Real Lessons in Unreal Books, Jean Lee

I met Jean via Twitter and connected over the idea that sometimes the best way to communicate a solution to a real problem is through a fantasy story. Personally, I go back and forth between realism and screaming monsters, so this question is particularly pertinent. So here’s Jean Lee with an excerpt from “Lessons Learned, a collection of essays” to shed some light.


In Reflections on the Magic of Writing, Diana Wynne Jones notes more than once that she received flak for not writing “Real Books.” Real Books were to be about present-day, everyday-world children handling real, everyday problems: abusive parents, poverty, illness, etc. These books should then be passed on to kids actually experiencing said problems to…I don’t know, strengthen character or something. She didn’t get it either, which is why you don’t see any Real Books with Jones’ name on them. (Personally I like her recollection of fellow writer Jill Paton Walsh’s words on the matter: “If you know two people who are divorcing, would you give them each a copy of Anna Karenina? Can you imagine a less helpful book? Yet people do this to children all the time.”)

What I do love is Jones’ own style of handling Real Problems in Unreal Ways. Take Witch Week, or Year of the Griffin—who doesn’t experience some lousy spells (couldn’t resist, sorry) in school? It doesn’t matter that one of the main characters in Year is a griffin: she’s a still a new student trying to find her way through a school with horrible teachers. Eight Days of Luke, Black Maria, and Fire and Hemlock all have terrible adult guardians the child protagonist has to survive; some are mean, some are self-centered, and some are, well, magical.

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Now granted, I haven’t completed my journey through all of Jones’ work, but I did just finish The Ogre Downstairs. As I read the final pages, it occurred to me that this was the first book where magic was part of the problem, but not the solution. It’s a story of a mixed family created by a widow marrying a divorced man the widow’s children nickname The Ogre. The Ogre’s two sons are just as beastly at the outset. When The Ogre gives each group of children a unique chemical set (enter the magic!), everything gets profoundly worse with The Ogre, but better among the children. Why? Because they work together to figure out how to stop floating, or how to get their minds re-switched to their proper bodies. Magic forces them to see things from each other’s perspective, and from this they unite against The Ogre.

Magic completely destroys a party the widow wanted so badly to succeed, and the row afterwards drives the widow out of the house for space. Everyone feels terrible, including The Ogre, who is not, the children realize, an ogre at all. The story ends with a family that better understands each other and, thanks to a final round with the magical chemistry sets, enough money to live in a new house sans magic toffee creatures or living dust balls. So yes, I suppose the magic did help with a solution in the way end, but the primary conflict was not solved by magic, but by understanding and teamwork.

A Real Book kind of solution to a Real Book kind of problem in an Unreal Book. Fancy that.


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Jean Lee has been writing all her life, from picture books for preschool to a screenplay for her Masters in Fine Arts. Nowadays she blogs about the fiction, music, and landscape that inspire her as a writer. She currently lives in Wisconsin with her husband and three children.

Sandra Bennett, Australian Children’s Author- Fellow Friday

Picture Books Are Wonderful Conversation Starters

Have you ever been afraid of the dark?

Frightened of monsters hidden under your bed or in your wardrobe?

Picture books can be a wonderful way to start a conversation with children about ways of facing those fears or sorting through other emotions.

Why not read a picture book and start a discussion today?

I realized the power of picture books and their potential to start a dialogue when I was teaching a year 5 class one day. It was one of those moments when I needed an impromptu lesson, so I grabbed a picture book out of my trusty resource bag and began to read aloud. The initial class response was stunned silence. What was I thinking reading them something with pictures and very few words! It didn’t take them long to sit back, relax and enjoy the experience. After reading the story, the real work began. A lengthy conversation ensued that lead to some amazing writing of their own. I had re-opened the world of picture books to 10 and 11 year old students.

 

Curtin South Preschool

What was this amazing picture book that enlightened and brought so much wonder to our classroom? One of my favourites, “Diary of a Wombat” by Jackie French. Written so simplistically, yet capturing the character of a wombat so magnificently.

Since then I’ve now written two Australian picture books myself. My goal, is to introduce unusual Australian creatures to children around the world while opening opportunities for conversations with parents and teachers. Through my stories children can learn a little about Australia’s environment, the animals that call it home and something about themselves along the way. Each book finishes with a few fun facts about the characters contained in the story.

My newest release is “Frazzled Freya.” A rather timid frill neck lizard so scared of shadows and unknown monsters she is too frightened to join in all the fun and games with her desert friends. Set in the harsh Australian Outback, the vivid yet earthy colours used by my illustrator, Dianna Budd, depict perfectly the heat of the sun Freya is desperate to avoid.

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Parents, teachers and children can read along and discover Freya’s journey to triumph as she conquers her fear with a little help from a few unusual desert friends. The story provides an excellent opportunity to begin talking to your little ones about facing their fears, trying new experiences and stepping outside of their comfort zone.

