Thursday, March 24, 2011

150th Anniversary of the Civil War

Historical fiction writer Carolyn Reeder has several books that are set during the Civil War. Her readers often ask her, “Why do you always write about wars?” She used to remind them that two of my books are Blue Ridge Mountain stories and one is about canal boaters. But then she realized that none of her books is about war. They are all about young people who are facing challenges in their lives. Often, though, their challenges are caused by war—whether the fighting is going on near where they live or on the other side of the world.

To learn more about Carolyn Reeder visit her site and her booking service page.

Shades of Gray
Reeder's ALA Notable tale takes on the Civil War after the fact, and on the side of the Confederacy. It's a narration of the trials and tribulations of young Will Page, orphaned rebel extraordinaire. After losing his Virginia family, Will is taken from the city of Winchester to live with his aunt and uncle in the country. He doesn't mind the unexpectedly hard labor around the farm, and he rather likes his younger cousin, Meg. What he can't accept is what he sees as cowardice in his Uncle Jed, who refused to fight for the South. Will has a lot to work out, and a huge chip to get off his shoulder, but finally learns the difference between cowardice and choosing to live by one's beliefs. This is a book that should elicit strong and useful debate in the American History curriculum. 1991, Avon Camelot, $12.95 and $4.50. Ages 8 to 12. Reviewer: Kathleen Karr (Children's Literature).
Awards, Honors, Prizes:

Children's Book Award, 1989 Winner
Jane Addams Children's Book Award, 1990 Honor Book
Jefferson Cup Award, 1990 Winner
Scott O'Dell Award for Historical Fiction, 1990 Winner
ISBN: 9780027758108

Across the Lines
Carolyn Reeder sets her story in 1864 as twelve-year-old Edward prepares to leave his plantation home when war encroaches. He looks everywhere for Simon, his servant and his best friend. Simon, however, chooses to stay missing because he's determined to find freedom. Reeder's skillful alternating chapters tell of Edward's search for self, Simon's search for belonging, and the turmoil of besieged Petersburg. Reeder shows her talent for research and for creating characters who make us care. 1997, Atheneum, $16.00. Ages 8 to 12. Reviewer: Susie Wilde (Children's Literature).
Awards, Honors, Prizes:
Best Children's Books of the Year, 1998; Bank Street College of Education
ISBN: 9780689811333

Timothy Donovan’s Story
Timothy Donovan isn’t a coward . . . not exactly. But he is prickly, overly defensive, stubborn to a fault, and not precisely certain he really wants to give his life for his country. This is not historical fiction’s standard image of the Civil War’s loveable fourteen-year-old bugler boy. Carolyn Reeder is braver than her protagonist in taking a stance for the secret doubters who surely peopled the Civil War’s battlefields in greater percentAges than are ever allowed. In the first part of her Before the Creeks Ran Red trilogy, Reeder sets her young bugler in Charleston Harbor during the months leading to the firing on Fort Sumter and the irrevocable declaration of war between North and South that event precipitates. Along the way she takes on other complex topics: petty feuding between the non-commissioned men; the lack of faith in Sumter’s southern-bred, vacillating commandant; near-starvation conditions within the blockaded island fortress. By the time the Stars and Stripes are lowered and Fort Sumter is evacuated, Timothy has done some maturing. But he’s still not sure he wants to die for the Union. This is a provocative thought. That the choice might not be his is another one. Reeder’s novelette is filled with these classroom discussion bombshells. 2007 (orig. 2003), Children’s Literature, $6.95. Ages 10 up. Reviewer: Kathleen Karr (Children's Literature).
ISBN: 9781890920159

Gregory Howard’s Story
People were taking sides in Alexandria, Virginia. The Secessionists believed in the rights of states to make their own decisions and felt that they had a right to withdraw and be independent. The Unionists, on the other hand, supported the federal government. Gregory, his mother, and his siblings were Secessionists, but his father was a staunch Union supporter. Gregory witnessed the events leading up to the war. He watched the Confederate Stars and Bars replace the Union Stars and Stripes at the Marshall House Hotel. When the Union troops moved in to occupy the city, Gregory saw the conflict over the flags result in the death of a citizen. The Union soldiers invaded people’s homes, demanding food, and taking whatever appealed to them. Much of the plot centers on Gregory’s efforts to recover a treasured music box for his ill sister. Author’s notes at the end clarify the factual information within the story. A good choice for students who want to understand some of the emotional and personal issues that go beyond the usual facts and dates presented in Civil War units. 2003, Children’s Literature Paperback, $6.95. Ages 10 to 14. Reviewer: Phyllis Kennemer, Ph.D. (Children's Literature).
ISBN: 9781890920173

