Saturday, December 18, 2010

Babymouse Fan Art from the Interwebs

I get lots of BABYMOUSE fan art when I go to schools, but I always forget that average folks out there are using the Internet to produce content, not just to consume it. I stumbled across some awesome BABYMOUSE online fan art recently.

First, there's the blog, Bookie Woogie. I've mentioned this family of readers/artists before. They've drawn things like this in response to reading BABYMOUSE in the past:

Babymouse and Henry singing, by Gracie

Lily's idea for a new title, "Babymouse: Pony Love"

Isaac's idea for a new title, "Babymouse: Mission to Mars"

Recently, the father (Z-Dad) decided to reveal some of his own fan art that he creates with the Z-kids:

There's also a site out there called DeviantArt, which I had often heard of but never actually checked out before. It's full of fun fan art for all kinds of things, including BABYMOUSE:


(Note Babymouse in the cartoon crowd wishing her Happy Birthday)

(That's a manga-ized Babymouse-girl in the left corner!)

(How about some awesome Babymouse crochet work?)

(This artist has created an entire gallery of re-envisioned Babymouse characters!)

And, finally, here is a macabre Whodunit VIDEO, "Mystery of felicia's Death":

The creator notes:

AUGUST 2009: when babymouse heard the news of felicia she desided to find out the mysterie will babymouse find the person who killed felicia or will she be the next victom find out on the next episode

p.s I love the books
and no wilson is not the killer
sorry about the spelling
and also the drawing Im going to make the next video better wither better drwings and better music.

It's a cliffhanger! But sadly, I fear the creator may not be finishing the tale anytime soon:

MARCH 2010: well i think it will take long since i've been using my moms laptop everything in her profile has been earased but dont worry i am going to continue when i have spare time and also wilson is not the person who killed felicia well u have to find out its not wilson because wilsons babymouse bestfriend he would never turn on her well i will start the part2

Friday, December 10, 2010


The UNSHELVED Book Club is running a cute review of BABYMOUSE: CUPCAKE TYCOON. From Gigi, Age 8 (whose profile reads, "I'm eight. I like armadillos, comics, and video games. When I grow up I want to be a zoo keeper."):

Babymouse daydreams that Wilson is a butler about to serve her cupcakes. Then she wakes up and she finds herself in the cafeteria lunch line. Then she looks for a library book in her locker. She finally finds it and then a giant hand appears and takes the book from her hands. Then she walks into the library. Its her favorite place. Babymouse needs to get a book from a really high shelf. She grabs a pipe to stop from falling but then the pipe cracks and the whole library gets flooded. And then there is a fundraiser. Everyone sells cupcakes to fix the library and replace the books.

My favorite:
I'd give it to: My dad, who says the cupcakes at University Village are too expensive. (But they’re really good). I like Cupcake Royale, too.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010


I spent last week in Upper Arlington, Ohio (a Columbus suburb). Buckeye country! The native Buckeyes were very kind to this Nittany Lion, though. I was welcomed to four different elementary schools in the district—Barrington, Windermere, Wickliffe, and Greensview. I was able to talk about Babymouse and Squish at each of the schools, and special treats awaited me at each one.

Barrington greeted me with a choral rendition of "This Is Babymouse." (I hope they post the video of the performance online; stay tuned.) At Windermere, I was accompanied in my presentations by ASL interpreters—who also had to, hilariously, help describe to me what some of the students wanted me to draw! Wickliffe Progressive kicked off the day with a whole-school assembly, replete with singing, "WELCOME" banners, and an opening speech by some of the kids.

And at Greensview, the principal kindly put his normal duties aside to escort me throughout the day (the librarian had an emergency and couldn't make it), including during a "meeting of the minds" luncheon with an essay-contest-winning student from each grade level.

The Upper Arlington News did a nice story on the visits:

Educators see many benefits to author-illustrator visits

Drawings hang in the Windermere Elementary School library with notes clinging off the edges that say things such as "I like Babymouse because she is funny," and "I like Babymouse because she day dreams and I do, too."

Students at Greensview and Wickliffe Progressive ask parents if they can have another copy of their favorite book so they can have it signed. They learn in class what kind of questions are appropriate to ask someone who, to them, is as famous as a movie star.

At Barrington students can barely sit still during math lesson because -- like Windermere, Greensview and Wickliffe -- they have a special guest coming to visit at any minute.

That special guest, and the reason for all the excitement, is Matt Holm, graphic artist for the popular children's book Babymouse....

Thanks, all, for the great visit!

Friday, November 26, 2010

BABYMOUSE: CUPCAKE TYCOON reviewed in Edmond Sun

The Edmond, Okla., newspaper The Edmond Sun recently reviewed BABYMOUSE: CUPCAKE TYCOON:

Cupcakes and frosting and sprinkles! Oh my! The beloved Babymouse is back and she’s ready to hit the jackpot — BIG. In the latest installment of the graphic novel series by brother-and-sister team Jennifer L. Holm and Matthew Holm, everyone’s favorite mouse has returned for a new adventure that’s as hilarious as it is tasty....

Read the whole review at!

Thursday, October 28, 2010

BABYMOUSE: THE MUSICAL ... As a Real Musical!

Back in April, Jenni and I had the privilege of going to New York City to see a shake-down performance of a brand-new musical:

Yes, that's our very own BABYMOUSE on the left! Our book BABYMOUSE: THE MUSICAL is one of the mini-musicals included in Theatreworks USA's brand-new show, Duck for President/Fancy Nancy & Other Story Books (the show tours under both names). The production is now traveling the country, starting in the Northeast. Click on the links above to see when it's coming to a town near you!

You can also follow the company (the cast is different than the crew pictured above) on tour via Ethan Angelica's blog, Fancy Ducks. Ethan plays Leonardo the Terrible Monster, and this is his FIFTH tour with Theatreworks!

While I am admittedly biased, I think the show is hilarious. The basic premise is that a young boy doesn't want to read, and the books come to life in protest. The cast does about a zillion costume changes, as each member has to play a different character in each of the six mini-musicals: FANCY NANCY, DUCK FOR PRESIDENT, BABYMOUSE: THE MUSICAL, I HAVE TO GO!, LEONARDO, THE TERRIBLE MONSTER, and PIRATES DON'T CHANGE DIAPERS. Each one is loaded with laughs, and great fun for both kids and grown-ups. (In fact, my mother-in-law recently saw the show in Pittsburgh with one of her girlfriends--no kids in tow at all--and had a blast.)

Don't miss it!

Sunday, October 24, 2010

BABYMOUSE: CUPCAKE TYCOON Reviewed by Parkersburg News and Sentinel

Amy Phelps of The Parkersburg (West Va.) News and Sentinel wrote a nice review of BABYMOUSE: CUPCAKE TYCOON:

Kids’ books focus on reading, mystery

The popular mouse is back in another black and white (and pink!) graphic novel, "Babymouse: Cupcake Tycoon" by Jennifer L. Holm and Matthew Holm.

Babymouse lets her imagination run wild as she goes about her school day. There's Indiana Jones-like adventures in the library and dreams of a lordship and cupcakes in the cafeteria. When one of Babymouse's daydreams causes a school flood, Babymouse and the whole school must hold a fundraiser to replace the lost books. While previous fundraisers have been boring, this one is right up Babymouse's alley - cupcakes! And even better, there is a special prize for the person who sells the most cupcakes. But Babymouse finds it is hard to sell to neighbors when everyone else in the community is too. And her nemesis, Felicia, seems like she is going to be the winner. Will Babymouse come up with a winning idea or will Felicia sell the most?

A cute story that kids will relate to (it seems like there's always a school fundraiser somewhere) it's easy to see why Babymouse is so popular, with her sassy wit, great imagination and her relatability.

Friday, October 8, 2010

New comic strip collection out from BABYMOUSE author Matthew Holm

Some exciting news, folks. Thanks to the wonders of the modern e-book age, I have finally been able to collect and publish my comic strip series, MARTY GRAY, as an e-book!

