Friday, August 13, 2010

Book Giveaway and Guest Teaching Author Interview with Barbara Bottner (who shares her favorite exercise for picture book writers!)

Author/illustrator Barbara Bottner
Today I'm pleased to introduce you to your guest TeachingAuthor: Barbara Bottner.  Barbara was among my first teachers in this field--lucky me!   Barbara has written--and in some cases illustrated--over thirty-six books for children, published by all the major houses. She has contributed to every aspect of the field; from wordless picture books, picture books, story books, I Can Reads, Chapter books, middle grade and two Young Adult novels.  

Her most recent picture book,  Miss Brooks Loves Books (and I don’t), illustrated by Michael Emberley, was on the New York Times Bestseller list, an Indie Pick for Spring, the March Amazon Pick, the Bank Street pick, as well as garnering starred reviews and appearing on blogs everywhere.

What's it about?  With the help of Miss Brooks, Missy’s classmates all find books they love in the library—books about fairies and dogs and trains and cowboys. But Missy dismisses them all—“Too flowery, too furry, too clickety, too yippity.” Still, Miss Brooks remains undaunted. Book Week is here and Missy will find a book to love if they have to empty the entire library. What story will finally win over this beastly, er, discriminating child? William Steig’s Shrek!—the tale of a repulsive green ogre in search of a revolting bride—of course!Barbara Bottner and Michael Emberley pay playful homage to the diverse tastes of child readers and the valiant librarians who are determined to put just the right book in each child’s hands.

See below for information on how you can enter to win an autographed copy of Miss Brooks Loves Books (and I don't)!

Barbara's other well-known titles include Bootsie Barker Bites, illustrated by Caldecott winner Peggy Rathmann, and Wallace's Lists, co-written with her husband, Gerald Kruglik (who's a doctor in his spare time!). Bootsie and Wallace were both animated and translated into other languages. 

Scaredy Cats was selected as the One Picture Book, One Community choice for the Miami Book Fair. She has taught award-winning authors such as Lane Smith, (Stinky Cheese Man) Laura Numeroff, (If You Give a Mouse a Cookie) Bruce Degan, (The Magic School Bus) Peggy Rathmann,(Officer Buckle and Gloria), Robin Preiss Glasser,(Fancy Nancy) Antoinette Portis,(Not a Box) Denise Doyan (Once Upon a Twice) and received “The Distinguished Teaching Award” from the New School in 1990. She has taught at UCLA, Parson’s School of Design, has been on staff for the Miami Book Fair, and lectured nationwide.  Visit her website and check out her artwork!

When I heard about the wild success of Barbara's latest picture book, Miss Brooks Loves Books (and I don't), I knew I wanted to interview her for our TeachingAuthors blog.

Howdy, Barbara! 
How did you become a TeachingAuthor?
I had just published my first book, What Would You Do With a Giant, and around that time I was also doing a little bit of work in the advertising business.  For some strange reason, an art director told me quite out of the blue that he thought I’d make a good teacher. I’d met him only a few minutes before, but I decided to follow up on his tip.

He sent me to the New School for Social Research in the Village which owned Parsons School of Design. The Dean was available, so I sat down with him. He hired me on the spot, not because I had anything much to recommend me. I had written and illustrated a single picture book. As I went through the revolving doors, the teacher who had been scheduled to teach writing and illustrating books for children, was leaving on the same rotation. It was Kismet: I was learning how to write and was facing a huge class of opinionated New Yorkers who wanted to learn. I basically taught myself as I taught them.
(c) artwork by Barbara Bottner.  All rights reserved.

Out of the early days at Parsons, Laura Numeroff, Bruce Degan, Jacquii Hann, and many other talents passed through my doors. By day, Maurice Sendak was there and we shared a student whom we agreed was not being recognized by her teachers. She went on to publish a book she worked on with me (and Maurice? Don’t know!) Her name is Amy Aiken.

When I was to leave New York for LA, I asked to be transferred to the faculty here, when Otis Parsons was down by McArthur Park. Happy days and it's where I met you, April.

You were a fabulous and generous teacher, Barbara.  You introduced me to your editor at Scholastic who became my first editor.  And I'm still using what you taught me in both my writing and my teaching.  So let's talk about your teaching.  What's a common problem your students have and how do you address it?

I’m mostly dealing with novels now, although there are some writing picture books to very great, even national success. Novels are complex by nature. The voice, to me, is very important and can lead you deeply into the core of a story, but as we know, plot has to be dealt with. So balancing the raw juice of the narrative voice but knowing when to start thinking of plot is an issue. We don’t want contrived stories, so it’s a back and forth.  The other thing that happens is that sometimes we writers zoom past the obligatory dramatic scenes because we’re in it for the long haul. I find I often stop and say to a writer----where’s this confrontation? The tendency can be there to overlook the most dramatic of moments. I find now, that my entire class picks that up for each other right away. We all scan the work closely, so nobody gets away with weak writing or weak prose.

