Thursday, February 24, 2011

FEATURED SWEETHEART: Ed Spicer




It as an absolute delight to announce Ed Spicer is our newest Featured Sweetheart! He's got an enormous heart and lots of personality--check out his bio:

With Swim the Fly cap on

A Short Autobiography of Edward Allen Spicer
By Don't Make Me Tell You!!!

I hate clichés. I hate it when someone says, “Books saved my life.” Or, “Reading saved my life.” Or, “Libraries saved my life.” What? They blocked the deadly bullet? They padded the fall from the cliff? I hate these clichés because they rob me of the start of my short autobiography for Texas Sweethearts and Scoundrels.

As a young, homeless child my hours on the floor of a Federated Department store in California madly reading every single Nancy Drew mystery taught me to love reading, which is another way of saying this time began to teach me a way to love thinking. Thinking makes life worth living. In my college library, I memorized several hundred poems by dead white guys because I was afraid that people would think I was too dumb to live, in part because I was worried about all that time spent with Nancy Drew. Fortunately, I now embrace my inner knucklehead!

Once upon a time, I cut off the ponytail of the first grade girl who sat in front of me. I broke a gas line too, which forced the evacuation of the entire school. I broke the windows in the third grade classroom even though I was not aiming for them. I did not know what recess was until I was in the fifth grade. Consequently, my life now is paying back a whole host of psychic debt. I teach first graders and I ask to have the wigglers and squigglers in my classroom. My hours in the library in elementary school showed me that there was a bigger world than the one I knew, which didn’t often seem very worthwhile.

I run a reading group for high school teens, some of whom are former first graders. I coordinate a teen writing contest. I read a book a day and I write book reviews for the Michigan Reading Journal. I am an unapologetic author groupie. Volunteer work for any and every book related committee possible is my quest. One semester of graduate students explored young adult literature with me for my class at Grand Valley State University (adjunct). I have served on the Michael L. Printz Committee (2005), Best Books for Young Adults (2006-2008), the Randolph C. Caldecott Committee (2009), Notable Children’s Books (2009-2010), and, now, the Morris Committee (2012). I try to be faithful to my website (www.spicyreads.org).

I hate clichés! I love books so much that I want to marry them. I also love paradox.

Hometown of Allegan


Wife, Ann Perrigo, and Ed

*****

TXS&S: Can you tell us a little about what you do and how you got started?

My short autobiography will give readers a general idea of what it is that I do and how I got started, but I also need to credit my wife, Ann Perrigo. When I was working for my teachable major, I remember sitting in the library desperately trying to finish A Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson before class. I sat in the library just sobbing as I finished. That book inspired my new life goal: to be on the Newbery committee. When I got home, I told my library director beloved esposa that I wanted to be on the Newbery committee. “What do I have to do?” She told me that I needed to join ALA. So I joined in 1999 and waited two whole weeks and asked Ann why no one had called me yet. Ann informed that I also had to join the division that sponsored the award, ALSC. A few days later when I went to join the division, the 59 billion divisions and acronyms in the ALA world surprised me. I wasn’t quite sure what division I needed to join, so I joined both YALSA and ALSC. That is how I got started with ALA and reviewing and, eventually, with my committee work (but I still haven’t been on the Newbery committee yet).

Betsy the Reading Beagle Dog


Stephanie Hemphill reading to Ed's first graders

TXS&S: What has been one of the biggest surprises since becoming an educator and reviewer?

The biggest surprise is that I have become very good friends with people who share very different ideas about what distinguishes excellent literature for children and young adults. The youth book world is mostly filled with exceptionally smart and wickedly funny folks who share a passion for raising another generation of readers. I am blessed to be a part of this community. Even after all these years, I am still very surprised by the abundance of kindness and concern within the library world, regardless of whether or not we agree on the merits of any specific book.

Typical box and book delivery for Notables or BBYA


Rosemary Wells book dedication


TXS&S: You've volunteered on many different committees--what have those experiences been like?

