Booking Service author Alison Hart recently joined the blog “Pencil Tips Writing Workshop: Strategies from Children’s Authors and Illustrators.” Her first post is on the complexities of writing. If you are a teacher who is often frustrated with teaching writing, join the discussion!
Candice is an award-winning writer who has published more than 100 children's books, ranging from fiction to nonfiction, biographies to board books, picture books to young adult novels. She learned to tell stories by listening to her mother recall the "olden days" of her childhood in the Shenandoah Valley and by taking note of her sister's excuses for cutting school ("I broke my arm playing basketball"). The combination of reminiscence and creative fibbing became the basis for her work. Many of her books are set in her native Virginia. She lives in Fredericksburg, Virginia, with her husband and three high-maintenance cats.
Visits: Candice gives three presentations plus an autographing session. Many of her programs are PowerPoint slides, peppered with an enthusiastic discussion. A choice of programs for grades K-1, 2-3, and 4-5 is available.
To have Candice visit your school or organization email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Enter to win an e-book edition of Mark Binder's A Hanukkah Present. Published in 2007 by Light Publications this holiday was just released in e-book format. Email email@example.com with the subject "A Hanukkah Present" to be entered to win. Contest ends 11/8/11. Everyone who enters will receive a free sample chapter!
Young adult author Julie Kraut graduated from the University of Pennsylvania and after living in New York and working in publishing for several years she recently returned to Maryland, where she was raised. Julie speaks to middle and high school students in many different ways—teen book clubs, campers, and even high school students in Africa—her presentations are always lively and engaging. In addition to her two YA novels, Hot Mess and Slept Away, she is a humor writer and her pieces have appeared in the Washington Post, Dallas Morning News, and Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
Visits: Julie's presentations are geared towards eleven through seventeen year olds and last 45 minutes, including a reading and time for questions. Fee and number of presentations are negotiable.
To have Julie visit your school or organization email firstname.lastname@example.org
Children's Literature provides support for book sales at numerous author events, school book fairs and the like. Often we have one or two copies of a book left that we do not bother to return to the publisher. Our stock has grown and we would like to make some very good, never used books available on a first come first serve basis at a very attractive price: 50% off list plusfree shipping. We will not order books as part of this special program.
Print a copy of the order form and mark it up with your choices. Then fax the completed order form to (301) 469-2071 or put it in an envelope and send it to Children's Literature at the following address:
7513 Shadywood Rd
Bethesda MD 20817
Orders will be filled as they are received. For credit card purchases, we will confirm your total before processing your card. If you want to use a personal or business check for a purchase, circle check as as the payment option and we will get back to you with the amount due. We will ship the books when your check arrives. If you are an institution using a purchase order, we will fill your order and send an invoice with the books.
I’ll admit it: I have been horse crazy since my first Steiff pony and Billy and Blaze picture book by C.W. Anderson. Decades later, my passion is still with me: I ride my Quarter Horse, Relish, read horse books (try Chosen by a Horse a memoir by Susan Richardson), and write about horses.
Under my real name Alice Leonhardt and my pen name Alison Hart, I have written over fifty books about horses. Many are contemporary including books in the Nancy Drew and Thoroughbred series, my own Riding Academy series, Shadow Horse, an Edgar nominated mystery, and its sequel Whirlwind (Random House). I also have combined horses and history to create suspense-filled historical fiction. The two meld perfectly because humans and horses have been intertwined as early as 3500 BC when horses were raised for milk and meat in Kazakhstan. (See the fascinating March 2009 article in National Geographic)
Horses have been used (and exploited) by humans in all parts of the world. In America, horses became extinct about 10,000 years ago and were then reintroduced by 16th century Spanish Explorers. That gives me centuries of history to write about. My Racing to Freedom trilogy (Gabriel’s Horses, Gabriel’s Triumph and Gabriel’s Journey) focus on the 1800’s when horses were necessary for transportation, farming, commerce—and war.
During the Civil War, both the Confederate and Union armies depended heavily upon horses. The animals were needed to pull wagons, cannons, and ambulances to and from battlegrounds. The horses also carried cavalry soldiers and officers into battle. About 1.5 million horses and mules died during the Civil War.
From “The History behind Gabriel’s Journey” by Alison Hart.
