Dimity Duck by Jane Yolen, illustrated by Sebastian Braun

Dimity Duck by Jane Yolen, illustrated by Sebastian Braun (Philomel, 2006)(author interview). A joyous explanation in the day of the life of duck, highlighted by her pal Frumity Frog. Ages 3-up.

My Thoughts

Cute, cute book. I’m a friend of ducks. In fact I have a treaty with the duck kingdom and would never ever eat one. (Sorry, chickens–you’re on your own).

Quiet picture books have been struggling in the market, perhaps because of the bookstore buyers’ preference for storytime-friendly titles. (I’m not sure). At the same time, parents and other child caregivers still clamor for bedtime books, titles that wind down young readers.

I’m a lover of both ends of the “noise” spectrum, and it occurred to me as I was reading Dimity Duck that it’s a successful hybrid. Dimity rises and waddles, toddles, wiggle-waggles, paddles, dines, dives, sings, and plays. Whew! By the end of the day, when Dimity toddles off to bed, we’re sleepy, too!

A great title for group and lap reading! Quack!

Jane’s other recent titles include Fairy Tale Feasts: A Literary Cookbook for Young Readers & Eaters with tales by Jane Yolen, recipes by Heidi E.Y. Stemple, and illustrations by Philippe Beha (Crocodile Books, 2006) and Baby Bear’s Books, illustrated by Melissa Sweet (Harcourt, 2006), another day-in-the-life story, this one of a reading bear.

Cynsational Notes

Fowl fans, once you’ve read Dimity Duck, check out Toni Buzzeo‘s companion picture books, Dawdle Duckling (Dial, 2003) and Ready Or Not, Dawdle Duckling, both illustrated by Margaret Spengler (Dial, 2005). Read a recent Cynsations interview with Toni Buzzeo.

A bold and successful exception to the anti-quiet-books market trend is An Egg is Quiet by Dianna Hutts Aston, illustrated by Sylvia Long (Chronicle, 2006)(author-illustrator interview).

Using Literature to Help Kids Cope in an Uncertain World

New Haven, Conn. — Every child experiences fear—ordinary fears of the dark, of separation, of nighttime noises, and fears set off by traumatic events—school shootings, terrorism, war, and natural disasters. Children’s literature can help children handle emotions that might otherwise be overwhelming.

Some of England and North America’s most distinguished children’s authors and child development experts will explore this issue at, “Fear and Fiction: The Power Of Children’s Books And The Inner Life of The Child,” on Saturday, October 21, 2006. Co-sponsored by the Yale Child Study Center and London’s Anna Freud Centre and held at Bank Street College, this New York City conference addresses the healing role books can play in children’s lives.

While it’s not clear that today’s children face more fears than kids did fifty years ago, it is apparent that the Internet and 24-hour news coverage expose them to many violent and disturbing situations.

“As a society we’re more aware of the impact world events can have. Dealing with children’s fears through dialogue, literature, storytelling, or play is healthier than ignoring or quashing them,” explains Linda C. Mayes, M.D., Arnold Gesell professor of child psychiatry, pediatrics, and psychology, Yale Child Study Center/Anna Freud Centre. “Literature helps us understand our struggle as human beings. Stories are part of the way we learn, and children’s authors bring ‘art’ to the discussion.”

Keynote speakers will be Gregory Maguire, author of Wicked, and Stephen Marans, Ph.D., director, National Center for Children Exposed to Violence and author of Listening to Fear: Helping Kids Cope from Nightmares to the Nightly News.

Authors presenting, including Newbery, Hugo and ALA Notable Book award winners, are: David Almond, Chris Crutcher, Neil Gaiman, Robie H. Harris, Lois Lowry, Pam Muñoz Ryan, Martin Waddell, Mo Willems, and Jacqueline Woodson. Child analysts presenting are: Nick Midgely, D. Psych. and Jenny Stoker, MA, Anna Freud Centre; Judith Yanof, M.D, Boston Psychoanalytic Society and Institute; Alicia F. Lieberman, Ph.D., University of California at San Francisco; Karen Gilmore, M.D., Columbia University; and Arietta Slade, Ph.D., City University of New York. Books discussed will range from picture books to fiction for adolescents.

