Three Cheers for Tori Corn and Nancy Cote’s, Dixie Wants an Allergy!

Yesterday The Corner Bookstore was buzzing with excitement, as eager fans came out in droves to celebrate the launch of Tori Corn and Nancy Cote’s picture book, Dixie Wants an Allergy.

Dixie-CornerBookstore

Nancy Cote and Tori Corn

Nancy Cote and Tori Corn

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“Dixie Wants an Allergy provides a comical and engaging approach for children who are beginning to learn about and who are coping with allergies—and who also have trouble finding what makes them unique. Corn’s playful text and Cote’s inviting illustrations encourage children to accept those with differences while learning that wanting what others have is not always a good idea.” (Source: Sky Pony Press)

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Julie Matysik, Nancy Cote, Liza Fleissig, Tori Corn, Ginger Harris 

Cookies

And check out these adorable, not to mention delicious, cookies!

If you are interested in purchasing a copy of Dixie Wants an Allergy, please stop by The Corner Bookstore, 1313 Madison Avenue, at the corner of 93rd Street, New York, New York. (If you stop by, I promise you’ll have a hard time leaving! :) ) You may also contact The Corner Bookstore at (212) 831-3554, or via email at info@cornerbookstorenyc.com.

Dixie is also available online at Barnes and Noble and Amazon.

Congratulations Tori and Nancy! What an amazing evening!

Do Writers Ever Take Vacation?

Whether I’m stepping away from my laptop or putting away my pen and notepad, I still find myself thinking about my stories. I have an extremely hard time shutting down my writing brain.

But this past week, I decided to do a temporary shut down—or at least put my writing brain in a kind of semi-pause mode. We were in Paris for my seven-year old’s spring break, and I just wanted to step away from mice, witches, wolves, pigs and peacocks, and absorb everything around me.

eiffel tower day - cloudy

I love Paris. I lived in Paris and Normandy for a number of years when I was a child, not to mention my stepmother is from Brittany, so going back to Paris is very personal. It feels like going home. And when I’m there, I have these wonderful flashbacks to my childhood—learning how to ride my bike on Rue de Bellechase, watching the puppet show in the Tuileries, and trekking to Joe Allen’s for burgers and apple pie. What can I say, we were still Americans. :) And I keep hoping that when my son looks back at his childhood, he’ll have his own cherished memories of Paris.

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On the Seine

For this trip, we rented an apartment in my old hood, the 7th arrondissement, down the block from my old school, and within walking distance to the Eiffel Towel and the Tuileries. The location could not have been better.Rue de Grenelle

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My old school

We did a bunch of touristy things—went to the top of the Eiffel Tower, visited the Catacombs, took a ride on the Bateau Mouche, and did a world-wind tour of the Pompidou Centre.

Catacombs

Catacombs

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View of Notre Dame from Bateau Mouche 

At the Musée Grevin, the wax museum, I got the chance to catch up with my friend, Gerard Depardieu, and my husband managed to practice some of his karate moves with Jackie Chan. My son also enjoyed learning about the process of making a wax figure.

front of musee grevin

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Me and Gerard Depardieu

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Michael and Jackie Chan 

process of making a wax figure

And when in Paris, we naturally indulged in the food. How can you not? We pretty much ate our way from arrondissement to arrondissement, and not once did we cheat from our Nutella banana crepe-a-day diet! :)

But the highlight of the trip was catching up with old friends and visiting the Luxembourg Gardens. In the Luxembourg Gardens, there’s an enclosed supervised play area. It costs a few euros to enter. The play area has climbing structures and jungle gyms for kids of all ages, including a replica of the Eiffel Tower, for the seven and older crowd. To my delight, my son started playing with a group of three or four children. I was hopeful he’d pick up some French words or at least try to use the few that he knew. But then I heard the mother of one of the kids yell out, “Speak French with the little boy,” and one of the kids shouted back, “But he speaks English!” Turns out they were from New York too.

Noah in Luxembourg Gardens

And while I was watching my son play, my writing brain started up again. But instead of drifting to my old stories, I started to think of new ones. So, perhaps a vacation, even a temporary one, wasn’t such a bad idea after all.

The Little Prince, A New York Story

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Yesterday I had the extra-special treat of meeting up with fellow blogger, picture book writer, and Francophile, Laura Sassi, at The Morgan Library & Museum to view their exhibit of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s original manuscript and watercolor drawings of The Little Prince.

The exhibit focuses on the two-year period from 1941-1943 when Saint-Exupéry was living in Manhattan and Long Island, having been exiled from France during World War II.

