Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Winners of the Weenie Books for Halloween

Dear Readers,

Thank you so much for joining the Halloween party with David Lubar. Wasn't he a perfect guest for getting into the spirit of things? I thought so, too. Be sure to read down past the winners, for another treat and a slightly different side of David. Well, sort of . . .

CONGRATULATIONS  to LUCKY WINNER #ONE: Mjolner (the guy in the beret) Please e-mail me (claragillowclark (@) gmail (dot) com) within one week with your mailing address and your autographed copy of  The Battle of the Red Hot Pepper Weenies will be on it's way to you asap!

 CONGRATULATIONS to LUCKY WINNER #TWO: Janet (Writing in the Blackberry Patch) Please e-mail me with your address, and your Halloween treat will be in the mail asap!

You can purchase a copy of Sleeping Freshman Never Lie by David Lubar from your favorite bookseller! (Available in paperback!)  Don't forget to visit David's web-site: http://www.davidlubar.com

From School Library Journal
Starred Review. Grade 7-10 -Scott Hudson is the quintessential freshman. He's small, he's lost, and seniors yoke him for spare change. His honors homework keeps him up all night and his gym teacher is trying to kill him. He joins the paper, runs for student council, and tries out for the play, just to be near a girl he likes. This all backfires. He turns out to be the least athletic sports reporter in school history, and freshman lackey to the sadists on stage crew. Meanwhile, his mother is pregnant. The plot is framed by Scott's journal of advice for the unborn baby. The novel's absurd, comical mood is evident in its entries, like "Scott Hudson's List of Good Things about Getting Beat Up," and jabs at the fetus ("I hope we can recover our investment [in baby furniture] when I sell you."). The author brings the protagonist to three-dimensional life by combining these introspective musings with active, hilarious narration. This format also breaks up the story for slower readers. Scott's character arc is extremely satisfying as he develops his true strengths over the nine months of school and the pregnancy. His interactions with the school delinquent and the heavily pierced new girl are fresh and subtle. Though Scott purposely peppers his journal with SAT words, Lubar's language use and writing style are deceptively simple. The teen's physical and emotional tumult is as clear, familiar, and complex as high school itself.-Johanna Lewis, New York Public Library  
David Lubar

 Thanks for joining us! Have a Happy and Spirited Halloween with good friends and good books! 

My November guest is Theodore Geisel Honor Winner, the Fabulous Illustrator/Author Suzanne Bloom. See you soon . . .

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Creepy Tales for Halloween with Author David Lubar

Dear Friends,

No tricks here, just a great treat from a really funny writer and friend, David Lubar. David has treats in store for you. He has generously donated two copies of his Weenies' book, The Battle of the Red Hot Weenies. I know the middle grade crowd will gobble up these stories faster than candy corn.

Read about Author David Lubar's unique sense of humor and imagination in his personal essay, and then meet David at the end of the post and find out how to win one of the autographed copies of his books! Thanks so much for celebrating Halloween with us! David's books are great reads for anytime of the year. Read on . . .

