Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Worldly Wednesday: Gambian Folk Tale Kumba Am and Kumba Amul

Recently, iStorybooks released the second of three West African / Gambian Folk Tales in a short series authored by Cornelius Gomez and myself.

This folk tale from The Gambia, called Kumba Am and Kumba Amul, is one of the country's most popular tales.  The story is about two stepsisters who each take a magical journey to wash a calabash bowl in a faraway sea.  As each girl takes her turn to travel, their kindness (or their selfishness) determines the outcome of their trek.

The project was a bit challenging, as the original folk tale of Kumba Am is quite long and also contains Grimm-esque violence that has made it much more suitable for an adult audiences in the past.  But Cornelius and I made a few adaptations that really transformed the tale into a fun and appropriate story for kids ages 4-8.  It's our hope that one of the most popular West African folk tales will now reach more young audiences and American children will know a bit more about Gambian oral history and culture.

If you haven't already downloaded the iStorybooks App for your iPhone, you can download it in iTunes (now with bug fixes)!  If you don't have an iPhone, you can see the online version of the story Kumba Am and Kumba Amul here.  You can also view our first Wolof folk tale, The Fish Snatcher, through iStorybooks - as well as nearly a dozen other stories adapted and/or originally authored by Miranda Paul.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Mommy Monday: 37 FREE Books!

Apparently, parent demand for all of my 'I Like Books' series to be packaged as a set has prompted my publisher to release a new, combined app of them!  GrasshopperApps recently packaged every title - PLUS a few NEW ones that were previously unreleased - into one App of 37 stories!  And, the compilation of digital stories is currently being offered for free!

I don't know how long GrasshopperApps will make my books available for free and packaged together as 37 books-in-one, but if you've got early readers at home and want to download some awesome interactive books, check out the latest I Like Books app on iTunes.

The new, previously unreleased titles that are ONLY available by downloading this app include:
I Like Dad
I Like Winter
I Like Letters
I Like Montessori
I Like Shapes
and I Like My Body.

It's always fun to see new 'versions' released of something you've written, but I'm incredibly excited at the warm reviews of my toddler books and how so many parents and educators have really found them useful at home and in the classroom!

(I would suggest buying the I Like Books App for someone for a holiday present - but right now you don't have to buy it since it's free.)

Happy Holidays! And, if you 'like' these books, don't forget to 'Like' GrasshopperApps on Facebook or tell them you love the new App!

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Worldly Wednesday: 1 Million Books for Gambia

Kayira Be and Nanga Def? 
(Peace be with you and How are you?)

Those who know me well know that I don’t like asking for help, so I’ll keep this letter brief.

Since 2003 I’ve been very involved in charity work in The Gambia, Africa’s smallest mainland country.  This year, I’ve had the great fortune to connect with Hand in Health and Books for Africa, two organizations running a campaign called 1 Million Books for Africa.  Together, they set up the country’s first 7,500-book medical library in 2010.

In February/March of 2012, I have been invited to travel with Hand in Health to The Gambia to help set up the next round of libraries with books generously donated by American individuals, schools, and companies.  My volunteer tasks will include transporting, shelving, and organizing a shipment of 22,000 books to placed in rural villages near Njau, Gambia. 

The six libraries I will help establish will be the first ever in the region.  As a former teacher in The Gambia, I can’t stress to you enough how books are a very real solution to battling low literacy rates.  In short, I really believe in this project.

For those of you who’ve traveled to such remote places, you know that the cost of travel is high.  My volunteer trip will once again be self-funded and will cost nearly $3000.  Although I have raised a small portion of the funds already, I’m still hoping that through your generosity I’ll be able to raise the remaining amount and fulfill my promise to volunteer with this project.

If you’d like to contribute to my personal travel expenses, you can send a check made out to me (email me for address), as Books for Africa and Hand in Health do not yet take donations earmarked for certain travelers/volunteers. You can also donate to my volunteer fund through PayPal online by clicking the donate button here:

If you’d like to contribute to the shipping and expenses for the library supplies, please visit: and make sure to click on The Gambia (1 Million Books for Gambia) so that the money will benefit the project I am volunteering for.  Funds donated directly to Books for Africa will not help cover my personal travel expenses, but your gift is tax-deductible and will go toward the overall library project in The Gambia.

Jerejef and Abaraka baake
(Thank you and thank you very much),

Miranda Paul

Monday, November 21, 2011

Mommy Monday: Like Mother, Like Daughter

When I had my daughter, I hoped she'd be a reader.  So, I read to her every night and filled her room with books.  We attended storytimes at the library and painted scenes from books with watercolors. 

She began reading simple sentences at age three, and finished her first chapter book (with a little help) a few months ago at the age of five. 

This morning, I went to wake her up (her LEAST favorite thing to do - wake up in the morning), and found her light on.  I opened the door, only to see my daughter with two stacks of books.  "This pile I read already this morning," she said, "and these I want to read before school today."

I grinned from ear to ear.  Of course, I told her I didn't think we had time to read fourteen more books before school, but that I'd leave them waiting there for when she came home from school.

My daughter loves to read.  Now, it's my hope that she'll stay a reader for life.

And, that I can repeat this with my son.  While I have the same dream for him, I'm not sure I'll take the same approach with the boy.

