Mrs. God


This weekend the first Virginia Children’s Book Festival was held at Longwood University in Farmville, Virginia. A great time, enjoyed by everyone who came out on a rainy weekend! Major kudos to festival founders, Juanita Giles and Katie Snyder on bringing a phenomenal program to kids and families in rural Virginia.

On Saturday, I joined these smart and funny women: Liz Magill, Meg Medina, and Deb Stone for a panel discussion about empowering girls through children’s literature. We had a blast and could have kept discussing and sharing with our fantastic audience for the rest of the day, for real. Continue reading

Coming Soon…Chancey of the Maury River App

I wrote Chancey of the Maury River (Candlewick Press) because I love horses. The friendship between our late horse, Albert, and my daughter inspired the first story.  Albert himself inspired so many folks, not only me. The second in the series, Macadoo of the Maury River, comes out this August. And, I’m having a total blast writing the third book, Dante of the Maury River, right now.

Riding, shoot even just brushing, a horse makes me happy.

And, honestly, I’m crazy for all the assorted riding outfits and accoutrements. I am! Can’t help it, I’ve always liked playing dress up. Even something as mundane as getting Albert a new halter or fly mask would bring out my inner equestrian-fashionista.While I don’t show, I’ve LOVED helping my daughter select show clothes and get all nice and turned out over the years.

For the longest time, I’ve imagined how fun it would be to create a barn dress up game based on Chancey. Last year, my husband and I founded Dogtown Pursuits because we’re both fascinated by the limitless creative opportunities with digital apps. In partnership with Three Hats Media (who also made this awesome app trailer), we’re just about ready to release a Chancey of the Maury River mobile app complete with an awesome barn dress up game, new story material in the form of Claire’s diary, and some fun facts about the different breeds in the Horses of the Maury River series.

This fall, the fabulous Michael Portis (Three Hats) and I will deliver a 2-hour workshop at the 2013 James River Writers Annual Conference in Richmond, VA.  Check back for more details on the program:

DIY BOOK APPS with Michael Portis and Gigi Amateau

Creating a book is simultaneously an artistic and entrepreneurial act. Beyond self-publishing and e-books, the 21st Century author can act as content creator and digital entrepreneur. In this dawning era of book apps, this session will examine our role and a process for creating book apps.

Hay, here’s a great summer barn book!

Horse: The Essential Guide for Young Equestrians
by Rosie Stoddard and Phillip Marshall
2008, Candlewick Press
Ages 6-9 Grades 1-4
ISBN: 9780763635473

With the end of the school year well within sight, thoughts turn to summer – camp, road trips, and long days at the barn. Horse: The Essential Guide for Young Equestrians makes a perfect summer-kick-off gift for horse kids going on vacation, heading off to camp, or gearing up for first-time riding lessons. Full of lively illustrations, pull-out activities, and practical guides, Horse is a world unto itself. Here, kids get a guided exploration of the universe of horses.

The basics of horse care and horse breeds are explained, as well as markings, colors, and patterns. How-to sections are sprinkled throughout the book to show kids how to braid a tail, pick a hoof, take care of tack, and more.

Table of Contents

Interior breeds

When my daughter and her horsey friends were younger, they would have been as eager for this book as Albert is for supper when he hears the feed room door open at 430 p.m. And, they’d have devoured each page then started over. If you’re looking for an expertly researched, beautifully illustrated, and entertaining book for your young equestrian, you’ve found it, partner!

Cowboy Attitude: Interview with Author, G. Neri

G. Neri is the Coretta Scott King award-winning author of the middle-grade books Yummy and Chess Rumble, both ALA Notable Books. He is also the author of the YA novels Surf Mules, and the Junior Library Guild selection Ghetto Cowboy. In 2010, he won the International Reading Association’s Lee Bennett Hopkins Promising Poet Award. He writes for reluctant readers, especially urban boys and teens from ages 8 to 18, creating unique formats and voices that speak directly to young people who don’t like to read.

His latest book, from Candlewick Press, is an urban horse story, a fish out of water story, and a fantastic read – Ghetto Cowboy. Check out the book trailer, then read what author G. Neri has to say about the process of writing this book.

