#Fridayreads: Middle-grade audio books

Editorial Director Kelly Barrales-Saylor shares her thought on a couple audio books for this week’s edition of #FridayReads!

A couple weeks ago Wendy wrote in her #FridayReads that she recently discovered audiobooks. There must be something in the water at AW&Co, because I recently made the same discovery. I have a fairly long commute to and from work, so I have plenty of time to listen to books on tape (when I’m not singing along to my iPod or listening to Howard Stern). So I borrowed a couple audiobooks from my local library and here are the results: sometimes audiobooks are awesome and sometimes they are not.

I’ll admit, I’m a little behind on my middle grade reading list… Er, maybe I’m a lot behind since I’m still working my way through the 2013 and 2014 Newbery lists. I picked up Flora and Ulysses by Kate DiCamillo (read by Tara Sands) and The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate (read by Adam Grupper). Both of these books, as beautiful and imaginative literature, are awesome. But one worked perfectly as an audiobook and the other, not so much. Can you guess which is which?


For those of you as behind on middle grade books as me, Flora and Ulysses is the story of a young girl (Flora) with divorced parents who witnesses her neighbor accidentally vacuum up a squirrel (Ulysses) in her backyard. She runs to rescue the squirrel and realizes the squirrel can communicate with her—and might be some sort of super hero! This book is also full of really awesome illustrations by K. G. Campbell. You know what you can’t see when you’re listening to an audiobook? The really awesome illustrations by K. G. Campbell. Womp womp. They did an ok job of conveying through the audio what was happening in the comic book sequences, but the whole time I was listening to the book, I felt something was missing. I might need to reread this book as a book because I think my inner-10-year-old would’ve loved this story (and wished to discover a poetry-writing super hero squirrel). I can tell you one good thing: I do look at the squirrels in my neighborhood with a little more compassion now.


Ok, let me move on to The One and Only Ivan. This audiobook was amazing. It was a little slow to start because I struggled with the sad premise: A gorilla has been in captivity almost his entire life as the main attraction of a circus inside of a shopping mall. He lives in a glass enclosure and his friends include a stray dog and an elephant. It’s quite melancholy. But there was something so intriguing about the story. And each word Katherine Applegate chose was somehow so perfect I couldn’t stop listening. I’d stay in the car a few extra moments after I pulled into the driveway just so I could finish up a scene. There were quite a few times I had to finish crying in the parking lot before I walked up to our office building. Somewhere along the way, I found such joy and pain and love in this story. Adam Grupper’s reading and the voice he gave Ivan was so perfect. Just thinking about it now is making me tear up. As a book lover, I’m going to buy this one in hardcover just so I can have it in my collection.

I’m off to the library this weekend to pick a new audiobook. Any suggestions?

#Fridayreads: Middle-grade audio books

An Interview with Madame Martine

Sketches and interview by author Sarah Brannen

Madame Martine is a long-time resident of Paris. She and her dog, Max, live in the seventh arrondissement, on Rue du Gros Caillou, near the Eiffel Tower. They try something new every Saturday. We spoke on a recent chilly fall day in a café on Avenue de la Bourdonnais.
Sarah Brannen: It’s nice to see you again, madame. What new things have you and Max done lately?

Madame Martine: Well, we went to a tennis match last week! We saw Roger Federer play. He is very handsome. And also a good tennis player. In August we went to an opera performed out of doors.

SB: What opera was it?

MM: It was called Aida. We were very disappointed that there were no elephants. We wanted to see elephants. We saw elephants last spring in the circus—it was very exciting!

SB: Have you been back to the Eiffel Tower lately?

MM: Oh no. Dogs are not allowed, you know.

SB: Ah, that’s a good point. Now, madame, please tell me, what was the real reason you had never climbed the Eiffel Tower?

MM: Ouf. Alors. I suppose I must admit it. I am afraid of heights. My grandfather helped to build the tower. He hung on a harness from the highest level. He told me stories when I was a little girl, and I was terrified at the very thought!

SB: Well, you’ve climbed it now! By the way, what was the actual day you followed Max to the top?

MM: November 17. Do you want to know a secret?

SB: Of course! Do tell.

MM: It was my birthday! (Madame Martine got a fit of the giggles at this point and buried her face in Max’s fur.)

SB: What a perfect way to celebrate. Do you have any plans for your birthday this year?

MM: Well, since Max and I do something new every Saturday, we were thinking of picking one of our favorite new things and doing it again. I haven’t decided yet. Perhaps we’ll ride on the carousel again. Would you like that, Max? (Max barks.) Ah, you see, he likes the idea!

SB: Do you mind if I ask Max a few questions?

MM: Suit yourself. He doesn’t talk, you know.

SB: Max, sit! Good dog. What do you like best about living with Madame Martine?

SB: What’s your favorite place in Paris?
SB: Have you promised never to run away again?

MM: He is a very good dog. He does run away from time to time. He keeps me young! (She laughs.)

SB: May I ask you a rather personal question? Is there a…Monsieur Martine?

MM: Ah, non. Monsieur Martine died many years ago.

SB: My sympathies.

