Monday, April 30, 2012

Review #117: The Order of Odd-Fish

Gracie (age 11):  We are reviewing The Order of Odd-Fish, and it is SO weird. 
Isaac (age 13):  It is crazy.  You will never read anything else like this. 
Lily (age 9):  It's very odd.  And you don't know what's going to happen next... so it's also kind of fishy. 
Isaac:  Silly.  And sometimes it's nerve-racking and suspenseful.
Dad:  From the very fist page we could tell this book was a little different.  But when did we know this book was totally off the rails?  When did we know that we were in for a very strange experience?
Gracie:  The flying head.  The first weird thing that happens is Mr. Cavendish's head flies off...
Dad:  Well, that's not the FIRST weird thing.
Gracie:  Oh yeah... before that, there's this giant talking cockroach...
Dad:  That's not even the first weird thing.
Gracie:  There's a guy with this weird digestion...
Dad:  THAT's not even the first weird thing!
Lily:  HA ha ha ha!
Gracie:  Colonel Korsakov comes along and he's got this magic digestion that tells him what to do.  So it's like... 'okay, that's weird.'  But by the time you get to the 3rd chapter in the book, talking digestions don't seem weird at all because Mr. Cavendish's head flies off and starts buzzing all over the room!
Lily:  It was very crazy.
Gracie:  The main character is Jo, and she works at a diner.  The only people in the whole town are old senior citizens.  Her Aunt Lily, who is kind of nutso, finds this black box, and she says, "I'm going to do a magic show!"  She stuck the box on Mr. Cavendish's head and cranked it, and Mr. Cavendish's head popped out of the box and started flying around!  And there was this crazy lady who started throwing waffles everywhere trying to hit the head.  All the old ladies were like, "Catch him! Bring him back!" And all the old men were like, "Go, Mr. Cavendish! Be freeeee!"  That's when we first thought, "What the heck is up with this book?"  I was laughing so hard.
Dad:  Okay, let's back up.  Tell me more about our main character Jo.
Gracie:  Jo is all mysterious.
Lily:  When she showed up as a baby, a note came with her.  "This is Jo.  Beware... she is a dangerous baby."  Bum-bum-BUM!
Isaac:  There was a really bad prophecy about her that said she was a monster called the Ichthala. 
Gracie:  It's going to destroy the world.
Isaac:  But Jo doesn't want to become a monster.  Everybody wants to kill the Ichthala.  But they don't know that it is Jo -- only she knows.
Gracie:  She feels like a living lie.
Isaac:  She doesn't know what to do.  She wants to tell somebody, but everyone will freak out and hate her.
Dad:  So that's something you don't always see... The main character of our story is the hero AND the villain.
Isaac:  There were lots of villains.  Ken Kiang is a millionaire who is attempting to be evil.
Gracie:  He wants to be the most evil person ever, but he can't because the Belgian Prankster is the worst.
Lily:  The Belgian Prankster can pluck his nose off and grow a stinger.  He also is really good at making balloon animals.
Gracie:  And he filled the Grand Canyon with tapioca pudding.
Dad:  Tsk tsk... how evil of him.  And tell us, what exactly is the Order of Odd-Fish from the title?
Gracie:  The Odd-Fish live on this island.  Jo and her friends get there after being swallowed and spit out of a big fish.  Colonel Korsakov was like, "Halleluiah! I'm in a giant digestion!"  The Order of Odd-Fish is an organization made up of all these knights that study ludicrous things.  Like... the leader is Sir Oliver, and he studies "Dithering."  Sir Festus studies insane weaponry.  Sir Alasdair and Dame Isabel study weird musical instruments and interesting smells.
Lily:  All the knights get a flying ostrich, and they ride all around on them.
Isaac:  The book has very weird creatures. 
Gracie:  Flying ostriches, talking cockroaches, Nangnangs, the Schwenk...
Isaac:  The Schwenk is a creature with four wings and it's very colorful.  It likes to be hunted.  Colonel Korsakov has a quest...
Gracie:  He's the "digestion" guy.
Isaac:  He has to capture the Schwenk.  That was his life's goal.  But the Schwenk always gets away before he catches it.
Lily:  There are also howling squids.  Jo and her friends go over to a big pit and get swallowed up into water. Then they ride around on squids in the diamond-walled tunnels and get chased by evil underground monkeys.
Gracie:  It's not something you see everyday.
Lily:  It's freaking awesome.
Gracie:  This is nothing like any other book.  It's so weird. This guy has an awesome imagination.  I love whoever wrote this book.  James Kennedy rocks. 
Dad:  The book is packed full of crazy.  So much more.  We haven't even begun to scratch the surface.
Gracie:  Kids will love this book... Unless you are some abnormal kid that likes broccoli and is all serious about the world.

