Weekly Readings V

Weekly Readings V (BETA)

 

T.A.A. Fans Old and New,

Welcome to another edition of Weekly Readings! 

 

Usually, Weekly Readings is when your lit. rat reviews a mix of picture books I’ve read here and there. But this week, I’m focusing on one book in particular- 

 

I Am Otter Cover

I Am Otter (@i_am_otter)

by Sam Garton (@SamuelGarton)

Publisher: Balzer + Bray (An Imprint of HarperCollins)

Pub. Date: April 29, 2014

As Long time T.A.A. fans know, this book was one of our “Most Anticipated Book of 2014” picks during our 2013 celebration of “Picture Book Month” founded and run by author Tara Lazar (Her debut picture book “The Monstore” is available June 4th, 2014) and this is one of the few things in life I have ever pre-ordered, which I can still count on one hand.

 

Your lit. rat has read and re-read this book, and I’m happy to finally be able to say it was worth the wait. But for those of you not yet convinced, or just unaware of this book (and it’s star) allow me to clue you in, but before I go further-

Question, what do “I Am Otter” and Jeff Kinney’s “Diary of a Wimpy Kid” series have in common?

They both began as online “Experiments” that soon attracted many eyeballs across the web, and particularly in the case of Otter, across continents, and soon their now publishers (Amulet Books [U.S.] and Balzer + Bray [imprint of HarperCollins] respectively) approach them for bringing them to print, and the road to this book’s release is a great example of “Out of the Box” marketing that today’s authors and/or illustrators can learn from, but that’s a topic for another time and place… 

 

Anyway, our tittle character has something in common with another famous kidlit character, the iconic Paddington Bear, who also began life anew when he migrated from darkest Peru to England where a mild-mannered family took him in, unaware of the adventures and antics that would await them…  

 

But while P.B. had an established biological family in his native homeland before being taken in by the Brown family, Otter began not knowing where she came from when left on the doorstep of the human (Known as Otter Keeper) who like the Browns, got more than he bargained for…

 

Children from adoptive or blended families can relate to Otter’s initial unease settling in, and like many children, a special toy friend can make all the difference, just like Christopher Robin and Pooh and Co., or a non-wizard Harry had his bucket of dinosaurs, Otter has Teddy, and together with Otter Keeper, they have more fun than you could believe!

 

But as the saying goes, all unbelievable fun has to come to an end, and after a fun-filled weekend, Monday comes, and with that, Otter Keeper goes to work, and despite Otter’s attempts to prevent Monday from coming, it always barges in-   sad dog eyes

This is one of rare books that comes along every so often, where the reader’s not only rewarded with a plucky, well-defined character, but for anyone who had to “Make your own fun” from an early age as I did, can relate to Otter doing her best to pass the time, some ideas working better than others, and yet somehow always involve messes and mayhem, just when the grown-up in your life comes home and there’s nowhere to hide!

 

As with many picture books, facial expressions are very important to highlight the unspoken moments that bring characters alive, and that vital quality is in full view here as subtle lines and shading indicate fear, anger, movement and joy.

While many folks relent (or at least occasionally bummed out) how digital the world of visual arts has become, there’s nothing to fear here.  To me, the best visual artists still achieve this organic warmth to their illustrations, even if the final art to appear in the book was digitally enhanced, or it was digital all along.

 

Even books where technology is inherently modern and integral to the story, that warmth is still there, and vital to the experience. You’ll find that detail throughout.

 

Not since Snoopy, Garfield, or Calvin and Hobbes have I met a character as lively and unique as Otter, may she have a long and lorded life in the literary landscape for many years to come.

Look out, Olivia, there’s a new picture book princess in town. (We still love you, too, though!)

 

While this lit. rat normally prefers to work solo when it comes to our book reviews at T.A.A., this was a title that I wanted some extra POVs on, and with that, I’ll let my friends, Swinebert & Dempsey (who shared in the launch celebration of I Am Otter at the end of April 2014), share their thoughts on Otter, her book, and it how relates to them-

 

Swinebert: This book reminded me of the day I met Ferenc. I used to live on a ranch with my Ma, Pa, and siblings.