MM: C’est la vie.

SB: As you know, this interview will appear on a blog about children’s books. What was your favorite book when you were a child?

MM: Madeline by Ludwig Bemelmans. Also Burt Dow, Deep-Water Man, by your American author Robert McCloskey.

SB: Really?

MM: Mais oui. It is a wonderful book. You should read it.

SB: What’s next for you today? Shopping?

MM: Yes, we go to Rue Cler every day at about this time. I want to buy some cheese. And chicken and some mushrooms. (Max wags his tail.)

SB: Well, I won’t keep you. Thank you for chatting! Let’s do this again soon. Au revoir!

MM: That sounds delightful. À bientôt!


An Interview with Madame Martine

Teaching an Old Dog New Tricks

We love having company drop by, and guest bloggers are no exception.  Illustrator Will Terry joins us to talk about digital painting, Photoshop, and hitting the undo button. (And no, we did not ask him to put in a good word for us — though we thank him for the shout-out.)

When I was a boy attending elementary school in Maryland my teachers used to say, “stop day dreaming, sit up straight, pay attention, and stop drawing!” That  was a time in my life when I thought drawing was bad. Were my teachers right? Would I really amount to nothing if I kept drawing all the time? How could something so fun cause so many of my teachers to freak out? I started to hide my drawings under my desk. I’d pretend to really be into the lesson so I could throw them off the scent of my almost finished fire dragon. I even remember one of them saying, “you’ll never earn a living drawing goofy characters.” Over thirty years later, 2000 freelance jobs, and 20 children’s books I think I’ve finally proved to myself that it’s possible to dream big, work hard, and find success and happiness drawing goofy pictures.

I began my illustration career in 1992 and at that time I used acrylic paint on paper to create all of my images. I found my style through much frustration with the medium. Half or more of the paintings I started were disastrous but 4-5 years later I had figured out how to turn most of my drawings in to successful paintings. For the next 14 years I was on auto-pilot with my acrylic paintings and I didn’t want to be bothered with the constant bombardment from friends, colleagues, students, and my audience to use the computer for my work rather than paintbrush and paper. The overwhelming chorus was, “Why don’t you paint on the computer?” or “When are you going to switch over to photoshop?” Don’t get me wrong — I knew there were many advantages to working digitally, but hey, I’m an old dog and those guys were wanting me to learn a new trick. My reply was always the same, “show me how to copy my style/texture and I would love to make the switch” — even though I was terrified of having to learn how to use photoshop. Saying this always put a halt to the conversation because nobody could show me how to mimic my style and this tactic worked until one of my former students took on the challenge.

Jed Henry said, “I don’t really think it will be too hard to get it right.” I was polite to his face but inside I was thinking, “MWAAA HAA HAA…yeah, sure.” And then he proceeded to show me exactly how I could get “my look.” It was almost scary how he had me pegged – figured out – deconstructed. So I started playing with my wacom tablet and photoshop and was amazed at all of the benefits working digitally provided. Here they are in order of importance:

1. Zoom: I can get a better finished piece because I can now zoom into my painting and work on the smallest of details. This might seem like a small detail (yuck yuck) but if you’ve ever tried to paint an expression on a face the size of a penny you’ll understand how significant it is. I used to avoid showing characters in the middle ground and if they were in the background I’d try to make them so small that their head was too small to show their facial features. Now I don’t have to hide them anymore.

2. In a word: Undo. Ever wanted to have a bad decision in your life back so you could go down the other path? Painting digitally is like never having to suffer the consequences of a bad decision — EVER! Don’t like the mouth on that kid? Undo. That apple not red enough? Undo. Too many grass blades covering that bunny? Undo. Ate one too many slices of pizza? Well, there are some limits to photoshop.

3. Layers: Painting in layers allows me to try new effects as well as applying the finishing touches that may or may not turn out the way I intended. In the old days of acrylic paint I had to hold my breath and carefully build up the last few details – one wrong move and I had to start that area from scratch, repainting each layer.

4. Speed: I realize that art and speed might be at odds with each other, but in the freelance illustration world unfortunately time is money. With photoshop, I can change the brush size with a few keystrokes; change the flow of paint, color, opacity, and texture; grab an eraser and knock back heavy paint a little or a lot– without ever having to rinse a brush, change stale water, or hunt for the perfect brush. There are no more unscheduled inconvenient trips to the art store (sorry art store) for more cadmium red or arches 140 lb hot press.

5. Money: Painting on the computer saves me money. I no longer have to buy supplies. Gone are the days of paying for my paintings to be scanned at a color house and for Fed Ex shipping bills. The finished product is already in printable format and I can send my paintings via the internet.

I Just finished my fifth book with Albert Whitman (by the way, they’re great to work with) and it’s titled The Three Bully Goats by Leslie Kimmelman. This is my first book where all of the images were created completely using photoshop — 100% digital. If you’ve ever looked at my other books I think you’ll agree that the bully goat images look really similar to my traditional acrylic paintings.

So I guess you can train an old dog to do some new tricks…you never know — I might even learn how to do dishes too.

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Teaching an Old Dog New Tricks