underground squid riding, by Lily

Mr. Cavendish's flying head, by Gracie

Ken Kiang rides the schwenk, by Isaac

Author: James Kennedy
Published, 2008: Random House
Like it?  Here it is

Monday, April 23, 2012

Linkin' blogs

I visit lots and lots of blogs in my own personal efforts to keep tabs on the world of children's literature.  Out of hundreds of sites, there are four that rise to the tip of the top, and I have permanent links to them at the bottom of that column to the right.  The links have been there for years, but I've never called attention to them before... so I thought I'd do so now!  And I had fun making  a little piece of art to accompany each one.  These are the 4 sites that I consider to be the very Best of the Kidlitosphere...

A Fuse #8 Production:

Betsy Bird, a New York children's librarian, is hands down Queen of the Kidlitosphere.  Her blog "A Fuse Number 8 Production" was picked up by School Library Journal a number of years ago, and for good reason.  She has an addictive style of writing, comprehensive kitlit content, and an insane posting frequency.  And the list of links she has on her page will take you anywhere that's worthy of going in the children's literature world.  Her blog is a required daily stop for me.  In fact, I discovered her Fuse 8 shortly after she started it around 2005/2006.  I do believe I've visited the site for every entry she has ever posted.

Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast:

7-Imp is the single greatest online resource for lovers of picture book illustration.  Jules Danielson regularly highlights, celebrates, and champions wonderful and diverse illustration art.  She interviews top illustrators working today.  She also features right-out-of-school, up and coming illustrators.  Publishers send her art to showcase from upcoming releases before you can see it anywhere else in the world.  And in my own opinion, her annual year-end recaps are the single greatest thing on the web -- I daresay they justify the existence of the internet.

Just One More Book:

In this podcast, a husband & wife team simply sit at their local coffee shop and carry on casual, honest, insightful conversations about the children's books they love.  Mark Blevis and Andrea Ross are great people, and the amazing website they managed to create was the direct inspiration for our family to start Bookie Woogie.  Although the podcast ended a few years ago, all the content is still on the site, and the vast Archive is an invaluable treasure trove of information.  In addition to all the wonderful books they've highlighted, there are countless hours of interviews they conducted with some of the best storytellers in the world.  It will forever be an amazing resource.

"Creative Spaces" on From the Mixed-Up Files:

Jennifer Bertman invites children's book authors and illustrators to share information about the places where they work - complete with photos!  We get to read about and see those sacred spots where the magic happens.  At last count around 75 (!!!) studio spots have been shared, with more continually being added.  While all the interviews are great, I made the little illustration here in honor of my favorite post.  Have fun perusing the great list of creators - but before you stop, do make sure you check out Dianne deGroat's studio!

And, oh,  golly... I can't just stop there.  I could list dozens upon dozens more...  But I'll give 10 more sites - I'll type up the first 10 that come to mind.  These are also sites that I love and visit on a regular basis:

• 100 Scopes Notes
• Playing by the Book
• Writing for Kids (While Raising Them)
• Brain Burps About Books
• Brimful Curiosities
• Reading to Know
• Books 4 Your Kids
• Adam Rex
• Laura's Life
• Blue Rose Girls

Monday, April 9, 2012

Interview #15: Laura Ripes

I'm happy to announce the release of Laura Ripes' debut children's book: "The Spaghetti-Slurping Sewer Serpent"!  I fell in love with the story the moment I read it, and then was given the extreme privilege of bringing that story to life with illustrations.  To celebrate the book's arrival, the kids and I invited Mrs. Ripes to chat with us over Skype.  It's the first time author and illustrator have actually met, and the kids had some great questions for her.  (Thanks to Gracie for the portrait of Mrs. Ripes!)

