Sunday, August 17, 2014

Say It Ain't So by Josh Berk -- Review and Giveaway

Thought for the Day:
"Unless you try to do something beyond what you have already 
mastered you will never grow." 
~ Ralph Waldo Emerson ~
Gifts for My Writer Friends:

Janice Hardy’s Fiction University has an interesting post called Why Should Anyone Help Your Protagonist. This will give you much to ponder. Click HERE to read it. 

The Editor’s Blog has a wonderful post on what doesn’t belong in your writing. Click HERE to read Exclude Us from Novels. Isn't that a great title?

An interesting article in the New York Times by Aimee Bender suggests what all writers can learn from Goodnight Moon. Click HERE for this fun and interesting article. 

Gehrig with Trophy
This is baseball week here at The Write Stuff. Actually, one of many baseball weeks for me. We spent this weekend at a baseball complex in 95 degree heat watching our grandson, Gehrig, and his team win a local championship. It was a great warm-up for the big tournament next week in Cooperstown, NY, home of the Baseball Hall of Fame. Yup. We are all trekking to New York to watch kids play baseball. I think this week's Thought for the Day is as apropos for baseball players as it is for writers. If I don't get around to posting next week, don't be surprised. I will be jet-lagged and baseball busy.

Last week I had two posts with a giveaway on each. First, the copy of Goldie Takes a Stand by Barbara Krasner will be going to Claire M. Caterer. Claire is also a writer and has a great blog you can check out HERE. Congratulations, Claire! The copy of Sniffer Dogs by Nancy Castaldo will be going to Michael GG. Michael has a blog with the interesting title of Middle-Grade Mafioso you can check out HERE. Congratulations to you, Michael. I hope to get these in the mail before I leave town. 

Sticking with the baseball theme this week, I have a nice little middle-grade baseball mystery. Say It Ain't So by Josh Berk is a book I reviewed for the San Francisco Book Review a couple months ago, and since my brain is baked today, I will simply reprint the review I wrote for them. Josh Berk is a funny guy. I reviewed his earlier YA, Guy Langman, Crime Scene Procrastinator, on my blog a couple years ago. If you missed it, you can see it HERE. Here is my review of Say It Ain't So.

Lenny, Mike, and Other Mike are in the glory that is seventh grade, when Mike decides he has to go out for catcher on the Schwenkfelder Middle School team. The fact that Davis Gannet, the biggest and meanest eighth grader, is the catcher doesn’t faze Mike. His dad builds a pitcher’s mound and backstop in their backyard, and Mike recruits Lenny to train him. Why? Because Lenny has the worst arm on the planet. If Mike can catch or block everything Lenny throws, Mike will have a shot. Not only does Mike make the team, but Davis Gannet is caught stealing a cell phone and is kicked off the team! Then it’s discovered that the Griffith Griffins are stealing signs. This doesn’t pass the smell test. Lenny decides to put his detective hat on to see what he can uncover. He is attacked at Griffith Middle School and the librarian’s niece, Maria, rescues him, and a partnership is born, and maybe a little romance as well.
 “Who wouldn’t get a little angry about that? You’re framed for a crime and kicked off the team. The guy who got you booted takes your place and gets all the glory.”
Josh Berk
Josh Berk has a winning formula with the middle-school setting and his wisecracking trio of characters, Lenny, Mike, and Other Mike. This will be a welcome addition to his middle-school baseball mystery series.

I have a gently-read hardback copy of this book for one of you. All you need do is have a US address, be a subscriber or follower and tell me that in a comment you leave on this post. If you would like extra chances, please spread the word by posting the link on a Tweet, blog post, Facebook, or any other way you like. Let me know what you have done in your comment, and I will put in extra chances for you for each that you do. 

For more Marvelous Middle-Grade Monday reviews, check out Shannon Messenger's wonderful blog by clicking HERE.


Sunday, August 10, 2014

Sniffer Dogs by Nancy Castaldo -- Review, Interview, & Giveaway

Thought for the Day:
"Good observers have the manners of trees and animals, and if they add words, it is only when words are better than silence. But a vain talker profanes the river and the forest, and is nothing like so good company as a dog.” ~Ralph Waldo Emerson~

Gifts for My Writer Friends:
Writers Helping Writers has an interesting post HERE on using anger to deepen your character. 

