Cozy, Stress-Free Reading

Lately, I’ve heard more than one person describe the stress he/she feels. I can relate! So, in times of stress, at bedtime I turn to books that are calming. Like picture books. Yes, I’m an adult who reads (and loves) picture books. I’m also reading The Silmarillion, in case you’re wondering. But my nighttime favorite picture books include the following. To learn more about them, click on the titles below.

 

Big Bear and Little Fish and Knight Owl

 

Extra Yarn and I’m Not Scared, You’re Scared

Goldilocks and the Three Dinosaurs

They make me laugh, think, and cause a warm feeling to well up inside each time I read them.

What, if anything, do you read at night or during the day to de-stress in general? If books aren’t your thing, but other activities are (exercising, puzzles, cleaning, building model cars, crocheting/knitting [me too], sitting with your puppy or kitty in your lap), do tell!

Photos by L. Marie.

Check This Out: Big Bear and Little Fish

I’m so glad to welcome back to the blog the amazing Sandra Nickel, who is here to talk about her latest picture book, Big Bear and Little Fish. It was illustrated by Il Sung Na and published on September 6 by Carolrhoda Books/Lerner Publishing Group. Sandra is represented by Victoria Wells Arms.

Check out the book trailer:

El Space: Well, now, you’ve gone from nonfiction to fiction! Congratulations! Please tell us how this book came about.
Sandra: After you and I graduated with our MFAs in Writing for Children and Young Adults, I did an extra semester. This time, I focused on picture books, and had the great luck to study with Kathi Appelt, who as you know, is a Newbery Honoree and a two-time National Book Award finalist. During that semester, I worked on nonfiction, but I also wanted to understand how some of my favorite fiction authors did what they did. I was particularly fascinated by Arnold Lobel, who wrote stories with heart and humor, and a touch of philosophy.

I read every single one of Lobel’s stories. I read them slowly and repeatedly over a period of four weeks. After I finished, I didn’t have much time for the writing I owed Kathi Appelt. I was worried. But then, I opened my laptop and Bear and Little Fish tumbled out. I think Kathi was a little surprised when they landed on her desk. They were so different from everything else I had sent her. But there they were, all the same, a bear and a fish.

 

El Space: How did you shape this tale of friendship? Did you base Bear or Fish on people you know or did you start from scratch? Why or why not?
Sandra: I didn’t consciously base Bear or Fish on anyone. But I must admit that I’m a lot like Bear. I’m a worrier, as she is. I try hard to get things right, but so often don’t. So, I guess you could say, I’m Bear. And what about Fish? Thanks to your question, I’ve realized that Fish is a conglomerate of my close friends. She’s thoughtful, a bit of a philosopher, and wonderfully positive and upbeat. She’s a fantastic friend like my friends and the perfect counterpoint for the worriers of the world.

El Space: Kirkus called Big Bear and Little Fish a “lovely, gently humorous story,” and “a delightful tale.” I totally agree. What were the challenges that came with writing your book?
Sandra: There really weren’t any challenges. As soon as I opened my laptop after reading Arnold Lobel’s books, Bear and Fish were there. I had heard other authors talk about how their books wrote themselves. How characters showed up and talked to them. How the characters told their own story. But this had never happened to me, not until Bear and Fish. And what a joy it was to listen to them and write down their story! It was so much easier than my nonfiction books, with their months of research and just as many months of reducing that research down to a thirty-two-page story.

El Space: Il Sung Na’s illustrations are just perfect for your book. Do you have a favorite spread? If so, which one?
Sandra: I 100% agree about Il Sung Na being the perfect illustrator for Big Bear and Little Fish. I had this incredible wave of joy the first time I saw the final illustrations. That cover! The look on Bear’s face is so befuddled, you can’t wait to throw open the book and find out what is going on. And those endpapers! I laugh each time I see Il Sung’s vignettes of Bear’s different emotional states as she adjusts to the idea of a little fish being in her life.

As for my favorite spread, hmm, that’s a tough one. I really do love all the illustrations. But for you, L. Marie, I made myself choose one—well, two. I love the spread where Bear is bringing Fish home for the first time. Il Sung has given Bear an extremely worried expression and emphasized her emotional state by casting her in a purple shadow that is reminiscent of a dark fairytale forest. The combination of setting and Bear psychology is brilliant! Bookending this spread, toward the end of the story, is Bear after she’s walked through all the shadows and worry. Here, she’s on the other side of her discoveries about Fish, and more importantly, the discoveries about herself! She is surrounded by bright light, she carries Fish on her head, and is thrilled with her place in the world. The juxtaposition of these two spreads is inspired and so fulfilling for the reader.