Bell’s Star is set in 1800’s Vermont and my newest book, Risky Chance (both from the Horse Diaries series from Random House) is set during the Great Depression. Writing historical fiction means I have to know the facts. The Racing to Freedom trilogy took over two years to research. I have notebooks and file folders of notes and photos from visits to Lexington and Camp Nelson, Kentucky, and Saratoga, New York; magazine articles, old maps, and scrawled notes from over two hundred books and online sources. My job as a writer is to use the facts to write a compelling story for young readers. Take for example, a scene from Gabriel’s Journey—which is about an African American cavalry unit that fought at the Battle of Saltville, Virginia—that I created around the statistics on the number of dead horses:
I lead Sassy and Hero up onto the road. In front of us, a bulky mound lies in the center of the lane. The horse that was shot is dead. Blood oozes from its neck and shoulder. Already someone has stripped it of bridle, saddle, and gear. Soldiers lead their mounts around it or step over it. No one but me pays it any mind.
I remember Jackson’s words when we first visited CampNelson and saw the broken-down remounts: Horses don’t choose to fight, and they sure don’t get no enlistment fee.
And no glory neither, I see now. The body will be left for vultures and varmints.
My eyes blur. I lead Sassy and Hero around the fallen horse and say a silent prayer.
Whether it’s a pony on the prairie during the Blizzard of 1888 (Anna’s Blizzard) or a Morgan horse helping a runaway slave in 1850 (Bell’s Star), each novel I write must be filled with vivid scenes that not only convey our history, but bring it to life for readers.
Author and illustrator Thomas Yezerski was raised in Lancaster, Pennsylvania and was passionate about writing, art, music, and the outdoors from a young age. He earned his B.F.A in illustration from Syracuse University and now loves to talk to students about how one’s interests and passions can translate into a career. His most recent work, which he wrote and illustrated, is Meadowlands: A Wetlands Survival Story. This picture book received starred reviews fromPublishers Weekly and School Library Journal. Next year he has two books coming out with author Michael J. Daley, Pinch and Dash Make Soup and Pinch and Dash and the Terrible Couch.
Tom visits schools to engage children and to help them realize and become the sort of person they want to be. By discussing his passion for writing and illustrating, he builds in the children an understanding of what it is to be passionate about a life goal, and to be succesful at reaching it. Tom can work with all different sizes of group, ages and expected attention spans of the children. The ranges of his program are 10 to 300 students, grades K to 6, from 40-60 minutes.
Fee: $1200 for a full-day visit, including 4 presentations and $1500 for a full-day visit over 80 miles from Rutherford, NJ.
To have Thomas visit your school or organization email email@example.com
This weekend I went and saw the new family movie, Dolphin Tale, inspired by the true story of a dolphin named Winter. From Warner Brothers, the film features big name actors like Harry Connick Jr, Morgan Freeman, Ashley Judd, and Kris Kristofferson. Not to mention, Winter, who plays herself.
I was familiar with Winter's story from the 2009 picture book Winter's Tail by Juliana, Isabella, and Craig Hatkoff. The basic premise is in 2006, 3 month old Winter was found caught in a crap trap off the coast of Florida. She was rescued and brought to the Clearwater Marine Aquarium; in critical condition her tail had to be amputated. She was not expected to survive any of this, but did and learned to swim in a side-to-side motion. But doctors were concerned for her spine, as her body was not designed to swim that way. A team of prosthetic specialists spent nearly two years developing and testing a prosthetic tail for Winter. With it, she learned to swim in the proper up-and-down motion and has become a hugely popular attraction at the aquarium. The gel sleeve developed for Winter's tale has since been used with human prosthetics.
The film follows this story, showing the struggles that Winter and those trying to help her faced. It also adds several plot lines to give a different narrative arc to the film. There is Sawyer (played by Nathan Gamble, who's had a few small roles prior to this film), a quiet kid who prefers to tinker with toy helicopters to school work or socializing. He develops a special relationship with Winter after finding her washed up on shore. The aquarium's director, Clay (Harry Connick Jr) and his daughter, Hazel (newcomer Cozi Zuehlsdorff) welcome shy Sawyer into the group where he becomes the force that brings together the different stories. Sawyer's cousin, a local swimming hero, joins the army but returns home from his deployment with injuries and must learn to wear a leg brace. It is when visiting his cousin in the VA hospital that Sawyer meets Dr. McCarthy (Morgan Freeman) who he recruits to create a tail to save Winter. As if Winter didn't have enough problems, the aquarium is feeling the effects of the recession and must sell to a developer. Sawyer and Hazel's grit and determination end up saving Winter and the aquarium--they use a webcam to show Winter online and to hold a big fundraiser.
While these characters and story lines are fictional, and yes, somewhat cliche, the film does capture the heart of Winter's tale. Many people did come together and work tirelessly to help Winter, who has become a true inspiration for countless children and adults. Clearwater Marine Aquarium was a low-profile aquarium until their CEO David Yates promoted Winter's story. The webcam is real, you can log on anytime to see Winter at http://seewinter.com. Stick around at the end of the movie to see footage that documents the real rescue and rehab of Winter as well as scenes of actual kids and adults with medical conditions or disabilities who have made the trip down to Florida to visit Winter.
