Monday, May 18, 2015

Who Is Your Audience?

Congratulations to Joyce Hostetter who won the audio book, "Red Berries, White Clouds, & Blue Sky" from last week's blog.
As some of you know, my husband and I recently went on a cross-country adventure. Seeing the northwest has been his bucket-list dream for years. Now that he is "semi-retired" we had the time to do it.

I’ll admit I wasn’t thrilled with the idea of driving from Florida to Seattle and back again, but it was amazing to see new parts of the country. Stationed in the backseat of our van along with my computer, Iphone, maps, books, and snacks, I enjoyed the ride and staying in touch with my world.

 I also enjoyed sharing pictures via Facebook and texting. What can compare to seeing snow-covered mountains and texting them to my friends in the South and East?
Mt. Ranier, Washington
as seen through the car window
It felt somewhat egotistical to share these pictures and I wanted to avoid a “look at me!” mentality, but I truly was blessed to have this opportunity.  I was amazed at how many people looked at my pictures and commented on them or shared them with others.

A Facebook friend shared this image with her relative who teaches Renaissance Literature:

Wichita, Ks.

Other friends laughed with me about the hullabaloo and long lines we witnessed in Bellevue, Washington when Seattle's first Chick-fil-A opened:
All of this made me consider the concept of audience.

When we share pictures, give a speech or performance; write an article or a book, we’re hoping for a positive reaction from our “audience.”  Sometimes our audience surprises us.

With wind-blown hair, this picture of me taken in the Badlands National Park, South Dakota got more "likes" on Facebook than any other picture I posted. 

My fellow blogger, Barbara Younger, blogs about menopause and all things related to women’s health in latter years. She has an occasional series showing women’s restroom doors.  After spotting this door in The Canon Pub in Columbus, Georgia,  

The hunt was on to send Barbra unusual ladies room doors. Here are two more I found. (BTW, I sent Barbara so many doors she's going to feature them on three separate blogs. Stay tuned!)
At Worden's Deli in Missoula, Mt

Colton's Steak House; Springfield, Mo

I knew my Korean friend Esther, who was recently confined to a wheel chair, would appreciate this sculpture

on a bike trail in Springfield, Missouri, as well as a Korean barbecue restaurant in an international food court outside Seattle.

 I hoped my granddaughter would appreciate seeing the animals in Yellowstone,

And I knew my friend Linda Phillips would appreciate this image from her home state of Oregon:
Multnomah Falls, Oregon

Having an audience added unanticipated fun to my trip. But at some point I started wondering: do I take pictures--or write a book--to please an audience? And as flattering as "likes" are on Facebook or "favorites" on Twitter can be--am I writing to say something or to please an audience?

I’ve heard that it’s a good idea to write your book picturing your target reader. Do you agree?  If you are writing a book, are you writing with a specific audience in mind? If you've already published books, is your audience who you expected it would be? 

Take a look at Augusta Scattergood's blog post on a similar topic.
What do you think? Has anticipating your audience shaped your work? If so, has that been a good or bad experience for you?

Meanwhile, thank you, blog readers and Facebook friends, for being a kind, supportive audience. This picture is for you:
Coeur D'Alene, Idaho

Monday, May 11, 2015

Red Berries, White Clouds, Blue Sky by Sandra Dallas: A Review and Giveaway

Congratulations to Sheri Levy who won an autographed copy of "Mr. Puffball: Stunt Cat to the Stars."

The year is 1942 and for 12-year-old Tomi Itano, a second-generation Japanese-American, life is about to change. Tomi loves everything about her home: the strawberries her father grows on their farm, her Girl Scout troop, her Japanese doll, which her grandparents sent her, and the American flag, which her father proudly salutes every day.

JapaneseAmericansChildrenPledgingAllegiance1942-2 by Photo attributed to Dorothea Lange(w). Via US Library of CongressFarm Security Administration and Office of War Information Collection
(Library of Congress). CALL NUMBER: LOT 1801
But amidst the paranoia of World War II, when Japanese newspapers and letters from home, are “proof” of being an enemy spy, the Itano’s become victims of fear, prejudice, and false accusations. Tomi’s father is arrested and taken to prison.  After President Roosevelt signs Executive Order 9066 ordering thousands of Japanese to be relocated, Mrs. Itano and her three children are taken to a series of interment camps. They finally are taken to Tall Grass, Colorado (a fictionalized camp based on Hamache) where they are forced to make a 16 x 20 square foot room their apartment.