El Space: Your book is so quirky. Are there any humorous picture books that inspired you? If so, which ones?
Sandra: You’ve already heard about Arnold Lobel and how he inspired me. During my extra semester, I also read other friendship stories. George and Martha by James Marshall and Winnie-the-Pooh by A.A. Milne. We’re all used to these stories now, having read them since childhood, so we may have forgotten how really quirky the characters in these books are. George likes to peek in windows. Martha loves looking at herself in mirrors so much that she wakes up during the night to look at herself some more. And as for the Hundred Acres Wood, it includes a piglet who is scared of nearly everything, an owl who is not as smart as he thinks he is, a donkey who has become synonymous with doom and gloom, and a bear who thinks he is empty headed but is, in fact, quite the philosopher. Each of these characters is fun and funny because of their utter uniqueness. When it comes to humor, the more the character is filled with foibles, the more fun it is.

   

El Space: How will you challenge yourself next? What are you working on?
Sandra: I just received an offer for my most recent nonfiction book, so I think I’ll turn to fiction again. Maybe a garden story. Or, one about friends. Or, one about ideas. Who knows? Maybe I’ll even dream up a sequel to Big Bear and Little Fish. Wouldn’t that be fun!?!

Yes it would! Thank you, Sandra, for being my guest!

Looking for Sandra? Check out her website, Twitter, and Instagram.

Looking for Big Bear and Little Fish? Look for it at Barnes and Noble, Amazon, Indiebound, Bookshop, or your favorite local bookstore.

One of you will received a signed copy of Big Bear and Little Fish. Comment below to be entered in a drawing. Winner to be announced sometime next week.

Check out Sandra’s other books:

 

Author photo, Big Bear and Little Fish book covers and spread courtesy of the author. Illustrations by Il Sung Na. Author photo credit: Emo-Photo. Other book covers from Goodreads. Kathi Appelt photo from the VCFA website.

Check This Out: Breaking Through the Clouds: The Sometimes Turbulent Life of Meteorologist Joanne Simpson

At long last I have posted. I’m thrilled to have on the blog once more the awesome Sandra Nickel, who is here to talk about her latest picture book, the gorgeous Breaking Through the Clouds: The Sometimes Turbulent Life of Meteorologist Joanne Simpson, published on March 8 by Abrams and beautifully illustrated by Helena Perez Garcia.

Check out this book trailer:

Sandra is represented by Victoria Wells Arms.

El Space: You’ve written books about the invention of nachos and about astronomy. So what made you turn to meteorology?
Sandra: That’s the golden question, isn’t it? Nachos. Dark Matter. Clouds. What do they have in common? The through line is that Ignacio Anaya, Vera Rubin, and Joanne Simpson each achieved something incredible, yet they remain unknown to most. I wanted to help broadcast their achievements. I wanted kids to know about them. Nacho invented nachos. Vera discovered dark matter. And Joanne was not only a trailblazing female meteorologist, but she also sparked a whole field of science by creating the first mathematical model of clouds—a model that helped us predict upcoming weather.

   

El Space: What did you do to prepare to write Joanne’s story?
Sandra: Before Joanne died, she gave boxes and boxes of her scientific and personal papers to Harvard University. I went to Harvard and looked through everything in those boxes. I learned about her discoveries, examined her work and family photographs, reviewed her personal thoughts, and read what others said about her in newspaper and scholarly articles. Then, I took all of that, keeping a clear eye on how Joanne told her own story, and formulated that into a story for children. It’s fascinating and challenging to learn about a life with its many facets and then try to reduce it down to the 32 pages that are normally in a picture book.

El Space: Since Joanne Simpson was such a trailblazer, I can’t help thinking of Vera Rubin, another trailblazer you featured in a book. [See cover above. Click here for more information.) What do these trailblazers inspire in you?
Sandra: It wasn’t easy for Joanne and Vera. For reasons I still don’t fully understand, the barriers for women in science were higher than for women in other areas. Joanne was the very first woman in the world to receive a Doctor of Meteorology. One of her professors told her that no woman ever had, and no woman ever would. But, Joanne did. Vera also faced strong resistance as a woman in astronomy. What I admire about these women is that they went on to actively support the young scientists coming after them. Just think about all the female meteorologists we see on TV these days. That’s thanks to Joanne. As one young meteorologist said, Joanne didn’t just blaze a trail, she blazed an entire road.

