Thursday, December 26, 2013

Beyond Nancy Drew and Encyclopedia Brown: Sheila’s Five Mystery Series for Kids

Nate the Great by Marjorie Weinman Sharmat (Random House, $4.99 each)

Nancy Clancy, Super Sleuth by Jane O'Connor (HarperCollins, $9.99 each)

Enola Holmes by Nancy Springer (Penguin, $6.99 each)

The Sisters Grimm by Michael Buckley (Harry Abrams, $7.95 each)

The Clubhouse Mysteries by Sharon Draper (Simon and Schuster, $4.99 each)

Sheila Avelin, December 2013

Monday, December 23, 2013

Jen’s Five Brand New Books of Cats!

Meditating Cat by Jean-Vincent Senac (Little, Brown Books, $10.95)
A coloring book to help clear your mind…

Mr. Wuffles! by David Wiesner (Houghton, $17.99)
The story of a cat with ennui, the aliens who enliven his day, and the help they receive from the locals. See my recent author interview here.
Update, 1/27/14: A Caldecott Honor Book!

Big New Yorker Book of Cats by New Yorker Magazine (Random House, $40.00)
Cartoons! Essays! Poetry! Cartoons! Um, Cartoons!

Bits & Pieces by Judy Schachner
(Penguin, $17.99)

Sequel to her picture book The Grannyman. Look for an author interview on the blog in February!

Unlikely Loves: 43 Heartwarming True Stories from the Animal Kingdom by Jennifer Holland (Workman, $13.95)
Not all cats, but some! I was impressed with the intro essay about what constitutes love in this context.

Jennifer Sheffield, December 2013

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Elliott's Five Poets That Will Make You Gasp for the Beauty of It All

As proof of Alfred Corn's assertion that "poetry has never fully disengaged itself from its associations with shamanism," five contemporary poets who will woo, sway, and shake you.

me and Nina by Monica Hand (Alice James Books, $15.95)

Bewilderment: New Poems and Translations by David Ferry (University of Chicago Press, $18)

Kingdom Animalia by Aracelis Girmay (BOA editions, $16)

Traveling Light: Poems by Linda Pastan (WW Norton, $15.95)

A Child's Christmas in Wales by Dylan Thomas (New Directions, $9.95)

A Child's Christmas in Wales by Dylan Thomas, illustrated by Chris Raschka (Candlewick, $9.99)

Elliott batTzedek, December 2013

Friday, December 20, 2013

Janet's 5 "Hand-Picks" for December

(Clockwise from top: Janet, bright peacock, white unicorn, extremely winsome harbor seal, three-headed blue dragon, orange octopus.)

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Author Interview: Shawn K. Stout

by Cordelia Jensen

Today's interview features Shawn K. Stout and her spunky character Penelope Crumb. Here's a bit about the Penelope Crumb series, excerpted from Shawn's website:

The first three books in my new middle grade series, Penelope CrumbPenelope Crumb Never Forgetsand Penelope Crumb Finds Her Luck published by Philomel/Penguin, are in bookstores now! Penelope is a fourth grader with a big nose and an even bigger imagination. She does a lot of sneaking around, fibbing an eensy-weensy bit, and breaking about a gazillion of her mother’s rules. Oh goodness. This Penelope Crumb girl sounds like a handful, doesn’t she?
Penelope Crumb was chosen as a Bankstreet Best Book of 2013!
Penelope has her very own book trailer on YouTube. If you check it out, I will like you a whole big bunch.
The fourth book in the series, Penelope Crumb Is Mad at theMoon, will be released in 2014. 

Now on to the interview . . . 

Hi Shawn! The Penelope Crumb series is just delightful! I loved reading it out loud to my almost 8 year old twins. They both laughed a whole lot. 

I noticed that the Penelope Crumb series focuses quite a bit on Penelope’s relationships with senior citizens. Was this intentional? Are you interested in how kids interact with the elderly?

This fact only occurred to me only after I’d written the third book in the series (so this ought to tell you how alarmingly attuned I am to what I’m writing). Although not intentional, I suppose it’s not surprising. Much of my childhood was spent hanging around with older people. My grandmother lived with us for a time, and when her arthritis got bad enough that she could no longer grip a bowling ball and had to drop out of her bowling league, I took her place. I was 14, and everybody else was pushing 80. I had a headgear, they had hearing aids. There was symmetry.

Yeah, I was That Girl.

Penelope is charming but she certainly has her faults. I was interested in how much I felt connected to her but also pretty sure she was “in the wrong” a fair amount of the time. Was this a hard balance for you to strike as a writer?

I like to think that Penelope makes the wrong decisions for the right reasons. She definitely has a unique view of how the world works, or should work, and I think she recognizes on some level that she’s a little different from other kids her age—and not just because of her big nose or because her father is Graveyard Dead. Although the latter has definitely shaped her experience and worldview. These differences are constantly being revealed to her, and as they become evident, she has to understand and learn how to deal with them. Most of the time, she makes the wrong choices, but isn’t that what being young is about? It was for me, at least.

I wanted Penelope to be different but always likeable, and I think I was aware of crossing that line when writing. Penelope means well, she really and truly does, and as long as I stayed true to her “right reasons” for making such bad choices, I felt readers would (hopefully) still want to root for her. I still root for her.

How did Penelope come to you? Fully constructed? As an image? As a voice?

Nothing ever comes to me fully constructed, sadly. How do you go about getting one of those fully constructed ideas? Someone please tell me immediately.

I had an idea centuries ago for a picture book about a girl with a big nose. I worked on a couple of drafts and then realized 1) I can’t write picture books, and 2) the story could be bigger than I originally conceived. Nearly 30 drafts later, Penelope’s voice is just about the only thing that stuck.

I like how proud Penelope is of her nose. And, in the first book, this pride sort of leads her to her missing grandfather. Such an unusual premise for a book. Is there a part of the book that is sort of a message to kids, to feel okay about the ways they are different? That this difference might even lead to something positive?

