Joanne Otto

Author

Tag: The You-Song

Kirkus Reviews

You may remember I blogged recently about Taking the Plunge when I submitted my books to Kirkus Reviews. It was a big step for a first-time independent author to take. In fact, Kirkus has only recently begun reviewing indie books at all. So picture rookie author Joanne discovering the links to her reviews on her iPhone and being unable to access them because she has no idea what her Kirkus user name and password might be!

Nearly a half hour and a helpful email later, the suspense was relieved and she got to read her reviews. They are posted below in case you’d like to read them, too. In case you’re wondering, her initial response was a rather out-of-control cheer, which probably sounded rather startling coming from a grandmother.

Daughter of Jerusalem Kirkus Review

In this YA debut, a plucky Bible-era heroine finds contentment by following her heart.

 

Mara lives in ancient Jerusalem with her demanding mother and compassionate father. Even though she’s a girl, the Jewish Mara studies the Torah and yearns for a different life than the one expected of her: marriage, children and housework. One day, her friend Nathan tells her of a new teacher named Yeshua who claims to be the son of God and preaches a new sort of religion that involves finding God within one’s own heart. When she discovers that Yeshua’s life may be at risk, she embarks on a mission to protect the mysterious, wonderful man from harm, and finds enlightenment and danger along the way. In luminous, rich prose, Mara’s tale delves into the daily life of a Jewish woman in biblical times. Mara is a relatable teenager, chafing at the rules of the adult world; she’s unable to identify the source of her discontent until she realizes that it comes from her own search for identity. Although Yeshua (also known as Jesus) makes only scattered appearances throughout the book, his presence and teachings profoundly affect those around him, and readers witness this in Mara’s response to him. Several characters refer to him with the lovely phrase, “His pure shining.” The middle of this smoothly plotted novel hinges on an intimate conversation between Yeshua and Mara, a satisfying encounter for characters and readers alike. Mara understands that he sees her “as a ray of unselfish love,” which “made her feel worthy and blessed.” The ending presents a rather sophisticated message for modern young adults, as Mara finds acceptance and builds a new relationship with her parents by using the peace of her newfound faith. She reaches a conclusion that many people never do: Finding one’s place in the world brings enough joy and satisfaction to fill a lifetime.

 

A moving, exquisitely written tale of a young woman’s search for meaning.

The You-Song Kirkus Review

A simple, encouraging picture book with a religious message.

 

Otto’s (Daughter of Jerusalem, 2013) latest book is best suited to pre-readers or early readers. It emphasizes the importance of being true to oneself, and encourages children to sing their own “You-Song.” Each person, the story says, has a You-Song, provided by God, which can be heard whispering or booming in an individual’s actions. When the song doesn’t sound pretty, “[i]t’s just the world’s jangle trying to muffle it.” When this happens, the book urges children to find a happy place or event to tune back in to their You-Songs. The narrator then notes that although no one can have the song of another person, multiple You-Songs can join together to become a We-Song; that is, children may befriend others and work together with them as a team. By singing You-Songs and We-Songs, the narrator says, children are doing the work of God and sharing his blessing. Otto includes vibrant, full-color photographs of a variety of children engaged in different activities, such as painting or playing outside. The book’s simple, repetitious text may make it useful for parents or teachers as a read-aloud, or for beginning readers. Each page has two short sentences or fewer, and the most complicated passage (“Jangle-free, / the You-Song can blend / with lots of songs around you— / one-of-a-kind songs / that God sings in others”) is still relatively simple, with many repeated words. The large, easy-to-read, bold type helps emphasize this easy style, while the bright, clean photos will draw listeners and readers in. Educators may use the photos as a way to expand upon the book’s message by asking listeners about the different actions depicted. The religious message is nondenominational, mentioning God but no specific religious faiths or texts.

 

Attractive photos and easy-to-understand prose make a winning combination in this positive picture book.

Taking the Plunge

You may not have heard of Kirkus. Until several months ago, neither had I. But among publishers and booksellers they have been well respected since the 1930s for their intelligent, unbiased book reviews. A fee is charged for these reviews, but there is no guarantee that they will be favorable. Kirkus’s reputation rests on their being honest.

I had been undecided as to whether to submit my books to them for a review. It seemed expensive and a bit daunting. But this afternoon I took the plunge, encouraged perhaps by a discount they were offering this week. After a seven-to-nine-week waiting period, I should be hearing from them. If nothing else, the results will provide a learning experience. But, of course, I can’t help hoping for more.

The Visual Dimension

For over ten years after “The You-Song” first rolled off my pen, it remained simply a draft. I tweaked it from time to time and shared it with friends and family–including, of course, some children. But without the visual dimension, it obviously was not going reach the hearts and minds of its young audience.

When our daughter Meghan Williams, a talented professional graphic designer, was working from her home, we began the online search for photos that would truly represent the kids “The You-Song” was all about. One by one, they found their way to just the right page of the book, leaping, smiling, laughing, dancing, hugging, writing, painting, swimming, swinging, reflecting, discovering. Just letting the beautiful songs they are ring out, they brought “The You-Song” to life. I don’t know their names, but somehow they feel to me like very loved friends.

A Heartwarming Launch

Last Thursday I had my first opportunity to share The You-Song  in a school setting. I was invited to the Principia to read and discuss it with two small groups of preschoolers. As they clustered around me with eager expressions on their faces, my colorful little book about their uniqueness was coming to life before my very eyes. And its message actually helped them make some steps forward. One little girl at first resisted moving to enable another girl behind her to see the book better, but as we encouraged her to show how she could “blend with other songs” around her, she did the right thing. Later on an unhappy boy was reminded that he didn’t have to let “the world’s jangle” muffle his song, and he brightened up right away. I left there that day showered with hugs and heartwarming memories.

How does it feel?

How does it feel to get your books published? To me it feels a lot like motherhood. No kidding. My books are my babies. And they have a life of their own.

Like most mothers, I delighted in the early stages of their development. They often surprised me, as children do their parents, in the amazing process of becoming what they were meant to become. But they were still safe at home, still not fully formed, still able to be molded as further intuitions came.

Then the day arrived when it was time to let them go. It’s remarkable how difficult that can be. I began to realize how much I’d enjoyed having them around as “young” unfinished projects, how much my sense of life-purpose had come to evolve around them. But the only way they could fulfill their purpose was for me to release them. So, of course, I did.

And like every mother, I wish them well on their journey into the world and hope that they will meet up with some good friends along the way. I hope you will be one of them.

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