Monday, March 14, 2011

Sharon Salluzzo from CLCD Speaks with Author Rona Arato

Rona Arato is the author of a range of nonfiction titles for middle readers focusing on history, biography, science, invention and design. She ventured into historical fiction with the publication of Ice Cream Town, loosely based on her father's remembrances on coming to America. Her most recent title about the immigrant experience offers the reader a truly unique experience. Mrs. Kaputnik's Pool Hall and Matzo Ball Emporium combines history, fantasy, and mystery. America's favorite pastime, baseball, comes into play as well. It certainly takes a skilled writer and a good storyteller to seamlessly bring these together in one fun story. What makes this so special is that it can be read on several different levels. Some may just enjoy the dragon fantasy. But they will be getting so much more. They will learn how immigrants adjust to a new life and a new language in a new culture. Speaking about this book, a teacher told Rona that she was discussing teamwork and problem solving through the immigrant experience when her students began to talk about the issue of bullying within the story. Here is a magical storyline and lively characters that take the reader into the past before they realize they are absorbing history.

Although Mrs. Kaputnik's Pool Hall and Matzo Ball Emporium was published in 2010, the character of Mrs. Kaputnik has been around a lot longer. About twenty-five years ago, she appeared in stories that Rona created for her children. There was also a fire-breathing dragon that cooked matzo balls. She wrote the stories down, and about five years ago dusted off this one and talked with her editor about it. After many discussions and many rewrites, "Mrs. Kaputnik" was ready to be published.

Right from the start we know there will be elements of magic. Shades of the folktale Jack and the Beanstalk immediately spring to mind when Moshe Kapustin sells his firewood to a mysterious stranger in the forest in exchange for a strange egg. While Rona did not intentionally create this allusion, she said it probably was there subliminally. When her children were small she would create fractured fairytales as bedtime stories. "Folktales are universal and just naturally come into our stories. You could say they are ingrained in our DNA."

When she sits down to write, Rona blocks out everything. She does not plot out the story but rather devises a general outline. As she creates a character she tries to be that person: "What would I do? How would I feel? What would I see? In this case, for example, I envisioned the Statue of Liberty, the river, and the activities of the street. Sometimes it is hard to put myself in a child's place but I work at that and then fill in the details. Computers are a big help in many ways. For this book I was able to pull up an early twentieth century map of New York City. I completely immerse myself in the characters and let them lead. They just take over and tell me where they want the story to go. The story then begins to unfold." In the case of Mrs. Kaputnik's Pool Hall and Matzo Ball Emporium, Rona started with Mrs. Kaputnik as the main character. Of her Rona says, "She was a woman who had to keep her family together in Russia, on the trip to America, and in New York. However, this was to be a children's book and, therefore, I had to focus on the children."She chose to have a sister, Shoshi, and brother, Moshe. Shoshi is slightly older. Their involvement is fairly equal without the necessity of making them twins and it provides two perspectives. With characters such as Nick the Stick, Dingle Hinglehoffer, and Yicky Stickyfingers, I asked Rona how she came up with the names and the characters. Aloysius P. Thornswaddle was another character in the original bedtime stories she told her children. As the characters and story developed, Rona drew a giant chart with Thornswaddle in the middle that showed the interconnectedness of all the characters. Her editor was also helpful in the development of characters. Salty, a helpful sailor, just appeared to her, rising out of her subconscious. When she finished one of the versions of the story her editor wanted Salty to be more involved. Rona's revision gave Salty a more prominent role and tied him to Aloysius P. Thornswaddle, too.

Rona wrote and rewrote three complete versions of this story over several years. While working on the ending she would go back to make adjustments in the story. She would look at why a character changed, or she would make the necessary changes to the character in the beginning of the story. "There is an editing process that exists all the way through the writing of my books," says Rona. Within the final version there were another three or four re-writes. All of this, of course, results in a story in which all the characters and actions neatly fit together. "It is easier to write long than short," says Rona who says she overwrites. "Just like when you are sewing and have a dress pattern, you have to start trimming. It is important to be concise and tight in writing." Her foreshadowing is done at the end. "Just like in a painting, the extra touches and shading are done at the end." If needed, some scenes are added--such as making Snigger afraid of heights. Sometimes, more interaction between characters is necessary. She sometimes needs to give a character a push. "The best asset is a good editor who will tell you what is wrong and needs to be fixed. Sometimes, I just step away for a while. The problem can usually be worked out. There are times when it is best to abandon what I have done and start over by tightening the story or getting rid of a character," offers Rona. "A good editor can be very helpful in offering solutions to problems. In the case of Snigger the Dragon, I wanted him to stay in New York. My editor thought it made more sense for him to return to the Amber Forest in Russia, but I did not agree. Then I came up with the idea of having Snigger join a circus. That was the perfect solution. In the end, the book has to be the author's version, not the editor's."