I saw the movie on a Saturday afternoon and it was packed with families. I didn't spot any crying kids but every adult near me was wiping away tears--including me! While there were younger kids in the theater, kids 8 and up would get the most out of it; it is a family drama so with the humor (Winter is a playful dolphin and there is a mischievous pelican who hangs around) it involves heavy issues and is not just a lighthearted animal movie. There are lots of options to further explore the themes in the movie. For starters, the Hatkoff family has several other picture books that tell stories of hope and friendship including Owen & Mzee; Leo the Snow Leopard, Knut, the Baby Polar Bear; and Lola & Tiva. I truly enjoyed watching this new take on Winter's remarkable story.
On the last Saturday before the first day of school in New York City, a children's bookstore on 18thStreet called Books of Wonder had the expectant stillness of a classroom before the bell rings. Looking out from the brightly-colored covers that lined the shelves were cats, ducks, an elephant named Babar, and—tucked into the corner of a section marked "Modern Picture Books"—the name Molly Shannon.
Shannon's picture book,Tilly the Tricksterwas released this month, marking the former SNL cast member's entry into an ever-expanding group of celebrities who write children's books. This fall, supermodel Tyra Banks and The Decemberists' lead singerColin Meloyalso have books for young readers coming out.
The celebrities-who-write-children's-books boom began about three decades ago, according to Wendy Lukehart, Youth Collections Coordinator at the D.C. Public Library system. Prince Charles of Wales came out withThe Old Man of Lochnagarin 1980, and Jimmy Buffet and his daughter wrote The Jolly Monin 1993. But the trend stretches back even further. In 1955, an entertainer who was a vocal coach and friend of Judy Garland published a book about Eloise, a little girl who lives at the Plaza Hotel (as the author did, apparently rent-free). For years beforeEloisewas published, Kay Thompson's voice had been heard on the radio, and later she had a featured role inFunny Face.Eloisehas become a classic, of course, so much so that its fame has surpassed that of its celebrity creator.
It's not hard to guess why the genre has taken off.
"I mean, obviously the publishers are out to make a little money," says Marilyn Courtot, a trained librarian and founder ofChildren's Literature, a service that provides book reviews librarians and teachers consult when they're stocking their shelves. Celebrities snag coveted interviews on major networks, and of course, they can always count on their fan-base for support. Jamie Lee Curtis, John Lithgow, and Whoopi Goldberg have all made it onto theNew York Timesbestseller list for their children's books. As Nicole Deming of the Children's Book Council, a nonprofit trade association for children's publishers, put it, "They're natural publicity machines."
The success of these books inspires mixed feelings from those within the children's literature industry.
"It's more for the parents. The kids don't know who these celebrities are," said Kayla, one of the Books of Wonder employees. She walked over to the counter and to ask a colleague what he thinks of celebrity children's books. He's partial toFreckleface Strawberry, by Julianne Moore.
"Well, the illustrator is great," Kayla said.
"That's my favorite illustrator!"
"Yeah, the illustrator helps a lot."
The artwork for Moore's series was done by LeUyen Pham, who has illustrated dozens of books. The figures are lively, like the hastily drawn sketches of a child. "I think it gives an opportunity for an illustrator to rise, if an unknown illustrator is paired with a celebrity author," says Deming. For an early reader scanning the shelves, pictures would be more likely to catch the eye than Moore's name. Or Gloria Estefan's, or Dolly Parton's, or Madonna's—all among those who got into the children's literature game after having already established themselves as, say, a Latin pop sensation, a country diva, or a sex symbol.
"I mean, how many 4-year-olds know who Madonna is?" wonders Courtot.
For authors who have struggled to make a name for themselves, it can be hard to see shelves stocked with what seem to be the side projects of celebrities.
"We understand that publishers want to make money. But we do strongly believe that the really good books deserve as much attention as possible," says Rosalyn Schanzer, who has been a full-time author and illustrator of children's books since the early '90s.
Rita Williams-Garcia, who was a Newberry honoree this year and won numerous other awards for her young adult fiction, says she views most attempts by celebrities at children's literature as "book products and something less than a book itself."
When the Newberry and Caldecott awards were announced this year, Williams-Garcia expected to cheer on the winners for what had been a customary celebratory appearance on NBC's Todayshow. But after a decade of annual interviews, NBCturned downpublicity requests from the American Library Association—which administers the awards—in favor of asit-down with Jersey Shorestar Snooki, who had come out with a book of her own.
"It's just a big thing for children's books because we don't get the same exposure as the regular market," Williams-Garcia explained. "So it was a huge disappointment and sent a large ripple through the community."
