Friday, January 29, 2010

What Makes a Good Book (Part 2) by Marilyn Courtot

The following is the second part in a six part series written by CLCD President Marilyn Courtot. Aimed at reviewers and writers, we will be running a new part every month.

Type-Style and Placement

In my last entry, I discussed basic construction and illustrations. This entry’s focus is type style and the placement of type on the page.

Look at the book’s typeface. Is it readable? Usually a type style or font described as “simple sans serif” is recommended. That is a type style that does not have small lines to finish off the main stroke of a letter-to illustrate M (serif) versus M (sans serif). For youngsters leaning to read and write, the sans serif characters are easy to recognize and print. For all readers the important issue is whether the typeface is easy to read.

Next, is the type big enough or of a sufficient point size for young readers? The point size is the height of the font or typeface from the bottom of the descenders such as “q” to the top of ascenders such as “h”. Also, there should be sufficient leading (the vertical space occupied which determines the amount of white space between lines). Look at the track or amount of space between the characters. For most readers, characters that touch each other are more difficult to identify and recognize.

Finally, is the type clearly set off from the illustrations? Is there good balance? White space can help to focus on detail, and its importance should not be overlooked. Is there sufficient contrast between the text and the illustrations? For example, if the text is printed within an illustration, does it clearly stand out either against a lighter part of the background or is it placed in a white box within the illustration? If the latter approach is used, does it have a negative impact on the visual presentation of the art?

Use your own eyes and trust your judgment.

Marilyn Courtot
Publisher and Editor

Monday, January 18, 2010

That's No Childish Database by University of Maryland "Extern"

Have you ever wondered how those databases at our UMD library’s Research Port work? Among databases, Children's Literature Comprehensive Database (CLCD) is a role model.

CLCD is a rapidly-growing, indispensable resource for many librarians, editors, publishers, media specialists, professors, and students. Its database includes over two million MARC records. Records for books include the standard reference data as well as numerous reading levels (e.g. lexiles), awards that books have won, and reading lists. What's more, many entries feature book reviews that, for example, let teachers see what others think about a book before having students read it. To top it off, CLCD provides a free newsletter with notable developments in children’s literature, and a booking service to connect famous children’s literature figures with schools and other organizations. They do it all very well; with good reason, this October the School Library Journal wrote "CLCD deserves a solid A."

As a business major, I was especially interested in the inner workings of such a venture. Particularly, how could one approach the apparently astronomical task of setting up, maintaining, and expanding such a database? What sort of unexpected logistics issues would they need to surmount? How do they promote their product?

In my externship at CLCD, CLCD masterminds privileged me with such inside information, letting me learn from a number of their key figures. What I learned was eye-opening. I will mention a few salient points of my experiences.

The database is in a small-business format. Such a database need not be run by a multitude—thankfully. The lean nature of their business makes it far more flexible than a large corporation. If a change needs to be made in the website, it can be done without any bureaucratic hassle. Marilyn Courtot, the president of CLCD, showed me her approach to leading this kind of business. Their bookkeeper gave me flashbacks to my accounting courses as she guided me through their process of managing their incoming and outgoing funds.

Online marketing for CLCD has been rapidly expanding in the last few months. They recently began a Twitter page as well as a blog. Both are followed by librarians, teachers, and others who want to keep tabs on the children’s literature world. These, added to the wealth of free, regularly updated information in their website and newsletters periodically sent to customers and other interested parties, comprise a wholesome recipe for communications success.

While it is a small business in one sense, it is a large business in another. Particularly, the information processing spans numerous states. Some information is prepared in Maryland, and after being sent around to certain specialists in Michigan, Virginia, and New Jersey, the information is added to the database. The national network of professionals managing the data entry was fascinating to encounter.

Lastly, I was also able to contribute my own personal services and recommendations for promotion, their website, and marketing of certain services. For the purposes of this entry, however, they must be kept confidential. I am glad to be able to leave a mark on CLCD during the short time of my service there, and I look forward to being able to serve it in the future.

Indeed, the Children’s Literature Comprehensive Database is no childish database. Overall, I am very grateful to Mrs. Courtot and the University of Maryland for the opportunity to participate in this externship and learn how such a superb service is provided and promoted. The contacts made and lessons learned I hope to take far into the future.

~Marc McCarthy

Monday, January 4, 2010

Picture Book Adapted into a Musical by Uma Krishnaswami

Making Books Sing began in New York City in 1996 as the family theatre and education program of the Tony Award-winning Vineyard Theatre. Growing from the vision of Barbara Zinn Krieger, founder of the Vineyard, it is now an independent nonprofit organization dedicated to bringing theatre with high standards of artistry and content to families and children. The group adapts and produces stage versions of picture books. Among books chosen for past productions are The Butterfly by Patricia Polacco, The Orphan Singer by Emily Arnold McCully, A Shelter in Our Car by Monica Gunning, and The Upside Down Boy by Juan Felipe Herrera. Touring shows are now made possible through collaborations with the Kennedy Center and Stanford Lively Arts.

The reason I know any of this, living in northwest New Mexico as I do, far from the city lights, is that my picture book, Chachaji's Cup, has been adapted into a musical by Making Books Sing. It's scheduled to open in New York January 25, 2010, and will tour to the Bronx, Brooklyn, Manhattan, and Queens. It will open in Stanford, CA in February. Adaptation and lyrics are by Gwynne Watkins; music is by Denver Casado. The director/choreographer is Rajendra Ramoon Maharaj.

How did all this come about? Everyone wants to know. That part is not all that exciting, having to do mostly with rights and permissions and signatures on contracts. What's exciting is that about 12,000 children in New York City will see the show and be introduced as a result, to my book. Exciting too that Raja Burrows, who plays the male lead, is from Albuquerque, and I got to meet his parents earlier this year. And most exciting to think that after my January residency at Vermont College of Fine Arts, I'll be heading to New York. I'll sign books at the Barnes & Noble-Tribeca on January 22, and attend the opening matinee performance on the 25th.

Raising my cup of chai to Barbara Zinn Krieger and Making Books Sing for the fine work they do. Information on tickets and more at