It's already available for Kindle from Amazon, and hopefully the iTunes iBookstore will follow suit shortly (within the month, to judge by my last experience with them).

What is it? Well, in 1997, my creative partner Jon Follett and I were running an online humor magazine called Strange Voices. MARTY GRAY was the daily comic strip feature I drew. (I didn't even know there was a thing called "webcomics" back then. Perhaps there wasn't, yet.) It's the story of an alien chef who gets stranded on Earth, and has to find his way in the world.

Marty Gray # 1

A word of warning: It's not for kids. This is not Babymouse. It wasn't drawn with kids in mind as an audience, and there are some gags that, while they would fit in fine on prime time TV sitcoms, are out-of-bounds for daily newspaper comics pages.

Marty Gray #063

Check it out! It's funny! It's cheap! ($1.99 on Kindle, $0.99 on iTunes, once they work it through their system. I would have made it $0.99 on Kindle, too, but $1.99 is Amazon's lowest price point.)

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

BABYMOUSE creator Matthew Holm at Vancouver, WA Barnes & Noble Oct. 12

Attention teachers and librarians:

Hi! And Thanks!

You can expect to hear a lot of things along those lines at Educator Appreciation Night at the Vancouver, Wash., Barnes & Noble on Tuesday, October 12:

Tuesday October 12, 2010 
4:00 PM - 6:00 PM

Barnes & Noble
Vancouver Plaza
7700 NE 4th Plain Blvd
Vancouver, WA 98662
ph/ 360-253-9007

What's in store? Live cartooning, Q&A, signings of BABYMOUSE: CUPCAKE TYCOON, and more:

We celebrate all pre-K through fifth grade educators with goodie bags, treats, prizes, Babymouse author Matt Holm and graphic artist/publisher Darren Davis! Homeschoolers are also invited.

I hope to see you there! I'd appreciate it! (Okay. Bad jokes. Ignore that one.)

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

BABYMOUSE: CUPCAKE TYCOON reviewed at Comic Book Bin

A nice review of BABYMOUSE: CUPCAKE TYCOON over at the Comic Book Bin:

...THE LOWDOWN: Jennifer’s energetic, spry storytelling and Matthew’s cartoony comic book art make Babymouse one of the best children’s comic books being published today. It’s like an early elementary school version of Diary of a Wimpy Kid. Of the three I’ve read, Babymouse: Cupcake Tycoon is the best in terms of problem solving and lesson learning. The narrator spars with Babymouse, who is constantly getting her comeuppance, and seeing the lead character getting her just desserts can be funny, as it certainly is here. This well-crafted kids’ graphic novel series keeps rolling, and this time it is as good as a cupcake.

Interview with BABYMOUSE creators Jenni and Matt Holm at!

Jenni and I recently spoke with

Listen in as we talk about working on BABYMOUSE and what fun things are coming up in the future! (HINT: It's slimy and green.)

Monday, October 4, 2010

Babymouse Creator Matthew Holm at Portland's 2010 WORDSTOCK Festival

This coming Saturday, October 9, 2010, I'll be appearing at the Wordstock Festival right here in Portland, Ore. I go on from 1:00PM - 2:00PM at the Target Children's Stage (inside the Oregon Convention Center), along with fellow children's-book creators Tad Hills and Brie Spangler. I'll do some drawing, talk about BABYMOUSE, and sign copies of my latest book, BABYMOUSE: CUPCAKE TYCOON!

See you there!

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Exclusive BABYMOUSE Cupcake Recipes (created by us!)

To celebrate the launch of BABYMOUSE: CUPCAKE TYCOON, Jenni and I created original BABYMOUSE-inspired cupcake recipes! (We also taste-tested them. A very, very trying task, I must tell you.)

Each recipe has an exclusive online home; you'll have to wade out there onto the Web and collect them all!

Just like Babymouse's locker, beneath their deceptively innocent exterior, these cupcakes hold unexpected surprises!

These dodgeball-red cupcakes pack a fiery wallop!

Is that mean girl in your class giving you the cold shoulder? Give her one of these minty cupcakes and tell her to chill out.

What could be more befitting royalty than these elegant, jam-filled cupcakes?

Tuesday, September 28, 2010


At last, the day has arrived! The 13th book in the BABYMOUSE series hits shelves today:


Cover of Babymouse: Cupcake Tycoon

Yes, it's true: An entire Babymouse book dedicated to Cupcakes!

Kids: Don't try this at home.

Get your copy now!


I forgot to add: You can also find special bonus cupcake recipes crafted by Team Babymouse at (PDF) and (under "FEATURES")!

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Cute Sneak Peek Review of BABYMOUSE: CUPCAKE TYCOON!

Just came across a cute review of BABYMOUSE: CUPCAKE TYCOON by a soon-to-be-3rd-grader. Here's how her mom (a librarian) tells us the young reviewer came across the book:

This summer, both my kids were able to spend one morning with me walking the exhibit floor at the ALA library conference in Washington, DC. While mom was busy scooping up books and more books, and big brother was falling in love with his new Diary of a Wimpy Kid water bottle, she kept hoping we would find "something good for her."

Enter some wonderful ladies at the Random House booth. We simply asked, "What are you excited about for an 8 year old girl?" and were handed book after book that she might like. She was in heaven!

And her review:

"Babymouse: Cupcake Tycoon" by Jennifer L. Holm & Matthew Holm

I have not read a Babymouse book before. I really liked her! She was funny. In this book she is trying to sell the most cupcakes to raise money for the school library. She wants to win the prize, but things don't work very well. I give this book TWO THUMBS UP! Did you know that there are other Babymouse books? There are 12 other books, and my mom said that we can check them all out from the library. I think "Babymouse: Beach Babe" and "Babymouse: Puppy Love" sound really good.

In the back of this book, you can read about two books coming out next summer. I think they look good because I LOVE science. One is a new Babymouse book--"Babymouse: Mad Scientist." The other is "Squish: Super Amoeba" and it is going to be green.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Matthew Holm's first book, GRAY HIGHWAY, now available on Amazon Kindle [UPDATED]

While I'm best known for drawing cartoon mice, I actually started out my multi-pronged publishing career by writing and self-publishing (with Jonathan Follett, my partner-in-crime of many decades) a nonfiction travel memoir called GRAY HIGHWAY: AN AMERICAN UFO JOURNEY. The basics: Jon and I hopped in my purple 1995 Geo Prizm and drove 12,000 miles around the United States, visiting famous UFO sites and interviewing the people we met.

UPDATE: Read an excerpt now, for free!

Creating that book played a huge part in my eventual career. It was my first long-form work (I was publishing short articles all through that period at the great Country Living magazine, of course). It massively honed my design and print skills as we went through the arduous process of self-publishing. It made me begin to design and build web sites (we created an online magazine, Strange Voices, to force ourselves to write chapters, which we put online). It also forged the all-digital cartooning technique I use to this day on BABYMOUSE (from a daily Web comic, Marty Gray, that I drew for Strange Voices.)

The small first edition of GRAY HIGHWAY sold out, thank goodness. A few years ago, we put out a new edition using Amazon's Print-on-Demand technology. And now, thanks to the long-awaited e-book revolution, we have been able to publish a new digital edition! GRAY HIGHWAY is now available for reading on the Amazon Kindle (or on any of the devices that run Kindle software, like iPhones, iPads, your laptop...)! The price: A mere $2.99! (Pocket change.)

Go get it now! Guaranteed to be fun.

UPDATE [10/5/2010]: Those of you with iPads, iPhones, and iPod Touches can now buy GRAY HIGHWAY through Apple's iBooks App! Finally have a link to the book!

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Study: Comics Are Key to Promoting Literacy in Boys

This SLJ article is so great, I have little to add to it:

Comics Are Key to Promoting Literacy in Boys, Study Says

Just in time for Comic-Con 2010, a new report says comics and graphic novels may hold the secret to promoting literacy in young boys.

