Picture Book Month – Author Spotlight #3: Two Lost Lights of 2013


Today’s Spotlight will be a little different, and possibly tissue-inducing, but I hope no less inspiring. 


While I’m all for celebrating the variety, depth and daring feats accomplished in picture book art and text today, I want to take this spotlight to give honor and reverence to two author-illustrators who we lost in 2013-



Marc Simont (1915-2013)

I wasn’t as familiar with Marc Simont’s work, at least not directly, but learned some interesting things in doing research.

A few years ago, I wrote a series of stories about a character named Crocodile Flint, a gruff reptilian sleuth with a semi-hard boiled tone, and some of the feedback I got was advising me to read other mysteries for chapter book readers, and one of the books suggested for me to read was the “Nate the Great” series which is a mystery series for emergent readers (Kids 6+), and though the series is written by Marjorie Weinman , it was Marc Simont who did the illustrations for the early books in the series when it debuted in the early 70s-

Nate the Great (1st)


 Today, the series is currently illustrated by Jody Wheeler-

Nate the Great, Where Are You

(Cover for “”Nate the Great, Where Are You?”

to be released in May 2014)


But in addition to illustrating the works of other authors, he also penned and sketched books all his own, most notably his picture book “The Stray Dog” that became a Caldecott Honor book in 2001-


The Stray Dog

 (*Click the cover image above if you’re interested in purchasing)

As for Crocodile Flint, it evolved from being a chapter book to a novelette type story that I will soon be publishing it via the new reading platform called “Snippet” but I’ll share more details on that in the near future.


And speaking of crocodiles…


Bernard Waber (1921-2013)

Lyle Montage #1 Lyle Montage #2

I saved Bernard last for the simple reason that it was the most INTENSE for me personally as an author early on in my career. It was a week after my birthday this year when I heard the news on Facebook, and it truly rocked my world, in a non-awesome way. I still get shaky thinking about it as I type these words. For, much like the death of Maurice Sendak in 2012 (Also in May, ironically enough), this was the most core-shaking author death for me since Brian Jacques (Author of the Redwall series, and my unofficial “Rival”)

Of his many notable books, his most well known are “Ira Sleeps Over” and his series starring “Lyle the Crocodile” which are are a personal favorite of mine. What I love most about the Lyle series is how even though Lyle never speaks, you still feel you know him. He’s the kind of character where actions and expressions say all you need to know, and despite the “distant” narrator, it doesn’t feel like you being told what Lyle thinks and feels, and anyone whose tried to write a tight first person or close third POV know this is NOT easy to do.

While picture books are usually in third person, and often past tense, there are some in eithe first person, and even second person (If You Give A Mouse A Cookie), that with a skilled author can bring freshness to the narrative and it’s adjoining illustrations without being pretentious.

That said, it’s not easy to use a detached narrator and avoid the issue of readers not feeling connected to the characters or being told how they feel.

Of course, back in the days of silent films, this was a common way stories were told visually, with an occasional caption in the place of spoken dialogue (For those of you saw my original welcome video for T.A.A., the last bit at end was a riff on old silent movie dialogue cards)

But the advantage of picture books (And by extension, Comics and/or Graphic Novels) is to use visuals to express what words alone either can’t convey, or are unable to within the vocabulary and word count constraints inherent in picture books especially.

This is made more impressive by the charming illustration style and how facial expressions really pop.

While some “Modern” picture books can take it to task in the wake of the “Minimalist” movement of books in general this first decade in the 21st century, for me, this is a case where the old-fashioned feeling of the story is its strength, rather than as a liability.

The word “Dated” has negative connotations in publishing, but to me, what really dates a book isn’t necessarily slang (Though is a legit concern, especially in novels), but it’s stance to the reader.

For me, the most enjoyable picture books are the ones where as clearly labored and thought out they may be, they never read self-conscious to neither the kids or the parents (Or other family members) who share the story together.

It had always been my hope that I’d get my Lyle books signed, and shortly after learning of his death, I went to “The Book Beat” (An independent bookstore in my home state of Michigan) and bought a signed hardcover of “Lyle and the Birthday Party” and will be a cherished part of my personal library, and will NEVER sell it! (Short of financial desperation or family inheritance)


For a chatty, detail freak like myself, when you can relate so pogiantly to a character who doesn’t speak, you can’t help but say “WOW!” if only to yourself.