The episode brought back unpleasant memories for another author, Laura Vaccaro Seeger, whose 2007 bookFirst the Eggwon a Caldecott honor. After being invited on theTodayshow to talk about a book she published in 2003, Seeger was bumped for Madonna, who had just come out with The English Roses, a picture book about schoolgirls in London.
"Media and publishers are basically responding to what the public wants. Or what they think the public wants," says Seeger. But she was consoled when, shortly after her ill-fated television experience, Seeger took her kids to a bookstore and watched from a distance as a mother put Madonna's book down and bought hers—at the request of a pleading child.
Kids know what they like, which usually has little to do with what they are supposed to like. "That's why I love writing for kids. Because they're not really persuaded by the hype. They just love a good story," says Maryland-based author Margaret Meacham, who has taught children's literature and writing at Goucher College.
As for the stories of stars, "obviously some of them are not worth the paper they're written on. On the other hand, there are some who can write," says Courtot. She cited Jamie Lee Curtis and Marlo Thomas as examples. The staff at Books of Wonder liked Julie Andrews, who has penned some of her books under her married name, perhaps to disguise her celebrity. Williams-Garcia says Curtis Jackson, otherwise known as 50 Cent, has a knack for crafting young-adult literature.
But for the most part, says Schanzer, "It shows. The books are different." She and fellow non-fiction authors of young adult books can spend a year or two working on one book, seven days a week. Schanzer traveled to the Galapagos to research for her book on Charles Darwin's expedition, and consulted scholarly materials as historical references.
Moore, on the other hand, wrote the first draft ofFrecklefaceon a place to London in the margins of herFilofax. While working on her novel, "Modelland," (due out September 13th), Trya Banks "spent so much time in libraries," she said inan interview, "When I was working onAmerica's Next Top ModelI'd leave that set and write until four o'clock in the morning. I got carpel tunnel because I type with two fingers."
Her editor at Random House, Wendy Loggia, said Banks initially came to her with an outline for the book, which "was a great jumping off point. And that's where I came in." Banks sent in her manuscript one section at a time over the course of a year and a half, keeping in touch with Loggia by sending text messages from the set of her show. "I think we were both kind of finding our way," says Loggia. "She was learning about publishing and learning about turning in a manuscript, and character development."
Indeed, writing children's literature is more challenging that it might seem. An author must use compelling structure without causing confusion; write in creative language without jumping too far ahead of young readers' vocabulary; express pain without scaring children off. Authors and librarians say that a book is as successful as its story, and where some books fail—particularly those authored by celebrities—is in their didactic attempts to teach simple lessons.
"Some people sell the elementary school kids a little bit short," says Courtot. They can be as discriminating as older readers. When Williams-Garcia writes, she tries to "respect a young person's experience and their thoughts."
"I don't really approve of anything that's dumbed down, that doesn't treat kids with respect," says Courtot, adding, "I mean, if these kids can run around pronouncing dinosaur syllables with ten names then, come on, they can read something with a little more meat to it."
When kids encounter a good book, the response is palpable. "When you share that book with children, the room goes silent, they lean in closer, they want to touch the book," says Lukehart. And, she noted, "I've seen few celebrity books that create that response."
Lukehart has come to realize that, by releasing celebrity books, children's publishers can take risks on unknown authors. It's all part of a business ecosystem that revolves as much around star-savvy parents as what makes a 6 year-old's eyes grow wide over and over again. "I'm almost more frustrated with the people buying them than the people publishing them," says Seeger.
For Williams-Garcia, celebrity books are "a nice supplementary diet. But I would certainly not like a young person to think that is all that reading has in store."
Booking Service author and illustrator Rosalyn Schanzer recently won the Society of Illustrators Gold Medal for the Best Illustrated Book of 2011. Roz, a frequent contributor and member of the I.N.K blog (Interesting Nonfiction for Kids), wrote a piece about how she was informed she won.
Her winning book, Witches! The Absolutely True Tale of Disaster in Salem, comes out on September 13th. You can watch the stop-motion animation book trailer here.
