Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Giveaway: Frances Dean Who Loved to Dance!


When I first saw the cover of Frances Dean Who Loved to Dance and Dance by Birgitta Sif, I knew it was a picture book I wanted to get my hands on. And when I finally did, I wasn't disappointed. The cover, which I loved from the start, doesn't even do justice to the illustrations inside. Created in muted tones with pencil and digital coloring, they are truly gorgeous! 

Dedicated "to all those who live with all their heart," Frances Dean Who Loved to Dance and Dance is a child's journey of overcoming inhibitions to be herself and do what she loves, no matter who might be watching. 

Frances Dean loves to dance. In fact, she loves to dance AND dance (as the title of the book implies.) She especially loves to dance outside, where she can feel the wind and hear the birds around her -- as long as no one is watching, that is. But with the help of her animal friends and another little girl with a big talent, Frances slowly but surely overcomes her self-consciousness. In fact, by the end of the book, she loves to dance and dance AND dance in front of everyone!


Overcoming inhibitions to pursue your passion is an important life lesson, and one that often takes years and years to learn. I still remember when I was in college, covering up my computer screen any time someone came in the room, for fear that he or she might read what I was writing. Now, many years later, I'm willing to show my writing to just about anyone, eager for feedback and comfortable with criticism. But boy did it take a long time. 

Little Frances Dean, having already overcome similar fears, is well on her way to a happy and healthy life. Although Frances Dean's passion is dance, her story is universal and could be applied to other passions such as music, art, and sports. I hope she can inspire lots of other little girls and boys to follow in her footsteps!

I'm giving away a copy of Frances Dean Who Loved to Dance and Dance! Simply leave a comment on this post to enter. Feel free to share your passion, or share a story about overcoming your inhibitions, in your comment. The giveaway closes at 11:59 pm EST on Wednesday, September 24, 2014. 

You can learn more about author/illustrator Birgitta Sif at http://www.birgittasif.com or in a recent interview with her at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast. And finally, thanks to Random House for sending me a review copy of this book. I ended up buying my own copy as well, so receiving the review copy allowed me to host this giveaway. 

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Read & Romp Roundup: July/August 2014

I just realized that August was the four-year anniversary of Picture Books & Pirouettes. When I was starting the blog back in 2010, someone asked me if there were really enough dance-related picture books to keep the blog going. I had done my research, and I knew that the answer was yes. But, as time has gone on, even I have been amazed by the sheer number of movement-related books out there -- those that contain movement, those that inspire movement, and those that do both. And they just keep coming!

If you check out the left-hand column of the blog, you will see some new releases, some books that have been on the shelves for a little while, and some others that will be published in the next few months. The July/August Read & Romp Roundup also highlights many of these titles -- a true testament to this special niche in children's literature. Thanks for helping Picture Books & Pirouettes keep going strong!



At Playing by the Book, Zoe hosted a summer picture book party that included reading, dancing, and creative cooking and crafts. One of the books she featured was Frances Dean Who Loved to Dance and Dance, which inspired Zoe and her daughters to dance with abandon, just like Frances Dean learns to do in the book!


Thanks to Cathy Ballou Mealy, I also found a lovely review of Frances Dean Who Loved to Dance and Dance on the blog The Illustrated Forest. The author of the post sums up this beautiful book by Birgitta Sif so eloquently in the first few lines of the post that I hope it entices you to read the rest. "Birgitta Sif writes books for people like us; she takes characters that are introverted and makes them brave; she makes them heroes in their own way, and if you are a little shy that is truly uplifting."


Kathleen at Wild Things Yoga shares a yoga lesson plan, perfect for first and second graders, to go with the picture book I Wonder by Annaka Harris and John Rowe. Following a discussion of the book and what her students wonder about in general, Kathleen explores the concept of wondering using movement. For example, "I wonder what would happen if we try to balance on our hands?" and "I wonder what would happen if we try to put our head to our knees?" Fun!


At Picture-Book-a-Day, Amy shares one of her monthly picture book roundups, where she reviews four recent picture books. Two of the books -- Father's Chinese Opera by Rich Lo and I Got the Rhythm by Connie Schofield-Morrison and Frank Morrison -- contain lots of movement. And if you're looking for movement ideas to go with I Got the Rhythm, Amy's got you covered! She features the book, along with movement ideas for preschool story time, in the August Book to Boogie post at the Library as Incubator Project.


The July Book to Boogie post at the Library as Incubator Project features the picture book Here Are My Hands by Bill Martin Jr., John Archambault, and Ted Rand. Written by dance educator Maria Hanley, the enthusiastic post provides plenty of ideas for getting babies and toddlers moving with different body parts!


Thanks to Darshana Khiani, I found out about the blog All Done Monkey, which recently featured a board book about dances from India! Dances of India is the first in a series of four books created by two mothers who wanted to increase the availability of multicultural books for small children. With the help of two characters named Maya and Leela, the book takes readers on a journey across India, introducing four classical dances from distinct regions of the country.