Participants can meet the authors at a book signing sponsored by Bank Street Bookstore.

Information courtesy of Raab Associates.

Author Feature: Harry Mazer

Award-winning author Harry Mazer has been writing for teens for decades. His titles include Snowbound (Laurel Leaf, 1974), The Last Mission (Laurel Leaf, 1981), and the trilogy beginning with A Boy at War: A Novel of Pearl Harbor (Simon & Schuster, 2001)(excerpt).

What were you like as a child? Were you a voracious reader? A budding writer? If so, what sorts of stories attracted you? If not, what put you on this path?

I was born in NYC and grew up in the Bronx. We were four in our family and lived in two rooms on the fourth floor of a walk-up apartment building. Both my parents worked, and my kid brother was farmed out to an aunt.

I was often alone.

I read. I played in the streets, on the roofs and in the cellars. My friends and I went everywhere, sneaking on the train, or the movies, grabbing rides on the back of trucks, playing in the streets. Street games: stick ball, handball, stoop ball, reluctantly moving aside for cars. We ran a lot, were cursed by storekeepers and cops.

At night we built fires in empty lots and roasted mickeys and apples we’d swiped from the stores. And always I read. I remember standing in the children’s room at Fordham Library planning to begin at the beginning and read every book in the library. Guess how far I got.

Could you tell us about your apprenticeship as a writer? How did you go about building skills? What was your timeline from commitment to publication? What advice do you have for beginning writers starting out today?

I always wanted to write. I dreamt that someday I would write, but aside from some sporadic starts, I didn’t write. I read, and everything I read told me I was a fool to think I could ever write anything that resembled what I read. I had no belief, no hope or promise, no teacher to guide me, no method, no way. There was an impossibly high wall between where I stood and where true writers stood. I didn’t know there was a ladder.

Norma Fox (author interview), the woman with whom I share my life, provided the ladder. She wanted to write, too. “We’ll get notebooks,” she said, and write in them every day. And that, in a nutshell, is how you start to become a writer.

Over the course of your career, is there anything you wish you hadn’t done or handled differently? If so, would you like to share the lessons learned from the experience?

A writing career demands focus. You have to sit in a chair, stay put, and write. I want to move, go places, do things. The world is full of distractions, and I’m distractible. I should have been more focused, produced more books, gotten more done. Any time I want to beat up on myself I think of what my lack of focus may have cost me. But in the end you do what you do, and the way I worked, maybe, was the only way I could have gone.

We’re both writers with a writing spouse, so I’m curious as to your answers to the related questions I’m frequently asked. Do you read each others’ works in progress? Do you ever feel competitive with one another? What do you think the relationship has meant to the writing and the writing to the relationship? How do the two of you approach collaborations?

Norma and I were not writers when we met. Norma, I believe, would have been a writer whether we’d met or not. I’m not so sure about myself. There were other things I wanted to do: sing, or do history, build a house, or change the world. But I do stick to things.

We didn’t know if we could become writers or not, but once we agreed I was hooked. Writing every day was a challenge. A bigger challenge was resisting that destructive inner voice that called me a fool for even trying. But Norma was always there for me and I was there for her.

We encouraged one another, read each others’ writing, made suggestions. celebrated every success, comforted one another through the inevitable disappointments. After our kids, the writing became the most important thing in our lives

Was there competition, envy? Maybe, but it never lasted. Any success by either of us was cause for celebration. Our relationship made the writing possible, and the writing deepened our relationship.

Would you describe any of your work as autobiographical or quasi-autobiographical? If so, could you offers some insights into the stories behind those stories?

My stories grow out of my life, are rooted in places that I know. Bits and pieces of my life are embedded in every book.