Witches! The Absolutely True Tale of Disaster in Salem
For the smart, stunning Witches!: The Absolutely True Tale of Disaster in Salem, Rosalyn Schanzer chose a subject that is well suited to her talents as a writer and illustrator: the mass hysteria that erupted in Salem, Massachusetts, in 1692 and 1693, and led to more than 150 arrests and 20 executions. Schanzer’s appealing storyteller’s style will draw readers into this strangest of episodes in American history and keep them riveted. She deftly manages a large cast of characters and structures her narrative just as she should: straightforwardly and chronologically, leaving readers to draw their own conclusions or make broader comparisons. “The root of all this horror and pandemonium lies buried in a dark and misty past,” Schanzer writes. Her black and white scratchboard illustrations--highlighted with startling touches of red--evoke that past and the spirit of the tale. Their stylized sophistication recalls the wood engravings of Fritz Eichenberg, yet one also sees playful touches that mark this as Schanzer’s work. I love the enormous demonic beast lurking beneath the Atlantic’s waves; the decorated initials that begin each chapter; the imaginative use of patterns. Witches! will appeal to readers seeking an accurate, entertaining account of the Salem witch trials. This fine book will also attract students who have read The Crucible and want the complete story behind the play. 2011, National Geographic, Ages 10 up, $16.95. Reviewer: Catherine Reef (Children’s Literature).
Children’s Literature is seeking more good reviewers.
You may see your reviews printed on jacket covers and in
Children’s Literature receives approximately 6,000 new books each year. Reviewers are not paid, but you do get to keep all of the books that you review. Our reviews are licensed to Barnes & Noble, Borders, and to our sister company, CLCD, LLC. You may also see your reviews on jacket covers, in publisher catalogs, and up on our extensive web site where we provide lots of information at no charge to teachers, librarians, parents, and anyone with an interest in children’s books.
Our book selections range from tots to teens and in every genre. If you enjoy children and young adult books, have a facility for writing, and are interested in becoming a reviewer, please contact Marilyn Courtot, Editor, Children’s Literature, phone 301-469-2070 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
“I agreed to take anything they sent. And have I ever been glad! It has been greatly rewarding, as [Children’s Literature] have shared with me books I never would have read otherwise.” —reviewer Keri Collins Lewis
Have David McLimans visit your school, library, or conference
David's third picture book, Big Turtle, will be published this October from Bloomsbury Walker. It is his first book that dives into folktales, with a graphic spin on a Huron creation tale. His first two books, the critically acclaimed Gone Wild and Gone Fishing, combined environmentalism with learning the alphabet and numbers. Kirkus Reviews called his work, "as informative as it is gorgeous." This Caldecott Honor-winning artist earned his MFA from Boston University and currently lives in Wisconsin, where he was born and raised. His unique artistic style captivates his audience and his presentations include sharing visual materials such as projected images, original art, and printed samples with the group.
Visits: David's presentations are geared towards K-6 students and college students but he varies his talk depending upon age level. His presentation includes visual materials such as projected images, original art, and printed samples. While he can give presentations that are talks only he prefers to give interactive presentations where students, with his help and instruction, create a project of their own. Fee: $1,200/day plus travel expenses.
Marshall Cavendish and The PJ Library (a Massachusetts based non-profit organization) have announced that they will partner to launch a new Jewish children's book line in 2011. The first three titles will launch this fall and will continue with two to four titles each season.
"For a long time, I've wanted to start a line of Judaica picture books, but because they'd sell mainly into a niche market, I could never make the numbers work," said Margery Cuyler, Publisher of Marshall Cavendish Children's Books. "I'm so glad that The PJ Library came along, because with their support, we can now develop an exciting program of children's books that reflects Jewish values and identity."
Each of the new books will be branded with an image of a shofar, an ancient musical horn that historically announced important events and is used today on the High Holy Days. They will also be an embossed seal with The PJ Library logo on the jacket of the Marshall Cavendish editions.
"We are honored to have our logo appear on titles in the major bookstores," said Marcie Greenfield Simons, Director of The PJ Library. "Marshall Cavendish embraces publishing books with Jewish values and bringing them into the mainstream market. The PJ Library is thrilled to partner with Marshall Cavendish in this endeavor, which will bring more high-quality Jewish-themed books into print.
To assist in making Shofar Books a success, Marshall Cavendish is seeking Judaic picture book submissions. Please send submissions to Margery Cuyler, Publisher, Marshall Cavendish Children's Books, 99 White Plains Road, Tarrytown, NY 10591 and mark the package "Shofar."
The first three titles will be:
The Golem's Latkes
Eric A. Kimmel Illustrated by Aaron Jasinski ISBN: 978-0-7614-5904-0
Hanukkah, Oh Hanukkah!