El Space: I love what this Publishers Weekly review says:

Enlivening simply relayed cloud facts (“Just like people, cumulus clouds are born, grow, and die. But unlike people, they exist for no longer than two hours”), Nickel threads the well-paced tale with myriad weather-related metaphors.

First, congrats on this great review. I wish I could think of a weather-related metaphor to aptly describe your beautiful prose! What do you do to hone your craft?
Sandra: I read. I read a lot. And then, for the science-based stories I tell, I try to think of ways to make the stories engaging and understandable for children. In the case of Breaking Through the Clouds, I used weather-related metaphors, as Publishers Weekly mentions. Then, of course, I have lots of people read my drafts before I submit to my agent and editors. There is nothing in this world like having others read your work and tell you how it reads to them.

El Space: How much collaboration was involved in the picture side of things? How did you communicate with the illustrator, Helena Perez Garcia?
Sandra: Since I had the chance to visit Harvard, but Helena didn’t, I sent photos that I had taken of Joanne’s notebooks and the pictures Joanne archived there. I also fielded questions she had—scientific questions, but also time-period questions, such as what type of projector Joanne used when she watched films of clouds. I sent all of this information via our editor Maggie Lehrman at Abrams, so Helena and I never spoke directly until the book was finished. It’s always fascinating to speak with an illustrator after the project is done and learn about their process. If anyone is interested, you can read about Helena’s work on Breaking Through the Clouds here.

El Space: You have another picture book debuting later this year—Big Bear and Little Fish. Congratulations! What will you work on next?
Sandra: I always have a few projects going at the same time. I have a picture book about the secret creator of the Tiffany Lamps (hint: it wasn’t Louis Tiffany as everyone thinks). I’m working on a story inspired by my three uncles who are blind. I have a story about a pigeon. And, I’m working on a collaboration with a wonderful writer, L. Marie about two girls who share a love of creating hats.

El Space: 😊 Thank you, Sandra for being my guest!

Sandra: Thanks so much, Linda! It’s always such a pleasure to talk with you about books and the craft of writing.

Looking for Sandra? Check out her website, Twitter, and Instagram.

Looking for Breaking Through the Clouds? Look for it at Barnes and Noble, Amazon, Indiebound, Bookshop, or your favorite local bookstore.

Good news! One of you will received a free copy of Breaking Through the Clouds. Comment below to be entered in a drawing. Winner to be announced sometime next week.

Author photo, book spreads, and Breaking Through the Clouds book cover courtesy of the author. Illustrations by Helena Perez Garcia. Author photo credit: Emo-Photo. Big Bear and Little Fish cover from Goodreads.

Details, Details

Quiz time for fiction writers. No need to fear. This is easy.

  • As you think of the main character(s) in your work-in-progress, what color is that character’s hair? Eyes? (See? Easy-peasy.)

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  • Does he or she have a nickname? If so, what is it?
  • Where does that character live? Town, city, or rural community? What is the character’s street address (or what are the landmarks that lead to this dwelling if an address can’t be given)? This can be a made-up address like 1313 Mockingbird Lane. Kudos to whoever knows this address from an old TV show. Skip to the very end of the post to see if you are right.
  • What animals are in this character’s life (like a pet or a warhorse)? What are their names? Species? Colors?

Now think of a secondary character and answer the above questions. If you have fifty secondary characters, could you easily answer the same questions about all of them?

By now you are probably wondering why I’m being so nosy. Well, for one thing, sometimes I forget some of the information about my characters, especially in a book with fifty plus characters. That’s why I have to keep a list of people, places, and things, especially when I am writing a series. But I keep a list even for a standalone book with fewer characters. Nowadays I add to the list as I write the book. I remember how tedious it was to write the list after the book was done.

I’m wondering how many authors keep a list of pertinent character information. Some authors have told me they keep track of everything in their head. Do you? If you don’t keep a list, would you consider doing so? I ask this also as someone who wears the freelance book editor hat from time to time. I have had to email or text authors to inquire about hair and eye color, names, addresses, etc. because of inconsistencies found while editing.