I don’t really think about messages in the story while I’m telling it. That is to say, I don’t write with messages in mind. I just try to tell a story and be true to the characters. Penelope is just the sort of character who admires standout features (it’s an artist’s job to notice such things) and happens to be proud of her big nose—for its “standout-ishness” and because it connects her to her dead father and her missing grandfather. Everyone is different, in their own way, after all; it’s just that some differences are on the outside and are more noticeable than others. If readers find a positive message about that from Penelope, something that helps them feel good about themselves, then I’ve got goosebumps.

I like Littie Maple a whole lot. I’m just saying. Any chance she might get her own series?!

Littie Maple should definitely have her own series. I’m in complete agreement with you on that. Let’s start a petition.

Let’s do it!

I read these books out loud to my kids, which made me more aware I think of the repetition in phrases in your characters and the very specific language Penelope uses to see the world (like the way she explains everyone’s expressions). Do you have a favorite catch phrase yourself?

I say “oh crap” a lot. Does that count as a catch phrase? I also say “marvy” every now and then, but only when I’m feeling especially rebellious.

What are you working on now? More Penelope Crumb? Something else?

I recently finished the fourth book in the series, called PENELOPE CRUMB IS MAD AT THE MOON (September 2014/Philomel). Warning: There’s a dreaded square dance involved in this book, and also a mishap at a fire safety assembly. I will say no more…

I’ve also been collaborating with my husband on a top-secret project, and I have a drawer full of manuscripts I need to look at to see if there is any breath in them. If I could find a way to write while I slept, I would be much more productive. Also, if my two-and-a-half year old could type, or spell, that would help me out a lot.

And now for our regular “3 for 3” book-related questions:
1.What were 3 of your favorite books when you were a child or teen?
The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett
Ramona the Pest by Beverly Cleary
The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton

2. What are 3 books you’ve read recently that surprised you?
 Dead End in Norvelt by Jack Gantos
Graceling by Kristin Cashore
Piggy Bunny by Rachel Vail

 3. What are 3 books that influence/d your writing?
 The Penderwicks: A Summer Tale of Four Sisters, Two Rabbits, and a Very Interesting Boy by Jeanne Birdsall
Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli
The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate by Jacqueline Kelly

Shawn K. Stout writes books for young people and anyone else who will read them. She is the author of the Not-So-Ordinary Girl series (Aladdin/Simon & Schuster) and the Penelope Crumb series (Philomel/Penguin). She has an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts. She lives with her family, and more dirty dishes than you’d care to count, in Maryland.

Thanks for reading!!! If you're local to the area, please let the bookstore know if you would like to place a special order for any of the Penelope Crumb books You can email orders to orders [at] bigbluemarblebooks [dot] com, call (215) 844-1870, or come see us at 551 Carpenter Lane, in the Mt. Airy neighborhood of Philadelphia.

In January, look for Cordelia's interview with Miriam Glassman, author of the chapter book Call Me Oklahoma, and Jen's interview with Judy Schachner, author of the Skippyjon Jones series and the new picture book Bits & Pieces! 

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Jen’s Five Kids’ Books Demonstrating That Vehicles Are Not Just for Boys

One of Micah’s favorite bedtime books has beautiful illustrations, wonderful, flowing text, and five tough trucks getting ready for bed. All of the trucks are male. Switching the pronouns around when we read it is effective but complicated, and I am grateful when we find books that provide some gender diversity without our intervention.

By the way, I would like to emphasize that this list of books is Not Just for Girls. Just as unjust, in my opinion, as raising a girl who thought trucks were only for boys would be raising a boy who would tell her so.

Phoebe and Digger by Tricia Springstubb (Candlewick, $16.99)
Girl with truck (and new sibling).

Maisy Drives the Bus by Lucy Cousins (Candlewick, $3.99)
Female mouse (who is not gender-marked) with bus.

Machines at Work (also Trucks, and Planes) by Byron Barton (HarperFestival, $7.99)
Construction trucks (and other vehicles) with male and female drivers.

The Bus for Us by Suzanne Bloom (Boyds Mills Press, $6.95)
Various vehicles with male and female drivers.

Digger, Dozer, Dumper by Hope Vestergaard (Candlewick, $15.99)
And finally, construction trucks personified, with both male and female (and neutral) pronouns, plus male and female kids/drivers!

Jennifer Sheffield, November 2013

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Five Books That Mariga Loved This Fall

Empty Mansions by Bill Dedman and Paul Clark Newell (Ballantine Books, $28.00)

Inside Outside by Lizi Boyd (Chronicle Books, $15.99)

Bellman & Black by Diane Setterfield (Emily Bestler Books, $26.99)

Mr. Wuffles! by David Wiesner (Clarion Books, $17.99)
[Check out the recent interview with David Wiesner elsewhere on our blog!]

Going Clear by Lawrence Wright (Vintage Books, $15.95)

Mariga Temple-West, November 2013

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Author Interview: Cori McCarthy

by Cordelia Jensen

Hi Cori!

Thanks for being with us here today to talk about your book The Color of Rain.

Something that is hard for me as a writer is putting my characters in danger. Um, this is NOT your problem. You are great at this. Your characters are in terrible, horrible situations all the time! Does this come naturally to you? Do you struggle with this as a writer? Help the rest of us who suffer from character protection disease, with some pointers. ;)

I admit that sometimes my problem is hurting my characters too much! I’m not quite sure where/how I came up with this…I only know that my favorite stories are the ones with the most earned loss. And my favorite characters—like Jane Eyre, Harry Potter, Frodo Baggins—are the ones who are devastated and yet keep going, keep trying to make a difference. I’ve always attached to resilience in stories, and I guess that can only happen if you march your characters up to the edge of a cliff, and then, push them off.

What came to you first when writing this story? Did you know she was always going to be a space prostitute?