Like King Arthur, the dog Tony brings home in the opening scene of Snowbound (Laurel Leaf, 1974). I thought I had totally made it up till years later, when I would talk about the book, that I remembered that as a boy I had once tried unsuccessfully to bring home a dog.

Only The Last Mission (Laurel Leaf, 1981), based on my experiences during WW2, is there a long sustained episode of my life. I wrote the book as fiction because it freed my imagination and allowed me more room to invent.

Could you tell us about the writing of A Boy at War (Simon & Schuster, 2001), A Boy No More (Simon & Schuster, 2004), and Heroes Don’t Run (Simon & Schuster, 2005)? What was your initial inspiration for writing the trilogy?

The idea of A Boy at War began with David Gale, my editor at Simon and Schuster. He saw a notice of an big upcoming movie about Pearl Harbor and saw that there was a need of a book on the subject for young readers. He asked if I’d be interested in doing that book.

Every book I’d written before had grown out of my own imaginings, but the subject of a boy at Pearl Harbor intrigued me. I was already wondering where he was that Sunday morning of the Japanese attack. Sure, I said, I’ll do it. A Boy At War was popular, and David asked me to do two more books about Adam Pelko encompassing WW2 from Pearl Harbor to the Japanese surrender.

What were the challenges in bringing these stories to life?

The trilogy was a logistical challenge. I’d written A Boy At War not knowing that there might be a follow-up. Fortunately, I’d already written his friend, Davi into A Boy At War and in A Boy No More. I was able to involve Adam in the Japanese internments that took place in the year following Pearl Harbor. Okinawa, and the last great battles of the Pacific war, was going to be more of a challenge. The battle began in May 1945. Would Adam to be old enough to be a marine in that battle? Yes, if he volunteered when he was seventeen. He just made it!

When I started writing the Pearl Harbor book about Adam Pelko, a couplet had popped into my head: A boy at war, A boy no more. It gave me the broad outline of the book and as a bonus the title as well. A Boy At War.

When I was asked to do two more volumes, I had the title of the second book: A Boy No More. But what was the title going to be for the Okinawa book? Well, that battle marked the end of the war and I thought, A boy at war, A boy no more, war no more. Perfect!

“War No More,” I said to David. I thought I’d aced it, but the sales force at S&S didn’t agree. “War No More” was not a boy title. They asked me to come up with another title.

It didn’t come easily. I had to think. Here again things that I had written with no thought of title came to my rescue. Writing the book I had excerpted something Adam’s Sgt. “Rosie” says and used it as an epigram for the beginning of the book.

“Every man who’s here on this line in these hell holes,” Rosie says, “is a hero in my book.”

That was the truth, I thought. Heroes are not a breed apart. In Okinawa, in any war, they are the soldiers who day after day and battle after battle confront the enemy and do what they must. Heroes Don’t Run.

Cynsational Notes

“Real Characters–Real Life: An Interview with Harry Mazer” from Writer’s Block.

See Military and War in Children’s Literature; Relocation and Internment in Children’s Books.

Cynsational News & Links

Liz B from A Chair, A Fireplace, and a Tea Cozy has read Tantalize by Cynthia Leitich Smith (Candlewick, March 2007) in ARC and blogged about it. Liz calls it, “A dark fantasy with plenty of humor that will also make you very hungry” and says “It’s as if someone opened a restaurant in Sunnydale.” For more, see July 1 post.

Thanks to Tanya Lee Stone (author interview) for blogging about the cover, which she called “fantastic!” She’s the fantastic one! Thanks also to Cynsations LJ readers jennyhan, mary_ohhh, lstolarz, cynthialord, crcook for their cheers, Spookycyn LJ readers jenlibrarian, d_michiko_f, beverlyjean, lizzb, moniquemadigan, cawriter, halseanderson, brandie_writer, azang, cynthea, and slwhitman for their cheers as well as everyone who wrote me directly. Most appreciated!

On Spookcyn, I’ve been blogging lately about “Superman Returns,” the Blanton Museum of Art at The University of Texas, Austin, taxidermy at Cabela’s, and “Cars.”