Gigi Amateau: You’ve said that the article, “Street Riders” in Life magazine [April 22, 2005] inspired Ghetto Cowboy. How long did that story knock around in your imagination before you started writing? Do you keep a copy of the article?
Greg Neri: Someone sent me that article and said, “Here’s your next book.” I was like, uh-huh… but I couldn’t stop thinking about it. The pictures really grabbed me. Especially one of a young black kid standing on the back of a horse.

So, this is where book ideas come from. Yep.

I started writing little vignettes, some free-verse etc. Wrote about two-thirds on a draft but then got stuck. Put it away, tried again a year or so later, same thing. Then I put it away for what I thought would be forever, but after a few years had passed, I realized what was wrong with it, which was a very simple idea: I had the kid born and raised into this world, so I made him an outsider, so we could experience the surprises through his eyes. It became a fish out of water story. That did it. And yes, I still have the article.

Gigi: Tell me about the research you did related to horses and in particular the black cowboy tradition.
Greg: It was tough to find anything on this unique subculture at first, but I started digging around online and started finding little nuggets of gold in people’s blogs and on message boards in Philly. Then there were some controversial raids on these properties and articles started popping up too. I discovered the Federation of Black Cowboys and other groups devoted to urban horses. But what I really needed were personal contacts and slowly I found them online too. The clincher was discovering a fantastic photo book called Fletcher Street that really captured the real life neighborhood in North Philly. It brought it all to life. I ended up doing so much online research that by the time I actually visited these particular stables, most of the book had been written. But it felt like walking into my novel. I knew who people were and what was going on in the neighborhood. It took a while, but then I earned their trust and I felt this book represented their cause.

Gigi: In Ghetto Cowboy, the guys at Harper’s stable in Philly reclaim the word ‘cowboy’. How did ‘cowboy’ originate?
Greg: According to a lot of these guys, in the slave days before the Civil War, the slaves who worked in the house were called houseboys and the ones who worked with the cows were called cowboys. So it was a derogatory black word originally but these cowboys were so good, that the insulting word soon became a compliment and the white cattle men started using it too. Sounded about right to me.

Gigi: The voice in Ghetto Cowboy is distinct and clear and consistent throughout the novel. You chose also to write in first person present, an immediate and intimate point of view. Did you experiment with other povs? What made this the right voice and perspective for this story?
Greg: No, I always start with a voice. I don’t think I am particularly good at writing magnificent prose that will be quoted for decades to come. I prefer the inarticulate voices of real life urban teens—simple, raw, funny and grammatically incorrect. But all that makes it real. The voice speaks to me and I write it like dictation.
I also originally wrote the story in free-verse (I was coming off of Chess Rumble at the time), then my editor said, does it have to be free-verse? I think it’s a novel. And she was right. But the poetry of the voice was ingrained into it by then, so it has a certain rhythm and pop to it.

Gigi: Do you know about Texas Fred the Zydeco Cowboy in the DC area? You should check out his radio show, Zydeco Trail Ride, on WPFW 89.3 FM. I think he would really love your book. Texas Fred is definitely part of the cowboy tradition with a little Louisiana flair, too. A Creole cowboy!
Greg: I’m going to be on his show in September! He’s cool plus, I have a Louisiana Creole background and love Zydeco, so I’m excited.

Gigi: I will definitely tune in to hear you and Fred talk. One of things I love most about your book – it dispels some ideas about horses and horse owners. I’m thinking of this thought that Train has [on page 179] “But horses is like people: some come from money; some come from nothing. For these horses, the only thing between them and a can of dog food was us.”
Greg: As far as dispelling myths, all of this comes from the real guys on the streets. I loved finding out all these simple truths and finding ways to put them into the story.

Gigi: The main character and narrator of Ghetto Cowboy goes through quite a transformation. As the story progresses, the name by which he is called – all versions of his given name, Coltrane – changes from Cole to Coltrane to Train. How are you using Train’s name to tell us what’s going on inside him?
Greg: Well, I never quite thought of it like that, but you’re right. At first, he denies his identity, then begins to accept it, then takes pride in it. The Train leads everyone else and propels them forward.