Before leaving New York to re-enter the war effort as a reconnaissance pilot, he gave his friend Sylvia Hamilton a rumpled paper bag containing the manuscript and illustrations for The Little Prince.  He told her, “I’d like to give you something splendid, . . . but this is all I have.” (Source: http://www.themorgan.org/exhibitions/exhibition.asp?id=90)

The exhibit features 25 of the manuscript pages and all 43 of the book’s earliest versions of the illustrations. The manuscript pages are handwritten rough drafts, replete with cross-outs, rips, stains and cigarette burns.  You really get a sense of Saint-Exupéry’s meticulousness and attention to detail—not to mention his pure genius—when you read through his notes, and see his first sketches.

One item that caught my eye was his preliminary publishing contract, dated November 12, 1942, with Reynal & Hitchcock for The Little Prince and another book, which he never completed.  The contract provided for an advance of $3000.

The exhibit also had some interesting materials covering the marketing of the book.  Seems that there were questions about whether the book should be marketed for children, adults, or both.

If you love The Little Prince, it is definitely worth a trip to The Morgan.  The exhibit is running through April 27, 2014.  They also have two lectures coming up about The Little Prince.

  • Saint-Exupéry in New York, A Conversation with Stacy Schiff, Pulitzer Prize-winning biographer (March 11, 6:30 p.m.)
  • The Pilot and the Little Prince, A Conversation with Peter Sís (April 22, 6:30 p.m.)

And if you have time, lunch at their café was also an extra-special treat.  In keeping with the theme of the exhibit, Laura’s grilled cheese sandwich came in the shape of a star and was served with the most adorable airplane cookies.

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By rnewman504

Leeza Hernandez, Award-Winning Illustrator and Children’s Book Author

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Photo by Linda Littenberg

I am thrilled beyond words to be doing this interview today.  I met Leeza at last year’s annual NJ SCBWI conference, but have been fortunate enough to have sat in on some of her amazing workshops at past SCBWI conferences.  

Award-winning illustrator and children’s book author, Leeza hails from the south of England, but has been living in New Jersey since 1999.  In 2004, she switched from newspaper and magazine design to children’s books, and has never looked back.  With a few books now under her belt, she’s currently working on a follow up to Dog Gone! called Cat Napped! and a sequel to Eat Your Math Homework, called Eat Your Science Homework (both titles are due for release in 2014).  Leeza also illustrated, Never Play Music Right Next to the Zoo, written by acclaimed actor and author John Lithgow.  

Leeza is the current Regional Advisor for the New Jersey SCBWI chapter.

Leeza, thanks so much for joining me today.  Let’s start at the beginning.  How did you get started writing and illustrating?

Hi Robin, thanks so much for having me!  Okay, so art came first.  It’s cliché but art has been a part of my life since I was a baby.  My mum jokes that I fell out of the womb with crayons and paper in my hand!  I loved anything that involved making art such as Playdoh, Fashion Wheel, Etch-A-Sketch, and Spirograph—I still do—and I had my parents’ support.  They always made art materials available to me.  The writing came only a few years ago, though, and I confess it’s hard.  I love to tell stories but feel like a clunky novice when I sit down to write.

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Me with Santa receiving a Playdoh set aged five years old.  

What led you to switch from newspaper and magazine design to children’s books?

The switch came in the early 2000s.  As much as I loved working in editorial, I wasn’t being as creatively challenged in my day-to-day work, so I looked for another outlet.  Blogging, which was the new trend back then, was what led me to Illustration Friday—an online community where a word of the week prompts you to create an illustration.

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This was the first Illustration Friday piece (Word prompt: Wisdom) that went

into my children’s book portfolio and got some positive feedback from art directors.

That eventually led me to SCBWI.  I was fascinated and knew immediately that I’d found the outlet I’d been looking for.  I owe a huge debt of gratitude to SCBWI—because of the connections, members, friends and mentors who have supported and helped me along the way—the organization is an awesome blessing to each of us in this business!

Can you tell us a little bit about your illustration process? Does your process change when you are also writing the text?

In a nutshell:  I read a manuscript a few times first and circle key words or components that stand out to me.  Sometimes I see a scene play out in my mind like a mini movie.  That’s usually a good indicator that I am connecting to the story.  I then put the manuscript away for a week or so and go back and do the same thing again.  When I have a good sense of where I’m headed visually, I create fairly tight sketches that are approx. 70 percent of the finished book size—that’s what I submit to the publisher.  For my own stories I’m a noodler and a doodler—that’s where a lot of my ideas begin.  I start by noodling with word play (phrases and alliteration).  At the same time, I’ll doodle until a concept or a character emerges.  Each book that I’ve worked on to date has presented different challenges in some way or other, but the underlying bones of my process seems to remain the same.

