Monday, February 23, 2009

An interview with Children's author: Leslie Patricelli!

Anna, Children's Librarian: What inspired you to write and illustrate books?
Ms. Patricelli: I always loved to write stories and draw pictures. Writing and drawing is what I did for fun when I was a kid and I kept on doing it through high school, college and beyond. My drawings and stories would make people laugh – and I loved that. Mostly I did it to entertain myself, though. I wasn't sure what I wanted to do to as my job. I was a copywriter and I missed drawing ... then I was illustrating and I missed writing. So I came to realize that I wanted a job that was a combination of the two. I decided I wanted to either be a cartoonist or a children's book author/illustrator. I found myself browsing the children's books sections at bookstores and libraries and falling in love with children's books, so that's what I decided to aim for. I didn't know any authors or illustrators growing up, so it took me awhile to figure out the path to get there. Meeting other people who did what I wanted to do was the most important step. I took a class when I was 29 from two author/illustrators who taught me how to create a good picture book and how to get published. That's when I really started to pursue children's books. My goal was to be published by the time I was 33, like Dr. Suess – and I was close – I was 35!

Anna, Children's Librarian: Do you begin with the illustrations or the words?
Ms. Patricelli: It varies. Usually, what I come up with first is an idea in my head. I might think of an idea while I am taking a walk, doing the dishes or just spacing out! Once an idea hits me, I will think and think about it until it gets solid enough to put on paper. I sketched out my first board book, 'Yummy Yucky', as cartoons in my sketchbook – doing the drawings and words at the same time. If it's a longer story, I will more often put the story in words first and then do the pictures. This is a longer and more difficult process. Often I will describe what I imagine as a picture in the text. Later the text will be cut to allow the pictures to speak for themselves.

Anna, Children's Librarian: Why did you choose to use an infant/toddler as the main character?
Ms. Patricelli: I didn't choose the toddler ... the toddler chose me! I first started sketching the baby in an infant CPR class after my first child was born. The nurse was listing off all the frightening things that could possibly happen to your new baby and I drew pictures of a baby getting into all these different situation. I came home from class with my notes and my husband thought they were really funny. I kept on drawing this baby as we'd go through different parenting situations. The idea for 'Yummy Yucky' came from watching my son, Beck, who was one year old at the time, putting things into his mouth. I found myself always saying "YUMMY" trying to get him to eat something good, or "YUCKY" trying to keep him from eating something bad for him. My original concept for the book was to show the baby eating things that are classic hazards to toddlers, such as choking hazards, chemicals, plants, etc. I was in a critique group at the time and they convinced me to tone it down and have the baby eating less hazardous things before I submitted it. The publisher toned it down even more so now it's things like hot sauce, coffee and ear wax!

Anna, Children's Librarian: You have a new picture book coming out, Higher! Higher! What inspired you to write this story?
Ms. Patricelli: I was pushing my daughter on the swing at the park. She kept saying "Higher! Higher!" She and I started imagining her going so high that she was going all the way to outer space. The whole time I was thinking, this would be a great book! I kept it in my head, then one day when I had time I put the idea down in my sketchbook. It didn't change a whole lot from the original sketches.

Anna, Children's Librarian: Do you plan on writing more picture books as opposed to board books for younger children?
Ms. Patricelli: I have several picture books planned, as well as several more board books. I am working on a preschool series called The Patterson Puppies, and early grade book starring a monkey named Monkey Mike and I have some more books with my baby character up my sleeve, too. On the side, I am working on a chapter book about my experience of moving to a new school and meeting my best friend in the fourth grade.

Anna, Children's Librarian: Who are your favorite children’s book authors/illustrators? Why?
Ms. Patricelli: This is not my favorite question, because there are so many great ones out there, past and present, that I find it difficult to answer! I was inspired to create my board books by the board books I was reading to my son when he was a baby. I loved the simplicity of the Todd Parr books and Lucy Cousins books. I loved the painterly style and textures of "Peek-a-Who" by Nina laden, and "No David!" by David Shannon. These were all big influences on me. As a kid, I loved 'Where the Wild Things Are' by Maurice Sendak. That book haunted my dreams. I loved it and feared it at the same time. The intensity of emotion stuck with me. I also loved "There's a Nightmare in My Closet', by Mercer Mayer. Last night I was reading, "Are You My Mother?" by P.D. Eastman. That is another very emotional book. A great early reader.

Anna, Children's Librarian: What do you enjoy most about your own books?
Ms. Patricelli: I love getting emails from people telling me that their kids love my books. I love reading them to a group of kids and listening to and watching them get excited. I love that they are based on my experiences with my own kids or my own memories of being a kid. Most of all, I love creating them!

Thanks again to Leslie Patricelli for appearing, courtesy of Provato Marketing; for other stops on the tour please check

Check out Ms. Patricelli's newest book: No No, Yes Yes.

Friday, February 13, 2009

The Healing Power of Music

Morpugro, Michael (2008). The Mozart Question. Grades 4-6.

Paolo Levi is a world-renowned violinist with a secret that no one has attempted or dared to uncover. When Lesley, a journalist, is scheduled to interview Levi, she is told not to ask the "Mozart question." What is the "Mozart question" she wonders? Lesley's interview question prompts Levi to recall how as a boy he developed his passion for the violin after his mother showed him a hidden violin belonging to his father. He would secretly borrow the violin and sneak out for lessons with a man who had once known Levi's parents and the secret they kept hidden all these years from their son. Beautiful watercolor illustrations are interspersed throughout the book.
This is a deeply moving story about the healing power of music. Although the terrible accounts of the Holocaust are not described in this story, the author alludes to some of the events and provides brief recollections of life at the camps.

Readers who are not familiar with the Holocaust may be interested in reading several sources:
Krinitz, Esther Nisenthal. Memories of Survival.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Calling all "Diary of a Wimpy Kid" fans...

Are you still waiting to read Jeff Kinney's Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Greg Heffley's Journal?

Did you know that you can go online to read the entire book?
Then you can request Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Rodrick Rules or The Last Straw through the library catalog.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Latest book club read

Codell, Esmé Raji (2003). Sahara Special. Grades 3-5.
Sahara, a fifth grader, knows that she is going to be a writer. She already has some stories in the library (hidden behind some books), but her school counseler thinks that she needs special education. After Sahara's letters to her father are confiscated and put in the principal's file, she stops doing her homework and is taken out of her regular classroom. But, when her mother demands that she is taken out of special ed, Sahara returns to her classroom and is pleasantly surprised with the arrival of a new teacher. Ms. Pointy, is not your regular teacher, she has bright lipstick, wears outrageous clothes, and teaches strange subjects. Her unique teaching style may be all that Sahara and the other students need in order to gain self-esteem and overcome their individual fears.

If you would like to join the Online Book Club for 3-5 graders, call the Needham Children's library: 781-455-7559 ext. 204.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Women who passed as men during the Civil War

Fascinated by her own family's Civil War history, Ms. Silvey set out to research and locate information on the women who were unfortunately left out of most American history books and television programs. While there are several books on this subject for grownups, Ms. Silvey has brought this fascinating history to a younger readership. Her research resulted in an excellent look at these women's roles and their reasons for joining the various regiments. Ms. Silvey provides the reader with illustrations and photographs showing these women dressed as men in military uniform, which may easily fool the reader, just as they did the actual generals and soldiers.
This is a great look at Civil War history that younger readers may be unfamiliar with. For (young) history buffs and novices alike!