I have been on single book selection committees and book list committees. The single book selection committees like the Caldecott and Printz can be very heartbreaking. Every committee member sees favorite books left behind and we can never discuss just how close some books came to making our list. That is hard. On the Printz committee I read every single one of our contenders multiple times—some as many as seven times (including several that did not make our list). For the Caldecott, I swear that we looked at every pixel about a million times. For both of these committees, I know the strengths AND the weaknesses of our selections better than just about anyone on the planet. That said, however, the list committees like BBYA and Notables, are much more difficult. The reading load is huge because members must read every book from beginning to end. We are not attempting to pick a single winner; we are picking a list of books. We cannot stop reading something because we know it is NOT going to be the Printz winner or the Caldecott winner. For BBYA I read more than 300 books each year; for Notables I read and annotated more than 800 books (including picture books). These meetings are also open to authors and publishers. Initially this was very intimidating. However, these committees helped me discover MANY books that I would never have read on my own. All of the committees are a tremendous amount of fun. I have made lifelong friends from these committee experiences and I have donated thousands of books to schools, jails, libraries, students, preschools, and other organizations. All of my committee work has added richness to my life that is difficult to verbalize.

Reacting to the news that Jerry Pinkney won the Caldecott


Ed with Neil Gaiman


TXS&S: If you could make a wish for children and reading in the future, what would it be?

Every single morning before I begin teaching, I begin by getting a mental image of each and everyone of my students. I pledge or pray or meditate on how to do at least one good thing for each student, each and every day. This ritual often involves my wishes for the students. My first wish is that I do a great job of teaching my students how to be kind, because I would rather be around kind people than smart people. However, I always hope for both and there is a good lot of research that suggests that those kind and ethical students are often the very smartest students. Consequently, much of my wishing involves teaching students to fall in love with reading and thinking. This involves helping them to see reading as an essential part of a happy life. We are better at being kind when we can envision beyond our own immediate environment. We are better at being smart when we are exposed to multiple points of view. Reading has made me kinder and smarter, even if I still have a long way to go. I want this for my students too.

Ed with the Printz women (except Kelly, KL Going--this shot is photoshopped from individual pictures of Ed with authors--and Kelly got lost somehow)


TXS&S: Would you consider yourself a Sweetheart or Scoundrel, and why?

This entirely depends on which personality comes out to play. I know beyond any doubt that I am both.



Thank you, Ed!

*****

At TLA,

Ed Spicer will present "Serving Homeless Children and Teens in the Library" on April 14, 2011. CPE#479



*****

Please email us your nominations for featured sweethearts.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

FEATURED SWEETHEART: Elizabeth Law




We’re downright honored to announce that our newest Featured Sweetheart is the outgoing, smart, and savvy Elizabeth Law!


Elizabeth Law is Vice President and Publisher of Egmont USA, where “we turn writers into authors and children into lifelong readers.” Although she lives in New York City, Elizabeth is the proud daughter of two Texans—her dad was from Dallas and her mom is from Celeste, in Hunt County. Her great grandmother even pledged money early in the last century to help build SMU. Some of Elizabeth’s favorite books she has edited recently include Food, Girls, and Other Things I Can’t Have by Allen Zadoff, Bitter Melon by Cara Chow, and The False Princess by Eilis O’Neal.


Texas Sweethearts Jessica Lee Anderson & PJ Hoover with Elizabeth Law


TXS&S: What is something you've gained from your experience as an editor?

EL: One of the best things about being an editor is that it’s constantly surprising—authors come up with solutions to questions I raise about their manuscripts that are richer, deeper, and funnier than anything I could have imagined. And when art comes in for a picture book—that’s the most exciting thing in the world. It so surpasses what I envision when I read a picture book text. So to answer your question, a big thing I learned is that I don’t know everything—writers and artists bring a lot more to the table than I could ever picture.

Another thing I’ve learned is to always speak up, always say what I think, though as gently as possible, when I’m editing a manuscript. I’ve learned to ask about something, or to bring up an issue a reader might have, for a second or third time. Of course it is always the author’s book, and the author has final say, rightly, about everything that is in his or her story. But my only regrets in 25 years of working on books are the times I let something go, or didn’t raise something again, or didn’t go back into a manuscript one more time—even though I often made that decision because the book had to make a deadline. The only things that haunt me are the times I didn’t try hard enough.

