Friday, May 31, 2013

Book Review #19: The Adventures of South Pole Pig

This month's Animal Fantasy Book Review features an animal I haven't blogged about before: pigs!  (And a cold-weather pig at that!)  The Adventures of South Pole Pig by Chris Kurtz is a fun read whether it's 33 or 93 degrees outside.  Here's the summary from the book jacket:

Flora's a die-hard dreamer.  She's never left the farm, but she knows she was born for adventure.  She's determined to become a sled pig!  What could be nobler than racing across the snow, puling a fast sled, and being part of a team?  And what could be crazier?

Could her dream really come true?

Before she learns the answer, Flora must maneuver a harrowing sea voyage, avoid a bacon-loving cook, and endure deadly conditions after she and the crew are shipwrecked.  How long can they survive?  Who will save them?  And what will happen to Flora, whose companions see her as more of a meal than an adventurer? 

It's hard not to love a protagonist whose biggest concern is to avoid ending up on the dinner table.  (Which is a very big concern, indeed!)  The basic plot brings to mind Charlotte's Web and Babe, but Kurtz puts a unique spin on the please-don't-eat-me story by placing the plucky pig, Flora, in an unusual circumstance with equally unusual dreams.  This twist on a familiar tale, plus his focus on a female character, make The Adventures of South Pole Pig really stand out from the other books around the barnyard.

The fact that Flora is a female protagonist didn't strike me as unusual while I was reading the book.  It wasn't until after I was finished and thinking about this post that I realized something odd: the majority of protagonists in my Animal Fantasy Book Review series have been male.  Out of nineteen total book reviews, about 75% of the stories have actually had male protagonists!  (And if they featured a female protagonist, a strong male character usually accompanied them.)  Flora breaks the mold by not only being a female herself, but finding herself partnered with a sassy female kitty called Sophia.  Why are male protagonists more common, you ask?  I've often heard that boys will *only* read books about boys, while girls will read books about boys OR girls, so authors tend to write about males characters to increase their audience.  (Of course I know that's not 100% accurate, and there are plenty of young male readers out there who like girl characters just fine.)  Flora is the perfect example of a female protagonist that appeals to all readers regardless of gender: she's brave, adventurous, vulnerable, kind, and downright lovable.  If she was a male, her daring do might be expected; in Flora, it's delightfully unexpected and adds so much to the story.  This is definitely something to think about when deciding if a male or female protagonist would best tell your own story.

Flora's ambitions and circumstances are just as unique as she is.  Kurtz puts his common farm animal character in an uncommon setting, giving her rather un-piggish dreams, too.  When not worrying about who wants to eat her, Flora dreams about becoming a sled pig.  She trains, she learns all she can, and she tries to show her worth to everyone.  Her brothers are lazy and content to lay around the pigpen, but she is strong and determined to live a life of adventure.  When Flora is picked out to be livestock (er, bacon) for an Antarctic expedition, she leaves the farmland and enters a world of blizzards and icebergs.  Pigs and snow may not seem to go together at first glance, but she proves this misconception wrong.  Though she needs a coat to keep her warm, her hooves are great for picking their way across ice-crusted snow, and her heart is as big as any sled dog's.  It turns out to be a winning combination: pigs + snow = awesome!  Throw in the fact that the crew is desperate to eat her after getting shipwrecked, and the stakes are even higher than some other piggies awaiting their fates back on the farm.  (No one was going to starve to death if Wilbur didn't get eaten in Charlotte's Web!)  Flora must be one tough pig as she strives to battle the elements, avoid the chopping block, achieve her sled-dog dreams, and ultimately save the day.  And yes, she does so all while being a female.  ;)  There is no doubt that Flora is a one-of-a-kind protagonist with a one-of-a-kind story, the type of book every writer dreams of creating.

If you enjoy tales filled with adventure and heart, The Adventures of South Pole Pig is a great pick for you.  If you like stories about underdogs (or rather underpigs), then this is definitely a winner for you!  And if you want to write a unique animal fantasy story, you can definitely learn a thing or two from studying this delightful novel. 

You can find out more about Chris Kurtz and his books at

And if you read this book, do let me know!  I'd love to hear what you think.  :)

Happy reading!  