Illustrated by Olga and Aleksey Ivanov
Three generations of a Jewish family, plus their goofy dog, celebrate the holiday ofHanukkahwith the “other” traditional song.Hanukkah,OhHanukkahdoesn’t have quite the cachet ofI Have a Little Dreidelwith elementary school choirs, but perhaps this will give teachers an overdue alternative. The song sheet is printed in the front of the book with an after note that explains the tune’s origin as a 19th century folk song to which Hebrew words were added. The joyous, smiling family lights the Hanukkiah and eats a traditional dinner that includes latkes with sour cream and apple sauce. Mom, dad, the kids and the dog dance a happy hora while the candles burn and the children open simple gifts, a flute and a dreidel. This brings to mind theHanukkahHarryskit onSaturday Night Livewhere Jewish children got underwear for the holiday to explain why it doesn’t compete with Christmas. However, the dog seems ecstatic with his holiday bone. Grandad, father, and son are wearing kippot for the celebration, but all indications are that this is a modernly observant family. The illustrations are the best part of the book--bright, cheery, and with a final reminder of the holiday’s origins depicted by an ancient Hebrew family lighting candles in the son’s imagination. Overall, this will be a winner for holiday sharing of an old, familiar song. 2011, The PJ Library/Marshall Cavendish Corporation, $12.99. Ages 3 to 7. Reviewer: Lois Rubin Gross (Children's Literature). ISBN: 978-0-7614-5845-6
Many Days, One Shabbat Fran Manushkin Illustrated by Maria Monescillo ISBN: 978-0-7614-5965-1
Have Roxie Munro visit your school, library, or conference
A multimedia artist, Roxie is the author/illustrator of over thirty five books for children, including her newest, Hatch! (Marshall Cavendish, 2011) and the upcoming Busy Builders (Marshall Cavendish, 2012). This year also saw the release of her new ipad app, "Roxie's a-MAZE-ing Vacation Adventure," an animated, interactive counting and maze game. Born in Texas and raised in southern Maryland, Roxie studied at the University of Maryland, the Maryland Institute College of Art (Baltimore), and received a BFA in Painting from the University of Hawaii. In addition to writing and illustrating for children Roxie has worked as a freelance artist—fourteen of her paintings have been published as covers of The New Yorker magazine. She has a wide selection of programs for schools and adults, where she shares stories about her art, books, publishing career, and childhood. Roxie lives in Long Island, New York with her husband.
School Visits: Roxie will visit 3 classes (35-45 minutes each with 10-15 minute Q&A) per day, with a book signing session. Fee: $1200/day plus travel expenses. Programs are tailored for grade level, venue, and class size, but the following gives an idea of the content and possibilities.
Adult Programs (conferences, workshops, teachers, librarians, etc): Typically, a 45-minute PowerPoint, with Q&A and a signing session. Presentations and teaching varies depending upon venue and time. Fee: contact us for a specific price quote.
We all know the tremendous power of literacy for its possessor. What I didn’t imagine when I started reading and reviewing for Children’s Literature was the power reading a children’s book could have within my classroom.
That was until one day before the start of my Latin I class when two students, one generally outgoing and the other her very reserved and likely quiet because of emerging acquisition of English. However, this day went differently from the usual “20 questions” her verbal friend manages to ask before the bell. This day, the quiet observer noticed a small, girlie colored book on my desk. She came closer – and closer – and turned her head to read the title, confirming it was, in fact, one of the “Goddess Girls” series. At the point, I was watching a big smile spread across her face. It seemed she was wanting to look through the book or ask me about it, and she seemed both surprised and elated when I handed the book to her. As if receiving the permission she thought she needed, she suddenly came alive with questions, comments, and storyline narrative because she was reading another of the same series, which she proved by nearly leaping to her desk and back to me with the book in hand.
I shared with the student how I read and write reviews of different kinds of books and said that I was nearly done with this one, indicating that we could swap if she’d like. Indeed, she would like that she said. To my surprise, she finished her book that night and came in the next class excited to swap books with me. We did, we each read the new book, and discussed parts when she arrived to class. At the end of our quasi book club, when she thought we would return each others books, I asked if she’d like to keep it so she could collect the series. She seemed so happy, and we even agreed to obtain the other two books of the series to read and swap when we come back to school in the fall.
What a great reminder for me to always be reading and model that for my students as a lifelong skill, and what a tremendously timely “gift” from Children’s Literature to unexpectedly “unlock” a student I didn’t know how to reach or bring out of her shell.
To borrow the opening line of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice: It is a truth universally acknowledged that…kids love to dress as pirates. And so do many adults, which is how I got the idea for my recent picture book Pirate vs. Pirate.
A few years ago my husband said to me, “Why don’t you write a pirate book so I can dress up like a pirate for your book events?” And so I wrote him a funny story—Pirate vs. Pirate—about a guy pirate and a girl pirate (Bad Bart and Mean Mo) who both want to be the biggest, baddest, richest pirate in the world. So they have a series of contests to determine who might lay claim to that dubious honor.
I loved every bit of the process for this picture book. The tale came easily in one draft and my editor at Disney Hyperion suggested only a few revisions. (I probably don’t need to tell you how rare that is for most writers, and certainly for me!) My editor chose the perfect illustrator—Alexandra Boiger—and I loved seeing her preliminary sketches turn into lively, full-color illustrations that swirl and swagger across the page. But my favorite part was writing the dedication to my husband, “a true treasure of a guy,” who has been cheerfully supportive of me and my writing for lo these many years.
