Allison's Book Bag

Posts Tagged ‘Eileen Christelow

FUDDLES by Fran Vischer

You know a book is good when you have to share it. Fuddles by Fran Vischer is a fun picture book about a fat and pampered cat who decided his life needed adventure. As soon as I finished reading Fuddles, I turned to my husband and immediately read it aloud to him. We were outside in our yard eating lunch when I read it, but I didn’t care who heard me. Fuddles is that good. For one thing, it’s about a spoiled cat; my husband and I have one of those. For another thing, I love the playful style:

But Mom had other ideas. “You’re not allowed to go outside,” she said. Mom said no?!
Fuddles could not believe his ears. He had never been told no in his life. Why couldn’t he go outside now?

Then there is the artwork. I don’t feel necessarily feel qualified to evaluate the illustrations, but those in Fuddles are so clearly perfect that I don’t have any qualms about saying that they are colorful and fun with lots of personality. The facial expressions and the postures that our hero assumes show how he feels about his decision to seek adventure, mom’s reaction to that decision, and to the adventures themselves.  Speaking of Fuddles’ adventures, I love those too. For example, when Fuddles decides to show some squirrels just who will have the last laugh, he pushes and pulls and strains and struggles. Then he realizes that couches are easier to climb than trees.  Fran Vischer’s own cat inspired this hilarious tale, which means hopefully we can expect many more tales about the lovable Fuddles.

My rating? Bag it: Carry it with you. Make it a top priority to read.

How would you rate this book?

HURRAY FOR AMANDA AND HER ALLIGATOR by Mo Willems

Mo Willems

Image via Wikipedia

If you’re like me, you’re probably used to picture books that are so short that they don’t even have page numbers. In that case, you would probably be surprised to find a picture book to have chapters. Hurray for Amanda and Her Alligator has a chapter page, contains six stories, and clocks in at seventy pages. Yet this isn’t an anthology. Rather, each story reveals a little bit more about friendship through its two title characters. For example, here is a description of alligator’s reaction to Amanda being gone to the library:

I do not like it when Amanda is gone, thought alligator.
I am no good at waiting. He paced around the room. He fiddled with his tail.

When Amanda returns, she asks alligator if he wants a surprise. You might be expecting her to give him some fancy treat, but instead the surprise is just her yelling: “Boo!” Reviews of Hurray for Amanda and Her Alligator are mixed and so perhaps it helps that I am not familiar with other books by Mo Willems. Critics say that his other characters are sassy and goofy, neither of which are terms I’d use to describe Amanda and her alligator. Rather, I feel as if back in my childhood and leisurely playing house or school with my cousins. Hurray for Amanda and Her Alligator captures the ups-and-downs of friendship in a sweet and simple style.

My rating? Read it: Borrow from your library or a friend. It’s worth your time.

How would you rate this book?

THE DESPERATE DOG BOOKS by Eileen Christelow

Cover of "Letters from a Desperate Dog"

Cover of Letters from a Desperate Dog

Fans of Letters from a Desperate Dog by Eileen Christelow will be delighted to know Emma is back in a second book. Christelow was one of the most popular authors at a recent Plum Creek Literacy Festival. Primary school teachers waited in lined up in long lines, some carrying plush toy versions of Christelow’s  characters, waited in long lines to have her sign their books. Emma is a dog who lives with George and his cat. One morning, George kicks Emma off the new couch, then out of the trash, and finally out the door. Emma is happy enough outside, where she shares her woes with a neighboring dog, which of course gets George further upset. After all, he just thinks she’s barking. Christelow is very good at taking on the perspective of her canine main character, so much so that I started wondering how our dog Barnaby views our many commands. In a creative twist, Emma heads to the newsstand where she picks up a copy of the Weekly Bone and sees an advertisement of a new canine advice column. Hence, the letters!

I’m a pup with a problem. My human, George, barks way too much.
It’s “Bad! Bad! Bad!” all day long. The least little thing sets him off. He’s really getting on my nerves. What should do?

The rest of the book alternates between a story told in comic style fashion and letters. As for the sequel, I’ll let you figure out from Emma’s letter what to expect: “You won’t believe this! I think a sinister stranger is trying to kidnap George. She was holding his hand! I tried to pull her away, but George barked my head off and told ME to go away. Doesn’t he know I am trying to save him?”