Alexander Gordon Smith visits Adventures in YA Publishing and gives some good advice HERE on writing what you know. And it’s pretty entertaining. 

Writer’s Digest has a great article on writing dialogue you can find HERE

Last Sunday, I promised one of you a signed, hardback copy of The Other Half of My Heart by Sundee T. Frazier. Our winner this week is Nancy! Congratulations, Nancy. I will be sending this out to you this week. I know you will enjoy it. I have another great giveaway this week, so stay tuned.

I read a lot of non-fiction, but I seldom review it here. I don't know why. I do it now and then, but not as often as I should. But I have a non-fiction treat for you. I met Nancy Castaldo last November when I went to the Whole-Novel Historical Fiction Highlights Workshop. Nancy was on the faculty and I learned a lot about research (and other things) from her. I heard about her book Sniffer Dogs, and when I had a chance to review it for San Francisco Book Review, I jumped at it. I contacted Nancy and asked if she would be willing to do an interview as well, and she graciously answered all my questions. Here are the 5-star review I wrote for San Francisco Book Review and the interview with Nancy.

People casually speak about dogs being man’s best friend, but in fact there is a great deal of truth to that little phrase. Author Nancy Castaldo has written a wonderful middle-grade book that takes a close look at dogs and all they do for people. Young people will find this a fascinating overview of the many ways dogs help us. What makes dogs so special?
“By that one sniff your dog can tell where you’ve been and what you’ve been doing. It might surprise you, but your dog probably knows more about your health than you do.”
As Castaldo explains in her book, one of the ways dogs are special is they smell the way people hear – everything that is there. Dogs’ noses have 300 million sensory neurons while humans have only 6 million. And dogs are smart. They can be trained to use their sniffers for many important duties. Some find living people buried in disaster areas such as building collapses or after storms. Some find corpses. Some are trained to find explosives or drugs or accelerants in arson fire sites. Others work with scientists tracking wildlife while some are trained in medical applications such as recognizing dangerous blood sugar levels in diabetics. Castaldo’s excellent research and lively writing along with great dog photos make this a book kids will love, and they won’t even suspect they are learning.

RH - I really enjoyed reading your new book, Sniffer Dogs. How did you happen
Nancy Castaldo
upon the idea for this book?

NC - I learned about a moose population study that was being assisted by sniffer dogs in the nearby Adirondack Mountains. It fascinated me! I was very familiar with the traditional methods of obtaining information on various species and knew this could make a huge impact for conservation. I had to learn more and once I did, I wanted to tell the world!

RH - I know you have written picture books and activity books. How did you decide this should be written for middle-grade readers?

NC - I wanted to tell the story of these amazing dogs and their handlers in a way kids could understand and I wanted to delve into the subject matter more than a picture book could do. This was the perfect format for this subject.

RH - I know your research is always impeccable. Tell us a little about your research process for this book.

NC - I love sleuthing! It’s the best part of a book for me. The research for sniffer dogs brought me to the woods of North Carolina, the tunnels of Grand Central Station in NYC, the desert of California, and many other spots where these dogs work. I wanted to share the stories of different sniffer dogs, so I needed to spend time with them and watch them at work. Meeting the handlers, scientists, and trainers was just as important. I also read up on everything about dogs, their anatomy and history.

RH - You focus on several areas of work dogs can do. How were you able to find these different working dogs? What was your greatest challenge gaining access to the dogs and their trainers for your interviews?

NC - My first contact was with the organizations that employ these dogs. I then needed to connect with the dogs themselves. The handlers, trainers, and scientists who work with these dogs were wonderful. They love their dogs and respect their abilities. They were all very giving of their time. My greatest challenge was connecting with some. The conservation dogs, for example, spend most of their time in the field in remote regions. I wish I could have hopped on a plane to Africa or one of their other work sites to meet up with them. Most often when they are in the field their work is confidential guaranteeing no outside influences in their reports. There were also dogs that have passed on, like Sage and Sunny, who I would have loved to have met.

RH - What messages do you hope your young readers will find in your book?

