Thursday, October 25, 2012

Banana Peelin' with Tiffany Strelitz Haber

It’s almost Halloween and I know what you must be thinking. She’s had a robot, a vampire , a zombie, but NO flippin’ monsterly  peeps on the blog this month!  Wud up with that? Well, thankfully the wonderful and kind Tiffany Strelitz Haber couldn’t let that happen. The author of  The Monster Who Lost His Mean, (a book just written up in The New York Times Book Review), brings us a story that I am pretty sure most of us can identify with…

 Embarrassment bites the big one.  I’m actually embarrassed to even TELL this marginally absurd story of massive overreaction (by more than just one participant).  But alas…here goes….

 This particular Banana Peel Moment took place just as I started to pursue a career in children’s books. The sun was shining, the birds were chirping, and I was stalking, er…checking out websites of publishing companies that seemed to have an affinity for rhyme.  I quickly discovered an editor I will now refer to as “Dragon of Death”.  Just Kidding.  I’ll call him, “Richard”.

Anyway, so there was an email address for “Richard” and I used it to send some samples of my writing and inquire about his submission policy.  (It was a small press that primarily published humorous poetry collections).  At the time I was writing tons of that stuff.

A couple of days later, I received an email back saying that not only did he love my work, but he had gone onto my website and learned more about me.  I DIED.   This was clearly my big chance to get my foot in the door of children’s book publishing and then pry it open and run through!  We go back and forth via email a couple times.  He’s super duper friendly, asking me all sorts of questions and being really complimentary and it was awesome.  He asks if I’ve written anything longer.  I say yes.  He asks to see it.  I say YES, and send it immediately. 

 And then I wait.  And I wait for what feels like a completely impossible amount of time.  Like my whole world has been sucked inside some sort of sci fi black hole of frozen silence hell and all I can hear in my head is TICK.  TOCK.  TICK.  TOCK.  I mean, we had been emailing back and forth for like 30 minutes.  Why would he suddenly go completely silent the moment I sent my story??  Something was wrong.  He must not have gotten it.  He’s just sitting there waiting for it, right?  And I’m sitting there waiting for him while he’s waiting for me and…oh lord, this can’t be good.  I need to send it again.

And so I did.  I sent it again with an adorable note saying I wasn’t sure that it had gone through, and just in case, this was my second attempt and if he could just let me know that he had in fact received it, that would be super duper fab.  And then came the silence.  Again with the silence!  Couldn’t he just say “thanks, got it!” and call it a day?  He must not have gotten it.  It must be something with the attachment.  It wasn’t going through and I was going mad and everything that had been going so well was now unraveling like a thrift store sweater.   But instead of walking away from the computer like a normal, sane, woman (maybe the man got up to pee!  Or do something that takes a bit longer than pee!)….I felt I needed to email again.  And so I did.  Just the one last time because I was absolutely certain that the attachment hadn’t gone through and that one last time couldn’t hurt and then I would close my computer and call it a day.  And then he wrote back. 

I don’t remember the subject line.   I do remember feeling a little sick inside when I read it though. 

I opened the email.


Yes…it’s harsh.  It’s completely unprofessional, and it is perhaps- borderline mentally insane.  And maybe so am I.  But it crushed me.   I truly believed, in that moment, that I demolished any chance I would ever have of getting anywhere in this business.  He would tell everyone to avoid me like the plague. I was the email of death and I would be black listed across all 50 states and probably Canada as well.


And now I look back….and it’s hilarious. Yup!  Like scream laugh, pee in your pants, fall on the floor funny!  (I’ve now referenced “pee” three times in this story and that’s weird)  But maybe that’s the thing about Banana Peels.  You slip and you fall and it hurts.  But when you look back, it’s all just pretty freaking ridiculous.  And also…maybe…you learn something.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Natasha Yim and Some Weird Sacajawea Facts

It's almost Thanksgiving.

One thing that we tend to do here this time of year in the United States is to focus on two groups: guys and gals in funny black and white outfits and Native Americans.  Over the last few decades we have come to learn that much of the information we know about these two groups isn't so accurate. Like, for example, there isn't just one group of Native Americans, as I  conveniently described above. =) Thankfully, there are some amazing resources available to us and our children that are in fact accurate and celebrate the honorable role many Native Americans have played throughout history.

Sacajawea of the Shoshone, written by the lovely Natasha Yim, is one such resource. Fortunately for us bloggers, not all research could be included in the final copy of the book and what we get to learn today are some of those awesomely accurate and  wonderfully WEIRD facts about Sacajawea that didn't make the cut! Please welcome Natasha Yim!

