Wednesday, April 27, 2016

National Arbor Day

National Arbor Day is this Friday! This important day has been around since the very first Arbor Day was celebrated on April 10, 1872 in Nebraska. A pioneer named J. Sterling Morton, who had moved to the Nebraska territory in 1854, had the greatest influence in creating the holiday, and he worked hard to establish the importance of planting and maintaining trees throughout the country.

For pioneers in the Midwest, planting trees was incredibly important for fuel, building materials, and even just having some shade amidst all the flat plains. On the first Arbor Day, it is believed that over one million trees were planted in Nebraska. Now, National Arbor Day is celebrated on the last Friday of April, but each state has its own special Arbor Day to plant trees at the most opportune time for their growth and health.

If you are interested in the history of Arbor Day and the story of J. Sterling Morton, you can find out more here. If you want to get involved with Arbor Day in your own state or town, learn about planting and growing trees here. To see when your state celebrates Arbor Day, check out this map. Keep in mind that for many Southern states, state Arbor Day is celebrated earlier in the year!  

Arbor Day Square is a great book to teach your child the importance of helping the environment, and it also comes with the additional free resource of a teacher's guide

Katie and her papa are among a group of settlers building a town in the middle of the dusty, brown prairie. Every week the trains bring more people and more lumber to build houses, fences, and barns. New buildings go up including a church with a steeple, a store with glass windows, even a schoolhouse with desks for all the children.

But one thing is missing: Trees!

When the townspeople take up a collection to order trees from back east, Katie adds her own pennies and Papa's silver dollar. When the tiny saplings finally arrive, Katie helps dig holes and fetch water. Then in a quiet corner of the public square, Katie and Papa plant a flowering dogwood in memory of Mama. 

Look for Arbor Day Square at your local library, indie bookstore, or Barnes & Noble.

Let us know how you chose to celebrate Arbor Day!

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Peachtree Spotlight: Courtney Hood

Peachtree Publishers is made up of some wonderful, talented people. We get to be around each other, working together every day, but everyone else is missing out! So for the next few weeks, we are going to be highlighting some of the people that make Peachtree what it is today.

The first person to enter the spotlight is Courtney Hood. She answered some questions so everyone could get to know her and her position at Peachtree a little better.

Tell us about your history with Peachtree.

I started as an editorial intern 10 years ago before being hired to work full-time in the sales and production departments. My initial responsibilities included order entry and customer service in sales, as well as assisting our Production Manager. I now oversee the entire order process and manage school and library author events for the sales department. I am also in charge of reprints (analyzing stock, getting pricing, initiating purchase orders, etc.) for the production department, and am the Awards Coordinator (shipping review copies and coordinating with awards committees). It’s not uncommon for employees to work in multiple departments at small publishers like Peachtree, but I might take it to the extreme.

What are your top three favorite books, any genre?

I don’t think that I can choose just three, so let’s narrow it down a bit. My three favorite children’s books are The Westing Game, Number the Stars, and the Harry Potter series.

If you could be a literary character for a day, who would you be?

I want to live in the Harry Potter wizarding world, even for just one day. I don’t even care which character (ok, maybe not a Death Eater), I just want to hang out in Diagon Alley and do magic.

Who is your hero or role model and why?

My Aunt Rebecca worked in publishing for a long time and was the first one to encourage me to channel by love of books into an actual career.

What is your favorite thing about working at Peachtree?

The books. I love the books that we create and I’m proud of the work that I do, getting such wonderful titles into children’s hands. We also get signed copies of every title Peachtree publishes, which is fun.

In your position, what do you consider to be your secret weapon?

The ability to multitask is a big plus when you technically work in three different departments.

Do you have any big interests or hobbies that you focus on outside of work?

I wish I could say something interesting like treasure hunting or synchronized skydiving (is that a thing?), but my life is pretty simple outside of work. I mostly spend my free time hanging out with friends and family, reading, and watching Netflix.

