Gorgeous Reviews–and the Process

“Marie and Mr. Bee confirms again the power of great story-telling to open up our world, teach us, and help us grow.”   ~KAB

Regular Cover Marie and Mr. Bee

 

First, let me thank everyone who helped me choose the cover. What you see here is the semi-final one, and the slight changes (addition of a sticker to the Regular Version and a small change in the wording for the Proverbs 12:14b Version) should be done soon.

And now let me share a sampling of the gorgeous reviews Marie and her forest friends have garnered, and the process behind getting them.

Thanks to an engaging story, complemented by delightful illustrations, young readers will be so busy turning pages they won’t even realize they’re taking in some of life’s most valuable truths. All sorts of important ideas pop up while Marie and her friends play and work in the forest: the power of choice, the treasure of friendship, the capabilities of “disabled” children, what kindness looks like.   ~KAB

Marie and Mr. Bee is a powerful children’s story by Margaret Welwood that has many lessons not only for children but for parents and educators.  ~GB

It teaches children the redemptive quality of a good friendship and how to be a good friend by following Marie’s example.  ~DW

I love that the main character has a handicap, but doesn’t allow it to get in her way of accomplishing good and living life with purpose.   ~LP

Reminiscent of Aesop’s fable about the Grasshopper and the Ant.   ~BV   

I think this is the first child’s book I’ve seen where the main character is in a wheelchair (although not mentioned, just by the picture) showing that a handicap doesn’t necessarily keep one from chores and fun times. . . .The pictures are adorable and I like the way lessons are subtly woven within the story—temptations, friendships, compassion, forgiveness, restoration, establishing a strong work ethic, integrity, and building one’s own character.   ~TR

I highly recommend this powerful little book.   ~CA

Please check out more comments about the  Proverbs 12:14b Version and the Regular Version.

The process? It was–no, is–long. I still have more people to contact. No mass e-mails here.

  1. I sought out like-minded authors and book bloggers on Facebook and other social media. Facebook proved the most beneficial for this exercise.
  2. I (sincerely) Liked their posts, commented on them, and shared them.
  3. I asked for permission to send a free pdf, describing the story and, if approaching them on FB, attached a picture of the cover or one of the first pages. I didn’t usually ask for a review up front, but rather for permission to send the pdf for their “consideration for review.” I mentioned that the pdf was 24 pages, mostly pictures.
  4. If the person granted permission I sent the pdf, asking for a review “if you feel the story has merit.” (I didn’t want to create a sense of obligation in those I contacted.) The pdf was often attached to a former e-mail so there would be no surprises when it came. If the pdf was going to someone I met on FB, I started by thanking them for granting me permission to send it.
  5. I followed up those who said they’d be willing to post a review, letting them know when the book would be–or if it already was–on Amazon. This e-mail was also attached to the thread, to remind recipients what they had committed to doing and to give them another chance to open the pdf. (I’m still working through the list of pdf recipients who indicated a willingness to review.)
  6. I thanked the reviewers privately unless I didn’t know who had posted the review. Yes, we’re told not to contact reviewers, but it was important to me to thank the people who’d taken the time to give their support. I did not, however, argue or comment on any of the gentle criticism I received.

Lessons learned:

  1. People respond well the personal touch, and seem to know when it’s genuine.
  2. This is a good way to find truly interested and supportive online friends.
  3. Coralie’s art helped the process by both attracting people and arousing their curiosity.
  4. Parents and caregivers of children with disabilities want these children seen as working and playing, loving and learning like everyone else.
  5. There’s a lot of goodwill out there.
  6. It pays to listen to and learn from others. One kind editor advised me against the original title, Marie and Mr. Drone, and a FB poll proved him right. Almost everyone–including the children of a beekeeper– thought of drones as machines, even when they were looking at the book cover. And Literary Strategist Tom Blubaugh has taught me much about online networking. I have not only learned from him, but learned from him how to learn from others.

“No man is an island.”   ~John Donne          boats to island

 

 

 

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Please Help Me Choose a Cover

 

 

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George thinks he’s on to something. I think so too–he managed, after due consideration, to choose the same cover his three-year-old picked. Unlike her dad, however, May did not voice any thoughtful insights before diving for the picture of her choice.

This has been a fascinating journey so far–and it’s just started. Here are a few more highlights from my Help-Me-Choose-a-Cover campaign:

The acting children’s librarian chose the one he’d be “most inclined” to pick off the shelf, and three out of four other staff followed his lead–without knowing what he’d chosen.

I was intrigued by the intensity of emotion shown by the arts centre folk as they admired their favorite–they all liked the same one, and it was different from that chosen by most of the library staff.

