Category Archives: children’s books

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Mix ‘n’ Match

 

One of the fans of my client Chris Grabenstein wrote me recently expressing his disappointment that it’s been so long since Chris wrote one of his adult mysteries or thrillers. Since Chris took off as a rock star of Middle Grade with ESCAPE FROM MR. LEMONCELLO’S LIBRARY, WELCOME TO WONDERLAND: HOME SWEET MOTEL, and his James Patterson collaborations, he has not had a moment to return to the adult fare—his John Ceepak mysteries and his holiday-themed suspense thrillers—with which he made his start. They were terrific, and a lot of readers miss them.

 

Good writing is good writing, whether it’s Middle Grade, YA, or adult, and there are many writers like Chris who have excelled in writing for more than one age group. Roald Dahl is one of the first who springs to mind. These days he is better remembered for his iconic children’s books, but he was equally celebrated for his very dark adult work, including the novel MY UNCLE OSWALD and some deliciously nasty short stories like LAMB TO THE SLAUGHTER and GEORGY PORGY.  And, of course, Rick Riordan launched himself with his Tres Navarre adult mystery series before finding his Middle Grade niche with Percy Jackson. Judy Blume spent a career writing children’s novels and then surprised everyone with the risqué  WIFEY, which became a bestseller and led to two more adult novels.

 

You can even go back to A. A. Milne. Beloved for his Winnie-the-Pooh books,  he was equally well known in England for his plays, and for his detective novel THE RED HOUSE MYSTERY. He even found lucrative work as a screenwriter in the silent-film era.

 

Sometimes a writer has to try on a lot of different hats before finding the one that fits. And sometimes, several different hats will fit just fine. Please feel free to let me know your favorite examples of authors who have found success writing in more than one age category.

Where do we go from here?

I wasn’t sure what to write today.  After the election that has left so many people feeling angry, lost and in a state of shock, what could I share that would make a difference?

So when  my talented client, Jenni L. Walsh, shared her new blog post with me about her path to publication, I thought it was worth sharing with all of you. It speaks to the grit, determination, perseverance, and yes, setbacks, we all face in life. What matters isn’t what happens around you, it’s how you handle it to make the best life possible for yourself and everyone around you. Obviously that means very different things for different people, but in this case and for our blog where we talk about books and writing and publishing, it felt like a very applicable story to share. Jenni’s road wasn’t fast or easy, and given her many other obligations, she had decided she was going to quit writing. Maybe not forever, maybe for a period of time while her kids were small and she was working and too busy to spend the time writing books that were never going to get published, or so it seemed.

And then an amazing thing happened. The first book sold! And soon after I spoke with an editor at Scholastic who wanted to start a nonfiction series for middle grade readers about strong brave young women, and Jenni did a proposal and we sold the first two books of a new series. We’re developing other projects and Jenni’s hard work is finally paying off.

I hope you find some inspiration here, and perhaps that extra burst of motivation to help you keep going when you feel like you’ve been punched in the gut and you just can’t do it anymore. There can be a silver lining, a path to publication, a road to a better future. Let’s keep thinking about that as we navigate these new and uncharted waters ahead.

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Bringing picture books to life

Picture books are a relatively new category for me. Not in terms of reading, with four kids eleven and under, but in terms of books I’ve represented. The experience has been fascinating and while there is a learning curve, the joy of seeing something so visually stunning created by an author is really an amazing process to watch unfold.

My client, Christie Matheson, is an extremely talented author-illustrator who is currently finishing her third picture book, PLANT THE TINY SEED (which will be out January 24th). Her books focus on the beauty and simplicity of nature and how much there is to see if we really spend the time to look and pay attention. There’s magic everywhere, as she so cleverly describes in her first book, TAP THE MAGIC TREE. Below you’ll see some beautiful sketches that Christie was kind enough to share with me so I could share them with you.

I saw this article written by illustrator Eliza Wheeler which describes her illustration process for her most recent book, THIS IS OUR BABY, BORN TODAY, written by Varsha Bajaj. It’s incredible to see the research, time and attention to detail that goes into creating the art for a picture book. What appears on the page is likely based on hundreds of hours of work by the artist and those she’s working with to bring the book to life.

