Apr 28, 2016

Saving the Planet: One Kid at a Time

So, EARTH DAY has come and gone. Did you participate in some way? Don't think of this message as "too late" or overdue.  If for any reason you feel you missed out, take a minute to consider this from their website, earthday.org:

"The first Earth Day on April 22, 1970, activated 20 million Americans 
from all walks of life and is widely credited with launching 
the modern environmental movement."
Crickhollow Books, 2015

The point is, designating a particular day to serve in some way or just to think about the importance of protecting and preserving every aspect of this remarkable planet that we all call home misses the mission. The actual point of EARTH DAY is to raise awareness, activate change, and encourage every resident of our planet to "wake up and save the roses", so to speak.
Every day.
Day after day.
Year after year. 

I wrote about the first in a series of nonfiction photojournalism picture books by Cathleen Burnham in a previous post. 
DOYLI TO THE RESCUE: SAVING BABY MONKEYS IN THE AMAZON, is the first in the series and documents the preteen island girl who helps rescue, rehabilitate and restore baby monkeys. The efforts of Doyli and her family at home and in the marketplace save baby primates from being sold as food or pets or finding other unknown and illegal fates. 

Crickhollow Books, 2016
In the second book of the series an entire island village of young people comprise the self-named TORTUGA SQUAD: Kids Saving Sea Turtles in Costa Rica. Their tiny island on the Caribbean coast is the instinctive nesting site for endangered sea turtles, leatherbacks. 

During nesting season the massive mother turtles swim ashore, crawl up onto the sand beaches, dig a hole and desposit 80-100 soft-shelled eggs, using their flipper legs to bury the eggs before returning to sea. From that point forward their survival has no protection from nature.
Dogs could dig up and eat the eggs, sea birds and other animals could snatch and eat them on their way to the sea after hatching. Once in the water they need to make it through rough waves and over the shallow reef to reach the deeper waters where they can hide among sea plants before continuing to the open ocean.

Despite the odds nature has stacked against them, the species has survived for millennia. Then the most fearful predators of all created even greater dangers, threatening them with extinction. Humans flip the enormous mothers onto their backs, leaving them helpless and able to be eaten or sold for food in the marketplace. Poachers  gather the eggs to eat or sell. Laws against this are generally ignored, and the species is facing extinction.

Until... kids on the island learned about what was happening and stepped up to help. Photojournalist Burnham's  story and images reveal the details of how these island kids have organized themselves into a rescue and protection squad, offering the tortuga (turtles) their best chance at survival.

Burnham considers her books "seed stories", planting ideas and confidence in young readers that they have the power to make significant and planet-changing differences in their own neighborhoods. Her organization, WAKA!, is the World Association of Kids and Animals. Her website blog posts about her recent and current world travels, study guides for the books, and contact information for those with questions and stories to share. 

This recent series and these engaged, enthusiastic young people are the epitome of the mission of EARTH DAY Organization. Yes, the recent international PARIS CLIMATE ACCORDS and the many laws passed by individual nations are necessary and important changes, too, and we celebrate these accomplishments. The Tortuga Squad's awareness of the protective laws give them standing in the community for their efforts within the community. But without their on-the-ground vigilance makes the difference in the survival of a species. 

With compelling text, remarkable photography, picture captions and scientific diagrams, this nonfiction picture book offers readers an ideal opportunity. Yes, they can read in the content areas of science and social studies and engage with information text. But in this case  the contents reflect lives in many ways similar to their own, but from half a world away.

How cool is that? 
Share this book with a young reader and find out for yourselves.
And pick one habit you can change, starting today. 
That might just be finding and sharing books like these with young readers.

Apr 23, 2016

Squirrel Stories: A Character You Won't Forget

While reading fiction picture books for the Cybils awards I encountered a range of characters from animal to vegetable to fantastical to mechanical. 
Oh, and human, too.
Most were delightful; many even memorable.
Among the most memorable is Mr. Squirrel.
NorthSouth Publishing, 2015

That's Mr. Squirrel right there, on the cover of MR. SQUIRREL AND THE MOON, written and illustrated by Sebastian Meschenmoser. He appears to specialize in quirky and unforgettable characters, as you'll see here: Teaching.net.