Being primarily a novelist, taking away a character’s ability to speak in WORDS for me is like taking a kid’s favorite toy without asking, cruel and jarring, but it also inspires me to better pay attention to facial ticks and unspoken (yet still RELEVANT) feelings of my characters.

Vital for picture books, but still apply to novels, though there’s more freedom of structure and word choice because of the larger canvas you have. In short, I’ll miss you, Bernard Waber, but I thank you for bringing your books into this world.

I came to the joy of picture books later than many, but I know that I’d be just as charmed by Lyle at 4, as I am now at 26, with no kid siblings or kids of my own (Yet…) to hide behind.

My site may be called “Talking Animal Addicts” but Lyle shows us that animals (real or imagined) still have a voice. This is merely a voice you need to feel and see rather than hear.

Have you Marc Simont’s “The Stray Dog” or Bernard Waber’s “Ira Sleeps Over” or one (if not ALL) the Lyle books, and any of his other books? If so, please share your thoughts in the comments. Your literary rat loves to hear from you.

We’ll lighten up the mood on our next spotlight with highlighting picture

books by authors and/or illustrators who made their debut in 2013.


Until then, may the fantastical fauna be with you.

T.A.A. CARES – Author Spotlight #2 – Julie Hedlund’s Epic Hybrid Author Adventure

As I mentioned last week, T.A.A. CARES is kicking into overdrive for the winter holidays, and in honor of Picture Book Month, our next author spotlight is children’s author Julie Hedlund-

Photo-2-crop (Julie Hedlund Mini)

(Meet Julie, the ORIGINAL “Guru of Gratitude”)


I first discovered Julie when she first guest starred on an episode of “Brain Burps About Books” (Episode  #78, to be exact, which you can listen to here: http://katiedavis.com/78), the #1 podcast about the business and craft of Children’s Publishing, founded and hosted by author-illustrator Katie Davis, who discovered Julie by following her progress back in her “Pre-Published” days as a blogger who back in January 2012 fueled the spark of the picture book writing challenge known as 12×12 (Now in its second year) that has already become a living phenomenon for picture book authors and illustrators the world over.


For those still unaware, 12×12 is a writing challenge specifically for picture book writers and author-illustrators. It’s a YEAR long program designed to provide support, tips and tricks, and inspiration to the writers who participate. Anyone who’s tried to write a picture book will tell you that it’s NO CAKEWALK (What is a “Cakewalk” anyway?) To put it bluntly, and forgive the cliché, it’s harder than it looks. Really.

In some ways, 12×12 is like the picture books writer’s equivalent to NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month that begin in November 1999 and been held yearly every November since), in terms of an active community support from fellow writers, the event’s founders, and over the years various bestselling authors providing pep talks, and sometimes taking on the challenge themselves.

Some authors even BEGAN their emerging careers via NaNoWriMo, though not necessarily debuting or otherwise publishing the books they originally drafted during NaNoWriMo.

But there’s  one KEY difference to keep in mind. Unlike NaNoWriMo, or similar MONTHLY events like PiBoIdMo (National Picture Book Idea Month)  where you just have to jot down 30 IDEAS for picture books, not full drafts, or NaNoEdMo (National Novel Editing Month, Originally Founded in April 2003, and has since occurs yearly in March), 12×12 is a YEAR LONG program where the goal is to draft as CLOSE to 12 picture books that you can get, and at those who register in early January are eligible fabulous prizes, and introduced in 2013 was the chance to get critiques from agents, editors, and published authors that can help take your manuscripts to the next level. But you NEED to register in early January to be eligible, and on that note, and there’s something else that’s to key to remember.

Starting in 2013, 12×12 (Which was free its inaugural year) has evolved to a tiered-payment model, partly because year-long events take a LOT of planning, administration, moderating, rounding up authors, agents and editors to lend their expertise and support that takes them away from their own work, and yes, a fair amount of money, for the running of the site and its community, and being able to offer such rad prizes for the writers who take part.

Also because while this event can help writers, writers are also in business, and like in any other career, we balance our charity GENEROSITY (Things we gladly give away to our blog readers, newsletter subscribers  close writer friends, etc.) and things we charge for to maintain our livelihood.