Speaking of other useful things to have, I also think of a timeline sheet for a book. Do you keep a list of the day-to-day events (for example, June 4—the Fruit Fly Festival in Harbor Creek)? If you say a book starts on a Tuesday in April and ends on a Wednesday in May, do you check a calendar to make sure the timing of the story events works? If you’re writing historical fiction, do you search the internet to see if May 4, 1925 really was on a Monday as you mentioned in your manuscript? (It really was on a Monday, by the way.)

may-th-day-month-simple-calendar-icon-w

Maybe you’re thinking, Why should I do any of this? The editor is going to check all of that. True. But why not do it for your own sake, instead of waiting for a busy editor to take time out of his or her day to ask you questions about inconsistencies. After all, none of us is perfect. Okay, I take it back. You are. But for everyone else, if you keep a list, maybe the questions won’t have to be asked by an editor (or a reader, who might not be kind).

This public service broadcast was brought to you by I-will-now-mind-my-own-business.

And now onto the winners (finally) of the following books written by Charles Yallowitz and Sandra Nickel respectively. (Click here and here for the interview posts with these authors.)

savagery TheStuffBetweenTheStars

New Charles Author Photo SandraNickel

The winner of The Stuff Between the Stars is Marian Beaman. The winner of War of Nytefall: Savagery is S.K. Van Zandt.

Marian and S. K. Van Zandt, please comment below to confirm. Thank you for commenting!

Address Answer: 1313 Mockingbird Lane is the home of the Munster family in The Munsters.

Author photos and book covers courtesy of the authors. Eye image from lolwot.com. May calendar image from dreamstime.

Check This Out—The Stuff Between the Stars: How Vera Rubin Discovered Most of the Universe

Welcome to the blog! Returning to the blog today is the awesome Sandra Nickel, who is here to talk about her latest picture book biography, The Stuff Between the Stars: How Vera Rubin Discovered Most of the Universe. It was published by Abrams in March of this year and was illustrated by the amazing Aimée Sicuro.

SandraNickel   TheStuffBetweenTheStars

Check out the fab book trailer.

If you’ve been around the blog over the years, you know the drill. Once I talk to Sandra, I’ll tell you how you can get this book for free in a drawing that I am hosting.

El Space: Since your picture book is all about astronomy: If you could name a star, what would you name it?
Sandra:
Does it have to be one star? Or can it be a star cluster like the Pleiades? I always loved the idea of the Seven Sisters, up in the sky, named after their mother. My mother gave birth to three of us. Maybe we could be the Eleanores.

El Space: How did you come to this project? Sadly, I didn’t know anything about Vera Rubin until I read your book. I certainly didn’t know her connection to the study of dark matter.
Sandra:
I also didn’t know about Vera Rubin, not until Kate Hosford (below), a wonderful picture book author, texted me and told me about a tribute to her in The New York Times. I read the article and was captivated. I started researching that very day.

red photo cropped

El Space: Tell us about the research. How did your findings help you decide on the story angle? At what point did you decide you’d done enough research to make a start or to conclude the writing?
Sandra:
When I read The New York Times article, Vera had died two days before and papers were flooded with homages to her. After reading these, I found articles and a book Vera had written. The greatest discoveries, however, were interviews with Vera. They gave such a clear vision of her personality, childhood, home life, and struggles.

For the most part, editors no longer require picture book biographies to tell a person’s story from cradle to grave. They are looking for a story that fits into the classic story structure. Introduction. Rising Action. Climax. Resolution. I had the introduction early on, because Vera said she fell in love with stars when she was eleven. The climax had to be her discovery. That left me searching for rising action. Vera had so many challenges thrown in her path—far more than made it into the book. Once I was confident that I had found the most important ones, I knew I had enough to start putting the rising action together. The trick was to select experiences that resonate with children. I chose the experience illustrated below because everyone can understand how awful it is to be the only one against a crowd.

Vera Facing the Senior Astronomers

El Space: Your book is so beautifully written. How challenging was it to explain scientific concepts in picture book form?
Sandra:
From the beginning, I knew I needed to come up with imagery that would help children understand. I searched and searched for different ways to describe gravity, galaxies, and dark matter. Once I had all of these in my head, it became very clear that these same descriptions could be used to portray Vera Rubin’s life itself. It was challenging from the point of view of filling my mind with new ideas. Minds don’t always want to accept new things. But once that was done, it wasn’t challenging at all. The metaphors appeared as if they had always been there.