Note: Summary blurb is from the jacket copy; cover art is from the book website and (c) Jennifer Black Reinhardt.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

COSCBWI May 2013: Jody Casella Author Visit

This month's COSCBWI meeting featured author Jody Casella.  Jody's forthcoming book, Thin Space, is set to release in September 2013, and she shared her publication journey with us.

It's always fascinating to hear an author's road-to-success story.  Jody has been writing her whole life, learning a lot along the way.  Thin Space will be her first published novel, but it was actually the sixth book she wrote.  Like many writers, she admitted she thought she was ready to submit before she actually was.  With a BA in Creative Writing and an MA in English, she already had a good foundation in writing, but attending conferences and workshops helped make her work stronger.  She's had her share of good--and bad--luck, including scoring an agent (woohoo!) only to have said agent make a career change (d'oh!).  But it has all worked for the best, and her current agent made her publishing dreams a reality.

Jody had a lot of interesting bits of advice to share, as well as some funny facts about her publication journey.  A few of these included:

-Don't over-think things.  As a perfectionist, she had the tendency in her first novels to write (and rewrite) a lot while in the drafting stage.  By the time she was done, a huge amount of time, energy, and words had been spent on a story that still needed a lot of work.  NANOWRIMO (aka, National Novel Writing Month) helped her adhere to writing goals and not get bogged down by nit-picking early drafts to death.  While her NANOWRIMO novel has changed a bit along the way, it ultimately became Thin Space.  (How cool is that?!)

-Find inspiration all around you.  Jody shared the stories behind her inspiration for Thin Space, including a shoeless boy she happened to see at her son's bus stop one day.  You never know when inspiration might strike, so be ready with a notebook and attentive eyes.

-Treat your writing (and illustrating) as if it's a "normal" job.  If you ran into a problem at your office, would you sit there and cry and doubt your self-worth?  Or would you find a solution through your own problem-solving skills and help from your peers/boss?  Don't be afraid to tackle a writing problem in different ways (it may take a few tries--or twenty), and never be afraid to ask others for help.

-Don't give up!  Jody once worked in acquisitions for a literary magazine.  It was her job to sort through the submissions and send out rejections.  She explained that ordinarily, 90% of the submissions were wrong for the magazine for any number of reasons, and that 10% were really great.  But of that top 10%, only three or four pieces could be chosen, and it broke her heart to send rejections to the writers that were sooooooo close!  (Which simply depended on the final say and whims of her supervisor.)  If you find yourself losing heart during your own submission process, remember that it's a subjective business and that you may just be closer than you think.

Lastly, Jody talked about her June blog interview series!  All month long, she'll be posting interviews with other writers regarding their publication journeys.  She has a wide variety of authors to spotlight, as well as many different routes to publication.  Be sure to check it out at:  (I can't wait to read the series!  June is just a few days away...)

I wish Jody the best of luck with her upcoming book release, and many more books to come!

If you want to learn more about COSCBWI, you can find out more on the group website at or "Like" us on Facebook!  I hope to see you at the June meeting!

Friday, May 24, 2013

IT'S SPRING!!!!!!!

Um, sort of?

I'm honestly not sure what season it is at the moment.  One day it's 60 degrees, the next day it's 90-something, and I literally turned my heat back on a couple of hours ago.  On May 24th.  Not cool.

Is it Sprumter?  Sumwing?  Winsprummer?

I have no clue, but at least it's FLOWER BLOOM!

Flowers say, "Hooray!"

Remember these freezing little guys?

Well, they grew up!  (And apparently multiplied.)  It took some time, but they shed their scarves, stretched their leaves, and blossomed into super-smiley flowers.

So while the weather outside may be unpredictable, at least everything is prettier!  (Although, I'm thinking those happy blooms may just need their earmuffs again before June...)

Happy Snow-Sun-Whatever Season!

Note: Photos and art by me!  I like to draw smiley faces on things...

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Motorcar Kathryn

I debated sharing this, but it's pathetically funny, so I figured what the heck.  (I do like making a fool of myself on this blog, now don't I?)

Last weekend, my hubby and I took a trip to Dearborn, Michigan with my family.  The trip was divided into two equal parts: a day at Greenfield Village for the ladies to enjoy some historical fun, and a day at the Henry Ford Museum for the guys to ogle cars.  (Sounds fair, right?)

