Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Let the Magic Begin… by Mike Ciccotello

This past Sunday morning, my family headed to the mall. We needed to get a Mickey Mouse lunchbox for one of our twin boys. We had a very busy day planned and needed to get in and out as soon as possible. No problem.

When you get up early with your little ones everyday, you tend to feel like it’s later than it actually is. Of course we didn’t think to check store hours and got to the mall early, not too early, but we had a 20 minute wait.

In order to keep the boys occupied, we went to look through all of the windows of the surrounding stores. Our one son got excited every time an employee opened the gate of a store and ducked under. He screamed, “THEY’RE OPEN, DADDY!” His brother also screamed with excitement. Each time that happened, I had to explain why they were not open yet. We had to wait.

The boys were getting tired of daddy doing “race-car stroller” and the “drive-by high-fives” to mommy. We could see they didn’t want to look at the store windows any more. We were nearing the inevitable meltdown and I was starting to get impatient. Suddenly, there was movement at Disney. A woman started opening the gate. We jumped up and wheeled the stroller over to the door. An authoritative hand shot up halting us in our tracks. The woman said, “You can’t come in yet.” 

Now, I was about to have a meltdown … didn’t she know how much we had to get done today? Didn’t she know that we had already been waiting here for twenty minutes? Didn’t she see that we had twin toddlers on the brink of a meltdown… and me too?

In my head I was thinking, “Lady, we need to get the lunchbox and go… and speaking of lunchbox, you’d BETTER have it in stock.”

So… we wait. The authoritative woman calmly rolls out a podium with two red ribbons hanging on either side. She puts the podium in the middle of the entrance of the store. She ties each ribbon, from either side of the podium, to their respective wall. I’m thinking, “Great… of all the days we needed to rush in and get a lunchbox, we picked the Disney Event Day… AWESOME.” 

A second woman came up and stood behind the podium. My frustration was at it’s limit. The first woman spun around to our boys, as if a light switch just flipped on, and spoke directly to them… “Hi what's you're name?” My wife and I looked at each other. Mesmerized, we watched. Our boys were both smiling. They were shy and didn’t answer. So we all got down on their level and helped them along and answered some questions. 

The woman asked if they knew a magic word to open the store. We responded, “Ala-Kazaam!” She tried saying it, but it didn’t open the store.

She suggested the boys wear Mickey’s hat and robe. Instantaneously, she put the hat on one twin and the robe on the other.

Then the nice woman gave them special necklaces with Mickey, The Sorcerer’s Apprentice on them, and she asked them to help her say the magic words to open the store. She said it should be what Mickey would say. She pointed to the podium. There, on the podium, was an open book. It had an illustration of Mickey as the Sorcerer’s Apprentice with some words written…

Together, we read the words aloud, “Let the Magic Begin…”

I know we all have busy schedules and need to keep up with the fast pace of the day, but if you take a moment to slow down and look at things from a child’s perspective, then you can let the magic begin…

We had a lot of fun in the store, we got the Mickey Mouse lunchbox, and believe it or not, we finished everything that needed to get done that day. 

Represented by Rachel Orr
For more info contact 

Twitter: @ciccotello 
Instagram: @ciccotello 

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Child (Literature) Support by Jason Kirschner

So.  You’ve got a book coming out.  Or maybe your friend does.  Or your critique partner? Or maybe it's your social media pal that you’ve never met in person but you feel like if you lived closer that you’d BFFs forever and hang out all the time. (Odds are that if it's the last one, you've got a problem — but that’s another blog.) What are some of the ways you can support that book to give it it’s best shot at sales success? 

