Thursday, May 31, 2012

Everything You Wanted to Know about Graphic Novels...BUT Didn't Know Who To Ask. PLUS THREE GIVEAWAYS

Now that I have your attention, let me introduce you to Snow Wildsmith, author, book reviewer, and former teen librarian. Snow was a recent expert for the Talking Story newsletter on graphic novels. In this interview she answers a few more questions about her recent book, A Parent's Guide to the Best Kid's Comics: Choosing Titles Your Children Will Love

At the end of this blog, you'll find directions on how you can win a personally autographed copy of Snow's book, or one of Katie Monnin's ebooks about using graphic novels in the classroom. All three of these books are practical for parents, teachers, and homeschool educators. 

Carol: Why do graphic novels appeal to you?

Snow: I love graphic novels because I'm a visual person. For roughly 25 years, I studied ballet and modern dance using my sight to read physical movements. Graphic novels offer something similiar: visual elements combined with text.

Today's kids are being raised and educated in a highly visual world. Computers, smart phones, and tablets all require a good amount of visual literacy. For this generation of learners, graphic novels are an easy and familiar way to process information. 

Carol: As a librarian, what place do you think graphic novels should have on a child's bookshelf?
Snow: For kids who are building their reading skills, graphic novels offer an extra way of understanding language. They’ll see a picture and text combined in a way that reinforces the meaning of the words they’re reading. But it’s not just reluctant readers or less proficient readers who connect with graphic novels. Many comics offer a wide range of vocabulary, some of which can be very advanced. The visual component helps readers expand their vocabulary without feeling as if they are being forced to read a book full of SAT words.

Many readers like graphic novels for the same reason they like prose titles – they are good stories created by talented storytellers. The titles that kids (and teens and adults) are beloved because they are well written, beautifully illustrated, and deeply engaging.

Carol: What is the difference between graphic novels and comic books?
Snow: Graphic novels are comic books with sturdier bindings, larger page count, and more complete story lines. Many graphic novels combine several comic books into one volume, such as releases of Batman or Spider-man comic books. Other graphic novels have never been released in comic book format. Babymousefor example, allows the creator to tell a longer and/or more complete story in one sitting.

Carol: What about Manga and anime. What are they?
Snow: Manga is Japanese for comics. Like Batman comics, manga series are released in Japan in serial format and published in one magazine. (Sort of like having a magazine made up of one Batman comic book, one Superman comic book, one Wonder Woman comic book, etc.) Once a manga series is popular enough, then the individual chapters from the manga magazine are combined into a graphic novel volume. Anime means animation in Japanese.  

Carol: How do you classify a book like Hugo Cabret?
Snow: I think of it is as a "graphic novel hybrid." Other graphic novel librarians like myself use those words to cover titles that aren't full graphic novels -- with only panels and text bubbles and other comic elements -- but also aren't titles that are only prose. In Hugo Cabret and other titles like the Frankie Pickle series, the Dragonbreath series, and the Wimpy Kid series, the art is an essential part of the story -- you cannot skip over the images or you will not understand the story. That makes them like a graphic novel and unlike an illustrated novel, such as my edition of Peter Pan which has a few illustrated pages that are pretty to look at, but do not have to be viewed in order to follow the story. But in those same graphic novel hybrids, the prose sections are not formatted like a graphic novel, making the hybrids more like a prose novel in that section. Hence the term "graphic novel hybrid," because it is a mix of formats.

Carol: For my readers who are writers, can you tell us about your path to publication?
Snow Maggie Thompson, one of my editors, is a long-time comics promoter and co-founder and editor of the Comics Buyer's Guide, had the idea to do a guide to kids' comics. She began asking around to see who might want to work on such a guide and Michael Martins, a Vice President at Dark Horse, gave her my name. He knew me through the American Library Association and because of my work as a book reviewer. She contacted me and I was interested, but since I was currently in the middle of doing a nonfiction series, I didn't want to tackle another project on my own, so I asked if I could add a co-author. They agreed and I asked my friend and fellow librarian, book reviewer, and kids' comics expert, Scott Robins.