If, in an alternate reality, you were to have gone a completely different career route, what would you have done?

I was very into dance when I was younger. If I had had a bit more talent and a thicker skin, I would have loved to dance for a living.

Write your questions or comments below!

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Make Your Own Kite!

So Big Wind Day is a thing. And it's today! It certainly comes at the right time of year, with all the lovely spring breezes ushering in some warm weather. Of course, with lots of windy days, kite-flying should be at the top of everyone's to-do list.

If you need some literature to get you in the mood for windy days and kite-flying, be sure to check out Elizabeth Spurr's latest board book In the Wind. Perfect for toddlers, the simple, evocative language describes a girl's experience on a windy day; the lovely illustrations by Manelle Oliphant could even give you some design ideas for your next kite project or kite-flying outing!

In case you don't happen to have a kite handy, we've collected a few kite-making tutorials so that everyone can join in the fun of Big Wind Day.

This one is for the kite-flyers who like the more natural, neutral look for their kite.
Style Me Pretty

This one has streamers galore, with more simple ingredients for a bright and beautiful end product.
Inner Child Fun

This one removes all excuses for not being able to fly a kite. All the components are right under your nose!
2 Little Hooligans

This one is for any kite-makers who want to break out of the usual kite box with some fun designs!
Red Ted Art

This one leaves the design up to the kite-flyer but provides all the necessary blueprints for the perfect kite.
Squawk Fox

Find In the Wind at your local library, indie bookstore, or Barnes & Noble!

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

National Poetry Month

The warm weather is here to stay. The trees are blooming, and the flowers are out. With bees buzzing and the sun shining, springtime just might be the most poetic time of year. We're in the mood for poetry, and April is National Poetry Month!

We hope you've caught the poetry bug as well, because we not only have some great poetry, but we also want to share a story about a great poet. So whether you want to read poetry or read about poetry this month, we've got you covered. Enjoy!

Poet: The Remarkable Story of George Moses Horton

George loved words. But George was enslaved. In this powerful biography of poet George Moses Horton, the first Southern African-American man to be published, Don Tate tells an inspiring and moving story of talent and determination.

At the Sea Floor Café
Witty poems and elegant artwork let us know what's on the menu for some unusual undersea creatures. Leslie Bulion gives readers a clever collection of poems that describes the devious and sometimes surprising methods ocean denizens use to forage for food, capture prey, trick predators, and protect their young.

Random Body Parts
Take a free-form trip through the human body with these humorous riddle poems. Which body part, if spread out flat, would cover a tennis court? Stretched end to end, which body parts would wrap four times around the equator? What's the hardest substance in the human body? Leslie Bulion has put together anatomical, poetic, and visual clues that will help readers discover the answers to these questions -- and many more!

Bring on the Birds; Stripes of All Types;
Spectacular Spots; and Fabulous Fishes
With simple, rhyming text and brightly colored, richly textured illustrations, author-illustrator Susan Stockdale introduces young readers to some of the distinctive qualities in animals. These board books are a great way to introduce rhythm and rhyme found in poetry to children just beginning to learn about language.

Grow: A Novel in Verse
This verse novel by Juanita Havill for young readers uses rich, evocative language to deliver a powerful story of the extraordinary magic that occurs every day when ordinary people work together.

The Book of Shadowboxes
Take a step into Laura Seeley's enchanting world of shadowboxes, where the ABC's spring magically to life with vibrant illustrations and bouncing verses that will delight and instruct readers.

Cats Vanish Slowly
Meet the cats on Grandmother's farm as they wind their way through these twelve poems. Poet Ruth Tiller captures the personalities and moods of each of her cats in clear, concise language easy enough for young readers, but with evocative imagery and varied rhythms that will engage the interest of older readers as well.

Find these books and more at your local library, indie bookstore, or Barnes & Noble!

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

March Madness Roundup

March Madness is upon us! Predictions are in, and the bracket-busters have already begun. Hopefully the basketball fever is just getting started for readers, because we have some great basketball books for the season!