The Egmont team with VORDAK THE INCOMPREHENSIBLE


TXS&S: We love how candid you are when you speak at conferences, Elizabeth! Is there any advice that you repeatedly give to attendees?

EL: I speak about this a lot, but the longer I’m around, the more I believe in persistence. I believe in just showing up, doing the work, and submitting your material. I saw a documentary on Joan Rivers recently where someone said “To get struck by lightning, you’ve got to be willing to stand in the rain. And Joan will stand in the rain longer than anyone.” I totally get that! It’s easy to be discouraged when we compare ourselves—someone else’s book is always selling better, or another publisher has a hit with a book that I wish we were publishing, but the important thing is to do your best work and just keep going. That always works in the end.


TXS&S: With publisher purse strings tightening in this economy, what is an effective, affordable way an author can promote him or herself?

EL: That is the million dollar question. We hear so much about social networking, and I myself do a lot of it, but I find it all a little unproven. I hope it goes without saying that the best thing you can do for your career is to write a really good book. Taking that as read, one tip I can give is, if you are active online, be sure to compliment and support other people’s work as well as your own—nothing is more boring than people who advertise relentlessly for their own work but don’t tweet or blog about anything else.

I look at the Shrinking Violets blog a lot—they have a lot of good ideas for promoting yourself and helpful interviews. That link is http://shrinkingvioletpromotions.blogspot.com/

Also, authors in this field are very supportive of each other. If you are reading this blog, you probably know some writers or artists and maybe have attended an SCBWI conference. Ask other writers what they’ve done that has worked. I know that may sound lame, but there really is no easy answer here—if there was, I would share it!

The Egmont team with FOOD, GIRLS, AND OTHER THINGS I CAN'T HAVE


TXS&S: If you could make a wish for the future of publishing, what would it be?

EL: I would wish for a gloriously diverse and thriving field, where everyone could afford physical books and ebooks and know how to read them. Picture books, easy-to-reads, and chapter books would be selling just as strongly as YA novels, and I would be editing and publishing an author who made as much of an impact on generations of readers as Beverly Cleary did. And Stephenie Meyer would publish a new novel about Edward Cullen every couple of years, just so I could read it.

Edward Cullen in the shredder


TXS&S: Would you consider yourself a Sweetheart or Scoundrel, and why?

EL: A sweetheart! I’m a total pussycat. I can’t believe you even have to ask.

TXS&S: While we knew the answer, the question is too tempting not to ask.
Thank you, Elizabeth!



*****

Please email us your nominations for featured sweethearts.

Monday, February 7, 2011

FEATURED SWEETHEART: Toni Buzzeo





This week we're thrilled to feature Toni Buzzeo. In addition to being a fantastic librarian, Toni also wears the hat of author.


TXS&S: What interested you in becoming a children's librarian? What has been a special highlight in your career?

TB: I worked at the main public library in my hometown of Dearborn, Michigan while I was in high school and then continued as I put myself through college. During my college years, I had the good fortune to be transferred to the Snow Branch library where I worked as an aide in the children’s department and once again fell in love with children’s books. I began to read them, buy them, treasure them. From there, I took a circuitous route through graduate school in English Language and Literature followed by teaching writing at the college and high school level before I found my way back to the world of libraries. When I earned my masters degree in library science, though, I had no question that I wanted to work with children and their literature.

The greatest honor I experienced in my LIBRARY career was when the Maine Association of School Libraries honored me as the 1999 Maine Library Media Specialist of the Year. What an amazing tribute to my passion for children and their books!

One of the most fun experiences in my WRITING career, directly tied to my love of libraries, was the recent inclusion of 1.55 million copies of my picture book No T. Rex in the Library (illustrated by Sachiko Yoshikawa, McElderry, 2010) in Cheerios boxes through the Spoonfuls of Stories program.



TXS&S: What led you to writing books for children? Are there any writing tips you could offer?

TB: Literally, BOOKS led me to the writing of children’s books. As a librarian, I selected books, I reviewed books, I shared books. Finally, after years of all this, I knew that I wanted to WRITE them as well.