Posted Japanese American Exclusion Order" by Department of the Interior. War Relocation Authority
This media is available in the holdings of the National Archives and Records Administration, cataloged under the ARC Identifier (National Archives Identifier) 536017.
Despite always worrying how Mr. Itano will find them, the family adjusts to camp life.  Although they don’t want to be there, the children gain friends and Mrs. Itano blossoms in her new role as a quilting teacher. Interactions with the local townspeople add more spice to the story. When Dennis, a boy Tomi meets, confronts her on being “un-American” because of how she looks, she retaliates in anger. Discovering he is the son of a German immigrant, she questions if everyone should be rounded up and shipped to a camp just because they all don’t look alike. His changed attitude towards the Japanese would be a great teaching point for teachers using this book in an upper elementary/middle school classroom.
Original caption: Hayward, California. Members of the Mochida family awaiting evacuation bus. Identification tags are used to aid in keeping the family unit intact during all phases of evacuation. Mochida operated a nursery and five greenhouses on a two-acre site in Eden Township. He raised snapdragons and sweet peas. 

When Mr. Itano is finally reunited with the family, he is a different man. Being unfairly imprisoned has left him bitter.  His love for the country he chose is replaced with anger and apathy. On top of that, his family has changed. His wife is no longer silent and submissive, his family doesn’t eat together, and his son wants to join the army. Unfortunately, his bitterness infects Tomi and her outlook changes also.  Not until Tomi writes a prize-winning essay on “Why I am an American” based on her father’s immigrant hopes and dreams, do her and her father’s attitudes change.

I was most captivated by Tomi’s mother. Faced with the challenges of being a mail-order bride, raising a family in a foreign country, being shuttled from one interment camp to another, and then a bumpy reunion with her husband who is unhappy with her Americanization—she showed the most endurance and strength.  Her authentic response to difficulties was the glue that kept her family together.

The book is recommended for reader ages 8 and up. I think that an 8-year-old would be too young to appreciate and learn from this story; I believe it is more suitable for boys and girls who are at least 10-year-old. Red Berries, White Clouds, Blue Sky is Sandra Dallas' second book about a terrible period in our nation’s history, and can be a valuable classroom supplement.  Jennifer Ikeda, the narrator of the audio book, did a good job creating the Japanese and American voices.

I took this picture on a recent trip to Bainbridge Island near Seattle Seattle. Then I found this on the same Wikipedia site where I found all of the black and white images.

Bainbridge Island (Wash.) evacuation -- Group of young evacuees wave from
special train as it leaves Seattle with Island evacuees, March 30, 1942
By the way, the 442nd Infantry Regiment which Tomi's brother joined, was composed of almost entirely of Japanese Americans whose families were in interment camps. It was the most decorated unit for its size and length of service in the history of American warfare. 

Thanks to the generosity of Recorded Books, I am able to offer this audiobook to a blog reader. Please leave me a comment by May 14 and I’ll enter your name in the giveaway. It will be a great addition to a school or homeschool library.  

Monday, May 4, 2015

Mr. Puffball: Stunt Cat to the Stars -- A Review and ARC GIveaway

Hands (or I should say paws) down, Constance Lombardo’s love for all things feline shine through her fun illustrations and text in Mr. Puffball: Stunt Cat to the Stars, an entertaining graphic novel for readers from grades 3-7. Constance admits that Mr. Puffball is a mix of all the cats she’s ever loved.  “Cats have funny, pensive faces, come in so many different colors, stripes, patches, etc. I can't look at a cat without imagining a speech bubble. They've got lots of personality and like to do their own thing and most of them do want to be movie stars!” 

Mr. Puffball’s egotistic-yet-adorable voice is communicated in the opening lines. “My name is Mr. Puffball, and this is my story. It all started in a little town called New Jersey, home to such famous American landmarks as my house.”

