Saturday, March 31, 2012

LDSPBP: Interview with Caralyn Buehner

Gamila: Please tell our readers a little bit about yourself and your work.

Caralyn:   I was the fifth child in a family of bookworms, so reading was something I grew up doing.  It became my favorite occupation, and I think now that I probably grew up to be short because I spent too much time at night hiding under the covers with a flashlight and a book.  In that respect I haven't changed - still regularly lose sleep to read, and would rather read than see a movie any day.  The result of that is that I have an appreciation for where words can take you. 

I've been fortunate enough to be able to write picture books, and work almost exclusively with an incredible illustrator - my husband Mark.   Most often when I write now, if I'm writing something that's intended for the commercial market, I'm also writing with him and his preferences in mind, because I would rather work with him than anyone!

In my personal life, I am busy with the maintenance of daily life, and feel richly blessed to be a mom.

Gamila: What made you decide to publish picture books?

Caralyn:  My path into this profession was different than most authors.  Mark had a successful book out and was working on another when he encouraged me to put an idea we discussed down on paper, which we took to his editor.  So I came in on his coattails.

Gamila: What authors in your field do you admire? Which of their strengths so you strive to emulate in your own work?

Caralyn:  In this particular field that is  actually a difficult question, because my response to a book is dependent not only on the writing, but also on the art.  Where it seems that I collect the books of an author, it usually means that they are also the illustrator.   Let's talk books instead.
Here's what's coming to mind:

Favorite authors who deal with children's emotions:  Helen Lester,  Kevin Henkes
Best counting book:  MY LITTLE SISTER ATE ONE HARE, by Bill Grossman
Most creative art (other than Mark):  David Shannon
Great collaborators:  Audrey and Don Wood, Steve Johnson and Lou Francher
Best potty book: Wendy Cheyette Lewison's (THE PRINCESS AND THE POTTY)
Best early readers:  Syd Hoff.  Nostalgic, and totally wackadoo.  And the books about Otto (the robot). 
Best books I bought in 2011, both with a fabulous marriage of art and text:  A CHICKEN IN THE FAMILY, THE PRINCESS AND THE PIG
Best little girl book:  FANCY NANCY
Best foreign picture book artist:  Poly Bernatene
Illustrators from the Uk to check out:  Simon Bartram, Rob Scottom

I'd better not get started on the holiday books.

Gamila: The brevity of text in the picture book requires unique storytelling skills. What process did you take to learn this art?

Caralyn:  I spent quite a bit of time in my middle school and high school years writing poetry, and as I've reflected on that, I think it has influenced my writing quite a bit.  I tend to hear - internally, in my head- snatches of phrases, and they work their way into lines of a book.  But  working closely with an illustrator has probably done more for my technique.  It's obvious, when I see how he creates and the freedom he needs, that I don’t have to describe anything when I write, unless I need an quick adjective to shed light on the personality or tendencies of a character.  In fact, it's much better that I don’t.  

Gamila: what is the most rewarding thing about being a picture book author? What is the most discouraging?

Caralyn:  There are three things that I  love about writing picture books.  I love that I can do it at home, I love that I can work with Mark, and I love the people I am able to meet, including, and especially, the children.

The most discouraging thing is when something you feel is a good piece of writing is either rejected outright, or goes out of print.

Gamila: In your Mormon channel interview you expressed how you felt it was important to create safe places for kids in the picture books. I had never considered this idea before. Do you feel that there is a great lack of safe books? Or just an increase in edgy, scary, and crude books (bathroom humor, bad manners, etc.)in the market currently?

Caralyn: Fortunately, there are hundreds of wonderful picture books for children.  There aren't a lot of books that I feel are inappropriate, but the few that are out there always surprise me.   I always prefer a straightforward book to one which might be humorous, but which contains humor that  could really only be grasped by an adult, and I never buy books where I feel like the illustrations are ugly and degrading.   Illustrations should be beautiful in essence, regardless of their simplicity.

Gamila: Your educational background is in family and human development, and you sometimes address family issues on your blog. I would love to hear your thoughts  on how picture books in general can be used to strengthen the family.

Caralyn:  Certainly there's multiple benefits to reading picture books - and chapter books -  with your children.   The first significant benefit, and one that has been amply documented, is the fostering of literacy and language skills.  The interesting thing to me is how research is showing that the benefits may be even stronger if dad is the reader.   Children learn the language they hear,  and they can learn to speak at a much higher fluency level than they can initially read.  So parents should never be afraid to read challenging, longer, or more complex texts aloud.   IF a child is submersed in language, then when he meets it later in written form, it will be easier for him to make the connection and understand what he is reading.

I also believe strongly that training the ear to listen is a skill that needs to be strengthened.  Reading aloud, and reading books where there are few, if any, pictures allows the development of a good visual imagination, as well as a better ability to communicate verbally.    Our media today is saturated with amazing and powerful visual images, but if we aren't careful, we get a diet of visual stimuli without aural development.  I once read that teenagers 25 years ago has a vocabulary of some 25,000 words, and that the teens of today have a vocabulary of about 16,000 words.  This is suggestive of a generation raised in media markets that are designed for mass consumption, instead of being challenged by language that might be more archaic and obscure.  