Keep in mind that many writers are also parents, have spouses, and often have to work two or MORE jobs for the bulk of their income. Not all authors are able to earn a living solely through their writing.

I’m not a parent or married, but I STILL HAVE issues with finances, or lack thereof, and like Julie, I too am trying to find ways that will earn me income without putting my writing dreams on indefinite hold.

Something a few of my writer friends (Who are parents and in some cases caring for their own now elderly parents) are being forced to do. Authors provide services that  allow them to stay in the business of publishing, even if the path to selling your first book (Or your second, third, or 20th) is LONG.

PiBoIdMo (National Picture Book Idea Month) is also run in a similar manner regarding eligibility for the prizes author and the end. Though PiBoIdMo, and most other writer challenges are free to participate, some like NaNoWriMo appreciate donations to both keep the site (and it’s conjoined community) running as smooth as possible, and to give back to worthy causes.


It’s on that note I get to what I ask my T.A.A. readers to do to help support Julie. In addition to founding and hosting her 12×12 picture book wiring challenge; she’s a regular contributor to the “Brain Burps About Books” podcast, got repped by a literary agent, published her first picture book APP called “A Troop is a Group of Monkeys” illustrated by Pamela Baron, is now also available in print, both from Little Bahalia Publishing, and contributes to CBI’s “Fighting Bookworms” clubhouse community (For paid subscribers of the monthly Children’s Book Insider newsletter) as their “Guide to the Future of Publishing.”



She’s also a SCBWI member (As am I, though my membership expired this month and I have to wait until December to renew…[Sigh])


Her (Potentially) next picture book is a bedtime verse tale called “My Love for You is the Sun” will also be published by Little Bahalia Publishing, but here’s the twist, being a small press, Little Bahalia can really worth directly with authors in a personal,  more intimate way that larger publishers often can’t, partly due to their larger overhead costs, unless you’re one of their bestsellers (And even then there are countless variables involved on a per author basis), but what larger publishers can lack in being more personable with their authors, can (At least PARTLY) make up for in wider distribution, better line up reviews on sites like The Horn Book, Kirkus, and School Library journal, connecting with library systems nationwide, and some significant marketing efforts in addition to whatever authors do on their own.


Plus, larger publishers (I don’t mean JUST “The Big 5” Folks!) are also high-end indie publishers like Candlewick Press, Chicken House, Nosy Crow, and FARRAR, STRAUS AND GIROUX (aka The ORIGINAL “F.S.G.”) having more pull in brick and mortar retailers, which for print books (ESPECIALLY in the children’s book market) is a BIG DEAL.


Ebooks have their place, and are a strong preference for some teens and adults, especially if space for print books is limited, etc. But children by and large (And adults, myself included) still prefer print books, and in picture books especially, are still the preference of teachers and parents, especially the “rare few” who are able to make time to read to their kids, day or night!


In order for Little Behalia to publish, “My Love for You is the Sun” they need additional funding for the illustrations, and final production costs they can’t cover alone, and Julie (With assistance from her agent) worked out a deal with Little Bahelia Publishing to start a Kickstarter campaign to earn the needed funds, which would allow Little Behalia to add this book to their future release list.


Here’s what I ask of you, my loyal readers (Especially if any of you are authors or have blogs tied to children’s books, parenting, or literacy) to spare some time (And Money if possible) to Julie’s crowdfunding campaign on Kickstarter-

 (FYI, that GORGEOUS ILLUSTRATION is only ONE of the 20+ pages of art to accompany the final printed book)


As with my previous spotlight for “FETCH” this is a project I believe in, and I know from following Julie since 2012, she is a writer you can trust. I would NEVER spotlight projects on T.A.A. CARES if they didn’t come from real people who put their trademark grit and heart into it.

Even though publishing is a business (Which is hard for me to type because I feel it can have negative connotations due to the jerky scammers that sadly do exist from time to time. It’s NOT always “Lack of will to work hard” but “Lack of MONEY!” which isn’t the same as saying “I don’t want to pay for good help” but I just can’t fund it all alone. Period.), writers still need to put PASSION into what they do.

Potential readers, especially kids and teens, know when you’re not genuine. While authors need to have tightly written stories to warrant the costs of publication (ESPECIALLY authors who self-publish with no help from a publisher) they still NEED the love and passion ONLY THE AUTHOR can provide. But even the most business-savvy authors can’t do it ALL ALONE!