Emma the Eager Emu,” tells the tale of a very unusual bird who can’t understand why she is so different from all her friends at flying school. She is desperate to learn to fly and be just like everyone else. An assortment of colourful yet different species of Australian birds come to Emma’s aid. Through her tenacity to never give up, Emma eventually learns the significance of individualism and discovers her own special way of doing things. This is another wonderful conversation starter as children struggle to fit into peer groups at school and learn to understand and embrace their own unique qualities and differences.

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Is there a topic you feel you would like to discuss with your child? I’ll bet you can find a picture book to help lead you into the conversation. So, pick up a picture book today, snuggle with your child tonight, share the book and read aloud together. If you’re a teacher, don’t be afraid to use a picture book in a middle grade classroom. You just might be surprised by the conversation it helps start.


Sandra’s Website

Sandra’s Facebook 

Grab your copy of Frazzled Freya here or Emma the Eager Emu here

 

Judging Your Book by Its Cover

The fantastic David (Maurice) Chuka created this post on the importance of your cover. Believe it or not, readers really do judge a book by its cover!


Writing is fun. Putting together a children’s picture book and getting it published is always an exhilarating experience. However, that is the fun side of writing. The not so fun side is actually marketing your book and getting as many people to know about it and hopefully buy it. This is the part of writing or publishing a book that leaves most writers frustrated.

The reality is that just because a book is published does not mean it can never be revisited. I always read and re-read books I’ve written to see if there’s something I need to edit that can improve a reader’s experience as well as boost sales. With this in mind, one of my books has been given me cause for concern.

An author’s books are like his babies and he/she wants them all to do well. All my children’s books so far have been favorably received by the market and have all achieved best seller status in one or multiple categories in the Amazon store. However, What Do You Call a Baby Lion? hasn’t done so well. I’ve really been thinking of what I could do to make it more popular.

Over the weekend, I believe I discovered what has made this book not so popular. Two things actually and they are:

  1. The Title
  2. The cover

The Title – I believe (and please feel free to disagree) that the title doesn’t lend itself to a wide audience. Anyone who isn’t interested in lions will overlook this book. Also the title doesn’t fully represent what the book is really about – BABY ANIMALS. The concept behind this book was to introduce little children to the names of baby animals. The book starts with a little boy whose mom has just had a baby girl and he wonders what baby animals are called.

The Cover – You know the popular saying ‘Don’t judge a book by it’s cover’ Well, with regard to a human being, I totally agree. You might be making a big mistake judging as hopeless the scruffy, shy looking guy in front of you at the check out till who might actually be the CEO of a Fortune 500 company. However, when it comes to books, your cover is everything. Or at least is the first frontier upon which the battle is either won or lost.

Of all the books I have published, I never had that YES feeling (with What Do You Call a Baby Lion?) when I got it back from my book cover designer. Too much white space, I really wasn’t feeling the brown font, the square around the lion seemed forced etc.

So for the past month, it’s been rumbling in my mind what to do with ‘What Do You Call a Baby Lion?’ And over the weekend I came up with the solution.

The title of the book will be changed to ‘I Love Baby Animals

Also, based upon the feedback I have received, the cutest animal in the book was the baby hedgehog.baby hedgehog This will now be the main character on the book cover. There will be yellow text on a green background for the cover. This has worked really well on my other books and I’m hopeful it’ll be the same on this book.

My designer is currently working on the book cover and once that has been completed, I will relaunch the book and have a free download day.

If you’re an aspiring author and wondering why your book isn’t selling so well, there’s always something extra you can do. I’m hopeful the tweaks I have done will have a positive effect on the sales of this book. Will report back sometime next week to let you know how it went. Also watch out for the announcement on the free download day.

I would really love your comments with regard to this post.

Thank you.

David (Maurice) Chuka

Rosie Russel, Author Interview

Hey everyone. Today I’d like to introduce you to friend  and a fellow Kidlit author Rosie Russel. Just to change up the format a little bit, this was an interview. I kind of liked the power! 😉


When and why did you start writing for children?

I worked as a substitute teacher in elementary and middle school classrooms in our district for fifteen years. The one thing I loved the most, was spending time reading to the children. Also, helping them write their own stories was a thrill to me.

When our grandson was born, it was time for me to be close by to help out with him. During that time, I spent many hours reading to him, just like I did when our sons were young. I knew I always wanted to try writing my own children’s stories. When I set my mind to it, it was not hard at all to come up with my own tales. I love it when I can use real life situations, memories, people I know and love, and items in my stories. They all have a special meaning to me.

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Most of your books are pre-school to first grade, what are the pleasures and the challenges of writing for this age group?

Yes, four of my titles are Early Readers and two of my titles are for third grade and up.

Many people will say to me, “writing children’s books must be easy?” It is in some ways, but many times, it’s difficult. The sentences have to be rich and very precise. For children learning how to read new words, comprehending, and learning punctuation, it has to be as perfect as possible. Also, not telling the reader everything is hard, as you want them to arrive at their own conclusions. Two of my titles are very repetitive, which are my “Beasley” books. It’s my hope that the reader will “own” the words by the time they are done with those two stories.