El Space: How long was the process from writing to publication? Did you have much contact with the illustrator, Aimée Sicuro? Why or why not?
Sandra:
It took over four years from the afternoon I read The New York Times article to the day The Stuff Between the Stars came out. With some nonfiction picture books, the writer and illustrator need to exchange information because the writer discovers photographs and descriptions through private sources not available to the general public. My book Nacho’s Nachos was that way. The Stuff Between the Stars was completely different. There are a number of photographs of Vera Rubin online, and Aimée Sicuro discovered each one of them. She asked for only one thing from me: one of Vera’s equations. She incorporated it into the gorgeous illustration below where Vera stays up working at night as her family sleeps.

Vera Working at Night as Her Family Sleeps

El Space: What did you learn about Vera’s life that inspired you in your own life?
Sandra:
The greatest Vera Rubin lesson is: Choose your own way. I know that seems cliché. But it’s harder than it sounds. It’s easy to fall into thinking that life is just hard, that suffering is part of the journey. I love that Vera said, I don’t like being treated harshly, I don’t like all the negativity. I love that she found a way far from all that and then discovered something bigger than everyone else. I’ll never discover something as immense as dark matter, but by doing things my way, my writing will hopefully be infused with joy. Because it makes me happy. And that is marvelous already.

El Space: What will you work on next?
Sandra:
There’s a book I’m working on right now with an editor that I hope will bring readers the kind of joy I’m talking about. It involves a very big bear and a very little fish who see the world in very different ways.

Thank you, Sandra for being my guest!

If you want to learn more about The Stuff Between the Stars, check out this video produced by the Smithsonian. In it, Sandra reads the book and interviews Aimée Sicuro. You’ll also see a fun demonstration by Aimée on painting a galaxy.

Looking for Sandra? Check out her website, Twitter, and Instagram.

Looking for The Stuff Between the Stars? Look for it at Barnes and Noble, Amazon, Indiebound, Bookshop, or your favorite local bookstore.

But one of you will look in your mailbox or tablet and go, “Oh my goodness! A free book!” Comment below to be entered in a drawing to receive a copy of The Stuff Between the Stars. Winner to be announced sometime next week.

Author photo, book spreads, and book cover courtesy of the author. Illustrations by Aimée Sicuro. Author photo credit: Emo-Photo. 

“Minuit, Chrétiens” aka “Midnight, Christians”/“O Holy Night”

Peuple a genoux, attends ta delivrance!
Noel! Noel! Voici le Redempteur!
Noel! Noel! Voici le Redempteur!

People kneel down, wait for your deliverance.
Christmas, Christmas, here is the Redeemer,
Christmas, Christmas, here is the Redeemer!

The following are the lyrics many know. Though they are different from the above, the music is the same.

Fall on your knees; O hear the Angel voices!
O night divine, O night when Christ was born
O night, O Holy night, O night divine!

Composer: Adolphe Adam (1847)

Lyrics: Placide Cappeau (whose original title was “Cantique de Noël”)

Translated from French to English by John Sullivan Dwight.

The winner of the delightful, soon-to-be-a-Christmas-staple, The Unicorns Who Saved Christmas by Mary Winn Heider (click here for the interview with Mary Winn), is Marian Beaman!

 

Marian, please comment below to confirm. Happy Holidays to all!

Nativity image from somewhere on the internet. Mary Winn’s book cover is from her website. Author photo by Popio Stumpf.

Check This Out: The Unicorns Who Saved Christmas

With me on the blog today is the marvelous Mary Winn Heider, another Secret Gardener classmate, who is here today to talk about her picture book, The Unicorns Who Saved Christmas, which was published by Running Press Kids. Mary Winn is represented by Tina DuBois.

 

El Space: How on earth did you come up with this concept? Why unicorns?
Mary Winn: And of course the flip side to that coin, how could it possibly be anything but unicorns!

El Space: Good point!
Mary Winn: The truth is that I didn’t come up with the idea—my editor pitched me the premise and I thought it just sounded like so much fun. So I started with the idea that Santa has to use unicorns instead of reindeer, and then I experimented with a variety of scenarios explaining why it had to happen and how it ended up like that, which included both a Magical Animal Temp Staffing Agency and a parody version of The Night Before Christmas. I really love the wild brainstorming phase. But the more I worked on it, the more I was drawn to this very sweet unicorn troop who were absolutely bowled over to be invited to audition as reindeer substitutes. There is something so adorable to me about these fantastic, magical, stylish unicorns being so gaga about Santa.