Long dismissed as fluff by parents, educators, and even librarians, the Canadian Council on Learning (CCL) reaffirms what researchers have long held to be true: girls are generally more inclined to read than boys. But it goes on to say that's partly because their literary interests aren't well represented in school libraries and classrooms.

Boys are more likely to enjoy reading science and nonfiction, informational texts, how-to manuals, fantasy, adventure stories, and stories that are scary or gross, along with books about hobbies and things they do or want to do. They also tend to prefer visual media, such as the Internet, newspapers, and magazines that focus on sports, electronics and video games.

"While boys show clear preferences for specific reading material, these genres and media are generally under-represented or even unavailable in school libraries, a reflection of the views of teachers and librarians who judge such material inappropriate," says the CCL.


The report says comics serve as an effective gateway to reading prose-based works and contribute to visual literacy, as well as the ability to understand and respond to a visual image. Comics also can help develop many of the same literacy skills as books, such as how to follow a sequence of events; connect narratives to the reader's own experiences, predict what will happen next, and interpret symbols.

Even before children are ready to read text, comic books can give them practice in understanding material printed on a page, tracking left to right and top to bottom, and inferring what happens between individual panels in a story, the report says, adding that thanks to their strong visual element, they're a used as teaching aids for second-language learners and students with learning difficulties.

"It is clear that comics have become an undeniable and potentially powerful part of our society and culture," says Cappon. "Considering the evidence it is time that educators and parents put aside any misgivings that they may have and embrace comics as a positive teaching and learning tool."

[UPDATE:] I stand corrected. I do have something to add: Go read the actual report on the study, because it's even awesomer. (See the vocabulary I picked up from reading comics as a kid?) For instance, this great section:

Debunking some comic book myths

One common myth about comics is that reading them can replace the reading of other genres. Research shows that concern is misguided. Boys who read comic books regularly also tend to read more text-based material and report higher levels of overall reading enjoyment, compared to boys who do not read comic books.[24] In fact, some evidence supports the idea that comic books provide a “gateway” to other literary genres. For example, some researchers have argued that the language of comic books can help young people make the transition from informal everyday language to formal written language.[25]

Another popular myth is that the visual element of comic books makes them more suited to immature readers. In fact, comics can help readers develop a number of useful language and literacy skills. The extensive use of images in a comic book requires readers to develop two kinds of literacy: visual literacy and comics literacy. Visual literacy is the ability to interpret the meaning of various kinds of illustrations.[26] It involves all the processes of knowing and responding to a visual image, as well as all the thought that might go into constructing or manipulating an image. Comics literacy refers to the ability to understand a sequence of events or images, to interpret characters’ non-verbal gestures, to discern a story’s plot and to make inferences.[27]

Comic books allow children to develop many of the same skills as reading text-based books such as connecting narratives to children’s own experiences, predicting what will happen next and inferring what happens between individual panels. Even before children are ready to read text, comic books can give them practice in making meaning from material printed on a page, tracking left to right and top to bottom, interpreting symbols, and following the sequence of events in a story.[28]

Comic books have been shown to be useful for beginning readers, since the reduced text makes the language manageable for new readers.[29] Comics expand children’s vocabulary by giving contexts to words that the child would not normally have been exposed to.[30] New readers can also learn story elements through reading comics. Like novels, comics have a beginning, middle and end, main characters that develop through conflicts and story climax. Comics thus introduce the concepts of narrative structure and character development.[31]

Comic books can also provide a tool for improving reading development among second- language learners, as the illustrations provide contextual clues to the meaning of the written narrative and because they present language as it is used in action.[32]

Comic books can help children with learning or reading difficulties.[33] Research highlights how a number of the features found in comics can be of benefit to those with dyslexia and similar challenges, particularly the left-to-right organization of comics' panels, the use of upper case letters, and the use of symbols and context to help with comprehension. As well, the research indicates that learners who can read well and those with reading problems are equally attracted to comics.[34]

Monday, July 26, 2010

Jenni Holm interviewed by Good Comics for Kids at Comic Con

Another from-the-floor Comic Con video interview: This time, Jenni is interviewed by Good Comics for Kids' Eva Volin:

Summer Reads from St. Louis Today

St. Louis Today's Patty Carleton recommends some good summer reads for kids, including BABYMOUSE: BEACH BABE:

The Reading Corner: Make a big splash

Last month we focused on picture books. For more challenge to older kids, tuck these titles into their bag as they head to the pool or beach.

After all, it's not too late to "Make a Splash" in a summer reading club. Check out these titles (and more). There is a chance to bring home prizes for the enjoyment and effort.

Babymouse: Beach Babe by Jennifer Holm (Random House, 2006) is a graphic novel for elementary kids. Our squiggly-whiskered heroine heads with her family to the beach. Complete with crowds, surfboard wipeouts, sunburn and the odd shark, she is challenged to keep her younger sibling out of her fur.

Jenni and Matt Holm talk Babymouse and more at Comic Con

Check out our video interview with SUVUDU on the floor of the 2010 San Diego Comic Con!

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

DC Canceling yet ANOTHER imprint for young readers??

Johanna Draper Carlson at Comics Worth Reading reports on a sad, but not surprising, possible turn of events for DC:

DC’s offerings for October reveal that issue #22 will be the last of Batman: The Brave and the Bold and Billy Batson and the Power of Shazam will end at #21. Super Friends already died this month, with issue #29. From the Johnny DC superhero books for kids, that leaves… Tiny Titans, which continues with a crossover. (It remains to be seen if/when the regular book will return.) The cartoony books also remain: Looney Tunes, Scooby Doo, and the like. More house-cleaning at DC? It’s hard to believe that they won’t have some kind of Batman book for kids, since he’s such a popular character, with tie-in cartoons.
Meaning, that essentially the whole "Johnny DC" imprint is kaput.

Several readers have speculated that, Comic Con being this week (and Batman: The Brave and the Bold being a successful Cartoon Network ongoing series), the announcement of the cancellations may foreshadow the announcement of some new young-readers venture. We can only hope. Else, it seems that, as I said in an earlier post:
... Marvel and DC, which, when I was growing up, were companies who did nothing BUT sell comics to kids, apparently no longer are able to sell anything to kids. The revolution of the 1980s took full hold of these two companies, and today they are really just publishing for an adult-only audience.

The big takeaway is that comics for kids, while hopefully thriving, are entirely in the hands of Book publishers and Manga publishers, and not at all in the hands of the people who brought us Spider-Man and the Super Friends.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

BABYMOUSE creators Matthew and Jennifer Holm at Comic Con!!

Yes, it's true, Jenni and I will be at San Diego Comic Con this year! Sunday is Kids Day, and we're going to be on a panel with other kids' book and graphic novel creators. (Actually, I'll be on the panel... Jenni is actually RUNNING the panel.)

Sunday, July 25
Entertaining One's Inner Child — Ever since Harry Potter burst onto the scene, children's books have been taking over the bestseller lists. Creators discuss the thrills and challenges of creating memorable characters for the younger set. Panelists include Jimmy Gownley (Amelia Rules), Sina Grace (Among the Ghosts), Matt Holm (Babymouse), Adam Rex (Fat Vampire), David Steinberg (Daniel Boom), Greg Van Eekhout (Kid Vs. Squid) and moderator Jennifer Holm (Babymouse). Q&A to follow. Room 24ABC

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Babymouse and Lunch Lady on the Radio, July 12!

My sister, Jenni, will be on the radio with Jarrett Krosoczka TOMORROW, July 12, on Katie Davis's BRAIN BURPS ABOUT BOOKS:

ComicCon Smackdown: BabyMouse vs. The Lunch Lady!

It's the BabyMouse/Lunch Lady Smackdown! ComicCon gets underway in less than a week, and I thought this would be the perfect time for a show with Jenni Holm, author of the hugely popular graphic novel series, BabyMouse, and Jarett Krosoczka, the author/illustrator of the new but also seriously gi-normous, Lunch Lady series. We will also end the show with yet another fabulous review from Betsy Bird, from A Fuse#8 Production.

