Category Archives: Inspiration

Can You Judge a Book by Its Color?

color wheelWhen I was in high school, one of the electives offered was Fashion Design. I  never could fit that particular class into my schedule (I was a choir geek through and through), but I had many friends who took the course. And I noticed they spent a lot of time talking about the color wheel and its affect on fashion (and people, too).

I have always been fascinated by this idea that color affects our mood. As a gardener, I’m often surprised how much time I spend thinking about the colors I want in my flowerbeds and how each of the different plant colors make me feel. A few years ago, my chiropractor husband and I spent countless hours picking out just the right shade of green paint for the walls of his new clinic, since we needed something that made the place feel…well, healthy.

So, I began to wonder, if we talk about color in our clothing, and the color on our walls, and the color of the world outside our doorsteps, should we talk about color when it comes to our books, too?  I decided to take a look at some of the MG books sitting on my bookshelves at home. What do the colors on the covers say about the stories themselves?

YELLOW

Yellow is a happy color, but it’s also draining on the eyes, so frequently people surrounded by yellow can become agitated and angry.

On my shelf, the books in which yellow dominated the cover were in both of these camps. Many of the humorous titles were predominately yellow, such as Donna Gephart’s How to Survive Middle School.

I also had many titles which were stories where mystery or intrigue played a large part in the book. For example, in Jessica Day George’s Tuesdays at the Castle, the castle itself senses trouble. (As a side note, this book cover spirals from blue, a soothing color, to yellow, which mirrors the rise in tension as the story progresses.)

RED

Red is a color of power. It evokes strong emotions such as love, intensity, and excitement.  The books on my shelves do the same.

In Scumble, by Ingrid Law, the main character is given a extraordinary power which makes the things around him fall apart…literally. You can’t get much more intense than that! (As a side note, this book also has quite a bit of yellow, which I think adds to the agitation this cover evokes, but is grounded in green, a color of good luck and prosperity, which in my opinion hints at the awesome natural powers this boy has been given.)

In Catherynne M. Valente’s The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making, the title itself tells you that this is going to be an adventure–that excitement awaits. (Not to mention that the red dragon on the cover looks terrifying–is the girl really going to let it loose? And that hint of yellow makes me slightly uneasy about this whole idea of releasing the dragon into the wild.  How exhilarating and alarming at the same time!)

School spiritsBLUE

Blue is a soothing, calming color, but it can also be associated with feelings of sadness, loneliness, or alienation.

In Michael O. Tunnell’s School Spirits, the main character is new at his school, so he feels isolated from the rest of the students. Oh, and there’s a ghost in the book, too, who just happens to be blue-green.  And lonely. And very much the sad being you would expect of a restless spirit.

Though there are many different covers for  the classic Mr. Popper’s Penguins, by Richard and Florence Atwater, most of them are predominately blue.  Mr. Popper (a dreamer and a painter by trade) spends his time caring for, and enjoying, the penguins he receives from Admiral Drake who is currently on an expedition in the Antarctic. Though the book is full of the antics of the penguins, and Mr. Popper and his family as well, the entire book exudes a soothing sort of safeness that all will be well if Mr. Popper is around.

GREEN

Green is the color of nature. It’s also associated with good luck, tranquility, and health.

In Zilpha Keatley Snyder’s The Treasures of Weatherby, a girl names Allegra literally flies. There is much in the book that is mysterious as well, but the front cover captures so vividly this character’s flying attributes, which mirrors what mother nature has given the birds.  (Side note: this image is not the one on the cover of my book, but I do like how the bit of yellow in this version  captures some of the anxiety and restlessness of these characters, plus the black invokes some lurking evil that is hidden just out of sight….)

In Kim Baker’s Pickle, the main characters want to use school funds to pull off their pranks, and they decide to start  a pickle club as a cover. They are going to need all the luck they can get!  (I’d also like to point out that this book cover uses a lot of blue, too, which helps make this group feel aloof and alienated, because, well, they are are SECRET group, after all. They do stand apart.)

gregorBLACK

Black is associated with evil and menace, as well as death and mourning.