Learning to listen also requires patience.  A parent who reads a chapter of a book at night helps a child learn to hold still, to focus, and to wait.  Would any school teacher mind having a classroom of children who could sit still and focus, because they had learned how at home?

The actual, physical picture book itself can be instructive as parents and children sample and select those things that appeal to them, and if they can articulate why, it is even better.  The language of a book; the humor;  the art and how it captures the environment or enhances the story; the plot; how the character handles his problems or makes them worse, are all things that can be discussed. Our local library has books set aside each year for the children to vote on for the a state book award.  This year my five-year-old and I are reading our way through the long list of nominees, and discussing each book, why we like it or don't like it, and it's very instructive (at least for me).  

And, of course, the actual physical act of snuggling up together strengthens familial bonds.  it's comforting for both the parent and child, forming a secure, warm place that a parent and child venture to separate from the realities or dismays of life.   I often have no idea what's happening in the video game my son is playing; I'm not in there watching and don't want to be, as long as I feel confident that it's appropriate material.  But when I read to him, or he to me, we are sharing the experience, and for that period of time, we are in the same world, seeing and hearing the same things.

It's no surprise that Strickland GIllian's  (1869-1954) poem, THE READING MOTHER, is so often quoted, although usually only the final four lines (in fact, I think I first remember hearing it in President Benson's talk, To the Mothers of the Church).   But the whole poem is wonderful, so I'm posting it here:

Strickland Gillian
The Reading Mother

 I had a mother who read to me
 Sagas of pirates who scoured the sea.
 Cutlasses clenched in their yellow teeth;
 "Blackbirds" stowed in the hold beneath.
 I had a Mother who read me lays
 Of ancient and gallant and golden days;
 Stories of Marmion and Ivanhoe,
 Which every boy has a right to know.
 I had a Mother who read me tales
 Of Gelert the hound of the hills of Wales,
 True to his trust till his tragic death,
 Faithfulness lent with his final breath.
 I had a Mother who read me the things
 That wholesome life to the boy heart brings-
 Stories that stir with an upward touch.
 Oh, that each mother of boys were such!
 You may have tangible wealth untold;
 Caskets of jewels and coffers of gold.
 Richer than I you can never be --
 I had a Mother who read to me.

Gamila:  Before we end tell us about your most current writing project or most recent release.

Caralyn:  Our next book, SNOWMEN AT WORK, will be in the stores this coming November (2012).   In this installment, whose cheery, happy snowmen are hard at work in all kinds of occupations.  The illustrations are absolutely fabulous, and I'm very excited and pleased. 

Currently Mark is beginning sketches for a Christmas book that I wrote a few months ago.  It's warm and sweet, and I am also very pleased and hopeful about this coming project.

LDSPBP: Caralyn Buehner

Caralyn Buehner
Caralyn never planned on being a professional writer of any sort, but had always received praise for her writing when she was young. She married Mark Buehner, a talented artist who found work illustrating children's books. He suggested that she try her own hand at writing children's books and they have continued to work together creating many picture books, including the New York Times bestsellers, Snowmen at Night and Snowmen at Christmas.
Fanny’s Dream
The story of a down to earth farm girl named Fanny, who dreams of marrying a prince, but the night the her fairy god-mother is supposed to appear Heber shows up instead. He convinces her that she wouldn’t be a good princess, but has all the skills to be a good farm wife. Fanny decides he is right and ends up marrying and starting a family with him. Then one night after her little children are in bed Fanny’s fairy god-mother shows up and offers her a chance to marry a prince, and Fanny realizes that what she has is better than what the fairy god-mother is offering her.  
I thought this story was so cute. It had a refreshing down to earth style that gave the Cinderella story a very clever twist.
The Queen of Style
The Queen realizes that she needs a hobby because  she doesn’t have enough to do. So she starts a beauty correspondence course. She realizes that she needs to practice on real live people so she orders all her subjects to come to the palace to get their hair styled. Next she demands they get manicures, pedicures, and more. Even the sheep get pampered! The peasants finally revolt because they are tired of getting called to the palace each week when they have to work. Finally the Queen realizes that the best arrangement is for her subjects to come when they want to.
Another fun story with bright and active illustrations that helps children to think of others.
Snowmen at Night
A little boy wakes up to finds that his snowman has been moved. He imagines what kind of fun snowmen must have at night when everyone else is a sleep.
The text of this book was simple and clear. The pictures had strong contrast with the snowmen standing out on the dark blue background, which gives the book a very dramatic yet warm feel.  The snowmen have a grand old time when the lights go out at night. I couldn’t hold back a smile when I saw  the illustrations of snowmen having so much fun. 
Snowmen all Year
This is a continuation of the Snowmen series. In this story the narrator dreams of what it would be like to have his snowman stay with him all year along. It is fun to see a cheerful snowman participating in different scenes of summer fun, but this story isn’t all that different from Snowman at Night. For those parents that have children who can’t get enough of the first book it is nice to have another story full of happy snowmen. After reading these I really do just want to smile. The snowmen’s cheer is contagious!
Would I ever Lie to You?
You wouldn’t know which tales to believe either if you had a cousin like Ed. Sometimes he tells the most outlandish stories like about how I was born in a cabbage patch, or that my head was shrinking. On occasions his wild tales are right, like how my aunt can take out her teeth or that you can really hear the ocean inside of a shell. So, when he comes out and tells me that my pie might be poisoned I have to wonder a moment if he is telling the truth. That is until I figure out how to turn the tables back on him.
The text in this one reads out in a wonderful clever rhyme. The relationship between these two cousins is shown in such a humorous way. My husband walked by as I was reading this out loud and laughed. He would be amused since he was the sort of older brother who told his sisters that rain was cloud gnomes spitting on them. Good fun.  
 Other titles not reviewed:
The Escape of Marvin the Ape
A Job for Wittilda
It's a Spoon Not a Shovel
I Did It, I'm Sorry
I Want to Say I Love You
Dex: the Heart of a Hero
Snowmen at Christmas
Goldilocks and the Three Bears
In the Garden