The following titles come from author Fred Bowen, a lifelong sports fanatic who has coached youth league baseball, basketball, and soccer. It’s tip-off time—start reading!

The Final Cut

Four friends who share a love of basketball have to go through tryouts for the school team. But will they all make the team?

Full Court Fever
The Falcons have the skill but not the height required to win their games. Will they be able to win the dreaded end-of-the-season game against their much taller rivals? 

Hardcourt Comeback
When a basketball team's star forward loses his confidence, he has to learn how to think like a winner again.

Off the Rim
Chris yearns to be more than a bench warmer on the Oak View Middle School basketball team. With the help of his best friend Greta and her mom, Chris begins to change his defensive strategy and successfully learns to keep his opponents from scoring. 

On the Line
Marcus is the high scorer and best rebounder on his basketball team, but he's not so great at free throws, until the school custodian helps him overcome his fear of failure.

Real Hoops
Can street ball and technical play mix it up on the court and score wins for the team? Can Ben convince Hud to leave his hotshot style back on the pickup court?

Look for these titles and more at your local library, indie bookstore, or Barnes & Noble!

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Sunday Brunch with Henry Cole

The Somewhat True Adventures of Sammy Shine—by New York Times-bestselling author-illustrator Henry Cole—features an adorable mouse on a big adventure. When Hank’s brother sends Sammy up in in a remote airplane and loses control, Sammy suddenly finds himself at the wheel of the mechanical bird. Just when he thinks he might be able to steer to safety, Sammy crashes into the Great Woods with no way home and a new enemy. Fortunately, Sammy forms a group of woodland friends, and together they embark on the quest of a lifetime: to find his broken plane and fly home to Hank. 

To learn a little more about the story behind the story, the wonderful Henry Cole agreed to share how his new book was inspired by his own childhood memories and experiences of playing outdoors.

Tell us the story behind The Somewhat True Adventures of Sammy Shine. Why did you decide to call it “somewhat true?”

I called the book "SOMEWHAT" true adventures because the story is somewhat true. I based the characters of Jimmy and Hank on my brother (Jimmy) and myself. I had a pet mouse as a kid named Sammy, and Jimmy was always making and inventing things, so I put them into a story.

The Somewhat True Adventures of Sammy Shine takes place almost entirely in the woods. Are there any areas like the “Great Woods” near your childhood home, or where you live now?

We had "The Woods" at the north end of our farma deciduous woods with tulip poplar and hickory and oak and sassafras and dogwood trees. Also honeysuckle, pokeberries, goldenrod and mayapples, all which invited birds like blue grosbeaks, ruby throated hummingbirds, downy woodpeckers, red-tailed hawks and catbirds. Perfect!

Have memories of growing up on a farm influenced your books?

I’d say so!! Growing up on a farm has probably influenced my books more than anything else. I think the intimate relationship I had with the wildlife like maidenhair ferns and spotted salamanders and blue-gray gnat catchers has influenced everything I do.

Did your personal experiences and childhood memories inspire your illustrations in the book? 

Yes!  The picture of the workroom where Jimmy displays the Spirit of Sammy? That’s almost identical to the one we had growing up. My oldest brother Bill saw the drawing and knew immediately what it was! The picture of me at breakfast? Our kitchen. Of the bedroom with Sammy and Phoebe in the window? My bedroom. And all of the illustrations that depict flora and fauna… they all come from years growing up exploring the woods.

You once said in an interview that there are “so many schools [that] seem to be homogenized, sterile environments, and I wonder what kids are doing after school that is creative play.” Why do you think creative play is an important tool for learning? Was Sammy Shine inspired by creative play? 

Sammy was DEFINITELY inspired by creative play. The only kind of play we did as kids was creative play. There were no video games—even board games were pretty dull and only to be considered during blizzards, etc.  I was lucky to grow up in a house where there were places to build, cut wood, solder metal, spill paint…and there was room outside to build forts and tree houses, design and build toy boats and submarines, explore, put up bird houses…I could go on and on!  But that’s where ideas and memories come from: creative play.