Despite numerous setbacks requiring extensive additional work during the development process of THIS IS OUR BABY, the mission was finally accomplished and all agree the book is a beautiful piece of work. As a writer, no matter what your process looks like, when you are feeling frustrated or insecure, the takeaway here is to keep your eye on the end result. Sometimes you need to regroup and take a break along the way to get feedback, make changes, and ensure the project is what you want it to be.

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Take a look, it’s NOT just in a book…

This afternoon one of my clients tweeted a link to this Atlas Obscura piece on the Real-Life Homes of the Heroes of Children’s Literature, and I was instantly entranced:

Some of my favorites are mapped here, including Betsy, Tacy, and Tib’s version of Milwaukee plus the author’s childhood home in nearby Mankato, Minnesota and, closer to the DGLM office, Lorimer Street where a tree grew in Brooklyn (Williamsburg to be exact, and a very different version thereof!). But some other favorites are missing from this piece, such as the Victoria and Albert Museum in London that Pauline, Petrova, and Posy walked to on wet days in Ballet Shoes. And, as the authors smartly point out, some childhood favorites can never be visited, like Narnia or Hogwarts. What wouldn’t I give to visit the Berenstain Bears’ treehouse!!

Funnily enough, I don’t think I’ve ever actually trekked to any of the altars I worshipped at as a childhood bookworm. And I wonder if it’s ever really worth it to see the places in real life that once lived so vividly in your imagination—wouldn’t some of the sheen be rubbed off when you view it with your own two experienced worldly adult eyes? Even if it’s not a place you go to physically. I’ve been very much enjoying this series on What Children’s Literature Teaches Us About Money over at The Billfold. The Little House on the Prairie world seems slightly less appealing once you reach adulthood and realize the real-world implications of twisting straw to burn for warmth and, oh yeah, Pa’s all-controlling patriarchy. And I loathed Marilla for refusing Anne her much-longed-for puffed-sleeves as sheer spite because the pragmatic view of fabric costs was somehow lost on me. On the other hand, when I first moved to NYC and was a starving, exhausted bookseller, I took heart in Claudia and Jamie’s example of thrift and ingenuity in The Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler.

So I’m not sure, in the end, if I am for or against making your childhood favorites come to life. I’ll think about it while I’m re-reading the works of Montgomery, Streatfeild, and Lovelace this long weekend.

What children’s book site would you most want to visit? Any great awakenings of a scene in a kids’ book that seemed totally different when you read it as an adult?

The inside scoop on writing for kids

All you aspiring writers out there – don’t you sometimes wish you could sit down with an experienced editor and ask a book’s worth of questions about children’s book publishing? Well, your wish has been granted in the form of a new book written by children’s book editor and author Cheryl B. Klein.

Her site alone is full of good information for aspiring authors but it’s her new book, THE MAGIC WORDS: WRITING GREAT BOOKS FOR CHILDREN AND  YOUNG ADULTS that is really going to give you the inside track.

In case you don’t know, the publisher she works for as the Executive Editor, Arthur A. Levine Books, an imprint of Scholastic, published a little series called Harry Potter. Arthur Levine is the genius editor who recognized its market potential and bought it for the U.S. market. Their list is incredible and it’s a very small team that acquires and edits all of their books. She’s worked on a range of books, from picture books to YA, and she even worked on the last two books in the Harry Potter series.

THE MAGIC WORDS  itself has been generating good response and positive reviews. Booklist, a trade publication, gave it a starred review.  They describe it like this:  “For anyone wishing to write for young readers, Klein’s remarkable new book will be a sine qua non, an indispensable, authoritative guide to the act, art, and craft of creation. An editor for 15 years, Klein clearly knows her apples about the writing—and publishing—process and demonstrates an extraordinary gift for analyzing it, breaking it into its constituent parts, and reducing those parts to other parts until an essential kernel of truth is uncovered.”