Yes. From day one, this story was always about a space prostitute, but I didn’t write this character to be shocking or to bring up the (very real) cultural issue of teen prostitution. This story was always going to be about a girl who believed that she could use her body to get what she wanted…and that she would learn how wrong that assumption was. Though I’ve never (to my knowledge) met a teen prostitute, I knew far too many girls with Rain’s outlook in high school and college. I wrote this book for them.

Has your book been embraced at all by organizations working to fight against the sex slave trade? I know it takes place in a fictional world, but I think it does get at some real world issues.

I have been reached out to by bloggers who also talk about real world issues, i.e. human trafficking. I would love to be helpful, but I fear that the best I can do is hope that this book helps bring real social issues to light.

It also really gets right to the heart of the issues involved in an abusive relationship and you do an amazing job of showing one of the characters as both really horrible and, at times, attractive—or, at least, we can understand why he might be attractive. Was this hard to pull off or not so much?

The abusive relationship was an area where my amazing editor, Lisa Cheng, really engaged and helped me flesh out the nuances. I had to get to a place where I understood Johnny’s motivation. I had to let Rain understand him as well, which was a challenge. Ultimately, Johnny does whatever he can to get what he wants. And so does Rain. With that core in common, Johnny’s falls for Rain, and Rain, well, she begins to believe that she doesn’t deserve anyone better than Johnny. It’s not the recipe for a typical romance, but then, it is something that happens in the real world.

What was the hardest part about writing this book? What are you most proud of?

This whole book was hard. Writing it was like having heartburn for a solid year. I think, in the end, I’m most proud of Rain. She’s so strong, and yet she’s almost destroyed by her choices. Almost.

I noticed your recent book sale is not science fiction but, rather, dystopian. Correct? Did the process of world building in the two books feel similar? What can you tell us about your new book?

BREAKING SKY, my new YA, is not really dystopian, although it might get lumped in that category out of convenience. It’s near-futuristic, around 2049, and is an extension of current political tensions—a miserable future wherein America is locked in cold war with Asia. In that way, the world building wasn’t terribly difficult as I imagined things getting worse and worse from how they are right now.

I like to refer to BREAKING SKY as “Top Gun for teen girls,” although it’s different than the old cult classic. The main character, Chase Harcourt, call sign “Nyx,” is a fighter pilot at the junior Air Force academy tasked with flying a new kind of jet that could make an important difference to the world climate. That all sounds pretty serious, but unlike RAIN, this book has some playful fun in it. Promise.

And now for our regular “3 for 3” book-related questions:

1.     What were your 3 favorite books from childhood/teen years?
The Catcher in the Rye, The Lord of the Rings, and Leaves of Grass. I kept the last title in my leather bible case and snuck it in to church every Sunday.
2.     What are 3 books that you have read recently that surprised you?
Blaze by Laura Boyle Crompton, Ask the Passengers by A.S. King, and Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell
3.     What are 3 books influence/d your writing?
Jane Eyre, The Catcher in the Rye, Jellicoe Road

Cori McCarthy studied poetry and screenwriting before falling in love with writing for children at Vermont College of Fine Arts. Her debut novel, The Color of Rain, is a space thriller out now from Running Press Teens. Her second novel, Breaking Sky, will be out at the end of 2014 from Sourcebooks Fire. Cori is a cohost on the YA vlog discussion series, The NerdBait Guide. Follow her adventures @CoriMcCarthy or @NerdBaitGuide, or check out her website
Cori lives in Michigan with her family and beloved jade trees.

Thanks for reading!!! If you're local to the area, please let the bookstore know if you would like to place a special order for The Color of Rain.  You can email orders to orders [at] bigbluemarblebooks [dot] com, call (215) 844-1870, or come see us at 551 Carpenter Lane, in the Mt. Airy neighborhood of Philadelphia.

Look for Cordelia's upcoming December interview with Shawn K. Stout, author of the Penelope Crumb series! 

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Cordelia's Five Books That Feature Creative Talent as a Major Theme

Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell (St. Martin's Griffin, $18.99)

The Interestings by Meg Wolitzer (Penguin, $27.95)

The Lucy Variations by Sara Zarr (Little Brown, $18)

Under the Mesquite by Guadalupe Garcia McCall (Lee & Low, $17.95)

Exposed by Kimberly Marcus (Ember, $8.99)

Cordelia Jensen, November 2013

Friday, November 22, 2013

Jen’s Six Books with Unexpected Doctor Who References

Doctor Who (in the US, in the '80s) used to be a kind of cult thing. If I introduced someone to the show and they loved it, or if someone I met was (amazingly) already a fan, it was like welcoming people into a little club. Few, weird, fascinating Whovians. And now here we are, with the show’s 50th anniversary coming up tomorrow(!), and lo, the club has grown and changed. I suddenly find that lots of my friends are Doctor Who fans – some, oddly, always have been. References are everywhere. And look: modern-day authors are Mentioning It in Books!

Luka and the Fire of Life by Salman Rushdie (Random House, $15.00)

Beauty Queens by Libba Bray (Scholastic, $9.99)

How to Save a Life by Sara Zarr (Usborne, $8.99)

Weird Things Customers Say in Bookstores by Jen Campbell
(Overlook Press, $15.00)

Fantastic Mistakes: Neil Gaiman’s “Make Good Art” Speech
(William Morrow, $12.99)

Queers Dig Time Lords: A Celebration of Doctor Who by the LGBTQ Fans Who Love It, edited by Sigrid Ellis and Michael Demian Thomas
(Mad Norwegian Press, $17.95)

This is not an unexpected reference but an unexpected book. Where did they all come from? And…why didn’t they consult me?

