For Librarians

Writing and Illustrating Funny Poetry For Kids – Author Interview with Vikram Madan, and Giveaway

At Mixed-Up Files today, we’re thrilled to have author-illustrator Vikram Madan. Vikram talks about his new book A Hatful Of Dragons that comes out on April 21, 2020. He also shares his exciting publishing journey along with other writing tips.

                                                           

 

  1. Tell us about A Hatful Of Dragons. What inspired you to write the book?

A Hatful of Dragons: And More Than 13.8 Billion Other Funny Poems’ is a quirky, eclectic collection of funny rhyming poems woven together with rich illustrations featuring recurring characters and sub-plots – a double dose of visual and literary fun for all ages 7 and up.

As a kid I loved both cartooning and writing poems but never thought of combining the two till I encountered, much later in life, Shel Silverstein’s work. I was instantly attracted to the concept of words and images working together to create a funnier experience. So much so that ‘A Hatful of Dragon’ is my third collection of self-illustrated funny poems featuring intertwined words and drawings.

 

  1. What would you want readers to take away from A Hatful Of Dragons?

I would love for readers of all ages to come away from this book with the idea that you can have a lot of fun playing with language and also with a desire to read more rhyming poetry.

 

  1. What were some of the most fun and challenging parts about writing A Hatful Of Dragons?

The poems in my original manuscript were largely disconnected from each other. While shortlisting the poems, Rebecca Davis, my editor, instinctively zeroed-in on the uniqueness of creating cross-connections between poems. As I developed the illustrations for the book, I had a lot of fun thinking of ways to interconnect the poems visually. For example, a main character in one visual might show up later in the book as a secondary character in another visual, helping create a cohesive, but weird, universe for the characters. I hope kids will have fun closely inspecting the illustrations for cross-connections.

The most challenging part of the book was stuffing 13.8 billion poems into 64 pages. 🙂

Actually I found doing the illustrations to be a challenge as I underestimated the sheer physical work required to get through multiple rounds of revisions and changes. Somewhat like running a marathon, most enjoyable, not while you’re doing it, but well after it is done. 🙂

 

 

Another challenge was coming up with a distinctive title for the book. The title poem ‘A Hatful of Dragons’ did not exist in my original manuscript. We thought of titling the book ‘There’s a Dragon in My Wagon’ but an internet search showed half-a-dozen books already had that title. Many other title poems from the manuscript did not pass internal sales and marketing reviews. I finally proposed ‘A Hatful of Dragons’ and once that title was approved, I had to then write a title poem from scratch worthy of the book. Talk about pressure! 🙂

 

  1. You began your writing career by self-publishing your work. How did the experience influence you as a children’s writer? How did you make the transition from self-publishing to traditional publishing?

Prior to self-publishing, I spent a decade trying to have my rhyming picture books and themed poetry collections published. I found agents and publishers reluctant to consider poetry. With rejections piling up, I actually gave up writing and submitting for a few years. However the itch never went away. In 2012, I spent a summer writing a fresh collection of poems. I decided then that if no one would publish my poems, I would publish them myself, which led to my first collection ‘The Bubble Collector’.

 

Once ‘The Bubble Collector’ was out, I realized writing the book was the easy part. Marketing, distribution, getting anyone to notice a self-published book, was incredibly hard (more so for us introverts!). I learnt that if I didn’t do the hustle, no one else would. With perseverance and leg work, I was able to get the book into local bookstores, gain a few favorable reviews and endorsements, and conduct some school visits. The book went on to win a 2013 Moonbeam Book Award for Children’s Poetry and was invited to apply to the 2014 WA State Book Awards. All in all, for a self-published poetry book, it did quite ok. The ‘hustling’, however, left me with deep appreciation for traditional publishing.