Tune in!

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Girls and Comics, part 5

Just when you think a series of blog posts is over, Publishers Weekly throws a great article at you.

In "Life in Comics: What a Girl Wants," Jennifer de Guzman shares her own comic-book-shop-creep-out moment, and her thoughts on comic-book-shop girl-friendliness.

However, towards the end she uses a turn of phrase that really struck me:

Comics have thrived, in their own way, on being insular and appealing to a closed circle of fans. Comics isn't just a medium for many people—it is a community. And, unfortunately, a community whose largest faction is very much a clique.

It seems to me that many members of this clique regard it as having a clear "no girls allowed" rule. They don't want to stop using their comic shop as boys-only clubhouses. They don't want their superhero comics to stop brutalizing and objectifying female characters. They don't want to take the time and effort to produce and effectively market female-friendly comics when they have a built-in audience to cater to.
Now, de Guzman is dead-on, but at the same time, the irony of the statement struck me as hilarious. What she's pointing out is that things have progressed so far in terms of mainstream culture accepting comic-book geekdom that comic book geeks are being chided for not letting people into their clique. I find it absolutely charming that people now like us well enough (remember us? the people that nobody liked talking to back in high school and middle school because we were too nerdy? the ones excluded from the rest of the world's social circles?) that they resent being shut out of our company!

She's also dead-on as to what the remedy to comic-book-shop creepiness is:
The solution to this? Ladies, we're just going to have to do this for ourselves. The last finding of Larson's survey was "There need to be more women creating comics and working in the industry as editors and publishers." I would add that there need to be more women working in, managing, and owning comics shops, too.

I doubt that my comics shop horror story would have happened in a store where women work or a store that a woman owns, and where it's expected that all customers be treated respectfully.
Outcompete those creepy dudes, ladies. Trust me—all the rest of us guys are creeped out by them, too. We'll shop at your stores in a second.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Graphic novel manuscript formatting

A very interesting post by Tim Stout:

Last summer, I worked as an Editorial Intern at First Second Books. One of my responsibilities was to read spec script submissions and I was floored by how many different formats were used for graphic novel scripts: screenplay format from a screenwriting software, stage play format written in Microsoft Word, prose outlines with sample pages of finished work…

I love reading scripts but sometimes the writer seemed to be making up the format as they went. I often found it difficult to make out what information was describing the action, what was a line of dialogue, who was saying which lines, what was background information unnecessary for the reader but potentially interesting for the artist, what was direction for the artist, etcetera.

Needless to say, reading those scripts was not fun.


Fortunately or unfortunately, a standard format for graphic novel scripts does not exist; at least, I haven’t found it. Depending on your intended approach to producing the comic, there are many accepted ways to approach formatting.
He goes on to detail a number of different writing/formatting techniques, ranging from the "Marvel Method" developed by Stan Lee to Alan Moore's preference for writing "pages of prose for each panel, describing every element of every image in perfect detail."

My sister and I use an entirely different process. Jenni writes using a modified storyboard format, where she breaks out the narration, dialogue, and scene description into different blocks for each "panel." (In essence, imagine a storyboard without the actual drawing of what the camera sees—you're left with the dialogue, stage direction, and voice-over. We developed this because Jenni was familiar with storyboards from her years in TV advertising, and because she can't draw.) [UPDATE: See below.] Then I create disconnected thumbnail sketches, and Jenni uses them to work out a layout.

Tim discusses his own method:
First and foremost, instead of using two or three script pages to describe one page of comics or one paragraph to describe five pages of comics, I try to have all of the panel descriptions and dialogue for each page of comics to be on each coinciding page of script. Everything that happens on page one of the comic is written on page one of the script. The same with page two and so on.

On the same note, I also arrange the pages during printing so that the even numbered pages (which are always on the left-hand side) are printed on the left-hand side and the odd numbered pages are on the right. This allows the reader to get a more accurate feel for pacing. For example, instead of imagining when the page turns take place, the reader actually turns the page on the page turns.

Second, I don’t separate thumbnails from the script. If thumbnail images are on a separate piece of paper, requiring the reader to turn their head back-and-forth to find the text that coincides with the image, they can easily get lost and frustrated. Having thumbnails on separate sheets of paper also requires more sheets of paper to be carried and kept organized. A 200-page script and two hundred pages of thumbnails is a lot of paper to lug around.
I find it interesting that Jenni and I seem to be the only people who create the layout (Tim's "thumbnails"—he's referring to a thumbnail-sized sketch of the layout of panels on a page) AFTER the manuscript and sketches are done. Maybe it comes as a result of our backgrounds outside of comics; to me, it seems vary much akin to Jenni's experience of gathering a bunch of film footage and then cutting it together after the fact (perhaps quite differently from what the storyboards suggested prior to shooting) or my own experience as a graphic designer, where you take what's already written/pictured and then figure out a way for it to look good and paginate well.

I sort of can't imagine working on the layout at the same time as the initial story. It seems very restricting, and seems like it would make rewriting and editing the story extremely difficult—to me, the editing stage is exactly NOT the time to worry about how the layout is going to flow. You make sure the story works first, and only THEN do you finalize the layout.

UPDATE (06/22/2010, 10:22AM):

Just saw this very apropos The Comics Reporter interview with Gene Luen Yang, in which he discusses this very thing, and how he and a collaborator changed technique for a recent book:
SPURGEON: I'm really fascinated by the use of white space in "Urgent Request." Supposing that was your contribution, is there a thematic component in terms of the isolation the character feels, or were you perhaps more interested in how that imagery floating in space read? How cognizant are you of page design and the quality of the experience of reading that you're offering an audience?

YANG: Man, I wish I could take credit for that, but the white space was all Derek. I write in thumbnails, and the script I gave him was basically laid out on six-panel grids. He told me he wanted to try out this technique that was inspired by Chester Brown, where he'd draw all the panels first and then lay them out on the pages. He thought it would make for more controlled pacing. He was right. In that story, the white space becomes a part of the storytelling voice.
(Gene Luen Yang link via @editorgurl.)

UPDATE (06/22/2010, 1PM):

One last update, I swear. Managed to track down examples of our storyboard technique. Here's a page from the manuscript of BABYMOUSE: QUEEN OF THE WORLD (click to enlarge):

Girls and Comics, 4

This is hardly as full-featured a post as the previous ones in this series, but I thought it would make a nice coda to add a link to the recent web comic, "Live Nerd Girls," by Lucy Knisley. Some highlights:

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Girls & Comics, 3

More on Hope Larson's Girls & Comics Survey (I'll just keep posting these links and reactions as they trickle in), this time from Stephanie Villareal:

Thoughts on the girl comics market (a dissertation, ha!)


I have been seeing a lot of articles and interviews lately about a new Marvel line called Girls Comics. Sprouting from this has been the debate about what is best for the girls comic/graphic novel industry. While there are good (and really bad) points being made on each side, whether from a female comic creators, female comic readers, or male comic readers, I am concerned by one thing: Why are people speaking for those who are not present in this debate (girls who have not yet discovered comics)?


One issue that has been lighting up the Internet girl comic debate is a survey on LiveJournal done by graphic novelist Hope Larson.

Larson seems to be the name coming up everywhere (along with Raina Telgemeier) and even though I disagree with her survey (and feel that it doesn’t describe me as a comic reader at all), she is definitely succeeding in one thing: getting people to talk about what the graphic novel industry must do to reach tween/teen girls.

I know you are wondering, "How can you disagree with a survey?"

It is not so much the survey I disagree with but with some of the given suggestions/answers provided by some of the survey takers. The top ten responses were compiled as a list of "What can authors, publishers, retailers do to better serve teen/tween girls?"