NC - What I loved about these dogs was that many of them were saved from shelters. I worked in a shelter as a teen and it was heartbreaking to see some marvelous dogs lose their lives there. Raider was on death row when he was rescued and brought to the Search Dog Foundation. Wicket was also rescued from a shelter. The fact that these dogs got their second chance and have enriched our lives in the process is colossal. It is also humbling to see these sniffer dogs at work. They’re never wrong. Its no wonder their human partners trust them with their lives.

RH - How long did you work on Sniffer Dogs before it was acquired? Did you have the help of an agent or did you sell the book directly to the publisher? Please tell us something of your journey.

NC - I met my editor at a SCBWI retreat. The picture book she critiqued there was not for her, but she wanted to see more of my work. After sending her a proposal for a book on conservation sniffer dogs she asked if I could expand it. I was happy to! My agent handled the business end of things.

RH - The photographs are quite wonderful, and I know kids will love reading this book. You were able to use some of your own photos for the book. What kind of obstacles did you face for the photos you couldn’t take?

NC - Thanks, Rosi! It was a great pleasure to shoot most of the photos for this book. I have been a photographer for years, but haven’t had the opportunity to use my own photos for a book before. It was terrific because I was able to take the photos while I was with the dogs. I could capture them in training and at work. The major challenges were weather, time and locations.

RH - As writers, we hear so much about the editing process. Did you have to do a lot of re-writing once your books are acquired? What’s it like working with your editor?

NC - When I have a non-fiction book accepted, it means that I then have to write it. The editor has received a proposal and sample chapters. We’ve talked about the direction. Once I have a contract, I am given a deadline and then go off to complete my research, take photos, and get to the task of writing.  Once it is delivered to my editor, I am eager to get notes back from her to make the book better. She goes through it more than once before she gives it to me. After that revision, I submit it back to her with the photographs. It then proceeds on through copyediting and design. After months it arrives in first pages. The first pages look like the book – they are typeset with photos in place. Everyone reviews it and more editing takes place before it goes off to the printer. A photo might be replaced or moved. Captions are written. It gets more exciting as more people from the publishing house get involved. I’m always so anxious to see what the designer comes up with.  I think the designer on Sniffer Dogs did an amazing job.

RH - I promise not to tell Gatsby, but did you have a favorite of the dogs you wrote about, one you just hated to leave behind when your work was done?

NC - Oh, how can I pick a favorite? It’s like picking a favorite child. Each one was unique and special. I loved spending time with Raider in California. He was at the beginning of his career, and I know he’s going to be a fantastic search dog. Zuma’s quietness and thoroughness was so special. She was a dog with an old soul. I hope I captured the personalities of each of them in their photos. Their eyes say it all. They are loyal and hard-working. I felt honored to get to know them and keep in touch with most. I watch the news to see if any of the dogs I met are participating in a search at a natural disaster. Like a proud aunt, I love hearing about their accomplishments.

RH - What is next for you? Are you working on something now we can look forward to?

NC - In addition to a book on polar bears that will be released in November from National Geographic, I am working on another book for Houghton Mifflin that tells the story of biodiversity and seeds. It’s been very different from Sniffer Dogs. My subjects aren’t moving around as I photograph them (for the most part). It’s an important book and I am eager to share it with readers next year.

RH - What advice would you pass along to those of us who haven’t gotten that first book published?  

NC - Stay true to your writing. Believe in yourself. Develop your craft. Don’t write for the market. And READ!  Even though writing is a passion for most writers, it is also a business. Learn about it. Don’t send out work to publishers or agents until you can put your best foot forward. The Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators is a great resource. Not only will it provide you with tons of information, but will also give you a great sense of community and support.

RH - Thank you for so generously sharing your time and thoughts. Is there anything I didn’t ask about that you’d like to tell us?

NC - Thank you so much, Rosi. This was fun!  I have had a great time so far with Sniffer Dogs, and I can’t wait to begin sharing it in schools this fall. Teachers and other readers can find out more about my books and curriculum tie-ins at my website:

If you would like to have a chance to win my gently-read hardback copy of Sniffer Dogs, all you need do is have a US address, be a subscriber or follower (fee and easy -- look in the right hand column), and leave a comment. If you want extra chances, Tweet about this post with the link or post the link on Facebook or your own blog or some other social media. Tell me what you have done in your comment and I will give you extra chances in the drawing. And don't forget it isn't too late to leave a comment on Wednesday's post for a chance to win Goldie Takes a Stand by Barbara Krasner. You have until next Sunday for that.

