Thursday, February 11, 2010

A BOX of BEARS: The Story Behind The Story

Written by: Mariam D. Pineno Illustrated by: Martha Pineno-Hess

I can do better than that. What children’s writer hasn’t thought, if not said it? Exactly how I felt on reading the free book accompanying the plush toy-of-the-year. I didn’t like the cover and I objected to the title. A confusing half-dozen or more character names began with the same letter. The story ending suggested the inappropriate child behavior of keeping a secret from Mother. But I had already bought the toys for a classroom gift from invited December Author.

After I’d explained my feelings about the commercial story this was one first-grader’s question on politely raising his hand: “Why did you buy it if you didn’t like it?” Good question.

“It was free,” I said, “and you can’t always judge a book by its cover!” But I admitted I do.

For the first and second-grade classes, I’d written my own story about toy bears without any relation to the original. It was too long for their attention level, but well-received anyway. Then I worked on and off for years on revisions and cuts to suit a young-reader picture book format.

And when my professional artist/daughter Marti said yes, our fourth collaboration was launched. It didn’t exactly crash, but keeping it afloat for a couple of years was our biggest book challenge yet. Know any artist who thinks white-on-white is easy? Doubtful.

More than once we hoped our book might be marketed in time for holiday shoppers. 2009 is the year for reality. A BOX of BEARS’ bright, beautiful acrylic illustrations will bring the joy of giving right into the heart and home of every lucky reader. Its evergreen theme defies shelf-life conventions for holiday books.

And I truly believe. I did better.

Thanks for reading my stories,
Mariam D. Pineno

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IT DOESN’T GROW ON TREES: The Story Behind the Story


Written by: Mariam D. Pineno Illustrated by: Joshua Allen

No, it isn’t one of thousands of books and online articles about money. Titles based on the old clichĂ© rival the stars in number, but my first chapter book is not about some kid being bored by an adult’s preachy take on monetary matters. What this junior chapter book is about can be found on page 14. I won’t spoil it for you, as discovery is ever at the heart of page-turning. You will delight in finding the title’s roots and repetitions right to the end.

Is the story about a real 10-year-old boy? Definitely. Based on a music-teaching experience, it’s a tale I’ve wanted to tell for a very long time. Memory, intact, was kept alive by the child’s wallet-size class photo kept over my desk. I know but one Pop-Pop in real life. He gave permission to use his grandkids’ affectionate title without fear of my taking literary liberties. In school I often answered to “Mrs. Piano,” but Ms. Fa-La-La was more fun to create in booming tones—which was not me. No secret, highly fictionalized characters/scenes make great stories.

Imagination coupled with experience kept sentences flowing from chapter to chapter. Initially wondering what past incident could cause a child enough anxt to keep him from performing, I had only to recall one program where a first-grader lost his lunch onstage. I changed the song title and the prop because . . . (Ask me).

A fine alternate choice from dark fiction, this 10-chapter book (enhanced with original illustrated pages) shows the positive side: an easily intimidated child blossoms into his real potential with perseverance, work, and latent talent. You can put your money on that.

Thank you for reading my stories,
Mariam D. Pineno

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A Hat for Hannah: The Story Behind The Story

A Hat for Hannah
Written by: Mariam D. Pineno Illustrated by: Martha Pineno-Hess

Pizzazz? Or pizazz? According to Webster’s D. you can have it either way. But if you were a second grade reader sounding out, wouldn’t your mouth stop and drool at pizza without bothering to finish the word? That’s how I decided which version to use.
“Hannah needs a hat. A hat with pizazz. She needs it for next Friday.” So the unique post card size book opens. For a week, Hannah bugs everyone in sight about hats. Perseverance pays. But I’m getting ahead of my story.

I saw the hot pink hat—sunflower-backed—among second grade kids invading my daughter Beth’s music room. Some more outlandish than others from theme-land headgear to authentic sombreros. I happened to be visiting on Hat Day when Emily’s pizazzy hat and lively style caught my eye. In turning my observation into a story, I imagined a variety of hat styles from everyday life and when I found them, I needed models.