The problem with the survey is that it was taken by mostly (if not all) girls/women who are already well established in comics. Looking at the comments, it seems that they have been reading comics for some time, some even making their own. In a survey trying to figure out what girls who have never read comics want from comics, why are we asking those who don't need convincing?
[bolding mine]

Stephanie has a lot to say on the subject, which is great. She also has quite different reactions to some of the suggestions noted by the survey respondents, especially concerning comic book shops (which are nearly universally decried as being dens of creepiness) and what sorts of subjects she thinks tweens/teens actually choose to read about ("Tween/teens as a whole - or mostly - in general, have no taste," Stephanie says, citing Twilight, Gossip Girl, The Cliques, and their ilk. "I know this comes off as crass, but really, think about it.").

I think, though, her reaction that she "disagrees with the survey," is misplaced. The thing about a surveys and statistics is that you have to recognize what their limits are—what each survey's limits are. Hope was quite clear that her survey was (1) a polling of a group of women and girls who were already reading comics and (2) nonscientific. This is a small sample size, and a self-selecting group of respondents. Nothing wrong with that; it just means it can only answer certain questions, and not others.

A better response to Stephanie's frustration with the fact that the survey did not answer the sorts of questions she has is: "We need another survey, only this time with a population that includes non-comics-readers, so that we can figure out why these girls aren't reading comics."

It looks like Hope may be working on another, more ambitious, survey:

KELLY THOMPSON: ... Has anyone approached you about expanding your survey in a more academic way as you discussed?

HOPE LARSON: My agent and I are working on this now!

Perhaps she can address some of Stephanie's concerns in the new survey.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Hope Larson's Girls & Comics Survey, part 2

Discussion of Hope Larson's Girls & Comics Survey continues online. Kelly over at CBR did a very long and in-depth interview with Hope on the whole subject. (Be warned, though—the comments are a bit troll-filled.)

Reading more on all this, I think it reinforces a realization that I was coming to in my first post on the survey: Direct Market comics publishers don't know how to market to female readers. (Or, for that matter, to young readers!) Book publishers, on the other hand, have both categories down to a science. I think we're just seeing more and more of the gradual decline of the Direct Market publishers. In time, I think they'll get swallowed up by bigger entities (a la Disney/Marvel), and new management will eventually impose outside strategies upon them.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

"Babymouse Extravaganza" podcast at ReadWriteThink!

There is a new podcast up at ReadWriteThink. It's an episode of the series, Chatting About Books, entitled "Babymouse Extravaganza!"

It includes a discussion with some young members of podcast host Emily's after-school book club, and then an interview with me and Jenni.

... Cookies and Milk
Emily hosts an afterschool Babymouse book club. Twin sisters Giselle and Gina, fifth grader Gisselle, and fourth grader Sara read and discussed Babymouse books over several weeks. They share their favorite parts of the Babymouse books, character traits of Babymouse, and qualities that are unique to this hard-working, imaginative character.

Expert Chat
What do the author and illustrator of Babymouse think are Babymouse’s best character traits? Which one of the authors once had their Halloween candy stolen like Babymouse did in Monster Mash? What are their favorite Babymouse adventures? Find all of this out in this episode’s expert chat with Jennifer and Matt Holm, the brother-sister team who created the Babymouse series.

Check it out!

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Hope Larson's "Girls & Comics" Survey Results

Data! Glorious data! I love finding real numbers (or ANY numbers) about comics and graphic novels for kids.

Hope Larson
(Chiggers, Mercury, A Wrinkle in Time) recently conducted a nonscientific survey of 198 girls and women who were self-described comics readers during their tweens/teens. Some highlights of the results:

  • Most common age to become a comics fan was 12 years old; major drop-off after 14
  • Male relatives (often Dad) or male friends introduced many of them to comics
  • X-Men most popular comic
  • Biggest draw: "relatable, realistic characters (like the misfit X-Men) or 'kick-ass' wish-fulfillment characters"
  • Story and artwork were of nearly equal importance (slight edge to story)
  • Almost half attended fan (mostly anime) conventions

Hope also asked, "What can authors, publishers, retailers do to better serve teen/tween girls?" Some responses:
  • More and better female characters, especially protagonists. Girls want to see strong, in-control, kick-ass women calling the shots.
  • A welcoming atmosphere in local comic stores is key. Many respondents reported feeling uncomfortable in comic stores. They were stared at, talked down to, and generally treated without respect.
  • Pink, sparkly cutesy comics about boyfriends, ponies, cupcakes and shopping are widely reviled. Condescend to female readers at your peril, writers and comic publishers.
  • The hypersexualization/objectification of female superheroines makes female readers uncomfortable, and sexual violence as a plot point has got to stop.
  • Make comics for boys and girls. Comics with dual male and female protagonists. Comics with large casts that offer something for everyone.
  • Availability is a problem. Get more comics into schools. Get more comics into libraries—especially school libraries. Get more comics into bookstores, especially large chains.
  • There need to be more women creating comics and working in the industry as editors and publishers.
These are awesome insights. I do have thoughts about a couple of them, though...

"Pink, sparkly cutesy comics about boyfriends, ponies, cupcakes and shopping are widely reviled. Condescend to female readers at your peril, writers and comic publishers."

Cover of Babymouse: Cupcake Tycoon
Ouch. Is that directed at my pink, sparkly, cutesy comics about cupcakes? (Not about boyfriends and shopping ... only occasionally about ponies. Or unicorns.) My reactions:
  • Were these particular readers teen girls (or adults thinking back on their teen years), who are past the Babymouse age (i.e., elementary/early middle school)?
  • Since these are self-described "comics fans," are they much more into Direct Market (i.e., comic book publishers) comics and less into book-publisher-produced graphic novels?
  • Are they just reacting to cheap, hollow filler comics churned out by evil corporations looking to sell plastic dolls, and not to our own loveable, sincere, witty little mouse (who does not condescend to readers)?
  • Is this is a small, nonrepresentative sample size?
  • Does Babymouse, indeed, condescend and offend?

"There need to be more women creating comics and working in the industry as editors and publishers."

This is one that I don't quite know how to address. With the recent growth of graphic novels for younger readers, I feel like there are many different worlds colliding, and so perceptions differ widely depending on your own trajectory.

For example, you don't have to be a genius to recognize that the comic book field, especially the DC and Marvel traditions, is, um, OVERFLOWING with guys. Not so much with the girls. I didn't come up through the whole Comics Convention scene like so many other comics artists, but having attended a few (and having shopped in some of the non-girl-friendly comic book shops described earlier), I can imagine that it could be an intimidating scene for women (both as creators and as attendees).

But coming, as I do, from other areas of publishing—magazines and books—that gender imbalance is not universal. Quite the opposite: At my magazine, I was one of 5 men (at the peak! it was sometimes less) on my floor, among some 25 women. That seemed to be a pretty average ratio (at least at Hearst). Likewise, the vast majority of children's book editors (I can't speak for adult books) are women. In fact, I've only ever worked for (and largely with) women.

Female creators of graphic novels (particularly for young readers, the area with which I'm most familiar) are likewise in good supply. Off the top of my head, I can think of:
  • My sister
  • Raina Telgemeier
  • Cherise Mericle Harper
  • Jill Thompson
  • Shannon Hale
  • Ursula Vernon
  • Eleanor Davis
  • Cecil Castellucci
  • Jane Yolen
  • Jane Espenson
  • Alison Bechdel
  • Laini Taylor
  • ... and Hope Larson herself.
(I'm sure I'm forgetting friends who are working on GNs or who have already published. Sorry in advance!)

So, taking the comics field as a whole (including DC, Marvel, Dark Horse, and Image, with their vast and vastly influential output), yep, we definitely need more women in the workplace. But considering, at least in my opinion, that the Direct Market publishers have barely been bothering to serve young readers at all in recent decades, that leaves the lion's share of young people's comics to traditional book publishers, who have a nice gender balance.

... so, really, the complaint might be better framed as, "Traditional comic book publishers need more women creators and editors." I think those of us on the book side just need to make sure the current ratio doesn't slip. And to keep bringing more creators into the fold; we need more comics for kids!