Hats off to the Weenie Guy by  David Lubar

 For most of my freshman year in college, I wore a black cowboy hat. I had no legitimate reason to do this. I didn't grow up on a ranch, wrangle cattle, or engage the Clanton boys in gunfire. Since this fashion statement occurred in New Jersey during the mid-seventies, nobody questioned, or cared about, my authenticity. When people met me, they'd stare for a moment, and then, as recognition clicked into place, say, "Oh, yeah. You're the guy with the hat." There was a lot more to me than some ratty piece of felt, of course, but that was my identity back then. The guy with the hat. I have a new identity these days -- one that I suspect is far rarer and more amusing than any clothing-inspired description. I'm the Weenie guy. And that's a good thing.
 My passion for short stories was spawned during childhood by the fortunate combination of a short attention span and a lack of athletic or social skills. The latter ensured I would have lots of leisure time for reading. The former nudged me away from lengthier works. I devoured short fiction as a kid. I started writing stories when I was in high school. In college, I wrote the typical angst-driven literary pieces that most freshmen feel compelled to inflict on their friends, roommates, and professors. I wanted to be James Joyce. Alas, my eyesight was too strong and my liver too weak to completely emulate my idol's path through life.
Fortunately, after college, I found greater joy in writing stories that were fun to read. I’d made the transition from poseur (and from the sort of person who flaunts words like “poseur” and “flaunt”) to entertainer.  Even more fortunately, I found a publishing house that saw potential in my work. Most fortunate of all, my first story collection, In the Land of the Lawn Weenies and Other Warped and Creepy Tales, had hot dogs on the cover. These were not just any hot dogs. These were brilliantly drawn anthropomorphic Weenies who pushed lawn mowers while they stared into space with hypnotized eyes.
 In case you're wondering about "Weenie," that's an affectionate term for someone who has a bit too much enthusiasm for something that shouldn't merit much enthusiasm at all.. Lawn Weenies are folks who love to mow and fertilize far more often than necessary. This was just one of thirty-five stories in the collection. The other tales delved into vampires, mummies, killer parrots, overgrown sea monkeys, cow-fearing little brothers, and other horrors.

The book sold well.  My publisher asked for second collection. As I assembled the stories, I decided there should be more of those amazing hot dogs on the cover. This time, the Weenies were the joggers who never smile. Three more collections followed, most recently, Attack of the Vampire Weenies and Other Warped and Creepy Tales As always, the stories range from pure horror to pure humor.  There’s a bonus section explaining where I got the ideas for the stories.  The title Weenies this time are young people who think vampires are cute, huggable, and sparkly. This is a tragic mistake.  Next time, in June of 2012, it will be Ninja Weenies.  I just saw the cover, and it is the best one yet. I can’t take any credit for that, but I can take pleasure in it.

There is a down side to my Weenie empire. First, just as being The Guy with the Hat collapses me into a one- or zero-dimensional entity, the Weenies on the cover seem to promise a depth more associated with thin-sliced salami than plump and subtly spiced sausages. That’s not a fair assessment of what lies beneath. I wasn’t just walking around with a hat when I was in college.  I was also reading a lot of literature. I might not write like Joyce, Borges, or Hesse, or Chaucer, but I do write like someone who has spent quality time with all of them. So I can’t help flinching just a little when friends pass along eyewitness accounts of parents at book fairs telling Weenie-collection-clutching children to, "Put that down and get a real book."

The other down side is that when I visit schools, odds are there will be hot dogs on the menu.  But that's okay. The down side is minor compared to the up side. Millions of young readers have enjoyed my stories, both on their own and in classroom read-alouds. I've had the pleasure of introducing these kids, by way of my fiction, to a wide variety of prose styles, voices, genres, and tropes. (I'm guessing about that last part. I really do need to look up "trope" one of these days, or stop using it.) I can pull off tricks and twists that would never work in a massive novel, but work just fine in the space of five pages. I get to write what I love -- short stories -- and you get to read my work. It's good being the Weenie Guy. As Caesar said, "Weenie, Vidi, Vici."
If you're a fan, please check out the newest collection. If you've never encountered the Weenies, give one of my books a try. Share it with your kids or your students.  I promise you that they will love it. And so will you. If not, I'll eat my hat.

 David Lubar has written twenty-five books for young readers, including Hidden Talents, Sleeping Freshmen Never Lie, and Punished.  His novels are on reading lists across the country, saving countless students from a close encounter with Madam Bovary.  His short stories have appeared in a variety of magazines, including Boy's Life, READ, and Nickelodeon. He has also designed and programmed many video games, but he'd much rather spend his time writing books and hanging out with teachers and librarians.  In his spare time, he takes naps on the couch.  He lives in Nazareth, PA.  Read more about David here: http://www.davidlubar.com/

And here's David’s  absolute favorite blurb: "There is no doubt about it – David Lubar is the Rod Serling of Middle Grade Fiction."   Paul Goat Allen, on his Barnes and Noble Blog 
Read the complete article here: http://bookclubs.barnesandnoble.com/   

To win a copy of David's book, The Battle of the Red Hot Pepper Weenies, battle-of-the-red-hot-pepper-weenies simply leave a comment by October 26th. The drawing will be on October 27th! Stop by to comment on the blog post, share your favorite creepy or spooky book, or just say, "Hi!" We'd love to hear from you. As Caesar said, "Weenie, Vidi, Vici."

