Sunday, January 29, 2017

The books of Marti Dumas

I recently had the pleasure of meeting author Marti Dumas in an SCBWI monthly meetup. She passed around a few of her books, and I was so besotted, I asked if I could borrow them to write up reviews--and she said yes!

My kids and I particularly enjoyed the series Jaden Toussaint, the Greatest (ooo, and I just saw that she's published a fourth in the series!).

The engaging layout grabbed me right away. Lots of great black-and-white illustrations, big easy-to-read fonts, and clever textual flourishes like numbered lists and "Pause" and "Unpause" buttons when the narrator needs to offer a little bit of extra information convey a fun, playful tone that attracts young readers.

The stories are fun, too. Jaden Toussaint is a 5-year-old who "speaks kindness, oozes confidence" and "specializes in: Knowing Stuff. And also, ninja dancing."

In fact, when Jaden reaches a point in each story where he's stuck, he knows he needs to "kick his brain into top gear" through hilarious 2-page spreads of him ninja dancing. When he's done, he gets "that swirly, whirly, zinging feeling" of a great idea, which he puts into action to solve the story's problem. His school pals and loving family are usually involved, but Jaden is the hero readers will root for.

The problems Jaden faces are relatable, funny, but also convey a message: in "The Quest for Screen Time" Jaden learns about constructive ways to agitate for change; "The Ladek Invasion" teaches compassionate solutions to a buggy problem; and "Muffin Wars" deals with how to overcome jealousy and deal with challenging people.

Big topics for little kids, but presented age-appropriately and with humor. My kids and I loved them.

We also had the pleasure of reading Jala and the Wolves, an earlier book. Jala is another engaging character, and when she meets the wolves, readers are vividly brought along on her journey. To me, the "framing" chapters that begin and end this book are a little long, and some of the borrowed tropes (a magic mirror, waking to reality) didn't hold the creativity of the wolf chapters. Nonetheless, my 6-year-old was captivated, and we both hope that Jala might have more adventures with her wolf family (that we get to read!).

All four books are published by New Orleans-based Plum Street Press, which has the wonderful mission of publishing books that feature "children of color just being kids." Marti Dumas's delightful characters are proud kids of color having exciting adventures in both fantasy and realistic settings. I look forward to more of Marti Dumas's work!

Friday, January 27, 2017

Kidlit review: The Little Linebacker

As part of Multicultural Children's Book Day I received the uplifting softcover picture book The Little Linebacker: A Story of Determination by Stephen Tulloch and Maria Dismondy, illustrated by Heather Heyworth.

Sure to appeal to young football (or other sport) fans, The Little Linebacker is the story of young Stephen Tulloch, who grows up to be a real-life linebacker for the Titans and the Lions.

Every few pages in The Little Linebacker represents a challenge in Stephen's lifelong goal to become a pro football player. As a young child, he's impatient with Little League practices; as he gets older, he struggles with his math grades; as a teen, he is chosen last for the team. (Challenges are gentle and relatable to most children; this book does not tackle larger societal issues.)

Each setback is met with realistic disappointment on Stephen's face until he finds sources of inspiration: his mom, a mentor, a friend, even an inspirational poster ("You can. You will. End of story.").

In each case, Stephen sets his mind to his goal and works to do better, whether it's channeling his energy into studying math or supporting his teammates in whatever capacity he can. These solutions are also easy for kids to understand and apply to themselves.

By the end, Stephen's success is achieved through his willingness to work hard, keep trying, and to work collaboratively, goals that are emphasized in the reading tips at the beginning of the book as well as "Tully's Tips for Kids" at the end of the book.

With text featuring longer sentences and multisyllabic words, this picture book is designed to be read aloud or by moderately comfortable self-readers. The illustrations are bright, cheery, and cartoony, with easy-to-recognize character expressions against familiar backdrops (kitchen, playground, classroom). The multicultural cast reflects the book's themes of cooperation and mutual support.

The Little Linebacker is part of several educational programs by the authors: The Stephen Tulloch Foundation, Operation 55, and Maria Dismondy's books, blog, and public speaking programs.

For families and teachers seeking uplifting, sports-themed stories that emphasize determination and teamwork, The Little Linebacker lines up!

Click here for more multicultural children's books as well as a FREE Classroom Kindness Kit! #ReadYourWorld

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

One door closes...

...and another pops right open.

After my first rejection of the year, I received my first acceptance! Hypertext Magazine accepted my essay "Renovations" for publication in (I think) a Valentine's-themed issue. Not sure if it's an online issue or print. Either way, YAY!

More info as I know it. And a reminder: Keep writing, keep submitting!


Monday, January 23, 2017

First rejection of the year!

Celebrate rejection, right? It means we're trying.


TRYING, not crying.

No, really, it was actually a positive rejection (writer friends, you know what I mean). The magazine had rejected one of my two poems right away, but the other one they held onto...for 6 months. As a poetry editor, I know that sometimes means a series of editors are taking a closer look and seriously considering it for publication. AND this is a notoriously difficult magazine to get into. All my fingers were crossed.

When the rejection finally came, it was polite and encouraging--and different than the other one I had received. That means it had been personalized. It invited me to submit more work.

Not exactly a handwritten note extolling my virtues, but hey, that is a step in the right direction!