Needless to say, George isn’t being kidnapped. Nothing as dark as that would happen in Christelow’s books, but there are definitely some serious misunderstandings to be sorted out. Even the advice columnist gives up on Emma at one point. Christelow’s stories are hilarious but with good messages.

My rating? Read it: Borrow from your library or a friend. It’s worth your time.

How would you rate this book?

EVEN MONSTERS NEED HAIRCUTS  by Matthew McElligott

What first attracts you to a picture book? In the case of my next read, a much-worn library book by Matthew McElligott, it was the title: Even Monsters Need Haircuts. With a title like that, who could resist? If I were rating the book on the strength of its story alone, I would place it on the top of my list. From the very first page, my curiosity was piqued:

My dad is a barber. I like to watch him work. I’m a barber too.

I wonder: Why is this boy a barber? The next page further reels me in, by telling me that there will be a full moon and that the boy needs to go to bed early. Is this boy a werewolf? What is going on here? Of course I’m not going to tell you, but needless to say I like how every page reveals just a little bit more until the final twist at the end. Even Monsters Need Haircuts is as good as its title led me to believe.

The illustrations are the reason I can’t put this book on the top of my list. Although some reviewers have called them bright and cheerful, I found them muted and kind of average. I’m not saying they are done badly, but don’t you kind of want your monsters to be scary? After all, that’s why they’re monsters. Then again, this isn’t a story about conquering big bad monsters. For that reason, I’d settle for ridiculously weird, whereas these monsters seem just like you and me. Maybe that was the point, but the artwork seems flat for such an otherwise delightful tale.

My rating? Read it: Borrow from your library or a friend. It’s worth your time.

How would you rate this book?

THE SNOW BLEW INN by Dian Curtis Regan

Has a friend ever not shown up when expected? To make matters worse, what if the weather outside is brewing into a blizzard? In The Snow Blew Inn by Dian Curtis Regan, there are “dark clouds boiling above the mountain peaks. Snow is coming to the Snow Blew Inn!“ In the meantime, Emma awaits the arrival of her cousin Abbey. At first, Emma amuses herself. When the snow starts to fall and guests begin to arrive, Emma helps her mom with the chores involved with running an inn. The rest of the story unfolds, introducing readers to guests and to activities of the inn. I guess we’re supposed to feel anxious about whether or not Abbey will arrive—or maybe not. Perhaps this is just a tale about a delayed sleepover. Whatever the case, while I found the illustrations charming, the story never got off the ground.

My rating? Leave it: Don’t even take it off the shelves. Not recommended.

How would you rate this book?

ZOOZICAL by Judy Sierra

Have you ever wondered what happens at the zoo when “frosty winds blow, when families stay at home, and when field trips are few”? In Zoozical by Judy Sierra, the answer is: midwinter doldrums!

To be more specific:

Little lemurs stopped leaping
Their yowling was keeping
The wombats awake
Then the snakes (by mistake)
Tied themselves up in knots
Ocelots lost their spots.

How does one get rid of the midwinter doldrums? For the animals at the zoo, all looked lost until a large hippo collapsed, a small hippo hopped out of the way, and a young kangaroo shouted, “Look! Me hop, too!” This one act led to the animals all gathering together to put on a play full of songs and dances. Because of the rhymes, along with the bright and bold illustrations, I suspect young readers will eat this book up. I can even see myself having a riot reading this to an audience of primary students. However, I’m on the hunt for picture books that will be cherished by future generations the way Dr. Seuss’ books are cherished now and from this viewpoint the book irritates me. The rhymes seemed forced. As for the mad-paced stage acts, they remind me children’s parties at the height of chaos. But it’s at that moment of course that the adults are reaching for the headache pills. Zoozical is fun to the point of nausea.

My rating? Leave it: Don’t even take it off the shelves. Not recommended.

How would you rate this book?

One of the benefits of trying to read books in a variety of categories is that I start noticing age groups and genres which I tend to neglect. Take picture books as an example. So far, I have reviewed three. At the end of this month, I’m taking on a new venture to turn that omission around. I’m starting a before-school reading club for primary students.  In it, we’re going to read picture books and maybe some chapter books.

While waiting for my reading club to begin, I’ve been reading some of the more popular picture books out there. As part of my teasers this week, I’m featuring mini-biographies and fun links connected with six of them.

