination, and stick-to-itiveness. Talent just gets in the way, because if you have talent you expect writing a novel to be easy and it isn’t, not matter how much talent you have….

“The message is this: writing itself is not glamorous, exciting, or romantic. It’s hard work. Rewarding, yes. But damn hard. It’s also a lonely process. It’s a struggle with your own creative powers and self-doubts. Sometimes the writing flows out of you, gushing like rapids down a mountain gorge. Other times your head feels like a block of concrete and you can’t squeeze anything out of it. Sometimes you reread what you’ve written and you think you could train your dog to do better. Other times you know what you’ve done is brilliant beyond your wildest expectations….”

Is it hard work? Yes! Is it worth it? Absolutely. And, by the way, let’s never forget that reality and the people who inspire us are way more important than our fictitiuos worlds….and if we’re going to stay sane in this process, it needs to stay that way!

Lucky13 SCBWI Writer’s Conference….A Newbie’s Recap

Last Saturday, I got up at 4:30 in the morning, slipped out the door without waking the kiddos, and drove into the sunrise to the Bishop Claggett Center for my very first SCBWI writer’s conference. I left with a huge to-do list and to-read list, plus lots of encouragement and inspiration.

I had no idea to expect. Will everyone be so incredibly talented and quirky-cool that I will feel as lost as I did on my first day of high school?  Will I find out I’m crazy for calling myself a writer? I was pleasantly surprised to find lots of wonderful, friendly, helpful people, some of whom were already published, some of whom were there for the first time like me. It was such a great experience, and I will be chewing on everything I learned for a good long time and keeping in touch with the great friends I made, too! However, next time I will stay overnight instead of driving home in rain and fog on 95 for three hours! Bleh.

Here is a little recap.

First up for the morning was Audrey Couloumbis, who spoke on the topic of “Writing to the Heart Without Tears.” It was a great presentation filled with tons of examples ranging from Lois Lowry to What About Bob. She showed us over and over again how to convey emotion to readers subtly, powerfully, and without making our characters horribly overwrought/gushing tears. “Take your readers by the heart,” she said, “and they’ll follow you anywhere.” Great advice that I will be applying to my YA projects!

Next, I attended part of an agent’s breakout session, but I had to leave early for my MANUSCRIPT CRITIQUE. I was….scared. However…

The lovely Edie Hemingway was so encouraging and kind, she made me feel instantly at ease. She gave me one editing suggestion (which I took), and some suggestions for where to submit my manuscript. She assured me I have a strong submission that will find a home. Thanks, Edie!

The two breakout sessions that followed were so informative, they really stocked my to-do list! Laura Whitaker from Bloomsbury Kids and Jessica Garrison from Dial Books for Young Readers gave presentations on how they acquire picture book manuscripts, and what they’re looking for. I learned how to create a solid hook, what to include in my cover letters, how to define unique selling points, the importance of social media platforms (my blog is born!), and so much more. After the conference, they invited attendees to submit work to them – a unique opportunity to do so without first having to acquire an agent.

After lunch, Floyd Cooper gave us an amazing art demonstration. Explaining his process of reduction using an eraser to lift paint off of paper, then adding color, he created a fantastic face right before our eyes in about 5 minutes. He is so talented and kept us laughing and engaged the whole time. .

Finally, Chris Crutcher gave a talk about banned books to kick off banned book week. He talked about his work as a family therapist, the heartbreaking stories he’s heard firsthand, and how he’s turned them into published (banned) stories. It was very moving to hear the ways that his stories have touched troubled teens who had previously felt entirely alone and isolated. While I don’t agree with all of his viewpoints, I found him to be such a compassionate person who is passionate about helping hurt children. I laughed…I cried…I learned.

Well, when I got home I was so tired I told my husband I would give my brain the week off. The next day, he laughed, “Well, that lasted 45 minutes.” haha. 45 minutes was enough. Back to work!

Fun Books to Read in Character

Well, if you’ve ever been within 20 feet of me and a kid I’m reading to, you know I’m not afraid to be a little ridiculous to get a giggle. Everyone from teachers I’ve worked with, to parents I’ve tutored for, my in-laws, and repairmen tinkering with my dryer have probably questioned my sanity. All of the characters I write into stories for my girls have silly voices of their own. So, if you’d like to get a little creative yourself, here are a few of my favorites.

Skippyjon Jones by Judy Schachner


My name is Skippito Friskito.
I fear not a single bandito.
My manners are mellow,
I’m sweet like the Jell-O,
I get the job done, yes indeed-o.

When I met the author, Judy Schacher, her instructions for reading Skippyjon Jones were to always read it in an Antonio Banderas voice. While the bad bumble-beeto frightened my 4-year-old (her tastes are rather delicate), I thoroughly enjoyed this wild and crazy book. Judy Schachner is a wonderful speaker, and during her presentation she showed us pictures of her real cats that inspired the cats in her books. Her other titles are great, too. I especially enjoyed The Grannyman. She’s such a talented author/illustrator, and a warm, funny person, too.

The Twits, by Roald Dahl

The twits

This book is incredibly hilarious. But it is all the hilariouser if you read it like a couple of crazy hillbillies. My girls are still too young for this one, but I’ve read it to many a school-aged kid. I’ve also given the following advice, which applies to the horrible Mrs. Twit and everyone:

“If a person has ugly thoughts, it begins to show on the face.  And when that person has ugly thoughts every day, every week, every year, the face gets uglier and uglier until you can hardly bear to look at it.

A person who has good thoughts cannot ever be ugly.  You can have a wonky nose and a crooked mouth and a double chin and stick-out teeth, but if you have good thoughts it will shine out of your face like sunbeams and you will always look lovely.”

As the story goes, Mr. and Mrs. Twit are the smelliest, ugliest, nastiest old people around who play increasing devious tricks on one another, until finally their pet monkeys, the Muggle Wumps, have had enough. Classic Roald Dahl.

My personal favorite line to holler is, “You’ve got the shrinks, woman!” after Mr. Twit slowly increased the height of his wife’s cane, chair, and everything else in the house to convince her she’s shrinking. I also enjoy  “I’m watchin you,” as Mr. Twit watches his wife gaping into her mug with his glass eye looking up at her. Honestly, I did get a little tired of it by the end, but the first 2/3 are so funny, it was worth it.

Wee G. by Harriet Ziefert


Wee G. is the story of a little kitten who goes out to play, gets lost, and finds her way back home. The pictures are unusual, the text is simple, and Wee G. is oh, so fun to make talk. If you ask me, I may or may not oblige your request to say, “I was scared, but now I’m happy!”  It’s a really cute story for the little ones.

Cloudette by Tom Lichtenheld


This is the cutest story in the universe! Girls and boys will love it. Tom Lichtenheld puts so much personality  into his various clouds and creatures, you won’t be able to resist giving them each a voice of their own. From the adorable Cloudette to the big, puffy storm clouds, to the wispy ones that say things like “prodigious precipitation, Pipsqueak,” this book is truly unique and fun. And it reminds kids that no one is too small to do something big and important.

Tell All The Truth But Tell It Slant…

When I think about my philosophy of writing and of interacting with people in general, Emily Dickinson sums it up. Be truthful but gentle. Be clear but subtle. Be kind, or no one will take your words to heart. And, don’t give all your secrets away.

Tell all the Truth but tell it
Success in Circuit lies
Too bright for our infirm
The Truth’s superb surprise
As Lightning to the
Children eased
With explanation kind
The Truth must dazzle
Or every man be blind—

Emily Dickinson