Inevitably, despite my years of knowledgeable interaction with contemporary children’s books, the first words I set on paper reflected not the style of those recent books but the style of the books I’d read as a child. It was only through a year of guidance and encouragement from my mentor, children’s author Jane Kurtz www.janekurtz.com, that I learned to model my own writing on current, published fiction. So my best advice is to not only read piles of current books in the genre you are writing but to consciously analyze what makes them successful in content, style, theme.



TXS&S: You've also been involved in Reader's Theater--could you share with us what your experience has been like?

TB: I am the author of stacks of Reader’s Theater scripts based on the texts of published children’s books (with formal author/publisher permission, of course). It’s absolutely delightful work to re-work stories to the requirements of a script. I’m a huge proponent of children’s reader’s theater because it has been proven to be the single most effective technique for improving readers’ fluency. Besides, kids love reader’s theater.

I have created a reader’s theater script for most of my published books, such as the two Adventure Annies, Adventure Annie Goes to Work and Adventure Annie Goes to Kindergarten, and have made them available on my web site www.tonibuzzeo.com. I encourage each of you with published books to consider doing so as well.



TXS&S: Toni, you do quite a few talks at schools, libraries, conferences, etc. Any public speaking tips you could offer?

TB: I have several suggestions for authors who speak in schools and libraries and at conferences:

  • Attend as many presentations by other author-speakers as possible and, when possible, discuss the content as well as the modes of delivery with the presenters.
  • Plan to spend many days (weeks, if necessary) to create excellent presentations with a logical progression, crisp, clear images, and all necessary props.
  • Practice, practice, practice. For school visits, plan to do several free presentations (with feedback) before venturing into paid presentations.
  • Read my book, Terrific Connections with Authors, Illustrators, and Storytellers, for loads of specifics about the details of school and library speaking.

TXS&S: How do you get children motivated about reading and writing? What are you looking forward to?

TB: My method of motivating kids to read is to share the stories behind my stories, to show them the connections between my life and my stories, to ask them to look for their own connections to my books as well as the other books they are reading. Of course, as a librarian, I also talk with them about other people’s books that I love as well as the books they are currently reading.

My method for motivating kids to write is to show them, in my presentations, that all stories come from our own experiences in one way or another, to encourage them to find the things in their own lives that call to them to be written. I also conduct workshops with young writers, giving them tools in “showing, not telling” in order to improve their own writing skills.

Right now, I’m looking forward to six more picture books that will be published in the next two years.
  • Penelope Popper, Book Doctor, ill. by Jana Christy (Upstart, Spring 2011)
  • A Lighthouse Christmas, ill. by Nancy Carpenter (Dial, Fall 2011)
  • One Cool Friend, ill. by David Small (Dial, Spring 2012)
  • Stay Close to Mama, ill. by Mike Wohnoutka (Hyperion, Spring 2012)
  • Inside the Books, ill. by Jude Daly (Upstart, 2012)
  • Just Like My Papa, ill. by Mike Wohnoutka (Hyperion, Spring 2013)

Beyond that, I look forward to writing many more picture books and continuing to work on the four novel-length manuscripts I have underway. Much of that writing will happen in my beautiful writing cottage which I invite you to visit by viewing the video on my web site www.tonibuzzeo.com or directly on youtube.

This is the fabulous writing cottage where Toni works.

TXS&S: Thank you so very much, Toni!


*****

Please email us your nominations for featured sweethearts.

Congrats to Sweetheart Jeanette Larson!




THE TEXAS SWEETHEARTS & SCOUNDRELS want to offer a huge congratulations to fellow sweetheart (or scoundrel) Jeanette Larson for the release of

HUMMINGBIRDS: FACT & FOLKLORE FROM THE AMERICAS by Jeanette Larson, illustrated by Adrienne Yorinks (Charlesbridge, February 2011)


Jeanette had an amazing book signing this past weekend here in Austin at Barnes & Noble!