One of arts centre people cares for a young man who uses a wheelchair. This kind woman has agreed to read Marie before it’s published with an eye to possibly endorsing it. Not always pleased with the way people treat her client, she’s looking forward to a story about a person with a disability where the disability is accommodated for, but not the focus. The animals help Marie, she helps them, and it all works. (“Until one day . . . .”)

I have at least one more library and one more arts centre on my list–we’ll see if there’s any consistency in the results. If so, perhaps there’s a trend to some kind of literary vs. visual arts split in cover preferences.

Next week I’ll be asking the kindergarten to grade twos, as well as the staff, at the after school care where I have a story circle. (Of course I’ll ask the children one at a time without letting them know how their classmates voted.) I THINK I know which one most of the kids will pick!

Cover A shows Marie and all her forest friends around the old oak tree. I’d originally hoped they could be playing tag around the tree–a popular pastime in Marie’s world–but that would have made for a much-too-busy cover.

Cover B shows Marie on a rescue mission. The workers have expelled Mr. Bee from the hive and Marie finds him languishing in the tall grass, hiding from the militant mavens of honey production.

Cover C shows Marie and Mr. Bee enjoying a game devised by my enterprising illustrator. (Don’t you love the game board?)

Which is your favorite? Please let me know in the comments below. And–if you could ask the children in your life for their opinions as well–I’d appreciate it very much.

Stay tuned.

 

 

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From Hero to Zero and Back–with a Lesson for “Has-Beens”

Jackrabbit

I’ve never much liked the saying, “Kill two birds with one stone.” It’s descriptive of course, but it also seems a tad brutal. How about “Pluck two blossoms with one snip?” or “Feed two kittens from one bowl”? Or even “give birth to twins”? (Don’t try that one at home.)

However we phrase it, I think Lucy Rozier’s Jackrabbit McCabe and the Electric Telegraph has done it. On the surface, it’s a highly creative tall tale historical fiction picture book. (Who knew there was such a sub-genre?) But I think it’s also something else.

Jackrabbit McCabe is a hero all right. The joyful, long-legged speedster fetches ol’ Doc Dobbins to patch up the overachievers in the Double Dare Ya Club, and rounds up every child and chick when twisters come barreling through Windy Flats. He’s a sure bet at the horse races, and he leaves locomotives in the dust.

But everything changes one day when the telegraph company shows up and the mayor proposes a race. In front of the good folks of Windy Flats and many more from miles around, in front of the brass band and his cheering family and friends, Jackrabbit loses—to a machine.

Any child who’s gone from hero to zero in short order, perhaps through the birth of an oh-so-cute sibling or the loss of a friend, should be able to empathize with poor Jackrabbit. Dethroned by a newfangled contraption and feeling “lower than snake’s navel,” our has-been hero takes the slow stagecoach home. Is there even a place for him in Windy Flats any more?

Here the story takes a most encouraging turn, as the mayor suggests that the owner of the speediest legs ever might just have speedy fingers as well—and with Jackrabbit’s help, Windy Flats is soon linked to the whole country by telegraph.

This is not only a fresh approach to teaching history to young children, it’s a lesson in bouncing back. Jackrabbit never will outrun electricity, but he uses his gift of speed to operate the telegraph for the benefit of the people of Windy Flats. Perhaps you know a child in a hero-to-zero situation who would take courage from this funny, engaging tale of a young man who bounces back.

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World Building for a Little Girl

An artist–with a delight in beauty and order and a gift for visual storytelling–fashions a world for a little girl and her forest friends.

Coralie and I looked over each other’s book dummies (the book printed out page by page and stapled together to give a rough idea of the finished product) on Friday. I wanted to see how the narrative for Marie and Mr. Bee flowed from page to page (I’d been warned about “plot holes”). Coralie was looking for consistency in her portrayal of the characters before she colors them.

2016-1-19 Page 2

 

As I looked at her pictures, something I’ve noted all along emerged more clearly than ever–Coralie is unifying the storyline through the art (and this may take care of any plot holes).

Note the stump to the left. As Coralie fashioned Marie’s world, she realized that the child (who uses a wheelchair) would have a hard time picking up sticks for her woodstove. Voilà!–the meeting place where her friends leave the firewood they’ve gathered for her.

On another page you’ll see both squirrels on the stump, preparing mushrooms to dry for the winter. (Interestingly, Coralie’s brother-in-law has a treasure trove in one of his abandoned outbuildings: a spectacular collection of mushrooms of various species and sizes, piled on the shelf and in the corners. Some enterprising animals should have a very good winter.)

See the branch Fox is carrying? She’ll use it to sweep her den. And Little Bear needs to dig roots before he plays with Marie.