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Annoucning the Lucky Winners of JOE and SPARKY early readers

Dear Readers,

Thank you, each and everyone, who stopped by to leave a comment for the lovely and talented author, Jamie Michalak. Jamie has graciously donated two books, which she will personalize and mail to the winners. How cool is that?  

So, without further ado, Lucky Winner #1 is:  LORRIE ZIEMBA! Congratulations, Lorrie. Please e-mail me [claragillowclark (@) gmail (dot) com] with your mailing address, and your book will be on its way to you asap.

A Kirkus Best Children's Book of the Year
A Chicago Public Library Best Children's Book of the Year
A Junior Library Guild Selection

Joe and Sparky are unlikely buddiesturtle Sparky enjoys the safety of his shell while giraffe Joe is up for any adventure. Joe, convinced that he has won a contest, decides to take the prize, a bright yellow sports car, for a spin. . . . New readers ready for the challenge of more words per page will appreciate the humor of the story and illustrations. Children familiar with the Froggy books will recognize Remkiewiczs distinctively funny style and will laugh out loud at the innocent assumptions Joe (who sports a Carmen Mirandalike fruit hat) and Sparky make as they explore the world outside Sparkys shell. Utterly charming. Kirkus, starred review

Lucky Winner #2 is: Margo Dill. Congratulations, Margo. Please e-mail me [claragillowclark (@) gmail (dot) com] with your mailing address and your autographed book will be on its way asap!

   "This warm buddy story is just about perfect for new readers who are forging new friendships. Amusing color illustrations on each spread (usually involving sight gags with Sparky's little legs and shell), four short chapters filled with easy sight words and lots of action, plus enough complexity to make it a bit of a challenge, make this a good choice for readers who are ready for chapter books. They will enjoy watching this funny duo, especially when Joe's plans do not turn out as planned. Being in on a joke is a treat for young readers, and this little treasure is one that will get passed around. Like the Hokey Pokey, that's what it is all about." --Kirkus, starred review

Here's a fun book of Jamie's that we are delighted to share with you!

Jamie assisted the legendary Bigfoot hunter, Morgan Jackson Phd, with the writing of this valuable field guide, containing everything you need to know about the furry fugitive, including tips on trapping and releasing your specimen. 

I'm sure you all have a special child in your life who would love to track a BIGFOOT! Click on the link to learn more about this and other books by Jamie: http://www.jamiemichalak.com/

Once again, thank you, dear readers, for all those awesome comments! And thank you, Jamie, for sharing your books and writing wisdom with all of us! I'll be back on October 15th with a special guest author and some Halloween Treats!

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Interview with author/editor -- Jamie Michalak

Jamie Michalak
Dear Readers, 

I'm pleased to share a very special writer and treasured friend with you this month. I've never met Jamie Michalak face to face, but she was my wonderful first editor at Candlewick Press and worked with me on Hill Hawk Hattie and Hattie on Her Way. In fact, I dedicated Hattie on Her Way to Jamie! Not long after we finished the edits for Hattie on Her Way, Jamie started a new life as a mother and an author. 

I'll share more about Jamie at the end of the post along with details about her generous giveaway--two personalized copies of her early readers. But I don't want to take anymore time away from this gifted editor and writer, Jamie Michalak, or the pearls of writing and editing wisdom she has for us!

Interview with author Jamie Michalak 

Can you tell us about where the idea for your first early reader, Joe and Sparky, came from?

I wrote the first draft of Joe and Sparky Get New Wheels with my sister, Julie, who was visiting me. She was ill at the time, and so to entertain ourselves we fell back on our favorite pastime as children--we made up a story. Our only plan was to write a picture book tale that made us laugh. As many sisters do, we shared a secret language--a lifetime of private jokes that made sense to no one but us. Making each other crack up was easy.