In other news…

A Broken Flute: The Native Experience in Books for Children edited by Doris Seale and Beverly Slapin (AltaMira, 2005) has been honored by the American Book Awards, which according to BookWeb, were “established in 1978 by the Before Columbus Foundation, recognize outstanding literary achievement by contemporary American authors, without restriction to race, sex, ethnic background, or genre. The purpose of the awards is to acknowledge the excellence and multicultural diversity of American writing.” A Broken Flute also received a 2006 Skipping Stones Honor Award.

Other 2006 Skipping Stones honor recipients included: The Librarian of Basra: A True Story from Iraq by Jeanette Winter (Harcourt, 2006)(publisher interview)(BookPage interview); Hotel Deep: Light Verse from Dark Water by Kurt Cyrus (Harcourt, 2005)(recommendation); and Strong At The Heart: How it feels to heal from sexual abuse by Carolyn Lehman (Melanie Kroupa/FSG, 2005)

“Children’s Books by and about People of Color Published in the U.S. 2002-“ from CCBC. Big-picture, we’re not making much in the way of gains in terms of the hard numbers. That said, I’d much rather see fewer quality titles than more just for the sake of quantity.

Congratulations to Sara Shacter on the release of Heading to the Wedding, illustrated by Christine Thornton (Red Pebble, 2006). According to the catalog copy, “Every child invited to a wedding needs this amusing book to learn who’s who, what’s what and how to behave at a wedding while still having a great time.” Both the author and illustrator live in the Chicago area.

Congratulations to Greg Leitich Smith on finishing the first version of his new novel manuscript in progress, a process which he blogs about in “The Throwaway Draft.”

Curse of Arastold (Book Two of the Silverskin Legacy) by Jo Whittemore (Llewellyn, July 2006) is now available. I interviewed Jo about Book 1, Escape From Arylon (Llewellyn, March 2006) in April. See also “And Then What Happened?: Writing the Sequel” by Jo Whittemore from New Worlds of Mind and Spirit.

The Edge of the Forest has posted its June/July issue! Highlights include “A Day in the Life with Leda Schubert” and “What’s in their Backpack?” with Esmé Raji Codell, both by Kim Winters of Kat’s Eye. Kelly Herold of Big A little a also interviews author Susan Taylor Brown. Read recent Cynsations interviews with Leda, Esmé, and Susan. I’m so wowed by this online magazine.

“Just Like Magic, Susan Cooper Casts Another Captivating Spell” by Heidi Henneman from BookPage. Interview highlights Susan Cooper‘s latest, Victory (Margaret McElderry, 2006).

Kaley’s Korner: official online hangout of the heroine of The World According to Kaley (Darby Creek, 2005) and Cyberpals According to Kaley (Darby Creek, 2006), both by Dian Curtis Regan (author interview).

A Library Visit at Jail by Don Tate from Devas T. Rants and Raves. “My mind had built them up as monsters,” Don says, “but as I caught the eye of each one of them, I realized these were children–big, burly, possibly dangerous children, but children none the less. And they were respectful.” Read the whole post.

“Picture Book Manuscripts and Illustrations” by Harold Underdown from The Purple Crayon. An excellent Q&A article covering commonly asked questions about picture book submissions. Topics include: connecting with an illustrator, illustration notes, visual references, package submissions, and authors who themselves are also professional illustrators.

The 35th Annual One-on-One Plus Conference sponsored by The Rutgers University Council on Children’s Literature will be Saturday, Oct. 21, 2006. “The unique one-on-one format gives writers and illustrators a rare opportunity to share their work with an assigned mentor. The conference also offers a chance to meet and exchange information and ideas with experienced authors, illustrators, editors, art directors, and agents, who have generously volunteered their time.”

What I’m Reading from Linda Sue Park offers her fabulous, twopart (note how cleverly I linked that) ALA report, which among other things, apparently included a blogger’s dinner! Read a recent Cynsations interview with Linda Sue.