Mar 29, 2014

An End-of-Month Concession to Women's History Month


by Cokie Roberts, Illustrated by Diane Goode

Harper Collins Children's Books, 2014
Despite my best efforts to avoid theme month posts in this year's cycle of books, I find myself losing will power toward the end of each month. Today and tomorrow, as March winds down (not that you'd know it from stepping outdoors around here), I'm featuring some titles in hopes that readers will find and use them beyond the arbitrary boundaries of March, Women's History Month. It officially becomes "poetry month" in a few days, and it's my heartfelt hope that poems are  permeating classrooms, library displays, and family readings throughout the year. So,too, should books like these reach readers around the calendar, not get back-shelved until "next March".

Full disclaimer- I went into this recent release as a fan of both Cokie Roberts and Diane Goode. They never disappoint, and in this case they exceeded my already high expectations. 
Cokie Roberts, ABC News Reporter, Author
 The content (in word and image) offers a portal to the past, and to the women who are most often ignored or mentioned in 25 words or less when reading or speaking of the early days of this country. Perhaps it's due to her experience as an on-air reporter, but Roberts has managed to incorporate extensive meticulous research into fluent and engaging prose. It reads aloud well, which is no surprise, and I can hear her physical and writing voice clearly in every line. Passages offer text with digestible length, language, and detail to be read independently and used as mentor text by established readers, even younger ones.

Diane Goode, Author, Illustrator

Goode's  illustrations enhance and extend each featured profile, including hints of personality, rich elements of the setting, and "asides": small sketches portraying responses of male figures of the time. The design of book, as it should, contributes further to the sense of time and place, using paper colors and end pages that echo documents of the times.

This remarkable production should be in every elementary classroom and is a perfect (and necessary) fit for anyone reading about American history.

It's been widely praised, so don't take my word for it. Find out why Kirkus (which does not always respond with admiration to celebrity offerings for young readers) gave it a starred review.

Mar 20, 2014

Don't Miss This Resource: Women's History Month

For a variety of reasons I chose not to post titles related to "theme months" this spring (Black History in February, Women's History Month in March, and Poetry Month in April). I've shared my attitude about theme months in several prior posts, but always tried to feature at least a few of my favorites during these months in the past.

One reason is that this blog now has a reasonable stock of archived titles readers can draw on for a variety of topics, all year long. 

Another reason for temporarily cutting back on new posts to this blog is because of time commitments for the pending release of my middle grade historical novel, Odin's Promise. 

In addition, I felt confident that readers would be able to locate current and classic titles for theme months in other high quality blogs. If you missed my recent post in which I pointed out Anita Silvey's Book-A-Day Almanac  be sure to check out its rich resources and superior insights.  
Official blog banner  for Kidlit Celebrates Women's History Month

This month in particular (Women's History Month) I've been utilizing a blog co-hosted by west coast librarian Margo Tanenbaum and her east coast librarian friend. It shows up in my inbox several times each week, providing me with a squeak of happy recognition for titles I know and may even have featured in the past. Even better, it points me toward titles I haven't yet read, and they're immediately added to my library hold list and eventually land in my bedside stack of books to read.

Sure, I know what I said above about reserving time for posts, web development, and prep work for the release day next month. Still, I'm willing to cut back just so far, and that does NOT include doing less reading, especially when titles come highly recommended from trusted sources. 

So, thank you, Margo & Co., for offering readers those recommendations. As for readers here, I hope you'll click on over to bookmark her site and even consider subscribing. You won't be disappointed.

Full disclosure: In a few weeks it will be my pleasure to respond to an interview with Margo about the release of Odin's Promise and she plans to post a review. I've followed her blog posts for a long time and that's how I first became aware of her. This recommendation of her blog was not a condition of her blog posts about my book. I'm proud and confident to recommend her suggestions to you.

Mar 15, 2014

Anita Silvey's Blog: Book-A-Day Almanac

I'm sliding back into short-cut mode for this post.

