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Charlesbridge publishes high-quality books for children, with a goal of creating lifelong readers and lifelong learners. Our books encourage reading and discovery in the classroom, library, and home. We believe that books for children should offer accurate information, promote a positive worldview, and embrace a child's innate sense of wonder and fun. To this end, we continually strive to seek new voices, new visions, and new directions in children's literature.
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1. A Journey Through Time with Christine Liu-Perkins


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I first learned of the Mawangdui tombs in November 1999, at a special exhibit at the National Palace Museum in Taipei, Taiwan.  Seeing objects of the Li family’s daily life and then staring at a model of Lady Dai “sleeping” created for me an irresistible connection to her.  I was gripped by the vivid awareness that Lady Dai had been an actual person who had combed her hair, suffered illnesses, and enjoyed good food and music.

My Desire to learn more about the Li family and their world led me to track down materials of all kinds on Mawangdui and on life in the early Han dynasty.  I prowled university libraries for articles, haunted bookstores in American and Asian cities, scoured websites, and was spellbound by videos.  Every source’s bibliography launched a search to track down its sources. 

In 2002 I traveled to the city of Changsha to see the tomb site, as well as Lady Dai and the artifacts in the Hunan Provincial Museum.  Seeing the full range of artifacts impressed upon me so many new details—the astounding preservation of the two-thousand-year-old food, the glamour of the silk clothes, the massiveness of the burial chamber timbers.  Seeing Lady Dai’s actual body was mesmerizing.

The next year I published an article, “Silk Treasures of Mawangdui,” in Dig magazine.  But writing one article wasn’t enough to satisfy my curiosity; I wanted to keep exploring by writing a book about the tombs.

Pieces of information about Mawangdui lay scattered about my mind like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle.  How could I fit them together into a book?  Finally I recognized that the Mawangdui tombs are like a time capsule: every artifact reveals something about life in the early Han dynasty.  Each artifact tells a story—what it meant to the mourners who buried it, how it expresses the artisans’ knowledge and skills, and what it was like to live in that time and place.  Within this framework I could not only describe the Mawangdui artifacts but also explore the history and culture of the early Han dynasty.

This expedition has lasted fourteen years so far, yet my fascination with Mawangdui and Lady Dai is as intense as ever.  Next?  I would love to go back to Changsha to see the artifacts and tomb site again, and to silently thank Lady Dai and her family for inspiring my marvelous journey through time.

Author's Note From:

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2. Science? It's Sedimentary, My Dear Watson!



Want a sure-fire way to make your summer rock this year? Think geology and food! As the weeks of summer stretch by, one way to keep kids engaged (and learning) is to head to the kitchen and cook up some science! Not only is this a fun way to tap into a child’s curiosity, but it maintains the momentum of learning that often stalagmites—I mean stagnates—during the summer.

Let’s get rocking! Actually, rocks come in three basic "flavors": metamorphic, sedimentary, and igneous. Metamorphic rocks are those that have "morphed" or been changed through heat and pressure. If you visit a museum this summer, you may notice the marble floor and statues. Marble is an example of metamorphic rock.  Sedimentary rock is formed from small pieces of other rocks and minerals fused together. Maybe you will be lucky enough to have a chance to walk on a sandy beach this summer. If you do, think of sandstone--a sedimentary rock formed by particles of sand cemented together. Then there’s igneous rock which is formed from liquid rock beneath the earth’s surface that has cooled and hardened.

Are you still on solid ground with all this science? Think again! Like a piece of delicious summer fruit, the earth has an outer "skin," but the inside is a whole different matter. In thickness, the surface of the earth is like the skin of a peach—only 4- 44 miles (6- 70 km) deep, compared to the rest of the earth which measures nearly 4000 miles (6400 km) to the center. Phew! Travel down to this center of the earth and you’ll find a solid metal core. This is surrounded by a thick layer of liquid metal—mostly iron and nickel. Even though the inner core has a temperature similar to the surface of the sun (9800°F / 5505°C), it is solid because of the enormous pressure pushing in on it. The next layer is called the mantle and the part of the earth that we live on is called the crust. The mantle is where the pockets of magma—molten rock—come from that erupt and form lava.

I don’t know about you, but all this talk about rocks makes me hungry. Head over to the kitchen to make this yummy Sedimentary Pizza Lasagna. Mmmm! 

Sedimentary Pizza Lasagna  
Illustration copyright © 2014 by Leeza Hernandez.

Before You Begin
Prep time: 20 minutes
Cooking time: 45 minutes
Oven temperature: 375°
Yield: 4-6 servings
Difficulty: medium

Equipment 
Frying pan
Spoon or spatula
Rectangular pan (8 x 10 inches or larger)
Heavy duty aluminum foil
Small bowl

Ingredients
1/2 pound (8 ounces) ground turkey or beef
2 cups pizza sauce
1 egg
1 cup ricotta cheese
Oven-ready lasagna noodles
Sliced pepperoni
1–2 cups shredded mozzarella cheese

Method
  1. With an adult’s help, cook the ground meat in a frying pan until it is brown. Drain off any fat. Add the pizza sauce and mix well. 
  2. Spread about 1/2 cup of the meat sauce on the bottom of the rectangular pan. Top with oven-ready lasagna noodles, overlapping slightly to cover the whole pan. Top with more sauce—about 1/2 cup. 
  3. Crack and beat the egg, then mix thoroughly with ricotta cheese. Spread half this mixture over the noodles.
  4. Arrange a layer of pepperoni next, followed by a sprinkling of cheese. Top with a layer of lasagna noodles.
  5. Repeat the layers. Cover the final layer of lasagna noodles with the remaining meat sauce and a generous amount of mozzarella cheese.
  6. Cover the pan with heavy-duty foil. Bake in a 375°F oven for 35 minutes. Uncover and bake for another 10 minutes. Can you still identify the individual ingredients?


----------------------------

Posted by Ann McCallum, author of Eat Your Science Homework.

Remember the old excuse: the dog ate my homework? Did it ever work? Teachers are more savvy than that. But try saying that YOU ate your homework and you’ll put a smile on Teacher’s face. You know why? The kitchen is a laboratory, recipes are experiments, and food is science. Eat Your Science Homework releases August 5, 2014.

Ann McCallum is the author of several books for children including Eat Your Math Homework, Rabbits Rabbits Everywhere, and Beanstalk: The Measure of a Giant. Eat Your Science Homework: Recipes for Inquiring Minds, was recently named a Junior Library Guild selection. Ann lives in Kensington, MD with her family.

Leeza Hernandez has illustrated several children’s books, including Eat Your Math Homework. She is also an author and graphic designer whose art has been featured in books, magazines, and newspapers. She is the recipient of the Tomie dePaola Illustrator Award from the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators. Leeza lives in central New Jersey. Visit her online at www.leezaworks.com.