Upon completing the manuscript for my second collection (in 2015), I decided to give the traditional channel another shot. It took a year of querying agents before one, Rosemary Stimola at Stimola Literary Studios, expressed interest in the manuscript. (The modest success with the self-published book really helped my pitch). It took Rosemary another year to find a publisher, Boyds Mills & Kane. The publisher scheduled the book for a 2020 release, five years from when I finished the manuscript. Despite the slow pace of traditional publishing, I’ve really enjoyed working with my editors, Rebecca Davis and Barbara Grzeslo – the book is so much better than I could have made just by myself – and I’m looking forward to it being available everywhere without having to knock on doors, one at a time. 🙂

And since the second book was going to take five years, I squeezed out another self-published poetry collection, ‘Lord of the Bubbles’, in 2018, which went on to win a 2019 Moonbeam Award for Children’s Poetry.

 

 

  1. If you could tell your younger writing self anything, what would it be?

Although I was writing and drawing from a really early age, I didn’t take my art seriously because I couldn’t see how to traverse the gap between what I made and what I admired. With no insight into the creative journey, the learning process, the blood, sweat, and tears that every piece of art demands, I did not believe in my own abilities. My epiphany came when one day, as an adult, I accidently wandered into an exhibition of original Dr. Seuss manuscripts. Typewritten sheets covered with frustrated scribbles, crossed out over and over again in search of better options. I was stunned to realize that the ‘genius’ was in the incessant revision, the twenty attempts before something worked, the trying, trying, trying and not giving up. Looking at those manuscripts was the first time I thought to myself, “Wait, if this is how it’s done, then maybe I can do this too!” Thank you Dr. Seuss – I wish I could have sent my younger self to see that!

 

  1. Do you have any other advice/tips for writers?

In visual-art circles the running joke is that ‘Only the first fifty years are the hardest’. In other words, the ‘successful’ artists are the ones who find ways to persist. The same is true for writers. Patience, persistence, working on your craft, and never giving up! (And if you do feel like giving up, read a book, any book, by creative coach Eric Maisel).

 

Here’s a cool flip-through video that Vikram made for the book: https://youtu.be/XswGM2FLlBM

Seattle-area Author-Artist Vikram Madan grew up in India, where he really wanted to be a cartoonist but ended up an engineer. After many years of working in tech, he finally came to his senses and followed his heart into the visual and literary arts. When not making whimsical paintings and public art, he writes and illustrates funny poems. His books include ‘The Bubble Collector’, ‘Lord of the Bubbles’, and ‘A Hatful of Dragons’. Visit him at www.VikramMadan.com

 

Want to own your very own ARC of A Hatful Of Dragons? Enter our giveaway by leaving a comment below! 

You may earn extra entries by blogging/tweeting/facebooking the interview and letting us know. The winner will be announced here on March 2, 2020 and will be contacted  via email and asked to provide a mailing address (US/Canada only) to receive the book.

 

 

STEM Tuesday– The Human Body — Interview with Author Sara Latta

Welcome to STEM Tuesday: Author Interview & Book Giveaway, a repeating feature for the fourth Tuesday of every month. Go Science-Tech-Engineering-Math!

 

photgraph of author Sara LattaToday we’re interviewing Sara Latta, author of Body 2.0: The Engineering Revolution in Medicine, among several other titles. The book features modern biomedical engineering challenges, some of the STEM professionals who do it, and people who have benefited from it. (Check out the Kirkus review here! If you subscribe to SLJ or Booklist, you can see additional reviews at those sites.)

Carolyn Cinami DeCristofano: What’s the book about—and what was most important to you in deciding to write it?

Image of book cover of Body 2.0 by Sara LattaSara Latta: Thanks for having me on your blog! Body 2.0 explores the ways in which engineering, science, and medicine are coming together to make some remarkable advances in the fields of tissue engineering and regenerative medicine, neuroscience, microbiology, and synthetic biology. I begin the book with a brief history of biomedical engineering—arguably the first known example of which was a wooden toe found on an ancient Egyptian mummy—but primarily the book focuses on cutting-edge research and the scientists at the forefront of the research. That was important to me; much of the work I write about hasn’t even reached clinical trials. I wanted to show readers that they could jump into this research at a very exciting time.

 

CCD: Did anything about your sense of what was most important change as you developed the manuscript?