An added bonus has been the chance to visit bookstores and schools…dressed as a pirate. Often the audience dresses, too—in everything from eye patches and paper hats to a velvet frock coat and ruffled shirt. And by audience, I mean kids and, yes, adult booksellers, teachers, librarians and parents. They all want to release their inner pirate! Arrrr!
“Pirate” can also be a playful way to connect books and writing with even reluctant young readers/writers (largely k-2nd). I teach some pirate lingo, show me powerful writing plume (because the pen is mightier than the sword) and have the audience help me to write a pirate poem. It’s all very Jolly Roger-ish. And I get to display some of my favorite pirate books, including June Sobel’s Shiver Me Letters: A Pirate ABC, with hilarious illustrations by Henry Cole, and Kathleen Krull’s Lives of the Pirates.
Teaching someone how to write a novel in a thirty minute class period is probably not going to pan out very well. Young Adult author David Macinnis Gill should know from his long experience teaching high school and college students. After receiving his bachelor's degree in English/creative writing and his doctorate in education, both from the University of Tennessee, David began his teaching career as a high school teacher in Chattanooga, Tennessee. He is now an Associate Professor of English Education at the University of North Carolina Wilmington.
His approach to teaching creative writing is a little different. In that short thirty minute period he chooses to focus on teaching how to pitch an idea for a novel.
Just like pitches for movies, David shows students how to write a log-line. Understanding how a novel works is a big concept to teach in a short period of time, but teaching what elements make-up a story is a much needed foundation for future writers. So he teaches about story versus the sequence of events and the difference between conflict and a complication.
I had the pleasure of hearing David deliver a talk to a room full of English teachers and other interested attendees at last fall's ALAN Workshop. David, the past-president of the Assembly on Literature for Adolescents, has served on the organization's board of directors for approximately ten years. In addition to sharing his strategy and tips on teaching writing to students with the group he also presented the template he gives to students to use as the skeleton of their novel.
This template is the spine of the novel--it covers the over arching actions and is composed of six parts. First, the given situation. Followed with an action by hero; then a complication occurs. Despite this complication the hero goes on to another action. However, the antagonist tries to thwart the hero with his/her own action before the hero's plan succeeds. David emphasized that pitches and templates require more than a cool premise or character. Teaching students about tension is key.
After writing short stories for magazines such as The Crescent Review and Writer's Forum, David's debut novel, Soul Enchilada, was published by HarperCollins in 2009. It was featured on several Best Book lists such as those from Bank Street College of Education, Kirkus, and YALSA; and was included in New York Public Library's Stuff for the Teen Age list.
His newest novel, Black Hole Sun, also from HarperCollins, was published in August 2010. Durango, a sixteen-year-old living on Mars, is leader of a crew of mercenaries who have been hired to protect miners from a cannibalistic group pursuing the mining treasure. Action packed and witty it has received starred reviews from School Library Journal and Booklist, who said "readers will have a hard time turning the pages fast enough as the body count rises to the climactic, satisfying ending, which will leave new fans hopeful for more adventures." Luckily, it's sequel, Invisible Sun, will be out in early 2012.
David is very active on social media and his website. To watch book trailers, read his blog, follow him on twitter, and much more visit: http://davidmacinnisgill.com/
Black Hole Sun
David Macinnis Gill
Movie-ready doesn't even begin to describe this lightning-paced action novel about a group of teen mercenaries out to make a living on a hardscrabble Mars and, if it's financially rewarding, save a few lives along the way. To be fair, only a few members of the ragtag group are in it solely for the cash, while the others are following a complex moral code of a samurai-esque group called the Regulators. Either way, none of them is quite prepared for the horror of the flesh-eating Draeu and their even more powerful, used-to-be human leader. Mars is tough living at best, and a group of miners, long weary of handing over their children on demand to the Draeu, decide to take a stand. Durango, the book's protagonist, takes the job to help them, and gathers as many allies as he can, though his word as an outcast Regulator means little. He has Mimi, his dead leader who is implanted in his head (and who offers both sardonic advice and technologically advanced assistance), and fiercely loyal Vienne, who will always help him, but everyone else in the group is dubious at best. The good guys are muddy and just trying to survive; the bad guys are creepy in all the right ways and just trying to survive as well. The elegantly, intricately described exotic setting is unremittingly bleak, and it serves almost as a character in itself, sometimes subtly sucking away ambition and other times bashing characters over the head with yet another Mars-related nightmare. Action, adventure, sci-fi, and horror buffs will all find this an almost perfect mix of all of the genres, and the addition of a soupçon of romance and hints of painful family drama results in a book that's got appeal to just about any potential speculative-fiction fan Review Code: R -- Recommended. (c) Copyright 2006, The Board of Trustees of the University of Illinois. 2010, Greenwillow, 340p., $16.99 and E-book ed. $12.99. Grades 9-12. Reviewer: April Spisak (The Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, October 2010 (Vol. 64, No. 2)).