Jennifer Sheffield, November 2013

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Five Books That Were Even Better Than Elliott Thought They'd Be

Let's Pretend This Never Happened by Jenny Lawson (Penguin, $16.00)

Hereville: How Mirka Got Her Sword by Barry Deutsch (Abrams, $9.95)

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies by Jane Austen and Seth Grahame-Smith (Quirk Press, $12.95)

Collected Poems, 1965-2010 by Lucille Clifton (BOA Editions, $35.00)

What It Is by Lynda Barry (Drawn & Quarterly, $24.95)

Elliott batTzedek, November 2013

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Author Interview: David Wiesner

by Jennifer Sheffield

Welcome to three-time Caldecott winner and local author David Wiesner, who joins us to talk about his newest book, Mr. Wuffles!

“I’ve been calling it a nearly wordless picture book that’s full of dialogue that nobody can read.” - Dinah Stevenson, Clarion Books

This is a story of a cat with ennui, the aliens who enliven his day, and the help they receive from the locals.

Hi, David! I have to start by saying that Mr. Wuffles! is a fabulous book. How did you come up with the idea?

Mr. Wuffles! was a long time coming together. It began with a cover I did for Cricket magazine in 1993. On the front was an image of a flying saucer that had landed in the desert. The crew has emerged and is posing for a picture. When you opened the back to see the full image, it is revealed that they have in fact landed in a sandbox and are tiny.

In 2001 I began to try and turn this idea into a book. The opening was visually terrific. We follow the ship as it lands and the visitors begin to explore. Fingertips then enter one frame to set up the turn of the page that reveals the true nature of the situation.

The trouble was, I couldn’t come up with anything else that good for the rest of the story. I tried on and off for several years, but it never gelled.

One thing that did come out of these attempts was the idea that each species would speak in a different language. This was a very appealing visual concept.

And then one day as I was drawing random things in my sketchbook, a solution appeared. I drew a flying saucer –a common occurrence – but this time I covered the ship with little pointy things. I really liked the texture of it. And I thought, “You know, my cat would love to scratch its neck on this. What a cool cat toy.”

And there was my story. I immediately saw a funny and antagonistic relationship between the cat and the little aliens. The story just flowed out.

Does your cat Cricket, as the model for Mr. Wuffles, also disdain store-bought cat toys? If so, what alternate toy did you find that was engaging enough to produce such a brilliant series of play poses?

Cricket’s indifference to store bought toys led me to the storyline. Getting a cat to pose is an impossible task. So, I wasn’t hopeful about her being cooperative.

I had a very small video camera that I put on the bottom of pole so that I could film her down at floor level, since that is where the action takes place. To my surprise, she was very playful. A piece of string was enough to get her rolling around.

As it turned out, she was hyperthyroid, so her metabolism was really revved up! She’s on meds now and back to her old aloof self.

I understand you consulted with a linguist to help derive the aliens’ language. As a linguist myself, I’ve been fascinated with the system of symbols and keep trying to work out what different parts mean. Aside from the group photo, where I’m fairly certain I know exactly what the camera alien is saying and what the response is, I haven’t been able to pull any of the rest of it apart. (Well, except that the square might mean “Ow,” and Δ! is clearly a widely used, strong interjection of some kind.) Do you have a specific translation in mind for each element and utterance, or are they just meant to convey the general sense of what’s going on?

Creating a fully translatable language is a tall order and not something I was aiming for. But, I did want repetition of forms/symbols, which is a significant part of any language. I created a group of about 30 symbols based on geometric forms.

You’re right about the photo scene and the triangle. Also, I figured that the engineer – the one in the green robe (Think Scotty from Star Trek) – would speak a lot of technical jargon. His word balloons have the most symbols. I doubled them up as in fractions. This method of increasing the number of characters was a nice visual solution that I got from Nathan Sanders, a linguist at Swarthmore.

The languages are visual signifiers. While they aren’t literally readable, the gist of their meaning can be inferred from the context of the pictures. Body language, gesture, and facial expressions convey what’s happening. It’s this kind of visual storytelling that picture books excel at.

What was involved in designing the spaceship?

I am a big fan of the classic flying saucer shape. They are clean and simple shapes that look great in flight. Very satisfying to draw. Basically, there are three parts – the top half sphere, the lower half sphere, and the middle circular plane. It’s just a matter of adjusting the top and bottom shapes to create different feels for the ship. I found the texture to be a welcome addition.

My very favorite of your books (now joined by Mr. Wuffles!) has always been June 29, 1999. While they both feature (okay, spoiler for June 29) visits from various aliens, what I love most about both books is the resultant mismatches in scale: ordinary humans and familiar landscapes paired with enormous vegetables in June 29, and here the tiny humanoid aliens paired with pencils and screws and marbles...and, of course, Mr. Wuffles. Is this something you’ve always done? When did you first start juxtaposing people and objects of very different sizes?

Scale change is my favorite visual fantasy. Conceptually it is so simple – make something larger or smaller and its relationship to everything around it changes dramatically. For a human shrunk small, their living room and its furniture become like the Grand Canyon.

As a kid, I fell in love with scale change from watching all the 1950’s Atomically Mutated Giant Bug movies on TV. How can you not love huge ants coming down the street? Just as good were the Atomically Mutated Tiny Person movies - the ultimate example being The Incredible Shrinking Man. It even has a fantastic tiny person vs. cat sequence.

I can tell that landscape and surroundings are very important to your artistry. While clearly you haven’t been hanging around under the radiator, I’m wondering how much time you spend in locales similar to those you create, and how much just happens at the drawing table.

I always want to see what I am drawing. If I can’t find the real thing, I build it.

For example, in June 29, 1999, I had a giant broccoli land in the backyard of my main character. Hard to go out and find that situation. So, I made a group of small houses, fences, and driveways and then put a normal size bunch of broccoli into the scene. Now I could walk around it and view it from all angles, plus above and below, to decide how I wanted to compose the picture.

I’m trying to create a convincing fantasy world. These are things that I want to see, too.

[Note: I've just seen a recent blog post of David's with photos of the broccoli-in-the-back-yard model!]

Are there new projects in the works that you’d like to tell us about?

I am in the midst of a graphic novel that seems to be at the middle grade level – whatever that is. I am also working on a new picture book. That’s about all I’ll say for now.