Do you have kids?  Boys or girls?  Are they readers?  Strategies?

Comment and help me raise TWO lovers of books!

Friday, November 18, 2011

Focus Friday: Making a List, Checking it Twice

Have you ever made a list of everything you've ever written?

Well, I haven't.

At least not yet - but I'm in the process of making that list, and checking it twice right now. Ho, ho, ho, my deadline is Dec. 25th. Merry Christmas to Me.

Spending a few minutes each day, I'm cataloging each polished manuscript, computer file, and/or work-in-progress. The excel file currently is about 3 pages long, and I'm only on the letter M in terms of titles. Eesh. I write a lot. I've been doing this for about a week now during my self-allowed "break" time.

Am I a masochist? No.

I knew this needed to be done when I began assembling packets for agents, and writing query letters. Those of you who are picture book authors know how difficult it can be to land an agent. To make sure I stand out (because we all also know you only get one shot per agent, and don't want to muck it up), I realized I needed to know EXACTLY what was (and wasn't) in my body of work.

How many stories have I really published? Written? How many are actually in shape and, if an agent requested, I'd hit the send button on TODAY? How many are picture books? Board books? Short stories? Rhyming? Middle grade? Young Adult? I can guess, but that doesn't sound professional.

I need these answers if I want to understand who I am as a writer, and pitch that to an agent. Though this process is really tedious, it's absolutely essential for a writer like me who writes across genres and age groups. My excel file has everything from keywords to target age to whether or not the piece has ever been submitted and in what year I began writing it (and the year it was finished). There is also a column for "Status," which is my subjective indication on whether or not the piece is ready to be seen by an agent or editor, if it's a draft, or simply unfinished.

For the record, I am not including "story ideas" or character sketches that haven't been turned into actual stories yet. Ideas remain scrabbled in a notebook on my bookshelf and for the time being, will stay there. They don't count yet :) (Thank goodness, or I'd have at least 70 more catalog items). I'm also not counting anything that is very, very unfinished (I found one story where I had written about three sentences) - those are being labeled as "ideas" also for now.

So, I ask again - have you ever made a list of everything you've ever written? Let me know! Then, let me know if you're "checking it twice," like my next step - I'm prioritizing a revision schedule. Unless I know what I've got, how do I know what I want to make with it?

All in all, this process is the way in which I can be clear about my body of work with an agent. Saying I have 7 polished picture books, for example, is more concrete than "I have written dozens of picture books, and several are final drafts" doesn't cut it. I want to have titles, keywords, and word counts right there. I'm even considering sending a "body of work" spreadsheet file with an agent submission. Anyone ever done that?

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Thoughtful Thursday: Special Post Celebrating RSS

Thanks to a good writer-friend, Melissa Gorzelanczyk, I've finally gotten around to figuring out how to add an RSS feed subscription button to my blog!  If you want to get the updates from my blog as they happen, just click the Subscribe to RSS options on the sidebar at the top.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Focus Friday: Intensity

Now that my official stint as a long-term substitute high school teacher is over (an intense experience of its own), my focus today is simple: intensity.

I've often called myself a binge reader and a binge writer. It's sort of my personality, and as long as I'm not applying it to controlled substances or gambling, I consider it an asset to be 'intense.'

Why? This week, I finished the third book of The Hunger Games series, Mockingjay. The best word I can use to describe the series is intense. I imagine Suzanne Collins must have been thrown herself into a state of intensity while writing it.

And with a novel to finish, I've decided that the next three months will be nothing short of intense for me. Fiery. Passionate. Intense.

Today, I'm burrowing back into the hole of the author and getting deep into my work. Surely, I'll come up for air once in awhile, to report (and hopefully inspire), but I've decided that without intensity (and a little bit of madness?) good novels aren't written.

So, picture book manuscripts will be sent out today and the weekend promises full focus on the deep, intense project of novel writing.

May the odds be ever in my favor.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Worldly Wednesday: The Fish Snatcher and Other Wolof Folk Tales

Very recently I got to see the first finished product of a long-term project of Cornelius Gomez's and mine - adapting Gambian oral folk tales into accessible picture books for American and English-speaking children around the world.

Cornelius Gomez is a Gambian educator and one of the few who have published Wolof folk tales from his native country of The Gambia in West Africa.  Working with Cornelius, who currently lives and works in The Gambia, has been instrumental because I feel as though our collaboration has helped us acheive the goal of remaining both culturally authentic while still adapting the stories for new audiences (and target age groups) abroad.

Of the first three Wolof folk tale adaptations contracted by iStorybooks, The Fish Snatcher was the earliest release from the publisher.  Originally dubbed with the English title "The Old Woman and the Thief," this Gambian folk tale combines fear, humor, and common-sense morality into a short tale that interlaces cultural (Wolof) words and images.

Two more Wolof folk tales will be released in coming months from iStorybooks.  Cornelius and I are also seeking a publisher for the bilingual version (Wolof and English) of a compilation of adapted folk tales so that our stories can be used in both Gambian and American classrooms.  It's not an easy task, but as they say in Wolof:

Naka ligey be?
("How is the work coming along?")

Ndanka, Ndanka.
("Slowly, slowly." And don't forget to laugh while you respond).

I hope you enjoy The Fish Snatcher!  And, I'll keep you posted on the publication of other Gambian folk tales.
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