First off, a review of "The Spaghetti-Slurping Sewer Serpent" by the kiddos:

Isaac (age 13):  This book is about a kid named Sammy Sanders  He thinks there's a serpent in the sewer slurping all his spaghetti.
Lily (age 9):  So Sammy is trying to solve the mystery.
Elijah (age 6):  He knows there is a serpent because he's got all those clues.
Dad:  Sammy has photographs of all the evidence he's collected.  Meatballs and sauce splatters...
Isaac:  And Dad labeled all the photos with our birthdays!
Evangeline (age 4):  That's mine!  I got a noodle!  I got a noodle for my birthday!
Lily:  I got... mold.
Dad:  It's not "mold."  It's "molt."
Lily:  What is molt?
Dad:  Snakes shed their skin when they grow.
Lily:  Ewww!
Dad:  All their old skin peels off.
Lily:  That's still as gross as mold.
Dad:  What is the really cool thing about this book?
Lily:  It's a super "S" book.  It has tons of S's.  On every page there are at least 10 S's.
Isaac:  Like "Sammy's sister Sally."
Lily:  And his friends "Scott Sullivan and Steve Strauss."
Isaac:  And "salty snacks."
Gracie (age 11):  That's called alliteration.
Lily:  It tricks your tongue sometimes.
Gracie:  It makes your lips slip. It's a lip-slipper.
Isaac:  We should count how many S's are in this book.
Elijah:  100.
Dad:  It's funny...  I'm always very aware of every "S" I say after I'm done reading this book.
Gracie:  Me too.  It's SSSstrange.
Isaac:  Thisss SSSstory is SSSstupendous.
Lily:  SSSsuper SSSsuspenseful.
Isaac:  SSSsuperb.
Gracie:  If you don't like the letter S, you should burn this book alive.
Dad:  Oh dear.
Gracie:  But if you do like the letter S, then you should read it to all your kids and elect it for president.  Or senator.  SSSsammy SSSsanders for SSSsenator!
Isaac:  His glasses are hilarious.
Gracie:  His glasses look like big spotlights coming out of his head.
Isaac:  Sammy has super silly spotlight spectacles.
Gracie:  This book is so fun.
Dad:  When I first saw the manuscript, I thought it was one of the most fun stories I'd ever read.  I thought, "I would LOVE to illustrate this!"
Gracie:  You love drawing dragons.
Dad:  Did you know this is Mrs. Ripes' first book.
Gracie:  She is starting off swell.

  And now for the interview!