I’ve been thinking about this recently.  I had a book out last year and, while it sold some copies, it didn’t break any records if you know what I mean.  Now I’ve got some friends (yes—I have friends. You're jerks for thinking I didn’t.) who have books that have been recently released and I want to support them.  These friends include fellow D2PB bloggers Barbara DiLorenzo and Patrica Keeler.  (See — they’re friends!) I’m trying to take what I learned from my first book release and apply those lessons to them.   This list is, by no means, exhaustive.  I’m sure there are things I’ve forgotten or things I just haven’t figured out yet but here’s what I’ve got:

1)Buy the book. 
DO IT (if you can)!  I try to support all my friends in their endeavors.  Which also means I end up buying a bunch of books.  I will say, sometimes my wife looks at me funny (not ha-ha funny) when I’m making a huge book purchase —mainly because we’ve run out of room to put them.  If that’s something you're not able to do, go grab it from the library and read it over and be proud of your friend’s accomplishment.

2)Talk to the library.
Pretend those are books in her hands instead of shampoo.
If you are at the library and you don’t see your friend’s book, you march right over to the children’s librarian and you ask who’s in charge of ordering books.  You tell them kindly, but forcibly, to order your friend’s amazing book and put it on their shelves! You’d be surprised at how many librarians would love to hear a good recommendation for an addition to their collection.  And they talk to each other— so maybe your librarian will talk to another librarian about the book. They’ll tell two friends, and they’ll tell two friends.  It’s like that shampoo commercial from the 70’s. You’ll be doing a public service by getting a good book out there for all to read.  You’re a hero now. Happy?

3)Show up. 
If you live locally and can attend a launch party or a book signing, do it.  Your author/illustrator friend will be so pleased that you did. I mean it.  There were people that showed up to some of my events that I hadn’t seen in years and it meant more to me than I know how to communicate.  You do not have to buy a second copy. I promise.  I’ll also add that we’ve all had the book event that no one shows up to and deep down inside, it can be heartbreaking. Don’t do that to your buddy.  Bring your kids. Sometimes, there are even cookies. COOKIES.  Who doesn’t love cookies?

4)Talk it up.
Tell your friends and loved ones and people on the street about this book.  Lend your copy out to friends with kids. Word of mouth really helps with these things and people love a book that they have some connection with — however tenuous it is. 

I can't help it.  That's my face. I was born that way.
5)Talk it up —Internet Style - Part One.
Do post about your pal’s book on social media. Hold up the book and take a picture with it or a shot of your kids reading it.  Or repost a great review from PW or Kirkus.  Don’t cram it down people’s throats.  Sometimes a pic and a blurb are enough.

6)Talk it up - Internet Style - Part Two.
If you've got a blog or access to a blog, do a post about your amigo’s book. It can help.  Most kidlit blogs are great sources of knowledge and can also be a cornerbIock for building great kidlit communities. I will say, however, that sometimes I feel like we’re just selling to ourselves.  I think the things we see again and again on kidlit blogs sometimes have little bearing on what the outside world is seeing. But I digress.

7)Review it.
I actually think this one might be the most important and it probably takes the least amount of time and effort. Go to and and any other review site, and review your friend’s book.  Go give them 5 stars and write a nice description of why you love it.  These reviews and rankings can be so important to sales and noticeability.  We can argue over the finer points of these things another time. There are always going to be jerks who write really crappy things and troll a book with 1 star so be the other end of the spectrum and bring the average back up.  It’s emotionally gratifying for your author/illustrator friend to read too.
3 Stars isn't awful. Those are some of my fave bad reviews for Mr. P.

There’s always more you can do but I think that’s a pretty good list to start with. Be proud of you friend.  You all know that making a book is hard.  Spread the word and I’m pretty certain that your friend will do the same for you when your book comes out.  And go support my friends and review Patricia’s Lizzie and Lou Seal and Barbara’s Renato and the Lion.  And if you’ve got another free second, go review Mr. Particular.  It’s never too late.

By day, Jason is an emmy nominated set designer for television, with credits that include Harry, The Meredith Vieira Show, Late Night with Conan O’Brien, and The Late Show with David Letterman. By night, Jason is an author and illustrator of children's books. You can find his debut picture book, Mr. Particular: The World's Choosiest Champion on shelves in bookstores everywhere. See Jason's work, both illustrations and set designs,  at . Follow him on instagram @jkirsch118. 