Thanks again to Hope for compiling all of this! And I will say this: If there's one thing we DO need more of, it's more data about comics for younger readers, and about those readers themselves! Keep it up, folks.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

SCBWI Western Washington 2010

I had a blast at the 2010 SCBWI Western Washington Conference this weekend. Got to spend time with some old friends—Peter Brown, Suzanne Young, Johanna Wright, Laini Taylor and Jim DiBartolo (and Clementine Pie), Holly Cupala, plus the whole SCBWI crew, like Jaime Temairik, Laurie Jones, Laurie Thompson, Kim Baker, Jolie Stekly, Joni Sensel, Kevan Atteberry, Liz Mills, and on and on... plus new faces (to me, anyway ... I hardly ever leave the house, so most people are new faces to me) like Jay Asher, Mitali Perkins, Paul Rodeen, and Elizabeth Law. (Any names I forgot to drop?)

I did two sessions: Graphic Novels Two Ways (which goes into fairly technical detail about how Jenni and I create the BABYMOUSE series as well as the forthcoming SQUISH series, due out next summer) and Author Visits: Comics in the Classroom (which gives authors and illustrators some ideas about activities for author visits).

As promised to my intrepid attendees, here are PDFs of the two slideshows:

Graphic Novels Two Ways (PDF, 15MB)

Author Visits: Comics in the Classroom
(PDF, 3MB)

Thursday, April 1, 2010


Yes, April Fools Day has finally arrived, and with it, the perfect reading surprise for the young fool in your life: I Fooled You: Ten Stories of Tricks, Jokes and Switcheroos

Book Cover of I Fooled You

How many different ways can ten leading middle-grade authors tell a story including the line "I fooled you"? Prepare to be surprised!

An arrogant prince tries to bluff his way out of paying the bridge troll’s toll, only to find that honesty really is its own reward. Judy Moody dreams up her best-ever prank on Stink, but he finds a hilarious way to make her joke fall splat. And when a boy’s grandfather plays an elaborate trick that has the whole town laughing at him, can he use it one day to big-time advantage? Edited by acclaimed children’s author Johanna Hurwitz, this collection of stories — all woven around the phrase "I fooled you" — range from a comic graphic tale about clever chimps to thought-provoking explorations of fairness, empathy, eccentricity, and the power of imagination.

I contributed a comic story about two chimps to this anthology, called "Sam and Pam":

Sam and Pam title
Go check out my story, and all of the other tricky tales!

Friday, March 19, 2010

Thoughts about thought bubbles, speech balloons, and narration boxes

Blog@Newsarama just linked to two separate articles about thought bubbles and speech balloons in modern comics.

I'll get the one out of the way quickly: The Twilight Graphic Novel, despite having apparently first-rate artwork, has absolutely miserable lettering.

There's no letterer credited; the only credits go to Meyer for story and Kim for "art and adaptation," and while I suppose Kim could've done it, I'd have a hard time believing that any artist would go to such great pains to screw up her own work. The one thing I'm sure of is that there is no way in Hell that a professional letterer worked on this book, as any professional letterer worth his or her salt wouldn't have just popped open Photoshop, slapped some Times New Roman down in a ridiculously huge ellipse, added a few horrible and inconsistent tails that look more like fried worms than anything I've ever seen in a comic, and called it a day.

Yes, the type is set in Times New Roman. The only place that font should show up in a comic book is in the pages of the Daily Planet.

Here's a sample of the work:

Looking at it, I have to think that some low-level editorial assistant with no typographical (or graphical) background slapped this together. Sort of shameful, considering the sheer volume of good (a) letterers (b) graphic designers (c) comic book fonts out there.

On to the second part, which is about thought balloons/bubbles in comics. Previously everywhere, today they are becoming pariahs. Joe McCulloch's post was spurred by a recent piece on Stephen King (who was a comic-book junkie as a kid and is penning some comics of his own now):
Thought bubbles—those puffy, dotted clouds that were a staple of early comics—have been phased out. “I got this kind of embarrassed call from the editors saying, ‘Ah, Steve, we don't do that anymore.’ ‘You don't do that anymore?’ I said. ‘No, when the characters speak, they speak. If they're thinking, you try to put that across in the narration, in the little narration boxes.’” So King happily re-wrote to fit the new style—though he still laments the loss of the thought bubble. “I think it's a shame to lose that arrow out of your quiver. One of the nice things about the written word as opposed to the spoken word in a movie is that you can go into a character's thoughts. You do it in books all the time, right?”

Joe McCulloch goes on, in his analysis, to say that they're not exactly dead (it's not some industry-wide convention to ban them), but they are fewer in number and have been stylistically changed from the kind of thought bubble you might see coming from the heads of Garfield or Snoopy.
I mean, I presume everyone here and Stephen King realizes that he’s not learning ‘comics’ from this experience so much as Vertigo procedure, which naturally will encompass a lot of elements of comics-at-large, although it’s also bound to enforce its own particularities of usage. Hopefully a less acclimated reader doesn’t come to believe thought balloons have been “phased out” entirely, because that’s not true, not even in front-of-Previews genre comics—I just caught one today flipping through a recent Savage Dragon, and I know a few Marvel series keep ‘em visible. Among bookshelves, as high-profile a critical darling as Asterios Polyp made sure to include thought balloons among David Mazzucchelli’s encyclopedic formal array, in both the purely iconographic manner seen above and ‘with words.’ Chris Ware’s a user too, and I imagine Archie hasn’t kicked the habit. Yes, the use of thought balloons isn’t the same as it was in fifty years ago, but it’s not like King is laboring under an industry prohibition.

He has a bunch of examples to show the visual differences between then and now, and between the different methods today. It's interesting to see how people use them now--in quotation marks in blocks of narration, where they're used more as a character's off-camera voice-over of a flashback; as thought balloons meant to imitate real thoughts--using clipped sentences with less punctuation, to reflect a stream-of-consciousness quality that contrasts with the full sentences of dialogue; as internal dialogue, placed (thanks to computerized layout software that wasn't available 70 years ago) directly in space on the scene, separated out from the background only by some white space and white outlines.

Taking King's case as an example, McCulloch proposes some possible aesthetic reasons for the demise of the thought balloon and its "chain" or "tail" of small bubbles leading back to the character's head:
I can only speculate as to why King’s editors didn’t want him to use the tool; Vertigo doesn’t maintain a necessarily uniform line of books (although I can’t think of any titles that use thought balloons at the moment), but it does tends to prize a certain stylized maturity of verisimilitude in its various fantasies and horrors. They’re cool, and captions can be a likewise cool device, sharp-edged and—this is vital—aloof from the thinking character, hanging away from their head or drifting through entirely unrelated scenes, panels with no characters at all. In contrast, thought balloons have a ‘chain’ that latches them to the applicable thinker, a forced, perhaps confining intimacy, very revealing in looking so silly like fresh thoughts would seem if seen....

Plus, thought balloons simply aren’t as versatile: you can’t stretch them out over the course of a story, they offer less opportunity for word-image consonance/dissonance—they simply don’t seem as ‘literary,’ in that they don’t allegorize a descriptive passage of prose giving way to dialogue, and thereby can be dubbed unsophisticated. I don’t agree, and neither does comics-at-large, even a few of the shared-universe superheroes, carrying their extra burden of functioning as a flickering window into some simulacrum of a parallel reality—it may just be a sharp object with which to assert one’s comic-bookiness, but Oliver Queen could at any moment encounter a child-murdering villain that needs putting down post-haste, and it’s preferable to have every arrow in the quiver.

If I were to guess, I think it's all part of the trend that Manga introduced into American comics so many years ago. Whereas US comic books started by emulating newspaper comic strips (which had previously emulated single-panel newspaper editorial comics), Japanese Manga began—unknown to those of us in the US—emulating movies. That filmic quality, with its dramatic angles and "camera moves", has completely overtaken comics now. And the lack of access to a character's thoughts is part of that. In film, you reveal character and emotion by showing or by dialogue. Overheard thoughts are done in movies today pretty much only for comic effect. And everyone knows that one thing that modern comics are NOT is comical. They are SERIOUS. (!!!)

