Friday, July 19, 2013

Z is for Moose

I served as a member of the Texas 2x2 Reading List Committee for two years and chair for an additional two. I befriended a number of marketing reps for large and small publishing houses during my term as chair. Through emails, telephone conversations, and eventually face to face meetings I developed a close bond with some of these reps by the end of my term.

I clearly remember visiting the Harper Collins booth during the 2012 American Library Association Midwinter Conference in Dallas. As soon as Patty Rosati saw me she pulled me over to the children's section of the booth and grabbed a galley of a new book she knew I needed to see. That was the first time I saw Z is for Moose.

I read through the book and laughed at the antics of Moose. I fell in love with him and I knew right then and there it was a great contender for the 2013 2x2 Reading List. The problem, I would be rotating off the committee at the end of April! I tried to keep the galley, but Patty made me give it back to her. I think she even watched me as I walked out of the booth so I wouldn't go back and put it in my conference bag. I guess she knows me well enough to know when I love a book I will do just about anything to get a copy, even if it has yet to be published.

Thankfully the committee members who followed saw the same joy and laughter Moose would provide for so many children when they placed it on the 2013 Texas 2x2 Reading List!

Z is for Moose
written by Kelly Bingham
illustrated by Paul O. Zelinsky
Have you ever tried to read a children's picture book without looking at the illustrations? Well, that is exactly what I tried to do with Z is for Moose. I have to say it is nearly impossible to read without having the image of Moose trying to take over the spotlight from the various items representing each of the letters. Now, he does not barge onto every page, but he is lurking, just waiting for his time to shine!

Children of all ages will laugh out loud at the antics of Moose, but I'm sure they will see themselves as well. We all want to be accepted and acknowledged. Moose is no different. We can all relate to Moose's disappointment when he is overlooked for his letter. But, don't worry, Bingham has made a happy ending for all when Moose is brought into the spotlight. Now, for those of you who have not had the great fortune to read this fun book yet, I want you to think about how Z is for Moose! Just for fun, write it down, then read the book to see if you were right. I don't want to give it away because it is just such a perfect ending for a book written especially for children in the range of the Texas 2x2 Reading List - age two to grade two!

I want you to also look at all of the illustrations very carefully. Look at how masterfully Zelinsky (I think he really loves this book because of the big bold Z) opens the book. Be sure to look at the line of characters standing in front of the stairs. When you open to the dedication page, you can see them a little better. Be sure to observe the details he has included.  Then, when you start reading the text, focus on some of the details. Study the text and how it is jumbled across some the pages. Every detail has been carefully placed so the person reading this alphabet book, can actually tell what each letter should represent.

I love this book! I love the text. I love the illustrations. I have to say it is a beautiful union of two great talents. I not only enjoyed the laughter this book brings, but also the sentimental message at the end.

As you can probably guess, I most highly recommend Z is for Moose for any personal and library collection. It is most suited for ages two to grade two, but I think children of all ages will enjoy this romp through the alphabet.

If you LOVE Moose as much as I do, then check out the blog Ms. Bingham has set up - Moose on Earth. It is fun to see all of the places Moose will turn up.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Paul O. Zelinsky

I will be posting a spotlight interview with author and illustrator Paul O. Zelinsky soon. I would like to provide a bit of background information about Mr. Zelinsky to my readers prior to this piece.

According to the 1999 edition of Talking with Artists, Volume 3 (published by Clarion Books) he was "born quite young, at about age zero" (pg. 82) on February 14, 1953 in Evanston, Illinois. His mother was a medical artist and his father a mathematician. He developed a love of drawing at an early age and created his "first recognizable drawing: a scribbly circle with two jabs for eyes and a crosswise slash for a mouth" (pg.82) at the age of eighteen months calling it "Baby! Boy!" He has been drawing since, and been quite successful. Zelinksy has been awarded three Caldecott Honors (one of only five illustrators who have been awarded this honor three different times) for Hansel and Gretel (1985), Rumpelstiltskin (1987), and Swamp Angel (1995), and was presented with the highest recognition for illustrations in picture books for children in 1998 for Rapunzel.