So that day, I sat at my desk in my bedroom and Julie and I made up Joe and Sparky Get New Wheels as we went along. I read the story aloud as I typed, and Julie lay on my bed throwing out ideas. Whenever I heard her loud laugh, I knew I should keep writing.

We started with the characters. We decided to write about two best friends--an outgoing, adventure-seeking giraffe and his more reserved, safety-conscious buddy, a bird (later changed to a turtle).

The story flowed as we took turns adding to it. The animal friends mistakenly “borrow” a flashy convertible and go on a joy ride. They order flies at a drive-through burger joint, but much to their confusion, get fries instead. They take a bath in a carwash, and cause a hubbub. By the time I was done writing, I didn’t have a picture book at all. I had an early reader. I’d never written one of those before. “Where did that come from?” I wondered.

Honestly, I have no idea. I sat down to write a picture book and just kept going. Perhaps I was influenced by Arnold Lobel’s classics and the early readers I loved as a child. But more likely, I think that something magical can happen when you write a story just for fun--the way children write stories. When I sat down to write that day, I had no expectations. I wasn’t thinking about publication or rejection. I wasn’t thinking about anything really, except creating a little story that would make my sister laugh.

How did your experience writing the second Joe and Sparky book, Joe and Sparky, Superstars!, differ?
Writing Joe and Sparky Get New Wheels was a unique experience for me. With any new story, I try to get back to that same carefree state, but it takes a little longer. Before I write, I worry that I can’t do it. Then I make a sandwich. Then I worry some more. Then I make a cup of coffee. Then I see what everyone is up to on Facebook. Then I wonder if my Facebook author friends are writing or doing things like making too many sandwiches and cups of coffee. (This first step can go on for a few weeks, erm, or months.) Then I get bored of worrying, and at last, write.

The good part of all this procrastination is that my ideas have been percolating for a while and I have a clear vision of my story by the time I finally put fingertips to keyboard.

What from your childhood influences your writing today?

I grew up with a funny, ridiculous family. I often think about writing down my family’s stories, but nobody would believe them. For example, Joe and Sparky’s cageless zoo is based on a real drive-through zoo in Florida that my family visited when I was young. In this zoo, you drive past animals roaming free. Some come right up to your car window.
Now most families who drive through a cageless zoo do a few things beforehand to get ready. Like, say, fill up their cars with gas. This is where my family differs from other families. Somewhere between the lions licking their chops and the approaching tigers, my mom noticed that our gas tank was on empty. Put-put-phhhht. This was just your typical day with the Michalaks.

 What are the challenges of writing a humorous early reader?

The greatest challenge to me is revising. Nothing seems funny after I’ve read it a gazillion times. That’s when I ask my sons, nieces, nephews, friends’ children--any available child of elementary-school age--for their opinion. Kids aren’t known for hiding the truth. If they don’t like your nose, for example, you’re going to hear about it. They also don’t fake laughter. So if kids laugh when they read my story, I can feel good about it. (Even if I no longer feel so great about my nose.)

 What have you learned about writing humor?
Humor is difficult to pin down. Trying to dissect it is like trying to explain how to fall in love. A funny line is usually spontaneous and surprising. The more you try to force it, the less likely it is to happen. When it’s right, you just know. On the other hand, an unfunny line is like a bad first date -- awkward! But here are a few things I try to remember:

Start with the characters. If you have interesting characters, you can let them go and follow the action. Throw in a conflict. Place them in an embarrassing situation. I like to introduce an object that’s familiar to children, but foreign to my characters. (Think the soda bottle in the movie “The Gods Must Be Crazy.”) Kids take pride in pointing out the silly, erroneous observations Joe and Sparky make.

The characters add emotional depth too. A humorous tale feels thin if it’s merely a string of jokes. It should also have heart.

Write for yourself first. It’s impossible to tickle every funny bone. But I’ve found that if I laugh at something a character says or does, chances are readers will, too. If you’re having fun writing, it will shine through in your story. It still inevitably takes me fifteen minutes of typing before I turn off the internal critic. But once I get this one-page gong show out of the way, I can settle in, relax, and get lost in the story.

