Sunday, February 16, 2014

Sydney Taylor Honor Winner Stones for Grandpa -- Review and Author Interview

Thought for the Day:

"Outside of a dog, a book is man's best friend. Inside of a dog it's too dark to read."  
 ~ Groucho Marx~

Gifts for My Writer Friends:

Looking to start a new project? You might find help HERE at StoryJumper. 

HERE is a list of the 100 Most Important Things To Know About Your Character. 

Click HERE to read a wonderful post on challenging your characters from the Editor’s Blog.

Last week I offered an ARC of A Hundred Horses to one of my lucky readers, and this week's winner is ... wait for it ... Michael G-G!  WooHoo! Michael is a writer and puts out two blogs! Wow. I can hardly keep up with one. You can find his writing HERE and HERE. Check it out. Congratulations, Michael. I will be getting the book out to you this week.

I have a very special post today. I was honored to be contacted by a member of the Sydney Taylor Book Award committee, Barbara Krasner, and asked to review one of the winning books and to interview the author. Barbara knows I love good children's books, so I was thrilled to be a tiny part of the Sydney Taylor Awards. You can find out more about the awards by clicking HERE. They have set up a blog tour for each of the winners on the Association of Jewish Libraries blog, and you can find all the links by clicking HERE.

I was so lucky to be assigned a most charming picture book. Stones for Grandpa was written by Renee Londner and illustrated beautifully by Martha Aviles. This book deals with a really difficult subject, that of losing a close relative, but it is handled in the best possible way.

A young boy has lost his grandfather. They had been very close, and this is a most difficult time for him. It has been a year since Grandpa died, but the boy still misses him. His mother explains the first year is the hardest. The boy thinks about how it had been the first time he had so many important happenings without Grandpa. He thinks about building their first sukkah without Grandpa's help, and their first Hanukkah without Grandpa there to spin his lucky dreidel and more. But Mommy has good advice -- whenever they feel sad, they should think of Grandpa when he was laughing. With the help of a memory box the boy's mother gives to him, he recalls many wonderful, happy times with his grandfather, easing his loss. The ritual of unveiling Grandpa's stone is another step for the boy in this journey of learning to go on without his beloved grandfather. 

The book is written in first person from the boy's point of view, and is very deftly done. Few picture books can pull that trick off, but Renee Londner does it masterfully. I recommend this book for any family who suffers a loss. Children can learn much from it, and so can the rest of us. And now I would like you to get to know Renee Londner better. She was kind enough to give me an interview.

Q.  Was it your intention all along that it should be a boy or did the editor or artist make that
Renee Londner
A. I had planned for the child to be a boy since some of the story is based on real events. I actually have a photo of one of my grandsons wearing “Duke’s” cowboy hat. The hat is so big and my grandson so little that the hat practically covers his face.

Q. How did you come to the story?
A. The story was written after the death of my husband. Many of the anecdotes are based on my family although we did not celebrate the holidays to the extent portrayed in my story.

Q. How many revisions?
A. I did have an early draft that didn’t quite work. Once I decided to follow the year of firsts it all fell into place. In fact, “The Year of Firsts” was my working title. From my own experience, I knew how difficult it can be going through the first holiday, birthday, anniversary, etc. I decided to present the story for children through the celebration of the Jewish holidays/festivals thinking it would be a good way for kids from Jewish backgrounds to relate.

Q. Did you have any interaction with your illustrator?
A. Martha and I never met. She was chosen by my publisher and I was sent an example of her art work.  But we had no interaction. However, I was thrilled with her sensitive interpretation of my story.  From the rose on the dedication page, to Duke’s name on a drawing, and the frogs on the end page. And the wonderful wink the boy gives as he releases the frog makes the ending so tender. Martha and I eventually “met” via email.

Q. Is writing what you studied for and planned as your career?
A. My career was as a teacher. I have a degree in Special Education and regular elementary grades. But I have always enjoyed writing and one of my poems was published in Junior Scholastic Magazine when I was in 6th grade. When I retired from teaching I began to devote more time to writing. Although most of what I write is children’s stories, I also regularly write and publish my haiku poetry.

Q. Do you work with a critique group or do you work entirely alone?
A. It sounds like a cliché but I’m never lonely when writing; I have my characters for company. But I absolutely love the friendship and feedback from my critique group(s).

Q. Have there been classes or workshops you’ve been to that were helpful?
A. The first class I took was in writing for magazines. That led to my writing for Columbia  (MD) Magazine for two years. I do attend local conferences and writing seminars and they always energize me.

Q. Any profound words of wisdom?
A. I believe it is important to have a passion for your subject and to research thoroughly, even for fiction. I do not believe it is necessary to write only about what you know as long as you immerse yourself in your subject.  “The Singing Stones,” my story about the Great Wall of China, was published in Spider Magazine in January of 2012, yet I’m not Chinese and I’ve never been to China.

Q. What has winning the Sydney Taylor Book Honor meant to you?
A.  Since Stones for Grandpa is such a personal story, this recognition of my book is particularly meaningful. I am grateful for the honor because I believe it will draw the attention of more readers to my story, which is a celebration of life. And hopefully, it can make the grieving process easier for children.

Thank you, Renee, for sharing your thoughts with my readers. I hope they will all have a chance to read your wonderful book. And my thanks to Barbara Krasner for including me in this celebration of the Sydney Taylor Award Honorees. Please leave a comment or question for Renee. I'm sure she will be checking in this week.