Kickstarter (Among a few other sites) is another way for authors who can’t head up the costs to publishing themselves, and because Kickstarter’s platform is “All or Nothing” if the total needed funds aren’t meant, the project “fails” and all donations are returned to their respective donors. (Called “Backers” on Kickstarter)

To crack down on jerky scammers, and to aid in avoiding various integrity issues, Kickstarter also has to screen and approve proposed projects, so you need to be sure your proposal covers EVERYTHING, and like with traditional publishers and literary agents, projects can be rejected, but once the project’s approved, you’re in the system, and from there it’s up to you to ensure you do all you can to promote the project (In a sane NON-spammy way!), and let fate do the rest…


As an soon-to-be published author myself (Also via the small press route) it allows me to give back to authors on the same path as me. To deliver the most genuine and passion-soaked stories I can to share with the world, and (While I do want to make some money) I long for the day to receive a letter (Paper or iPad) from a kid or teen who fell in love with a book I’d written, just as the authors I love and admire touched my heart and inspired me to be part of this wonderful tradition of storytellers.

In closing, my loyal readers, I ask you to spread the word, and if you can, spare whatever money you can to ensure that like FETCH, “My Love for You is the Sun” finds its way not just to publication, but to the readers (Young and old) who need it most. You know I will.

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



Musical Musings #2 Southern Fried Retrospective with Rising Sun Swing? (Double Feature Edition)

Since Musical Musings was M.I.A. for a couple weeks, this week is a double feature, usually I review a couple albums of music each week, but this time, you’re getting an in-depth look on four albums that are a mainstay in my listening library. 

First, I’m spotlighting another album by the rebels of Folk Rock, The Carpenters, Lovelines.

(Click the Album Pic Above to find on Amazon)

Those who remember my debut Musical Musings review know I’m a fan of the folks who knew how to sing about love without being derogatory and tasteless, yet still honest and avoid unrealistic saccharine censoring.

While some of their signature love songs made it into their Singles compilation, it’s here in Lovelines where Karen’s vocals show all the facets and forms love can take.

Not just the “At first sight Puppy Love” or “Being out of love after betrayal and loss” but 

More so than than their “Love Songs” compilation, I feel Lovelines best shows all the ranges and ways love can bring people together, pull them apart, and the gray and shady drama and trauma in-between.

Highlights from this album-

It’d be sad if the title song in the album didn’t rock, but this one does, and I think it’s no less relevant now, and unlike some of their more well known songs, this doesn’t sound “dated” though personally, I embrace the dated when it’s for the good of  the music and done right, but this song is a happy medium for the modern day cool kids as they were for the teenyboppers of yesteryear.

It’s like “The Beach Boys” but Carpenters-style, yet less high school surf n’ turf and more classy and mature, but still with the fun hooks and bridges.

“If We Try”
I dare you to listen to this and not feel the need to call an old flame, if you have one, I don’t, but it makes me want to write about one. Again, mature and tasteful, with slow tempo with mild hook and slide.

“You’re The One”
A song for those us who found or (Like me) will find the one long after high school, it’s different, but still special.

“Honolulu City Lights”
I love the rhythm and hooks in this song, and unlike a lot of songs with a nod to Hawaii, it’s not stereotypical, and you don’t feel the “Tacky Steel Drum Effect” as much as I love steel drums in general, but you know what I mean, right?

Slow Dance
Think Modern Sadie Hawkins or senior Prom, and by modern I do mean 21st Century, as long as your music is not mandated to have rapping or direct inclinations to S.E.X.

Sometimes, imagining is better than exact imaging, at least a prude romantic like me thinks so.

On a scale of 1 to 10, Lovelines by The Carpenters gets my highest score of 10! Need a good love song for date night or just because, you can’t go wrong with the songs in this album.

Next, we’re heading to the trippy side of the south for the compilation from The Indigo Girls, Retrospective.

(Click the Album Picture to Find it on Amazon)

Somehow, this dynamo due of offbeat yet relevant tunes manage to tread the lines between personal and universal, something that struggling writers like myself find more an esoteric fortune cookie-esque snipped of babble that’s near impossible to strive toward as a tangible goal, but at least far as how this albums sounds for this newcomer in music reviewing, they’ve achieved this mythic balance with the songs put together in this collection.