El Space: Your book is so funny and quirky—a really tough balancing act to pull off. I can’t help thinking of Santa Cows by Cooper Eden, though your book isn’t about cows. 😄 I also think of Elf, a movie I love watching each year. It seems to take just the right balance to keep the humor from sinking into the sea of coy. How do you achieve that balance? I can’t help thinking of your novel, The Mortification of Fovea Munson [click here for the interview with Mary Winn about that book], which also has that balance.

 

Mary Winn: That’s such a lovely compliment—thank you for that, Linda. I agree with you that the balance is important, and while I’m drafting, I definitely err on one side and the other. That overstepping is a really useful part of my writing process—and I think for how I write, the metaphor really works: it feels exactly like being on a balance beam. I start off making big swings and toppling into the tries that don’t quite work, and then gradually making more nuanced adjustments until I feel a sort of intuitive rightness. I don’t have an algorithm so much as a very, very loose recipe. I like to make sure that as absurd and ridiculous as I get (and I like to get real absurd and ridiculous—my writing partner on my current project just sent me comments on a chapter today, which included the note, Mary Winn, this is preposterous. And to be clear, I consider that a really positive note)—as absurd as I go, I make sure that the story always stays grounded in something true and real. In this case, it’s the unicorns’ sincere need to not let Santa down.

El Space: So glad to hear about your process and the hard work you put into your books. And I love the illustrations! How much input did you have with the illustrator, Christian Cornia?
Mary Winn: I didn’t talk to Christian until after the book was out, but I adooooooore the way he drew the unicorns. All the little details, like that How to Rainbow book that one of them is reading at the top—just to die for. And the crocodiles! That crocodiles spread is among my favorite things ever.

El Space: That is a great spread in the book [which you can see part of if you click here and scroll down]! What Christmas book, if any, did you love to read when you were a kid or as an adult? Why?
Mary Winn: Hmmm. . . . Good question. I don’t actually recall one that I liked to read specifically at Christmas. I was a weird, indiscriminate kid, and loved to read seasonal books all year. But I do associate Christmas with reading, because I’d be off from school and I could just read the entire break!

El Space: What will you work on next?
Mary Winn: My next novel—The Losers at the Center of the Galaxy—comes out in March, so I’m starting to think about that book again. It’s funny how they sort of hibernate in your brain between the time that you finish them and they come out. And I’m working on a really exciting hybrid graphic/prose novel with an illustrator pal. It’s definitely the most exciting part of my days right now!

Thanks as always, Mary Winn, for being my guest.

Looking for Mary Winn? You can find her by clicking on one of these:
Website, Highlights, Twitter, Instagram, and Barrel of Monkeys.

Looking for The Unicorns Who Saved Christmas? Look here: Indiebound, Barnes and Noble, and Bookshop

But one of you will receive a copy at your home! Ho-ho-ho! (After Christmas, sadly, but something to look forward to.) Comment below to be entered in the drawing. Winner to be announced early next week.

 

When my copy of The Unicorns Who Saved Christmas arrived, Henry quickly commandeered it. “And look how nicely it fits under the Christmas tree,” he said, I guess as a hint for me to get him a copy of the book since I snatched mine back.

Random squirrel meme:

Mary Winn’s book covers are from her website. Author photo by Popio Stumpf. Santa Cows cover from Goodreads. Elf movie poster from Ebay. Random squirrel meme from sayingimages.com. Balance beam image from HuffPost. Henry photos by L. Marie, who is grateful for her copy of The Unicorns Who Saved Christmas.

My Definition of Restful and Why That Might Be Weird to You

Recently, I’ve had text, email, or Zoom conversations with friends about books we’re reading, and in one of them, I made this statement: “I want a restful book.” Though you were not part of that discussion, I want to elaborate on what I meant.

By restful, I mean a book I can enjoy any hour of the day or night or during a pandemic. It is one that does not evoke feelings of righteous indignation, rage, depression, or mind-numbing fear. Though dinosaurs may or may not eat people and wealthy tyrants might be murdered in locked rooms by any number of suspects, I don’t fret about it, especially since I’m not the one being eaten nor the one whose murder is the basis of a cozy, but entertaining mystery.

My reading does not always involve murder or full-bellied dinosaurs, however. I thoroughly enjoy Mr. Darcy getting a comeuppance by Elizabeth Bennet (you know this one); Valancy Stirling experiencing life in a new way (The Blue Castle); and a small, unsupervised child crawling out of a window via a handy tree and going off by himself at night in search of a pillow. (Guess which book this is. No parenting advice will be forthcoming from me.)