SL: I don’t know if it was most important, but at some point during the interviewing process I came to the realization that telling the story of the ways in which the scientists and engineers came to this point in their research would be really interesting to my readers. Several of them said they initially wanted to be medical doctors because they wanted to help people, but they didn’t have the stomach for it. One was an athlete who was inspired by his own injury; another transferred her love of Sherlock Holmes and detective work to scientific sleuthing. So I decided I had to create a separate section telling their stories.

CCD: What in the book most fascinated or surprised you?

 SL: Well, there was a lot! I’d been fascinated by brain-computer interfaces for several years, and even tried writing a sci-fi YA thriller using that technology a while back (it’s still in a folder on my computer). It’s really astounding how quickly work in the field—and other fields in the book as well—has progressed. I think that the work in synthetic biology holds enormous promise, not just in biomedical engineering but in other fields as well. The New York Times recently published an article about using photosynthetic bacteria to make concrete that is alive and can even reproduce.

CCD: I’d like to ask you a bit about your decisions about addressing ethics in Body 2.0. If I counted correctly, you spotlight three particular areas where scientific investigation and technological advancements raise important issues. Can you say a bit about your decision-making process about how much and what to spotlight, and your lasting impressions of the ethics related to this field?

SL: I told my editor going in to this project that I wanted to highlight some important ethical issues that some of this work raises, and she said “yes, absolutely.” It’s important to think about unintended consequences. I use the example that the discovery of petroleum as a cheap and plentiful source of fuel in the 19th century revolutionized the ways we lived, worked and traveled—and now we are paying the price with a global climate crisis. So I asked the question, what does it mean to be a human being when your brain is in a symbiotic relationship with a computer? Will these new technologies be available only to those who can afford them? One of the pioneers of gene editing recounted being jolted awake by a dream in which Adolf Hitler expressed interest in her work. It made her realize that “the ability to refashion the human genome was a truly incredible power, one that could be devastating if it fell into the wrong hands.”

CCD: As an author, what did you find most challenging about completing this book?

SL: Organizing all of the interviews and research I did for the book! I relied heavily on Scrivener and Evernote to bring it all together.

CCD: Can you say something about how you hope this book might impact readers?

SL: Biomedical engineering is all about improving the quality of life for people with diseases or injuries, whether it’s helping a person with quadriplegia become more independent or growing a bladder for a kid with spina bifida. I hoped to inspire idealistic young people interested in science, medicine, or engineering, who are also interested in making a positive difference in the world.

 

Win a FREE copy of Body 2.0: The Engineering Revolution in Medicine!

Enter the giveaway by leaving a comment below. The randomly-chosen winner will be contacted via email and asked to provide a mailing address (within the U.S. only) to receive the book.

Good luck!

Your host is Carolyn Cinami DeCristofano, author of National Geographic Kids Ultimate Space Atlas, Running on Sunshine, andA Black Hole is NOT a Hole, among several nonfiction books for kids. As a STEM Education Consultant and co-founder of two STEM education organizations, STEM Education Insights and Blue Heron STEM Education, she develops STEM curricula, supports STEM education research, and provides professional development for teachers. Along with several STEM Tuesday contributors and other great authors, she’ll be participating in NSTA’s Science and Literacy event in Boston this spring. She’ll also be co-presenting with author Cheryl Bardoe.  Grab a sneak peek now, but better yet, stop by and say hello!

 

 

Debating, Campaigning, and Voting, Oh My!

The many televised debates along with the upcoming election have occupied a huge space in the realm of social media, social interaction, and social anxiety. I can’t help but think kids are also affected in many ways. It also makes me wonder how books can help them understand and cope. Fortunately, there are many middle-grade books–nonfiction and fiction–that deal with debating, campaigning, and voting. Here are just a few below. If you have a favorite that you’ve read with kids at home or in the classroom, please let us know in the comments section.

 

Speak Out! Debate and Public Speaking in the Middle Grades

By John Meany and Kate Shuster

Combining the practical and theoretical, Speak Out! teaches students the basics of public speaking, argumentation, and research, and helps them prepare for debate competitions and classroom debates. Exercises give students hands-on experience with important topics.