My illustrator/daughter Marti wanted visuals so I/we shot five fat rolls of film of everything from porches, screen doors, school entrances, railings, family members, and even me—the grandma watering her flowers. For me, the book’s most poignant page was based on a photo of my dad in his jaunty French beret, sitting at a sidewalk cafĂ© in Paris. Ever the avid reader, wouldn’t he be pleased with his role in illustrating a modern child’s book?

Mentor/editor/friend Joy Cowley had brief input into this book, too, and no surprise, her contribution again was about choosing from while deleting “darlings.” In my enthusiasm, I had developed more hat scenes than appropriate to include. Not bad ideas—just too many. Another exercise in writer’s choices. I’m still learning.

Thanks for reading my story,

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Leonardo’s Lesson: The Story Behind the Story

Leonardo’s Lesson
Written by Mariam D. Pineno Illustrated by Martha Pineno-Hess

“Will there be a sequel?” Kind of tongue-in-cheek, Marileta Robinson, a Senior Editor at Highlights for Children magazine asked after reading her gift copy of Talented Tabby. She had guided my first cat’s tale in early-draft stage during private mentoring sessions at the 1996 Highlights Writers Conference at Chautauqua, NY.

Sequel? A possibility I had considered. But what followed T.T. morphed into an earlier-reader version of Leonardo da Cat’s antics, not a chronological progression. Brighter watercolors, shorter sentences, more white space and action for young read-yourselfers.

“He’s your cat, Marti,” I said. “Give me some ideas to go on.”

Well, never one to run from a challenge, she did. Our second collaboration started with her sticky-note scraps of paper, each briefly stating some real activities in Leo’s Cygnet Studios’ life. And no surprise, my accumulation of scene prompts eventually exceeded the reasonable number for my perceived-reader interest: pre-school through second grade. I’d need to cut. I did.

The story’s subtle ending shows how making friends doesn’t need to be hard. My friend, Joy Cowley (Author of Mrs. Wishy Washy fame), after a week-long Highlights Foundation workshop and the book’s printing, proclaimed, “I love Leonardo! What a cat!” And “Thanks for my copy. I shall treasure it.” High praise from a world renowned writer who met him only through my words and Marti’s art.

Joy, as mentor/editor reinforced the idea-limiting concept. So Leo wasn’t alone in his quest for learning. To be a good writer I had learned: Sometimes we must delete our “darlings,” printing only the best and filing the rest.

Thanks for reading my stories,
Mariam D. Pineno

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Talented Tabby: The Story Behind the Story

Talented Tabby
Written by: Mariam D. Pineno Illustrated by: Martha Pineno-Hess

“Does he always do this?” I ask as Leo makes a beeline for the art studio’s opening door. “Of course,” son-in-law Todd says, blocking the tabby cat’s path.“He’s our Official Greeter!”

Aha! A storyline inspiration. Now I’m reminded of my earlier photo-op—Leo’s lazy pose atop artist/daughter Marti’s office desk. That print begged to become a Cygneture portrait titled “Leo as Paperweight”—exactly how he appeared. Look for this painting’s beautiful adaptation as a watercolor illustration. The original oil goes along for Show ‘n’ Tell on school presentations.

I, an occasional studio visitor, admired—studied, actually—Marti’s growing Cygnet Studios Gallery collection of larger-than-life oil paintings featuring Leonardo da Cat. Based on photos, he appeared to be posing in various precarious positions on ladder tops, high railings and such.

I “put myself in the cat’s paws” (a phrase that came to me in a classroom response to “How do you know what the cat thinks?”) to ponder possible purposes in his choices of places to be. Thus, my first fiction writing took flight. My first ever kid’s book was born, its subtle message that being yourself is more than okay.

Talented Tabby, the book, is a Limited Edition, but lovable Leo will forever wrap “warm furry figure eights” around our hearts.

Thanks for reading about my story,
Mariam D. Pineno

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