I have always been fascinated with the story of Sacajawea. She had such an amazing adventure at a time and in territory that was little known at the time. During my research, I uncovered so many fascinating things about her life and travels, it was impossible to include everything in the book without bogging down the story. This is the challenge of writing non-fiction for kids—you have to take all that wealth of information and piles of research notes and funnel it into 2,000 - 2,500 words (Goosebottom Books’ word count length; other publishers will have different limits). We tried to fit some of this information into side bars, but even then, we couldn’t get everything in.

  So, here are a few juicy facts that did not make it into the book—my version of Natasha’s Believe it or Not:Weird but Supposedly True Facts of Sacajawea and the Lewis and Clark Expedition:

Weird Baby Fact

• Having a baby? Forget the spinal blocks and epidurals during labor. Try some ground up rattlesnake rattles instead! Sacajawea had a difficult and painful labor with her son, and was having a hard time pushing the baby out, so Meriweather Lewis crushed two rattlesnake rattles into a fine powder, mixed it in water, and had Sacajawea drink it. Ten minutes later, little Jean-Baptiste Charbonneau was born!

• Don’t have the time to wash cloth diapers? Spending too much money on disposable ones? Try dried buffalo dung! Native American babies were carried around in a cradleboard strapped to their mother’s backs. To absorb feces and urine, mothers would pack dried buffalo dung around the baby and hold it in place with a blanket. This would be discarded and replaced as needed.

Weird Food Facts

• Favorite foods for the men of the Corps of Discovery were beaver tails and buffalo hump.

• Sacajawea’s husband, Toussaint Charbonneau, apparently made a delicious sausage. He cleaned out buffalo intestine and stuffed it with meat, kidney, liver, salt, pepper and flour, then boiled it in a copper kettle and fried it in bear oil.

Weird Travel Facts

• On the Pacific coast, the Corps needed to build a shelter to wait out the rainy winter. Lewis and Clark asked every member of the expedition including Sacajawea, where they should build their fort. Sacajawea wanted the spot to be near where wapato roots (similar to potatoes and something she enjoyed very much) grew in abundance. Clark recorded her vote in his journal, technically making Sacajawea the first woman in American history to have voted!

• William Clark measured their journey from St. Louis, Missouri to the Pacific Ocean to be 4,162. Later measurements with modern equipment showed that Clark was only off by 40 miles!

• On the return trip back to St. Louis, Missouri, Meriweather Lewis was accidentally shot in the butt by Pierre Cruzatte, a partially blind Corps member, who mistook him for an elk!

• Into herbal remedies? How about this for a painful lump on your throat or neck? On the trip, Sacajawea’s son got very sick (possibly from mumps, tonsillitis or an abscess). Clark applied a poultice of wild onion, mixture of pine resin, beeswax and bear oil to his neck. Hmm...the bear oil might be a little hard to come by.



• Historians believe that Sacajawea died of typhoid fever in 1812 at age 25 (making this December the 200th anniversary of her death) at Fort Manuel in South Dakota. The Shoshone, however, claimed that she lived a nomadic life among many Indian tribes, eventually leaving Charbonneau and marrying a Comanche Indian by the name of Jerk Meat. She changed her name to Porivo, and in later life, made her way to the Wind River Reservation in Wyoming where she settled with her native Shoshone tribe and died in 1884 at the age of 96

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Banana Peelin' with Kelly DiPucchio

 I'm in love. But you see, it's quite complicated. We are what you might  Here is a picture of me and my beau.
Okay, okay. I know what you're thinking. Isn't this that guy Mortimer? And isn't he with that one gal, Mildred?
Fine!  You caught me. Our love is NOT star-crossed, but unrequited. That's what I get for loving a zombie!
You can only imagine my delight when Mortimer's creator, the literary brains behind one of my favorite picture books, Zombie in Love, agreed to come on the blog to discuss one of her not-so-shining moments in her career as a children's author. Please welcome the talented Kelly DiPucchio!

Most good stories involve some form of humiliation, promiscuity, or self-loathing. My Banana Peelin’ story meets all three criteria. And now that I’ve used the word “promiscuity” you have no choice but to read on.

            Many years ago when I was newly published, I attended an industry party hosted by my agent.  The room was full of famous authors, artists, and prominent editors.  I was absolutely star-struck. I alternated between feeling like Cinderella at the ball and feeling like an imposter who was about to be asked to leave the premises at any moment.