Onto the books!

Fuddles by Frans Vischer

Frans-VischerFirst up is Fuddles. This funny cat book is by Frans Vischer, who lived in Holland until he was eleven. Then his family immigrated to America. Vischer always liked to draw. Now being a shy, new immigrant kid that spoke little English, Vischer relied on his drawings to communicate. His high school art teacher taught him that is more to art than Mickey Mouse. Because of her, Vischer explored other forms of art such as painting and sculpture but animation remained his favorite. Upon graduation in 1981, Vischer landed a job with the The Walt Disney Company. Since then, he’s worked on such recognizable films as “The Princess and The Frog” and “Who Framed Roger Rabbit?” at Disney, “Cats Don’t Dance at Warner Bros.”, and “The Road To El Dorado” at DreamWorks. Vischer was inspired to write Fuddles by the antics of his own enormous and lovable cat.

Hooray for Miss Amanda and Her Alligator by Mo Willems

Next up is Hooray for Miss Amanda and Her Alligator. This multi-chapter picture book is by Mo Willems. After graduating from Tisch School of the Arts, Willems spent a year traveling around the world drawing a cartoon every day. Returning to New York, he kicked off his career as a writer and animator for Sesame Street, where he earned six Emmy Awards during his tenure. During his nine seasons at Sesame Street, Willems also served as a weekly commentator for BBC Radio and created two animated series. During this time, he also began writing and illustrating picture books.

If you want to know more about Willems, you can read his extensive credits at CanYou Give Me Your Biography?. You can also learn more about him by reading What are your favorite interviews? Personally though, I like his short biography the best:

Mo Willems makes funny drawings that hopefully will make you laugh.

If you become a fan of Hooray for Miss Amanda and Her Alligator, you might appreciate the accompanying Classroom Activities. The PDF contains lessons on making friends, playing with friends, and surprising friends.

The Desperate Dog Books by Eileen Christelow

Third on my book list is Letters from A Desperate Dog and its sequel The Desperate Dog Writes Again by Eileen Christelow. Both comic-strip style books are about a high-strung mutt named Emma, George the painter, and his cat. Here are the rest of the bare-bone facts about Emma, which I nabbed from Christelow’s site:

  • Hobbies: Eating
  • Favorite thing to do: Eating
  • Favorite sport: Eating
  • Favorite food: You name it; I’ll eat it! Cell phones, Halloween candy . . .
  • Job: Keeping my humans in line.
  • Skills: Ladder-climbing, mouse-hunting, eating and…
  • . . .Shh-h-h! Don’t tell anyone—writing on the computer.
  • Favorite newspaper column: Dear Queenie

Care to dig deeper? You could “like” Emma on Facebook.

Need a classroom guide? You could download or print this PDF.

As for Christelow herself, you can find all my biographical notes about her nicely collected together in an earlier post: Authors Week Ahead

Even Monsters Need Haircuts by Matthew McElligott

Fourth on my book list is a book with an irresistible title: Even Monsters Need Haircuts. Author Matthew McElligott has a studio in his home which he shares with his wife, his son, and several animals including two horses, about a dozen chickens, a rabbit, some cats, some fish, and a dog. He has been a working, published writer for about fifteen years, but has been drawing and making up stories for as long as he can remember. He especially likes to draw buildings and machines. Whenever he travels, he brings along a sketchbook. By the time he gets home, it’s filled with pictures of churches, castles, bridges, and landscapes. In his newest book, you’ll find just as many illustrations of humans and monsters.

Using The Monster Machine, you can create your own custom monster, print it out, color it and put it together. Simply follow the directions above, and make sure you have a piece of paper in your printer.


Next up on my book list is The Snow Blew Inn by Dian Curtis Regan. Unlike the other authors whom I profiled above, her biography starts with a writing background instead of a drawing one. She often wrote poems for family and friends, along with skits for high school pep rallies, and even a play for a local church. Yet initially she considered writing a hobby rather a career. Than two things happened. First, the editor of a local magazine asked her to write a children’s Christmas story. Regan liked the idea of getting paid for doing something she loved to do. Second, she attended her first writers’ conference. After listening to authors talk about their writing careers, she enrolled in literature at the University of Colorado. After graduating,  she taught school in Denver until deciding to “take one year off to write.” More than a year has passed and she is still writing full time.