Hansel and Gretel
written by Rika Lesser
illustrated by Paul O. Zelinsky
Hansel and Gretel, the first of his honored books, is filled with beautifully detailed oil paintings. According to the illustrator information in the opening pages of the book, he "grew up with a picture of Hansel and Gretel standing hand in hand before a house made of cake and candy, with dark forest all around" which was painted by his great-grandmother. When going through this book, retold by Rika Lesser, the story can easily be "read" through merely looking at the illustrations. With intricate details, in and around the home, including two cats, at least three lizards, a snail, and a chameleon, you can discover something new each time you browse the paintings.

retold and illustrated by Paul O. Zelinsky
Two years later, Zelinsky was again honored for his illustrations. This time for his retelling of Rumpelstiltskin. Like Hansel and Gretel the pages are filled with great detail. However, in this story about a young miller's daughter who can spin straw into gold with the help of a mysterious little man, Zelinsky has the opportunity to use his artistic talent to create even more charmingly detailed paintings of his characters and their surroundings. Where Hansel and Gretel were poor young children who only encountered great wealth at the end of the book, the miller's daughter is surrounded by the magnificence of the king's castle and all the details within. Architectural features such as the column capitals, decorative art pieces like the tapestries hanging on the castle wall, even the granite wall of the castle show how precisely Zelinsky is when creating his illustrations. In the "Note on the Text" piece at the end of Rumpelstiltskin, Zelinsky discusses how he based the text "principally on the 1819" story and he "added a few lines where it seemed necessary." He added elements "from the earlier versions, hoping to create a text best suited for a picture book." 

Swamp Angel
written by Anne Isaacs
illustrated by Paul O. Zelinsky
In 1995, Zelinsky received his third Caldecott Honor for the illustrations in Anne Isaacs's Swamp Angel, a Tennessee tall tale about the amazing exploits of Angelica Longrider, also known as Swamp Angel. Similar to the previous work in medium, oil, the art work seems to be more homey and comfortable, like the Tennessee countryside he is depicting throughout. The wood grain frames surrounding each of the illustrations (each piece is actually painted on wood veneer) helps to create this country vibe. When looking at the paintings for Swamp Angel, I am reminded of the style of Anna Mary Robertson "Grandma" Moses, with the rolling hillsides and the American people in the late 19th century.
retold and illustrated by Paul O. Zelinsky
The Caldecott Awards committee presented Mr. Zelinsky with the award for the most distinguished American picture book for children" for a book he not only illustrated, but also retold, Rapunzel. When reading his version, we are transported to Italy. Zelinsky's attempts of creating an Italian Renaissance gallery through the pages of this book are a huge success. The details are phenomenal and one can easily see why it was chosen for the highly coveted award.

When looking at the art from Hansel and GretelRumpelstiltskinSwamp Angel, and Rapunzel side by side it is very obvious the pieces have been masterfully created by the same talented artist. Each panel could easily be pulled from the book, hung in a gilded frame, and displayed for all to see. I love the way he has brought the style of the masters into picture books. In these books for children, he does not play on the whimsy of the typical picture book. 

I would hope you have been exposed to all of the above titles, especially with their honors and awards. However, Mr. Zelinsky is not just the illustrator for these three titles. He has been illustrating for children's books since 1977, when he created the illustrations for Avi's Emily Upham's Revenge: A Massachusetts Adventure. For a complete list of all of his books, you can visit his website. This is a great resource for learning how each of the book's illustrations were created.

His latest illustrations appear in a book authored by Kelly Bingham, Z is for Moose. It is an E.B. White Read-Aloud Honor Book, named to the 2013 Texas 2x2 Reading List, on the Best Picture Books of 2012 by Amazon, an American Library Association Notable Book, and named A Best Children's Book of the Year from Bank Street. I will be posting a review of this wonderful book soon.

Cummings, Pat. Talking with Artists. Clarion Books: New York, 1999.
Isaacs, Anne. Swamp Angel. Paul O. Zelinsky. Dutton Children's Books: New York, 1994.
Lesser, Rika. Hansel and Gretel. Paul O. Zelinsky. Putnam: New York, 1984.
"Paul O. Zelinsky." Contemporary Authors Online. Detroit: Gale, 2006.
    Biography In Context.  Web. 17 July 2013.
Zelinsky, Paul O. Rapunzel. Dutton Children's Books: New York, 1997. 
Zelinsky, Paul O. Rumpelstiltskin. Puffin Books: New York, 1986.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Author Spotlight - Jeannie Mobley

I am hoping to step out of my comfortable box and try something new. I will continue to read and review books (for all readers) on this blog, but I would now like to allow you to meet some of the authors and illustrators who create these fantastic books I share with you.

Jeannie Mobley
Today, my first Author Spotlight will be with Jeannie Mobley, the author of Katerina's Wish, her debut novel for grades 3 - 7. 