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3. Anna McQuinn Writes and Gardens and She Takes Lola with Her


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Writing is a funny thing. You think you're writing about one thing, but it turns out you're writing about something else altogether, you just don't realise it!

When I started writing Lola Plants a Garden, I thought I was just writing a simple story about Lola and gardening. I thought, 'if she wanted to garden, Lola's a bit like me, so first thing she would do is read up on the subject.' 
She loves books anyways, so that was appropriate and that's what I made her do. 

I actually have a small town garden and I don't really regard myself as a gardener. But I do have a wonderful collection of gardening books with fantastic photographs of beautiful gardens and inspiring schemes… Our garden is at it's best in spring, (when I do a little weeding and planting) but once the big cherry tree comes into leaf it's too shady for many flowers, so I spend most of the time sitting in the shade reading gardening books (and occasionally cook books, craft books…) I've always been a little bit more into reading about doing things and looking at nice pictures of things than actually making or doing!



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I actually did more gardening when I was very little. My dad is a very keen gardener, growing vegetables and fruit in our back garden, as well as flowers and a large lawn out front. His carrots, turnips, potatoes, onions, lettuces, strawberries, and rhubarb kept us happy and well fed (except for the year when, aged three, I picked the strawberry flowers and presented them in a bunch to my mother!).

I helped with weeding and planting, and he also gave me a little patch to grow my own stuff – some onions, lettuce, a few flowers… My most adventurous year was the one when I decided to grow various items mentioned in the Enid Blyton stories I was reading. Like Lola wanting to re-create Mary Mary's contrary garden, I wanted to be like the Famous Five and the adventurous four who seemed to exist on a diet of radishes, watercress sandwiches and ginger beer.( I thought ginger beer was alcoholic and off limits  – in fact I was a bit shocked the children were allowed to drink it) but I was determined to find out what watercress and especially radishes tasted like (having never eaten them before). 

I have to tell you, both were disappointing. I couldn't really understand the attraction of watercress (though combined with hardboiled egg and mayonnaise  - a recipe from one of the cooking books I also happened to have borrowed from the library - it was just about OK). But the radishes were a total bust! I think that in combination with the descriptions of Dick and George wolfing them down, the very word 'radish' sounded delicious to me. So the bland, pale, hard white radishes I grew were a horrible disappointment. Worst of all was I'd been very successful and had an enormous crop which I couldn't give away fast enough!




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Whenever I took a break from all that planting and weeding (not!) I was off to do the other thing I liked to do in the garden – pretending to be a spy! I would get down on my tummy and crawl between the vegetable ridges, pretending I was sneaking up on some bad guys or escaping from some bad guys… and you know, I think this is really what Lola Plants a Garden is about. It's about the fact that little kids are like little sponges – soaking up experiences and trying stuff out and working out how the world works and who they are and how they fit. And it's about the fact that we must not limit their options or their imaginations. Too often we see a little girl who loves reading and we put her in the 'cerebral'  box. We buy her more books (good thing) and read to her (good thing) but perhaps forget that on other days she may enjoy running in the garden just as much… We see a little girl who loves to run about and we put her in the 'sporty box'. We sign her up for after school sports clubs (good thing) and cheer her from the sidelines (good thing) but perhaps forget that once in a while she might like to sit and listen to a story… We see a little girl who loves dressing up and we put her in the 'artistic' box and we sign her up for art class (good thing) and dance class (good thing) but forget that once in a while she might like to run about in the mud or plant some flowers…

I was that mix of things – a crazy reader, soaking up information and stories but then acting them out, running about, pretending… getting muddy. I was fortunate that my parents accepted that mixed up bundle of stuff and it wasn't really until my teens when I started to run middle-distance competitively that these two sides of my personality seem a problem to other people. My running club peers were curious about my 'bookishness', seeing it as at odds with my my passion for running and some of my 'cerebral' friends thought  my love of physical exertion was just weird. (And did I mention that I was also into art and played two musical instruments). Happily, none of my friends were anything other than puzzled by my 'other' interests and I continued with them all. 

But more and more I see a modern trend to channel people into a particular stream earlier and earlier (I think so they can be sold things more efficiently). The tailored advertising of the 'if you liked that author/musician/dress – you'll like this author/musician/dress' is ubiquitous. It may seem innocuous, but is a symptom of a world where we are encouraged to identify with a particular (and often narrow) set of values/ambitions and stick with them. When applied to young children, this tendency to label and contain seems to me to be kicking in earlier and earlier. I have parents of 2-year olds tell me 'he's not really into books' as if this is a fixed character trait like having brown eyes (and as if ANY trait is fixed in a 2-year old) and I see parents dress their little girls as princesses and wonder why they don't want to run and play outside.

So Lola Plants a Garden is about ALL of that… It's about a little girl who is like a little sponge, soaking up information about the world around her; acting out things from books; trying out different roles and figuring out what makes her happy and where she fits in the world…


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Lola loves to sit on her mom's lap and read books together. 


 Anna McQuinn is the author of Lola at the Library and other books about book-loving Lola, as well as Leo Loves Baby Time. Her newest book--Lola Plants a Garden--will be available August 5, 2014. Visit Anna online at www.annamcquinn.com.


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4. FEATHERS: A Book That Has Really Taken Flight


A Junior Library Guild Selection

Feathers: Not Just for Flying by Melissa Stewart and illustrated by Sarah S. Brannen was released on February 25, 2014 and it has really taken off! Critics, teachers, librarians, readers of all ages, but especially love this book. Who knew feathers had so many uses?

Feathers received rave reviews, including a starred review from Publishers Weekly, and the first printing quickly sold out. The perfect summer reading for curious kids, the scrapbook-style format begs for a young readers to take this book outside and used as a guide for observing birds.

"A focused and thorough examination that highlights the striking beauty of these often-unnoticed natural objects." 
                              -Publishers Weekly, starred review

"The combination of thoughtful approach and careful crafting makes this an excellent resource for early nature study."
                             -Kirkus Reviews
 
"Beautiful and concise, this is an excellent resource for units on animal adaptation, and a treat for the youngest bird lovers."
                          -The Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books
 
"Part science journal, part read-along nonfiction, Feathers succeeds in what such science books for young readers should strive to do: help young minds spot the extraordinary in the seemingly mundane."
                          -Booklist

 More about Feathers: Not Just for Flying from author Melissa Stewart


While I was doing research for another book, I stumbled across a fascinating article in Birder's World (now BirdWatching magazine). It described some of the amazing ways birds use their feathers. I knew this would be a great topic for a children's book, so I photocopied the article adn pinned it to the idea board in my office. 

A few months later I dug into the research. As I do for all my books, I turned to three main sources for information: the library (for books, magazines, and newspapers), the Internet (for journal articles and locating experts in the field), and my own nature journals. Some examples in this book are based on my personal observations in the natural world. Others come from interviews with scientists as well as reports in scholarly books and scientific journals. 