While at the Henry Ford Museum, my hubby became enthralled with a touch-screen, interactive game.  After answering several multiple-choice questions, it showed you the car that best fit your personality.  Hubby was delighted to discover that because of his "fun-loving nature," he is most like the 1955 Corvette Roadster.

Vroom Vroom Hubby.

After seeing his sports car match, I said, "Ooooh--that looks like fun!  Let me try!"  So I answered all the questions and eagerly waited for my profile.  And what car did it match me to?

The 1989 Honda Accord Sedan, due to my "reliability and close attention to detail."

That's right--a SEDAN!  Not even a coupe!

At first I was offended.  Affronted.  Indignant.  How dare they compare ME to a boring old Accord!

And then I realized it's true--a bit sad, yes, but undeniably true.  I may not be the flashiest, or adventurous, or funnest vehicle out there, but by golly can you count on me to get you where you need to go.  (And make sure you have plenty of cup holders and leg room, too.)

That didn't stop hubby from mercilessly making fun of me, though.

Until hours later when he asked, in a panic, if I'd thought to pack his medicine (which the fun-loving Corvette had forgotten.)

And of course, the reliable little Accord had.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

COSCBWI May 2013 Illustrator Meeting: Postcards Part III

This month's COSCBWI Illustrator meeting focused on the group postcard project.  (As you may remember, COSCBWI members are currently working on a multi-month project creating illustrator postcards.  You can read more about that here and here.)   The meeting started out with group critiques on work-in-process postcards, and it was so fun to see everyone's progress!

After the critiques, I led a short discussion relaying information I'd learned at last weekend's big SCBWI "Wild Wild Midwest" Conference.  While at the conference, I was fortunate to attend a breakout session led by Simon & Schuster art director, Laurent Linn, and Wernick & Pratt agent, Linda Pratt.  The session was called "Illustration First Look" and involved quick critiques of illustrations submitted by attendees.  Both Linn and Pratt critiqued the pieces as if they just received them as a submission, noting what could be improved and what would make them look at an artist's website for further consideration.

This tied in perfectly to the COSCBWI postcard project, since postcards are what art directors, agents, and other professions initially use to evaluate an illustrator's work.  (And hopefully entice them to check out an artist's website!)  I shared some of Linn's and Pratt's generous feedback and tips for members to consider as they continue working on their postcards.  Some of these tips included:

-Make sure your illustration tells a story and isn't just a "portrait."  Industry professionals don't want to see that you can draw a good kangaroo--they want to know that you can convey this specific kangaroo's story in a compelling way.

-Pay close attention to the eyes in your piece.  Just as people make eye contact when they meet, the eyes of your characters will draw your viewer into an illustration.  Eyes can also influence whether an illustrator's technique and style is suited more for trade or mass market books, which can help you send your work to the appropriate places.

-Remember to think about the flow and page turn of a book.  You want your illustration's action to inspire readers to turn the page.  Showing your ability to do this in a postcard proves to professionals that you have a good understanding of illustrative direction.

-Don't send a piece that only shows the back of your characters' heads.  Doing so makes them question how comfortable you are drawing those oh-so-important expressions.  (You may want a piece like this in your portfolio, but it's not the best for a first-impression illustration.)

-Conveying strong emotions is extremely important.  If your piece can make an agent laugh or tug at the heartstrings of an art director, that is a VERY good thing!

-Be sure to show off your uniqueness!  That may be your creative use of medium or color, a creative twist on a common subject matter, or anything at all that makes you a one-of-a-kind illustrator!

After discussing how to apply some of these tips to group members' WIP postcards, we parted with the goal to improve our illustrations and make them the very best that they can be!  :)

If you want to learn more about COSCBWI, you can check out the group website at or like us on Facebook.  The next Illustrator Meeting will be June 12 with the goal for members to bring close-to-completion postcard pieces.  I hope to see you then!

Friday, May 10, 2013

SCBWI Wild Wild Midwest Conference Round Up

Howdy, partners!  I'm back from the SCBWI Wild Wild Midwest Conference with enough knowledge to fill a ten-gallon hat.  It was a rootin' tootin' weekend with a whole herd of dandy speakers and breakout sessions.  (Okay, I think that exhausts my supply of cowboy lingo!)  If you couldn't make it to the event, here are a few of my favorite pearls of wisdom from the weekend:

-Jane Yolen told us to remember that patience is everything.  It takes a lot of time, effort, and perseverance to publish a good book.  You get a chicken by hatching an egg, not by smashing it.  ;)

-Lin Oliver declared: Embrace your weirdness!  Writers are not ordinary thinkers (I think any story with a stinky cheese man or word-spinning spider makes that clear), so let your weird instincts lead you to your own unique story.