In the midst of marathon reading, note-taking, and evaluating, this book compelled me to comment at some length. Here's what I had to say about it on Goodreads: 
"Oh, my. I can't exactly say why, but I wasn't expecting to enjoy this when only reading the title. But it won me over from the cover and endpapers and wrapped itself around my heart with each page turn. The stark contrasts throughout seemed like a perfect parable of life- conflict, worry, determination, surprises, apparent success leading to more challenges and absurdity, balanced with an earnest belief in ourselves. Mr. Squirrel's reality (*and his somber black and white imagination) contrast with the brilliant glow of the "moon". The illustrations themselves and the color palette elevate this to brilliant, in my opinion.
This is "If You Give A Mouse A Cookie" flipped on its head and given a moral spine.
The somber "punishment" scenes are utterly hilarious, and the eventual final scene mirrors the hunched silhouette from those somber scenes.
In my many teaching years I often witnessed innocent, earnest kids imagining that some unexpected development in their lives could result in disproportionately negative consequences. I wish I had this book to share with them at the time."

For a detailed description of the story, take a read of the FUSE-8 Blog post from School Library Journal, here.

Better still, check it out of your local library and read it for yourselves. Then again. Then return it and buy a copy for yourself or for someone you love.
Then sit with them and read it again.

Apr 3, 2016

Baseball Biographies: Who Makes the Line-up in Literature?

Baseball's Opening Day has finally arrived. Hooray!  

Baseball season stretches across six months, with enthusiasm waxing and waning from month to month, depending on the current standing of our favorite teams. When October looms, even the most devoted fans may find interest on a downward spiral if our team(s) are statistically eliminated.
At no point in the season do our fandom flames burn more brightly than on Opening Day. That's when the proverbial playing field feels truly level. Errors are excused. Batting averages are "tied" across the line-up. Players virtually vibrate with enthusiasm and their grins are enormous and contagious. Whatever the weather, open field or closed roof, spring has officially ended and sunny days stretch far into our foreseeable future.

Many little boys dream of taking that field on some far off opening day. But not every boy. Quite a few girls, little and otherwise, see themselves stepping up to bat, too. Mo'Ne Davis became an instant celebrity last year when she pitched her way to fame in the Little League World Series. 
Her participation was a far cry from that of Effa Manley nearly a century ago. Manley's story is told in the picture book biography, SHE LOVED BASEBALL: The Effa Manley Story, written by Audrey Vernick and illustrated by Don TateHere's a book that's been around for half a decade and received nowhere NEAR the attention it deserves. There's more than a touch of irony in that, since Effa Manley's life was also largely ignored by anyone in the circles of power, meaning Major League Baseball. She was truly a woman ahead of her time in the arenas of sports, business, civil rights, and gender stereotypes. 

Balzer & Bray, 2010
Her integrity, ingenuity, and insistence on fairness changed lives and the face of American baseball. Long after the Negro League disbanded, Manley advocated successfully for long overdue recognition and honors for players, including assignment to baseball's Hall of Fame. 
On July 30, 2006, she became the first female affiliated with the Negro League inducted into the Hall of Fame on her own merits. As her tombstone says, She Loved Baseball.
If ever there were a biography begging to be made into a movie, this is it. Is anyone in Hollywood ready to take it on?
 This is a great candidate for promotion in the #WeNeedDiverseBooks campaign. I'm especially excited to share it today, in April, as a public reminder that "Black History" and "Women's History" are relevant all year long.

For more baseball biographies and stories rooted in history (and social justice) check out this collection of reviews on a new blog. (Click here.)

My post schedule on this blog has been slowed in recent months by writing and revision demands for a book due out later this year. I'm also one of four historical fiction writers authoring a new group blog, launching today:
It's a catchy title, but note that we are thestoriedpast.org, (not .com). We four (Sandy Brehl, Emily and Hilda Demuth, and Stephanie Lowden) write historical fiction, among other things. We look forward to offering reviews, interviews, reflections, and quotes. We also welcome suggestions for reviews and interviews  I hope you'll take a look, maybe even subscribe. 

We're celebrating the new endeavor and opening day by offering a FREE Kindle download of the latest Demuth sisters' title, HATTIE'S WAR. The Civil War and the earliest days of baseball feature strongly in Hattie's story, at a time when this nascent "gentleman's" sport was still called "base ball". Click here for your free download before the offer expires on on April 6. 

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.