Sunday, June 30, 2013

Book Review | One Year in Coal Harbor by Polly Horvath

Hilarious, witty, and endearing, One Year in Coal Harbor by Polly Horvath is the sequel to Everything on a Waffle

Horvath’s middle school novel is set in an ocean-side town in British Colombia, and chronicles a year in the life of the main character, 12 year old Primrose. She keeps herself busy by being matchmaker for Uncle Jack and Miss Bowzer; friend to Ked the new foster kid; and author of a new cookbook to help raise money for the Fisherman’s Aid, meanwhile trying to lead the life of an ordinary 12 year old.

But Primrose isn’t an ordinary 12 year old. Her perceptions and insights are deep and instinctive. We see her reaching out instinctively to befriend Ked the new foster kid because, once a foster child, she could identify with Ked’s loneliness and awkwardness toward his new family, school, and town. It caused Primrose to reflect on her time when her parents were lost at sea, and therefore she reached out to Ked in empathy.  Primrose’s perception on love and romance is also quite insightful. Her observations of the romance and courtship between her Uncle, Jack and Miss Bowser were for the most part on point. Her hard work to get the two together was quite hilarious and yet the tactics used, though sometimes juvenile, however, showed she had much sensitivity to the matter.

The book is written as a first person narrative, in a distinctive voice of the ‘continuous chatter’ of the typical 12 year old. The narrative is an easy read, and the narrator Primrose goes in depth describing the characters, the events, and circumstances in a comfortable, story-telling like manner.  Of course, the inclusion of a recipe or two at the end of each chapter is great, and they are informally written in the same narrative as the rest of the book.

An absolute favorite scene in the book is the town hall meeting. Horvath successfully captures the hilarity, confusion, anger, and frustration of the atmosphere at the town hall meeting, and she pulled all these elements into an explosive and dramatic, yet hilarious scene told honestly and without judgment from a juvenile’s perspective.

One Year in Coal Harbor is beautifully written and can be appreciated for its lessons and insights.

Happy Reading! 

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Interview with Beryl Reichenberg, author of The Mysterious Case of the Missing Birthday Cake

l. Congratulations! You have written over 35 titles of children's books! Tell me about your history in writing.
Six years ago I began writing children’s stories. Initially, I wrote my first book for my two-year-old  grandchild, Zoe who was afraid of a blue dinosaur in her closet. For her benefit, I decided to write The Blue Dinosaur, a story about a friendly dinosaur that included her and her cousin as story characters. From that point on, I have written, illustrated and published over 35 titles, some fiction and some non-fiction.

Three years ago, I met a publisher at a book festival, Billie Johnson from Oak Tree Press.  We signed a contract to publish Ants on a Log.  Since then, she has published two more of my books, The Mysterious Case of the Missing Birthday Cake and Camouflage. Two additional books will be released in June, When Caterpillars Dream and Butterfly Girls. Both these new books are about Monarch butterflies in a fiction format.

Recently, I self-published through CreateSpace, a series of four wildlife books. These books, containing my photographs and text in verse about various animals, are entitled Wild Africa, Elephant Families in the Wild, Wild Hippos, and Backyard Birds.  All the African animal photographs were taken on safari in Africa. Additional books will follow including books on zebras and camels.
2. Did you illustrate and do the photography for all of them, and why do you illustrate in mixed mediums?
To illustrate most of my books, I first draw my characters using watercolors and pencils and then select backgrounds from my own photograph collection. Using my MAC, I float the drawn and scanned characters onto the photo backgrounds, slightly blending in the edges of the characters with a blur tool. Sometimes, I also blur the backgrounds a bit so that they look more like drawings.

I use this technique in order to combine reality and fantasy in my illustrations.  Children do this process naturally, often not differentiating between fantasy and the real world. In addition, stories by their very nature are often a blending of these two elements.

In a few books, I have drawn the backgrounds as well as the characters, as in Ants on a Log and The Littlest Dinosaur.   In my wildlife series, I only use photographs because these books are non-fiction, and I want to convey the immediacy of the natural world. In a few books, I have collaborated with other artists as illustrators.

3. Tell me a little about your book The Mysterious Case of the Missing Birthday Cake.

I wrote this story because my publisher, Oak Tree Press, has numerous mystery writers. At one point I was the only children’s author, so I thought it would be fun to write a children’s story that was designed as a mystery.

A missing birthday cake from a party seemed the ideal starting point for children to enjoy.  Such a story would teach children about following clues while using deductive reasoning in an engaging way.  Each animal has certain personalities based on their characteristics, for example,  a raccoon who is fearless and persistent teamed with a mouse who is shy and easily frightened. And, of course, young children welcome happy stories that promote friendship and sharing, understanding that working together can solve problems.

4. Tell me why you write for children?

For me, becoming a grandparent was a profound experience. For the first time,  I could enjoy children without having all the parental duties and responsibilities.  In addition, I  also have my own fond memories of sitting with my grandfather in a rocking chair by our fireplace as he told me stories about the Three Jolly Fleas. Writing my first book, The Blue Dinosaur, was going to be a once-in-a -lifetime adventure.  I found that I enjoyed writing and illustrating this and later books, first just for my grandchildren and then for other children.  The more I produced stories, the more I enjoyed this experience. Being an artist, as well as a photographer, means I can combine my talents in a meaningful way.

Connecting with children, whether at a signing, a school or workshop, is a joy. It reminds me of my teaching days many years ago. Although I taught high school English and Social Studies, I find teaching and relating to young children is similar. Moreover, I can combine several of my talents into one media and have fun as well.          

5. Are you currently working on any other title?

I am working on more books for my wildlife series, including books on zebras, camels and giraffes. I have several, self-published books with Blurb which are being revised and will be submitted to Oak Tree Press. New books include a story about a persistent black bear wandering down from the mountains, invading suburbia.  This story is awaiting illustrations by another artist.  There is a long list of stories I’d love to write some day, including a book about children in Burma. I have traveled extensively throughout the world and there are other exciting ideas to be gleaned from those travels.

My two new books, When Caterpillars Dream and Butterfly Girls, are now available!