Gigi: Do you ride now? And did you ride before you started working on Ghetto Cowboy?
Greg: I am only an occasional rider, at best. I’m probably much closer to Cole than Harper in this regards, which helped me capture his fears. But I am like Harper in attitude, working with young people and the like. So it balanced out. Also, I have a cousin who’s a race horse trainer and an uncle who was a Mexican cowboy in East LA and an accountant who owns horses near me. They gave me feedback to make sure the story was horse accurate and let me find my inner cowboy.

Gigi: The illustrations in Ghetto Cowboy by Jesse Joshua Watson make such a rich addition to the novel and deepen the reading experience. The two of you also worked together on Chess Rumble, a free verse illustrated novella. Do you and Jesse work together to decide which scenes to depict? Are y’all, like, totally synced up creatively?
Greg:We are synced up creatively. He totally gets what I am saying and finds the equivalent visually. With Ghetto Cowboy, he picked the scenes he felt he could bring to life. Since we were limited to a certain number of images he could do, we (me, the editor and art director) had a few back and forths about a couple of missed scenes to make sure we had good coverage. But I trust him implicitly. Jesse’s an incredible artist and I am proud to have him be a part of these stories. Dude rocks.

Illustrations by Jesse Joshua Watson for Ghetto Cowboy by G.Neri

Gigi: In the book, you describe The Cowboy Way, which places honor, respect, and trust of your neighbor, your horse, and your friends at the center. There also seems to be a caveat there, too., maybe… but ride with a chip on your shoulder? So, this might sound totally off base, but when I read Ghetto Cowboy, I kept thinking of my basketball team, the VCU Rams. I feel like they play in The Cowboy Way.
Greg: Well, a cowboy should have attitude but it should be kept inside. They are known to be stoic but will stand up for what needs to be done. Actions speak louder than words.

Gigi: I know the book is just freshly out, but have you started hearing from any cowboy or riding groups? Are you planning a Ghetto Cowboy trail ride to celebrate the launch?
Greg: That would be great. I’ve heard from a couple and that meant a lot since they felt I got it right but there are many others that still need to see it. I would love to do a city ride through Philly!

Gigi: What’s next for G. Neri? A movie, a poem, another book?
Greg: I’ve delivered a couple of picture book biographies to my agent and am deep into my next YA novel, an interracial love story set in the Deep South in the age of Obama. It’s called The White Tree and it covers some of the many surprising developments down here in this so-called post race world. And I have another horse story in me, the true life story of my cousin who became an outlaw to save a horse from being raced to death. That one’s called Grand Theft Horse.

Gigi: I look forward to both of those new books! Thank you so much for taking the time to answer my questions.

Jonesin for EVEN MORE G. Neri or Ghetto Cowboy?

G. Neri’s author Site:

G. Neri’s guest post on the awesome blog, Cynsations

Learn about Fletcher Street Urban Riding Club

If you like to listen to your books, sample this: Ghetto Cowboy audio clip

Great Books for Horse Lovers

Have you discovered this wonderful website, Great Horse Books for Horse Lovers, yet? Here, Vanessa Wright has curated one of the most comprehensive, helpful, and interesting online collections of horse books. You’ll want to bookmark Great Books for Horse Lovers and Vanessa’s other project, The Literary Horse, so you can easily return and explore the resources there. Whether you crave fiction, non-fiction, fantasy, instructional, or children’s books, Vanessa’s site will guide you to some great titles.

I’m so grateful that she has included Chancey in her collection. Thank you, Great Books for Horse Lovers!

Great Books for Horse Lovers: Fire Star: An Interview with Gigi Amateau about Chancey of the Maury River.

Inside a Book: An interview with book artist, Sherry Fatla, Candlewick Press

One of the most awesome benefits of writing books for kids is that I get to visit schools and actually get to write WITH kids. It’s really an honor sit around a table, bowed over a waiting page, using the written word to explore the world within and around us. Writing together.

Writing together at Chester Middle

Whenever I spend time in schools as a visiting author, I am blown away by how passionate and curious students are about reading, about books, and about bookmaking. Inevitably, our conversations turn to fonts and book covers. I’ve learned that many young writers feel strongly about their favorite fonts! And, I’ve heard young readers and writers get pretty annoyed when the pages of a book look disconnected from the story itself.