For our part, in BABYMOUSE and SQUISH, we don't use thought-bubble dialogue (monologue?). Instead, we use thought bubbles to encapsulate fantasies, flashbacks (occasionally with dialogue, as they are mini scenes), or other visualizations. A big part of that is the fact that Babymouse is constantly engaging in little soliloquies, and the border between her thoughts and reality is very thin—sometimes other characters overhear her, sometimes not, and often the Narrator has a comment to make about what she says.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Tucson wrap-up

I had a great time down at the Tucson Festival of Books last weekend--met some passionate librarians, had a fantastic panel with two other graphic novelists (Frank Beddor and Maxwell Eaton III), and saw THOUSANDS of enthusiastic readers (don't have a final estimate on the entire weekend, but Saturday's attendance was 60,000 people; last year--the FIRST year of the festival--the weekend's entire attendance was 50,000).

But, I'm nowhere near as good of a blogger as Lisa Yee. She's thorough enough to shame the rest of us.

Some choice pics from her Peep Files:

Friday, March 12, 2010

Matthew Holm at Tucson Festival of Books this Sunday!

For anyone in the Tucson, Ariz., area, I'll be at the Tucson Festival of Books this Sunday, March 14. Here's my schedule of events:

Story Blanket: Matthew Holm

When: Sunday 10:30 AM - 11:00 AM
Where: Story Blanket
Genre: Children/Youth

This is "story time." I'll be reading aloud from BABYMOUSE: BURNS RUBBER, as best I can (it's not so easy to read aloud from a graphic novel).

Alyss, Babymouse and The Flying Beavers: Writing Graphic Novels

Three authors/illustrators will talk about creating graphic novels for children and teens. They will share their process of writing and illustrating graphic novels and the appeal of these novels for kids.

When: Sunday 11:30 AM - 12:30 PM
Where: Education Building - Room 353
Genre: Children/Youth
Matthew Holm
Frank Beddor
Maxwell Eaton III

A Thousand Words Made Easy: A Workshop on Cartooning
In this workshop for children ages 9-12, the author of the popular comic series on Babymouse will show how he creates his cartoons for these books and will invite kids to try their hand at illustrating a special event through cartoons.
Workshop / Sun 1:00 PM - 02:00 PM
Education Building - Room 351


When: Sunday 2:30 PM - 3:00 PM
Where: Children's Autographing Area
Genre: Children/Youth

What do you do when your kids are "stuck" at reading?

Imagine this scenario:

Your first child is a precocious kid. She asks you to read aloud books like The Secret Garden or House at Pooh Corner when she's barely four years old... She seriously takes off in second grade, and by third grade she's devouring Harry Potter (all of them that were printed by that date, anyway) and anything else she can get her hands on... nothing is too difficult, too obscure, or too big for her.

Then along comes your second child... She learns to read faster than her older sister (different school system), and is also able to read Junie B. Jones and The Magic Treehouse books (as well as Clementine) by the end of first grade. And then... she stalls. Second grade, third grade go by and she really shows no sign of being interested in longer books. That's not exactly accurate: she has discovered that she loves having longer books read aloud to her: Matilda, the Ranger's Apprentice, Sisters Grimm and so on. But, she shows no sign of desiring to read ahead in the book (unlike her sister), to pick up the book on her own after you close it every night.

Melissa at Book Nut has a great article on strategies for helping kids jump that reading gap that sometimes appears in 2nd or 3rd grade:

1. Find a genre that your child is interested in. ...when I'm at the library, I pick up a few picture books with longer stories that I know C will pick up and read. Fairy and folk tales, books about girls her own age (Moxy Maxwell or Bobby Versus Girls, Accidentally), and general non-fiction, are also all things that she likes.

2. Try Graphic Novels. This was the big winner in our house. Graphic novels like Babymouse and Diary of a Wimpy Kid, or Dork Diaries and Ellie McDoodle, bridged the gap between early chapter books and more difficult middle grade books for C.

3. Don't push it. You know the saying "at least they're reading"? Think about that. Reading is not supposed to be a chore, it's supposed to be fun. And if they LOVE reading Magic Treehouse (even though you think it's crap), then let them read Magic Treehouse...

4. Have someone else -- a librarian, a friend, a teacher -- suggest books. Sometimes, the reason your child isn't progressing is because it's coming from you, the parent. (Sad, but true.) ... Included in this are fads, which are not always bad. Perhaps part of the reason M read Harry Potter was because everyone around her was reading Harry Potter. Likewise, C willingly reads and loves the Percy Jackson books because they're popular right now.

5. In that same vein, try a parent-child book group. I'm not going to go into details, but rather send you over to Imagination Soup for some great ideas and reasons why this works, and works well.

Oh, and 6. Keep trying. Just because they don't love Saffy's Angel right now, doesn't mean they won't love it later. (We handed the book to her at the end of third grade; she could have read it because she read well enough. But she didn't actually read the book until a month ago, and started it only because she couldn't find anything else to read. She did like it, in the end.) Time and patience, as with everything, is the key.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Looking for the Babymouse Books in Spanish/Español?

I'm often asked about Spanish versions of the BABYMOUSE books. They do exist! But they are published in Spain (i.e., Europe, not the Americas), and there has been some confusion about where to find the books in the USA.

I've now learned that the US distributor of the Spanish-language versions of BABYMOUSE is Lectorum.

Lectorum: Information for Libraries and Educators

Lectorum: Information for Booksellers

... and the link to each book's page at is listed below.

You may, of course, also order from any of the retailers I've listed here. But Lectorum is set up for school and library purchasing, etc. (i.e., the sorts of things your administrators may be concerned about).

Here are the details on each title that has been translated thus far:

Barnes & Noble

(BABYMOUSE: OUR HERO) - ISBN 978-8498670486
Barnes & Noble

Barnes & Noble

(BABYMOUSE: ROCK STAR) - ISBN 978-8498672503
Barnes & Noble

From Booklist (about the Spanish translation)
Like the previous three graphic novels about Babymouse, this title resonates with the travails of school life—boring classes, uncomfortable bus rides, difficult classmates—which she contrasts with her fantasy of becoming a true legendary rock star. Despite a few Spanish-isms and a few Peninsular Spanish conjugations, Spanish speakers from the Americas will find Mendo’s Spanish translation as irresistible and lively as the rowdy, pink-toned illustrations. The sparsity of truly enticing graphic novels in Spanish for middle readers makes these titles a must acquisition for every library. Grades 3-6. --Isabel Schon

Monday, March 1, 2010

Teaching with Graphic Novels: Updated Resources for Educators

To everyone who saw me at the Nevada Reading Week Conference in Reno this weekend ... thank you! You were great audiences.

I have updated my list of resources for educators, and have also posted PDF versions of my PowerPoint presentations—one on the history of graphic novels and their value in the classroom, and one on activities and resources for teaching with graphic novels.

Go check out the material, then go teach!

Friday, February 12, 2010

Seven Impossible Babymouses before Breakfast

I've been thumbnailing BABYMOUSE #14 frantically all week (still am), so I haven't had time to give this unbelievable interview its due:

Seven (Give or Take) Questions Over Breakfast with Jennifer L. Holm and Matthew Holm

Jules' interview with us covers everything from breakfast foods (eggs vs. leftover Chinese food) to our road to publishing to thoughts about the writing process to upcoming titles. Boy, we just prattle on and on, don't we? Some selections:

Jules: Any more historical fiction (novels) ahead in your future, you think?

Jenni: Yes, finally, I have a new historical coming out in May 2010. (Sorry, I have been very slowed down by popping out kids.) It’s called Turtle in Paradise and is inspired by my Key West family. It involves diaper changing, scorpions, treasure and, well, just read it already!

...Jules: What’s been some of your best Babymouse fan mail?

