Sunday, April 24, 2011

Press Here by Herve Tullet

This article first appeared in the April 19, 2011 edition of the Syracuse Islander Newspaper.

In an age where interactive technology is common for the preschooler, a new book that shows how a piece of paper can spark imagination is a refreshing innovation. Unlike other interactive books, Press Here by creative French author/illustrator Hervé Tullet, has no tabs to pull, no scratch and sniff or pop-ups.

Press Here, published by Chronicle Books on March 30, 2011, uses pure imagination to fuel the joy that is holding a book and wondering at its possibilities. The first page shows a simple yellow circle and a scripted narrator invites the child to “Press here and turn the page”. When the circle multiplies, the child is encouraged to rub one of them until, with the magical turn of a page, the yellow circle changes to red. The child is told to tilt, shake and blow on the book, causing the circles to rearrange, slide to the edge and even disappear. “Now clap your hands once” the narrator instructs. Wild clapping and laughter escalates as the dots grow larger the more the child claps. It doesn’t take any prodding for young readers to follow the final instructions: “Want to do it all over again?” Trust me, they will.

The book itself is meant to be touched. Without a jacket cover, the hardcover book is sturdy and filled with extra-thick pages that are begging to be handled. As an educator, I wondered how this book might be read aloud in a classroom or library group setting. Because the child is being instructed by the book directly, I worried that the teacher or librarian would get bombarded with little people who want to touch, shake and blow on the book themselves. On the publisher’s website,, parents and educators can find great ideas of how to involve the students by dividing them into groups of red, yellow and blue dots and encouraging them to imitate the dots as the adult reads the instructions in the book.

The interactive features in Press Here mimic picture book apps that are prevalent in current hand-held technology. Relegating this picture book to a mere app would defeat the purpose: a child can produce magic with his own imagination. Press Here is targeted for 4-8 year olds, but I’m betting that, no matter your age, once you get your hands on it, you’ll be showing the book to everyone you meet.

Go to Chronicle Book's website for a printable mini book of Press Here. 

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Interview with Eilis O'Neal

Today we are talking with Eilis O'Neal (pronounced A-lish), author of the fantasy novel The False Princess, published by EgmontUSA January 25, 2011.  On a side note, I just love Eilis' name-it's Gaelic. To see my review of this fabulous book, click here

Why write? What fuels your writing?

I think the most basic answer to why I write is that I love to read. I'm one of those people who takes a book everywhere—and I've been that way since I was a little kid. I remember going to visit my grandparents as a pre-schooler with a bag full of books over my shoulder. I love stories, and I started making up my own at an early age. So that impulse has always been part of me—I literally can't remember when it wasn't. When I'm not writing, I feel wrong somehow.
What books have had the greatest impact on you and your writing?

If I had to pick just one set of books, it would be Tamora Pierce's Song of the Lioness books. I first read those when I was twelve, and they had an enormous impact on how I saw myself as a young person. But close followers would have to be Diane Duane's Young Wizards series, which has as a great, smart heroine in Nita, Robin McKinley's The Hero and the Crown, and Lloyd Alexander's Westmark series. All of them have such strong female characters, and that's really important to me as a writer.

What prompted you to write in your genre and age of audience?

I read all the books I mentioned above—and many more—between the ages of about 11 and 16. But they weren't just a way to pass the time; they changed the way that I looked at the world and at myself. They made me feel stronger, more sure of myself. If I could do that for even a few teens or preteens, that would make me feel like I'd done something worthwhile with my life. On a less heavy note, writing for young people is just more fun than writing for adults, at least for me. Younger readers really connect to the characters they care about, and they really get into good stories. As for why fantasy, honestly, it's the world I wish I lived in. Since I can't, I write about it.

Are the characters or story of The False Princess based on experiences or people in your life?

The character in the book who's most closely based on a real person is Sinda, and she's most closely based on me as a teenager. As soon as I started writing Sinda, I knew that she wouldn't be a typical princess. She's shy and quiet, a huge reader, and someone who sometimes isn't sure of herself yet. Which is basically me as a young person. It was very easy to tap into Sinda's insecurities, because a lot of them mirrored my own. Happily for her, she comes into her own a little quicker than I did—I was in college before I really felt sure of myself!