And now for our "3 for 3" book questions:

1. What were your 3 favorite books from childhood/teen years?

I am the worst with “What’s your favorite …” type questions.

Early books I loved were The Provensen Animal Book, a giant Golden Book by Alice and Martin Provensen. The Fantastic Four, by Jack Kirby and Stan Lee. Later (8th grade), Welcome To The Monkey House, by Kurt Vonnegut.

2. What are 3 books that you've read recently that surprised you?

Joshua Ferris’ use of first person plural as a narrative voice in Then We Came To The End totally sucked me in. Adam Hines’ Duncan The Wonder Dog wove words and images together in a wonderfully dense and strange way. Everything Chris Ware does surprises and delights me.

3. What are 3 books that influence/d your work?

Jean Shepard’s In God We Trust: All Others Pay Cash taught me how to write humor. Lynd Ward’s Mad Man’s Drum and Edward Gorey’s The West Wing showed me the possibilities of wordless storytelling.

Thank you so much for joining us, David!

As a child growing up in suburban New Jersey, David Wiesner re-created his world daily in his imagination. A swamp, a cemetery and a landfill bounded the outskirts of his neighborhood, exotic lands that became anything from a faraway planet to a prehistoric jungle. When the everyday play stopped, he would follow his imagination into the pages of books, wandering among the dinosaurs of Charles Knight, the surreal landscapes of Salvador Dali and the fantastic universes of Jack Kirby. The images before him generated a love of detail, an admiration for the creative process, and a desire to tell stories with the pictures he himself was drawing. As a student at the Rhode Island School of Design, he developed the narrative aspects of his work and realized that the picture book was the perfect form in which to present his stories and images.

David Wiesner has been awarded the Caldecott Medal three times – for Tuesday in 1992, The Three Pigs in 2002, and Flotsam in 2006. Two other books of his, Sector 7 and FreeFall, were named Caldecott Honor Books.

Thanks for reading!!! If you're local to the area, please let the bookstore know if you would like to place a special order for Mr. Wuffles! You can email orders to orders [at] bigbluemarblebooks [dot] com, call (215) 844-1870, or come see us at 551 Carpenter Lane, in the Mt. Airy neighborhood of Philadelphia.
Next up: On November 26th, come check out Cordelia's interview with Cori McCarthy, author of The Color of Rain.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Author Interview: Amy Rose Capetta

by Cordelia Jensen

Hi, Amy Rose!

Entangled should be called Imagination. There are so many, many unusual creatures and settings woven into this narrative. Can you give us some insight into your imaginary world? Do these strange characters/lands just come to you fully birthed or do you work hard to conjure them up?

Creating the universe of Entangled was different from any other story I’d written with a big world. I usually have notebooks stuffed with details (in fact, one of the characters who’s obsessed with her notebooks might be a little bit based on me…) But in this case, I started writing and let myself discover the characters and worlds as I went. It was like going on a long trip and being open to whatever you see along the way, and finding the connections those things have to what you’re already thinking about. I would let myself be surprised by the characters and weird alien species and the black holes and then I would ask if they connected to the story I was telling. Almost always, the answer was yes! Which was WEIRD, but that’s okay. Brains are weird.

Agreed. Brains are weird. 

I remember hearing a part of this story at your graduate reading at VCFA. What I remembered the most from the reading was the image of Cade with her bright red guitar on this lonely grey planet. Did she come to you first?

Wow, it’s incredible that you could pinpoint this so specifically. That’s exactly what I had first. Before I knew anything about quantum entanglement, before I had any idea about the plot or the other characters, I had a girl and her guitar on a dusty, unfriendly planet in the fringes of space. That was all I had—for years! I just let her wander around my head in search of the right story.

I'm glad you found it!

How much scientific research did you do for this story? How much of the science is real? How much is invented?

The idea for the plot sprang from my best friend, a scientist, telling me about quantum entanglement. To be fair, she tells me about all kinds of amazing scientific studies, discoveries, and theories, and all of them deserve their own novels. This one just happened to collide with the punk-rock space girl in my head, and the fact that she was so isolated. Entanglement is a radical form of connection between particles, working faster than the speed of light. I stretched the idea to apply to people, but even in stretching it, I tried to use scientific details (like the newly discovered Higgs field!) because I’m a huge nerd. I needed to be able to suspend my own disbelief!

I also love thinking about what the future will bring in terms of science, things we can barely imagine now. There is so much wonder and strangeness. I read books and blogs, listen to podcasts and scour science articles. That being said, there is an element of fantasy mixed into Entangled and, even more, the sequel. There’s always an element to radical new discoveries that we can’t understand, that defies our rules and our boxes, that knocks down a new wall in our minds. Fantasy gives us that same feeling, so to me, it fits.

I know you have some background as a screenwriter. How does this inform your fiction writing? Do you see your scenes in your head like movie scenes?

I wrote many many screenplays before I came back around to novels. It was a great learning experience. I got to spend a lot of time on dialogue, which I’ve always loved, and structure, which I’ve always been scared of. And I’ve never been very visual, so it’s a good challenge for me to see the scene before I write it. It was actually when I combined what I learned from screenwriting with my flailing attempts to write a novel that things started to work!

Can you give us some hints about stories you are working on now?

Just yesterday, I handed in the second draft of the sequel to ENTANGLED, which is called UNMADE. It’s the second book, and the end of the story. My publisher calls it a space duet, which I love! I’m going to miss Cade and Lee and Rennik and ALL OF THEM, but now I get to work on new things! I have about nine ideas that are all fighting for a place in line.


Is there anything else you want our readers to know about Entangled or you as an author?

Almost everything I write has a fantasy or science fiction element, even if it’s small, because that’s what I love to read. I don’t see the world in a very “realistic” way, so finding SFF was a comfort because it showed me I wasn’t alone. It all comes down to perspective, I think. Using your imagination is just a different angle of looking at the same world.