His life is changed forever when he sees the movie, Cow-Cats & Aliens starring El Gato. From that moment on, this precocious kitten decides he must become a movie star. Despite nay-sayers among his siblings, his mother fuels his dream by telling him about his great-grandmother Zelda, a star in Cleocatra meets The Mummy.

That’s all the inspiration Mr. Puffball needs. With his tiny replica of Mr. Gato tucked into a cloth waistband and a newspaper ad for a movie audition for The Great Catsby, Mr. Puffball leaves for Hollywood and sends postcards home to his mother. 

Having just experienced a recent close run-in with Kansas tornadoes, I appreciated this illustration:

Unfortunately, fame and fortune don’t come as easily as expected. Metro-Olden Meower studios is closed and Mr. Puffball is twenty years late for the audition. His audition at Purramount Studios falls flat. But when Chester Grumpus (the producer of such great movies as The Sound of Meowsic and Attack of the 50 Foot She-Cat) takes him under his wing (err…his paw), Mr. Puffball meets three friends who help get his career off the ground.

Despite his excellent audition in Nine Lives to Live, Mr. Puffball only receives a part as an extra. Nine Lives is “a classic western with handsome heroes, sinister villains, and old-fashioned rattlesnakes… [the hero] El Gato is after Billy the Kitten, who square-danced with El Gato’s one true love, Veronica, even though she prefers ballroom...They steal Billy the Kitten’s ten-gallon hat, which turns out to only hold five gallons. Laughing about their misadventure, El Gato and Veronica ride into the sunset where they hope to open a hotel with a water slide.” (p. 96)

Determined to make El Gato notice him, Mr. Puffball lands himself a job as his stunt cat and becomes Bruiser’s prodigy: “Ride bad-temper horse now! Going backward! Faster! Don’t fall or you be trampled. See what I tell you?” (Hmm… Wonder whose dialogue Constance mimicked here?)

Hilarious scenes ensue that both children and adults will enjoy. Mr. Puffball rides in El Gato’s limousine equipped not only with cup holders and a mini fridge, but also a climbing wall and catnip. At a night out at the Brown Tabby, he eats fish tacos, plays with Wacky String, and meets Rosie, a (cute!) fellow Kung Fu Kitty.

Although the illustrations will draw readers in, the "a-hero-isn’t-always-who-he-appear-to-be" plot is clever and inspirational. Mr. Puffball’s adventure culminates at the opening night of Nine Lives.

Constance finishes the story with a flourish, a flash-mob, and a glossary that made me laugh out loud. I can't wait for the sequel--fortunately, she is already working on it. Constance writes, “In the next two books, Mr. Puffball will continue pursuing his biggest dream: to be a movie star! Wherever he may travel, whatever television, modeling, stunt or corporate work he takes on, he always keeps his eyes on the Oscar!” 

I don’t want to spoil this book for you. Let me suggest you catapult this book onto your “to be read list” and discover a catacophony of puns and a memorable story about a remarkable tabby cat. One way to support debut authors is by pre-ordering their books. I’m pre-ordering two copies of Mr. Puffball, one for each set of my grandkids. I bet you also know a girl or boy who would cheer Mr. Puffball on his journey to fame and fortune.

To enter to win an autographed copy of my well-loved ARC, please leave me a comment along with your email address if you’re new to my blog. Tag me on Twitter (cbaldwinCarol) or Facebook (Carol Federlin Baldwin) or become a new follower, and I’ll enter your name for each one. will pick a winner on May 7.

Monday, April 27, 2015

You Heard it Here First: Introducing Constance Lombardo and Mr. Puffball

Congratulations to Peggy Rothschild, a new blog reader, who won Susan Moger's book, Teaching the Diary of Anne Frank.
I love introducing new authors and illustrators and sharing news of upcoming publications. This time, Constance Lombardo, a writer/illustrator in the SCBWI-Carolinas region, takes center stage with her debut graphic novel. This week you'll hear about her path to publication; next week I'll review her book and give away an autographed copy of her ARC. 