Then edit with your audience in mind. Early grade schoolers get a kick out of slapstick, puns, knock-knock jokes, and silly-sounding words. (Try saying "nincompoop" to a group of first-graders and see what happens.) Make sure that the dialogue is balanced with action; too much talking can slow the story's pace and offer little to illustrate. My sons, age five and seven, also frequently advise me to add a scene about Joe and Sparky tooting.
Well, that’s not quite the note I wanted to end on, but thank you, Clara, for inviting me to be a guest on your blog! I’ve had fun stopping by. 

More about Jamie:
Jamie Michalak is a children’s book author and editor. Her books include Joe and Sparky, Superstars!, Joe and Sparky Get New Wheels, Fairy Goodnight Kisses, Fairy Tea Party, Larry and Rita, and So You Want to Catch Bigfoot?, as well as numerous TV and movie adaptations. Visit Jamie's web-site: www.jamiemichalak.com

Jamie began writing stories for children after the birth of her oldest son. Her early reader, Joe and Sparky, Superstars!, illustrated by Frank Remkiewicz, was released this March to rave reviews. In a starred review, Kirkus wrote, This warm buddy story is just about perfect for new readers who are forging new friendships. . . . Being in on a joke is a treat for young readers, and this little treasure is one that will get passed around.

The first Joe and Sparky adventure, Joe and Sparky Get New Wheels, was named a Chicago Public Library Best Children’s Book of the Year, Junior Library Guild Selection, and Kirkus Best Children’s Book of the Year. You can purchase your copy now by clicking on the brightly colored Joe and Sparky titles underlined above! 

Jamie is generously donating a copy of each title, which she will  personalize for each of two lucky winners! For a chance to win, simply stop by and leave a comment on the post, even if it's just to drop by and say, "Hello!"  We love to hear from you. The winners will be announced on September 29th!

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Who won EDDIE"S WAR? It might be you!

Dear Readers,

This month there is a special reason why this LUCKY WINNER won the giveaway of EDDIE'S WAR. . .
Read below to find out why!

Kirkus Reviews (starred review):

Eddie’s War
 EDDIE'S WAR (reviewed on July 1, 2011)
In her first outing for children, Saller (The Subversive Copy Editor, 2009) provides a poignant look at boyhood before and during the long years of World War II.
The novel in verse is a well-worked concept, but this effort infuses new life into a genre that's become almost trite. Eddie, just 5 years old as the story begins in 1934, lives contentedly in the glorious shadow of his older brother, Thomas. A few brief vignettes capture the flavor of the pre-war years, as Eddie befriends Jozef, an immigrant his Grama calls a gypsy, who carefully scans newspapers at the library, looking for the only word he can read: the name of his home in Poland, where his wife and son still live. Eddie comes to idolize his brother’s friend, Gabe, always the most reasonable of the older boys. Eventually, Thomas and Gabe enlist as the United States enters the war, and Eddie and his parents face the trial of never knowing if Thomas will live to come home. Prejudice against Jozef forces Eddie to make a hard choice to save the beleaguered man. In spare language and remarkably short sketches, carefully selected details effectively portray well-rounded, interesting characters, from Eddie’s abusive grandfather to his evolving love interest, Sarah.
Much more an emotionally resonant coming-of-age tale than a war story, this will be an easy sell for those seeking a quick, excellent read. (Historical fiction. 11 & up)  

Sometimes it's all about LUCK & TIMING or being in the right town at the right time. Joyce and I met up for a cup of vanilla latte at a little cafe in my town, Honesdale, PA! So the WINNER of the fabulous EDDIE'S WAR by Carol Saller is none other than the award winning author of BLUE, Joyce Moyer Hostetter:
Joyce Moyer

We had a wonderful chat about books and writing and the writing life. If you're ever in town, let me know. I'd love to meet you, too! Please drop by to Congratulate Joyce or just say, "Howdy!"

I'm taking a month off from blogging now. My next featured author and book giveaway will be coming up in September! Thank you again, dear readers, for your wonderful and thoughtful comments!