For me, research is the easy part of a project. The hard part is figuring out the most interesting way to frame the material. I'm always asking myself, "Is there a way I can make this even more engaging?" For this book, I spent three years tinkering with the text. I wrote countless drafts and did four complete overhauls before I finally latched on to the idea of comparing feathers to common objects in our lives. That's when the writing came to life, and I knew the manuscript was ready for my editor. 

From the author's note in Feathers: Not Just for Flying


A note about collecting in nature: Gathering and keeping feathers from native wild birds is prohibited. In some cases you may collect feathers after obtaining a specific permit or license. Please be mindful of the laws that protect birds and their environment.

Visit author Melissa Stewart online.
Visit illustrator Sarah S. Brannen online.

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5. The Very Tiny Baby: A Story I Needed to Write

FROM SEED TO BOOK
 
LIFE EVENTS

1989: My first baby, Flora, was born very premature and died shortly after birth. Very sad story. 

1992: My second baby, Sam, was born very premature, stayed 3 months at the hospital, came home, and is now a junior in college. Happy story.

Sam, November 1992
Sam, July 2013
HAPPY STORY? WAIT! IS THERE A BOOK IDEA HERE? 

Ideas are easy to come by! Developing them into interesting story lines, with engaging characters and a satisfying ending, that’s hard work.

From the day Sam came home as a very tiny baby, I wanted to write a story using the experience of her prematurity.

What would the story line be? Who would be the main character? What would be the problem to solve? I had no idea.

What followed was years of mothering whirlwind. Illustrating projects were done between diaper changes, school lunches, and play-dates. Very little thinking time was spent on the Idea. Still, the mind has its own way of working things out.

Both mothering AND illustrating allowed for endless enjoyment of children’s books. And two main points were emerging very strongly: 

1) I was enjoying stories told in the first person very much.
2) I was becoming enamored of children’s drawings and trying to incorporate that into my work. 

DING!The story of the premature baby? I would write it--in first person--through the eyes of an older sibling. Jacob!

DING! I would draw it in a child-like manner as if Jacob was recording his experience. 

DING! I would do it in a journal/scrap-book format.

A STORY! 

2008: Sam was 10 and I could enjoy longer stretches of working time.

In keeping with the scrap-book notion, I surrounded myself with scraps of paper and filled them with all the thoughts that could come up in Jacob’s mind.

The thoughts then got organized and reorganized till they formed a coherent story-line fit for a 32 page book. Some had only a few words on them, some had doodles. Some seemed more important, some disposable.
Sample spread from the first draft
Something unusual happened to me while I worked. I felt very emotional. The work was pouring out of me. I would hardly take any breaks. It was as if I had pierced a hole in an emotion balloon inside my head.

And suddenly it all made sense:

1) I was not drawing on my experience as the mother of a premature child. I was drawing on my experience as the older sibling of a very premature baby brother.
2) I was writing for myself.

I have no actual memory of when I was that young, but the family story goes like this:

When I was 2 ½ my brother, Albert, was born very premature. He spent some time at the hospital where he failed to thrive. Then he was sent home “to die.” Because of the terror of germs, my mother closeted herself with my brother in an empty white room and nursed him to life. The story usually concentrates on what my mother went through--her fears, her exhaustion, her responsibility.

What about "little me"? That was not part of the story. I’m sure I was kept clean, fed, and safe. But what was I told? Was I told anything, even? How did my world change? How much was I asked to do by myself now that I was a “big girl"?

In those days, children were asked to be “nice." I was very, very “nice.” I still am. Was I trying to please in order to win back my parents’ love?
Me and my little brother, Albert.
What I now understand: through Jacob, I was talking to "little me." I cried and allowed myself to be “not nice," to have “mean thoughts.” It felt good. Cathartic.

A PUBLISHER 

2010: After many rejections, the book dummy found a publisher: Charlesbridge. Both my editor, Emily Mitchell, and my art director, Susan Sherman, understood what I was after and supported my vision, even when marketing expressed misgivings. They helped me reshuffle, simplify, refine, and rewrite what was then The Baby Who Came Too Soon and is now TheVery Tiny Baby.
Another stage of the same spread...

...and another!
And the final version!  
The book came out in 2014, 21 years after Sam's birth! Some seeds lay dormant for a long time.

MY HOPE FOR THIS BOOK: 

Because of theme of prematurity, The Very Tiny Baby will be considered a “niche” book and will be shelved accordingly. I understand.

In my mind, however, the main subject of the book is Emotional Upheaval. And that is a universal subject--whether the expected baby is premature or not, whether there is an expected baby or not.

My wish for this book is for it to be read to or by many children and to help some of them deal with their personal emotions, to recognize them, to realize other children feel them too, and to accept them.

NOTE ON THE SCRAP-BOOK STYLE:

Although I described the style of The Very Tiny Baby as similar to that of a scrap-book or journal, it is a story told in sequential panels and is very much a graphic novel (0r comic). The world of comics is exploding in exciting ways. It includes an enormous variety of stories and styles. I am passionate about it and am so pleased to have my own contribution in the form of The Very Tiny Baby. 

WHAT NEXT?

I am now putting the finishing touches on Zig and the Magic Umbrella, a story for Dial Books for Young Readers, done in panel format and in collage paintings. (A little blue monster, a little yellow bird, adventure, trials, friendship.)

MY WEB-COMICS
Detail from a page of Suzette Totvitz.
Combining my love of comics and my experience with difficult pregnancies, I am now posting a web comics--for adults. It is a work in progress. My goal is to create 3 to 5 new “pages” a week. You can follow Suzette Totovitz, a character I created while working on this project, on my blog at www.sylviekomix.blogspot.com. You can also to stay up-to-date with me, my ideas, and future books on tumblr. and facebook.


****
Posted by Sylvie Kantorovitz, author and illustrator of The Very Tiny Baby.

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6. In Honor of Family


Photograph by David Schlatter

My first book, At Home in Her Tomb: Lady Dai and the Ancient Chinese Treasures of Mawangdui, describes a woman and her elaborate tomb─the memorial created by a grieving family. Writing this book was not only a fascinating intellectual endeavor for me, but also a personal journey of connection to my extended family and our ancestors.

After growing up in China, my parents immigrated to America in 1946. My brothers and I were born in the Northeast, and then we moved to the Midwest when I was three years old. So I grew up far from the land of my heritage. 

But every summer we drove from Kansas City to Toronto for reunions with our extended family. (My father's parents and siblings had also immigrated to the USA or to Canada.) There I was aware of belonging to a large family, a long history, and a complex culture beyond my everyday life. I was surrounded by my grandparents, uncles, and aunts chatting in Cantonese while I played with my cousins. I was introduced to dimsum—small plates of juicy dumplings, steamed buns, and other mouthwatering treats—plucked from carts rolling between a restaurant's giant round tables. I remember my grandfather giving me candy from a secret cache high on his closet shelf, but I also sensed that the entire family treated him as the most honored member.