Do you like to work in a particular medium?

I have three preferred mediums now and the tone and content of a project will typically dictate which medium is called for.  The first is mixed-media:  fusing hand-made textures, stamping, printmaking, collage papers and hand-drawn line into a digital collage.  The second is silk-screening/printmaking and the third is pencil.

How long does it generally take you to work on one book?  Do you work on more than one book at a time?

In the fall I came out of a 19-month period of working on three picture books:  a 32-pager, 40-pager and 48-pager—it was cool but brutal at the same time!  I’m not sure I would want that intensity again for a while, although for the most part they staggered okay.  Each book project varies in terms of deadlines, schedules, revisions, etc. but generally, the illustration portion of my work on average takes about seven to nine months, from concept to final art. Having said that, I’m currently working on a new book and the illustration turnaround will only be about five or six months.

Do you find it easier to write and illustrate your own books, rather than to work on someone else’s manuscript?

Yes and no.  When I write and illustrate my own work, I can make changes to either in order to marry the words and visuals in the best possible way—take a sentence out here, add a spot visual there—but that also means I can overthink the project.  I can’t do that with someone else’s writing (nor would I want to), but the fact that the text is already written and approved means that I can focus solely on illustration, and pay all my attention to adding visual depth to the story.  I like both ways—they simply hold a different set of challenges.

Do you collaborate at all with the author on a project?

I’ve become great friends with Ann McCallum as a result of working on the Homework books. We have a lot of fun when brainstorming ideas for other books in the series and what new characters we can introduce, but I don’t really get involved with her actual writing nor she with the illustrating.  We definitely collaborate on marketing efforts though.

Dog Gone! has been a HUGE success!  Can you tell us how it came about? 

Dog Gone! was the result of NOT having a dog sample in my portfolio.  An art director asked if I could do dogs, so I created this piece.

DogGone_trio

The story came to me unexpectedly.  I played with the word  “dog” to inspire the illustration sample—but “Hot Dog,” “Top Dog,” and “Dog Gone It!” led to “Dog Gone!”  A story of a puppy that runs away—thus the story was born.

And can you give us the inside scoop on Cat Napped!?

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Cat Napped! releases in June, and I am really excited.  When I worked on Dog Gone! I knew I wanted to create a cat companion book, and was so happy when my editor acquired it.  In fact, if you look in Dog Gone! there’s a scene that maybe suggests a little foreshadowing or wishful thinking on my part!  Cats are curious creatures by nature.  I’ve had plenty of cats in my life that loved to wander off and ended up having an adventure of some sort or other—which fueled the idea for this book.  I think I’m kinda like that too, curious about the world and keen to discover a new adventure.

Yummy recipes + fun math facts + bunnies = SUCCESS for Eat Your Math Homework: Recipes for Hungry Minds, written by Ann McCallum.  How did you end up working on this project?  And what can readers expect to see in Eat Your Science Homework?

EYMH_cover_72dpiGreat question!  I attended a Rutgers One-on-One day back in 2007 and had lunch at a table of folks with the then editor from Charlesbridge.  We all exchanged business/promo cards and honestly, I didn’t think the editor cared for my work but she was polite enough to take my card.  EYSH_cover_72dpiSix months later, my agent forwarded the request for availability from Charlesbridge for a new math book they had acquired and I later discovered that the editor took my card back to the office and looked for a project for me.  Turned out she very much wanted to work with me and I am so grateful that she did!  You can expect more delicious recipes linked to great experiments, and you’ll see the dufus bunnies back in Science.  They’ve donned lab coats and goggles this time in place of aprons and chef hats. There’s another character that breaks some new ground in the book, too.

There’s been quite a buzz (or maybe it’s more of an excited roar!) about your illustrations in Never Play Music Right Next to the Zoo.  (I love the yak playing the sax!)  Can you tell us what was your inspiration?

NPMZ_Cover_72dpi

Thank you, Robin, it was such a fun and zany book to work on, although I admit that it took me about five or six weeks to really get my teeth into the sketches.  I was very nervous at the beginning and felt a lot of pressure about who the author was.  Once I relaxed, I was able to focus on the text and figure out how I could amplify John’s humor with these musically-inclined animals.  I role-played so to speak, and posed the question “What if . . . .”  I listened to a lot of different styles of music and imagined how each animal might perform when playing their instrument to that music—jazz, blues, classical, etc.  A lot of time was spent, too, researching each animal.  I’d never heard of a Bonobo monkey before so I got a great education on wildlife during the process.