In Suzanne Collins’ Gregor the Overlander, not only is the Underland devoid of sunlight, but it is full of menacing creatures who have captured Gregor’s father.  This cover, though full of lighter buildings, has much hidden in the shadows.

In The Search for WondLa, by Tony DiTerlizzi, the main character, Eva Nine, leaves in search of the long-lost (and possibly no longer existing) land of WondLa.  She uncovers a world full of dangers, both of the natural world and of men. (As a side note, note that Eva herself is light against the darkness of the rest of the cover, and as she begins her journey she is the only one innocent of the world around her. Interesting.)

WHITE

White denotes purity and innocence, but also can be cold, unfeeling, or bland.

In Breadcrumbs, by Anne Ursu, Hazel’s best friend, Jack, is captured by a woman made of ice, and Hazel sets off into the forest to rescue him. (Side note, notice the hint of red in the middle of the cover, which I think helps the readers feels the intensity of Hazel’s love for her friend as well as the power of the Snow Queen.)

In Trenton Lee Stewart’s The Mysterious Benedict Society, the four children who make up the society are chosen through a random set of challenges…it’s a very cerebral way of choosing some very resourceful children to take on a supervillain the likes of which the world as never seen.

There are more colors than my above-mentioned categories, obviously.  I’m sure there are many more books out there that might not fit into any one particular color category, either.  Or how about those that use lots of different colors?  Where would they fit?

Besides, colors can also be influenced by culture, so one culture may have a different perception of a particular color than another would.  For example, in Western culture white symbolizes purity and innocence, but in some Eastern cultures it symbolizes death and mourning.

Historical cultures attached slightly different meanings to colors than our modern sensibilities do, too: for example, black meant death in ancient Egypt, but it was also a symbol for rebirth and resurrection.

And, if I’m being honest,  color psychology is often met with skepticism in the psychological and scientific world.  I doubt any scientist would take my thoughts seriously, anyway.  So even though this is all in good fun, I hope the next time you pick up a book, pay attention to how the cover makes you feel.  I bet you’ll see that the colors on it might be helping to create the mood the book is trying to portray.

Soon enough you’ll be judging books by their colors, too.

 

Elissa Cruz likes colors.  If asked, she’d be hard-pressed to choose a favorite.  However, she’s not a big fan of avocado.  Or mustard.  Or beige.  She’s not a big fan of 1970s fashion, either, come to think of it.  And in her opinion turquoise is a little too garish in anything larger than a piece of jewelry.  She writes books for kids of all ages and is the ARA of the Utah/Southern Idaho region of SCBWI.

Procrastination, Celebration, and Hibernation: Seasons of A Writer’s Life

‘Twas the season.

That’s what they say, right? We’ve just ended a season of candlelight, cookies, giving, worship, family, faith, friendship, peppermint mocha lattes.

Now the New Year has arrived, and ’tis the season for resolutions, reflection, diets, new leaves, saying goodbye to old habits, embracing new, healthier ones.

IMG_7637

I’ve come to realize that much of life is seasonal. Especially for me.

Perhaps it’s because my first careers have been in the school setting. As a special education teacher and then a school-based speech-language pathologist, I’ve followed the seasons dictated by a typical school calendar. Off in the summer, back-to-school in the fall, rejoicing over snow days in the winter, celebrating growth and graduation in the spring. Shake. Stir. Repeat.

Or maybe it’s because I married into the farm life. On a working farm, everything revolves around the seasons. Spring planting, summer hay and straw baling, fall harvest, winter shop work. Shake. Stir. Repeat.

I’ve read a lot blogs/interviews about writers who insist they must “write ___ hours every day.” They write faithfully from “____ o’clock to ____ o’clock.” It’s their groove. It’s how they work.

Not me.

Because, for me, even writing is seasonal. My writing seasons have names: Creation. Submission. Promotion. Procrastination. Celebration. Hibernation.