Favorites of mine include-

“Power of Two”
This feels like an effortless jam session between two performers who are at home with their sound, in that rare kind of chemistry that’s hard to find between musicians themselves, and even harder to convey to the listeners on the other end, and for me, is a favorite in this collection, I don’t often go a month, if not a week, playing this song.

Makes me want to rekindle my lost love for the history behind the artist most famous for this name.

A classic, yet modern take on the song of rebellion, whether teen or not, one of the few rebel songs that I feel can speak to teens and adults the same, but in different ways.

“Get Out The Map”
Road Trip Rock at it’s finest.

This is the “Country” album is for folks who think they don’t like country. It’s less raw jug band and more southern acoustic R&B, yet not as morbid as some classic rhythm and blues songs are known for.

On a scale of 1 to 10, The Indigo Girls Compilation, Retrospective gets a solid 8.

For fans of the more raw Country fare, a solid contender is Carolyn Wonderland’s Album, Miss Understood.

(Click the Album Picture to Find it on Amazon)

“Long Way To Go”
Peppy beat, light pith to the lyrics, and Carolyn’s signature attitude makes the song work, without coming off too brutish, hard to do in this style of music that in many ways demand raw and rough, but as proven here, polish doesn’t have to tarnish passion, harder perhaps, but not impossible.

“I Found The Lions”
Feisty and Fierce, just don’t watch “The Lion King” right after listening to this, it might be a bit off putting, to say the least.

“Walk On”
A bit short, but fun and peppy, good for a road trip, even if that’s just to the mall and back.

“I Don’t Want to Fall For You”
If you need a “Down in the Dumps” slow love ballad, without the word “Dog” in it, Carolyn’s playing your song here.

“Trouble in the City”
Solid Narrative Blues Ballad with a light jazz tinge.

“Feed me to The Lions”
Nice, but again, don’t listen to this before watching “The Lion King.” It just feels…wrong somehow. Good song, though.

On a scale of 1 to 10, Carolyn Wonderland’s Miss Understood gets a sultry 7.

Last, but far from least, is the (So far…as of the original posting of this review) the ONLY album available in the U.S. by a new favorite group of mine, the now sadly disbanded, Our Love to Stay: Telepatia.

(Click Album Pic to find on the U.S. iTunes store, as of the original posting of this review, this can only be bought in the U.S. via iTunes)

For those who enjoyed my video Musical Musings some time ago, this is a group I love and listen to on a regular basis.

If names like Armstrong, Gershwin, Mancini, or Sinatra mean anything to you, or even if you’ve no idea who I’m talking about, but are a novice Jazz fan, this is an album you need to own, even if you’re literal understanding of Japanese is limited at best.

You don’t need to be fluent in the language to hear the heart and synergy of this album, and for those of you whose only knowledge of 
Japanese music and musicians are traditional Enka ballads (Think Japanese-Style Opera, but often sad like the old Chicago Blues) or J-Pop from anime or that one Studio Ghibli movie you know and love (Some of which is quite stellar) this is a good primer for seeing how non-Americans portray Swing Jazz in the spirit of the artists mentioned above.

While this is classified as “J-Pop” on iTunes, think Jazz here.

Favorite songs for me include-

Once again, the title song delivers and is worthy of being the lead off track.

“Give You all of My Love”
If Sinatra or Ella Fitzgerald could sing and song-write in Japanese, this is what it might sound like.

“Anatawo Aishite Yokatta”
Hip-Hip meets lounge swing in classic “Our Love to Stay” fashion.

While it’s sad this stellar combo have parted ways, what’s even sadder is that their albums prior to and post this one are not yet available in the U.S. So, if you grow to love this swing revival band as much as I do, give the iTunes store further incentive to rectifying this by buying this album and sending feedback to Apple (Amazon too!) that you want the entirety of this band’s work available to download in the U.S. and Canada, or wherever you live outside Japan, since at the time of this review, importing’s the only sure way, and while I’d be willing to do that myself at some point, the shipping makes it cost prohibitive as far as impulse, hassle-free buying’s concerned.

That said, on a scale of 1 to 10, Telepatia by Our Love to Stay is gets my second 10 this week.

This concludes this special double feature edition of Musical Musings.

Until Next Time,
Rock on, Swing Low, and Cruise the long proverbial road to your own playlist.