When reading about Ms. Mobley, I discovered the idea for Katerina's Wish came from a dream. "I dreamed that I had had a prosperous farm and my family had gone broke and lost it. In the dream, I was standing on a bridge over a creek, looking down into the water. As I stood there, a fish just under the surface of the water told me to make a wish, and I wished for the farm. That's where I woke up, and immediately I thought, that would be a great start for a novel! Later, I decided I would rather have the characters be immigrants, making their way in America for the first time. I also decided that I wanted their struggles and triumphs to be real. Success in a new land isn't easy, and I didn't want a magic fish to make it easy for my immigrant family either, so I decided the magical elements of the story should be ambiguous." (author's website)

Ms. Mobley has excellent resources for aspiring writers. She has posted a number of her grandmother's photos. "What happened right before this photo was taken? Right after?" (author's website

I used these images as the basis for my first question of the author. 

Do any of the incidents in the book come from family experiences?

Not exactly. As a kid I loved to sit around and hear the older generation tell their stories when my dad's family got together, so that comes to play in the character of Old Jan. I hope I was able to invoke the warmth and comfort I always felt in those gatherings into the book. But for the most part, specific incidents that came from real life were not things from my own family, but from others. I read a number of oral histories, and some of the more striking or moving events inspired similar events in my story. The remarriage of Martina to her dead husband's best friend was based on a real occurrence. In real life, the widow remarried on the same day as her husband's funeral, because the priest was there for the funeral and could bless the wedding. I originally wrote it that way in the book, but it was changed to a longer time span during revisions, because various readers found it too implausible she would have married that same day. Just goes to show that life can be stranger than fiction.

Katerina's Wish
by Jeannie Mobley

I thoroughly enjoyed reading Katerina's Wish and became attached to the characters.

Have you considered writing a sequel?

Several readers and reviewers have asked for one, but I don't have any plan for one at this time. For one thing, I like the hopeful feeling of the end of the book, as the family heads off to pursue their dream on a farm. But the truth is, farming was hard, dangerous work too in those days. In fact, in 1900 fully half of the work-place deaths in the country occurred in two industries. You guessed it: coal mining and farming. And since a good book needs conflict, I think the family would have to encounter these dangers and disappointments on the farm. So to me, a sequel would risk turning the message of "strive for your dream and you can achieve it" to "strive for your dream to achieve it and discover that life's pretty rotten there too!"

I've noticed, however, that many people who ask for a sequel really want to know what is going to happen between Mark and Trina. I've had reader suggestions ranging all the way from "they need to get married! to "Mark should die!" The continuation of Mark's story might be a sequel I would consider one day writing.

I think that would be a wonderful idea. Mark had his own dreams and it would be interesting to see how he would go about reaching for his own American dream. I really like that twist. It is kind of like a spin off series.

How did you come up with the character names?

I did a lot of searches of Czech names, and picked ones that felt unique to the culture but also familiar. The trickiest name in the book is Old Jan's, which is the Czech equivalent of John. Like in German, the J is pronounced as a Y, so the name should be pronounced like "yawn". Most people don't read it that way. I kind of regret using that name, because I find myself correcting readers, and then thinking, "oh, that was rude of me!"

Trina's family's last name is Prochazka (or Prochazkova for the women). This is a fairly common Czech surname, and I chose it for the family name because it means "wanderer." Since this is an immigrant story, I thought it was a fitting name.

I am so glad you shared the meaning of the family surname. What a wonderful bit of inside information. It does fit very well with the story and the family's pursuit of their dreams.

What information surprised you the most when conducting the research for this book?

I had done a lot of coal mine history research while working on a museum exhibit several years before writing this book, so in that regard, there weren't many surprises. I was surprised at how difficult it was to find some of the specific details I needed. Like prices of things in 1901. Back then, store ads didn't often list prices, even if something was on sale. Mail-order companies like Sears and Montgomery Wards had catalogs with prices for bigger items, but I needed prices for small things, and also the going rate in the local area. I spent hours and hours scanning through old newspapers on microfilm to put together a list of prices for things like a can of plums.

If you were granted three wishes, what would you wish?

Hmm. There are a lot of frivolous things that tempt me, but I think first I would have to wish for safe and happy lives for my kids. Second, the anthropologist in me would wish for a more equitable distribution of food and resources in the world. For my third wish, I'm feeling pretty torn between world peace or eradicating the bindweed and thistle form my yard once and for all. Either is about equally unlikely to happen without a magic carp.

Speaking of the anthropologist in you, I understand you recently stepped back from your full time position teaching anthropology. Are you now working in your dream career?

Both anthropology (specifically archaeology) and writing fiction have been my dream careers for some time, and balancing them has been tricky. I do intend to continue to pursue both, and stepping down from the job I was in seemed like the best way for me to focus more on the things that are important to me in both careers. I will be teaching anthropology part time, and that will hopefully give me more time for research in archaeology, which is near and dear to my heart, as well as to write fiction. If I don't go broke, that will make it a dream job scenario. It was a risky decision, but then, if I don't take the lesson from my book, who will?

