Category Archives: children's book writing

Authors and readers of children’s books, including picture books, chapter books, middle-grade books and young adult.

A Dry-Erase Board by Any Other Name…

I can’t really call mine a whiteboard, because it’s blue…or a dry-erase board, because I use non-smear ink pens which need to be erased with a damp cloth. It’s magnetic too, which puts it in an entirely different category. All I know is whatever this thing is, I LOVE it! It’s incredibly useful when you’re in the midst of writing a novel–for plotting, keeping track of facts and timelines, inspiration–you name it. Especially when you live in a New York City apartment where space is at a premium and your office is, literally, a converted walk-in-closet. Hanging a magical board on the door expands the work space. TAH-DAH!

Dry Erase Board (Blurred)

[Sections have been blurred for purposes pertaining to paranoia]

For a previous book I was working on, I used a virtual “canvas service” called Lino for basically the same purpose as a dry-erase board. (A novel approach! Pretty impressive. Kinda fun.) Lino Board The advantage is you can create as many online boards as you like and include links to videos and documents. (Space-saving. Transportable. So, what’s not to like?) Well, the downfall, for me anyway, is you have to view these boards on your computer, and my 23-inch screen is already jam-packed with my manuscript, notes, maps, pictures, etc. When I’m in the “sacred zone” of writing, I don’t have the patience for the 1/100th of a nanosecond it takes to click on a link and wait for something to load. I simply want to glance to my right and see the info I need immediately. (Or my left. I’m flexible.) “A tangible board that’s right there in your face at all times?” you ask. Yes, please! Not very high tech, I know, but the heart wants what it wants.

Traveling back even further in time…I remember using prehistoric index cards taped to my door to keep track of plots and timelines. A crude approach, as there was no rearranging them without having to replace the tape and pulling up paint chips. Eek! (It was a different world. We didn’t know better back then.) Post-It Notes to the rescue! The problem with these little beauties is they don’t stay up for very long. Even the new and improved super-duper strength Post-Its will eventually come fluttering to the ground like sleepy butterflies and wind up stuck to the soles of your shoes–or the cat.

Cat Post-It

Not to diss the almighty Post-It. I still use them for many different things–but for this specific purpose, they’ve been happily replaced with something called mcSquares Stickies Dry Erase Notes. A tad expensive but they’re durable so you can rearrange them at will–plus they come in different shapes and sizes. (I swear I’m not a spokeman for the company–just a fan. There are other brands out there as well, like SlickyNotes that come in different colors!) These things stick to most smooth, flat surfaces so you don’t even need a whiteboard–or blueboard–or whatever. I find that the non-smear variety of markets work best in this scenario. (Tackie Markers and Writey Liquid Chalk are my faves. Again, not a spokesman.) You’ll need to use a damp cloth instead of a dry-eraser with these but it’s so worth the iota of extra effort.

So, that’s the scoop. Carry on and HAPPY WRITING!MARKERS

It’s Alive! Bwah-ha-ha-ha!

A short story I published in Highlights magazine way back in 2004 has suddenly resurfaced as an Audible Audiobook! Hwah?! It’s always exciting to see my previously published poems and short stories show up in classroom workbooks, student testing–and now audiobooks (even though the statute of limitations has long run out for any sort of residual payments, dang it.) Still, it’s a joy to see these things take on a new life.

Inspired by my own book-report writing experience in which I ALWAYS over-decorated the covers, eliciting criticism from my classmates–things like “Oooh, that is SO not fair; he only got an A ’cause of his fancy-schmancy cover” (yes, we said things like “fancy-schmancy” back then)–You Can’t Judge garnered me a Highlights Author of the Month Award. I remember how surprised I was when the engraved pewter plaque was delivered to my door! Wait, let’s see if I can find it…

Highlights Plaque.jpg

Here it is. A little scratched and dented but–aren’t we all? Can’t wait to see what pops up next. Maybe that Christmas poem I wrote in second grade will reemerge as a made-for-TV movie on the Hallmark Channel! Love you, Highlights! xo

You Can’t Judge a Book Report by its Cover

 

 

 

 

 

 

Warwick Children’s Book Festival – 2017

Warwick book fest logoNo less than 61–count ’em–61 authors and illustrators took part in the children’s book festival in beautiful Warwick, New York on Saturday, October 7th, including yours truly.  After spending the night at the idyllic Warwick Village Bed & Breakfast (which reminded me a little of the Dragon Fly Inn from Gilmore Girls),Warwick B and B I met up with my fellow authors at the Railroad Green in the center of town where we were greeted with swag bags, balloons, live music, snacks galore (apple cider doughnuts!) and a huge crowd of enthusiastic readers. Warwick 2

Warwick 4

Warwick 1

Such much going on! A finger-puppet making station? Even doggy volunteers eager to be read aloud to by reluctant readers.