Leeza_JohnLithgow

John Lithgow and me

If your fans would like for you to do a school visit, how can they get a hold of you?

The best way to find out about my school visits is to email leeza@leezaworks.com, subject; School Visit Inquiry.  My website is going through a revamp at the moment, which I hope will be done by late spring.  Stay tuned, folks!  The new program I’m doing with students at the moment is a “What to do when you get stuck,” presentation based on my experiences of working on Never Play Music Right Next to the Zoo.  It’s so much fun.  We collaborate and explore how to overcome mental blockages or fears, and ultimately by the end of the program, we’ve created hundreds of new characters together.

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Photo by Edna Bercaw

Lastly, do you have any advice for new writers and illustrators?  

  • Take your time.  I was in such a rush to get published when I first looked into illustrating children’s books that I missed a lot of important steps and had to go back and start again—like, creating an appropriate body of work that defines who you are as an artist to the best of your ability for the market you want to work in.
  • Be open.  It’s great to create goals and stick to them, but be open to trying new things as well—from writing in a different tense or from a different POV to using a color palette that you normally shy away from.  Push yourself out of your comfort zone, and welcome feedback rather than resist it, even if you’re not sure you agree right away.  You might be surprised by what you discover.
  • Don’t give an editor/art director/agent what you think they want to see, give them what you want them to see.  A brilliant art director gave me this piece of advice and I’ve learned the hard way how true it is.  I wanted to be published so badly at first, that I made sacrifices.  I think it was fearful thinking of “I might not be offered another job so I’d better take it.”  When you know who you are and share what you love to do with the world, people respond in a positive way.  What can you bring to the table that’s different from everyone else?
  • Take a break.  Even if it’s only ten minutes a day, switch off and do something for fun just for yourself, guilt-free.  It’s important to nurture your creative self.  Afterall, you deserve it for all that hard work!
  • Practice gratitude for everything!  Even if it’s a silent thank you every day, always be gracious, and grateful for everyone and everything you encounter—ups and downs. Accept that it’s all part of the process and will help you grow on your path to publication!

Leeza, thanks so much for doing this interview.  All the very best and much success.

Thank YOU Robin, it was a real pleasure, and a lot of fun.  And all the very best to you, too!

Shameless Self-Promotion: My First Blog Interview

Ontheair

Me:  Today I am doing my first blog interview with the amazing Laura Sassi.

Random Blog Reader:  Excuse me, but will there be any giveaways?

Me:  Giveaways?  Ah, no.  I hadn’t thought about giveaways.  Should there be giveaways?

Random Blog Reader:  Of course!  A free car, free house, free vacation.  And snacks.

Me:  Snacks?  Really?

Random Blog Reader:  It’s hard work clicking a link.

Me:  What kind of snacks?

Random Blog Reader:  COOKIES!  But not just any kind.

Me:  What kind do you like?

Random Blog Reader:  Chocolate chip.

Me:  Anything else?

Random Blog Reader:  I don’t want to be any trouble.

Me:  Of course, you don’t.

Random Blog Reader:  But since you did ask, a glass of milk would be nice.

Me:  Here you go.

COOKIESNMILK-WINNER

Random Blog Reader:  Thanks!  You didn’t make these cookies, did you?  I can always tell when they’re not homemade.     

Me:  Sorry, it’s the best that I could do on short notice.  So, are you ready to check out the link?

Random Blog Reader:  Need to do my finger exercises first.  One, heave.  Two, ho.  Breathe.  Relax.  Breathe.

Me:  I’m waiting.  Ready?

Random Blog Reader:  Ready!

Me:  Please click here for the link to Laura Sassi Tales.  Many thanks for reading and following.  Next time I’ll remember the giveaways!

Random Blog Reader:  And the cookies! :)

My First School Visit

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Today I was the mystery guest at my son’s school.  It was the first time that I have ever read one of my stories to:

  • (a) unrelated children; and
  • (b) unrelated, not previously paid children.

In a nutshell, it was a big day.  And it was a ton of fun!

I started with a quick PowerPoint™ presentation explaining how I became a writer.

mysteryguest

Then, I talked about the revision process, and how writers have good days, bad days, and sometimes very bad days.  But the key is persistence!  I think the kids may have been surprised to learn that it took me about six years to revise, The Case of the Missing Carrot Cake, A Wilcox and Griswold Mystery, illustrated by Deborah Zemke (Creston Books Fall 2015).

I also spent quite a bit of time talking about rejections.  Maybe a lot of time since it’s a concept with which I am very familiar.   :)

Finally, I put on my witch hat before reading, Hildie Bitterpickles Needs Her Sleep, illustrated by Chris Ewald (Creston Books Spring 2015).

