Saturday, March 7, 2009

Is Anything Off limits?

Is anything off limits in today's children's literature? I guess that depends on your perspective. As far as I can see, as a reviewer, picture books and early readers still tend to shy away from certain topics — sexuality, violence and drugs top the list. Sure lighter forms of these topics are discussed. you can find books with a kiss or bullying. But very few deal with homosexuality, child abuse, or suicide. And maybe they shouldn't. I'm not saying children aren't exposed to these topics in there everyday life. Heck, most kids have can find it all wrapped into one exciting package if they have a Playstation or Xbox. So where does that put children's literature? How does the industry handle these topics?

The teen, or young adult, market seems to have no problem tackling even the toughest topic. just scan the shelves in the young adult section of your local book store and you'll find books that cover everything — suicide, rape, homosexuality, hard drugs, prostitution, gang violence, murder, abortion, and much more. Some of the stories have solid messages, but some are just considered "entertaining." Maybe. After all adults get a kick out of their own pulp fiction.

So again I ask... Is anything off limits? If you were a children's and young adult book editor what would you say? Maybe you are an editor or maybe you are a parent. I'd love to hear your thoughts.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Wild on Books

Animal characters make a real impact in newly published children's books.

"First Dog Fala"
By Elizabeth Van Steenwyk
Illustrated by Michael G. Montgomery
For ages 4 – 8
After President Barack Obama took the oath of office americans turned their attention to one question — What kind of dog will his family bring to the White house? Van Steenwyk brings us a tale of another President's dog in "First Dog Fala." it is the story of Franklin D. roosevelt and his beloved dog. during the darkest days of World War II 
FDR had a loyal friend in his Scottish terrier. Steenwyk relates true anecdotes of their relationship including when Fala was left behind on a Pacific island and a destroyer was sent to retrieve him. It cost American taxpayers millions of dollars and kicked off a public outcry. 
Montgomery brings the story to life with rich oil paintings in a retro 1930s style. The color palette is subdued but textural and helps create a visual backdrop to this wonderful story of friendship and history.

"Critter Sitter"
By Chuck Richards
For ages 4 – 8
Henry is an industrious young boy who started his own critter sitting business. his neighbors are his first customers. With a house full of unruly animals including a cat, dog, bird, fish snake, and a frog it is really no job for a beginner. But Henry never loses his cool.
This book takes readers on a first rate thrill ride as the bird flies the coop, the snake makes a dash for the drain and the cat tries to free a jar full of crickets. Chuck Richards further draws us into the mayhem with his colorful and expressive action illustrations of Henry hard at work.
"Critter Sitter" is a fun-filled story tat may just inspire budding entrepreneurs — or maybe just scare them away.

"Madame Pamplemousse and Her Incredible Edibles"
By Rupert Kingfisher
Illustrated by Sue Hellard
For ages 8 – 12
Each and every summer Madeline is sent to work in her uncle's restaurant in Paris. he is a horrible bully of a man named Lard and his restaurant, the Squealing Pig, isn't any better. madeline loves food and cooking. One day on an errand to the market she discovers a tiny shop with wondrous and amazing delicacies — Sea Serpent Pate, Minotaur Salami, Pterodactyl Bacon, and Roast Piranha. Madeline even discovers the most incredible ever on the shelves.
Before long Lard is trying to steal the recipe for the most incredible edible ever tasted and Madeline is stuck in the middle, between the mysterious Madame Pamplemousse and her horrid uncle. She must learn to stand up and believe in herself and her talents before this modern fairytale can end happily ever after.
Children who enjoyed Disney-Pixar's Ratatouille will also enjoy this jaunt through the Paris food scene. Although the lead character is a girl this is not a princess-style book. Boys, girls and grown-ups alike will enjoy this tale.

You may also enjoy...
"The fantastic Undersea Life of Jacques Cousteau"
By Dan Yaccarino
For ages 6 – 12
Yaccarino uses his bright and inviting illustration style to present a wonderful doorway into the life of Jacques Cousteau. Children and their parents will eagerly read and learn about the man who brought everything under the sea to the rest of the world. You will be amazed by his inventions and awed by how one man changed the way we explore and understand the sea.  

Thank you Dan Yaccarino for shedding color on Cousteau's life and making it accessible to a new generation.

For a copy of these reviews, reprint permission, or pricing guides contact McGeath at

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

3 Deadly Mistakes for Self-Publishing Picture Books

There are three basic mistakes writers who self-publish picture books make more often than not. These three mistakes can kill a good idea and lead a writer to publish something that should never have been allowed in print. What amazes me though, is the author never sees the atrocity they have committed. Like a new parent, their child is the most beautiful baby in the world. 

Maybe writers who want to self-publish can avoid the mistakes by knowing the problems.
1. Illustrations — The quality of illustrations in self-published books are generally weak and sloppy. They often present visuals that are nothing more that what is in the written word. This "See & Say" approach slows the pacing of the story and bores the reader. It doesn't matter how good your story is if your illustrations are mediocre or worse. They will effectively kill your story. On the other hand, great illustrations will encourage children to keep reading and identify with the characters.

2. Design and Layout — Font selection and art direction make a big difference in how readable a book is. The flow of a story through its pages is important to keep children engaged. Does the layout encourage a natural page turn? Does a reader know where the next line is? Illustrations and type should work together not compete. This causes confusion in the readers head and interrupts the flow of the story. It is kind of like going to a movie and having the person next to you continually asking you questions about the technical aspects of what you see on screen. I see this problem all the time — in all levels of publishing. 

3. Overindulgence — We could call this "verbal gluttony" because writers say too much. Since most self-published authors don't have an editor everything ends up on paper. The writer is king in the self-publishing arena and they are often too close to their work to see the flaws. Overindulgence often leads to a "See & Say" book that never involves the reader or asks the reader to think. These books tend to preach their story. The great picture books tend to include the reader almost as if they were having a conversation. The words offer just enough information, the illustrator is allowed to bring new information to the story, and the reader completes the conversation with their own thoughts. Overindulgence just leads to a bloatedand boring story.