What were some of your favorite outdoor activities as a child?

Favorite activities: I loved building bird houses, and then watching to see who moved in, who raised families, and such.  I loved gardening: had terrific vegetable gardens and grew amazing things. I also loved drawing: I drew all the time, mostly things that happened on the farm, but also fantasy animals and underwater cities.

Nature themes run through many of your books. Do any new insights from the natural world appear in Sammy Shine

Sammy Shine has some very loose connections to The Wizard of Oz, possibly my all-time favorite movie. Sammy leaves, but wants to get home. But I took it one more step: he gets back home, and then realizes how wonderful the Woods was. I’m thinking that maybe people will see how great it is to get connected, or maybe re-connected, to the outside world, like Sammy did.

Is your process for illustrating your own book different from illustrating someone else’s writing?

While I was writing Sammy Shine I kept thinking of places that I wanted to put pictures. So I guess the process of creating your own story is different from illustrating someone else’s story…because you’re constantly imagining the whole thing in your head as you write.

What do you hope readers will get out of reading Sammy Shine? 

Sometimes I think stories should just be tiny little escapesno homework, no troubled homes…and please no more Dystopia!!where kids can go and let their imaginations go. Here’s a perfect story for that: fly away with a courageous little pet mouse, crash-land in a foreign world, and then try to get home.  My favorite quote from a letter I received from a kid: “You make my life feel like a new place.” What a great compliment!

Follow Sammy Shine and his friends on their adventure when The Somewhat True Adventures of Sammy Shine lands on bookshelves April 1st!

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

New Book Wednesday: The Somewhat True Adventures of Sammy Shine

The adventure begins April 1st! Join Sammy Shine and his new friends in The Somewhat True Adventures of Sammy Shine.

When Sammy Shine takes off unexpectedly in a remote-controlled plane, he ends up in a whole new world; no longer does he live in the comfort of his shoe box in Hank's room. Now he's lost in the woods, with no way to get home, and a dangerous enemy. Fortunately, a group of new friendsincluding a mouse, an injured crow, a newt, and a shrewwill help him find and repair his plane so he can try to get back home.

Inspired by a childhood experience, New York Times-bestselling author Henry Cole offers this charming, illustrated novel featuring adorable animal characters, an exciting adventure, and an action-packed plot.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

An Inside Look at the Illustrator-Publisher Collaboration

Picture books involve a great deal of collaboration between multiple people who give ideas, critique, and feedback to make the beautifully illustrated stories that end up on bookshelves. We’ve described what goes into the author-editor relationship, but we also wanted to provide a glimpse of the relationship and collaboration between a publishing team and an illustrator. We sat down with Vicky Holifield, a Senior Editor here at Peachtree, and Nicki Carmack, our Creative Director.

Between the two of them, you’re looking at decades of experience working with artists in the publishing industry. We spoke with Vicky and Nicki (going to have fun with that rhyming scheme for the rest of the post) in order to get a perspective on illustration from both the editorial, as well as the creative and production side of things. We tried to hit what Vicky and Nicki considered the most important parts of the process and the most important things for an illustrator to know or do. We began at the beginning.

The Search

Vicky Holifield
Senior Editor
Initiating the search for an illustrator is primarily the work of an editor, so Vicky weighed in for our initial questions. She explained that it is the editor’s responsibility to get to know a manuscript well enough to look for an illustrator that would best suit the story. Although it varies from company to company, Vicky emphasized that Peachtree likes to be very collaborative in establishing the tone and style of art that works best with the story; this involves having a discussion with the author to make sure they agree on art style before she begins her search.