Also, I loved writing Entangled and living in the voice and world of that story. But I jump around a lot! I’m learning that I don’t really have one voice as a writer, or one kind of book that I love best.

And now for our regular “3 for 3 book questions:”

What were your 3 favorite stories from your childhood/teen years?

How is this a hard question, every time? I’ll go with His Dark Materials by Philip Pullman, anything by Madeleine L’Engle, and The Stories of Ray Bradbury. I know that I picked a trilogy, an author, and a collection of 100 short stories. I know that I cheated.

What are 3 books you have read recently that surprised you?

I like this question! Books can be surprising for so many different reasons. The last book I read was All the Truth That’s In Me by Julie Berry. I was surprised by how she combined small poetic moments with tight pace and suspense. I loved it!

Before that, I read Parched by Melanie Crowder. I knew it was going to be an incredible read, but I’m always so impressed when someone can pull off the point of view of a non-human character.

A realistic YA that stood out to me lately is Blaze (or Love in the Time of Supervillains) by Laurie Boyle Crompton. I was surprised by how much and how hard I laughed, and that is always a great thing.

What are 3 books that inspire/d your writing?

A book that inspired me in writing Entangled is Cosmicomics by Italo Calvino, who has this incredible way of combining scientfic concepts and unexpected characters and poetic language. It’s not YA, though! I wouldn’t have any idea where to shelve it, and I love those books.

I’m a huge fan of A Wrinkle in Time, but I have to mention Madeleine L’Engle’s book A Ring of Endless Light, (about dolphins! and telepathy! and poetry!) because it gave me some of my first ideas about how a story can involve emerging science as well as fantastic elements and realistic characters.

I’m really inspired by ambitious and unique YA writers, like A.S. King. Her book Ask The Passengers is so beautiful, and it makes me want to be even braver in my own writing.

Thanks!!!! I really enjoyed reading Entangled and the world is lucky that it has hit the stores this month.

Amy Rose Capetta graduated from Vermont College of Fine Arts with an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults. She has lived all over the country, and is currently located in Michigan. Her first novel, Entangled, is one half of a space duet. The sequel, Unmade, is forthcoming from HMH in 2014.

If you're local to the area, please let the bookstore know if you would like to place a special order for Entangled. You can email orders to orders [at] bigbluemarblebooks [dot] com, call (215) 844-1870, or come see us at 551 Carpenter Lane, in the Mt. Airy neighborhood of Philadelphia.

Please look for Jen's interview with the amazingly talented David Wiesner coming in early November!

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Grace's Five Books to Awaken Your Artist Within

[More belated staff picks from September. Note that our October promotion is 15% off books with staff pick stickers! Come in and check out what else we're reading!]

The Artist's Way by Julia Cameron (J P Tarcher, $16.99)

Steal Like An Artist: 10 Things Nobody Told You About Being Creative by Austin Kleon (Workman, $10.95)

Art & Fear: Observations on the Perils (and Rewards) of Artmaking by David Bayles (Image Continuum, $12.95)

Make Good Art by Neil Gaiman (William Morrow & Co., $12.99)

Becoming a Writer by Dorothea Brande (J P Tarcher, $13.95)

Grace Gottschalk, September 2013

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Five Picture Books That Mariga Loves

[Some belated staff picks from September. Note that our October promotion is 15% off books with staff pick stickers! Come in and check out what else we're reading!]

Little Bird by Germano Zullo (Enchanted Lion Books, $16.95)

Cozy Classics: Pride and Prejudice by Jack Wang (Simply Read Books, $9.95)

The Day the Crayons Quit by Drew Daywalt (Philomel Books, $17.99)

The Odd Egg by Emily Gravett (Simon & Schuster, $15.99)

Chloe by Peter McCarty (Balzer & Bray, $16.99)

Mariga Temple-West, September 2013

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Author Interview: Mary Quattlebaum

by Cordelia Jensen

Today, we have with us the charming Mary Quattlebaum. She is the author of many books including Pirate vs. Pirate and The Jackson Jones series (more details at her website Her latest picture book is a new installment in the Jo MacDonald series, which centers on a naturalist girl who goes into different environments and learns about the creatures she encounters. Jo MacDonald Hiked in the Woods just hit the shelves this September.

Thanks for having me, Cordelia!  It’s a treat to talk with you and your blog readers.  Hope your writing is going well.

Thanks Mary! It's going . . . but let's talk about you!

       Tell us about how you thought of creating this delightful series.

Being a mom, you probably notice how curious kids are about the natural world--  the ants on the sidewalk, the squirrels in the trees.  Often their connection to and interest in the natural world evolves from experiences close at hand.  The three Jo MacDonald books feature a pond, garden, and forest ecosystem, which are the “nearby nature” of Jo’s world.  I grew up in the country, with all these things, and it has been a great joy to revisit that childhood landscape in writing.  Doing the books have given me a chance, too, to thank my dad, who has shared his knowledge of and love for nature with his kids and grandkids.  My dad is the model for Jo’s grandfather, Old MacDonald, in the books.  In Jo MacDonald Had a Garden, the grandpa even rides a horse, one of my dad’s favorite activities, even at the age of 80.

One of my favorite parts of these books is the four end pages that include nature facts and resource suggestions. I particularly love all the activity ideas. As one of your former students, I was reminded, in a way, of the word play exercises you assign. Tell us about the process of writing these.

They are sort of like your wordplays, Cordelia!  I loved creating these activities, as a way to help deepen a child’s experience both of the book and the wider natural world.  In designing them, I tried to think about how best to engage the various senses and how to “jump off” the books to allow for experiences outdoors, with the creative arts (drawing, writing, drama), and with science.  These activities and those on publisher Dawn’s website connect with National Science Standards for preschool-grade 3.