Seems to me it’s more than a worthwhile investment (of under $20!) to learn about the unique craft of writing fiction for children from one of the best and brightest in the business. How she had time to write this book is beyond me, but I’m very glad she did so I can share it with all of you!

Potter mania!

I know I’m not the only one talking about Harry Potter these days. The new “book”, which is really the published version of the play currently running in London (oh, how I wish I could go!) went on sale this week and the frenzy is out of control.

Publisher’s Weekly reports here that sales have already topped 2 million copies, in North America alone. I admit I’m one of those who preordered the book as soon as I heard it was becoming available. I actually realized that I did it twice so now have 2 copies on their way! Midnight parties across the country attracted kids and adults of all ages.

I just love how a fictional character has caused such a stir in popular culture. It’s such a positive reminder of the lasting impact books can have in a time when there is so much negativity being put out into the media. It’s incredible and practically unfathomable to me that a published play could achieve this level of success. I love theater so it’s heartening to me to know that this medium can generate big numbers, as evidenced by this new Harry Potter as well as the huge success of Hamilton (my other current obsession, more exciting news to come on that in a later post).

We’ve had our own version of Potter fever around here lately. While my oldest daughter is away at sleepaway camp, her younger sister dressed up as Harry for Halloween in July at camp (photo below). I was impressed with how she put the costume together with adult glasses and the scar drawn on a piece of scotch tape, and it helped we still have our wands from our amazing visit to Potter World at Universal in Florida last November.

Have you ordered your copy of Cursed Child yet? If you have and you’ve read it, please let us know what you think. Michiko Kakutani’s review in the New York Times was very positive and she’s one tough critic. She actually refers to it as “a compelling, stay-up-all-night read.” I’m so excited to dive back into the wonderful world of Harry Potter and read it with all the girls when Sam’s back from camp. Will let you know how it goes!

ps- my first copy arrived while I was writing this post, and it’s a beautiful book:

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Animals & Reading

My heart was recently broken this week by this HuffPost article that announced that Browser, the resident library cat of White Settlement Public Library in Texas was being evicted by the city council. He’s lived in the library for over five years (first brought in to help with a mouse problem). Although Browser doesn’t serve an educational purpose, he’s clearly become a fixture in the community—a petition had over 600 signatures to keep Browser in the library—and it got me thinking about the ways that animals can be involved in our reading experiences. Whether it’s your cat obstinately sitting across your book or a dog draped across your feet as you read, many of us have had the company of our pets as we peruse a book. I was pleasantly surprised to find that animals are involved with reading all over the place, with positive benefits for all parties involved.

LOOK AT THAT FACE. And his BOWTIE.

Take, for instance, the Reading with Rover program, sponsored by Animal Friends in Pittsburgh. Shy or struggling readers in grades one through three practice their reading skills by reading out loud to dogs. ARF! is another program sponsored by All for Animals, with a similar idea, for kids grades K-6. On the flip side, one Humane Society in Missouri has started the Shelter Buddies Reading Program, where kids 6-15 can sign up to read to shy or fearful dogs in the shelter and undergo a 10 hour training program. The program director says it helps give the dogs social interaction (which can help them get adopted faster), without pushing physical interaction upon them; young readers simply sit outside their kennel and read aloud. The New Hampshire SPCA also has a similar program.

If there had been something like this in my neighborhood as a kid, I totally would have volunteered. I think it’s a lovely measure that has advantages for everyone involved and one that’s hopefully instilling pleasant and positive memories in young readers who participate! I’d love to hear your thoughts on the matter!

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I believe the children are our future

coverRegular readers of the DGLM blog will already know that I dote on my nephews, and that reading is one of our strongest bonds. The two little goons had their first day of summer vacation this week and asked their mom if they could spend it reading, which pleases me to no end.