I had the pleasure of meeting well-known author and illustrator Jules Feiffer at a children's writing conference a few years ago and was delighted when I stumbled across a video of him discussing his new picture book Rupert Can Dance. The MacMillan Children's Publishing Group hosts the wonderful one-minute video, during which Mr. Feiffer talks about his inspiration for the book.


I recently discovered the blog The Brown Bookshelf, which "is designed to push awareness of the myriad of African American voices writing for young readers." In July, the site highlighted two picture books about young girls inspired to dance. The first -- Firebird -- is written by Misty Copeland, who as a soloist for the American Ballet Theater was the first Black woman to star in the Firebird ballet. The second -- A Dance Like Starlight: One Ballerina's Dream -- is about a little girl who becomes inspired by the first Black prima ballerina, Janet Collins.


And last but not least, I discovered a post on The Book Chook featuring a new picture book out of Australia called Little Piggy's Got No Moves. Written by the husband and wife team of Phillip Gwynne and Eliza McCann with illustrations by Tom Jellett, the book celebrates the uniqueness of every child through a story about Little Piggy, who learns that he really can dance, even though no one thought piggies could groove. Check it out!

Monday, September 1, 2014

An Interview with Author Marlena Zapf: Part II

I’m happy to re-introduce picture book author Marlena Zapf to you today. Last week Marlena talked with me about the writing and publication process for her debut picture book Underpants Dance. Today we’re going to focus our discussion on movement -- the movement in the book, Marlena’s background in dance, and how she uses yoga and movement for her author visits!


Welcome back, Marlena! I love how you left a lot of room for illustrations in Underpants Dance, especially when Lily is dancing in her room. “First she did this. Then she did this. Then she went round and round like this. Then she said, “TA-DA!” At these places in the book, were the illustrations by Lynne Avril what you envisioned, or a total surprise?

I feel so fortunate that Lynne agreed to illustrate Underpants Dance. She brings Lily’s spirit to life so perfectly. I believe that picture books are a dialogue between text and illustration, and so I deliberately left room for Lynne to do her thing. I only gave my editor a few notes about what I wanted (like the Toulouse-Lautrec in the museum scene) and trusted the rest. I was expecting Lynne to come up with new things, so I wasn’t incredibly surprised by the illustrations in general.


What did surprise me was that when I received the cover illustration of Lily, it looked strikingly like a dance photo of myself that had been taken that very same week. I will add that Lynne had NEVER seen a picture of me.


Your website also includes some other great photos of you either dancing or wearing that really cool tutu. Do you have a background in dance? 

I’ve always danced for fun, but I never studied dance until I was an adult. (My mother decided to save me from repeating her own unpleasant childhood experience with ballet by signing me up for Girl Scouts instead. I think I would have preferred dance class.) Perhaps it’s for this reason that people often tell me my dance has a childlike quality. I have fun, dance with abandon, and don’t care what anyone thinks of me.

As an adult, I’ve studied a bunch of different kinds of dance, and continue to take new classes when I can. I do something called contact improvisation, which is done with partners or groups, and plays consciously with the physics of gravity and momentum, as well as human connection — it’s a great metaphor for how we move through life and relationships. I’m also part of a community in New England that hosts what are sometimes called “barefoot” or “ecstatic” dances. Really what that means is you take off your shoes and dance however you want. For me, it’s a moving meditation.

School visits are such a big part of marketing picture books these days. How do you present your book to children, teachers, and school librarians? (A little birdie told me that it might involve movement.)

Lily’s story is really about self-expression, so I encourage kids to express themselves through activities that accompany the reading. And I don’t just stand there and tell the kids what to do. I engage with them. I’m certified to teach kids’ yoga and movement, so I use some of those techniques to help kids focus and then have fun with them after the reading.

If the children are sitting on the floor, I like to spread out colorful Yoga Dots, which I learned about from Rosemary Clough. You can buy them or make them out of old yoga mats. (Kids love to pick out their favorite color.) They serve a dual purpose. They give kids focus and a place to sit for the portion of the presentation for which they need to stay still(ish). Afterward, you can use them to play games in which the kids step, dance, jump, and move on or around the dots. This way, kids get their wiggles out, but the dots provide a focus that keeps things contained so that the “wild rumpus” doesn’t turn into utter mayhem. (Teachers are not fans of mayhem.)

Here’s a simple example. Set the dots around the space and play music or sing a song while kids move around the dots. You might encourage them to move at a certain speed or with a specific movement. When the music or song stops, kids jump on a dot and assume their favorite shape or yoga pose. Repeat!

Wow. I didn’t realize you were certified to teach kids’ yoga and movement, too. You are very multi-talented! It’s been a pleasure learning more about Underpants Dance and how you incorporate yoga and movement into your author visits. Thank you, Marlena! 

In case you missed Part I of my interview with Marlena, you can check it out here. You can also learn more about Marlena on her website at www.marlenazapf.com!

Friday, August 29, 2014

Join the July/August Read & Romp Roundup!