I’m really lucky to have worked with Sherry Fatla, an artist at Candlewick Press, on all of my books. I know I am kind of sentimental, but truly, it never fails that when she sends me ideas about typeface and those first typeset pages, I get choked up every time because her pages look like the story! In this interview, Sherry answers questions from my writing students about designing the pages of my book Chancey of the Maury River.

Q: Could you tell us about how you do your job?
Sherry: The first thing I do when I am designing a book is read the manuscript! I think it is very important for the reader to feel that the design of the book really goes with the story. So I think about how I am feeling when I am reading it, and then try to find fonts that will interpret those feelings. Font is another name for typeface. If I think the book design would be enhanced by using decorative elements, like the little stars on the Chancey of the Maury River pages, then I start looking for those, too. Of course, the decorative elements should look like they belong with the fonts, and that is where the fun begins, making those choices.

Q: How many typefaces are there in the world?
Sherry: Well, I don’t know exactly how many typefaces there are, except to say there are thousands! Some are really beautiful, some are funny, and some look very similar to many others. It is the designer’s job to find the right fonts for each project. Many fonts can be seen online, and there are printed catalogs and books as well. But, back to how a book is designed. After reading the manuscript, and thinking about the fonts, I think about the size of the book. How big or how small the book is also has an impact on how you feel about it as you are reading it. So, many decisions are made in the beginning.

Q: Do you only use a computer or did you draw the chapter titles for Chancey by hand?
I do most of my work on the computer, using two design programs, either Quark or InDesign. However, I usually start by drawing the outline of the page on paper. For instance, Chancey is 5.5 inches wide x 8.25 inches high. Then I think about the space around the type, called the margins. I draw a box on my page that shows me how much space I want the type to take up. The margin that is on the side that goes into the middle of the book is called the gutter. It is usually the smallest measurement. The margin at the top of the page is called the head margin. It is a little bigger than the gutter. The margin on the outside of the book is a little bigger than the head margin, and last, the bottom margin, called the foot margin, is the biggest.

The next step happens on the computer. In a design program I make the same page I designed on paper, and try out some fonts to see if they work for the story. I try them in different sizes, too, until they look just right. I also try different amounts of space between the lines of type, which is easy to do on the computer! Then I can see how big the type will be, and how it will fit on the in the space on the page inside the margins I drew. Sometimes the margins have to change a little bit, or the size of the type, until the page looks balanced. Then I try out some fonts for the chapter titles and ornaments, and for the page numbers. The name for the number at the bottom of a page is folio.

Q: How did you pick the stars at the bottom of each page in Chancey of the Maury River? How many typefaces are you using in Chancey?

Sherry: The stars in Chancey are from a font called Zapf Dingbats! Dingbats is another name for ornaments. I chose them because stars play an important part in the story.

The other fonts are Horley Old Style, which is what the pages are typeset in, and Dear Sarah, which looks like handwriting. So no, I didn’t draw the chapter titles. There are many fonts that look like handwriting, in many styles. Another designer created the book cover, and she chose Dear Sarah because it looks classic and warm, which is another way of saying it looks friendly to the reader. We wanted the inside of the book to look like it belonged with the cover, so Dear Sarah was used for the chapter titles. I thought that Horley Old style also had a warm feeling that felt right and fit the story, and worked well with Dear Sarah.

Dear Sarah is the font used for Chancey's chapter titles.

Horley Old Style is the font for the text in Chancey.

Q: What does it mean when a book is typeset?

Sherry: When we say a book is typeset, we mean that after all the design decisions I described above are made, someone called a typesetter will create the entire book on the computer, using all those design guidelines: the page size, the margins, the font and how big it is, how many lines will be on each page, and where the folios will be placed.

Years ago, before computers were invented, every single letter of every word was placed by hand. Fonts were cast in metal in complete alphabets, including numbers and punctuation symbols. The metal pieces making up the words were lined up on thin bars to keep them straight across the bottom, and row after row was set in place by hand. More bars were added to make spaces between the lines. When a page was finished, it would be covered in ink, and run through a press to print it on paper. We still use the term typesetting today, even though the process is quite different on the computer.

I hope you now understand a little more about how a book is designed. Thank you for asking!

Chancey of the Maury River cover