 

  

Pride and Prejudice DVD case shown here, rather than the book cover, because I already had this photo in my blog library

Many of the books I’ve read in the last two months are restful in that they are familiar like well-loved walking trails. I’ve traversed these paths again and again and still appreciate the scenery.

What is restful reading to you? If books are not your thing, what have you been watching lately that you would categorize as restful?

The Blue Castle cover from Goodreads. Other photos by L. Marie.

The Perfect Pillow

I read this picture book the other night (perfect bedtime reading)

and thought, What is the perfect pillow?

I must confess that this is not a question I’ve ever thought long and hard about. Back in the day, my parents shopped for sheets and pillow cases during the January white sales. They probably bought new pillows also. I say probably, because when I was a kid, I never paid too much attention to what my parents thought about pillows or bedding in general. I only knew that the pillow I was used to was the perfect pillow. In fact, I took to college the same pillow I’d slept on for ages!

These days, I’ve never met a $3.99 pillow I didn’t like. Some people might be appalled at the cheapness, especially when pillows sell for ten, twenty, even a hundred times that amount.

Or tens of thousands times that amount.

Out of curiosity, I Googled to discover the most expensive pillow, thinking that pillow had to be the most perfect pillow ever. This article stated that the world’s most expensive pillow (photo below) was developed by a Dutch inventor/physical therapist named Thijs van der Hilst. It is called the Tailormade Gold Edition Pillow. It is made of memory foam based on a 3-D scan and has a 24-carat gold cover, diamonds, and a 22.5-karat sapphire. It is only $57,000.

The Tailormade pillow. I think the appropriate thing to say right now is, “Ta da!”

Ha! A mere pittance! The company that makes this pillow sells one for $3995. I’m sure you’ll want to order several, so click here to get yours now!

Seriously, the perfect pillow is one that helps you gain restful sleep. If you’re a back sleeper, a stomach sleeper, or a side sleeper, the perfect pillow varies, especially if you’re dealing with back or neck pain also. Searching the internet for these categories can net you dozens of duck feather/down, memory foam, and latex pillow recommendations.

But these days, the perfect pillow, at least for me, is one made by a friend: the fabulous Laura Bruno Lilly who made and sent this one:

What kind of pillow is perfect for you?

Pillow found at trendhunters.com. Other photos by L. Marie.

Check This Out: Honey, the Dog Who Saved Abe Lincoln

With me on the blog today is the fabulous Shari Swanson (another great Secret Gardener classmate; for others, click here and here), who is here to talk about her picture book, Honey, the Dog Who Saved Abe Lincoln, which was published by Katherine Tegen Books/HarperCollins and debuts today, people! Woot!

     

Shari is represented by John Rudolph. After Shari and I chat, I’ll fill you in on a giveaway of this very book. Now, let’s talk to Shari!

El Space: Four quick facts about yourself?
Shari: My favorite color is periwinkle. Actually, periwinkle is a favorite word, too. Perhaps I’ll write a book about Mr. Perry Winkle and his Phantasmagoric Adventures Through Color. (Dibs. 😀)


• I love games, all sorts—puzzles, mysteries, board games, sports, hiding pictures, and treasure hunting.
• I have a beloved dog named Honey, not, surprisingly, named after Abraham Lincoln’s dog.
• I love words—etymologies, derivations, roots, cadence, sound, rhyme—everything about words. When I was in high school, I read All About Words by Maxwell Nurnberg and Morris Rosenblum while suntanning on the beach. One of my favorite courses in college was linguistics.

El Space: How did you come to write this picture book about a dog and Abraham Lincoln? How long was the process of writing the book?
Shari: When I was teaching middle school literature early this millennia, we read about Abraham Lincoln’s early years from an excerpt of Russell Freedman’s book on Lincoln. It was fascinating. I hadn’t ever heard about Lincoln’s Kentucky years and wanted to know more. I thought perhaps children would like to read about Lincoln when he was their age. I had the pleasure of meeting the late Russell Freedman at an SCBWI conference in 2006 and told him how much I wanted to write a picture book expanding on those details from his book. With tears in his eyes, he encouraged me and told me what a wonderful picture book that would be. When I was deep in that research, I discovered Honey. Honey had saved Lincoln’s life! What would the world be like if we hadn’t had Abraham Lincoln? Honey was an unknown hero. Honey, I thought, would make a wonderful picture book. And then I set off to write that story. The first draft of my book was written when I was doing the picture book semester at VCFA, back in 2011. I sold it in 2016, and now it is finally in the world!