Coralie recently added the picnic table where Marie and Mr. Bee will later play “Helper Bee,” a board game invented by our artist.

While assembling the pages, I reflected on Marie’s pretty, floral-patterned dishes, the floral sign with the same pattern over the cabin door, and her tidy cabin.

Beauty and design, functionality and order crown this little girl’s world (until, of course, Mr. Bee’s unseemly, batter-splattering invasion!). Marie really has it together–much like the artist. Our hero reflects Coralie’s love of beauty, design and order, just as she reflects my granddaughter Tina’s compassion for small creatures.

Coralie is careful to make the illustrations not only true to the characters, but to nature itself. The story takes place in the fall, when drones are expelled from the hive.  She suggested that Marie find the ailing Mr. Bee when she was picking cranberries, a fall fruit, rather than the strawberries I’d planned on. And at Coralie’s suggestion, asters, rather than the (springtime) daisies I’d originally planned on, set off fall’s gorgeous foliage.

We have a little girl of industry and compassion portrayed by an artist with a gift for visual storytelling and an interest in real-life accuracy . . . . I believe Marie and all her forest friends are in very good hands.

I’m hoping for a spring launch of Marie and Mr. Bee.

2015-10-26 Cover Working Copy

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Premie Poetry: Ode to a Tiny Granddaughter

To herald the safe arrival of Tommy’s new baby sister, I’m publishing my first ever poem to a premie.

newborn

You’re ever so tiny, impossibly cute,

Utterly miniature, very astute.

You know when it’s dinner; you know when it’s snack.

You’d charm the shirt right off a car salesman’s back.

We love you with all of your sweet winning ways,

And we know that we’ll love you for all of our days.

But always remember that God loves you more.

From before you were born until forever more.

stars

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Truth from the Trenches

leave me alone catleave me alone giant

“Leave me alone,” protests our sad little protagonist. “My problem is a giant So big he blocks the sun . . . .

A giant full of nasty words, A giant huge and strong, Who casts a shadow over me As dark as it is long.”

Kes Gray put this small sad rhyme into the mouth of the little boy before the current terrorist attacks cast their black shadow, but his message of despair still rings true. And, as many other fine picture books for children do, this story offers hope. Through the compassion, courage and initiative of the rabbit, the fly, the cow, the frog, the pig and others who inhabit his world, our young hero finds peace and safety.

After sharing hundreds of stories with children over the years, I’m now more fully realizing why I like this genre. Simply and cleanly, these stories affirm truths we learned as children—that we need each other, that meanies can very quickly become cowards, and that even the smallest of us has important work to do.

Are there stories and memories from your childhood that you draw on for courage in uncertain times?

 

 

 

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Courage and Compassion: Heroes to Inspire Young Children

Remembrance Day stirs our hearts to themes of courage and compassion. In honor of our fallen heroes and the openness of children to inspiring role models, I’ve chosen three picture books with human and animal heroes.

Gracie the Lighthouse Cat by Ruth Brown

Gracie

On September 7, 1838, a raging storm sends the SS Forfarshire crashing into Big Harcar rock in Northumberland, North East England. Grace Darling and her father, the lighthouse keeper, brave the howling wind, freezing spray and towering waves to rescue the survivors.

But how many young children can empathize with a 22-year-old heroine? Then again, what little child can not be taken up with the story of a kitten hurled into the storm, and his mother’s climb down the slippery rocks to save him?

I don’t remember ever seeing a book quite like this one. The kitten rescue tale is told in words and pictures, while the true story of Grace Darling’s heroism is told as backdrop—pictures only. This book will be an inspiration to children from four to nine years old, and their grown-ups.

A Storm Called Katrina by Myron Uhlberg. Illustrated by Colin Bootman.

Katrina

Uhlberg also uses an animal to highlight human compassion. A playful little black and white dog with a red ball never loses hope as Katrina’s other victims pass him by. Fear and courage, selfishness and compassion, and 10-year-old Daniel’s ingenuity all have their role in this realistic tale of triumph. Colin Bootman’s dark, watery paintings draw us into the family’s struggles until the end. There the sun shines brightly on the receding water and Daniel’s face lights up at the sight of the ever hopeful pup. “Come on, boy,” he says. “We’re going home.”

Balto’s Story by Kevin Blake

Balto

This true story opens with a blinding blizzard, -50oF (-46 oC) temperatures, winds roaring at 70 mph (113 kph)—and children in grave danger.

In response to an urgent telegram pleading for diphtheria antitoxin to save dozens of sick children in Nome, Alaska, the governor decides to opt for sled dogs rather than risk a plane flight from Anchorage to Nome. Musher Gunnar Kaasen and his team, led by Balto, race the last 50 miles.