Luckily I got to spend this past weekend with them, where I planned to work with them on making a “book.” They’re already fascinated with the fact that their aunt makes books happen—the older one, who I call Fidge, refuses to leave a bookstore without looking for my name in some books, even proudly showing it off to strangers in the same aisle, and the little one, who I call Gus, thinks that my job is International Secret Agent.  Imagine my delight when I arrived at my mother’s this weekend to see that they had already taken it upon themselves to make their own books, without my ever suggesting it.  Fidge wasn’t done with his yet, so I’ll have to wait till next time.

back coverBut Gus?  Gus not only finished his book, he read it to me, then turned it over with a flourish to read the title page that he tells me says “By At Lauren.”  (Having the title page on the back cover is a really bold move. He’s going to really change things up in publishing, I think.) While I don’t actually recommend that new authors sign over their copyright to publishing professionals just to curry favor, I can’t help but be touched.

interiorFor those of you who don’t read Gus-ese, the book is about a turtle who is lonely because he doesn’t have any friends. Then a shark swims by and tells him that he wants to be the turtle’s friend. And then they are friends forever.  I couldn’t be prouder to have “written” it. Picture book editors, shoot me an email if you’re interested.

 

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Books that spark joy!

As many of you might already know, I’m a bit of the office optimist. I love stories that inspire, delight, and enlighten. I also am a huge fan of Ann Patchett, both her writing and her overall persona. I love that she opened an independent bookstore in Nashville, and I also love that she periodically writes for their blog.

I was pleased to see this post she wrote about books that spark joy. The list describes books she personally finds joy in, and then she gives some suggestions from her staff so there are a lot of good suggestions.

Patchett  got the idea from another employee at the store who had written about books that make you cry. The reason we all read is ultimately for the emotional , spiritual or intellectual response elicited from a writer’s words. Depending on your place in life, the books that have meaning at that time can make a lasting impact.

As a child, Judy Blume did this for me, as well as Torey Hayden’s books about troubled kids. In college, it was fiction like Donna Tartt’s The Secret History that made me want to get into the world of books. I remember walking to campus in Boston reading while I walked because it was so good. This was long before distractions were digital!

When I started working in working in publishing, I worked for Polygram Filmed Entertainment  in development and read Sleepers by Lorenzo Carcaterra overnight after faxing the ENTIRE MANUSCRIPT to LA. Then I found joy and solace in writers like Ann Patchett and Annie Proulx. I loved The Shipping News.

Today it’s more about narrative nonfiction like Brain on Fire and When Breath Becomes Air and psychological commercial women’s fiction from authors like Liane Moriarty and Gillian Flynn. And of course the children’s books I read with my kids. The Harry Potter series is an overall favorite, mostly because my eleven-year-old is obsessed with it, and two out of four are loving Wonder right now. They all loved my client Cecilia Galante’s upcoming touching and heartwarming The World from Up Here.

The idea of books that spark joy, and elicit that positive response that makes us feel good is such a coveted pleasure of reading that I love thinking about it in those terms.

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It’s never too late to start writing

What do you think about waiting until you’re almost 80 to start a new career? If you’re legendary book editor Dick Jackson, the answer is no time like the present!

As reported in a fascinating article in Publisher’s Weekly, Jackson retired from book publishing in 2005 after a long and very successful career as a children’s book editor. It was in 2013 when he was being treated for cancer that this creativity as an author was piqued and he began pitching ideas to former colleagues. He is still in treatment and his cancer is not in remission, and yet he now has 8 (yes, that’s 8!) picture books under contract! The first of which, HAVE A LOOK, SAYS BOOK, has just been published by Atheneum, where he previously had his own imprint. At the age of 81, he is making his debut as an author! And what a debut it is, with illustrations by Kevin Hawkes. Future books will be illustrated by Jerry Pinkney and Laura Vaccaro Seeger. It helps to have the kind of deep experience and relationships in children’s book publishing that he has, but even so it’s an amazing journey he’s taken from editor to author, especially given the circumstances of his age and health.

I hope this story serves as inspiration for those of you aspiring writers who might be feeling discouraged or frustrated that the process isn’t always fun, fast or rewarding. You never know when or how that might change and you will get the spark that becomes your first published book. Keep on keeping on!