-Franny Billingsley said that you can't sit in bed and hope people will find your book.  You have to get out there and give it the very best chance you can.

-Linda Pratt reminded us that when your character gets lots in your story, so does your reader.  Think about that!

-Peter Brown showed us through his illustrations that it's okay to try new styles and techniques.  Let the story tell you how it should be illustrated (or written), and don't be afraid to take chances!

-Kathi Appelt encouraged us to write about the things we love and fear.  She also ended the final keynote with the oh-so-important reminder that anything (even our wildest dreams) is POSSIBLE!

Of course, every word spoken by every presenter was absolutely brilliant, but these were just a few of the pointers that hit home with me.  :)

Now that I'm thoroughly inspired, it's time to get back to writing, illustrating, and chasing those publishing dreams!  I definitely hope there's another Wild Wild Midwest conference on the horizon.  I'll be there with spurs on!

All I have left to say is: There's a snake in my boot!  (I really need to work on my cowboy-isms for the next conference...)

Note: Photo was taken by me at the conference.

Friday, May 3, 2013

A Stupid, Sappy Post

Fair warning: This post is ridiculously sentimental, maybe even gag-worthy.  So if you're rolling your eyes by the end of this entry, don't say I didn't warn you. 

While gathering my essential materials for this weekend's SCBWI "Wild Wild Midwest" conference, I realized something shocking: my conference notebook is completely full.  Every page is stuffed with my chicken scratch, beginning with the first conference I ever attended in September 2008.

I know this should be categorized under "mildly surprising" rather than "shocking," but it was quite a revelation to me.  I can't believe I've been attending conferences and workshops for five years now, accumulating enough knowledge to fill an entire notebook. 

Flipping to that first page made me reflect on 2008 Kathryn--a greenhorn who attended her first conference solo.  I'd felt like the hero in an adventure story, striking out on my epic journey with an eager heart and a brand new notebook at my side.  I was hopeful, terrified, and yes, a bit naive, too.  (Yup, I totally thought my unfinished manuscript would score a book deal by the end of the weekend.)  Trying my best to look like an adult instead of a whippersnapper fresh out of college, I swallowed my shyness, sat at a table full of complete strangers, and opened my blank notebook.  Editor Kristin Daly (Rens) took the podium and gave the keynote address.  I sat in awe and scribbled like a maniac, determined to record every one of her inspiring words. 

Five years and one full notebook later finds me still on that path to publication.  I'm wiser and older (and quite a bit less naive), but still that hopeful girl who just wants to share her stories with the world.  Those college-ruled pages remind me of where I've been--every conference, every workshop, a dozen hotels, and even one magical farmhouse.  They're filled with friendships and road trips, nail-biting critiques, and encounters with writing rock stars.  They're bursting with triumphs and tears, with happiness and heartache.  Epiphanies, pearls of wisdom, and everything I never knew I needed to know.  They're a reminder that the journey is just as important as the destination.

I'll admit, I had a hard time picking out a successor notebook.  When I bought my first one all those years ago, I didn't give one thought about where it would go and who it would meet.  I never predicted the wealth of information it would ultimately contain.  I bought it because it was pretty and on sale, and didn't have a puppy on it.

This time, I shopped with the foresight of traveling and endurance, of overstuffed tote bags and scribbling on my lap.  I bought my new one because it is sturdy, simple, and should last me another five years.  And also because it doesn't have a puppy on it.

The Old and the New.

So here I am, 2013 Kathryn, striking out on another adventure.  My fellowship of traveling companions now rivals Frodo Baggins'.  I'm thick-skinned and battle-scarred, but my heart is just as eager as when I began my epic journey.  I'm armed with my brand new notebook.  I have no idea where those blank pages will take me, but I can't wait to find out.

Okay, I'm done be sappy now.  (Did I exhaust your gag reflex?)  You can look forward to another post like this in 2018.  ;)