Top 13 of 2016: Last Minute Shopping Edition

I originally intended to write a “Top Ten” list of my favorite books that I had reviewed in 2016. I started my blog in February of this year and I have read/reviewed a lot of wonderful books in that time! It’s very hard to narrow down the list, but I have come up with a “baker’s dozen” that might help you out if you’re still looking for a picture book to buy that voracious picture book reader for the holidays. They’re not all published in 2016, but most of them are at least within the past two years or so– links are to my reviews. I decided in the end not to number them because I love them all for different reasons.

So, read these when you want a book that will…

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Intersections: Dual-language poetry

We all wear a lot of hats– look at my Twitter bio and you’ll see that I’m a teacher, parent, musician, German-speaker, Christian, cook and heck, even a soap-maker in addition to being a writer. This past weekend I was at ACTFL – a conference for foreign language teachers – but since I’m also participating in a challenge to write 30 poems in 30 days,* my mind was constantly working on ideas for new poems as well as swimming with new ideas for teaching German.  The result– I decided to write a poem about my conference experience in German (followed by an English prose version– didn’t feel like being crazy enough to make them BOTH rhyme!). This is what my blog Schreibenfreude is all about: the joy (and sometimes overwhelming chaos) of writing AND of language. If you’ve been to a conference or really productive workshop, you may relate:

Auf der Sprachkonferenz

Alles was noch übrig bleibt,
Nach dem langen, vollen Tag
Wie ein Stift, der nicht mehr schreibt,
Wie ein Auto, das versagt,
Ist in meinem Gedächtnis wach.
Bilder Fliegen, Filme gleich,
Jedes Wort, das jeder sprach
Schwmmt wie im bespanntem Teich.

Durchsortieren mit der Zeit
Bringt Verständnis, klärt viel auf.
Doch hilft Abstand nur soweit
Bis Erinnerungsverlauf.

Ganz allein, lieg ich und denk:
Ich bin dankbar für mein Glück,
Was noch bleibt ist ein Geschenk
Auch wenn nur ein kleines Stück.

English Version in Prose:

At the language conference:

All that remains after a long full day,
Like a pen that is out of ink
Or a car that has stopped working,
Is awake in my consciousness.
Pictures fly by like films
And every word that everyone said
Swims like fish in a freshly stocked pool.
With time, sorting through these memories
Brings clarity and understanding…
Yet distance only helps so much until
The memories fade away.
All alone I lie and think:
I am thankful for my luck.
What remains is a gift
Even if only a small one.

*My 30 Poems in 30 Days challenge is part of a fundraiser for the “Center for New Americans.”  Click on the link for more information!

 

We didn’t start the fire….2016

Got the news yesterday about the death of poet and songwriter Leonard Cohen. Since I’m already writing a poem each day, it hit me hard and I had to pause and look at the wringer we’ve been through this year. All I could think of was the litany of news stories in Billy Joel’s “We didn’t start the fire” — except that his song covers decades and this is all in one year. So much tragedy I know I didn’t hit it all, but if you know the original song, I hope you’ll appreciate it:

We didn’t start the fire: 2016
(To the tune of the Billy Joel song)

David Bowie, EgyptAir
Brussels bombing, Zika scare,
Nancy Reagan, Alan Rickman, Janet Reno

Elie Wiesel, Patty Duke,
Five brave Dallas men in blue,
Leonard Cohen, Anton Yelchin, Umberto Eco

This was our year of trial,
Enough of being mean,
Two thousand and sixteen, because:
This was our year of trial,
It’s time for you to leave,
Can’t wait for New Year’s Eve!

Swimmer Ryan Lochte lied,
Innocent young black men died,
Kenny Baker was the droid we all were looking for.

Prince brought tears of purple rain,
Bastille Day brought France more pain
RIP my favorite Wonka, dear Gene Wilder.

Mr. Hockey, Gordie Howe,
Boxer Ali’s gone now.
Trump and Clinton brought the country to a great divide.

Dead Gorilla at the zoo,
Britain’s out of the EU,
Shooting in Orlando and we’re out of tears to cry!

This was our year of trial,
Enough of being mean,
Two thousand and sixteen, because:
This was our year of trial,
It’s time for you to leave,
Can’t wait for New Year’s Eve!