            At one point during the evening, I found myself standing next to one of my new editors. I will call her The Dragon Lady because she scared me. She was confident, cool, and sophisticated. In other words, she was everything I was not back in 2003. I introduced myself to The Dragon Lady. She was polite, but unaffected. We made small talk about the party. The longer I was around her, the more nervous I became. She casually asked, “So what other projects are you working on?”  I knew she really didn’t care what my answer was, but I wanted to impress her. I wanted her to like me!  And that’s when I developed a violent case of verbal diarrhea. 

My performance was very much like the infamous scene in Bridesmaids, only the cringe-worthy explosions were coming out of my mouth.  Maybe it was the glass of wine. Maybe it was the fact that the room was hotter than a sweat lodge. Or just maybe it was 20 years of crippling insecurity and self-doubt purging its ugly self all over this icy woman who had already made up her mind she didn’t like me. Whatever the cause, I proceeded to tell her about every book deal I had with her publishing competitors. In hindsight, I realize now this is a bit like telling your boyfriend about all of the other cute guys you’re sleeping with. 

            When my full-disclosure filibuster finally came to an end, Dragon Lady quickly excused herself, and I was left standing there with a glass of wine and a bucket of self-loathing.  I’d like to tell you the humiliation stopped there, but like any great horror film, just when you think it’s over - it’s not.

            The next day, I attended Dragon Lady’s session at a conference. The room was packed with nearly 800 writers and illustrators. Once again, Dragon lady was confident, cool, and sophisticated. After extolling a few industry niceties, she proceeded to discuss the pitfalls and perils of publishing promiscuity. I began to blush, and sweat, and shrivel in my seat.

“There’s a real danger in new authors spreading themselves too thin!” she spat. At that point, I fully expected a large spot light to begin scanning the audience before finally landing on me. Groan. I just wanted to disappear.

            Surprise, surprise.  I never did sign another book deal with Dragon Lady. But I did learn a very valuable lesson from that experience. Two actually.

            The first: SHUT UP. The “less is more” golden rule that applies to picture books also applies to social sharing.  Remember that, people! It’s important.

            The second:  SO WHAT? We all make blunders, look foolish, and say the wrong thing at the wrong time. So what? Let’s not take ourselves so seriously. Forgive yourself. Laugh at yourself. And when you slip and fall on that banana peel, say “Thank you!” Those awkward moments usually provide the best material for your stories.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Vee Have a Vinner!

Vee have a vinner!

Dee lovely, BETHANY TELLES haz von a copy of Anne Marie Pace's,VAMPIRINA BALLERINA!

Congratulations Bethany! Voo hoo! =)

Also, I am quite embarassed. I was so wrapped up in vampire talk last week that in the initial Anne Marie post, I DIDN'T EVEN MENTION THE TITLE OF HER BOOK!


A million apologies. Just goes to show that I have my banana peelin' blog for a reason. =)

Tomorrow, I am so excited to announce that KELLY DIPUCCHIO will be on the blog! Hooray!!!!!

Happy writing!

Monday, October 15, 2012

Picture Book Idea Month

Do you ever feel that as a writer you're missin' somethin'?

Or motivation?

Or ideas?

Well, thankfully children's author Tara Lazar planned for this. November is the month where I will soothe my poor little soul by devouring pie. Oh no, it's not what you think. I will be devouring pumpkin pie after pumpkin pie according to tradition, but the kind of pie to which I am referring is actually: Pi-BoIdMo, also known as Picture Book Idea Month.

That's right folks. By participating in PiBoIdMo, in thirty days, I will be generating THIRTY ideas.

Do they have to be good?


Do they have to make sense?


BUT. Some of these measly little ideas could be great spring boards from which other more sensible ideas will bounce, hop, sprout, and grow...hopefully like weeds... pretty ones, maybe even edible, into wonderful and silly stories.

Now, if for some reason I feel doubty and pouty (which I have been known to do), I know that during this great month of "PIE" each day (that's right, EACH DAY) I will have a guest post just waiting to inspire my tushie to carry on, to put the pencil to the paper to... to...  to do just what I love to do: gush over kid lit with writer friends create stories for children.  Some of the best and most creative children's authors and illustrators will be cheering us fellow writers on, sharing stories of triumph and struggle, of feast and famine of writer's block and...unblock? 

And it is less than a month away. Yeesh. I can not wait.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Banana Peelin' wtih Anne Marie Pace

 Bwah, bwah, bwah.... Zank you very much vor visitng zee blog today. Vee have a very, very special guest whoose book Vampirina Ballerina, iz very, very, cute and perfect vor little vampires and ballerinas alike. Please velcome zee vonderful, Anne Marie Pace.