When I was a mother with two young children, my own mother died. My parents always being there had been my secure foundation, but that shifted with her death, leaving a hole of grief and vulnerability in my life.

In November 1999, I traveled with my father to Taiwan and China. Serendipitously I stumbled upon a special exhibit of Han dynasty artifacts at the National Palace Museum in Taipei. This was the first time I had ever heard of the three tombs of Mawangdui, but I was immediately hooked on learning more about them. Who were the mother, father, and son buried in the tombs? Why would their family bury them with so many treasures, including personal items like the mother's cosmetics case, the father's signature seals, and the son's zither? 

The next week, we journeyed to the southern Chinese village where my father's family has lived since the late 1500's. Along with two dozen relatives living in or near the village, we visited the cemetery where four generations of our ancestors are buried. In front of their niches, we lit candles and incense, offered food and drink, and burned mock money and paper clothes—modern versions of rituals performed for thousands of years. I was struck by the realization of being connected to these people whom I'd never met, yet were literally part of me.

After lighting candles and incense, we set out food and drink in front of our ancestor's niches.


Three years later in June 2002, my father took me, my brothers, and our families to visit his homeland. We entered the Forbidden City, inspected the First Emperor's terracotta troops, sailed down the Yangzi River, and saw where my parents had lived and been schooled.  

I took a side trip to Changsha to see the Mawangdui tomb site and the many artifacts in the Hunan Provincial Museum. By then, I had studied enough about Mawangdui to be completely agog at seeing the silk-draped body of Lady Dai and the cavernous tomb of her son.

The following day twenty-one of us from America and ten of us from China met at the same cemetery I had visited before. My daughters, nieces, and nephews participated for their first time in the traditional rituals of lighting candles and incense, offering food and drink, and burning mock money and paper clothes. I marveled at the continuity of life that bound us together across centuries and continents: four generations of living descendants paying our respects to four generations of ancestors. As I watched the smoke from the burning paper rise into the sky, I saw an image in my mind of an endless queue of our ancestors winding across the cemetery.

It is believed that burning mock money and other paper goods sends them to the ancestors. 

 
Through seeing artifacts from the Mawangdui tombs and performing rituals at my ancestors' graves, I could imagine the family of Lady Dai expressing their love and respect in creating an elaborate tomb for her. I could identify with her family through my experiences of missing my own mother and of honoring my ancestors. And through learning about Lady Dai and her world, I understand more of the history and meaning behind the rituals my family performs to commemorate our loved ones.

*****

Posted by Christine Liu-Perkins, author of At Home in Her Tomb, which releases on April 8, 2014. Find out more about her at www.christineliuperkins.com.

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7. "When I'm Good, I'm Very Good. But When I'm Bad I'm Better."

 Mae West spoke those provocative lines in the movie I'm No Angel, and women have been identifying with it ever since. But women were bad a lot further back than that 1933 movie. Find twenty-six of the world's most notorious females in Bad Girls: Sirens, Jezebels, Murderesses, Thieves, & Other Female Villains by Jane Yolen and Heidi E. Y. Stemple, with illustrations by Rebecca Guay.

Modern Times and Changing Gender Roles


If Salome dropped her veils today, would we call her bad? Or would we arrest her parents for a variety of crimes against a child? If Mata Hari made up a whole new self tomorrow and danced her way into a criminal lifestyle, would we execute her or send her to counseling for post-traumatic stress disorder? Would we encourage Lizzie Borden to move into her own apartment, Bloody Mary to establish an ecumenical council, and Typhoid Mary to take some nursing courses at a community college? Would we still consider these women bad? Or would we consider them victims of bad circumstances? As our world changes, so does our definition of bad. Especially when it comes to half the world's population--the half that happens to be female.

With women's relatively new rights--to speak out, to vote, to have power over their own bodies--comes a new set of responsibilities. Women are no longer required to do a man's bidding--no matter whether that bidding is legal or not. But no longer can a woman say that she was just followign a man and count that as justification for bad acts.

We measure guilt and innocence today on a sliding scale. And never has it been easier for the general public to "weigh" the misdeeds of its favorite modern-day bad girls. The nightly news, tabloids, blogs, and the fast pace of the Internet all make sure of this. Today, as throughout history, the court of public opinion is capable of swaying or tempering the criminal courts.

Now that you have been introduced to some of history's bad girls, you will have to decide for yourself if they were really bad, not so bad, or somewhere in the middle. And perhaps you will see that even the baddest of bad girls may have had a good reason for what she did.

from the Conclusion of Bad Girls

March is Women's History Month!

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8. Sloth Bears and Sun Bears and Grizzlies, Oh My!

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I didn’t know it at the time but the seed for Wild About Bears was planted in my mind twelve years ago when my husband, three children, and I traveled by car from Maine to Montana. 

Friends, guides, and park rangers had all told us that the chance of a bear encounter would be next to nil. Boy, were they wrong. Minutes after passing through the gate into Glacier National Park we spotted two black bears close to the road. Later that afternoon, after hiking a well-traveled path, we spied two grizzlies meandering down that very same trail. We started to call ourselves bear magnets!

Grizzly & Discovery Center, West Yellowstone

Later that week, after seven hours in the saddle on the first day of a pack trip, we found ourselves deep in the Lee Metcalf Wilderness, camping beside a beautiful mountain meadow and a clear cold stream. That afternoon my husband, blissfully fly-fishing downstream, looked up to see a large bear standing up and staring at him from thirty feet away on the opposite bank. Defying the rule “Never run from a bear,” he turned tail and sprinted, yelling and gasping for breath. At an altitude of 8,000 feet, needless to say he did not get very far. Luckily the bear did not follow . . . or so we thought.

Within the hour I spied the same bear in our camp curiously peering at us from behind a tree, almost as though he were playing hide and seek. He was much too close for comfort. Our guide and wranglers had to run him off two different times before he was gone for good.

That night our family of five settled uncomfortably in our tent. My husband, a shovel by his side as his weapon of choice, didn't sleep a wink.

The seed thushad been sown, along with great memories and a love, fascination, and respect for bears. Wild About Bears is the result.

Original artwork from Wild About Bears



Years later, my husband and I built a small home in Montana, just an hour from Yellowstone National Park. I am always on the lookout for bears. My husband prefers to watch from the car. 

Wild About Bears will be published on March 11, 2014, and I am jumping for joy at the prospect of visiting schools to share the many bear facts I have been collecting for several years. Kids will marvel at the uniqueness of each of the eight bear species as well as the commonalities they share.

I am currently working on the illustrations for The Decorated Horse,written by Dorothy Hinshaw Patent (forthcoming from Charlesbridge).


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Posted by Jeannie Brett, author and illustrator of Wild About Bears. Visit Jeannie's wesbite at www.jeanniebrett.com, "like" her on facebook, and follow her on twitter, @jeanniebrett. Be sure to check out the Wild About Bears facebook page too!

