Monday, November 30, 2015

Interview with author Julie Dillemuth--plus a giveaway!

For my first ever interview, I get to talk with Julie Dillemuth, author of LUCY IN THE CITY, a beautiful new book from Magination Press. Welcome, Julie!  

Where did you get the idea for Lucy in the City?

    For a long time, I wanted to write a story about a raccoon who got lost. It’s fascinating to think about nocturnal animals coming out to ‘start their day’ when people are tucked into bed, sound asleep and completely oblivious. Especially for kids, who have to go to bed earlier than they want to. It’s fun to read about something that you normally don’t get to experience, like running around the deserted streets of a city in the middle of the night.
    In Spring of 2012 I took a UCLA Extension writing course on easy readers, with Terry Pierce, and the story of Lucy in the City just popped into my head. But I realized that the illustrations, with the owl’s bird’s-eye view, were really important, and the big, sweeping spreads don’t mesh with an Easy Reader trim size. So I decided it just really wanted to be a picture book, and went with that. 

Your subtitle is "A Story About Developing Spatial Thinking Skills." What does that mean?

    Spatial thinking is how we understand and think about concepts of space and the world around us, and how we use these concepts for problem solving. So everything you do in your daily life that involves space or location—remembering where your car keys are, loading the dishwasher, getting all the containers to fit in your kids’ lunchbox, etc.,—these all require spatial thinking. A lot of it we don’t really think about, but for more challenging things like assembling furniture, or finding your way with a map, some people have better skills than others.
    We know from research that if kids have good spatial skills, it helps them learn math and science in school, not to mention everyday problem solving, playing sports, etc. The problem is, we don’t formally or systematically teach kids these skills. My area of expertise is spatial thinking, especially for navigation and wayfinding, and I wanted to write a fun, engaging story that would encourage spatial thinking in kids and their parents or teachers.

What was the publishing process like?

    Working with the editors at Magination Press was really wonderful. I got to give input at every stage of the process — reviewing the editor’s notes for the illustrator, giving feedback on character sketches and the storyboard, as well as on the final art. I think at many publishing houses the author doesn’t get to stay in the loop as much, so I really appreciated it. It felt amazing to see my story coming to life, step by step. And it was pretty quick; I was offered the contract in late November of 2013, the book was printed in January or February 2015, and came out in August. So, just under 2 years.

Is there anything in particular you want people to know about your book?

    Yes! The Activity Pages that appear at the end of the book can be downloaded and printed from the publisher’s website, and my own website, We didn’t do a good job of making that clear in the book, so I’m trying to spread the word on that so people don’t have to mark up their books. Also, there is a free Teacher’s Guide, written by Marcie Colleen, that aligns with Common Core for English language arts, math, science, and social studies. It’s also on my website.
    Another thing I’d like other writers, ‘pre-published’ writers, as we say, to know is that it took a lot of rejections to get here. By the time I got this first picture book contract, I’d racked up 81 rejections for various manuscripts. For this story, I had sent it to 8 other editors, and 7 agents. There’s a lot of rejection in writing for kids, and you have to try not to take it personally but keep plugging away, keep making your writing better, and have faith that you will get there if you set your mind to it. The best way to head-off rejection blues is to start writing a new story as soon as you send something off for submission. That way, by the time the rejection comes back you are excited about the new project and you don't feel like all your hopes are resting on that one freshly-rejected manuscript.

Your book is an introduction to mapping concepts —do you ever get lost?

    Oh, heck yes, all the time. I have a terrible sense of direction! It used to be that I would go the opposite direction from where I thought I should go, and then that would be correct. I’ve gotten a lot better, though, at using maps, and just being aware that I’m prone to getting lost has helped me really work hard to figure out where I’m going ahead of time.

Julie Dillemuth is a children's author and spatial cognition geographer. She earned her PhD in Geography and Cognitive Science at the University of California, Santa Barbara. Her stories have appeared in Highlights for Children and Odyssey magazines, and she won the 2012 Highlights Fiction Contest. Lucy in the City is her first picture book.

Julie will be giving away a signed copy of Lucy in the City! Leave a comment by Monday, December 7, and one lucky winner will be randomly chosen to receive this beautiful book!

Thursday, November 12, 2015

November Recommendations


In I CRAWL THROUGH IT, by A. S. King, Stanzi won't take off her lab coat and dissects frogs with a clinical passion. She's in love with Gustav, who builds a helicopter that is not technically invisible, but Stanzi can only see it on Tuesdays. China, Stanzi's best friend, repeatedly turns herself inside out due to a nasty encounter with a weatherman—on any given day, she might be an esophagus or a stomach as she walks down the street. Everyone is aware of this. The dangerous bush man sells letters for a kiss. The brilliance of this novel is that everything makes sense! (YA)

THE THING ABOUT JELLYFISH, by Ali Benjamin, has a classic mid-grade feel to it. Seventh grader Suzy Swanson hasn’t spoken since she learned of the death of her former best friend, Franny Jackson. Suzy is convinced that Franny died from a poisonous jellyfish sting and not from drowning, like everyone else thinks. Suzy uses her love of science to help work through her grief and to understand her complicated relationship with Franny. This debut novel explores the power of friendship, jellyfish, and the importance of moving on. (MG)

ZEROES, by Scott Westerfeld, Margo Lanagan, and Deborah Biancotti, is the first in a promising new series about a small group of teens who have strange “superpowers”—Ethan has the Voice, which speaks for him whenever he is in a jam (which sometimes makes things WAY worse), Kelsie, can control a crowd’s emotions (until she is carried away by them herself), Blind Flicker can see through everyone else’s eyes, Chizara can control technology, Anonymous is extremely hard to keep track of, and finally there is Nate/Glorious Leader, who melds them into a group.  Together, they are drawn into a mission to save Ethan, while evading murderous drug dealers and Ethan’s DA mom. This is great action enhanced by awesome-yet-marginal superhero-ness, and harkens back to Westerfelds early work on his Midnighters series.  (YA)

Picture Books (coincidentally, all by author/illustrators this time) :

In WE FORGOT BROCK, by Carter Goodrich, Phillip and his best friend Brock (who Phillip's parents insist is invisible) spend all their time together goofing around together. When Phillip falls asleep at the Big Fair, Brock slips off to ride the Brain Shaker and gets left behind! The art is pitch-perfect, with Brock and Princess Sparkle Dust rendered in a flat, crayony style, while the rest of the world uses more nuanced watercolor paintings.