Hopefully, the books and activities also help to connect with some of the aims of the “Growing Green” movement.  Parents and educators are recognizing the importance of prying kids from screens and getting them outdoors on a regular basis.  Richard Louv brought this need to national attention in his book Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-deficit Disorder and Todd Christopher offered playful models in The Green Hour: A Daily Dose of Nature for Happier, Healthier, Smarter Kids.  The National Wildlife Federation, American Hiking Society, and National Gardening Association are but a few of the organizations with family- and school-related initiatives. 

So far, Jo has sung her way through the Garden, the Pond and the Woods. Is she going anywhere else?

Maybe a meadow—though the series may end with these three books.  The publisher has also done board books of the series and plans to do audio books.

 Sounds are a huge part of these books. I would have had an especially hard time coming up with some of the animal sounds in your book. Like, what does a chipmunk say? You seem to have figured it out. Did you listen to a lot of animal sounds while writing these books? Did you do a lot of the writing “on location?”

I did, indeed, go back to those childhood places and listen.  And YouTube was a big help in the research.  You know how YouTube is, though, so sometimes I found myself digressing to view whining deer and trampoline-jumping foxes.

The Jo MacDonald series is published by Dawn Publications, a press that specializes in connecting children with the natural world. Did you have a press like this in mind when you created these books?

I had long known of Dawn and admired their books, having purchased several for my daughter when she was little.  I didn’t have Dawn in mind initially but they were the perfect fit.  I have loved working with the editor and art director there and was delighted that they chose the very talented Laura J. Bryant as the illustrator.

You don’t only write picture books but you also write books for older children. Does the writing process feel different when writing picture books?

In some ways, the process feels very different because with the picture books, I often have to think about and carefully revise for the “illustratable moments” and to leave space for the illustrator to work her magic.  

Okay, now for our “3 for 3 Book Questions":

What were your three favorite books from childhood/teen years?

I still have my childhood copies and just had to peek at them, in gratitude, as I answered your question.
Misty of Chincoteague by Marguerite Henry (a gift from Santa in second grade).
Jane’s Blanket by Henry Miller (the first book I ever owned, all to myself—a rarity in a family of 7 kids).
The Golden Treasury of Poetry, edited by Louis Untermeyer (where I first came across the poetry of Elizabeth Bishop).

What three books have you read recently that surprised you?

I loved Wein’s suspenseful Code Name Verity for its fully realized characters and setting and Tan’s Tales of Outer Suburbia for his ability to find the surreal in the most ordinary of things/circumstances and vice versa and his compressed, beautiful language.  And I recently re-read (for fourth or fifth time) Grace Paley’s three collections of short stories and was amazed, all over again, by her playfulness and ability to capture the pulse of life.

What three books influence/d your writing?

Gosh, that’s a hard question because there are so many! So I’m going to re-name my 3 childhood favorites and the “surprising” ones mentioned above.

Thanks again for this lovely visit, Cordelia.  Wishing you and your readers many creative adventures this fall.  Happy Trails!

Mary Quattlebaum is the author of twenty award-winning children’s novels, picture books, and books of poetry, including Pirate vs. Pirate, Jackson Jones and the Puddle of Thorns, Sparks Fly High, The Hungry Ghost of Rue Orleans, and the Jo MacDonald nature series (picture, board, and audio books). Awards include Random House’s Marguerite de Angeli Prize for a middle-grade novel, Parenting Reading Magic Award, Bank Street Best Book, SIBA Best Picture Book, NAPPA Gold Award, and inclusion on numerous state children’s choice lists.  Mary’s stories and poems are published frequently in children’s magazines (Cricket, Spider, Ladybug, Babybug), and she works regularly for educational publisher Gale/Cengage on projects ranging from famous explorers to Ancient Greece. Mary is on the faculty at the Vermont College MFA program in Writing for Children and Young Adults and also a creative thesis and independent study advisor for the Johns Hopkins University graduate program in writing. Mary now reviews children’s books regularly for the Washington Post and Washington Parent and blogs with five writer-teachers at  She lives with her family, dog, and bird in Washington, DC, and tends a backyard wildlife garden to help sustain native birds and beneficial insects. For more information, visit or contact Mary Quattlebaum directly at 202-362-5621 or

Thanks for reading!!! If you're local to the area, please let the bookstore know if you would like to place a special order for Jo MacDonald Hiked in the Woods. You can email orders to orders [at] bigbluemarblebooks [dot] com, call (215) 844-1870, or come see us at 551 Carpenter Lane, in the Mt. Airy neighborhood of Philadelphia.

Next up: Be sure to check back on October 22nd when Cordelia interviews Amy Rose Capetta, author of the new, starred review YA sci-fi book, Entangled.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Author Interview: Caroline Carlson

by Cordelia Jensen

Hi, Caroline! Welcome to the Big Blue Marble Bookstore Blog. We are very happy to have you here so close to your book release. Before we get started, here's a synopsis of Magic Marks the Spot:

Hilary Westfield has always dreamed of being a pirate. She can tread water for thirty-seven minutes. She can tie a knot faster than a fleet of sailors, and she already owns a rather pointy sword. There’s only one problem: The Very Nearly Honorable League of Pirates refuses to let any girl join their ranks of scourges and scallywags.
    But Hilary is not the kind of girl to take no for answer. To escape a life of petticoats and politeness at her stuffy finishing school, Hilary sets out in search of her own seaworthy adventure, where she gets swept up in a madcap quest involving a map without an X, a magical treasure that likely doesn’t exist, a talking gargoyle, a crew of misfit scallywags, and the most treacherous—and unexpected—villain on the High Seas.

MAGIC MARKS THE SPOT is the first installment in the Very Nearly Honorable League of Pirates trilogy. Books 2 and 3 are forthcoming in 2014 and 2015.

Your book is so funny and when my husband read it aloud to my kids, I could hear them laughing and laughing. Is most of your writing humorous? Did you always write funny stories?

I’m so glad your kids thought the book was funny! I’m always a little worried that I’ll be the only one who thinks my jokes are worth laughing at. But I figure if people only laugh at a quarter of my jokes, I’ll throw in four times as many jokes as I think there should be, and then the book will be just funny enough for readers.