NaNoWriMo isn’t the only writing game…

kimg1342For years I’ve thought Nanowrimo was an amazing challenge, but just out of reach for me. Not only do I tend toward picture books and poetry, but I’m also a full time teacher with two small children — it’s pretty much impossible for me to put everything aside and get the required word count in.

However, I’m always up for a challenge, and writing challenges are a great way to push ourselves to find time to create. About 8 years ago, I took part in “National Poetry Writing Month” (in April) and wrote a poem every day for a month. It was difficult, but exhilarating. I managed to keep it up for five years running.  Then last November, I heard about “PiBoIdMo” — Picture Book Idea Month, coordinated by the great picture book author Tara Lazar (author of Little Red Gliding Hood and Normal Norman). In this writing challenge, picture book authors are tasked with coming up with an idea for a picture book for each day of the month. That was an awesome challenge, and while it wasn’t easy, it was easier for me than a set word count because it only required coming up with the ideas, not fleshing them out. Even better, I now have a whole file full of ideas I can use. This year, Tara made the decision to move PiBoIdMo to next January, so watch for more posts about that in the coming weeks.

What now? It’s all come together in “30 Poems in November” — my 30 day poem challenge, but this time an event put forth by the “Center for New Americans” in Western Massachusetts.  The center works to provide literacy education and other tools to aid immigrants and refugees in reaching economic stability.  For more information, please consult the official CNA webpage. If you’re able, I’d appreciate a small donation. You’re more than welcome to “commission” a poem from me for the month– I love writing poems to honor people and events.

So here I am, back at it writing. I’ve been able to get in a poem a day so far, although a couple of them are unfinished. I’ll leave you with my poem for day 2:

I know why the caged dog bites.

They locked him up because he was a danger,

Then wondered why he growled and bit when the door was opened.

They kept him far from children,

Then wondered why he was not socialized.

They balanced biscuits on his nose

Then wondered why he ate them.

In dreams he runs free,

Without leash, collar or fence,

Without sharp voices cutting at his every leap.

A playful exuberance fuels his rambles over sunlit fields

And into happy waiting arms

That scratch in just the right spot.

His leg kicking reflexively, nose nuzzling, tongue giving wet kisses

In dreams he obeys,

Not for fear of the whip, but for joy

No he does not obey,

It is not a command, then, but merely

An unspoken partnership,

Born in mutual admiration and love.

And then…

With jarring clang the door swings open,

Awakening the sleeping dog with deep accusatory tones,

To play the role for which he has been trained.

November 2, 2016

Copyright MMK

Holiday Weekend PB Reviews

kimg1347Whew, it’s been a busy last couple weeks, but yesterday kicked off a rare four day weekend here in the home of Schreibenfreude! On Friday evening I was able to start and mostly finish a new picture book manuscript, this morning I met up with a couple writer friends for an impromptu chat, and this afternoon I took my older son to Barnes & Noble to see what’s new in picture books.  As always, the shelves are an embarrassment of brightly-colored riches and it was tough to decide what to read. Enjoy!

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It’s all for the Kids…

12991099_10208984902678164_7437406162389299255_nHere’s the thing: like most women I know, I work multiple jobs. I’m a mother, a full-time teacher, and a writer. There are probably folks who think I’m not truly serious as a writer since I have a “real job,” but since I’m not independently wealthy, and my husband isn’t a real estate mogul, I do have to pay the bills.  Besides, I became a teacher because I love teaching, so even if I wake up tomorrow and become J.K. Rowling, I’m not likely to stop.

The downside is, while I love all three of my jobs, it can leave me a little scattered. Take Twitter, for example. I started my account while I was at a teaching conference and intended to use it for connecting with other language teachers. Then I found out about “Twitter Pitch” contests and met scads of amazing writers online and now I follow a combination of teachers and writers. That’s ok for me, but it’s not so great for establishing a consistent platform. So, I now concentrate my writing tweets (and the occasional life observation) under @FrauDrK  and tweet about my German teaching at @YSDGerman (a new account I started for our district this fall).