Laura Ripes:  Hi!
Kids:  Hi!!!
Gracie:  SSSsalutations, Mrs. Ripes!
Dad:  It's nice to meet you!
Laura Ripes:  It's so nice to meet all of you - to see you in person.  It's exciting!
Gracie:  Congratulations on your first book!
Laura Ripes:  Well thank-you very much.  I'm very excited about it!  Congratulations to you too, Aaron.
Isaac:  We were wondering... how did you get the idea to write this story?  What was the starting point?  Were you wanting to write about S's?  Or did you start with the characters?  Or did the plot come first?
Laura Ripes:  Wanting to write a tongue-twister story came first.  And I think S's are very tricky, so next I said, "I'll do an 'S' one."  The actual story - the serpent in the sewer - came from my childhood.  We used to go to a park by our house, and there was this big, huuuuge sewer opening.  You wouldn't see them nowadays because they don't make them like that anymore.  But it was big... like you could climb in it.  I grew up with all boys -- brothers, cousins -- I was the only girl.  And they used to always tease me and say something lived in the sewer.  And I SO believed them.  There would always be sounds, and I'd be like, "Something's IN there!!!"
Gracie:  Is writing your full-time job?
Laura Ripes:  I do write all the time, so I feel like it's full-time.  My real job is that I do voiceover commercial work.  But I've always loved writing.  I love any kind of story.  Movies.  Books.  I love commercials.  Commercials are fabulous!  They are teeny, tiny, quick stories with a beginning, middle, end, and a solution.  So, commercial voiceovers are my real job, but I would love to write more.  If I sell more manuscripts, maybe I could say it's full-time for me.
Lily:  Since you have been working with S's so much for this book, do you start saying S's more?
Gracie:  Or do you notice "S" words more?  Because whenever we look at this book, we start saying "S" words all the time!
Laura Ripes:  You don't realize how many times you use S's in sentences!  And the letter S can be very difficult.  When I do my voiceover commercial work, they can come out sounding very tricky -- you have to be very careful.  So I thought it would be fun to have a tongue-twister story to practice working on all those S's.
Lily:  How long did it take you to write the book?
Laura Ripes:  That's an excellent question...  I don't really know.  I hop around.  I go from story to story.  I'll start to write a piece, then I'll put that one down and pick up another story I'm working on.  I'll grab my notebook in the middle of the night and jot stuff down.  Things are written upside down.  Initially, I probably got the story figured out on paper in about a week.  But I will rewrite and rewrite and rewrite.  It's a long process for me.
Gracie:  After you were done, how long did it take to get this book published?  Did it get snatched up by the first person you sent it to?  Or did you have to wait for a long time?
Laura Ripes:  I sent it out to 4 places, and didn't hear back from anyone.  Then we moved, and I had to change my email address.  It had been months and months since I'd sent it out, and I didn't think I was going to hear anything.  We were in our new house, and I got a call on my cell phone.  I almost didn't pick up the phone because I didn't recognize the number and it was a weird area code.  But it was the editor saying they wanted to buy the story!  She said they'd been trying to contact me for a while... emailing me and calling my old house.  I had forgotten about the story because it had been so many months.
Gracie:  How did you feel when they called you?
Laura Ripes:  I was very, very, very excited.  It's a good feeling.  She said, "We want to buy your manuscript!"  And I was so embarrassed because I had to say, "Which one?"  I had so many out there.
Isaac:  Did the alliteration make it easier or harder for you to write the story?
Laura Ripes:  It was hard.  I was very limited in what I could say.  I'd want to say a specific word, and there wouldn't be any "S" word that would fit.  That was kind of tough.
Lily:  Did your kids give you any suggestions on the book while you were writing it?
Laura Ripes:  They did give me suggestions.  My kids liked trying to make the tongue-twister harder all the time.
Gracie:  When Daddy read it to us earlier, he slipped on a couple words.
Laura Ripes:  I love that!  As a kid, I loved to hear a teacher make a mistake reading something.
Gracie:  That's the best!  Last night Daddy was really tired, but he was reading us a story anyway.  He kept falling asleep and misreading the words.  There is this character in "Marty McGuire" named Annie, and he kept calling her "Arnie... Arnie... Arnie."  And we were like, "Annie! ...Annie! ...Annie!"
Laura Ripes:  That's fun to me!  And I think it's fun when adults have a hard time with tongue-twisters.  Of course kids can nail them.
Dad:  Absolutely!
Laura Ripes:  When I originally wrote this book, I wanted it to be really, really hard to say.  But in the editing process, it was reined in a lot.  The editor wanted it to be quite a bit easier.  When "S" words were being pulled out, I was like... "Aghh... I'm losing my S's!"  That was hard for me.  But the story is still tricky.  I did have the word "Scrumdiliumptious."  But that got chopped.
Gracie:  Scrumdiliumptious!  That's a fun word!
Laura Ripes:  It didn't make it.  That word was on the chopping block.  But that's alright.  I couldn't believe it... they let me keep the word "spork" in there!
Gracie:  Do you have a favorite picture from the book?
Lily:  *I* have a favorite one.
Laura Ripes:  Which one is that?
Lily:  The slurper on the swing set.
Laura Ripes:  I was just going to say that one was my favorite!  I wasn't going to say it out loud - I was waiting for you to go first.
Gracie:  That's my favorite too.  It's the first full picture where you get to see the serpent.  He's all twisted around the swing set, eating spaghetti.  The moon is behind him, and you can see all the lights and shadows where the moon is hitting him.
Dad:  Even though it's in the middle of the story, that was the very first picture I made for the book.
Gracie:  Who says 'save the best for last'?
Dad:  I had a ball working on this book.  I don't think I've ever turned down a manuscript because... we've got to eat.  But this one was especially great to work on because I loved your story so much!
Laura Ripes:  Of course, the publisher didn't give me any say in illustrators.  But when they told me the artist they had picked, I said "Oh, I love The Hiccupotamus!"  I knew your books - I'd seen them before, and I thought, "Oh good!"
Dad:  That's nice to hear!
Laura Ripes:  And I was excited to see your illustrations for this book.  When I write, I have an idea of what it's going to look like... and you were right on!  I was very excited you were on the same page.
Dad:  Good - I'm glad to hear that.  Well, I think that's all the questions we had...
Isaac:  Thank-you for the interview!
Laura Ripes:  Thank-YOU guys!  It was so nice to meet you!  It's my first interview - I was really nervous.
Gracie:  You did a very good job.

Sammy spies spaghetti, by Isaac
 slurping from a spaghetti stand, by Gracie

Scott Sullivan and Steve Strauss see the serpent, by Lily

Author: Laura Ripes
Illustrator: Aaron Zenz
Published, April 2012: Marshall Cavendish
Like it?  Here it is!

And now it's time for a giveaway!
• The prize: TWO copies of "The Spaghetti-Slurping Sewer Serpent" - one for you and one for you to share with a friend - both copies signed by Laura Ripes and myself.
• Entering is easy!  Simply leave a comment on this post.  For a bonus entry, include at least 7 "S" words tucked away anywhere in your comment - not random words, but relevant to the interview above...
• We'll take entries through April 22 -- Good luck!