I love writing humor, and I find it very difficult to write fiction that’s not funny. I hate being bored while I’m writing—I’m convinced that if I’m bored while I write a scene, my readers will be bored while they read it. So I write little jokes into the manuscript to keep myself laughing, to keep myself engaged in the story, to keep myself glued to the page in the same way I hope my readers will be.

In college, I spent nearly an entire week trying to write Serious Fiction with no jokes in it. I produced the single most obnoxious, pretentious, and dull piece of writing that has ever been created. It was a crime against fiction, so I don’t do things like that anymore. I do enjoy reading other people’s serious books, though.

There is also a lot of heart to your book. And Hilary herself is very brave. Did you know what Hilary's emotional journey would be from the onset or was it something that changed as you did revisions?

One of the things I struggle with most as a writer is remembering to give my characters rich emotional lives—or any emotions at all, really. Characters’ emotional journeys just don’t come as easily to me as their physical journeys do, and that’s been very problematic, because a character’s emotions should always be informing her external actions and the choices she makes.

When I started working on MAGIC MARKS THE SPOT, I knew that I needed to give Hilary a very simple, straightforward emotional journey that I could state in one sentence so I wouldn’t forget about it. And I knew that I would have to be quite deliberate about working her emotional arc into the book. I decided that Hilary’s emotional object of desire would be her father’s respect; her longing to earn her dad’s approval is what drives her forward. I thought keeping track of this emotional thread would be simple, but it actually grew and changed and became much more complex and interesting as I drafted and revised (and revised and revised) the story.

In revisions with my editor, I did a lot of work to draw out Hilary’s emotions in specific moments. It can be difficult to gauge whether you’re giving your readers too much emotion or too little; there’s a fine line between writing characters who are maudlin and writing characters who are emotionless zombies, and I’m still working on finding that balance in every scene I write.

The gargoyle is my favorite. I read on the blog El Space that the gargoyle came from a story you wrote in high school. Are there any other characters in the book that existed before--either in your mind or on the page?

I’m happy to hear you like the gargoyle! I love him, too. Actually, I have to say that I really like all of my characters, even the villains. Other than the gargoyle, all of them are brand-new for MAGIC MARKS THE SPOT, but some characters were planned more thoroughly than others. I knew a lot about Hilary before I started writing the book, and I knew quite a bit about her father and about her mentor, the pirate Jasper Fletcher. Other characters, like Hilary’s school friend Claire and her governess, Miss Greyson, showed up without any introduction and proceeded to make themselves at home; I had to learn about them as I wrote.

What scene in the book do you feel most proud of? (Without giving too much away . . .) Is it one you struggled to write or one that came to you all at once?

There were two scenes that I rewrote dozens of times each: the second scene in the book, and the scene that takes place at the story’s climax. I’m sure I could rewrite them both another dozen times, but I’m proud of the work I put into them, and I’m happy that I was able to make them work more or less the way I’d hoped they would.

My favorite scene in the book, though, is one that came easily to me. I barely touched it in revisions, so it’s still almost exactly the same as it was in the first draft. It’s the scene that involves a lot of pirates standing in line to interview for a job on a treasure-hunting expedition. It also happens to be the only scene in the book that was written at a coffee shop. I don’t like writing in public places, and I prefer to write at my desk at home, but the only two scenes I’ve ever written in coffee shops (one in MAGIC MARKS THE SPOT and one in its sequel) have been two of my favorites, and they haven’t needed much revising. I may need to rethink my stance on coffee-shop writing.

When you write do you think about a specific kind of reader or audience? Do you think about what you want this reader to take away from the story?

In general, I try to write the kinds of stories that I loved when I was a kid, but I’m not usually consciously aware of my audience while I’m writing. (Now that the book is about to come out, though, I feel extremely conscious of my audience!) I also don’t think consciously about the book’s themes or messages, and I’m always surprised when my editor or another early reader points out the themes that have popped up in my manuscript. Somehow, my own interests and questions about the world manage to sneak onto the page while I’m not looking.

I know you are currently working on sequels to Magic Marks the Spot. This must be very time-consuming. Do you ever do any free writing on the side on other stories or do you strictly stay in the Pirate world?

At the moment, I’m thoroughly in pirate mode: I just turned in my final draft of book 2 in the Very Nearly Honorable League of Pirates trilogy, and I’ve been doing some brainstorming as I prepare to write book 3. I do have a couple of other projects I’m looking forward to working on when VNHLP #3 is finished, though, and I’ll occasionally take notes on those projects when I get a good idea that I don’t want to forget.

And now for our "3 for 3" book questions:

1. What were your 3 favorite books from childhood/teen years?

THE DARK IS RISING by Susan Cooper
HOWL’S MOVING CASTLE by Diana Wynne Jones

2. What 3 books have you read recently that surprised you?

AKATA WITCH by Nnedi Okorafor
OCD LOVE STORY by Corey Ann Haydu

3. What 3 books influence/s your writing?

FEELING SORRY FOR CELIA (and its sequels) by Jaclyn Moriarty

Thanks so much!

Caroline Carlson is the author of MAGIC MARKS THE SPOT, a funny and fantastical seafaring adventure for young readers. She grew up in Massachusetts and holds a BA from Swarthmore College and an MFA from Vermont College of Fine Arts.

Caroline lives with her husband in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, amidst many stacks of books.

Thanks for reading!!! If you're local to the area, please let the bookstore know if you would like to place a special order for Magic Marks the Spot (The Very Nearly Honorable League of Pirates #1), due out September 10. You can email orders to orders [at] bigbluemarblebooks [dot] com, call (215) 844-1870, or come see us at 551 Carpenter Lane, in the Mt. Airy neighborhood of Philadelphia.

Next up: September 24th, Cordelia interviews her former teacher the charming author Mary Quattlebaum!