Carol: Thank you Snow!  Here is a list of graphic novels which Snow recommends.  

#1 An autographed copy of Snow's book, A Parent's Guide to the Best Kid's Comics.

#2 Katie Monnin's ebook, Teaching Early Reader Comics and Graphic Novels (courtesy of Maupin House).

#3 Katie Monnin's ebook, Teaching Graphic Novels: Practical Strategies for the ELA Classroom (courtesy of Maupin House.)

1. Follow this blog (if you are not following yet), or:
2. If you are already a follower--thank you!--then just post a link on your favorite social network site and,
3. Leave me a comment with your email address indicating which you did and which book you prefer. I will try to honor requests!

I'll select a winner on June 4, so start tweeting, following, and commenting now!
Next week look for Snow's blog post on her other recently published books. More giveaways too!

Friday, May 25, 2012

Coming Up in June

June is just around the corner and I want to share two places where I'm teaching. On June 12, I begin an 8-week writing workshop on the main campus of Central Piedmont Community College in Charlotte.   In this Fiction Writing Workshop we'll discuss character, setting, dialogue, hooking your reader, tension, endings, name it, I hope to cover it! The course is geared towards the intermediate student and will include in-class writing opportunties, peer critiquing, and a virtual visit from a local author. 

image courtesy Microsoft clips

On June 20th I am teaching a free teen's writing workshop entitled, "Solve this Mystery: How to Write a Whodunit?" at the Steele Creek Library.  We will meet from 2-3:30 PM and the event is geared towards 12-15 year-old-writers. Registration is recommended. 

Questions? Send me an email

Monday, May 21, 2012

Juggling Museums

Did you read that title and think, "Is this a blog about museums that feature jugglers?" Or perhaps, "Who in the world juggles museums?" 

I confess. It's neither. 

Image from
This post features two recent projects: The first is a guest blog on Elysabeth Elderling's Writing Emporium entitled, "Juggling the Writer's Life."  She asked me to discuss how I juggle my commitments as a writer; composing it actually helped me evaluate how I spend my time. I hope you'll find it helpful too.

The second project is the May issue of Talking Story which features museums. With summer approaching, Joyce Hostetter and I thought we'd encourage readers to explore both national and out-of-the-way museums. We have four great books to give away, including The Wright 3, (last week's blog) so please check it out and enter!

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

The Wright 3

Secret codes. Invisible men. Pentominoes. Fibonacci numbers. Hidden Pictures. Geometry. Red herrings. Murder. The Wright 3, a middle grade mystery for boys and girls by Blue Balliett, has all of these PLUS a plot that captures the reader’s attention and refuses to let go.

When 6th-graders Tommy, Calder, and Petra hear that the Robie House, a 1910 Frank Lloyd Wright house in their Chicago neighborhood, is to be cut into sections and donated to four museums, they band together to try and rescue this unique architectural jewel from destruction.

Following Chasing Vermeer, which featured Petra and Calder, this second book begins with Tommy moving back to Chicago with hopes of rekindling his friendship with Calder. But since Petra and Calder are a team, the first obstacle the three overcome is figuring out if and how they can be a threesome. Using multiple points-of-view, Balliett shows how the Wright 3 (as they name themselves) conquer their initial misunderstandings, pool their talents, solve several mysteries, and eventually save the Robie House.

Balliett does an incredible job of integrating math concepts into this fun, fast-paced book. In addition, each chapter includes intriguing illustrations by Brett Helquist adding another dimension to the story. Each illustration is a mystery: can the reader find the hidden pictures and patterns in each one?  As I read it I was faced with a dilemma—should I stay and try to figure out the picture or keep on reading?