Friday, March 30, 2012

Alloy of Law by Brandon Sanderson

The Alloy of Law by Brandon Sanderson

"Three hundred years after the events of the Mistborn trilogy, Scadrial is on the verge of modernity, with railroads to supplement the canals, electric lighting in the streets and the homes of the wealthy, and the first steel-framed skyscrapers racing for the clouds.

Kelsier, Vin, Elend, Sazed, Spook, and the rest are now part of history, or religion. Yet even as science and technology are reaching new heights, the old magics of Allomancy and Feruchemy continue to play a role in this reborn world. Out in the frontier lands known as the Roughs, they are crucial tools for the brave men and women attempting to establish order and justice.

One such is Waxillium Ladrian, a rare Twinborn who can Push on metals with his Allomancy and use Feruchemy to become lighter or heavier at will. After twenty years in the Roughs, Wax has been forced by family tragedy to return to the metropolis of Elendel. Now he must reluctantly put away his guns and assume the duties and dignity incumbent upon the head of a noble house. Or so he thinks, until he learns the hard way that the mansions and elegant tree-lined streets of the city can be even more dangerous than the dusty plains of the Roughs." (summary from author's website)

Wow, I read this one at the beginning of the year,  as we were given it for Christmas by our Sister-in-Law.  It has been a crazy couple of months, but I am finally getting around to reviewing this novel set in the Mistborn world. My biggest worry going into the Alloy of Law was that it would not meet up to my expectations of the Mistborn world.  The first three books in the trilogy were so incredibly good and so refreshingly epic that I did not know how Alloy of Law was going to stand up in comparison.

I think Sanderson made a very good decision to give his characters less epic powers for this less epic story. I found myself becoming immersed once again in his wonderful fantasy world and discovering new and interesting powers in his magic system. I loved that there were more balls, more witty banter, and more dramatic fight scenes.  The story definitely lived up to my expectations for Sanderson’s writing and for the Mistborn series. My only complaint is that there needs to be a sequel, and I don’t think Sanderson will get around to it for a while yet. He kind of has a lot on his plate currently with trying to keep several different series going.  Still this story was just fun. I totally recommend it to all Sanderson and Mistborn fans.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Monday Musing: Moving

So, the posts on this blog have been pretty sparse because life has gotten pretty hectic the last few months. The last two years my husband has been working in the ER as an Insurance Clerk, and never really enjoyed the environment there. So, he applied for a job in PA and after all the interviews and other hullaballoo that goes on with such things we found out that the company he had applied for was going to extend a job offer.  So on February 3rd we had a little over two weeks to pack up and organize a move over a thousand miles. 

So, I packed and cleaned and herded a little 11 month year old around between packing boxes. I survived without my car for a week because we shipped it ahead a week early. I was very happy to be reunited with the car again, as having a car makes life with an infant so much easier. 

We stayed at the in-laws for two weeks while we waited for our belongings to follow us up to PA. One of the advantages of moving to the area was the fact that we got to be next to family again. Huzzah!  Sera has gotten to spend time with grandparents and the family dog. She is a spoiled child, and loving every minute of it. It took us a bit of time to apartment search, but we finally found a place we like and with a lot of hard work we have finally gotten everything unpacked. We still have some organizing to do, but for the most part everything has a place. I’ve also got some decorating done and the place feels like home. The biggest project left over is to get curtains up, and to find the hubby a dresser.  No more plastic drawers from the college days!  Huzzah!

Besides the move it feels like a lot has happened. My story was a finalist in the Mormon Lit Blitz competition that I mentioned. That was such a wonderful opportunity and I loved reading all the other entries. Sera turned one this past weekend and we had a small family party. Unfortunately we’ve all had a cold this past weekend and she was grumpy for part of it. She preferred to eat peaches over her chocolate cake, strange child!

I am currently focused on getting ready for Easter, trying to make friends, figuring out where to shop for things around here, and generally getting acquainted with this beautiful new place. I hope I can now write and blog more frequently now that we have gotten settled in here.