El Space: How did you get started writing picture books?
Shari: I’m not sure there is an easy answer to this. I’ve always loved picture books. But I didn’t always understand that I could write them. Somewhere along the line, I realized that you don’t have to be a master artist to write a picture book, and that made me think maybe I could try it. I took a course in picture books at UCLA Extension way back in the early 1990s, I think, so it’s been a lifelong dream. I enrolled in the picture book semester when I was at VCFA with Julie Larios, and a workshop just prior to that with Julie and Uma Krishnaswami. That six months was maybe my favorite in my entire education as it was so filled with play and words and sheer delight.

El Space: How much input did you have with the illustrator? What was your reaction to seeing the illustrations?
Shari: Every picture book author/illustrator interaction is probably different. My editor, Maria Barbo at HarperCollins/Katherine Tegen books, was wonderful at taking my thoughts and opinions into account at each stage of the process. First, she asked me if I had an illustrator in mind to suggest. That inquiry sent me on a delightful tour through bookstores and libraries, trying to find artists that had the right feel for Honey. When she suggested Chuck Groenink, she sent me links to his portfolio. [Click here for a post about Chuck and his process on another picture book.] We both loved his work, especially his use of light in dark scenes, a skill that would be important for the cavern scenes in Honey. Seeing Chuck’s first drafts for Honey was a highlight of my life. Right there in my hands was this charming beautifully-realized art bringing my words to life. As we moved forward, I had the ability at every stage to offer my thoughts. One suggestion that I am thrilled Chuck incorporated was adding more detail to the forest scenes. I wanted the readers to feel just how distracting the woods were, with all the sounds and animals, and have the reader be literally distracted by the detail on the page just as young Abe was distracted on his journey.

El Space: What picture books have inspired you as a kid? As an adult?
Shari: As a child, I loved Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak, A Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats, Are You My Mother, by P. D. Eastman, and all things Dr. Seuss. As an adult, I love picture books that are poetic and musical; those that have wildly creative art, perhaps looking at things from unusual perspectives, and those that celebrate characters who are not stereotypic.

     

El Space: Any advice for would-be picture book writers? What do you think a twenty-first century kid needs to see in a picture book?
Shari: My best advice it to read your work out loud. Notice where the pauses and awkward phrasings are so you can fix them. I also think it is hugely important to make a picture book dummy, eight sheets of paper folded in half to make 32 pages, and block out your story. Where are the breaks? Are there interesting page turns? Is there something that is illustratible on each page? Finally, don’t give up. Take the time to create as often as you can. The joy is in the journey. I’m not sure what a modern kid needs to see in a picture book. I hope in Honey, a modern reader can both identify with young Abe—his distractedness, his love for animals, his desire to help—and think about the differences, too, like how Abe walked miles alone through a wild dangerous forest, so that the book is both timeless and grounded in its time.

El Space: What will you work on next?
Shari: I have several more works in progress, but the one getting my immediate attention is a non-fiction picture book, another heartwarming story of an animal/human interaction, this one from WWII.

Thanks, Shari, for being my guest!

Looking for Shari? Look no further than her website, Twitter, or Pinterest.

Looking for Honey, the Dog Who Saved Abe Lincoln? Check out your local bookstore, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or Indiebound.

One of you will receive a copy of Honey, the Dog Who Saved Abe Lincoln in your very own mailbox. Just comment below! Winner to be revealed January 20, 2020.

The first meeting of the picture book club almost ended in a fistfight. While Lazy Buns and the Squeezamal agreed that Honey, the Dog Who Saved Abe Lincoln, is a great book, they disagreed on the refreshments, or the lack thereof. “It was your job to bring tea with honey for us to share!” the Squeezamal grumbled, Lazy Buns having only remembered to bring herself a cup of coffee.

Author photo by Christie Lane Photography. Book covers, with the exception of Shari’s book, are from Goodreads. Periwinkle flower from Wikipedia. Book storyboard from somewhere on the internet. Other photo by L. Marie. Squeezamals are a product of Beverly Hills Teddy Bear Company. Lazy Buns is a Pop Hair Pet, a product of MGA Entertainment.