It's about time I shared directly some of the blogs and other resources I go to for reminders about classics and favorites as well as introductions to recent (and even pre-) releases. It wasn't so long ago, the wise old woman intones (that would be me), when keeping track of books depended entirely on reading the major review sources in print. That ranged from Booklist to Horn Book to School Library Journal to Booklinks. I also devoured related content journals, especially their annual issues featuring children's titles for their respective subjects: math, social studies, science, music, and art.

Since the exponentially rapid growth of the internet, I usually explore those sources online. I also get direct feeds of many reliable blogs, some of which are listed and linked on the side bar. The frequency of their posts vary, but their content is consistently informative and helpful.

My recommendation in this short post is that you check out Anita Silvey's BOOK-A-DAY ALMANAC. Her posts are not limited to picture books, but they do offer reminders and insights to some of the best in the world of children's literature. And they can show up in your inbox daily.
Bless you, Anita Silvey! 
Her credentials are impeccable and her selections varied and wonderful. Check out her "About" page and you'll see what I mean.

Anita's site  has served readers, teachers, and parents (who, I sincerely hope, are also readers) for such a long time that she offers this terrific resource page to search archives for books in particular categories: by age, by subject, by author/illustrator, by type of book, and by date featured. It can't get any easier than that!

Here's hoping you already know her site. If so, do someone a favor and recommend it to a friend or colleague. If it's new to you, allow yourself the fun of diving through the site. Then I urge you to add it to your favorites/bookmarks, and even subscribe (free) for your once-a-day dose of great book recommendations.


Mar 10, 2014

Another New Release and Interview: Janet Halfmann

Janet Halfmann is a talented and prolific writer with a long career behind her and more ahead. Her bio includes: 
"Before becoming a children’s author, Janet was a daily newspaper reporter, children’s magazine editor, and a creator of coloring and activity books for Golden Books. She is the mother of four and the grandmother of four. When Janet isn’t writing, she enjoys gardening, exploring nature, visiting living-history museums, and spending time with her family. She grew up on a farm in Michigan and now lives in South Milwaukee, Wisconsin."

Because I've met her several times, I'll add that she's a charming and energetic person. In presentations of her books with kids her preparation, enthusiasm, and relaxed manner allow them to engage fully in the stories she shares.
Guardian Angel Publishing, 2014
In her latest release, A RAINBOW OF BIRDS, illustrated by Jack Foster, she creates a bird legend about how the rainbow came to be. Creation stories are always a success with young readers, and this one is a vibrantly colorful story (literally, full of color). It provides numerous cues and opportunities for kids to chime in (chirp in?) with repeated readings. I see potential for an eager group to generate a script from it, culminating in a colorful rainbow display at its conclusion. For the very youngest it also encourages naming/pointing to colors, playing with sounds, and careful observation of nature.

Speaking of conclusions, this is another of the many titles Janet has written that offer instructional back matter related to the topic as well as crafts and suggested activities. 

I invited Janet to answer a few questions about this title and her writing in general. Thanks, Janet, for joining me. 
This story is a bit of a creation tale. Did you read an original rainbow-origins-tale that helped you develop your story? 

Janet: A Rainbow of Birds is an original bird legend. However, at the time I wrote the story, I was reading many legends, in hopes of retelling one. I can’t specifically remember reading any rainbow legends. I’ve always loved stories about how various things came to be. 

At the time, I also was doing research on birds for other stories that I was working on. So the legends and the birds came together to inspire me. 

One late summer afternoon, I noticed how excited the birds‘ singing sounded right after it stopped raining. What could the birds be so excited about? As it turned out, it was because they were creating a rainbow!  

l     Your language is charming and almost as colorful as the birds. Was its source strictly “writerly” or did you draw on nature for inspiration?

Janet: I love playing with words to find just the right one to describe something or to have a certain poetic sound. I also love nature, and had many hours of bird-watching, bird research, and listening to bird songs rumbling around in my brain when I wrote this story.