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Easter Eggs in RENATO AND THE LION - By Barbara DiLorenzo

Recently when I visited the Trenton Circus Squad, I noted how the performers not only had skill, but behind the scenes, before emerging onstage, I could see them pop wheelies on their BMX bikes. It occurred to me that they not only knew what they were doing, but they were having so much fun doing it, they didn't care if their moves took place in front or behind the curtain. To me, making a book can be that way too. Research for RENATO AND THE LION was so fascinating to me, yet I couldn't fit everything into the storyline. So, to satisfy myself, I hid Easter Eggs throughout. That was my version of having fun with my work, whether folks saw it or not. For folks unfamiliar with the Easter Egg concept, according to Wikipedia:

"An Easter egg is an intentional inside joke, a hidden message, or a secret feature of an interactive work (often, a computer programvideo game or DVD menu screen). The name is used to evoke the idea of a traditional Easter egg hunt.[2] The term was coined to describe a hidden message in the Atari video game Adventure that led Atari to encourage further hidden messages in later games, treating them as Easter eggs for players to find."

The above illustration includes a few Easter Eggs. Before explaining each of the dotted circles, I should explain that the illustration contains a thematic Easter Egg. My character, Renato, leaves Naples in 1944 with his family on the U.S.A.T Henry Gibbins, bound for New York, where they were then transported by train to a camp in Oswego, NY. This in itself is another whole story, which I had no room to tell in 44 pages. The Henry Gibbins was the one and only rescue mission of refugees to American soil by President Roosevelt during World War II. Originally intended to rescue 1,000 Jewish refugees, approximately 100 people were not Jewish:

"The final tally from the ship's log of 983 refugees included Jews from 18 countries and 108 Roman Catholics, Protestants and Russian and Greek Orthodox. Listed upon their arrival in New York as ''U.S. Army casual baggage,'' each had to sign papers promising to return to Europe when the war was over. Fewer than 100 actually did."

I point out that not all the people on board were Jewish because it was very important to me that this storyline work for a Jewish or Christian boy and his family. When I was in Italy, I met a bookseller that was age 7 in 1944, and he described his Jewish grandmother living on the same street as the rest of the Catholic family. This strengthened my gut feeling that Renato could have been of mixed decent, Jewish or Catholic. It's hard to articulate exactly why I wanted the storyline to work in both threads. To me, World War II in Europe is about 6 million innocent lives lost due only to heritage. After watching documentaries and researching history related to this storyline, I am overwhelmed by the loss of Jewish life. It is out of respect that I didn't feel entitled to tell a story solely from the Jewish perspective. Being married into an Italian family, and living in a predominantly Jewish community on the Upper East Side of Manhattan for three years, I feel that the two cultures are so similar in many ways–food and family! But I am neither Italian or Jewish, though I happily wedge myself into my friend's family-centered cultures when I can. So Renato may be whatever you want him to be–the history matches up either way.

In the ship's register, there were two Renatas and two Renates. I was happy to find names so close to Renato!

Ruth Gruber was the person tasked with guiding the refugees safely to America. She was the youngest person in the world (at the time) to receive a doctorate. This is from Wikipedia:

"In 1944, she was assigned a secret mission to Europe to bring one thousand Jewish refugees and wounded American soldiers from Italy to the US.[7] Ickes made her "a simulated general" so in case the military aircraft she flew in was shot down and she was caught by the Nazis, she would be kept alive according to the Geneva Convention.[8] Throughout the voyage, the Army troop transport Henry Gibbins was hunted by Nazi seaplanes and U-boats. Gruber's book Haven: The Dramatic Story of 1000 World War II Refugees and How They Came to America was based on case histories she recorded as she interviewed the refugees." –

Ruth was alive when I wrote this story, and I was very eager to meet her. A critique partner put me in touch with a close friend of hers, but at the time, she was too frail for visitors. In November of 2016, Ruth passed away at the age of 105. 