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9. A Brief History of Michelangelo's David

Author Jane Sutcliffe
A month after Michelangelo's David was unveiled in September 1504, more work was ordered. David's sling and the tree stump behind his leg were covered in gold. Some experts say David himself wore a crown of gold leaves. And he was given a belt of copper leaves to cover his nakedness.

The people of Florence hoped that their David would always bring the city luck. But as it turned out, he wasn't in the luckiest of spots.

Once lightning struck the statue and damaged the base.

Another time someone threw a bench out of a window just above David's head. The bench hit David's left arm and smashed it into three pieces. A friend of Michelangelo's rescued the pieces. Later the statue was repared.

Then the giant faced a different kind of danger. Year after year of standing in the city square meant year after year of hot summers and cold winters. It meant year after year of rain and wind and dirt. And bird droppings

After a few centuries someone noticed that the statue was looking pretty dirty. Worse, the marble was pitted and damaged. David was being worn away. 

There was only one thing to do. The statue was cleaned and moved inside for safekeeping. Of course the people of Florence could not think of a city square without David. So a copy was made to stand in the same place.

Now David has been standing for more than five hundred years. He is safe and protected. The adornments are gone. People who come to see David today see him much as he must have looked when he left Michelangelo's hands.

From the Author's Note in Stone Giant: 
Michelangelo's David and How He Came to Be



                   Stone Giant: 
     Michelangelo's David and 
          How He Came To Be
                      by Jane Sutcliffe
           and illustrated by John Shelley

                Available April 8, 2014


The stone giant had been laying in the cathedral yard before Michelangelo was even born. Many artists took a stab at it—literally—but left it behind with cuts, chips, and in one case a hole. Nobody knew how to make
David, the shepherd that defeated Goliath, emerge from the stone. Even Leonardo da Vinci said, “No, grazie.”

Florence’s officials refused to give up on the giant, however. And native son, Michelangelo, was persuaded to return from Rome to take a look. He saw something in the giant block of marble. He chipped away at what was not-David for nearly three years. Slowly, bit-by-bit, a foot, a hand, a nose
. . . and then his David appeared.

In this moving, inspiring story, author Jane Sutcliffe uncovers the artist’s heart and drive to create. Like David overcoming Goliath, Michelangelo conquered a giant and gave his city a symbol of grit and endurance.

John Shelley’s expressive illustrations are full of whimsy, period detail, and is evocative of Michelangelo’s own drawings and design notes.

A Junior Library Guild Selection

When Jane Sutcliffe visited Florence, she sat in the Galleria dell'Accademia and stared at the David for a very long time. She knew there was a story in that face. Jane is the author of Leonardo's Monster and The Attack on Pearl Harbor, as well as nearly two dozen biographies for young readers. She lives with her family on a farm in Tolland, Connecticut. 

Visit Jane online at www.janesutcliffe.com.


John Shelley once stayed in a bed-and-breakfast overlooking the square where the replica of the David stands. The sketch below is from his journal at the time. John is the illustrator of more than foryy children's books, including Family Reminders by Julie Danneberg. He lives with his daughter in Norwich, England.

Visit John online at www.jshelley.com


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10. Interview with an Illustrator

February is Black History Month and we have a new and inspiring book to help you celebrate. Under the Freedom Tree by Susan VanHecke, illustrated by London Ladd, tells the little-known story of the first contraband camp of the American Civil War.  

One night in 1861, three escaped slaves made their way from the Confederate line to a Union-held fort where they were declared “contraband of war” and granted protection. As word spread, thousands of runaway slaves poured into the fort. These “contrabands” made a home for themselves, building the first African-American community in the country. In 1863 they bore witness to one of the first readings of the Emancipation Proclamation—beneath the sheltering branches of the tree now known as Emancipation Oak. 

London took a moment to speak with Unabridged about what it was like to illustrate this important picture book.


What was it about the manuscript for Under the Freedom Tree that made you want to illustrate the book?
This was a fascinating part of not only African American history, but American history that I had no idea existed. The actions of three men led to the first African American contraband camp and eventually their own self-sustaining free community. Here during the era of slavery, African Americans could learn to read and write and build their community.

How challenging (or easy!) was it to illustrate the story of Frank Baker, James Townsend, and Shepard Mallory?
The most challenging aspect was when I gathered all the research. As I dug deeper I would find more details that would catch my interest. I had to force myself to focus on the information needed rather than get lost in the vast amount of information available.

The easy part of this project was going to visit the actual location of the events. Visiting Fort Monroe and standing where the three men launched at Sewell's Point and standing next to the Emancipation Oak was a moving experience.


Most authors and illustrators don't get the chance to work closely with each other--oftentimes, they never even meet! Yet you and Susan worked very closely to create Under the Freedom Tree. What was the process like? Have you had similar experiences with other authors in the past?
This is the first time I have actually worked with the author of the book I illustrated. It was very nice to connect with Susan because we shared similar visions for the book. She lives in Virginia, right near the Emancipation Oak, and therefore was able to show me some of the sites that I went to visit and had great insight.

What kinds of stories are you drawn to as an illustrator?
Most importantly a story has to speak to my heart. I'm drawn to stories of perseverance, survival, and overcoming obstacles. I think it's fascinating to illustrate stories that show the strength of the human spirit.

Are you influenced or inspired by the work of other children's book illustrators? If so, who and why?
The answer to this is a big fat YES! I have so many illustrators that I love and constantly refer to when I need a creative push. I'm a big fan of classics like NC Wyeth, Dean Cornwell, Jessie Wilcox Smith, and John Lagotta, but there are current illustrators that I just marvel at and study intensely: Greg Manchess because of his color palette, how he applies his paint, his brush stroke technique, and the way he captures subject matter whether it's something still and quiet or action-packed; James Gurney because the guy is the epitome of an illustrator--extremely knowledgeable, amazingly creative, constantly working on his craft, and eagerly sharing his knowledge with anyone who asks; Chris Van Allsburg is a master storyteller with his expressive characters and beautifully designed books. I also admire other phenomenal modern age illustrators like Kadir Nelson, Brian Collier, Jerry Pinkney, David Shannon, Gary Kelley...just to name a few.


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11. Goldy Luck's Arduous Path from Vision to Reality

As Goldy Luck and the Three Pandas’ publication date finally arrives on Jan. 7, 2014, after a lengthy and arduous nine-year journey, I can’t help but reflect on the path this book has taken from my original vision to the final product, and the many hands it has passed through and how each has helped shape the book in some significant way.

The journey began about a dozen (or so) years ago, when I learned about fractured fairy tales at a writing conference. I was intrigued by the idea of re-writing a familiar tale from a different perspective or culture. After checking out some books at the library, I played around with a few fairy tales. Something about the Goldilocks story had always stuck with me. Here was a little girl breaking and entering into the three bears’ home, destroying their stuff, and leaving a mess never to be heard from again. How rude! And what kind of message does this story give kids? I wanted to re-write this story with a more compassionate protagonist and a more satisfying ending.