A more extensive biography, along with many interviews, can be found at her About the Author page. Specifically, younger readers might want to read her Letter to Young Writers and A Kids Questionnaire to Author. Older readers might want to download her Free Curriculum Guides. Regan’s whole site is fun and informative. Surf over there and explore it!

Last, on my book list is Zoozical by Judy Sierra. She grew up liking to read and to write. In elementary school, she worked on word puzzles, wrote poetry, drew, made books, and put on plays with friends. Later, in high school, she edited the newspaper and literary magazine. Yet in college she thought of becoming a college professor. Then she learned about the perfect job for her: a children’s librarian at a public library. There, she could read children’s literature, tell stories, and put on puppet shows. Eventually, the latter interest won out. She left the library to to start a traveling puppet theater with her husband. Before she became a full-time author, she actually performed all around the U.S and taught puppetry as artist-in-residence in schools and museums. Naturally, her first published books were about how to tell stories and put on puppet plays. Even Zoozical is about how animals produced a stage play. Regan has even produced a Sing Along Musical for it. As with most others here, you can also find a Teacher’s Guide to her books.

As an aspiring author, my favorite event to attend is the Plum Creek Children’s Literacy Festival at Concordia University in Seward, Nebraska. From the moment one walks in the door and receives their registration packet to the moment one drops off the event survey and walks out the door, the air buzzes with children’s literature. I attend the Adult Professional Conference Day on Saturday when, for forty dollars, I can learn from and be inspired by authors and professional literacy speakers.

I arrived at seven fifty in the morning.  The doors had been open for only twenty minutes, but already attendees were amassing. My eyes scanned the author tables. This year I had bought some books prior to the festival, knowing I would want them signed. I set off to find Eileen Christelow and Barbara Robinson. The lines grew longer and longer, the hour grew later and later. Limits were imposed on the number of books we could have signed, and numbers were handed out to those who would have to return to the lines after lunch.

Bathrooms filled up, attendees grabbed last-minute refreshments, and doors swung outward. By eight forty-five, we were heading to other buildings where we would hear forty-five minute presentations delivered by our chosen speakers. I headed first to Grace Lin because she is a multicultural author. Then I checked out DyAnne DiSilvo who writes community service books but also wrote a chapter book for reluctant and struggling writers. Last, I dropped in on Barbara Robinson whom I grew up hearing about because she wrote The Best Christmas Pageant Ever and two sequels.

GRACE LIN

Looking young and nervous, Grace Lin studied her notes. At nine o’clock she began to share the account of her long conflict with her Asian heritage. She grew up in upstate New York, the only Asian in her school. In her attempts to fit in, she tried to forget that she was Asian. She succeeded so well that once she glanced in a store window and thought “there’s an Asian girl!” before realizing that the Asian girl was her.

While Lin grew up loving books, none included Asian characters except The Five Chinese brothers. One day when the librarian took this book out to read, Lin’s classmates all turned Lin’s way and exclaimed, “They’re Chinese like Lin!” Lin felt embarrassed. She was more like her classmates than those five Chinese brothers. After all, she ate at the same restaurants and shopped at the same stores.

Lin loved writing as much as reading, and saw every school assignment as an opportunity to write and illustrate another book. A teacher noticed her passion and told her about a writing contest. Drawing on her love of European fairy tales and fantasies about royalty, Lin created a book that won fourth place and earned her $1000. (First place went to none other than Dav Pilkey, who would go on to write the Captain Underpants series.)

On the heels of this success, Lin decided to pursue an art degree at Rhode Island, through which she improved her illustration skills. During a year of studies in Rome, Lin began to feel strange. Everyone loved their rich culture while she knew nothing about her Asian heritage. Lin began to draw pictures of an Asian girl in these European places but this still didn’t feel right. Lin made a decision. She wasn’t going to be a great European artist. Moreover, her reasons for drawing were all wrong. She desired recognition, when instead she should be drawing for herself and to share.

As you can see, Lin kept struggling with identity. Lin tried to figure out what to do next. She wondered about what she would want to do if she knew she was going to die. She realized she would more than anything want to spend time with her family. And so she drew a family portrait. It didn’t follow the classical style, but it was uniquely her work.