Jenni: I just got an email from a man asking me if I would sign books for his girlfriend as a romantic gift. I can’t decide whether to be freaked out or charmed.

Jules: Any other new titles/projects you might be working on now that you can tell me about?

Jenni: Matt and I are putting to bed the first of a new graphic novel series called Squish. It’s about amoebas. Yes, amoebas.

Jules: What is your favorite curse word? (optional)

Jenni: Let me ask my six-year-old son, Will.

Will: “Mommy says a lot of bad words but I can’t say them or I get in time-out is this a trick I don’t want time-out but one is really bad even my teacher says so can I have some ice cream now?”

Jules: What sound or noise do you love?

Jenni: Quiet.

Jules: What sound or noise do you hate?

Jenni: “Mommy, I feel sick!” followed by barfing.
And a few from me:
1. Jules: What exactly is your process when you are illustrating a book? You can start wherever you’d like when answering: getting initial ideas, starting to illustrate, or even what it’s like under deadline, etc. Do you outline a great deal of the book before you illustrate or just let your muse lead you on and see where you end up?

Matt: When I was in college, my fiction teachers told me that the way to write was simply to start writing and see where the characters took you—never outline, never plan more than a paragraph ahead. Having written a large number of things in the years since then, I find that advice to be utter nonsense. I much prefer the advice I got from my painting and figure drawing teachers, which was to never focus on a single part of the page or canvas, but to work everywhere all at once, so that you gradually move from roughed-in composition to finer and finer details, all over the scene. That’s how I treat writing (by outlining and by jotting down key moments/dialogue/etc. that I want to place in each scene) and drawing.

...3. Jules: As a book lover, it interests me: What books or authors and/or illustrators influenced you as an early reader?

Matt: For me, it was Dr. Seuss and Charles Schulz all the way. I divided my time evenly between reading Peanuts cartoon collections and reading Seuss books. We had tons of both and hardly any other kids’ books. I remember maybe one Richard Scarry book, one Berenstain Bears book, a scattering of Sesame Street books (like The Monster at the End of this Book), and Go, Dog. Go! All the rest were Seuss. I never read many of the other “classics.” I never read Goodnight Moon until we had to parody it in Babymouse. I never read Where the Wild Things Are until this year. And, after the picture-book phase ended, I read few middle-grade chapter books. I don’t think I’ve ever read a Judy Blume book. As soon as I could, I moved straight to fantasy and sci-fi novels.

...6. Jules: What’s one thing that most people don’t know about you?

Matt: Apparently, that I listen to Vanessa Carlton and Ashlee Simpson! Also, I was once in an independent film called The Hall Monitor. It was a dark comedy, and I played a football player who gets bumped off by a mysterious serial killer.

Best of all, it wraps up with the Star Wars theme! What more could you want out of an interview?

The 2009 Annual Report on Graphic Novels

... at least, that's what it should be called. Every year, Brian Hibbs at Comic Book Resources performs an analysis of graphic novel sales, as reported by Bookscan:

For the seventh year in a row, I’m going to try to figure out something that can only vaguely be seen and perceived: the size and shape of the sales of books through the book store market, as seen through the prism of BookScan.

Some preamble:

“Direct Market" stores (also known as “your Local Comics Shop") buy much of their material for resale from Diamond Comics Distributors (though, not, by any means, all – many DM stores are also buying from book distributors, and in increasing numbers). DM stores seldom have Point-of-Sales (POS) systems (though this is rapidly changing), and, because we buy non-returnable, what we track is in our side of the industry is what sells-in to the store, not what sells-through to the eventual consumer. In a very real way, this means that the DM store owner is the actual customer of the publisher, as opposed to the end consumer.

The bookstore market, however, buys their material returnable, where they can send back some portion of titles that don’t sell. Because of this, sell-through is the data that is tracked and trended. Bookstores that have POS systems are able to report their sales to BookScan, a subsidiary of Nielsen.

Each week, BookScan generates a series of reports detailing the specific sales to consumers through its client stores. I have several well trained spies who have, for several years, provided me with access to the BookScan reports.
Mr. Hibbs then goes on to give an unbelievably exhaustive review of the data, with this caveat:
... Really, what I’m trying to get across to you is that this really is entirely unreliable data in terms of the absolute and total number of books sold, and is only able to give the broadest outline of what’s happening in book stores, based upon the data-set that I’m being given, which is in no way comprehensive. I still think that’s better than having no information, so I persevere in writing this each year.
Some highlights:
The sum of the Top 750 in 2009 is down 8.4% in unit sales, taking the retail sales in the book channel back to near 2005 levels.

... More worrying, perhaps, is that gross dollar sales had its first drop [about 8%] since I’ve been able to track this information, taking dollars to their lowest level since 2007.

Obviously, a certain amount of this can be blamed on the general level of the economy, and more specifically, problems at the largest brick and mortar retailers like Borders.

... The majority of the decrease comes from the manga category ... and the main reason that the dollar drop isn’t even worse appears to be a greater number of Western-created comics selling, at higher price points.
and this:
The book of 2009 is the same as the previous year: "Watchmen." The big story, however, is that while "Watchmen" in 2008 was the biggest TP sale we’d ever seen before (nearly triple was the best seller of 2007), for 2009 "Watchmen’s" sales broke even that record. "Watchmen" sold 424,814 copies in the BookScan report.

That’s kind of crazy.

..."Watchmen," the movie, was released early in the year – March 9, 2009 – and yet, breaking conventional wisdom, as "Watchmen" often does, it appears to have continued to sell significantly past the movie’s release date. That is a rare thing, something we’ve never really seen in either the book market or the [direct market]...

Clearly those stellar unit sales also makes "Watchmen" the number one book in terms of dollars sold, as well – nearly eight and a half million dollars, or, if you really want to be scared, nearly 5% of all of the dollars for the entire BookScan list in 2009 (all 19k+ items)!

And that’s just the paperback.
Bone was another big seller, which is great, as was the Diary of a Wimpy Kid-style book, Dork Diaries. (I'm ashamed to say I haven't heard of or read this. It appears to be Diary of a Wimpy Kid for girls, with illustrations that mash up Jeff Kinney, Manga, and Bratz.) Hibbs includes these details about kids' comics:
The 21st best-selling book is Jennifer Holm’s "Babymouse" v9, another comics series aimed at kids – it comes in at 15k. Ten volumes of "Babymouse" make the chart, in fact. It isn’t big as "Bone" (what is?), but it shows there is a thriving market for “comics for kids." In point of fact, there are sixty-three books in the “Everything Else" section that are primarily aimed at children. You might not have heard about Babymouse, or the “Lunch Lady" series, or "Dragonbreath," or "Stone Rabbit BC Mambo" or "Black is For Beginnings" or "Club Penguin," but kids clearly have, and they’re selling well. In fact, I suspect that if you were to sort the entire list out by “intended audience," comics aimed at Young Adults or younger would actually dominate the listings. It might also be worth noting that most of the titles that I just mentioned haven’t been carried by Diamond, whatsoever.
The Beat (lately of Publisher's Weekly, if I'm remembering correctly) performs more meta-analysis, largely centered around this bold statement:
The success of Bone and Babymouse (and the manga blockbusters, of course) is still a testament to the number of younger readers who are the potential audience for comics. Once and for all, can we send the idea that the industry isn’t training a new generation of readers off to the glue factory? Yes, it was a close call, but we made it through. Now whether the kid will pick up the weekly buying habit is another matter; the readership is clearly there — the question is how and if comics publishers can successfully tap INTO that readership.
They may be right--we do appear to have made it through. But I think the bigger takeaway is that Marvel and DC, which, when I was growing up, were companies who did nothing BUT sell comics to kids, apparently no longer are able to sell anything to kids. The revolution of the 1980s took full hold of these two companies, and today they are really just publishing for an adult-only audience.

The big takeaway is that comics for kids, while hopefully thriving, are entirely in the hands of Book publishers and Manga publishers, and not at all in the hands of the people who brought us Spider-Man and the Super Friends.