Unlike most pigs, we weren’t raised to be…food, but rather for show.Ma was a retired show pig, and Pa worked in movies (Think Babe or Gordy), and to Mr. Gregory we weren’t his “Meal Ticket” in more ways than one, we were his friends, family even.

 

But times got tough  when the human recession of 2008 hit. Mr. Gregory was being pressured to sell the ranch, and sell me, and my siblings for slaughter meat. It was during those scary times I met Ferenc when he was a kid.

 

He not only found a way to save the ranch, but saved me, my sibs, and our folks from being sent to Hog Heaven (By way of a Butcher) and gave Mr. Gregory a new lease on life along with his livelihood.

 

When Mr. Gregory insisted on giving Ferenc a reward for his help, the only thing he wanted, was to take me home.   He had a heck of a time convincing his parents to bring me home, but thank acorns he did.

 

Ferenc also gave me my name, the “Bert” in it came from his favorite uncle, and my new life had begun in earnest…

Ferenc and Swinebert Collage 2 (Left Ferenc & Swinebert as Youth | Right, Ferenc & Swinebert Grown-Up)

For many years we lived in Brooklyn, but after Ferenc grew up and graduated college we moved out to put down our own roots in White Oak Acres, a quiet-looking city-town hybrid in suburbia- Overhead view of White Oak Acres

(Overhead view of White Oak Acres)

winebert and Dempsey's House

 (Swinebert & Dempsey’s House)

Here I would meet my best pal, Dempsey, and make so many new and captivating friends, including Otter.

 

Though we’ve not met outside cyberspace, I knew when I first encountered her when me and Dempsey were getting our barrings on Twitter, she’d fit right in with the folks we know and love offline. 

 

But even though she’s my friend, I’d love the book even if I’d not known her (virtually or otherwise) beforehand, because it reminds me how lucky I am to have Ferenc, and while I’m sometimes ticked off when he leaves me out of cool stuff, he’s there for me when it counts.  The only problem is- TRUG 2

(Swinebert’s Nephew,Trug)

My little nephew Trug (who loved the book, too, after his favorite uncle, ME, read it to him) has fallen in love with Otter, and when I say love, I mean the “Flowers and Chocolate-covered acorns, WILL YOU MARRY ME?” kind of love.

 

Otter, should you read this, can you please give a shout out to my nephew Trug on Twitter? I don’t want to lose my “Coolest Uncle Ever!” status. Swinebert's Signature (FINAL) MINI  Dempsey: Like Swinebert, this book reminded me of the day I met my human, Vermont (Goes by “Vernie”) back when I was a kitten. (This was long before I met Swinebert and his human, by the way)  

 

Vernie (when he was a little boy) originally wanted a dog, but got me instead, and at first he didn’t like me.

I too wasn’t sure I’d like Vernie at first, either, until I saw his room the first time, and saw his bookshelf, filled to bursting with books, except the last shelf on the bottom. (More on that later…)

Vernie loved to read, as did I, that was the first glimmer of hope, but what put my kitty heart at ease was when he was reading a book for school.

 

Vernie had a hard time learning to read, and reading aloud helped him remember it better, one night as he read aloud, I hopped onto the desk to keep him company.   Also, because he was reading a story I wanted to hear for ages. He saw I was engaged and he kept reading to me.

When he finished, I thanked him for telling me the story, and that I could help him read better if he was interested, and if you could’ve seen the look on his face, you’d think he’d won MILLIONS or something.

Anyway, he agreed, and as I helped him read better, we started to connect, the first time he hugged me (Because he WANTED to, not because he was told to) I wanted to cry tears of joy, but we cats aren’t ones for crying (Unless we’re in pain) so I purred instead.

 

I asked him why he didn’t like me at first.