 

 

 

 

If They Can Argue Well, They Can Write Well

By Dr. Bill McBride

Every student can become a great debater. The key concepts of argumentation, critical thinking, and meeting academic standards align in a single, engaging format in this book. Packed with practical, hands-on activities, this collection teaches students to argue effectively, research information, think critically, and write persuasively. Also included is in-depth discussion on online research and emphasizes the timely skill of evaluating the validity of various internet sources. This revised edition provides specific connections between book content and the Common Core State Standards, as well as a new section on debate skills.

 

 

The Benefits of Being an Octopus

By Ann Braden

In this middle-grade novel, the protagonist joins the debate team and learns new ways to view her life:

Seventh-grader Zoey has her hands full as she takes care of her much younger siblings after school every day while her mom works her shift at the pizza parlor. Not that her mom seems to appreciate it. At least there’s Lenny, her mom’s boyfriend—they all get to live in his nice, clean trailer. At school, Zoey tries to stay under the radar. Her only friend Fuchsia has her own issues, and since they’re in an entirely different world than the rich kids, it’s best if no one notices them. Zoey thinks how much easier everything would be if she were an octopus: eight arms to do eight things at once. Incredible camouflage ability and steady, unblinking vision. Powerful protective defenses.

Unfortunately, she’s not totally invisible, and one of her teachers forces her to join the debate club. Even though Zoey resists participating, debate ultimately leads her to see things in a new way: her mom’s relationship with Lenny, Fuchsia’s situation, and her own place in this town of people who think they’re better than her. Can Zoey find the courage to speak up, even if it means risking the most stable home she’s ever had?

 

 

Running for Public Office

By Sarah De Capua

Find out just what it takes to run for office in the United States. Also learn about campaigning and how elections work.

A True Book: Civics series helps children become productive citizens by presenting core civic knowledge in a fun and engaging way. This series includes an age appropriate (grades 3-5) introduction to curriculum-relevant subjects and a robust resource section that encourages independent study.

From small town mayors to the men and women of the U.S. congress, all public officials play important roles in the nation’s government.

 

 

President of the Whole Fifth Grade

By Sherri Winston

Start counting your votes . . . and your friends.

When Brianna Justice’s hero, the famous celebrity chef Miss Delicious, speaks at her school and traces her own success back to being president of her fifth grade class, Brianna determines she must do the same. She just knows that becoming president of her class is the first step toward her own cupcake-baking empire!

But when new student Jasmine Moon announces she is also running for president, Brianna learns that she may have more competition than she expected. Will Brianna be able to stick to her plan of working with her friends to win the election fairly? Or will she jump at the opportunity to steal votes from Jasmine by revealing an embarrassing secret?

 

 

Lillian’s Right to Vote
By Jonah Winter and Shane W. Evans

An elderly African American woman, en route to vote, remembers her family’s tumultuous voting history.

As Lillian, a one-hundred-year-old African American woman, makes a “long haul up a steep hill” to her polling place, she sees more than trees and sky—she sees her family’s history. She sees the passage of the Fifteenth Amendment and her great-grandfather voting for the first time. She sees her parents trying to register to vote. And she sees herself marching in a protest from Selma to Montgomery. Veteran bestselling picture-book author Jonah Winter and Coretta Scott King Illustrator Award winner Shane W. Evans vividly recall America’s battle for civil rights in this lyrical, poignant account of one woman’s fierce determination to make it up the hill and make her voice heard.

 

 

The Kid Who Ran for President

By Dan Gutman

“Hi! My name is Judson Moon. I’m twelve years old and I’m running for President of the YOU-nited States.”

That’s how I introduced myself to about a zillion people. I must have kissed a zillion babies, said a zillion hellos, shaken a zillion hands . . . Will I get a zillion votes? The answer might surprise you.

Can you picture a kid as President? Imagine what we can accomplish — together — in a country where parents listen. Where teachers give no homework. Where every lawmaker obeys a single kid — me! How am I going to pull this off? Who knows! Read the book to find out.