The upside?  Synergy. While I have to be careful not to bore my teacher friends with talk of my writing, and vice versa, the triad of teaching, writing and parenting provide me with a constant feedback loop of inspiration. Take my kids, for example. Both have social and behavioral challenges which can be frustrating. But having studied behavioral analysis in graduate school and working daily with kids who have IEPs in the classroom, I am much better equipped to deal with them. On the flip side, when I am dealing with those students in the classroom, I have much more empathy for their situation and how I can help them to be successful because I know what works with my own kids. And both of those experiences feed into my writing.  I’m currently working on a picture book manuscript about a girl who refuses every invitation from her best friend– amusement parks, baseball games, sleepovers, you name it. She’s modeled on my younger son, whose first instinct to every new situation is “Not going.” I shared the story with one of my students at school — a girl who also struggles with anxiety– and she identified with my son’s struggle and gave me some insight I couldn’t get from a seven year old.

It’s been a long two weeks transitioning from the carefree summer, when I could spend much of my time focusing on writing, editing and feeding my creative soul with trips to the beach or the lake with my kids to the chaos of teaching high school full time.  I have been frustrated that I haven’t had time to send many queries to agents and publishers, and haven’t written a new manuscript or even a poem in two weeks. If you’re a writer with a full-time job, you’ve probably been where I am. But the kernel of hope in the chaos is that the busier life gets, the more material you are ultimately building for future use. I’m pretty sure I am going to get a killer idea pretty soon and then I will have to just make the time to get it written.

Speaking of killer ideas, I’m going to have to start getting inspired soon, because there are two major picture book writing events coming up! #PBPitch (another twitter pitch fest) is coming on October 27 (pbpitch.com for more info!) Then of course, November is NaNoWriMo for the novel writers in the world, but PB author Tara Lazar hosts “PiBoIdMo” (Picture Book Idea Month) which I participated in last year and hope to do again this year. I’ll be coming up with a book idea every day for a month! Inspiration, do your stuff!

Even before I got married and had children, I was a big fan of the animated kids video series “Veggie Tales.”  I can appreciate the values, and there’s some great music as well as some nerdy and quirky humor (If you are a Tolkein fan, you might just appreciate “Lord of the Beans.”) The creators have a photo of their children in the opening credits with the caption “Why we do what we do.” In the end, all three of my jobs are all about the kids.

How does your day job intersect with your hobbies and/or parenting? I’d love to hear in comments!

 

 

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Labor Day Reading: PB Reviews

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Well the summer is coming to a close and I’ve done pretty well with my goal of posting picture book reviews every two weeks. With school starting up on Tuesday, I don’t think I’ll get to reviews that often, but I will try to keep up with bi-weekly posts nonetheless. There are some amazing books out there, more coming all the time. It truly is a “golden age” for picture books! Enjoy!

41au2b1iglll-_sy410_bo1204203200_Title: They All Saw A Cat
Author/Illustrator: Brendan Wenzel
Publisher/Date: Chronicle Books (August 2016)
The “gist”: A cat wanders through the house and outside and everyone sees it but through their own perspective.
My favorite part: I loved the illustration near the end which was a Picasso-esque collage of the various views of the cat. It was fun to pick out where the bits and pieces came from.
My response as a reader:  I’ve seen mentions of this book on Twitter for a little while now and have been trying to guess what the title referred to.  It is a simple enough concept, but it was neat to see how the author played with the different perspectives– a bit like the old folk tale about the blind men and the elephant. It also has a real “Eric Carle” vibe as the cat goes from one person or animal to the next– I really think children would quite enjoy it.
My “take-away” as a writer: This book is filled with many key picture book elements: simple language, repetition, engaging illustrations and of course, a cat. I love the old-fashioned sounding phrase “The cat walked through the world with its whiskers, ears and paws…” which is repeated several times.  The one little bit that bothered me was That the cat on the cover appears to be simply black, while the one in the interior illustrations is clearly some form of tabby. Was this intentional to show that everyone sees the cat differently?