Right now, I’m just coming off a season of Promotion.

kammie Rockford B&N

This year, I had middle grade books release in April, September, and October. After 5 years of no new releases, this was an amazing year, no doubt. Those who don’t know the publishing world ask, “Why did you schedule them so close together?”

Bahahahahahaha! Once I stop laughing hysterically, I try to explain that authors don’t get to schedule a book release. No, there are publishers, editors, marketing folks, book designers and perhaps even divine beings who weigh in on these decisions.

But, lest I sound ungrateful, let me say that I have loved everything about this season of Promotion. I met incredible young readers, older readers, booksellers, librarians, teachers and parents. I visited storied places like The Bookstall in Winnetka, IL and Anderson’s Bookshop in Naperville. I returned to Rockford, IL, the home of the Rockford Peaches and reunited with wonderful folks who were so helpful while researching Kammie on First.

Like all seasons, though, this one has come to an end. And just as fall has stepped aside for winter, I’m done promoting (for the time being)  and ready for what’s next: Creation.

Creation is going to require some Hibernation on my part. Even though I don’t prescribe to the “___ hours of writing every day” theory, I am a sold-out believer in Jane Yolen’s “butt in chair” theory. And on the farm, there’s no better season for hibernation than the dead of winter.

Waiting for spring.

How about you?

What season are you in? Creation? Submission? Celebration? Promotion?  Procrastination?  Whatever your season, embrace it.  Because, like all seasons, this season of your writing life will soon change.

Michelle Houts lives, writes, and plays on a family farm in Ohio. She and The Farmer of Her Dreams are raising children, cattle, hogs, goats, a whole lot of barn cats and a Great Pyrenees named Hercules. Find Michelle on the web at www.michellehouts.com, here on Facebook, and on Twitter as @mhoutswrites.

Interview with Author Donna Gephart — and a Giveaway for Teachers and Librarians!

I’d like to welcome one of my favorite middle grade authors and one I am happy to call my friend:  DONNA GEPHART!

2934511Donna Gephart’s first novel, AS IF BEING 12-3/4 ISN’T BAD ENOUGH,MY MOTHER IS RUNNING FOR PRESIDENT! won the prestigious Sid Fleischman Humor Award.  Her second novel, HOW TO SURVIVE MIDDLE SCHOOL, received starred reviews from Kirkus and School Library Journal and landed on these state reading lists:  Texas, New York, Louisiana and Illinois.  Donna’s new book, OLIVIA BEAN, TRIVIA QUEEN, about a girl determined to get on the TV quiz show Jeopardy!, received a starred review from Kirkus!
 
 

Donna’s books are hilariously funny. They make people laugh. They make people cry. They touch your heart.  Her first three books are all fabulous:

                     

I am thrilled to be able to share her latest book with you. It’s called

Death by Toilet Paper! 

Fans of How to Survive Middle School will welcome the adventures of a contest-crazed seventh grader who uses his wits and way with words in hopes of winning a big cash prize to help his family avoid eviction.
 
Benjamin is about to lose a whole lot more than good toilet paper. But even with his flair for clever slogans, will he be able to win a cash prize large enough to keep a promise he made to his dad before he died?

 

“Gephart’s generous view of humanity’s basic goodness shines through, and she leavens her characters’ difficult situation with plenty of humor. . . Readers can’t help but enjoy this heartening book about hanging in there.”–Kirkus Reviews

“Ben is a character kids will root for, and he’s surrounded by family and friends who help him see things will be okay, a message that may comfort readers facing similar circumstances.”–Publisher’s Weekly 

Here’s where we find out the genius behind the creation:

Donna, tell us about your latest book. Was it fun to write?

Locating facts about toilets and toilet paper that head each chapter was fascinating and fun.  Did you know the first stall in a public bathroom is the least used, therefore, the cleanest?  I got to study books like, Sarah Albee’s Poop Happened!:  A History of the World from the Bottom Up and call it research.

 

 Your books are hilariously funny, but they also have a thread of real-life, and you cover difficult topics at times, such as divorce, separation and even death. Why do you feel the need to do this?