Don't forget to stop over at Shannon Messenger's wonderful blog for more Marvelous Middle-Grade Monday reviews and giveaways. You can find it by clicking HERE.



Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Goldie Takes a Stand by Barbara Krasner -- Review & Giveaway

Thought for the Day:

"The ear is the only true writer and the only true reader." 
~ Robert Frost ~
Gifts for My Writer Friends:

The Editor’s Blog has a terrific post that will answer a LOT of questions about quotations and italics usage. Click HERE.

Since marketing is increasingly becoming the purview of authors, HERE is a site that is chock full of helpful information.

Writers Rumpus has 12 Tips for Effective Critiquing. Click HERE to read it. 

This is a special edition of my blog because I couldn't wait until the weekend to introduce Barbara Krasner's wonderful debut picture book, Goldie Takes a Stand: Golda Meir's First Crusade, out this week from Kar-Ben Publishing. AND Barbara was kind enough to do an interview with me as well! Barbara runs one of the best blogs in the business -- The Whole Megillah: The Writer's Resource for Jewish-themed Story: Fiction, Nonfiction, and Poetry. If you have never visited, you really should. She has the best interviews of agents, editors, and writers I've ever seen and lots more besides. Click HERE to visit.

Most of us know who Golda Meir was and know about her leadership in Israel, but Barbara has found a very interesting story from Golda's early life, then broke a bunch of picture book rules and told her story in first person from Golda's point of view. We don't see much in the way of historical fiction in the picture book market and it is even more rare for stories in the point of view seen here. 

Goldie is nine years old, living in Milwaukee, when she forms the American Young Sisters Society made up of her young friends who are also Jewish immigrants from Russia. Of course, Golda is the president of the Society. The topic of the meeting is school textbooks. The girls and their friends in school are struggling to learn with tattered, out-of-date textbooks. Goldie said they would each need to raise 3 cents per week, but the girls knew it was too much. Golda tried charging people extra in their family store, but people objected. By the next meeting, no one had been able to raise much money. The girls had to think big and Goldie knew just what to do. 

This charming story will capture young readers' interest and leave them wanting to know more about this great lady. Of course, Barbara has added some interesting back matter about Golda Meir and places to find more information. Now, please join me for more fascinating information from Barbara Krasner.

I really enjoyed reading your new picture book, Goldie Takes a Stand! Golda Meir had many extraordinary accomplishments in her life. How did you happen upon this fascinating story from her childhood?

I had signed up to spend two weeks at Carolyn P. Yoder’s Alumni Retreat at the
Barbara Krasner
Highlights Foundation at Boyds Mills, PA. The weekend between those two weeks were free, however, and I planned to attend the annual reading of the Moses Seixas and George Washington letters of religious tolerance at Touro Synagogue in Newport, Rhode Island. I perused the spines of books on the shelves in the farmhouse, the homestead of the founders of Highlights for Children magazine, and came across Golda Meir’s autobiography, My Life. I borrowed it for my trip.
On the night before the Touro event, I was lying in bed reading Golda’s book and she talked about a time when she was living in Milwaukee and attending the Fourth Street School. Kids had to buy their own textbooks and few could afford them. So she formed a society of 22 girls, named herself president, and she organized a successful fundraiser. I knew this story had to be told.

I know your research is always impeccable. Tell us a little about your research process for this book.

I contacted the Milwaukee Jewish Museum and the archivist there sent me a copy of the September 1909 newspaper article from the Milwaukee Journal that pictured these girls and talked about the fundraising event. A friend in Milwaukee was able to get me background information on the school district (thank you, Lisa Idzikowski!). I also consulted books about the Jewish history of Milwaukee and Golda Meir biographies, and I reached out to Norman Provizer of the Golda Meir Center for Political Leadership at Metropolitan State College of Denver to vet the manuscript.

Why did you decide to write this story as historical fiction rather than as non-fiction? The first-person point of view is a bit unusual for a picture book, although it certainly works well. Did you try writing the story from other points of view? Can you tell us how you came to this decision?