Vicky said that she herself sometimes begins looking for illustrators by simply browsing the library and looking at books with similar topics or categories to see how various artists have dealt with the subject matter, but she’ll keep in mind the specific tone she is considering.  Since a library will only show published illustrators, she also spends time looking at portfolios. If the book is going to be about animals, for example, she looks for artists who specialize in illustrating animals.
Nicki Carmack
Creative Director

Of course, it’s not all that simple. Vicky expounded that “there are a lot of artists who can reproduce reality,” but often what she’s looking for is someone providing a different slant who can “give a fresh look at the commonplace.” This is where the importance of tone comes into play. Nicki and Vicky agreed that a story can be illustrated with so many different approaches—whether it’s humorous, didactic, or lighthearted. Sometimes the right illustrator is simply someone who reads the story and “gets it,” and sees the story in the same tone that the author, editor, and production team see it.

The Nitty-Gritty

At Peachtree, although the editor typically gets the search for an illustrator underway, the author and production team often propose other illustrators for consideration; after much discussion, the team chooses two or three top candidates, who might be someone whose specialty lines up with the story, someone with experience of the book's subject matter, or someone who has just the right sense of humor. Then the real work starts.

Both Nicki and Vicky agreed that although it often depends on the project, most of the communication and collaboration for a picture book is at the beginning, during the sketch stage. This stage involves one or several storyboard meetings, where thumbnail sketches for every page of the future picture book are laid out, so the team can visualize the big picture and get an idea of what the finished book will look like. Then, the art director gives insturctions and feedback. Sometimes we might want a small sketch expanded to a two-page spread, sometimes the main character’s facial expression needs more variety of movement, sometimes more space is needed for text. This is the most directive part of the process from the publisher end, although the illustrator does have to approve the final layout.

Nicki and Vicky also both emphasized that it is very important at the sketch stage to give prompt feedback to the illustrator. An illustrator’s work can change and evolve if there is a lapse of time between initial sketches and turning in final art. Although that is often natural, the editor doesn’t want to receive final art that doesn’t look anything like the sketches! So, as much as illustrators need to be communicative and responsive, both editorial and production recognize the need to be quick about feedback and direction themselves.

Although the sketch stage can be nitty-gritty and incredibly detail-oriented, it’s also the most important stage in creating a story that flows from one page to the next with pictures that bring a story to life. Nicki and Vicky both mentioned that sometimes an illustrator brings art that is so perfectly expressive, they might recommend changing the text to accommodate the illustration! They agreed that the best illustrators bring something “more” to a text; they enrich the story, and can even add a secondary tale that runs in the background throughout.

What It Takes

In the end, Nicky and Vicky both emphasized that simple habits like effective time management and clear communication are important qualities in a great illustrator. Although it’s true that an editor is looking for the right kind of art that will enhance a text, a successful illustrator can also establish deadlines and stick to them,  communicate if something is going to be late, and receive feedback and follow given corrections.

On the production and creative side of things, Nicki outlined some of the most important things needed from an illustrator in order for the whole process to go smoothly. The first was very practical: communicating the format of the deliverable, final art. The production timeline changes when a publisher is receiving  original paintings versus digital files. The format of the illustrator’s art should be decided in a very early conversation so that a realistic schedule can be set. On a more artistic level, Nicki pressed the fact that illustrators should not be micromanaged closely at the beginning of the process, because that leaves no room for his or her creative imagination to come up with the vision of what a story’s illustrations could become.

As an editor, Vicky named three things that she considers to be very important for all illustrators to remember. The first was, again, forming professional habits, such as doing thorough research and meeting deadlines. The second was to know who you are as an artist, work on your style, and learn to be consistent. Third, she would remind illustrators to learn how to tell a story. Fine artists can show a moment, but an illustrator must create a visual narrative that flows from one page to the next.

There is so much more that could be said about this process (much more in fact was said than we could fit here!).  So consider everything that goes into every picture book the next time you pick one up. For illustrators or aspiring illustrators, we hope Nicki and Vicky’s perspectives were helpful. Ask questions in the comments below if you want to hear more from them! 