Who does your illustrations?

I illustrate all my own books using a Wacom Pen Tablet. I have around four different kinds of programs to help me get the right look for each story. I have watched many videos on how to draw faces, hands, expressions, and so much more. Some of the programs I use have added features for me to include. I’m very picky on the final result and sometimes will work as long as a week or more getting one page exactly the way I want it. It just takes a lot of hours of practicing. I encourage everyone to give digital drawing a try, it’s a lot of fun!

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Do you have a goal to your work, a personal statement or a grand purpose?

My personal statement is “Engaging young reader’s one book at a time.” My goal is for children to read books and to be engage in the story. I feel if a child loves a certain story or even the illustrations, it will draw them back to more books and more reading. I worked with many “struggling readers” over the years and I always could tell what stories took and what stories didn’t. If a book is not clear in the meaning, they may give up.

What is your favorite thing that you have created? What is your least favorite?

I am partial to all of my stories as each one of them holds a special memory or situation that has really happened. (Just for the record, the Maggie, Millie, and Merrie” tales did not really happened.) The first one was based on a dream I had when I was young. The second one is based on something fun my sister and friend played growing up. I’d better stop before I give anything away.

The “Avi and Jackson Best Friends” title is a rhyming book based on our sons growing up. I wrote it just for them and never intended to even sell it. After we discussed it, I was thrilled they didn’t mind for me to make it public. It didn’t take long before I knew this was something I wanted to do full time.

What advice do you have for other authors out there?

I would suggest to other authors to always keep learning as much as they can every day. At first I felt frustrated because I felt like there was so much to do and not enough time. So now I say to myself, one step at a time.

Also, building a platform for yourself and your books is important.

I would also suggest for authors to visit with other authors and share ideas and situations that arise. Most all of the authors I have met are very supportive of one another and it’s a great feeling knowing you are not alone.


www.booksbyrose.com  

Facebook,  Books by Rose  https://www.facebook.com/BooksbyRose/

Twitter https://twitter.com/RosieRrbjj

Pinterest  https://www.pinterest.com/rose1628/

Goodreads   https://www.goodreads.com/author/dashboard

Amazon http://www.amazon.com/Rosie-Russell/e/B00PDUMD6Q/ref=sr_ntt_srch_lnk_1?qid=1462049452&sr=8-1

Barnes and Noble http://www.barnesandnoble.com/s/%22Rosie%20Russell%22?Ntk=P_key_Contributor_List&Ns=P_Sales_Rank&Ntx=mode+matchall

Protect Your WordPress Blog, Save Your Sanity

Eagle eyed readers may notice that my site recently underwent a major transformation. That’s no accident. On the contrary, it was forced.

My web host service (IXWebhosting.com) notified me that my website had been compromised by malware. To be more specific, my WordPress blog had been infected and was busy sending out spam email to heaven knows where.

The spike in traffic raised a flag, IX shut down my site, and I lost everything. The malware had been installed through brute force password cracking (a computer kept trying to log in until it guessed right, literally millions of times.) Once inside, it created an account for itself, gave it full permissions, and started executing PHP scripts while modifying the other PHP files that were there already.

PHP files are what makes WordPress function. They are basically programs that can be run server side. Once the malware virus started changing these though, it made it almost impossible to recover from. IX cleaned the server and removed the bad files, but the damage was done. The malware had changed critical WordPress PHP files and I couldn’t get them back without reinstalling everything.

If all of that sounded confusing or full of jargon, don’t worry, I only understand it because I had to. You don’t have to understand PHP though to protect yourself. Here’s three easy steps you can take right now to keep this curse from happening to you.

  1. Install a firewall program on your WordPress blog.

    Under plugins search for Firewall and find one that both stops robots from accessing your page and also limits the number of password attempts. WP Security and WordFence come highly recommended.

  2. Make your password stronger.

    Your last name combined with your birthday won’t cut it anymore. Even adding extra characters and punctuation won’t help much either. Use the password generator under Users to create a strong password. Those are usually around 16 characters and have random numbers and letters. Copy and paste into a password file if you can’t remember it.

  3. Backup your files.

    I didn’t have any backups so I had to start from scratch, however, WordPress supports backups and restores. Follow this tutorial to learn how to save your work.

Preventing an attack is much easier than recovering from one. I’m lucky that it was isolated and that I have such an awesome and supportive community, however, if I had known better earlier it would have saved a ton of stress. These steps only take a few minutes but they can save you weeks of work.

As for me, I’m making a tall pitcher of lemonade out of these lemons.

😉

Starting Over

My blog was hacked…

A script commandeered everything and started using my site to send spam email. The malware was so thorough it changed the .php code files of WordPress. I had no choice but to reinstall everything and start from scratch.

If you have a blog make sure you install something like WordFence, have a very strong password, and backup all your files.

For me, I have to start over from scratch.

Love,

AJ