 

He said the last time he met a cat, it was mean to him, and he did nothing wrong to it, and it made him think all cats were mean, but meeting me changed his mind, and I’d already changed my mind about Vernie. No one who loves books as he does (Especially because he struggled with reading in the beginning) can be all bad.

He’s grown up now, and still wants a dog, so S.B. and I’ll probably have a howling new member of the family someday, but Vernie and I are like Otter and Teddy now, true friends and inseparable, until (like Otter Keeper) he has to go to work, but with S.B. and our friends, I’m never bored or lonely.

 

But when I do want my “Alone Time” (which all cats do at some point) I can nap in the bottom shelf of Vernie’s bookcase that I mentioned earlier,  and can look at a picture of Vernie and me when I do miss him, or read a book from my literary collection, but I have to store most of my books in my private library in my and S.B.’s backyard clubhouse-

Swinebert and Dempsey's Backyard Clubhouse

 

(Swinebert & Dempsey’s Backyard Clubhouse)

  All My Anchovies, Dempsey Special Thanks to Swinebert & Dempsey (@Swinebert_and_D) for stopping by to share their opinions (and a bit of themselves) today.   That’s it for Weekly Readings. Next time, we’ll be back to our usual multi-book format.

UPDATE (5/16/14): Giveaway’s over! Winner announced.

 

UPDATE (7/16/14): Watch the video below to hear what the “Critters” say about “I Am Otter” and a sneak peak at where she’s headed next! (Feel free to share it with friends!)

NOTE FROM THE LITERARY RAT: If my ramblings convinced you to buy one or more of the books mentioned above, please support T.A.A. by clicking on the affiliate cover images above or links within the review(s).

I Am Otter (Release Celebration with Swinebert & Dempsey)

I Am Otter

 

 

Today is the release day for “I Am Otter” by Sam Garton, last year T.A.A. named it one of “Most Anticipated Releases for 2014” during our Picture Book Month 2013 celebration (UPDATE 5/6/14: Check out our Review!), I’ve invited my friends, Swinebert & Dempsey (@Swinebert_and_D) to stop by and celebrate-

 

Swinebert: Morning Chicks and Chickies! Today’s a big day for an e-friend of ours and Dempsey and I made this video to celebrate-

Dempsey: Special Thanks to Taurean J. Watkins at Talking Animal Addicts for helping S.B. and I create this video!

CROCODILE FLINT is now on Snippet and MORE

FLINT COVER 3

While I’ve mentioned this elsewhere, I’d been too busy with other stuff behind-the-scenes to formally share here. My first e-publication, Crocodile Flint, is available on Snippet for $1.99 USD-

[sz-youtube url=”https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O_Qghl6ooo0″ /]

Enjoy the OFFICIAL Trailer!

I hope to have another update on GABRIEL (my debut novel) in the coming weeks.

Speaking of Gabriel, you can now chat with him and his “frenemy” Rum (featured in my debut novel) via Twitter! (@GabrielandRum) so give them a shout-out.

 

That’s all for today. But we’re always active on Facebook, Twitter, Google=and of course our YouTube Channel!

Weekly Readings IV

father_cat_reading

It’s been longer than I intended, but it’s time for another edition of Weekly Readings!

For those new here, Weekly Readings is when your lit. rat reviews picture books I’ve read here and there. While T.A.A. focuses on animal stories, we do give humans their due now and again, and one of the books this week does feature one, more on that later…

HENNY

by Elizabeth Rose Stanton (@PenspaperStudio)

Publisher: Paula Wiseman Books (An Imprint of Simon & Schuster)

Pub. Date: January 7th, 2014

In the spirit of Dumbo and the works of Todd Parr, along comes Henny, a chicken born with unusually long arms and hand-like wings!

A great “Okay to be Different” story without getting hokey about it. 

While I often lament the minimalist movement in picture books these days, this book makes great use of minimalism in both words and illustrations. Zeroing in on our heroine and how she makes the most of her unique physique features!

The picture book answer to R.J. Palacio’s middle grade novel “Wonder” with a fantastical fauna twist!