Friday, January 20, 2017

Coping mechanisms

When I'm stressed out about events beyond my control, I tend to make stuff. Over the past couple weeks leading up to today's inauguration, I have:

1. Finished a first draft on a new kidlit novel

2. Knitted a Pussyhat for my sister-in-law planning to attend a Women's March tomorrow

Me modeling the Pussyhat.
3. Made my own seitan, aka "wheat meat," which is superexpensive at Whole Foods. Used it in Tandoori Seitan, which was a flop, and vegetarian Philly cheesesteaks, which were a hit!

4. Baked banana-nut bread from scratch

5. Made eggnog bread pudding (with rum sauce) from stale sourdough

I have a request for another Pussyhat from my son, plus a stack of books to read and review, and edits to that new novel, poets to respond to, and new recipes to try...

The world out there has gotten pretty scary and intense. For now, I'm in here, creating. And doing lots and lots of yoga. What about you? How do you cope?

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Recycling Christmas trees

How cool is this? In the New Orleans area, we can recycle our Christmas trees to benefit the coastal wetlands.

This was the first year we had a "real" tree. We usually have a fabulous black-and-silver plastic one, prelit and ready to decorate in three steps!

Oh my goodness they were so little!

Which was an improvement over the Christmas Ladder.

Oh my goodness we had no furniture yet!

The Waldorf School of New Orleans sells trees and wreaths as a fundraiser, so we bought a tree, planning to donate it...but it smelled so good...we ended up bringing it home. (Yes, this is also how we ended up with two rescue dogs and a cat.)

I always feel a little funny about paying to cut down a living thing, letting it slowly die in my living room, and then throwing it onto the overflowing garbage heaps. (I try to keep my existential Grinchiness to myself.)

But coastal erosion is a big deal, and Louisiana loses land every year. This means fewer barriers between us and annual tropical storms and hurricanes. Land mass slows them down, so they aren't as powerful when they reach human habitation. Less land + powerful hurricanes = more destruction. I've lived through Katrina and its aftermath. We need to do all we can.

According to the National Christmas Tree Association, since 1986, local governments have collected Christmas trees and used them to rebuild the coastal wetlands, bulking up the eroding coastline with "tree fences." According to the article, these tree fences helped preserve marshland even during Hurricane Katrina.

One year, we visited the beach and saw a line of trees doing their post-Christmas work for the houses right on the Gulf. Pretty cool, right?

At least, I think that's a tree fence and not just where locals tossed their trees.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

JambaLAya Kidlit Conference in New Orleans

I just signed up for the New Orleans SCBWI JambaLAya Kidlit Conference! Have you?

Early bird pricing is in effect until the end of January--a great deal for a conference! Diversity scholarships are available, too. AND there are manuscript / portfolio consultations, plus a dinner. It's going to be great! I've gotten to know the folks of my local SCBWI, and I know they're going to throw a great conference. Here's the official rudown:

March 10-11, 2017

So … you have a story and want to get it published? Or, you want to learn how others got their stories and/or illustrations published? Or, you like gathering around in the company of other writers and illustrators to share insights and wisdom into the fascinating publishing world of childrens' books?
Whatever made you click to get here, BIENVENUE! 
Featured speakers include Executive Editor and author Cheryl Klein "The Magic Words", YA debut author Angela Thomas "The Hate U Give," author Whitney Stewart and more. Critique guests also include Editor in Chief Nina Kooij and Art Director Kevin Johnson with Pelican Publishing Co., and freelance editor Catherine Frank.
Friday, March 10 Icebreaker ~ Kidlit Drink Night Meetup at The Columns Hotel at 5 p.m.
Saturday, March 11 Conference Academy of Sacred Heart Mater Campus beginning at 8:45 a.m.

So register already, and I'll see you there!

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Cultivating hygge

Have you heard of hygge? It's the Danish art/practice/culture of coziness and comfort, and apparently it's hot, hot, hot right now. The adjective is hyggelig, as in, "Gee those slippers look hyggelig!"


Because honestly, who doesn't love candles, and warm socks, and snuggly blankets, and police procedurals about serial killers? (Well, I guess I did love The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.)

It's pretty easy to make fun of, I suppose, but I'm into it. I like the idea of staying home with my family, eating popcorn and watching movies under a supersoft blanket from Grandma Flory. Even on New Year's Eve, my spouse and I watched New Orleans revelers party in the rain--from the comfort of our couch, hot toddies in hand. (We did reminisce about the days when we were in the Quarter, in the rain, on New Year's Eve...been there, did that.)

And I LOVE that it's pronounced HOO-gah. Oh yeah, gimme some of that!

So if there's an awesome-sounding name--indeed an entire culture--for something that feels comfortable and right, I'm on board.

Just call it introvert paradise and hand me my slippers.


Friday, January 6, 2017

Happy 2017

Can you believe it's 2017? Me neither. But I'm awfully glad. I've grown to love January. Such a clear, blank slate to start fresh.

Well, that's what I'm working toward anyway.

I didn't really make resolutions, exactly, but I have been following Yoga with Adrienne's "Revolution: 31 Days of Yoga."

Today was Day 6, a pretty rigorous core workout, but the episode gives such a great sense of Adrienne's goofy personality, welcoming attitude toward yoga, and easy, soul-enriching sensibility that I recommend checking it out. And then go back and start from Day 1, a very comfortable and relaxing practice!

I've been following Yoga with Adrienne for over a year now, a couple times a week, and I really like her practices. She has tons of videos to choose from, including "pillow yoga" and "yoga for when you're stressed." New videos show up every Wednesday, except during January, when she hosts daily practices. (You can check out the previous years' daily practices, too.)

I'm finding improved strength as well as increased relaxation after practicing at home semi-regularly. I recommend it!