Can you tell us about your current project(s)?

I do have a new project, but I'm going to punt on this question, as it's still early days in it. I do a lot of my writing by feel, instead of major outlining, and anything I say about it is liable to change before it's finished!

What advice do you have for those of us who are struggling through writing our first novel?

My biggest advice is to keep writing. Write every day if you can. Just the act of sitting down every day and writing will get you into a groove that will make the days when inspiration seems far off a bit easier. Also, read everything you can in the genre you're writing, and then a lot that is outside it. If you don't like a book, figure out the reason you don't like it. Find people whose opinion you trust and ask them to read your work and offer an honest opinion, then learn how to take their critiques and use them to make your book stronger. Remember that rejection is something every writer goes through, and that perseverance and a thick skin are key to being a writer.

What do you like to eat while reading/writing?

Honestly, I do a lot of my writing in the early morning, so I don't do a whole lot of snacking while writing. But sometimes I'll snag a few peanut M&Ms or other small bits of chocolate if I need a pick-me-up.

Thanks Eilis!  Good luck with your next project.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

The False Princess by Eilis O'Neal

Food to eat while reading: Dyer’s Bread

Read my interview with author Eilis O'Neal.

The premise of The False Princess by Eilis O’Neal immediately drew me in. What if Aurora’s royal parents had switched the princess at birth to protect her from the evil sorceress? How would the false princess feel when she found out that not only was she common, but she had been placed purposely in harm’s way?

The pain and disbelief that Sinda, the false princess of O’Neal’s story, feels is tangible and poignant. I hurt with her as she left the palace and struggled to find a life with her aunt, a mere commoner.

As the plot progressed, I found myself admiring O’Neal for her story-telling ability. Having a great premise was not enough for this author; she heightened the story with alarming twists that I never expected.

Romance in the novel is sweet and doesn’t detract from the adventure and mystery of the plot. Kiernan is fiercely loyal and loves Sinda, “if you were the princess or a fishmonger’s daughter or a traveling gypsy” (p. 64).

The magic in the book is understated and not overbearing. It made the story feel natural, like it could happen to anyone. The one drawback to the subtle magic system is the lack of imaginative world-building. If there is magic in a book, I want to see what cool new things can happen in that magical world.

The verdict: You will be entertained, surprised, delighted and then when you think you have The False Princess figured out, you will be astounded at the magic O’Neal weaves.

Genre: YA, fantasy

Publisher: EgmontUSA, January 25th 2011, Hardcover, 336 pages

Where I got the book: EgmontUSA*

*My review reflects my own thoughts and I received only a copy of the book for my review.

Tasty Tuesday-Poor Dyer's Bread

I read a quote once that said, “Good bread is the great need in poor homes, and oftentimes the best appreciated luxury in the homes of the very rich.” -‘A Book for A Cook’, The Pillsbury Co. (1905).
In The False Princess by Eilis O'Neal, Sinda's Aunt Varil, a dyer by trade, offers her bread and cheese for her first simple meal as a commoner. To me the bread symbolizes the transition Sinda makes from her old life to her new, and then on to a third alternative that she never even supposed.

I wish you could scratch and sniff the photograph! The smell of this wheat bread baking in my house was simply heaven. Many times I have attempted to make my grandmother's wheat bread and instead ended up with heavy bricks. This time I substituted half of the wheat flour with white flour and added more gluten. The result was a light and fluffy loaf of bread that still boasted great nutrition and taste! Try it for yourself.

Poor Dyer's Bread

2 cups of white flour
2 cups of hot water

Mix 10 seconds

3 eggs
1/2 cup oil
2 T yeast
1/2 cup honey
Mix 10 seconds

3/4 cup gluten flour
2 T salt
1 c. flour (half white, half wheat) until dough doesn't stick to bowl

Mix for 10 minutes. Put into 5 loaf pans. Rise 1 hour. Bake at 350 for 30 minutes.
2 cups of wheat flour