If you want to learn more about the publishing process, check out our blog post about the relationship between an author and an editor, or our post about submitting a manuscript!

Friday, March 11, 2016

If You Had a Super Power...

In just three weeks, The Incredible Adventures of Cinnamon Girl will be in your local bookstore, and every reader’s latent comic book superhero fantasies will be ignited!

Well, ours were, anyway.

For example: At the office the other day, we were chatting about superheroes and their powers, when someone asked a very important question—If you were a superhero and you could only have one power, what would it be?

In The Incredible Adventures of Cinnamon Girl, Alba, the protagonist, has a passion for comic books and superheroes. Her favorite is Wonder Woman, who has a wide array of super powers. But, when forced to pick only one super power, we found that our colleagues' choices revealed a lot about them...

The vast majority of Peaches chose a power related to time—having more time, freezing time, turning back time, you name it. So as a general conclusion, we wish we had more time to work, nap, and generally get things done in our busy, book-filled lives.

On to specifics. If the Peaches were superheros with only one power they would pick:

Melanie, our Production Manager, chose invisibility. She liked the idea of being able to disappear and reappear wherever she wanted.

Emily, our Sales Marketing Assistant, chose teleportation. She loved the idea of being able to get pasta in Italy on a whim or avoid all the wonderful Atlanta traffic. 

Kathy, our Vice President and Associate Publisher, couldn’t decide on a superpower, and explained that really she just wanted a time-turner like Hermione Granger.

Courtney, our School/Library Event Sales and Awards Coordinator, also chose teleportation, being able to travel to any distant place in the blink of an eye.

Niki, our Associate Publicist, wanted to be able to freeze time and start it again at her leisure. She liked the prospect of being able to stop time in the middle of the day to take a nap without missing anything important.

Melissa, our Conference Coordinator, chose telepathy, being able to know what other people are thinking.

Matt, our Systems and Data Manager, explained the power he would want using an example from Futurama. In the show, one of the character drinks way too much coffee, and his actions get so speedy that it looks like the rest of the world has slowed down. So, Matt wanted the ability to slow down time.

Elyse, our Marketing and Publicity Assistant, wanted the power to control time, whether it be speeding it up when she's cooking, or slowing it down to get more done at work.

Farah, our Subsidiary Rights Director and Trade and International Sales Manager, wanted to be able to turn back time, go back and redo certain things.

Nicki, our Creative Director (and a native of England), immediately chose teleportation. With family in other countries, it was a no-brainer to choose the ability that would allow her to visit anywhere in the world in a moment.

Vicky, our Senior Editor, had perhaps the most unusual choice of everyone—omniscience. She explained it as the ability to go anywhere and know anything, speaking to anyone in any language.

Finally, Margaret, our President and Publisher, wanted the ability to read everything incredibly quickly and remember everything that she read.

So what would you choose, if you could have only one superpower?

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

New Book Wednesday: The Incredible Adventures of Cinnamon Girl

Melissa Keil strikes again in The Incredible Adventures of Cinnamon Girl. With quirky characters and witty dialogue, Keil hooks readers into a hilarious, end-of-the-world plot to which every geek or misfit will be able to relate.
Alba loves her life just as it is. She loves living behind the bakery, waking up in a cloud of sugar and cinnamon. She loves drawing comics and watching bad TV with her friends.
The only problem is she's overlooked a few teeny details. Like, the guy she thought long gone has unexpectedly reappeared. And the boy who has been her best friend since forever has suddenly gone off the rails. Even her latest comic book creation is misbehaving. Also, a YouTube prophet has predicted that the world will end and Alba’s town will be the only place on the planet to survive.
As doomsday enthusiasts flock to idyllic Eden Valley, Alba's life is thrown into chaos. Whatever happens next, it's the end of the world as she knows it. But when it comes to figuring out her heart, Armageddon might turn out to be the least of her problems.
Don't miss this fun and romantic story, coming out April 1st!