Elizabeth Rose Stanton: This is a debut to be proud of. 

 

Here Comes the Easter Cat

 

 

HERE COMES THE EASTER CAT

Written by Deborah Underwood (@underwoodwriter )

Illustrated by Claudia Rueda

Publisher: Dial

Pub. Date: January 28, 2014

It seems dogs aren’t the only rivals for this cat given the title of the latest from author Deborah Underwood, best known for The Quiet Book” and it’s companion “The Loud Book.” Despite the dominance of cats on YouTube and elsewhere, the “Cat” of this story wants fame that’s beyond the confines of the internet. Cat wants the Easter Bunny’s job, even though its a high maintenance ordeal (the ending will further hammer this home, which I won’t spoil here)

As a dog lover through and through, I found this book charming in my self-made feline rehabilitation program. (That’s a whole other blog post so I won’t elaborate here!) 

The spare and charming illustrations by Claudia Rueda don’t get too cute beyond the expected, and provides warmth and substance to orchestrate this tale that’s simple to read, but HARD to pull off as the author, as a newbie in the picture book landscape from an author standpoint, trust me, it’s harder to pull off than it is to read in this stellar book!

One thing I get concerned with picture books is can the author branch out of the books that made them well known. I haven’t yet read Debroah’s earlier books (yes, I’m in kidlit, but I was mostly focused on novels until couple years ago) but I can say this book safely avoids the dreaded sophomore slump as far as I’m concerned. 

Like Mo Willems “Pigeon” series, this book has great kid-participation appeal and gives pre-readers the chance to “Be the Parent” as the narrator is written like you’re speaking directly to Cat, and he responds via facial expressions and holding up various signs (think Wile E. Coyote of Looney Tunes fame)

For those of you who’ve seen the “Maisy” animated television series (based on the books by Lucy Cousins) you’ll see a similar vibe here, and it just so happens Deborah plans to have future adventures of Cat, and this rat can’t wait (this is the post-mouser era, folks, at least for some of us…)

 

Easter may be some time off (At the time this review is being written) but it never hurts to plan ahead with seasonal titles.

 

Sparky!

Sparky!

Written by Jenny Offill 

Illustrated by Chris Appelhans

Publisher: Schwartz & Wade (An imprint of Random House Children’s Books)

Pub. Date: March 11, 2014

I promsied some human love at the start of this review merry-go-round, and now I can deliver, for while Sparky the sloth, his story would not be possible without the girl who ordered him by mail and gave him his name. Like many kids REALLY wanted a pet, but her (seemingly workaholic) mother insists it has to be low-maintenance, and on a trip to the library, she learns about sloths, a furry creature (that’s the basis for many of the “Bigfoot” legends, that’s just my personal theory) that meets all the criteria-

-Low Maintenance 

-Doesn’t Need to be Walked

-Can’t cause various mischief

(Which one neighbor in the book appreciates)

 

While Sparky can’t do what other pets do, his girl learns to see the best in him in ways no one else can. When you give a dog treats, they’ll eat them all, but with Sparky, you share a cookie, meaning he gets half, than you get the other half!

While first person narration is common in YA and some middle grade fiction, it’s RARE to see first person narrator in a picture book when most often the reader is an adult (or an older tween or teen sibling), but Jenny pulls it off with noticeable skill. Not only from a technical standpoint, but also sounds like the kid narrate this story.

The impressionistic, clay/watercolor hybrid illustrations by Chris Appelhans bring quirky warmth to the experience, and if this style seems familiar for some reason, it might be because Chris did work on “Coraline” the 2009 film adaptation of Neil Gaiman’s novel of the same name. 

Kids with nontraditional pets will get a kick out of Sparky, a sloth that despite being slower than turtles, and more sedate than your eccentric cousin thrice removed after Thanksgiving has more to offer than what the cover image above leads you believe. 

That’s it for Weekly Readings, check back next time!

 

NOTE FROM THE LITERARY RAT: If my ramblings convinced you to buy one or more of the books mentioned above, please support T.A.A. by clicking on the affiliate cover images above or links within the review.