My first few attempts told the story from Papa Bear’s perspective (I believe it was called “Papa Bear’s Good Deed”). The story began from the moment Goldilocks ran away, leaving her hat behind, and Papa Bear’s journey to find Goldy and return the hat to her—and all the people he inadvertently frightened along the way (because he was a bear) even though he had set out to do a good deed. It went on for about 2,000 words. Yeah, not even close to publishable. And, it didn’t have the unique angle I was looking for or the resolution that I felt was missing from the original story.

Then, a title and a “what if” question popped into my head. What if Goldilocks wasn’t a little girl with blonde ringlets, but Chinese? I asked my aunt to help me come up with a Chinese name that sounded phonetically similar to Goldilocks and hence, the first seeds of  a story called “Go Dil Lok and the Three Chans” began to germinate. But I wanted the book to be about more than just Goldy having a different ethnic background. I wanted the story to also offer some insights to Chinese traditions and culture. So, Go Dil Lok began her fictional life in a skyrise apartment in Hong Kong (where I had spent my adolescent years), preparing to celebrate the biggest and most colorful Chinese festival of the year, Chinese New Year.

In its nine-year route to publication, this story passed through the hands of my writing group, The Ukiah Writers Salon (multiple times), and five different editors from two publishing houses who have all contributed greatly to shaping the book. This meant changing the name from the hard to pronounce Go Dil Lok to Goldy Luck (“Luck” serving the double purpose of being a Chinese last name as well as mirroring the theme of good luck in the book) and relocating Goldy from an international location to an American one (which one editor felt kids in the US can better relate to.)

In my attempts to give the mundane beds and chairs a modern twist, earlier versions of the book included an aquarium (Goldy smudged the glass), an oriental rug (she spilled fish flakes all over it) and a computer game (Goldy beat Little Chan’s record). And a greatly detailed Chinese New Year parade with lion dancers. I thought it’d make for really fun illustrations, but another editor wisely suggested I simplify the story and revert back to the original three bowls/chairs/bed structure. 

Still, I wanted a slightly different spin. Enter my uncle’s massage chair and my parents’ Tempurpedic electric bed (as a writer, I never know what every day event or thing creeps into a story!). The really fun part was implanting the traditions and rituals of the New Year (receiving “lucky” red envelopes, eating turnip cakes) into the story and thinking up ways to make Goldy’s experiences more culturally relevant (“She felt like stuffing in a pork bun,” “The mattress felt as hard as a week-old almond cookie”)

Finally, illustrator Grace Zong added her fabulous artistic touch, and brought Goldy Luck and the Three Pandas to vibrant life.  So, how many people did it take to make this children’s book? One writer, five editors, four readers in a writing group, one agent, one illustrator, one publisher, not to mention the cast of people behind the scenes from the art director to the marketing personnel. Yes, an entire village. Writing may be a solitary endeavor, but publishing is not. And I am truly grateful to my Charlesbridge village for making my vision become a reality. 

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Posted by Natasha Yim, author of Goldy Luck and the Three Pandas, releasing January 7, 2014.


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12. An Interview with an Editor!


'Tis the season! The holidays are upon us, which means it's time to start thinking of great books to give to those bookworms you know. We'd like to highlight a 2012 favorite, A Black Hole Is NOT a Hole. This book is an ideal holiday gift for any astronomy lover--young or old! Children and adults alike will learn a ton of spacey facts in this far-out book that’s sure to excite even the youngest of astrophiles. 

To learn more about the book, we thought we'd share an interview with Charlesbridge editor Alyssa Mito Pusey about what it was like to work on the book with author Carolyn Cinami DeCristofano. Carolyn's friend and business partner Deb Dempsey--a former fifth-grade teacher--conducted the interview. Enjoy!



Alyssa, one thing I’m wondering about is why you chose this book, this story, to publish. What was it about A Black Hole Is NOT a Hole that made you want to work on it? 

There are rare and wonderful moments when, as an editor, you hear about a book and think, This is IT. I have to work on this story. You get goose bumps—thrills and chills—and are filled with a deep-down certainty that’s at once exhilarating and a little terrifying. You hold your breath. Can the book possibly be as good as it sounds?

It was sort of like that for A Black Hole Is NOT a Hole. Carolyn and I were chatting about misconceptions one day, when she said, “You know, Alyssa, so many kids think a black hole is a hole.” My head reeled. My understanding of the universe shifted. I got those goose bumps. “It’s not?!” I yelped. I had never thought much about black holes, but suddenly I had to know more. I had to read that book. And luckily, Carolyn was the perfect person to write it. Yes, the book could be as good as it sounded. 

As the book evolved, what specifics did you see in the book that you believed would pull in kids? 

What I love—and I think kids love—about Carolyn’s writing is her conversational voice. She writes like she talks and talks like she writes. She is there on the page, inviting you to explore this marvelous, incredible science with her. But she’s not just a fellow explorer; she’s also an expert guide. She points out amazing sights and leads you to new heights of understanding—without leaving anyone behind. As a science educator, she knows exactly what support kids might need. She provides that scaffolding through some of the clearest, most engaging science writing I’ve ever read.

Can you talk a bit about your vision for how readers will encounter Black Hole? I’m wondering how you envision children at home reading this book . . . and how the book might be used in schools. 

I imagine that kids who are already interested in astronomy will snap Black Hole up. Our expert reviewer, a professor of astronomy, says that she would have loved this book as a child. I’m hoping that those kids who aren’t necessarily interested in science will see the cover—with its cool topic, gorgeous image, intriguing title, and sassy speech bubble—and be intrigued enough to open the book. Once hooked, they’ll learn not just about black holes, but also about gravity, atoms, and the way light moves. The book is about cutting-edge science, certainly, but it’s also about fundamental principles of physics. 

And that’s what makes Black Hole so useful in the classroom. The Common Core calls for nonfiction reading across the curriculum. I envision science teachers turning to Black Hole for its top-notch content as well as its exemplary science writing. I see language arts teachers using it as a model for expository writing, as well as a treasure trove for teaching about metaphor, voice, structure, and the author’s purpose and perspective. Black Hole is exactly the kind of rich, complex informational text that teachers are looking for as they strive to meet the Common Core.

As you know, I’ve worked with Carolyn for years now – just about the time when she started writing books, actually. I know her work as an educator, but I’m curious: What do you think is unique about Carolyn’s writing?
 
Well, I’ve mentioned Carolyn’s inimitable voice. That’s certainly unique; there’s no one else in the world who could have written this particular book. But Carolyn also has the gift of being able to explain big, complicated, abstract ideas in clear, concrete, kid-friendly ways. She can take something like nuclear fusion within the heart of a star and make it understandable. And interesting! She is both scientist and storyteller and that, in my opinion, is the secret to her unique power as a writer. 