To create historical fiction, a great deal of research is required. Rona finds history fascinating and hopes to instill that in her readers. She wants to give the reader a good story to read while learning history. In 2007, her book Ice Cream Town was published. It is a more serious story, loosely based on her Polish father's experiences as an immigrant after World War I. In Mrs. Kaputnik's Pool Hall and Matzo Ball Emporium , the Kapustin family is Russian and arrives in the United States about the turn of the twentieth century. The immigrant experience takes place on the Lower Eastside of New York City. Rona herself was born in Brooklyn in the Williamsburg section. "It is a very trendy area now, but wasn't when I was a child," she laughs. In addition to family recollections, Rona studied the kinds of ships that crossed the ocean. She read accounts of people who came, and learned about the journey. She had, of course, done a great deal of research for Ice Cream Town, but with an earlier timeframe for Mrs. Kaputnik's Pool Hall and Matzo Ball Emporium there was much to discover. She needed to know what the clothing looked like, what food they ate, what an apartment looked like and how the streets looked during the setting of her story. Rona visited the tenement museum at 97 Orchard Street where she absorbed many wonderful details. ( Of course she also visited Ellis Island. Dragon research was required. Would it be a European or an Asian dragon? While visiting the Museum of Natural History in New York City to learn about mystical animals, Rona came upon the phrase, "No animal is so wise as the dragon." That was it; it had to be a dragon.

When I asked Rona if she had anything she wanted to say to readers, parents, and teachers, she said, "Mrs. Kaputnik's Pool Hall and Matzo Ball Emporium was fun to write. I had a good time with the characters and liked writing about the bad guys. This book was a labor of love."

Her next project is completely different. When I asked her what she was working on, Rona said she is in the process of conducting interviews for a World War II story based on her husband's experiences in Bergen Belsen and his liberation by the 30th Infantry Division of the U.S. Army. It is an incredible story. Rona is a gifted writer and storyteller. I am anxiously awaiting its publication.

Visit Rona Arato at where you will find information about her books and presentations.

Sharon Salluzzo

Monday, March 7, 2011

Women's History Month

On March 19, 1911, Klara Zetkin, a German woman, organized the very first International Women's Day. But interest in the day was low until the women’s movement of the 1960s & 70s. Then in 1978 schools started Women’s History Week to teach women’s history. It became so popular that in 1981 Congress passed a resolution so that the entire nation would celebrate Women’s History Week. Not long after that the celebration extended to the month of March. The theme for the 2011 Women’s History Month is “Writing Women Back into History.”

Today, Women’s History Month is most often celebrated in schools and libraries and other organizations studying women, past and present, that have pushed boundaries and made a lasting impact on the world. The books in this feature are a selection of recent books for parents, teachers, librarians, and caregivers to use with children and teens.

For more information please visit:,28285,101044,00.html

Fearless: The Story of Racing Legend Louis Smith
Barb Rosenstock
Illustrated by Scott Dawson
Boldly illustrated with additional background information to enhance this opportune biography, children and adults learn about a young girl's dreams to drive "Fast! Faster! Flying! Free!" through decades of change. For women in the 20th century auto racing was not as popular or sought after as other fields dominated by men like politics, business, sports, or aerospace. However, solid inroads became more evident after the mid-1970's as the National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing (NASCAR ) and other entities officially allowed women drivers. Up until then, it was a cut-throat world of constant danger, meager pay and unabashed limitations. Louis Smith may not have won every race she entered; she suffered severe injuries over and over again. Races were filthy dirty, cars were not always reliable, rewards were not tangible or forthcoming, and certainly motel living was far from home. However, Smith continued racing throughout her long life no matter the obstacles. No matter the rules, determination led the way in following her heart. Forty-three years after she left the racing world, she was the first woman elected to the International Motorsports Hall of Fame. Students readily connect with those who pursue daring adventures and demonstrate tremendous courage. The text is appropriately brief and yet quite vivid, that nicely accelerates with every turn of the page. Youngsters can begin studying about women who have successful careers against tremendous odds by incorporating this inspiring book. 2010, Dutton Children's Books/Penguin Young Reader's Group, Ages 4 to 8, $16.99. Reviewer: Susan Treadway, M.Ed (Children's Literature).
ISBN: 978-0-525-42173-3