From left to right: Jeanette Larson (the author), Chris Barton, Sweetheart PJ Hoover, Mark Mitchell, Sweetheart Jessica Lee Anderson, Julie Lake, and Donna Bowman Bratton


From Amazon:
Hummingbirds are fascinating little creatures that have captured the imagination of people for thousands of years. Since they are only found in the Americas, the myths and legends about this tiny bird originated from the peoples of North and South America. These native cultures wrote stories to offer explanations for the behavior and physical characteristics of this graceful species: Why does the hummingbird drink nectar? What accounts for its amazing flying abilities? Why is the hummingbird attracted to the color red? Jeannette Larson and Adrienne Yorinks have compiled facts and folklore about these intriguing fliers that will answer these questions and many more. Readers will also get a glimpse into the different cultures that have been transfixed for centuries by this bird, as well as learn many interesting scientific facts discovered by modern-day ornithologists. Adrienne s bold and unique mixed-media quilts illustrate the hummingbird in nature and the mystery of these birds in ancient folklore. Substantial back matter includes an index, a glossary of terms, suggested further reading and websites, a bibliography, sources, resources, and a list of hummingbird sanctuaries.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

School Visit Tips

Texas Sweethearts & Scoundrels P.J. Hoover, K.A. Holt, and Jessica Lee Anderson recently visited Baranoff Elementary for their annual Young Authors’ Conference.

We each had a wonderful time, and to top off the great experience, we received a packet of fan mail following our visit. What could be more special? In addition to sharing these gems, we also wanted to share our top three school visit tips.

P.J. Hoover’s Top 3 School Visit Tips:


1. Be prepared. For anything. The projector may not work. Your computer may not boot up. You might have to *shudder* wing it. Put your presentation on a memory stick in addition to your computer. Be able to talk even without PowerPoint. And most of all, bring your own water bottle.

2. For large groups of young kids, practice and enforce the "hand raising" thing. Ditto older kids. Crowd control can be flushed down the toilet in the blink of an eye without a plan in place. And even then you're walking on precarious ice. You don't want to have to be the mean author who tells the kids over and over and over they need to settle down.

3.Make it fun. This may sound obvious, but kids want to be involved. They want to have a chance to answer questions. They want to get excited. This is your chance to play-act being a kid again. Remember how cool you thought celebrities were when you were young? Be that celebrity.

K.A. Holt’s Top 3 School Visit Tips:



1. Engage. It's great to have a PowerPoint presentation and a speech prepared, but don't forget you have an eager, captive audience. Ask THEM questions, move around the group, offer help if you've given them a writing project... let them know that you're not just there as A Person Who Writes Books, but as a fellow writer who thinks they're just as cool as they think you are.

2. It's OK to deviate. Sometimes, no matter how prepared you are, something goes wonky. Computers crash, cables go missing, kids are added to your once small group, etc. You have to be able to be flexible with your presentation and cater it to the demands of the day. It's a good idea, while you're preparing for your visit, to run through some alternative scenarios. Sure, you can't plan for everything, but you can at least know what you'll do if the projector breaks.

3. Relax. Even if you hate public speaking more than anything in the world, realize that speaking in front of kids about your work is one of the most rewarding things you can do as an author. You have your book's audience right in front of you. They're eager to hear you speak, to ask questions, to see what you're like. There's some pressure to that, yes, but there's also freedom.


Jessica Lee Anderson’s Top 3 School Visit Tips:

1. Plan ahead. Know exactly where you need to go and what time you have to be there and how much time you have for the visit. Allow plenty of time for traffic, detours, parking, registration, a trip to the bathroom, etc. Know what is expected of you prior to the visit so you can come as prepared as possible. Create backup plans if you can.

2. Be professional, and be yourself. Just like you’re honest in your writing, be honest in your visits (without being inappropriate, of course). Your audience wants to learn about you and they want you to connect with them. Share your struggles as well as your successes. Know what works for you as a speaker and what doesn’t by practicing, and play up your strengths so you’ll feel calmer and come across as more natural.

3. Have a sense of humor. This certainly helps when a kindergartner sticks a finger between your toes while you’re speaking (tip 3.A—it is probably best to avoid wearing sandals), a middle school student decides to jokingly propose marriage to you during your presentation, or when you trip over a bundle of wires in front of a very, very large crowd. Laughing at these sorts of things will help you keep your cool and make the visit more fun.


Any school visit tips you’d like to share?