Like many of your other titles, the back matter offers many interactive options for young readers. How does that development play a part in your writing?

Janet: The back matter didn’t enter into the writing of the story. After Guardian Angel Publishing accepted the story, the publisher suggested that I add some activities at the back of the book. Since the book is out, I’ve had several parents and grandparents tell me they’re excited about doing some of the activities with their kids. They definitely see the activities as a bonus to the story.

Here's another bonus: You can read the story in the March issue of Guardian Angel Kids ezine:

Thanks, Janet, for joining me here and congratulations on A RAINBOW OF BIRDS. I hope readers will check it out and also check out your other titles.

Many of Janet's picture books are about animals and nature. She also writes picture book biographies about little-known people of achievement. Recent titles include Eggs 1, 2, 3: Who Will the Babies Be?; Home in the Cave; Star of the Sea: A Day in the Life of a Starfish; Good Night, Little Sea Otter; and Seven Miles to Freedom: The Robert Smalls Story. Janet has written thirty-five fiction and nonfiction books for children.

Further information abut Janet, with links to her books, can be found on her website:

Mar 4, 2014

Lola Schaefer's Back- With ONE BUSY DAY

Disney-Hyperion.  March, 2014

In September I was pleased to feature an interview with the talented and prolific Lola Schaefer. This was in connection with the release of her non-fiction picture book, LIFETIME:The Amazing Numbers in Animal Liveswhich was named a 2014 Junior Library Guild selection, is on the 2014 Orbis Pictus Recommended Reading List, and has garnered plenty of fans.

Her non-fiction titles are as excellent in language as they are in subject matter. That attention to quality writing also distinguishes her fiction picture books, in which lyrical language and original concepts blend to create unforgettable stories.

ONE SPECIAL DAY released in  March, 2012. Just two years later we celebrate the release of ONE BUSY DAY, both illustrated by Jessica Meserve.

My Goodreads review:

One Busy Day follows the siblings from Schaefer's earlier One Special Day into a classic older/younger sibling relationship. Predictably, the novelty of a baby has worn off and the older child is too "busy" to play with the younger one. In this case younger Mia occupies herself creatively, with illustrations mirroring her reality and her imagination. With very young children it provides an ideal opportunity to identify which illustrations are real and which are fantasy. Mia's energetic imagination entices older Spencer to join her in creative adventures.
The concept of a younger sibling resolving her loneliness is very empowering, and Schaefer's charming lyrical text is matched by Meserve's delightful images of Mia's reality and her imagination.

Read what Publisher's Weekly had to say about ONE BUSY DAY here. It was no surprise to me that Kirkus gave it a starred review. 

Author Lola M. Schaefer

The official release date for this new title is March 4, 2014. I'm pleased that Lola found time in her busy life to answer a few questions about these books for us.  
Welcome back, Lola!

Q: Are the characters in One Special Day and One Busy Day based on someone you know or personal experience? What was your inspiration for these characters?

Lola: Spencer, the protagonist, is somewhat fashioned on our nephew Spencer. Of course, my nephew is older now, but he has always been playful, silly, wild, yet compassionate and kind. When I wrote One Special Day, my nephew was my inspiration. But the similarity stops there. Our Spencer is the younger brother of an older sister Leah.

Q: Was this always planned as a series or sequel? If not, how did ONE BUSY DAY come about? Are there more titles to come?

Lola: In today’s present market, I think authors and publishers are hesitant to jump into a picture book series. However, One Special Day sold well and it seemed to beg for a follow-up title. One Busy Day was a natural progression. My editor and I brainstormed those typical moments between young siblings and voilἁ, the plot emerged.  Will there be more?  We will just need to wait and see.

Q: Your language in these books (and your others) suit apparently simple stories, yet involve similes, repetitive patterns, and lyrical word choice.  I know you invest months, even years, in the research behind non-fiction titles. When it comes to fiction, do you spend more time developing the story or the text?