I know that Carolyn feels she learned a lot about writing, publishing, and science while writing this book. What have you learned as an editor while editing this book? 

Everything I know about black holes I learned from A Black Hole Is NOT a Hole. Okay, that’s not strictly true, but it’s close to the truth. Thanks to this book, I can now explain black holes to my five-year-old son! I’ll always be grateful to Carolyn for that—as well as for her gracious, enthusiastic, tireless collaboration. As an editor, I have learned so much from working on this book: 


  • How to deal with change, accepting and embracing the natural evolution of a project (Black Holestarted off as a 32-page picture book!)
  • How to write about abstract concepts for kids (I recently ran a writers’ workshop on this topic, almost entirely based on what I learned from Carolyn. 
  • How to help prune, cut, and shape while respecting both the science (Don’t dumb it down!) and the author (It’s her book!)
  • How to keep it fun (In our hundreds of emails, we never got tired of making jokes—good ones and lots and lots of bad ones.)
  • How to work on a book for 8+ years without giving up or losing hope, knowing all along that it will be an amazing resource for kids everywhere. 

Thanks, Deb and Alyssa! To read another interview with Carolyn in Kirkus Reviews, click here.

Click here to learn more about A Black Hole Is NOT a Hole by Carolyn Cinami DeCristofano, illustrated by Michael Carroll.
 

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13. Writing Under the Freedom Tree: A Picture's Worth a Thousand (or So) Words

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It started with this.

This striking photo in the back pages of a Virginia lifestyle magazine caught my eye; the caption describing it as the location of the South's first reading of the Emancipation Proclamation sent me on the research trail. I'd lived just a few miles from this gorgeous tree for many years, had unknowingly driven by it countless times. How had I never heard of it and its amazing history?

As I dug into archives and academic works, I was astonished to learn the full story. One May night in 1861, three slaves held by Confederate forces in what is now Norfolk, Virginia, slipped away under cover of darkness, stole a skiff, and rowed across the harbor of Hampton Roads to the Union-held Fortress Monroe. It was a daring and courageous act; the men risked grave punishment for the hope they saw on the other side.

Had they escaped days earlier, they would have been returned under the 1850 Fugitive Slave Act. But Virginia had just seceded and was therefore no longer a part of the United States. So the Union commander at Fortress Monroe declared the slaves enemy "contraband" and refused to return them to the Confederates.

As word spread, hundreds and, ultimately, thousands of runaway slaves made their way to the refuge of Fortress Monroe. While technically these individuals weren't free, “contraband” was surely preferable to “slave,” and a step closer to freedom. The contrabands worked for the Union forces and lived in camps they built themselves just outside the fort in Hampton, Virginia.

Contraband slaves assisted Union forces in and around Fortress Monroe. View a collection of rare and vintage images regarding the Civil War's contraband slaves at http://underthefreedomtree.com/gallery/

There, under the shade of that enormous live oak tree, slave children learned to read and write, taught by a local free black woman working with the American Missionary Association. The open-air education defied longstanding laws against teaching slaves or free blacks to read or write. These classes are considered the first at what is now Hampton University.

When Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation, the contrabands learned of their eventual freedom when the document was read under the tree, likely on January 1, 1863. Though I wasn't able to confirm that it was the first reading of the proclamation in the South, it was certainly among the first.

I was stunned. I'd never been taught these documented aspects of the Civil War. We so often accept the "classic" version of emancipation, with the passive, helpless slaves liberated by the kindness of the white man, when, really, African Americans were bold, willing, and active participants in determining their own freedom.

I knew I had to write a book about it. I wanted to make sure my children and their friends learned this incredible history.

But what kind of children's book? Nonfiction, straight up? That would be a lot of dates, names, facts. Boring—and the history made under and around that tree, eventually called the Emancipation Oak, was anything but boring. I was stumped.

Around the same time, I was preparing to interview poet Arnold Adoff, husband of the late author Virginia Hamilton, for an online column, so I was reading a collection of Hamilton's speeches and essays. I was especially struck by her concept of "rememory," which she defined as "an exquisitely textured recollection, real or imagined."

As I learned more about the tree, I drove over to Hampton University to view it in person. It was a beautiful early summer day, the campus was quiet, and standing alone under those branches was a truly magical thing. I may have broken a rule, but I simply had to touch the tree. With my fingers on the bark, I could literally feel all that history, like I was absorbing those tears, that determination, the sacrifice, the hope and joy—all in that moment. It made me weep, and I'm very glad no one was around to see me.

So how best to express that? Poetry—rememory—seemed the way to go, with this spectacular tree as the axis around which the events would revolve. And so the words began to flow.


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To my surprise, by the time I'd finished researching and writing about how the contrabands themselves had triggered the start of slavery's end, I'd stumbled across a fascinating full circle. I learned that it was in the waters off Fortress Monroe that the first African slaves were brought to the English colonies in 1619.

Under the Freedom TreeThere's a satisfying congruency—closure—to both the beginning of slavery and the beginning of the end of slavery in America occurring at the same place, just two miles from the Emancipation Oak. Imagine, when those first Africans were brought to the colonies for the purpose of slavery, the Emancipation Oak might have been a newly sprouted acorn.  

Had it not been for that photograph in the magazine, I would have never embarked on the Freedom Tree journey, even though I'd routinely traveled past both the historic oak and Fortress Monroe and had even fished Hampton Roads harbor at the very point where those three brave slaves stepped into a rowboat and made their escape.

It's made me realize how incredibly fragile history is. History must be protected, promoted, cultivated, shared—or it can be so easily forgotten or overlooked.



Posted by Susan VanHecke, author of Under the Freedom Tree. On sale January 7, 2014. Susan is also the author of Raggin’ Jazzin’ Rockin’: A History of American Musical Instrument Makers (ALA Notable Children’s Book), An Apple Pie for Dinner, as well as several books for adults. She lives in Norfolk, Virginia. Visit her online at www.susanvanhecke.com, and check out the website for Under the Freedom Tree: www.underthefreedomtree.com.

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14. Melissa Stewart's "Aha Moment"



Melissa StewartIt was 1996. My first children’s book had just been accepted for publication, and I was headed to East Africa with a group of scientists to do research for a second book. Life was good—or so it seemed.

As friends and family heard about my success, I received a flood of phone calls. They congratulated me, of course. But they also asked some unexpected questions.

“So now are you going to write a real book? You know, one for adults.”

“It’s nonfiction? That’s great. But wouldn’t you rather write fiction?”

These questions confused me. They made me wonder and worry. Was I headed down the wrong path? Was writing for children a waste of time? Was nonfiction less important than fiction?

Luckily, my journey halfway around the world gave me the perspective—and the answers—I needed. 

One night around a campfire at the edge of Tanzania’s Serengeti National Park, Ann Prewitt, an anthropologist and educator from the American Museum of Natural History, said she was fascinated by "aha moments"seemingly small experiences that change the course of a person’s life. She asked the circle of scientists if they could recall such events from their own lives.  