After college, Lin submitted her portfolio to various editors. Eventually one expressed interest in her drawings but wondered if she had a story to go along with them. Lin declared, “Yes!” But in reality she did not. Drawing on her Asian background, the Ugly Vegetables was born and became her first published book.  For her next book, the editor wished her to change the main character to a boy and to a Caucasian. Otherwise, Lin would be labeled as multicultural and would find her career choices restricted. Around this time Lin accepted a contract offer from Random House for another Asian book, sealing her fate as a multicultural author . Soon other aspiring artists were praising her for using her culture to get her foot in the door. Lin felt as if in a “double jeopardy”; was it a blessing or curse to be a multicultural author?

Again Lin pulled back from her Asian culture. She began creating animal stories to avoid culture altogether. The funny thing is that her audience preferred her multicultural books, and so Lin once again evaluated her priorities. She decided that she wanted to explore her culture through her art, and also to help others like her to become comfortable with their race. Lin began writing books for older readers based on her childhood and similar experiences that had been shared with her over the years. Her latest book, Where the Moon Meets the Mountain, draws heavily on Asian folklore. Rather than further typecasting Lin as a multicultural author, it has gained her more attention by landing on the New York Best Seller list and garnering the Newbery Honor. Best of all, the audience for it is mixed, meaning Lin is now being recognized as an author in her own right.

DYANNE DISAVLO

I next attended Dyanne DiSalvo’s presentation, which was focused on her successful community-themed books. City Green appears in grade-school readers across the country. What more could an author ask for?

Helping out has always been a passion for DiSalvo. Even as a child, she helped out in the neighborhood soup kitchen. And after a boy died of muscular dystrophy, Disalvo and her friends started an annual town carnival to raise money to find a cure.

Although she also grew up loving to draw, DiSalvo didn’t initially consider a career in art. She thought books were “born” in libraries. Moreover, all the women she knew were either moms or nuns. When a librarian told her that books were created, DiSalvo knew she wanted to be an artist. DiSalvo did what all aspiring artists do: she took classes, submitted her portfolio to editors, and watched for ideas.

DiSavlo didn’t set out to write community books, but to share stories of her neighborhood. The first story she told was about Uncle Willie and the Soup Kitchen. Workers told her she couldn’t because the story would be too sad. DiSalvo persisted, wanting to share the stories of those helped by the soup kitchen. For example, there were the owners of a family store regularly gave food to the soup kitchen. One day they had to close down because they didn’t have insurance. Next thing DiSalvo knew, these people were in the soup kitchen line. She also told of another man who carried around his paintings that he made from discarded nail polish.

Another story DiSalvo wrote was about a local apartment complex that was torn down because the landlord continued to refuse to maintain it and so it eventually became unsafe. As she talked about City Green, DiSalvo offered tips to aspiring authors and artists. For example, writers are always in training and so should carry a pen around with them everywhere. If they consciously carry a pen with them they’ll consciously think of ideas. This is important because, after all, every story starts with an idea. Characters are also all around. Authors should make an effort to search for names too. Once DiSalvo heard a man tell a boy, “Your head is like a hammer.” This inspired the name of Hammerhead. Once authors start to write they need to think about what will pull readers into their story. DiSalvo thought about starting City Green with a picture of a wrecking ball, because it would entice even boys to read it. In talks with her editor she realized that because the story focused on people it should instead show the community who would be affected by the destruction of the building. Authors also need to “show, don’t tell.” For example, she never outright says that one of the characters is pregnant, but does use the pregnancy to show the passage of time in City Green. Finally the book was almost ready for printing but still needed a title. DiSalvo had been calling it “The Lot” but her editor didn’t like that name. After compiling a list of variations, a friend gave her the name City Green. Around the same time City Green was published, city gardens were becoming popular. And so City Green became part of a wave, which helped it sell.

Despite its success, DeSalvo has experienced her share of rejections. She brought a stack of letters to prove her point and declared, “It’s an artist’s job to be be rejected.” Then she thanked everyone who has ever given up, for it makes it easier for her to succeed. At the same time, she encouraged aspiring writers and artists to buy a binder with sparkles and smiles for all those rejection letters. Then just persist; it’s not about ego but the art: one of the these days success will come.