51xasjx2rql-_sx374_bo1204203200_Title: The Highest Mountain of Books in the World
Author/Illustrator: Rocio Bonilla
Publisher/Date: Peter Pauper Press (September 2016)
The “gist”: A boy has always wanted to fly, but when he discovers a love of books, he realizes there is more than one way to fly.
My favorite part: I loved the way my son picked apart the book by asking how the boy got more books to read if he refused to come down. He found the “tall tale” aspect very amusing. My favorite part of the book itself was the many nods to famous works of literature (think “Moby Dick”) in the illustrations.
My response as a reader: When the mother advises her son that there’s more than one way to fly, the title of the book certainly takes away any possible suspense. However, every lover of books will cheer along with him as he discovers his own love of reading.
My “take-away” as a writer: There’s a good balance in the book between the first half, in which the boy tries many ways to build his own wings to fly, and the second half, in which he builds and ever taller pile of books he has read, eventually reaching the sky. It’s a sparse text with a great feeling of magic and wonder. Probably not one I would read over and over again, but definitely a book that leaves you with a smile.

61nozsa6byl-_sx398_bo1204203200_Title: Even Superheroes Have Bad Days
Author: Shelly Becker
Illustrator:
Eda Kaban
Publisher/Date: Sterling Children’s Books (September 2016)
The “gist”: The title says it all– but just what do Superheroes do when life gets rough?
My favorite part: I love the end papers which give the superheroes names and personalities.
My response as a reader: I loved this book! As the mom of two boys, both of whom have social-behavioral issues AND love superheroes, it is a great example of “guerrilla education”– gently providing coping strategies for when kids are frustrated but wrapped up in fun rhymes and quirky illustrations. The pacing and style remind me a lot of Jane Yolen’s “How does a dinosaur…” series– and that’s not a bad thing!
My “take-away” as a writer: This is one of those books that make me think, “Dang! I wish I had written that!”  Writing good-quality rhyming work is extremely difficult, and Shelly Becker has done an excellent job here. And of course, superheroes are always popular, particularly now, so I can definitely sense a sequel!

51qmp48-m1l-_sx418_bo1204203200_Title: Ferocious Fluffity: A Mighty Bite-y Class Pet
Author: Erica S. Perl
Illustrator:
Henry Cole
Publisher/Date: Henry N. Abrams (July 2016)
The “gist”: Class 2-D has a new hamster for a class pet, but when their teacher is late to class, Fluffity goes on a biting rampage.
My favorite part: The illustrations really make this book– they pair beautifully with the perky rhymes.
My response as a reader:  My first response was how awesome that there was a picture book with a hamster as the main character.  My second thought was “Wait, Mr. Drake is late because he overslept? Who’s watching the students??” Granted, they get into trouble with the ferocious hamster, but there’s no mention of a sub in the room and at least they should have had that, right? I know, picky of me, but as a teacher, I think of those things. Kids probably wouldn’t be bothered. Nevertheless, the book was a lot of fun and my son loved the surprise at the end!
My “take-away” as a writer: Wow, two books in a row with super high-quality rhyme! The pacing here is super quick and feels so natural you hardly know it’s in rhyme at first. Along with the fun and vibrant illustrations I bet this will be a real crowd-pleaser.

51xsd4tyuvl-_sx397_bo1204203200_Title: The Pros and Cons of Being a Frog
Author/Illustrator: Sue deGennaro
Publisher/Date: Simon & Schuster/Paula Wiseman Books (August 2016)
The “gist”: The narrator’s friend Camille only talks in numbers, but the two are very close until the main character argues with her about designing a frog costume.
My favorite part: The book begins and ends with the sentence “Camille and I are quite different: Maybe that’s why I like her so much.” In the middle there’s a really lovely story of friendship.
My response as a reader:  When I looked up the publishing information for this book online, the synopsis called the main character a boy, but I read it as a girl (the character has short hair and is in costume for most of the book). I love that it is ambiguous– I think the book could appeal to both genders easily. Likewise, the fact that Camille speaks only in numbers and her friend has to learn “her language” to communicate with her but loves her anyway– what a wonderful concept! Nothing about this shouts Autism or any specific disability in any prescriptive way: it’s just about loving weirdness. And that’s awesome.
My “take-away” as a writer: Who would think that a fairly quiet book about a kid in a frog costume and a girl who speaks only in numbers could be successful? I’m encouraged that this book was published– it’s really wonderful and would appeal to all sorts of kids who might feel they are different.