Warwick 3

 

And what a delight meeting renowned children’s book author Jane Yolen (who penned nearly 300 books–yikes!) and her author-daughter Heidi Stemple. Great writing genes in that family! We actually met during breakfast at the B&B and within seconds we were all three laughing our heads off. My kind of peeps.

 

Here we are at the festival looking appropriately amiable and authorly…

Jane Yolen, Heidi Stemple and Me

And here we are when a fly the size of the Hindenburg decided to photo-bomb us…

Jane, Heidi, Me, and the FLY

I’m summoning a volunteer with a  flyswatter to come help. (Many thanks to the many volunteers in the green T-shirts, by the way, who were super helpful–even going so far as to recharge my cell phone.) Warwick 5

Couldn’t leave town without a visit to Ye Olde Warwick Book Shoppe, which is just as charming as it sounds. I love things that start with “Ye Olde”…except maybe Ye Olde Sushi Shoppe.

Ye Olde Warwick Book Shoppe

Thank You card

 

Bye bye, Warwick…until next time. Back to ye olde Times Square!

Warwick Children’s Book Festival

WRITER’S BLOCK (But not the kind you think.)

Every December, the block where I live, West 43rd Street in Manhattan, explodes into a holiday wonderland… (Er, maybe “explodes” isn’t the best word to use these days, considering the craziness going on in the world) –TRANSFORMS into a holiday wonderland! 43rd Street 1

Taking center stage–which is tough to do since the twin high-rises that flank the block are packed with actors–are the glorious Christmas trees for sale, filling the air with their intoxicating scent. The smell of doggy urine is a faint memory as I skip down the block (well, in my mind I’m skipping anyway) breathing in all that piney goodness. That is, of course, until you pass the Little Pie Company. Have mercy! Pies Baking. Mouth watering. Their sour cream apple walnut pie is unquestionably the best pie on earth. On Thanksgiving they have to set up barriers because the lines to pick up preordered pies are around the block. No kidding. And they always have the best windows. Simple. Artful. See what I mean?   Little Pie Company

Keep walking and you might pass a guy selling expensive olives in barrels. Yeah, you heard me right. On weekends in non-winter months, our block turns into a mini-farmers market with vendors from Upstate NY and New Jersey selling their fresh produce. This olive guy just won’t take “snow” for an answer. Olive Vendor         43rd Street

A few more steps down the block and I run into Chris (in the black coat), my neighbor from across the hall. “Hi, Chris!” She sells her homemade jewelry on the weekends. She’s also starring in the latest Marie Callendar’s commercial–the one with the fruit pies. (That might be a running theme here, huh?)

Chris

A grand jete away from Chris is Patricia, another neighbor who lives on my floor selling Christmas cards that feature her original artwork. She’s an incredibly talented artist and I think she may have been Marc Chagall in a former life. (And apparently brainy, too. She wants to read the German version of my novel, Madhattan Mystery called Gefahr im Central Park to test her language skills.)

  Patricia

So, if this writer ever suffers a bout of writer’s block, a stroll along West 43rd Street in the heart of Hell’s Kitchen, NYC, can clear my head and stir up those creative juices. And if by the time I pass the Starbucks, two restaurants,  newsstand, our package pickup depot, florist, Food Emporium, vitamin store, diving equipment shop, and health club I’m still not inspired, well, there’s always PIE. Sour Cream Apple Walnut Pie(See how I tied that together? Actually the mother in the novel I’m working on now is baking a slew of pies for the county fair so that may be why I have pie on the brain. Hmmm.) Okay, stick a fork in it. Glance up at impressive lobby tree on way to elevator… Time for a long winter’s nap?Lobby Tree

Merry Christmas. Happy Hanukkah. God bless us, everyone.