Yikes! Where has the time gone? Today is the official call for submissions for the July/August Read & Romp Roundup. If you have a recent (or even not so recent) blog post that involves picture books or children's poetry AND dance, yoga, or another form of movement, leave your link in a comment on this post. Or, you can reach me on Facebook or Twitter to let me know about your link. I'll round up all the links and post them together soon. Looking forward to hearing from you! And for those of you celebrating Labor Day, enjoy the long holiday weekend!

Submissions are open through Friday, September 5, 2014. 

Monday, August 25, 2014

An Interview with Author Marlena Zapf: Part I

Earlier this month I attended the annual summer conference of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI), where I   so enjoyed hearing a variety of publication success stories, especially those of debut picture book authors and illustrators like Pat Zietlow Miller and Aaron BeckerToday another debut picture book author   -- Marlena Zapf -- is joining us to tell us about her own unique journey to publication. Marlena's book Underpants Dance, with exuberant illustrations by Lynne Avril, was published by Dial in April of this year. It is the story of Lily McBloom, who loves her brand-new underpants so much that she makes up a special dance to show them off. As it turns outs, she loves her underpants so much that she even takes her fancy new dance on the road -- with both hilarious and heartwarming consequences.

Congratulations on your picture book debut! Can you tell us a little bit about how Underpants Dance came to be?

Of course! When I wrote Underpants Dance and chose not to include an ending in which the protagonist “learns her lesson” in the traditional way, I knew not every editor would be jumping to publish it. So what did I do? Research -- just like SCBWI and every children’s book editor will tell you to do. And it paid off.

Here is what I did. I found out that Steve Meltzer was the Dutton editor for Walter the Farting Dog, and I figured if he likes farting dogs he might be okay with underpants, too. So I followed Dutton’s submission guidelines and sent him a query. He sent back a note asking me to email the manuscript, which I did. Then I waited…almost a whole year. Now, I’ve worked in publishing and know how busy things get. I had a good hunch that the email with my manuscript was lost for good. I also knew that Steve probably had an assistant who read all his mail. So I decided to send a hard copy with a letter politely explaining the situation. Lo and behold, the assistant did find my manuscript, and after some further editorial gymnastics, I ended up with editor Liz Waniewski at Dial and a book contract with my name on it.

Wow. That’s a great story of research and persistence paying off! If we go back in time a little further, what initially inspired you to write Underpants Dance?

I used to be a reading editor at a big school publisher. One thing you need to understand about school publishers is that they put lots of money into developing textbooks that they hope to sell all across the country. And because they need to appeal to a broad market in order to make their sales and not go bankrupt, they can’t offend anybody. So, if a state such as, oh, Texas for instance, declares it won’t acquire any textbooks that include stories about children who defy authority, well then a publisher sure as heck isn’t going to include that kind of story in its program. (Never mind that LOTS can be learned and enjoyed from stories about protagonists who misbehave and make mistakes. Luckily we have awesome librarians to direct kids to those books.) This corporate culture of self-censorship ran counter to my often contrary, somewhat rebellious, nature. And that is where the story of my story begins...


As it happened, I was in this big important publishing meeting where experts were discussing the kinds of stories we should commission. I recall something about well-behaved children who always wear their bicycle helmets and gleefully eat peas…no kidding. Two thoughts went through my mind:

1. What if a REAL child walked into this room right now? These people wouldn’t know what to do with her (especially if she were my cousin’s three-year-old daughter, who was going through her eschewing-any-and-all-clothing phase).

2. What if I jumped up onto the conference table right now and danced in my underpants?

But neither of these things happened. What happened was that I quietly nibbled a dried-up lemon danish and nodded politely while a little girl named Lily McBloom wandered into my thoughts. And she started doing everything that the children in the textbook stories weren’t supposed to do. Then, when the meeting was over, I went back to my desk and wrote the story’s first lines.

Way to go for following your heart! What was the most exciting part of the publication process for you after that?

I guess for me it was when Underpants Dance was finally released. The publication of my first book was a LOOOOOOOOONG process. It was delayed a bunch of times. I think it took about a decade from beginning to end. I’m hoping the publication of my next books won’t take quite so long.

Speaking of your next books, do you have any projects in the works that you can tell us about? I hope they will be in print soon, too!

I’ve written more stories about Lily and Lily’s sister Marigold, but my publisher is waiting to see how Underpants Dance sells before committing to something like a series. This is how publishing works now. So, if you like Underpants Dance and want to see more of Lily, please spread the word!

I’m also working on a middle grade fantasy series inspired by a quote from Joseph Campbell: “There are no models in our mythology for an individual woman’s quest.” Actually, I believe that a new mythology is being created right now, in our time, by authors, storytellers, filmmakers, and especially girls and women themselves. That’s a party I can’t help but join.

If you’d like to hear more from Marlena, stay tuned for Part II of our interview. Next week we’ll be chatting about Marlena's background in movement and how she’ll be incorporating it into her author visits for Underpants Dance!
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