This makes me want to sign up for your class again!  Would you share a favorite writing exercise for our readers?

For picture books, I love this assignment: Think of something going on in the pictures that isn’t going on in the text. This is a powerful way to think pictorially and to think in juxtapositions. My early book, Myra, was a direct result of applying the exercise.  Peggy Rathmann’s two books, Officer Buckle and Gloria, and Goodnight, Gorilla both originated from this exercise, as many other picture books have, including, most recently, Not a Box, and Not a Stick, by Antoinette Portis.

I remember that exercise.  It's harder than it seems.  That's what's behind your deceptively simple book, Be Brown, too.  Okay, what's one piece of advice you have for teachers?

My best advice for teachers is to be honest. Kind, but honest. And following that, it would be to try to get to the deepest emotional core of the story the student is wanting to tell. And at times, know when to say, ‘keep going’ and know when to advise them to dig a little deeper. A superficial story is never going to be satisfying, even if well-told and, in my opinion, serves no one. I find people really want the encouragement to be a little bolder and aim for meaningful stories, even if they’re funny and entertaining. Don’t let them off with ‘good enough.’ There is no such thing a ‘good enough,’ is there? 

Can you share the story about how you sold your first book?

Well, when I wrote What Would You Do With a Giant, I was brand spanking new and had no contacts or inside information. But back in those days if you were an illustrator, you could meet art directors and even editors by making an appointment.  I remember going up to Knopf when the (to some of us) famous Fabio Cohn took a look at my book dummy.

He got very defensive all of a sudden and said, “I don’t know who you are. You just blew in the door. I can’t just publish you because you’re young and talented. I just won’t!”

That’s the moment I realized I was going to get published, but not by him. Eventually I published at Knopf and my most recent book, full circle, is a Knopf book. I always remembered Fabio affectionately, as he really told me such good news.
(c) artwork by Barbara Bottner.  All rights reserved.

Readers, to enter our drawing for an autographed copy of Barbara Bottner's Miss Brooks Loves Books (and I don’t) you must follow these Entry Rules:

  1. You must post a comment to today's blog post telling us why you'd like to win a copy of Barbara's book. 
  2. You must include contact information in your comment. If you are not a blogger, or your email address is not accessible from your online profile, you must provide a valid email address in your comment. Entries without contact information will be disqualified. Note: the TeachingAuthors cannot prevent spammers from accessing email addresses posted within comments, so feel free to disguise your address by spelling out portions, such as the [at] and [dot].
  3. You must post your comment by 11 pm (CST) Friday, August 20, 2010. (The winner will be announced on Saturday, August 21.)
  4. You must have a mailing address in the United States.
  5. If you win, you automatically grant us permission to identify you as a winner on our TeachingAuthors website.  
For more information on our winner selection/notification process, see our official giveaway guidelines.

Blogosphere Buzz

Poet extraordinaire David Harrison's interviews me today, too!


cbrothman said...

Picture books are one of my favorite books to read to my students as I kick off my writers workshop lesson. I love to share with my students how they are authors too. I show them examples of books that address one moment and one time while expanding their references with different authors' talents. This is a perfect book to add to my personal library. Every year I always have one of those students that have a hard time choosing a book from our library, I know this year will be no different. My email address is Thanks in advance to the lucky winner.

Cathy Ogren said...

As a librarian in a small school, I’ve had students tell me they can’t find anything they like to read in our library. I look around at all the books we have and sigh. Then I start pulling books–all kinds of books–which I think those students will like. Miss Brooks Loves Books (and I don’t) is a perfect book to share with finicky readers! Email address: cso_11[at]charter[dot]net

Carmela Martino said...

What a great interview! Thanks so much for sharing with us, Barbara. I'm definitely going to try your picture book exercise.

ellenlebowitz said...

Hello Barbara,

Miss Brooks Loves Books (and I don't) looks like my kind of book.

I am a huge fan of children's books. So I can't wait to buy yours.

Thank you and Michael Emberley.

All my best,
Ellen Lebowitz

Beth said...

I love that Barbara said that "I basically taught myself as I taught them." when talking about her first teaching job. The fact that one gets to learn as one teaches is one of the best things about the job!

This new book sounds like the perfect book for any classroom: funny, great illustrations, and the message that there is a book out there for everyone. This is one of the messages I try to instill in every one of my students. I can't wait to check out this book!