The story needed dialogue, so that led me to fictionalize the story. I also felt I needed to fill in some of the gaps to dramatize the fundraising efforts. I initially wrote the story in third person, but Golda’s voice was so strong, she demanded first-person treatment! And you’re certainly right, that is unusual in a picture book.

What messages do you hope your young readers will find in your book?

There are actually quite a few messages here. First, that even a child can dream big and make something big happen. Second, there’s the Jewish value of tikkun olam, repairing the world, which even as child, Golda sought to do. In my program, “What Would Goldie Do?” I lead children in a discussion of how they could make a difference in someone else’s life by doing one small thing.

How long did you work on Goldie Takes a Stand! before it was acquired? Did you have the help of an agent or did you sell the book directly to the publisher? Please tell us something of your journey.

Let’s see. I read the book in August 2010. I contacted the Jewish Museum in Milwaukee the following month. I wrote the first draft in October and workshopped it with one of my favorite authors (and friend/mentor) Candy Fleming. I revised and revised and sent it out on submission in April 2012. I received an offer of publication from Joni Sussman at Kar-Ben in June 2012. I did not have an agent, but I really believed in this story. Who knew Golda Meir, Prime Minister of Israel, lived in Milwaukee as a kid—and made a difference?

The quaint illustrations by Kelsey Garrity-Reilly for your book certainly ground the reader in the time and place of the story. As writers, we often hear writers have no input on illustrations. Did you have any input on the choice of illustrator or any communication with Garrity-Riley during the process? How did you feel about the look of the book when you finally saw it?

I did not have any input on illustrations, but I know Kelsey was expressly selected to give the book that “period” feel. Kelsey and I have never communicated directly or even indirectly with each other.

As writers, we hear so much about the editing process. Did you have to do a lot of re-writing once your books are acquired? What’s it like working with your editor?

I started out by working with Judy Groner. My manuscript was way too long, so we had to cut it. Golda’s sister, Clara, and her father ended up on the cutting room floor. Then I had to verify a few tidbits. I did not have to do a lot of rewriting, though, and the editorial process was fairly straightforward.

I’ve long been a fan of your blog, The Whole Megillah. It certainly has broadened my literary horizons. Do you find having that kind of web presence to be very helpful in landing your contract? If so, in what ways?

That’s a very interesting question. As you know, I’m on the Sydney Taylor Book Award Committee, sponsored by the Association of Jewish Libraries. I receive a lot of Jewish-themed books as a result that I must read and evaluate. I pay particular attention to authors whose work stands out for me and, as you also know, I invite editors, authors, agents, and illustrators to participate in interviews for The Whole Megillah. From time to time, I query these editors because I think my own work suits their list and they know I know their list. Instead of attending a conference of 1,000 people where an editor might be, I’d rather invite them to an interview and then after some respectable and reasonable time, pitch to him or her, if appropriate.

What advice would you pass along to those of us who haven’t gotten that first book published?  
Patience and perseverance is what it takes. Some writers find publication quickly. Others, like me, don’t (I have a novel I began in 1999 as time travel. It then became historical fiction and I’ve rewritten it from scratch at least three times. Each time I think it’s ready to go out, it really isn’t.) But that doesn’t mean you should give up. At the risk of sounding cliché, write the very best story you can write and revise, revise, revise. Don’t send the work out too soon.

Thank you for so generously sharing your time and thoughts. Is there anything I didn’t ask about that you’d like to tell us?
Be open to different kinds of writing. I never expected my first book for children would be a picture book. My second book for kids, Liesl’s Ocean Rescue (Gihon River Press, December 2014), is a picture book as well.

I have a gently-read copy of Goldie Takes a Stand to share with one of you. All you need do is have a US address, be a subscriber or follower (free and easy -- check the right-hand column), and leave a comment. If you want extra chances, please share the link to this post by Twitter or on Facebook or any other way you choose. Just tell me in your comment what you have done, and I will give you extra chances. This contest will be open until Sunday, August 17.

If you haven't left a comment yet on Sunday's post and still want a chance to win The Other Half of My Heart, it's not too late. I won't draw a name for that until next Sunday, the 10th.