What a wonderful way to look at your life and how your story connects to you personally. What lesson would you want your readers to take away from Katerina's Wish?

Well, the clear message of the book is one of hope and faith. Believe in your dreams and be willing to work for them. Take risks for the things that are important to you. But I think there are other take-aways from the book as well, about immigration and the history of corporate-worker relations in this country. I do think Americans often tend to look at these complex issues too simply. I think a little historical perspective on these things that have remained issues throughout our history is useful.

How many books do you have in the planning stages? Are you willing to share any informaiton at this time?

Well, that's a tricky question. I always have a whole bunch of book ideas rattling around in my head. My second book, Searching for Silverheels will come out in Fall 2014, also from Margaret K. McElderry Books. It is the story of 13-year-old Pearl Rose Barnell, a romantic girl who waits tables in the Silverheels Café and delights in telling tourists the local legend of the dancehall girl Silverheels. But, as the summer of 1917 heats up, so too does the First World War, along with accusations of un-American behavior and the outrageous fanaticism of a local suffragist, with whom Pearl has taken a potentially dangerous bet.

In addition, I have two other manuscripts which I hope will soon be on their way to publication, and three more that are somewhere in the idea/writing stages. It's too early to share information on those, but they include both historical and contemporary stories, for both middle grade and young adult readers.

I can't wait to read about Pearl and the suffragist. I think I see another great storyteller in this book. I have to say that was one of my favorite elements of Katerina's Wish, Old Jan and his stories. I love to listen to stories almost as much as I love to read.

What was the last book you read?

Right now I'm in the middle of Kissing Shakespeare by Pam Mingle, which I'm loving. Before that, Grave Mercy by Robin LeFevers, and Parched by Melanie Crowder, which is just out. I'd recommend all three!

I understand Jeff Kinney (author of Diary of a Wimpy Kid) loves to sing 80s hair band songs while doing karaoke. What would be your featured song?

I've actually never done karaoke, but I am part of my agency's "house band," Erin Murphy's Dog. We perform at our agency retreats. This year, my favorite song to perform was "You and I," an Ingrid Michaelson tune, but I think the song that resonates with us as the agency's "theme song" is Jason Mraz's "I'm Yours," because it's all about sharin' the love!

Erin Murphy's Dog
left to right - C.G. Watson, Arthur Levine, Mike Jung, Shayla Armstrong,
Deborah Underwood, Kristin Nitz (back), Ruth McNally Barshaw,
Jeannie Mobley, and Conrad Wesslehoeft
You have stated your tastes are eclectic. Is there something about yourself that would surprise your readers?

Ah, so now we get to the True Confessions part. Sadly, I can't think of anything wildly scandalous to share. One thing that has surprised some of my readers who have read my blog or Facebook posts is that my book isn't funny. My blogger voice is a humorous one, and I tend to get pretty goofy online. For example, I took dares to do an interpretive dance about dead chickens, and a reading from my book dressed as a chicken (and in a terrible fake accent). A lot of people who got to know me online said, "I can't wait to read your book--I know it's going to be so funny!" Right. Because there's nothing quite as hilarious as life in a coal camp circa 1900. And my next book? World War I, smallpox epidemics, suffragists being arrested. Oh yeah. It's a laugh a minute, folks. I tried to warn people, "The book isn't funny!" and they kept saying, "Oh, haha, Jeannie, you're being so modest. Of course it will be funny." So, yeah. SURPRISE! I do have some humorous books in the works, but by the time those come out, people will have this impression of me as very serious from Katerina's Wish and Searching for Silverheels. I like to keep 'em guessing.

Is there anything else you would like to share about yourself?

Only that I am happy to announce that Katerina's Wish won this year's Colorado Book Award. I'm pleased that my story, that tells a little-known bit of Colorado's history has been recognized this way. I hope it inspires young readers to see the stories in their local histories, and to find hope in their own dreams.

I would like to take this opportunity to thank Jeannie Mobley for her time in answering these questions. I think she has provided a great insight into her wonderful debut novel Katerina's Wish and I look forward to reading Searching for Silverheels in a little over a year.

Jeannie Mobley is married with two children. She lives in Colorado in a home with a Winnie the Pooh wallpapered bathroom. She has three cats, 1 dog, and does her creative writing by hand. Katerina’s Wish is her first novel and was published by Margaret K. McElderry Books in 2012. In addition to the Colorado Book Award, Katerina’s Wish has been named to the NYPL 100 Titles for Reading and Sharing – Stories for Older Readers. Mobley is represented by Erin Murphy Literary Agency.

Katerina’s Wish has been reviewed in the following publications:

  • Booklist – starred review
  • Kirkus Reveiws – starred review
  • Publishers Weekly – starred review
  • School Library Journal