Although DiSalvo focused her presentation around her community books, my interest lay in her chapter book for reluctant struggling writers: The Sloppy Copy Slip-up. During question time, I asked how she came up with the idea for the book. Well, a lot of readers had been asking her when she would write a chapter book. Moreover, DiSalvo has worked directly with students in writing workshops, where kids frequently complain, “I don’t know what to write!” DiSalvo likes that teachers can use The Sloppy Copy Slip-Up to encourage students. In the process of reading the book, students can also learn tons about how to write. To reluctant struggling writers DiSalvo repeats her advice to always carry a pen and to write down what their senses tell them.

BARBARA ROBINSON

While part of the fun of Plum Creek Literacy Festival is discovering new authors such as Lin and DiSalvo, it’s also fun to meet beloved authors such as Barbara Robinson. The more autobiographical stories I hear about authors, the more I realize how different they are despite their common bond. Barbara Robinson is no exception.

Robinson started out as a short story writer. After about five years of submissions, she sold her first story. Some of her sales were to McCalls, whose editor one day called to ask Robinson if she had any Christmas stories. For inspiration, Robinson pulled out Christmas books and music. For the only time in her life the first sentence to a story popped into her head. Readers familiar with The Best Christmas Pageant Ever will all recognize this famous line: “The Herdmans were absolutely the worst kids in the history of the world.” A year after the story’s publication readers began requesting a reprint and a longer version.

The novel-length version stayed around long enough for parents, teachers, and even ministers to discover it. Schools and theaters began inquiring if there was a play. Robinson knew a little about theater and so gladly turned it into play. Next, she was asked to write it as a script for a producer who wished to turn The Best Christmas Pageant Ever into a movie. She felt less comfortable in this territory, but the producer told her that he always asked children’s book authors to write the script to help ensure the movie maintained the spirit of the book. So Robinson did. And she even learned from the experience. Now when she finds herself stuck, she will imagine the next episode as a scene in a movie. To introduce younger readers to The Best Christmas Pageant Ever, Robinson has written a picture book version that will hit bookstore shelves in about a week.

Due to the popularity of the original book, naturally readers demanded a sequel. Robinson tried to comply but found it tough. She didn’t want to disappoint her fans. For months she recorded ideas on index cards. Then upon a return visit to school one boy asked, “When are you going to finish it?” Robinson admitted she had a problem. She had all these funny ideas but nothing to tie them together. The boy told her, “You need them to be in school, because that’s our job.” This gave Robinson the inspiration she needed to pull the sequel together. The Best School Year Ever won the Nebraska Golden Sower award and is perhaps even more popular among kids than her first book. I look forward to reading it!

As noon approached, authors began to wrap up their presentations. Those attendees who had paid an extra ten dollars for the luncheon headed towards the large dining room in the back in the main building. Sandwiches and cupcakes awaited us at our tables. I selected an empty table but others soon joined me. We chatted about authors, teaching experiences, and our own writing desires. Then the guest speakers for the luncheon took the podium. One of them was Barbara Robinson, who treated us to a reading from her newest book about the Herdmans. She plans to set it at summer camp and has already visited ones for ideas. As the applause died for her presentation, so did the festival activities. A few people hung around to buy more books or meet more authors, but by three-thirty most of us were headed back out to the routine outside world.

One of my favorite lessons to teach during our writing launch at school is based on a mentor text called What Do Authors Do? by Eileen Christelow. Told through a combination of short sentences and comic-illustrations, What Do Authors Do? is surprisingly thorough in its coverage of the writing process for primary grades. The bright and bold artwork also makes it a fun read. When I heard Eileen Christelow was one of the guest authors at our local Plum Creek Literacy Festival this year, I decided it was time to buy my own hardcover copy. Hopefully, this Saturday, I’ll hear her speak and get my book autographed.

What Do Authors Do? covers all the basics. Authors get ideas, write, revise, share, submit, persist, and publish. It even touches on finer details. For example, authors get ideas in strange places such as by watching one’s dog chase the neighbor’s cat. Authors also (believe it or not) struggle to find the right words and get stuck in their plots. Then authors can make lists, take notes, write outlines, or just plain take a break. You see, authors don’t give up when writing gets hard, but instead they persist with their work. When authors are ready to share, family and friends and even writers’ groups can offer feedback. Later on, so might editors. Eventually, authors will submit their book to an editor, who will either accept or reject it. Christelow covers the whole process, even to the point of taking readers full-circle back to starting a story with an idea. Ah-ha! Writing is a cyclic process!