 How do I slip on a banana peel?  Let me count the ways . . . seriously, you don’t want to know all the mistakes I’ve made over the years in this business.  But I’m happy to share my most embarrassing moment with the Banana Peelin’ audience--now that fifteen years have passed, and only because fifteen years have passed.

In the late 90s, when I was in a dabbling phase of writing for children, before I was really serious or knew what I was doing, I joined a small children’s writing listserv called WRT4KDZ.  Most of the members were published and they were very generous with their time and advice, even to me (the dabbler). Jane Yolen was probably the best-known author on the list, but there were many others: Darcy Pattison, Susanna Reich, Debby Edwardson and more.  I was very grateful (and still am) to be part of this group.

I soaked up everything the folks on WRT4KDZ had to offer like a toddler soaks up language. It was amazing to me--a community where a newbie like me could post a question and Jane Yolen would answer it--whoa!!

That year, the Virginia Festival of the Book was hosting an event featuring Lois Lowry.  WRT4KDZ members often reported on the conferences they attended, so I decided to do the same.  I took detailed notes on Ms. Lowry's presentation to share with the group.  It was a small way to repay all that WRT4KDZ had given me.

 At one point, Ms. Lowry spoke of socializing with writer friends in Cambridge, where she lived, including "Susan Cooper, who is no longer with us." I took this note: "Susan Cooper has died”; and passed it along with my notesl

The reactions of the WRT4KDZ members were, as you’d expect, sorrowful and shocked; but that sorrow quickly turned into doubt.  Why wasn’t Ms. Cooper’s death in the news?  Had she been ill?  Why was Lois Lowry the only one of Ms. Cooper's friends who knew?

 Finally, Jane Yolen called Lois Lowry herself for clarification; and as you've probably guessed by now, Susan Cooper was not dead. She had simply moved away.

 Can we say, oops? Can we say, cringe? Can we say, crawl under my desk and shrivel into a miserable piece of desiccated earwax? I was mortified--completely and totally and utterly mortified. I had made a huge factual error, and one that caused people sadness at that.

Of course, we all know that kidlit people are the kindest and most generous writers in the world, and the WRT4KDZ members didn’t kick me out.  Rather, they consoled me and got me through the embarrassment; and we are still together today. 

What did I learn from this? I learned to double-check my facts before publication.

And I learned that "no longer with us" does not always mean "dead." It can also mean "moved to another town." Who woulda thunk it?

Bwah, bwah, bwah! Zat one cracked me up! Zank you Anne Marie vor sharing your story. And now vor zee goot news...Anne Marie vould like to give avay a book. Zes, zats right. =) Leave a comment below in your best vampire language and you vill be entered. Bwah, bwah, bwah!  

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

BOY + BOT Winner

BEEP. BOP. POP! We have winner of Ame Dyckman's BOY + BOT......

Iza Trapani!!!!

Horray! Congrats Iza. You will be receiving this wonderful book along with some terrific swag in the mail soon! 

Make sure to visit tomorrow! Anne Marie Pace will be here. Bwah, bwah, bwah! She is very funny. =)

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Banana Peelin' with Ame Dyckman

BEEP. That's BOT for hello. Today marks the beginning of the Banana Peel Count Down to Halloween. This month, authors from some of my favorite festively ghoulish books will be featured. I am super excited to have Ame Dyckman here today. She is incredibly funny and she has this great book called BOY + BOT. Now, BOY + BOT isn't necessarily a Halloween book, BUT it does include a robot and what Halloween is complete without a robot or TEN?! Please welcome AME DYCKMAN!!!!


Ame Dyckman

            Hi, guys!  Want to read my big Banana Peelin’ moment?  And how I finally picked myself up and brushed banana bits of my pants?

            Okay, here goes:

            My first picture book manuscript was called BLACKBERRY, THE FLYING GOAT. There are several good reasons why you’ve never heard of it:

·         BLACKBERRY was 1,423 words long. 

·         It had a grown-up protagonist. 

·         And it was a love story.  (Not with the goat.)

Yeah, I hadn’t done my homework.  So naturally, I was convinced my manuscript was awesome! 

In March, 2008, I took BLACKBERRY to my very first NJ SCBWI event.

I was positive the editor would adore it.

I expected her to write “A+++” all over it, like the teacher in A Christmas Story.

I thought she’d hand me a contract over dessert.

I could not have been more mistaken. 

After my critique, I went home and:

·         Cried.