My email address is bgottlieb[at]wheatonbible[dot]org

Patricia Hruby Powell said...

How could I have missed knowing Barbara Bottner's books. Thanks to your Teaching Authors website I will miss her no longer. I've just requested a dozen of her books from my library.

My sister is the marvelous un-trained librarian at Incline Elementary in Nevada. She IS Miss Brooks. And her budget for books is close to zilch, so I must get her this book. I would be Missy--although I'm not a reluctant reader--I call it discerning. Okay, so maybe I'm Miss Brooks, as well, but I'm just a substitute and the library already has two copies.

If I win, I will study Barbara's book (I'm a writer) then give it to my sister for her library.

phpowell at talesforallages dot com

April Halprin Wayland said...

Yes, yes...Barbara is one of those authors and teachers we should all was a privilege to interview her!

Peggy Archer said...

There's a book for everyone, as I discovered when my son, who was in the 5th grade and did Not like to read (how dare he!) insisted on ordering a book that I thought would be too hard for him. He finished it in 2 days. win or not, I'm going to look up your pb. I love pb's and seeing how authors can make a point in so few words.
Peggy at

Kathleen Adams said...

I loved reading your interview. This book would be perfect for the students that I will be teaching this year. I teach struggling readers in fourth and fifth grades, many of whom can't seem to find any books that interest them in our library. I'm not going to give up this year until I can introduce them to books that just might change their minds about all those "uninteresting" books in our library.


Unknown said...

When I read Miss Brooks Loves Books (and I don't), I thought, "I am Miss Brooks!" I'm a children's librarian in a public library, and I have dressed in costumes, worn silly hats, buttons and crazy necklaces, made bulletin boards, flyers and special bookmarks--all to make sure each child finds a book to love. Barbara Bottner has hit the mark with this book, and it's one I expect will elicit giggles at class visits and story times.

I'm also a writer, and I enjoyed reading the interview. What a great writing exercise! I'm off to visualize the non-verbalized goings on in the illustrations!

Denise Doyen said...

Wise words, Barbara.
Great interview, April.
:- )

april Halprin Wayland said...

I can attest that Ann IS Miss Brooks--I've seen her in action!

And thanks Denise!

Eric Carpenter said...

Great interview with a great author. Thanks!

elsie said...

I work with teachers learning to implement reading and writing workshop. Too often I see teachers who can't recommend books to their students because they are not voracious readers of kids books. This would be a great book to begin the discussion of being able to suggest books to students. I will use her idea for telling the story. Who knew all these books I have enjoyed started out with that writing exercise.(

Cathy Cronin said...

Great interview! Can't wait to try the exercise. I would love to win the book because I have heard those comments "I have nothing to read" uttered in my own home. And I always take it as a personal challenge to find just the right book to make my little readers happy again. This book sounds darling. So glad to know about this author. Going straight to the library to check out her books!

Cathy Cronin

Beverly Patt said...

LOVE this idea for a pb and LOVE this idea for WRITING pb's:) I have several unshopped pb manuscripts I will try to 're-vision' using this technique!
Thanks for the inspiration,

Pat Zietlow Miller said...

I would love to use this book at my daughters' school! Thanks for the writing tips, too!

Pat Zietlow Miller
patmiller11 at charter dot net

Kelly Polark said...

Wonderful interview! Her newest book sounds like a delight!
Love the writing tips here. I'm working on an mg right now, but I love writing pbs as well!

Sandy Brehl said...

Great interview and advice, Barbara! I'd love to use this book with my pb workshop. The autograph is a bonus, so please enter me in the drawing-

Barbara's website is a wonderful resource, too, and I always enjoy the generous mention of other author's books in these interviews.
Sandy Brehl

Margo Dill said...

I love the story of when you were first starting out. :) Thanks for sharing the writing exercise, too. It is very hard for writers to think in pictures sometimes--I find it is taking years of practice, practice, practice, and reading, reading, reading. Thanks for the tips for teachers, too. Love those!

Margo Dill
margodll (at)

Ms. O said...

I read Ms. Brooks this summer. SO FUNNY! How many times a day do I hear something along the lines of "I don't like to read" or "I can't find anything." WELL! That is when I step in and do my darndest to change that.

We have a Ms. Brooks on campus. She's a regular classroom teacher ... but I need to share this book with her!

Looking forward to a new year of matching readers who don't know it yet to NEW BOOKS!

BJ Schneider said...

Llucky me! I have two grandsons ages 12 and 8 who are voracious readers, one with dyslexia and one with ADHD. Amazing! They'd never understand someone not liking to read.