For me, the most compelling moment is when Balto says “No” to crossing a frozen river and the wise musher heeds the warning—the ice is too weak to cross.

The book features actual photographs from 1925, including one of the telegram from Dr. Welch, and one of Balto, head drooping with exhaustion, in Nome. There are also modern-day photos of sled dog teams in Alaska, the statue of Balto in New York City’s Central Park, and Mrs. Jirdes Winther Baxter, whose life was saved by the medicine delivered by Balto’s team. Factoids (“A Siberian husky’s sense of smell is 600 to 700 times better than a human’s”), maps, a glossary and sources of further information make this inspiring book invaluable as an elementary school teacher’s resource as well as for home reading.

For more children’s book reviews, please check out my Top Picks. There you’ll also meet Tommy, Tina and Katie Kat, heroes of Scissortown and stars of Margaret Welwood’s  picture book for children. While you’re there, please sign up for occasional e-mails about future books with child and animal heroes.

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From Venomous Viper to Euphoric Entrepreneur: the Pop-up Chronicles

Venomous and viper-like, I’ve stalked the Internet, inflicting violent Xs on those most despicable of degradations—pop-ups!

viper

But now—no more malignant malevolence, an end to morose mumblings, and an absence of alliteration—for I have my very own pop-up . . .

and I like it!

Green Eggs and Ham, anyone? Yummy crow?

change 2

Stand aside, Mona Lisa.

Make way for my objet d’art, on display for all discerning web surfers who click here: http://grandmasbookshelf.net/

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A Multitude of Counsellors and a Warm-Blooded Hero

“Without counsel purposes are disappointed: but in the multitude of counsellors they are established.” Proverbs 15:22
What a blessing to get feedback! I sent the cover of Marie and Mr. Drone to someone I’d met at a writers’ conference.

2015-09-12 Cover

While acknowledging that it was pretty, he was concerned about the title, saying that “drone” (not the male bee, but the machine) had a “negative vibe” with Americans. I asked several friends online, and all but one agreed that “Mr. Bee” was much better than “Mr. Drone.” Only our beekeeper friend liked “Mr. Drone,” and even HER KIDS thought the story was about a girl and a machine!

Here’s the new working cover, with Marie’s little friend clearly defined:

2015-10-26 Cover Working Copy

But my kind online friend also said, “. . . we do not get a sense of the story arc or plot from the cover.”

I did a quick check of some of the fiction and non-fiction books for adults and children we had at home. Some, indeed, give us a piece of the action, while others just show the character(s).

As I skim through the story, I note that the most dramatic scene is that of Marie wheeling back to her cabin while Mr. Bee huddles under some leaves(?) on her lap, with the worker bees buzzing around angrily. However, the sight of bees swarming around a little girl in a wheelchair–without the benefit of the context and our understanding that none of the creatures would ever harm Marie–won’t do for a cover!

Our plan is to consider the artwork as Coralie progresses through the story, keeping an eye out for some action that might work well for the cover. Then social media friends will be invited to weigh in again, this time on an action vs. a characters-only cover.

What a blessing to work with an artist, a web designer and a layout person who are all ready to make changes and try different things!

change

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“I Know Something You Don’t Know!”

A cruel taunt among children and a nasty tool of workplace politics, being the one in the know is delicious fun in children’s books. In Wolf’s Coming we’re the only ones who DON’T know what’s going on.

wolf's coming big

Harry the Dirty Dog features a dog in the know. Rebellious but beloved, white-furred, black-spotted Harry escapes for a happy day of grime time. Alas! He reappears as a black dog with white spots. Even artful renditions of old tricks cannot persuade the family that this “new dog” is their beloved Harry.

Perhaps he’s related to the clever but ignored canine in the award-winning Sam & Dave Dig a Hole.

Harry           FB Sam & Dave

where cat Like the cat with the umbrella handle tail, these animals share their secrets with the reader.

On a more serious note, Black Beauty is not only a literary classic, it is credited with changing the way people treat animals. “Black Beauty helped people see animals in a new way,” says Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist Jane Smiley. “As soon as you say that an animal has a point of view, then it’s very difficult to just go and be cruel to that animal. … [It showed] readers that the world is full of beings who should not be treated like objects.”

Bestselling author James Scott Bell stresses the importance of choosing the right point of view for your novel. The first person is the most intimate, he tells us, while the omniscient narrator has “great perspective.” Smiley teaches us that POV can have a profound effect on readers’ behavior.

“I know something you don’t know” . . .

Do you use POV as a feature of effective storytelling, a means of encouraging empathy and compassion, or both?

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