Tiny Spaces, Big Ideas: My New York Walk-in Closet Turned Office

Manhattan dwellers who live in small spaces, like me, can do the craziest things–like turning perfectly fine, albeit dreary, closets into charming, cheery, fully-functioning offices. Or as I like to call them, “cloffices.”  I’m lucky enough to have two other closets for my clothes, shoes, hula-hoops, Christmas ornaments, etc. (a rarity for New York City apartments) and so, as a writer, turning my walk-in into an office was a no brainer. And an absolute must. It wasn’t very expensive either, other than my all-in-one computer and the fancy-shmancy teal file cabinet posing as a chest of drawers. This piece is a real space-saver, though,not to mention one of my favorite colors, so I had to splurge.

                        Office1 2014

The hanging cabinets were around $80 a piece unfinished from Home Depot; the banker’s chair around $100. The white desk top and black file cabinet supports were free from a former employer; the shelf I happened to find on the street. (You can find great stuff on the streets of New York!) So, other than the aforementioned purchases, plus paint, a few new accessories, and the Martha Stewart storage cubbies that I got online for a steal on Black Friday (I think it was around $50 for the set), I simply utilized what I’d already owned. Then it was just a matter of arranging things just right–to avoid clutter and elbow-banging. I did have to enlist the help of my building’s Maintenance Department to install the cabinets, an electrical wall outlet, and a new ceiling light ($130 for a schoolhouse-style lighting fixture plus $200 for labor) and voila, my new cloffice was born! Office2 2014

A window would be nice but who am I kidding? So, a faux topiary and an Eliot Porter print of autumn trees help bring the idea of nature into the space. Gotta have nature!

Apartment 31G 007
BEFORE (Bleah.)
AFTER (Aaah!)

AFTER (Aaah!)

The Inside Story on the “Inside Story” at Bank Street Books

The Society of Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators sponsored a nationwide event called “The Inside Story” and I was lucky enough to be part of it at the Bank Street Bookstore on the Upper Westside of Manhattan on Saturday…

Inside Story Event at Bank Street Bookstore - Nov. 2013

The middle initial “J” is VERY popular amongst writers.

Inside Story - waiting in the wings

Here I am “waiting in the wings” next to Paula J. Freedman, author of My Basmati Bat Mitzvah (note her middle initial). She’s a fun lady who used to work with my friend Linda at Scholastic, who was in the audience beaming and snapping these pix with her phone. The lovely redheaded woman (Mackenzie) was timing our presentations on her tablet. It was kinda like the Quick-Fire Challenge on “Top Chef”–only with words instead of prawns.

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Now Paula is doing her thing while I munch away on popcorn. Not really. I was sucking on a Ricola cough drop. Just getting over a cold. (sniff-sniff) Hey, how’d I end up going last anyway?

INSIDE STORY at Bank Street Bookstore - Nov. 2013

My turn! (My backup dancers didn’t show.) I blabbed on and on about how it was a mystery that I wound up writing a mystery. (I still think it’s weird to be able to see faces in the audience. When I used to perform in musicals, the audience was always just a giant dark blob.) Suddenly I realized I was finished because I heard cheers and WILD applause. Well–polite clapping. Hands up, utensils down!

Inside Story Pro Shot 1

One of my official photographs taken by the ever-patient Primwatee Groover. We had the hardest time getting a squintless shot. Every time I smiled, my eyeballs disappeared! She’d say, “Okay, I think we finally got a good one this time…eh, nope.” I couldn’t help laughing my shiny round head off.

Bank Street Bookstore (2)

Then there was mingling, and book signing, and chocolate chip cookie eating, and since it’s nearly impossible to walk out of a bookstore empty-handed, I wound up buying a copy of Maryann MacDonald’s Odette’s Secrets (we share the same agent!) and Chris Grabenstein’s Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library. (He’s a hoot and a really nice guy.) So, THANKS AGAIN, Bank Street Bookstore and SCBWI! Until next time…

Madhattan Mystery Makes Bank Street’s Best Books of 2013 List!