Books, particularly picture books, become more valuable as resources as our educational goals reach out globally. Often labeled "multicultural" because their subject matter deals with areas and peoples our children are less familiar with, they offer both textual and visual information along with the emotions they evoke. Most books currently available from American or European publishers are influenced by Western traditions. If they are motivated to tell a story from another part of the world, they must translate and interpret story and image to fit our protocols.
So currently we find Gerald McDermott in Monkey: A Trickster Tale from India (Harcourt, 2011) telling his story with a simple American text and objects reflecting current esthetics. How different are the following books now available from Tara Publishers: first Gita Wolf & Swarna Chitrakar's Monkey Photo, visualized in the patua folk style of Bengal! Another mischievous monkey stars in the Indonesian folk tale, Mangoes & Bananas, by Nathan Kumar Scott with art by T. Balaji in the traditional Kalamkari style of Indian textile painting. Another impressive book is illustrated by a self-taught "domestic helper," Dulari Devi, whose story is told by Gita Wolf in Following My Paint Brush, and who paints in the Mithila style of folk painting from Bihar in eastern India.
The illustrations of the almost textless Do! are rendered in the style of the traditional Warli wall paintings from western India, painted in white on the outsides of their houses. Another remarkable work is Tsunami by Joydeb and Moyna Chitrakar, whose ballad-like text describes the horrors of the flood. The book is a Patua from Bengal, striking narrative graphic art in series of panels bound together to open vertically, so we follow the flood from the top to the bottom of each horizontal page.
Traditional books from another Indian publisher, Karadi Tales Company, will soon be available in the United States as well. A series of folk classics include CDs with music along with the text read aloud. Stories are from folk classics like the Panchatrantra and the Jataka. These books can also offer students a view of another culture.
Gardens are a vital part of children's literature. They are the setting for favorite stories such as The Secret Garden and Oscar's Wilde's The Selfish Giant, and more recently, young adult novels The Poison Diaries and Forget-her-nots. Gardens also tell us about significant times in American history, such as the role of vegetable gardens during WWII as seen in the picture book Lily's Victory Garden. Many nonfiction titles explore the diverse ways people have used gardens over the years—from Dr. Carver's lessons about sustainable agriculture to how to grow an elementary school garden.
Because gardening is one of those activities that can be done at nearly any age—and in nearly every location—it is a perfect way to expose children to the joy of growing their own flowers and food. There are so many different and creative ways to grow a little, or a lot, or simply learn how to identify basic items found in a garden. The highlighted selections below are recently published titles about gardening, and of course, many more titles can be found when you search the CLCD database.
Theo loves her Poppa's garden, and is concerned when he moves to an apartment and has to leave it. Since Poppa says it will be too windy on his balcony for real flowers, Theo suggests an imaginary garden. When spring arrives, Poppa puts a big blank canvas on the balcony. With paint they "build" a stone wall and create soil. Poppa paints crocuses and scilla coming up, and adds a visiting robin. When Poppa goes on holiday, he leaves Theo in charge. She adds blossoms in many colors and eagerly awaits his return. This delightful imaginative story combines sketchy black ink drawings with particularly colorful multimedia collages for illustrations. The decorative iron fence on the balcony makes a fine contrast for the great canvas that becomes the garden. There is a logic to the way it grows, with paints added in time for the crocuses and then tulip bulbs, while vines cover the stone, for a sense of magic to the colorful creation. The love between Theo and her grandfather is evident. If only a real garden were as easy to establish and flood with blooms as this one! 2009, Kids Can Press, $16.95. Ages 4 to 8. Reviewer: Ken Marantz and Sylvia Marantz (Children's Literature).
Awards, Honors, Prizes:
Amelia Frances Howard-Gibbon Illustrator's Award, 2010 Shortlist Canada
Governor General's Literary Awards, 2009 Finalist Children's Literature (Illustration) Canada
Ruth and Sylvia Schwartz Children's Book Award, 2010 Shortlist Picture Book Canada
Children’s Literature is an independent online review source, whose team of reviewers read and critically reviews more than 6,000 books annually. Additionally, Children’s Literature currently assists schools, museums, conferences and other organizations in identifying authors and illustrators for speaking engagements. www.childrenslit.com