I love reading books that make me care enough to cry . . . and laugh.  That’s my aim when I create books – humor and heartbreak — so my work can also serve as an emotional roadmap for readers.  In Death by Toilet Paper, Ben Epstein figures out how to navigate the impossible stages grief and ultimately move forward with hope.

 

Where do you get your ideas?

Trader Joe’s.  Seriously, I LOVE that store.  When Trader Joe’s is closed, though, I get my ideas from paying attention to unusual names, hobbies, jobs, conversations and stories.  Podcasts, like This American Life, are great ways to get my mind thinking of story ideas.  Reading the Sunday newspaper usually gets me thinking as well.

 

What is your writing process? Do you have a set time to write every day? 

Every day . . . except when life gets in the way, which it sometimes does.  Most days, I exercise outside then make a big cup of hot tea before I begin writing.  I use the Pomodoro Method, which is a program of set times for work and breaks.  I found a free Pomodoro timer online, and it has increased my productivity and kept me off the Internet while writing.

 

Why did you decide to become an author? 

When I was ten and bored, I wrote a story about a horse, although I knew NOTHING about horses.  My mom read my story and made a big fuss.  That’s when I decided I’d be a writer.

But the drive to write probably hatched years earlier in the children’s section of the Northeast Regional Library in Philadelphia.  That place was a life-changer for me in the best possible way.  I was lonely and bored and found excellent company on the shelves.  A Hundred Dresses by Eleanor Estes resonated with me back then . . . and still.

Can you name one teacher that inspired you to write or had an affect on your life? 

Heck yeah!  My 10th grade teacher, Myra Durlofsky, inspired me with her creativity and energy.  She was a great role model.  I put her in a couple of my novels, and I still keep in touch with her!

Also reconnected last year with my childhood librarian, Miss Irene.  I walked into the main library in Philadelphia with my niece and there she was – Miss Irene – looking very much like I remembered her thirty-five years before.  That was a happy reunion!

 

  Donna speaks at elementary and middle schools, book festivals, libraries and conferences, including the S.C.B.W.I. National Conference, the Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop, F.A.M.E., the Conference on Children’s Literature, etc. She also does Skype visits to connect with schools across the U. S. and internationally. 
 

You do Skype visits for your books, what does that entail?

I LOVE doing Skype visits.  They’re so much fun.  After my interactive presentation with lots of show-and-tell, students ask questions.  And I ask them questions about their favorite books and authors.

 

How do you interact with the students during a Skype visit?

Sometimes, I do a Jeopardy!-style quiz with the students, which gets them totally engaged.  I ask questions and have them guess the outcomes as I tell stories.  There’s no substitute for in person school visits, of course, but Skype visits come close and they are good for the environment – no travel involved.  (Also, I may or may not wear bunny slippers during Skype visits.)  http://skypeanauthor.wikifoundry.com/page/Donna+Gephart

 

What is your favorite part about being an author? 

The creative responses to my books that I receive from both educators and young readers.  I’ve gotten freshly baked lemon squares, paintings, drawings and sculptures of characters and book covers, student-created videos, etc.  And I treasure the letters and emails I get telling me how my story resonated for a particular reader.  The connections I make with readers are what I really value.

If I could tell the lonely, bored girl choosing books from the shelves at the Northeast Regional Library that she would someday grow up to have a literary life, filled with reading, writing and people passionate about literature, I think she’d be quite pleased.

 

Anything else that you’d like to add:

For funny videos, word games, trivia, reading/activity guides, writing advice, etc., check out my site:  www.donnagephart.com.

Thanks for joining us Donna and giving us a peek into your creative process. :)

Donna has graciously donated a very special PRIZE !!

An  educator/librarian prize pack — a signed book, reading/activity guide and a couple dozen bookmarks

To enter, simply leave a comment below. In the spirit of the Donna’s latest book  let us know your funny encounter with toilet paper OR how you would  use a bunch of money you won in contest!  You have until December 10th to enter.