Photo by Chris Chromey
CAROL: Tell us a little about yourself. Your background, your dreams, how long you've been at the "I want to publish a book!" business. Did you go to school for writing or illustrating?

CONSTANCE: I got my BFA in Illustration from Syracuse University many moons ago. After graduation, I took painting, printmaking, writing, and pottery classes. I interned with a renowned community muralist in San Francisco. I drew and painted and was in gallery shows in San Francisco and New York.

CAROL: How did you get into writing children’s books?

CONSTANCE: When I had my baby, I read her my favorite picture books and realized that was what I wanted to do. When I was very little, I told my dad I wanted to make ‘books with drawings in them.’ It took me a while to get back to that dream!

CAROL: What steps did you take to make this dream come true?

CONSTANCE: I subbed my first book – a picture book called The Sky is Where the Sun Lives in 2003. In the following years, I wrote many picture books, two YA novels, and one MG novel. I joined SCBWI and attended several regional conferences and one national conference in NYC where I learned SO MUCH about writing, editing, publishing and networking. I formed a critique group in Asheville (The Secret Gardeners) and with the help of these resources I continued to grow as a writer and improve my skills to get to the next level. Highlights magazine bought one of my stories (as yet unpublished,) Humpty Dumpty’s magazine published one of my poems, and my illustrations have appeared in magazines (SCBWI Bulletin, New Moon Moon Girls) and on cd covers.

In 2011, I started drawing cats without a specific project in mind. Drawings led to comic strip panels, which led to a more realized narrative starring one irrepressible feline: Mr. Puffball. He wanted to go to Hollywood. He was naïve but optimistic (like me!) And he wanted a bow tie.

In 2012, SCBWI Carolinas hosted a Graphic Novel Workshop by Mark Siegel (Editorial Director, First Second Books) in Asheville, NC. (Thanks, SCBWI Carolinas!!) The timing could not have been more perfect. I got motivated to finish a rough draft, attended this wonderful workshop, learned a lot and left eager to submit my graphic novel.

CAROL: How did you find your agent and your publisher?

CONSTANCE: I began subbing and got some of the most positive feedback I’d ever received. I had subbed some picture books to the fabulous Lori Nowicki of Painted Words, and she expressed interest in seeing more. When I subbed my graphic novel, Lori seemed really interested and scheduled a phone date (Hooray!) I had subbed to agents for years, but this was my first phone call. Was I nervous! Fortunately, Lori and I really hit it off - she loved Mr. Puffball and gave me some excellent editorial guidance. I followed her suggestions and, a few months later, we signed! 

Within a few months, she connected me with my amazing editor, Jill Davis at Katherine Tegen Books/HarperCollins. Jill loved Mr. Puffball but wanted to see the book changed to an illustrated MG novel format (like Diary of a Wimpy Kid or Big Nate.) I went with that idea and loved where it took me. Jill showed it around Katherine Tegen Books, rooting for me all the way, and we soon signed a three book contract. The first Mr. Puffball comes out fall 2015, the second in 2016, and then the last in 2017. Yay!!! I am so lucky to work with Jill Davis. Now I know what it means to have a truly excellent editor – because of her, my novel is tons better than I ever could have imagined. (Thanks for bringing us together, Lori Nowicki!)

CAROL: That’s so exciting! Where are you in this process?
CONSTANCE: I am currently working on the 2nd book.  I love combining words and pictures and see myself working in this format on future projects. I would love to do a YA graphic novel or illustrated novel. And I still hope to publish a picture book or two (or three or four!) one day.

Next week I'll be posting a review of Constance's book and offer you a chance to win her ARC. Meanwhile, here's the synopsis:

In the illustrated middle grade novel, Mr. Puffball: Stunt Cat to the Stars by Constance Lombardo (Katherine Tegen Books, HarperCollins Children’s Books, fall 2015,) Mr. Puffball leaves his New Jersey home on a cross country trip (with postcards home to Mom!) to make his movie star dreams come true. When he lands in Hollywood, Mr. Puffball catapults himself into the next best thing to being a famous movie star: working as a stunt cat to his movie star hero, El Gato! (with over 200 drawings!)