I’m beyond thrilled to announce that Madhattan Mystery is on Bank Street’s Best Children’s Books of 2013 list in the 9-12 Adventure and Mystery category! *DOES HAPPY DANCE*

http://bankstreet.edu/center-childrens-literature/childrens-book-committee/best-books-year/best-books-year-2013/

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And rewinding a few weeks…

Had a FUNderful time on May 18th at Oblong Books in Rhinebeck, NY at their first ever League of Extraordinary Readers event for middle-grade books. Here I am with fellow authors, Lynda Mullaly Hunt and Sarah Mylnowski.

2013-05-18 16.58.12

Publishers Weekly liked our shiny smiling faces so much, they published this photo in their pictorial salute to Children’s Book Week!

http://www.publishersweekly.com/pw/by-topic/childrens/childrens-industry-news/article/57378-children-s-book-week-2013-a-bookstore-photo-essay.html

MADHATTAN MYSTERY makes Booklist’s Top 10 Crime Fiction for Youth: 2013 list!

Top 10 Crime Fiction for Youth: 2013. 

Cooper, Ilene (author).

FEATURE. First published May 1, 2013 (Booklist).

Mystery comes in many forms in this top 10: wartime spies, treasure hunting, kidnapping, robbery. There’s a wide range of choices for a wide range of mystery lovers here. These titles were selected from books reviewed in Booklist between May 1, 2012, and April 15, 2013.

Code Name VerityCode Name Verity. By Elizabeth Wein. 2012. Hyperion, $16.99 (9781423152194). Gr. 9–12.

In this gut-wrenching mystery, Julie describes her life as a double-agent during WWII, all the while strapped to a chair after the latest round of Gestapo torture.

Code of Silence: Living a Lie Comes with a Price. By Tim Shoemaker. 2012. Zonderkidz, $14.99 (9780310726531). Gr. 7–10.

This crackerjack thriller has a breakneck beginning: a robbery and brutal beating. But 13-year-old Cooper and his pals can’t go to the police because they might be part of the problem. Realistically portrayed characters populate a gritty novel.

The Curse of the Pharaoh. By Steven Stevenson. Illus. by Stefano Turconi. 2013. Grosset & Dunlap, paper, $5.99 (9780448462172). Gr. 3–5.

Twelve-year-old Londoner Agatha Mistery surrounds herself with a cast of sleuths who solve well-plotted mysteries like this one, which involves a missing Egyptian artifact.

Four Secrets. By Margaret Willey. 2012. Carolrhoda/Lab, $17.95 (9780316125871). Gr. 7–10.

Three junior-high friends are locked up after being found guilty of kidnapping the class bully. The mystery twists like kudzu, creeping ever closer to truths that need to be disclosed.

GameGame. By Barry Lyga. 2013. Little, Brown, $17. 99 (9780316125871). Gr. 10–12.

Jazz Dent, teen son of a serial killer, is called upon by the NYPD to get inside the head of another killer on the loose. A serious (and bloody) novel.

Hold Fast. By Blue Balliet. 2013. Scholastic, $17.99 (9780545299886). Gr. 4–7.

When 11-year-old Early’s father disappears and her family becomes homeless, it’s up to her to figure out what happened and why.

Island of Thieves. By Josh Lacy. 2012. Houghton, $15.99 (9780547763279). Gr. 4–7.

A search for hidden treasure leads to plenty of adventure as Tom and his not-quite-upstanding uncle find themselves kidnapped in Peru almost as soon as they step off the plane.

Madhattan Mystery. By John J. Bonk. 2012. Walker, $16.99 (9780802723499). Gr. 5–8.

Lexie thinks she and her brother are just going to New York to visit her aunt. Then she overhears details of a jewel heist and so begins a Big Apple adventure. Good plot; good characters.

Raven BoysThe Raven Boys. By Maggie Stiefvater. 2012. Scholastic, $17.99 (9780545424929). Gr. 9–12.

The Raven Boys, friends at the Aglionby Academy, get involved with a mystery: finding the body of the sleeping king of Wales. But they’re not the only ones on the hunt. A marvelously tangled tale.

Three Times Lucky. By Sheila Turnage. 2012. Dial, $16.99 (9780803736702). Gr. 4–6.

Mysteries abound in this book set in a small North Carolina town and narrated by sixth-grader Mo, who wants to know who rescued her from the creek when she was a newborn and who has murdered one of the town’s most unlikable residents.