I was able to speak with a person she helped across the Atlantic. Doris Schechter was a young child evacuating Europe with her family in 1944. In her book, AT OMA'S TABLE, she recounts that when the ship arrived in America, on the same day, Anne Frank and her family were betrayed to the Nazis (August 3, 1944). Above you can see an old newspaper photo of Doris, arriving safe in the United States (eating a hot dog!). Doris went on to create MY MOST FAVORITE FOOD, a restaurant on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. I ate there with the same critique partner, Mona Kanin, and Michael Patrick Hearn–her friend who was trying to put me in touch with Ruth Gruber. The food was outstanding!

While doing research on this incredible element of history, I discovered about a half dozen different spellings of the ship's name. In the end, U.S.A.T. Henry Gibbins was the name of the boat on the day of their journey–though it changed in the 1950's to U.S.N.S. Henry Gibbins. I've seen reputable sources spell it Gibbons as well. But when the hat was made for the veterans, I figured that name was the most dependable. Veterans know what the name of their boat was!

This is just one illustration in the book. Not every page is as packed with hidden information. But there are many other Easter Eggs to discover. I am revealing one a day in a ten-day countdown to the book's release. But I also plan to elaborate on all of this history in school/library/conference visits. If nothing else, it makes the journey of bookmaking that much more fun. 

by Barbara DiLorenzo
Come by and celebrate on June 25, 2017
From 1-3pm at Books of Wonder
18 W 18th St, New York, NY 10011

Barbara is represented by Rachel Orr of the Prospect Agency.
Twitter: @wavepaint
Facebook: @BarbaraWillcoxDiLorenzo

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

NJSCBWI17 Conference Wisdom by Diana Ting Delosh

This past weekend I attended the NJ SCBWI June Conference and I thought I'd share some conference wisdom. As usual this conference was both exhausting and inspiring and full of networking opportunities. Some of the following is from attending conferences over the years and some  from this specific conference.

What I brought to the conference: portfolio, 2 picture book dummies (attached to portfolio w/ ribbon per conference specs) and postcards.
• Sign up for all that's appropriate for you. And have the wisdom to bow out of something if you realize it's not, hopefully while you can still get some money back. 

• Clear your schedule for the week before the conference. I had planned to be ahead on my projects but as usual life happens. I was glad I had the last week to catch up on most of the things I wanted to do for the conference without pulling all nighters. On the other end, try not to have anything important the week after.  I still feel like road kill, albeit recovering road kill. Preferably no deadlines due the week you come home. 

• Go with an open mind. Sure I had plans to meet or touch base with agents, editors and art directors. After all, it is a conference known for it's networking opportunities. But I had no expectations beyond that. Which meant no pressure. Yay!

Here's my piece for the 2017 conference Juried Art Show. The theme was: MISCHIEF. Squirrel and Blue Jay are up to some mischief. It also happens to be a a spread from my picture book dummy, A Beast in the Woods, © Diana Ting Delosh. 
Keynote Speaker - author/illustrator Stephen Savage: 
MOVE-  Keep moving on your project, even if it's only 15 minutes a day. That way you don't lose the thread of your project. Move, in the literal sense. Physical movement; helps generates new ideas and solutions.

Portfolio Building - Maria Middleton, Art Director
Your portfolio (physical & online) should have a clear narrative. Ask yourself: What is the story I am trying to tell? Your portfolio should SHOW your answers. IE: I am an illustrator that does _______ style of art. I like to create _____ . This is what makes me special. Be aware of what you want to do and show it. YOU are in charge of your destiny not the art director.

Closing Speaker - author, David Lubar:
Keeps a note posted by his computer: How Badly do you want it? I think, I will do the same.

My Illustrator's Intensive piece for David DeWitt's session.
School Fears © Diana Ting Delosh -Ink, watercolor, digital.