Lola: Each book is dramatically different. One Special Day flew onto the page. It seemed to come from some place deep inside me and there was very little revision or editing. One Busy Day took a bit longer. There’s always the fear that a follow-up book will be weaker, not quite as engaging, and both the publisher and I did not want that to be the case. Once the premise was established, the writing came in a few weeks. And, of course, as with most books, the editor had a few suggestions that truly strengthened the storyline.

For me, I obsess over each and every word whether I’m writing nonfiction or fiction picture books. Language needs to be minimal, but pop on the page. As an author, you want children to participate in whatever you write and word choice, pacing, and content are the hooks.

Q: What projects are in the works now? Anything you can share?
Lola: I just sold another literary nonfiction book to a publisher. I’m hoping they decide to use the same illustrator as an earlier book. In another year, I’ll have a beginning chapter book out that features a kind, yet brazen (in a totally honest-kind-of-way) girl who is starting Kindergarten. The script contains a lot of dialogue and monologue which is something new for me.

Thanks, Lola, for participating. I'm looking forward to reading these and all your future releases. In the meantime, Happy "book birthday" for One Busy Day. I hope families, teachers, and librarians will find and share this pair of books with young readers, early and often. These stories have the rich language, relationships, and layers that improve with each rereading.

Mar 1, 2014

Celebrating a Book ALL YEAR, not just Black History Month

If you've been here before, you've probably read one of my earliest posts about theme months. I expressed my strong feelings about the frequently-followed pattern of spotlighting books during a given period, then letting them fade into the background, linger on a top shelf, or even get boxed away until they are hauled out again the following year. (If you haven't read that post before, I really hope you will now.) 

Despite my concern about this pattern, I've posted reviews, links, and suggestions for outstanding titles in each theme month in the past. This February I resisted the urge to do so. I waited for March, on principle, to sing a hallelujah in praise of this picture book. It's my sincere hope you'll check it out and make it a point to share it with kids throughout the year. 

Crickhollow Books, 2012
DIDN'T WE HAVE FUN! is a collaboration between artist Hilda Robinson and writer Jeff Kunkel. This is the kind of book that is firmly anchored in a specific time, place, and culture but  appeals and offers connections for every reader.

From the publisher: 
"Celebrated artist Hilda Robinson shares the joys of growing up in a closely-knit African-American family and neighborhood in the days long before television and computer games.
Meet Hilda's four sisters and one brother, her Mama and Daddy, her Philadelphia neighborhood of red-brick row houses.
…an abiding love of life that shines through these delightful paintings with accompanying text."

...I'm back
Robinson's interpretive, light-filled paintings express both specific and global emotions. Her lens zooms in and out to capture small moments and neighborhoods, to convey action and utter stillness. Always impressionist in style, she also lends detail where needed and blurs the focus or perspective when the topic suits. The images and her attention to life's details reveal her artist's eye working  from a very young age.

Kunkel's text is based on interviews with Robinson and his understanding of her personality and memories. Although the text is not arranged as free verse, it has the rhythm and phrasing to qualify. The table of contents and titles suggest that each page turn will explore a vignette of daily life from Robinson's childhood, but the spare, rhythmic, and lyrical writing elevates it from  memoir to a more universal, thematic collection. In fact, each page would serve well as mentor text for young people writing about small moments of significance in their own lives. 

The book's title comes from the last entry, which illustrates best what I mean:

Didn't We Have Fun!

"We didn't have a car.
       We didn't have a television.
                We didn't have money.

But we had parents who loved us, 
          a good home,
          plenty to eat, 
          and lots of books, games, and friends.

Best of all, we had
                                 each other."

I hope you'll look for this book and add it to your home, classroom, or library collection.

And please, pull it from the shelves all year long.

Picture books are as versatile and diverse as the readers who enjoy them. Join me to explore the wacky, wonderful, challenging and changing world of picture books.