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Why the witch hat?  Good question.  Two reasons.  First, Hildie is about a crabby old witch and of course, a witch story deserves a properly attired reader.  Second, when I attended one of the SCBWI conferences, Peter Sís mentioned that one bookstore owner encouraged him to bring props, like a stuffed parrot, in case his reading didn’t go well.  So, I figured if all else failed we could talk about the hat, or even play catch.  I wanted to be prepared.  I also didn’t have a stuffed parrot. :)

I am so looking forward to my next school visit.  Hoping that I’ll have some Hildie sketches to share with the kids next time.  What a great day!

Are You Ready for Moose Day?

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Blog reader:  Moose who?  Moose what?  Moose where?

Me:  So, glad you asked.  Tomorrow, January 7, 2014, is THE DAY that moose fans from around the world have been waiting for since . . . like . . . forever.  It is the most moose-a-rific day of the year!  It is a day of celebration.  A day to put on your antlers and go dancing with a duck or two or three.

Blog reader:  Really?  Why?

Me:  Why?  How can you ask why?  Because it is THE DAY that Sudipta Bardhan-Quallen and Noah Z. Jones’s most adorable book, Duck, Duck, Moose!, hits the bookstores.

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And if you’re like me, and you just can’t wait till tomorrow, you can pre-order your copy on Amazon or Barnes and Noble, or go to one of the super-cool independent bookstores.

As we all know, life is always better with a moose.  Happy Moose Day!

A Holiday Treat! The Rockdoves Have a New Video

The Rockdoves

My all-time favorite kids’ band, The Rockdoves, have released an awesome new video about their quirky friend Maurice, The Absent-Minded Animal Handler.  Please check it out and be sure to give them the BIG thumbs-up on YouTube!

This video is just one fabulous segment from their recently wrapped TV pilot, “The Rockdoves.”  Stay tuned for more news on the full-length show!

Enjoy! HO! HO! HO! Happy holidays!

A Writer’s Letter to Santa

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Dear Santa,

I’ve been a good girl this year.  All right, “girl” may be a bit of a stretch, and “good” may not be 100% true, but I don’t recall “good” being a previously defined term.  Seems to me there might be some flexibility in there.  Don’t you think?

Perhaps I should rephrase?  I’ve been semi-good.  Partially good?  Theoretically?  Spiritually?  Well intended?  Is goodness really the end-all?  Seems a little overrated, like vampires and zombies, if you ask me.  One of those “been there, done that” kind of concepts.  Aren’t you tired of reading the same old material?  How about something original?

I sense this pitch isn’t going well.  Let me start over.

Dear Santa,

You look marvelous!  Is that a new suit?  Red is really your color.  And that glorious beard!  Not a cookie crumb in there!  How do you do it?

So, I’ve been a good writer this year.  Wait!  “Good” may not be the right word.  Dedicated?  I’ve dedicated 2 hours every day to writing.  Ok, maybe that’s not true, but I wanted to see if you were paying attention.  How’s this?  I’ve dedicated some time to writing each day, and at least 2 hours every day to goofing off.   Truer.  Anyway, in spite of these shortcomings, I was hoping that you might have some writer gifts on the North Pole for yours truly.

Here’s my wish list:

  1.  I would like every publisher in the universe to love and want to buy all of my books.  If that’s asking too much, how about most of my books?  Some?  What kind of numbers are we talking about here?  Is any of this negotiable?
  2. I would like all of my writer friends to find agents and get publishing contracts.
  3. And I would also like to see an end to poverty, hunger, disease, and I’d like to make a pitch for world peace.  Figure it couldn’t hurt to ask!

Enjoy the milk and cookies!

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Honest!  I didn’t make them. :)

Happy holidays, and all the very best in 2014!

Much love, Robin xo

By rnewman504 Tagged

Happy Thanksgiving!

revisedphil

This is Phil.  He’s one of three peacocks in residence on the grounds of The Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine in New York.  All three were strangely MIA this Thanksgiving eve.  They were last spotted heading south on Broadway carrying suitcases, sunflower seeds, and wearing their “Proud as a Peacock” t-shirts.

They left a note on the coop for their caretaker.  “Back on November 29th.  Happy Thanksgiving!”

There are a number of super-fun articles about the peacocks.  One fun read is James Barron’s article, On Goldly Grounds, a Prideful Flock. Please click here for the link to article.

Although Phil maybe MIA, you can follow him on twitter at: @CathedralPhil

Happy Thanksgiving! GOBBLE! GOBBLE! HONK!

By rnewman504