GET OUT OF MY BATH, by Britta Teckentrup, joins a small but growing sub-genre of interactive picture books, along the lines of Herve Tullet’s Press Here. A narrator invites readers to help elephant Ellie make some waves by shaking the book from side to side, as well as to shake out the other animals who have found there way into the now-crowded tub. Hooray! we are told. This is fun! And it is. The illustrations are bold and bright, the text large and engaging.

WAITING, by Kevin Henkes, is a lovely, quiet (yes, quiet!) picture book full of the wonder of the world, and of the secret life of toys. Spare text, beautiful design, and mostly minimal illustrations bring great heft to this understated picture book. It's a great choice for readers who want to slow down, cuddle up, and enjoy.


Friday, November 6, 2015

November's Book of the Month--Evil Librarian

November’s Book of the Month (still in the spirit of Halloween and Day of the Dead) is EVIL LIBRARIAN, by Michelle Knudson.

This SCBWI Sid Fleishman Humor Award winner is all about the demons—or maybe it’s about the cute love interest—or maybe the plays the thing:

Before the new handsome but creepy librarian showed up, all Cynthia Rothschild had to worry about was getting super-crush Ryan Halsey to notice her, and coming up with the perfect prop chair for her school's production of Sweeney Todd. But when Mr. Creepy ensnares Cyn's best friend in a weird and disturbing relationship, she begins to suspect he may not be human. And when teachers and students behave like zombies, and begin to disappear, Cyn knows she has to act to save Annie, her entire school, and this year’s awesome production of Sweeney Todd.

Knudson perfectly captures the voice of sassy, smart Cyn, while weaving together enough supporting characters, and plot strands, to keep this humorous story --about demons taking up residence in high school --humming along.


Sunday, November 1, 2015

2015 NY Times Best Illustrated Children's Books!!

These are all gorgeous:

The Tiger Who Would Be King, by James Thurber, illustrated by JooHee Yoon (Enchanted Lion).
Tricky Vic: The Impossibly True Story of the Man Who Sold the Eiffel Tower, written and illustrated by Greg Pizzoli (Viking).
The Skunk, by Mac Barnett, illustrated by Patrick McDonnell (Roaring Brook).
Sidewalk Flowers, by JonArno Lawson, illustrated by Sydney Smith (Groundwood).
Leo: A Ghost Story, by Mac Barnett, illustrated by Christian Robinson (Chronicle).
The Only Child, written and illustrated by Guojing (Random House/Schwartz & Wade).
Funny Bones: Posada and His Day of the Dead Calaveras, written and illustrated by Duncan Tonatiuh (Abrams).
Big Bear Little Chair, written and illustrated by Lizi Boyd (Chronicle).
Madame Eiffel: The Love Story of the Eiffel Tower, by Alice Briere-Haquet, illustrated by Csil (Little Gestalten).
A Fine Dessert: Four Centuries, Four Families, One Delicious Treat, by Emily Jenkins, illustrated by Sophie Blackall (Random House/Schwartz & Wade).


Newt's Emerald--Shelf Awareness

New review in Shelf Awareness!

YA Review: Newt's Emerald

Newt's Emerald by Garth Nix (Katherine Tegen/HarperCollins, $18.99 hardcover, 304p., ages 13-up, 9780062360045)

Esteemed Australian fantasy writer Garth Nix (Sabriel and the rest of the Old Kingdom series; A Confusion of Princes) infuses a witty, engaging 19th-century Regency romance with the right touch of magic to shake up that tried and true genre.

At the 18th birthday celebration of Lady Truthful, nicknamed Newt, her father, Admiral the Viscount Newington, wishes to show off the huge, heart-shaped and magical Newington Emerald. Unfortunately, the Admiral, a weather-wizard, inadvertently conjures up a gale, and in the ensuing chaos, the priceless stone is stolen right off the dinner table. Eager to recover the heirloom, Truthful heads to London, where she thinks the thief will go to sell it, and takes up residence at the fashionable Grosvenor Square home of her great-aunt Ermintrude. A proper lady can't exactly wander about London talking to pawnbrokers, so Ermintrude casts a glamour spell to disguise Truthful as a man, specifically her French cousin Chevalier de Vienne. With her charmed mustache in place and some sorcerous powers of her own, Truthful obtains the help of the surly but handsome Major Charles Harnett, and they set out to locate the lost emerald. They soon discover that the jewel theft may have involved a malignant sorceress and several murders! The pair encounters ruffians, turncoats and spies in their dangerous pursuit. By the end, many secrets--and secret identities--are revealed, and romance is in the air.

Newt's Emerald has all the societal trappings, banter and misconceptions necessary for a satisfying period piece, and the addition of magic--along with an appealing cast of characters--makes for a truly enjoyable, action-packed romp. --Lynn Becker, host of Book Talk, a monthly online discussion of children's books for the Society of Children's Book Writers & Illustrators. 

Discover: Garth Nix mixes sorcery with a Regency romance, as Lady Truthful disguises herself as a man to track down a magical heirloom stolen from her family.