Because I use it as a fun and realistic introduction to the writing process, I have three quibbles to What Do Authors Do? Christelow notes more than once that authors get stuck. I’d like even more suggestions for how writers can move forward without actually taking a full-fledged break. For example, what about reading similar books, creating character sketches, rewriting in poetic form…? Christelow also notes that at some point authors will submit their book. What about recognition of our short story writers? I know: These are minor points! They also probably aren’t needed in a book for primary readers, but this writing teacher thinks that they could enhance an otherwise awesome mentor text. My last quibble is more substantial. This picture book is supposed to be about what authors do, right? Okay, so how come almost half of it is about the publishing process?

Those complaints aside, I really enjoy this picture book. As I said, one of my favorite lessons to teach is based on it. In a light-hearted and fast-paced way, Christelow shows how writers work. She also offers gentle encouragement to every student who has protested: “but writing is hard!” Even famous authors get stuck, but every author perseveres. In the end, authors have written a story that they can share with family and friends. They might even get published. No matter what, the most important things authors can do is look for ideas and write, write, write. It’s a message I try to teach my struggling writers every day.

My rating? Bag it: Carry it with you. Make it a top priority to read it.

How would you rate this book?

Christelow is an author and an artist. For a peek at how she does her artwork, check out How Do You Do The Illustrations? To found out more about these jobs, check out the What Do Authors and Illustrators Do? page on her website. Do you like to write or draw? Do you have a preference?

I haven’t read Christelow’s book yet about illustrators, but tomorrow I’ll post my review of her book about authors. On Sunday, I also hope to post notes and photos about the Plum Creek Literacy Festival, where Eileen Christelow and other authors will present.

One of my favorite lessons to teach during our writing launch at school is based on a mentor text called What Do Authors Do? by Eileen Christelow. As I read parts of this book, I show samples of my own work. I bring in idea notebooks, along with old outlines, drafts, revisions, and even samples of rejection and acceptance letters. It’s fun to talk about the writing process and then to answer questions from writing students.

When I heard that Eileen Christelow was among the featured authors this year at Plum Creek Literacy Festival, I knew that it was time to purchase my own copy of What Do Authors Do? Hopefully, this Saturday, I can hear her speak and get my book autographed.

In the meantime, below is some background info about Eileen Christelow’s start as a writer and illustrator. Check back this weekend for a review of her picture book What Do Authors Do? I also hope to post notes and photos about the festival itself. Save the dates: September 24-25!

Her Start as a Writer: As with many authors, books were a part of life in Eileen Christelow’s family. Her parents read bedtime stories every night to Christelow and her brother. Her parents gave them books on special occasions. And her parents were readers themselves. Her father dipped into books from all topics, along with mysteries, and even comics. He bought the latter as soon as they hit the newsstand, lending them to Christelow and her brother only after he had finished.

Thanks to the the influence of a couple notable English teachers in the upper grades, Christelow wrote stories for her high school magazine and made plans to major in English in college. Unfortunately, freshman English was so tedious that she lost enthusiasm for that idea and instead enrolled in pre-architecture.

Everything changed again in her senior college year when Christelow discovered photography. Come back tomorrow to find out what happened next!

Her Start as an Artist: After college, Christelow began photographing buildings for architects and creating photo essays for small magazines on urban life: skid row, Chinatown, inner city schools, political demonstrations. Despite her interest in photograph, she apparently never lost her interest in writing. She began looking at children’s picture books in bookstores and at the library. She even read picture books to neighborhood children. Eventually, she started experimenting with her own stories, illustrating them with photographs or drawings.

Deciding that she wanted to try writing and illustrating picture books, she visited the library once or twice a week and borrowed piles of books to read. She started with an alphabet book, thinking it’d take a few weeks. Two years later, she reached Z! How did she first become published? Come back tomorrow to find out!

Her First Publication: While Christelow earned a living as a photographer and graphic designer, she continued to experiment with picture books. One job required her to design and illustrate a poster about animal camouflage for a science museum. The poster gave her the idea for her first published book: Henry and the Red Stripes.

As a side note, through her father, Christelow developed an interest in television shows with slapstick humor such as Abbot and Costello, Laurel and Hardy, the Marx brothers, and Jackie Gleason. In her online All About, Christelow notes that these shows probably influenced her picture books.


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