THANK YOU, BOOKLIST! I’m smiling so hard that it hurts! Happy to be in such fantastic company.

Madhattan Mystery is Booklist’s “Review of the Day”!


It’s Mystery Month on Booklist Online, so I was hoping…with fingers crossed (which makes it very difficult to type)…but hoping, nonetheless, that my middle-grade novel MADHATTAN MYSTERY might be lucky enough to be featured as their “Review of the Day.” Well, this morning I received an email from my editor at Walker/Bloomsbury announcing that–zippity-doo-dah–my book has actually been selected! I’m basking in the glory, but I have to be quick about it–24 hours goes by so quickly. Don’t forget to check out their incredible site! http://www.booklistonline.com/home

THANK YOU, Booklist, for my very first starred review! 

Madhattan Mystery.
Bonk, John J. (author).


May 2012. 304p. Walker, hardcover, $16.99 (9780802723499). Grades 5-8.
REVIEW. First published May 1, 2012 (Booklist).

The title rightfully includes mad because this is a madcap mystery—and a delight in every way. Lexi and her brother, Kevin, are staying in Manhattan while their father and his new wife are on their honeymoon. The kids’ theatrical Aunt Roz has signed them up for City Camp, which they’ll attend with Roz’s neighbor, Kim Ling Levine. That’s the plan, anyway. Coming into Grand Central Station, Lexi thinks she overhears information about a jewel heist in the Whispering Gallery. When she learns that a cache of Cleopatra’s jewels, scheduled for a Met exhibit, has been stolen, she puts two and two together. But has she come up with five? Some mysteries concentrate on plot, while others focus on characters, with the actual mystery an afterthought. What Bonk does so well here is give each its due. The who, why, and how of the missing jewels lead the kids through deliciously dark tunnels, busy train stations, and Central Park at night, and come complete with a nice turnaround. However, equally as developed is the cast. Would-be journalist Kim Ling is bright, caustic, and knows how to toss in a Yiddish word when appropriate; Kevin is the quintessential 10-year-old; and Lexi’s dynamic first-person narrative shows her evolution—to readers and herself. That it also beautifully fits in the story of Lexi’s late mother gives this caper even more heft.

— Ilene Cooper

Back to my roots…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Look what I got in the mail today! It’s from my alma mater, Richard Edwards Elementary School in Chicago. (SHOUT OUT!) When I discovered they had transformed into a performing arts school, how could I not send them copies of my first two middle-grade novels, Dustin Grubbs: One-Man Show and Dustin Grubbs: Take Two! which are about an 11-year old who longs to be an actor? (I think I sent them three copies of each book, so technically speaking, that’d be a total of six books, but anyway…) Memories of my days at Edwards started flooding back.

I remember they never used to put on plays. The most you could hope for was a solo in the yearly Christmas concert and that was about it. As a plucky 5th grader, having once again been tragically overlooked for a coveted solo, I decided to approach the powers that be to ask for permission to put on a play called “The King in the Kitchen” in the big auditorium. I would star as the King–of course–and also direct! This way they wouldn’t have to lift a finger. The principal gave me the green light with the caveat that a teacher had to be present at all times during rehearsals. Cut to us performing that play about a zillion times–for every assembly, PTA meeting, awards ceremony–fire drill, whatever.

The next year, due to our rousing theatrical success, the principal decided to put an actual drama teacher in charge, Mrs. Tabitz. (Okay, she doubled as a 2nd grade teacher, but as far as I was concerned, she was Steven Spielberg in a dress.) I was thrilled when she chose a musical for us to perform. No, not just a musical–an operetta! Okay, it was a really watered-down version of The Mikado by Gilbert & Sullivan, but it was still pretty ambitious for an elementary school! Mrs. Tabitz wanted me to play the comic lead, Ko-Ko, but I insisted on playing the romantic lead instead, Nanki-Poo. (Didn’t I know it was a serious tenor role? Didn’t I know I was a goofy baritone? Apparently not. No wonder those high notes wouldn’t come out–and I kept getting laughs.)

MANY YEARS later after moving to New York City in pursuit of my theatrical dream, I wound up doing several productions of The Mikado Off-Broadway for the Light Opera of Manhattan. And guess which role I played? KO-KO!


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It just goes to show–never underestimate the prophetic powers of your grade school drama teacher!