 

A Different Kind of Book Trailer

Fan Book Trailers

Writers, we all know book trailers (When done right and tight) can bring readers a thrilling tease for their book, and we commonly think of book trailers for books we’ve written recently, trailers for books a little long in the tooth can be a great way to recharge and renew interest in backlist titles.

Authors (Such as Katie Davis, who we profiled during Picture Book Month 2013, and created “Video Idiot Boot Camp” where I learned to tackle and eventually embrace the power and reciprocity of video) uses this tactic to great effect.

But for readers, or writers who are pre-published or struggling to build a platform, making book trailers for your favorite books can be a great way to show the author your support and show your potential readers what you’re like through what you love to read.

For authors and illustrators, it’s a great way to support your colleague’s work and helps your visibility as well, especially if you write in the same genre. It’s also a great way to crossover to a new audience and show your current audience and platform in a new light.

 

Recently, I did a trailer for a book I didn’t write, but love and want this first book in a four book series to get more love and attention-

[sz-youtube url=”http://youtu.be/cJIIAcJubZs” userdata=”Taury” /]

 

It’s a way to “promote” T.A.A. and my author brand without it being directly about me or my writing specifically.

Today, I share yet another fan-made trailer for a book close to your Literary Rat’s Heart-

 

[sz-youtube url=”http://youtu.be/dQDJe2b_teY” userdata=”Taury” /]

I’ll soon be writing a feature series on how readers and authors can support the unsung authors and books that don’t get “Bestseller” attention by creating book trailers of books you love, especially if they’re older titles that don’t have ones of their own (In the “Old Days”days when trailers were only for movies)

While I love doing book reviews on T.A.A. and plan to do more in 2014, fan made book trailers are another way to engage your audience and (For authors and/or illustrators) build one’s platform (I prefer to call it “Community”) without pushing yourself in annoying or uncomfortable ways.

This is also positive way we can share our love and fandom to authors and our circle of avid book lovers, be they fellow writers or lay readers.

Since most authors don’t read any comments or reviews of their own books (For varied and personal reasons), this is a way we (Be it author or lay reader) can share our love for their work without the critical factor reviews (Even positive ones) can have.

What do you think of my newest fan book trailer? Please share your thoughts in the comments below. T.A.A. loves hearing from its readers.

That’s all for today. Until Next time, may the fantastical fauna be with you

BIG ANNOUNCEMENT FOR GABRIEL

GABRIEL.POSTER.2.page.002

For weeks I’d been promising more info involving the progress of my upcoming debut novel, Gabriel, and today I can share some sobering, yet exciting news.

Let’s get the sobering news out of the way, and let me first say this: Gabriel is still getting published. But due to circumstance and miscommunication beyond my control, I had to part ways with G8Press, who originally acquired Gabriel in December 2012.

Okay, now the good news, Gabriel as I said will still be published, but now by ALTEN INK, a new publisher created by my (former) editor from G8Press, Debby Alten, who had also help found G8Press but left earlier this month for personal reasons, and because my contract was not honored regarding Gabriel’s release, I was free to withdraw Gabriel and am following Debby to her new venture because she really “Gets” the book, and only makes me want to work all the harder.

As such, I’ve updated the videos I’ve done for GABRIEL so far with the branding of my new publisher, ALTEN INK, which you can see below-

[mvob group=1]

 They’ll also be on both my (Author) YouTube Channel-

http://www.youtube.com/user/taureanjwatkins

 

And on the “Talking Animal Addicts” YouTube Channel-

http://www.youtube.com/user/talkinganimaladdicts

 

For the writers out there, I’ll talk more about what led to this decision at a later date, but that’s all for today. (Or tonight, if you live on EST [Eastern Standard Time] as I do…)

 

I’ll have more news about Gabriel in the coming months.

But you can always find out what’s new with Gabriel and Co. at: http://facebook.com/gabrielandrum

Until next time, may the fantastical fauna be with you.