·         Ate all the ice cream and blamed it on a freezer malfunction.

·         Got a shovel and buried BLACKBERRY in my backyard.

Then I rolled up my sleeves (which were really muddy from all that digging), and I got to work.

I signed up for every single NJ SCBWI event I could.

I went to First Page Sessions and Mentoring Workshops and Annual Conferences.        And I listened to all the feedback and advice.

What I heard most was, “If you want to write picture books, you have to read them.”

I read picture books to my kid, of course.  But I needed to read them to me.

So I got the biggest tote bag I could find and I went to my local library and checked out 50 picture books—the max you can check out at one time.

I went home and read those 50 picture books and brought them back and got 50 more.

And then I got a library card in my kid’s name so I could check out 100 picture books at a time.  (If you bake for your librarians—which you should do anyway—they will pretend not to notice when you do this.)

I got a Picture Book Haul every week.  (And I still do. )

And I kept going to NJ SCBWI events.  (And I still do.)

With all that reading, my writing and my feedback improved.  Editors said my writing was funny, but there was a little problem.

My subject matter was too… weird. 

I was told there wasn’t a big market for a picture book about a were-chicken. 

Or a talking bowl of fruit. 

Or a dead goldfish. 

After contemplation (and more ice cream), I realized the editors were right.  I needed a protagonist with wider appeal—not banana peel.

And my first thought was, “Well, everybody loves robots!”

Like her book, Ame is awesome. She has offered to giveaway a copy of BOY + BOT plus some swag.  All you need to do is leave a comment below describing the strangest premise for a book you have ever had OR a book you have read that has haunted you ever since due to its wackiness! (My "friend" offers a personal example: a girl with a pet hairball, named Harriett.) Thank you so much for reading! Good luck!

Tuesday, October 2, 2012



If it appears that I am shouting, it's because I AM!

Here's why:

I submitted my macho manuscript three weeks ago and for some reason it has seemed like an ETERNITY!

In this time I haven't written anything new. Too nervous. Nor have I reread any of my work. Again, too nervous. Why would I be nervous to read my own stuff?

 If you give yourself enough time away from your work you have a better chance of seeing it with an outsider's perspective, right? But what if I reread my work and realize that it stinks a big one? The longer I hold off on rereading my work, the more anxiety ridden I become and the more anxiety ridden I become the more I begin to doubt myself as a writer for children. WHAT AM I DOING? Ack!

So you see, I am in a bit of a rut. Blech.

So I paint. Yup. I've painted all things wooden or plastic in my sight the last week. I heart spray paint.

And I sew.  Just finished a hooded cape for Humbug and am thinkin' I should start a new trend for grown women.

I go to school and get all worked up about things like deadlines and losing my flash-drive and trying  to remember where I parked my bike.

I watch shows like Fringe that have me convinced that there is another parallel universe where I am a successful children's author, possibly with some kung fu moves and a holster.

For the record, in this time, I also:

- attempted to make decoupage jewelry. No comment.

- made lanterns out of tin cans and drilled holes in my leg. (Actually, I exaggerate. It was just one hole. Wasn't pretty. Shiver.)

But all of these things make me feel farther and farther away from what I want so badly... to write for children.  And the farther  away I feel, the more doubt seeps its way into my little noggin. I begin to ask myself, "Can I do this?  Should I still attempt to write and be published? Is this crazy?"  I feel a little like a lost puppy.

Thankfully, I have you and this here blog to keep me plugged in. And despite however big the cloud of self-doubt  is that looms over my head, I will always have the trusty Banana Peelers to get me through.

This month we will be gearing up for Halloween with authors of some wonderfully creative books that relate to the holiday, or at least in my mind do. =)   So far, we have AN AMAZING LINE UP of authors who I guarantee will make you LAUGH, not to mention at least two giveaways! Get ready for this month's banana peelin' authors:

Ame Dyckman
Anne Marie Pace
Kelly DiPucchio

Bwa, bwa, bwa. (Vampire laugh. See? Already laughing.)

Also, we have a winner from Deborah Underwood's, The Christmas Quiet Book giveaway...



Woot! Thanks so much for your support and efforts to promote the blog, Dana!  You will be receiving a copy of this latest book straight from the publisher! So excited for you and slightly jealous, but in the best way possible. =)

So, before we go, I leave you readers with these two questions:

What do you do when you are waiting?

What the heck do you do when you doubt yourself?

Thanks so much and see you this Thursday, when BOY + BOT's, Ame Dyckman shares some memories of when she started writing for children. =)