The Wright 3 would make a great classroom read as students would vie with one another to figure out the subtle nuances hidden in the black and white drawings. If so, they should listen to the advice of the children’s wise neighbor, “Coincidence reminds me of the repetitions in the Robie House. The more you look, the more you see.” (p. 310)

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Character + Setting = Story (Almost)

Part I: Character
A recent Facebook discussion on my wall led one of my FB friends Leslie Guccione, an author of 30 books, to blog about the importance of totally knowing your character and setting. 
Leslie Guccione

I have often thought how stories are built from the inside out.  Appropriately, her blog on character is named, "Know Your Characters Inside and Out." She listed a variety of questions writers should ask about their character. This list is similar to an handout that is in Teaching the Story which you can download here

I hope you'll read her entire blog, but here is her ending advice:

Whether your character works against the background you’ve devised or reflects it in stereotypical detail, you’ve provided a solid frame on which to weave voice, behavior, attitude and goals as you hook your reader with their tale you’re telling.

By the way, I highly recommend Donald Maass' book, Writing the Breakout Novel Workbook. His exercises are probing and will make you get to know your character in such a way that you can portray him or her authentically.

Part II: Setting
On Leslie's blog about setting, "Your Character's Physical World," she uses two fantasy books to demonstrate the importance of creating extensive, believable worlds for characters to live in. She lists several aspects of a fictional world that the writer must create. You can also download my handout, "Set the Scene" or "Create an Imaginary World" to help you begin this brainstorming process. 

Leslie summarizes that blog with, "Your goal is to breathe life into every individual & create atmosphere for every setting. You have to take your readers there. And they have to want to stay."

I found Richard Russo's article, "Location, Location, Location: Depicting Character Through Place" in Creating Fiction (Story Press, 1999) to be helpful on this topic.

Part III: Plot
What about plot and conflict? Let me recommend two books to help you tackle that most important story componenent. The first is Many Genres One Craft: Lessons in Writing Genre Fiction which, according to Leslie, is crammed with good advice. She should know--she contributed an article and it just won its second "Best" award for a writing how-to book in 2012.

Second, consider purchasing Becky Levine's book, "The Writing & Critique Group Survival Guide." She has an excellent chapter on critiquing for plot along with a great deal of other useful information. 


Wednesday, May 2, 2012

This Dark Endeavor: The Apprenticeship of Victor Frankenstein

This book is not for the faint of heart. And it’s not for the reader who doesn’t have a stomach for scary, gory scenes and unpredictable mad scientists.

But, if you are intrigued by fast-paced adventures that seem impossibly dangerous—then This Dark Endeavor is a book for you.

I chose this book because I had enjoyed Kenneth Oppel’s book Airborn. Although they are both fantasy, the similarity ends there. This prequel to Mary Shelley’s gothic classic is a riveting, plausible read for older boy and girl readers.

One of the principles in my book, Teaching the Story is, “If You Want to Write, Read.” Following my own advice, I consistently read to learn how young adult authors successfully tell their stories. Here is what I learned from Oppel:

  • Open with a scene that hooks the reader and foretells the story’s conflict. The opening dueling scene between Victor Frankenstein and his twin Konrad is a powerful metaphor for the struggles between the two.
  • Set up a strong, convincing goal. When Konrad falls perilously ill, Victor is determined to find the elixir of life that will save his brother from death.
  • Invent plausible characters. Oppel cleverly creates a convincing backstory of how this educated young man could become the legendary Frankenstein.
  • Create nail-biting obstacles that the character must overcome to meet his goal and keep your reader turning pages. Victor battles huge flying evil birds, almost gets stuck in an underground cave, and donates his own—oops, I can’t tell you what—in order to obtain the elixir’s ingredients.
  • Give your character mixed motives. Along the way Victor realizes that his motivations towards his brother aren’t totally altruistic.
  • Create a love triangle with characters that have mixed motives. Elizabeth, a distant cousin they both love, chooses Konrad over Victor. But Victor has seen a side of her that Konrad is ignorant of.  Can Victor’s bravery win Elizabeth’s love?
  • Provide an unexpected, but “of course!” end.  What will Victor do when he realizes the alchemist he trusted has his own plans for the elixir?

Sorry, no answers here.
 You’ll just have to read the book.

Here is the book trailer, which in and of itself, is spooky!


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