When my turn came, I described exploring a wooded area in western Massachusetts with my dad and brother when I was eight years old. As we hiked, my dad asked lots of questions: 

“Why do stone walls run through the middle of the woods?”

“Why do sassafras trees have three kinds of leaves?”

“Why don’t chipmunks build their nests in trees like squirrels?”

He wanted us to think about our surroundings, and he knew a guessing game would be more engaging than a lecture. 

As we reached the top of a hill, my dad stopped and scanned the landscape. Then he asked if we noticed anything unusual about that area of the woods.

My brother and I looked around.

We looked at each other.

We shook our heads.

But then, suddenly, the answer came to me. “All the trees seem kind of small,” I said.

My dad nodded. He explained that there had been a fire in the area about twenty-five years earlier. All the trees had burned and many animals had died, but over time, the forest had recovered.

Why was that an "aha moment" for me? Because I instantly understood the power of nature. I also realized that a field, a forest, any natural place has stories to tell, and I could discover those stories just by looking.

As the firelight flickered across the African savanna and I described my childhood insights, heads nodded all around me. I was among a new group of friends, kindred spirits who understood my fascination with the natural world.

They knew why I didn’t write fiction.

They knew why children were my primary audience.

No Monkeys, No ChocolateAnd suddenly, so did I. It was another "aha moment."

Now, 17 years later, I’ve written more than 150 children’s books about science and nature, including my newest title No Monkeys, No Chocolate (Charlesbridge, 2013). Some people still ask me why I’ve never written a book for adults. Others want to know if I’ll ever write a novel. But these questions no longer bother me.
 
I know that my personal mission, the purpose of my writing, is to give today’s children their own "aha moments" in the natural world—the same gift my dad gave me on that special walk through the Massachusetts woods.



Posted by Melissa Stewart, author of No Monkeys, No Chocolate. Visit her online at www.melissa-stewart.com

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15. Why Folktales Matter


I love fairy and folktales. I enjoyed them since I was a child and continue to do so. At home in Mexico City, when I was a child we had a room that was filled with floor to ceiling shelves crammed with books of all kinds, including those of the Brothers Grimm, Hans Christian Andersen, and Andrew Lang's multicolored books. I also found them in the library of the American School, where the school librarian, Mrs. Figueroa, set them aside for me along with many others because she knew that I liked to read. My parents, both readers, bought me many books, comics, and magazines, mainly British and American. Besides fairy and folktales, I loved (and still love) fantasy, comic books, historical novels, short stories, science fiction, and mysteries. I read everything I could get my hands on, even the cereal box, and continue to do so. To this day, the shelves in my home groan under the weight of my books and I carry a book with me everywhere.

Reading eventually led to writing and, to date, I have had stories and books published in Mexico, the US, Columbia, and Germany.

So why folktales? Simply because I enjoyed and continue to enjoy them, no matter where they come from, be it Russia, India, Israel, the US, China, England, France, and Spain, among many others.

And why from Mexico? Besides writing stories that spring from my imagination I also retell folktales because I find them filled with wisdom and universal truths and they explain where things come from. They also enlighten, delight, and teach without being preachy. What more can you ask for? Besides, I believe that any child, no matter what his or her background is, can enjoy them.

The folktales in are five of my favorite stories from my country. They explain, for instance, why insects were created, especially a very pesky one; how an opossum gave humans a great gift; what happened when a young frog with a big mouth had a surprising adventure; and how a patient turtle helped to create the world. These stories are exciting, funny, amazing, and moving.
Whiskers, Tails & Wings: Animal Folktales from Mexico

I love to look for these stories in many different places, including libraries, dusty bookstores of used and vintage books in very old buildings in downtown Mexico City, where the shelves reach the very high ceilings and are so far up that you practically need binoculars to see what's up there. I have also listened to great storytellers who know how to enthrall their audiences.

I write about Mexico because I find my country endlessly fascinating and want children see beyond the stereotypes. Of course, writing about Mexico is also important because there are millions of children of Mexican descent living in the US who have heard versions of some of these stories from parents and grandparents. These kids live in the US and are American but they're also Mexican and there is no need for them to lose their roots to fit in. They can, like many of us who are bicultural, take what they can from both cultures and be all the richer for it. There is no need for them to feel ashamed of what they are or where they come from. There is no need for them to hide that they speak Spanish at home. There is no need for them to forget what they are so they can blend in with the rest. They should be proud of themselves and where they come from and reading books where they can see themselves and where those things that are familiar are not something "exotic." Best of all, these books, which are fun, exciting, or fantastic, do what any good book does: they enthrall readers and make them want to read more and more. Besides, any kid can read them and have a great time. Teachers, parents, and librarians shouldn’t make the mistake of thinking that because the theme is Latino only children of Latino descent will want to read them. Reading about different cultures can only develop tolerance and sympathy, something any reader, no matter what his or her age, will benefit from since what is familiar will not cause rejection.

The five stories in Whiskers, Tails & Wings: Animal Folktales from Mexico, with the wonderful illustrations by Fabricio Vanden Broeck, can introduce any child to the culture of Mexico. Though the Aztecs and the Maya are better known, these five stories come from the rich traditions of the lesser known Tarahumara, Seri, Huichol, Triqui, and Tseltal. And once readers know something about these people perhaps they will see Mexicans as they really are: friendly, warmhearted, welcoming people. Mexican kids need to be delighted by their culture and heritage so let’s give them something they can be proud about so, no matter where they live, be it in Mexico or the US, so they can be sure about who they are and where they come from. And let’s not limit stories to a certain group: kids of all walks of life should be introduced to folktales from cultures from the entire world.

That's why folktales matter.

Find out more about Whiskers, Tails & Wings at www.charlesbridge.com.
"One of the most satisfying folklore collections in recent memory."
--Kirkus Reviews, starred review



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16. Real (and) Scary



As a young reader, my tastes often tended toward the macabre, fantastical, and horrifying—I probably started reading Stephen King before I should have. Books were an opportunity to keep myself up at night—even after the lights were off and the books were closed, I’d lay in bed awake, my mind replaying over and over a slideshow of the startling images I’d just absorbed. Though I was also a sucker for classics like Charlotte’s Web, The Outsiders, and Mrs. Brisby and the Rats of NIMH, it was always the scary stories that I tore through the quickest. And the scariest stories, to me, were always the ones that seemed the most real. Or the ones that were, in fact, based on real events. For me, a terrifying event—an out-of-control factory fire, an earthquake hitting a city, a terrorist attack—inherently contained more horror than any fictional story featuring vampires, zombies, haunted houses, or masked madmen with a knife ever could.

I was in sixth grade when undersea explorer Bob Ballard discovered the wreckage of the ship Titanic two-and-a-half miles below the surface of the North Atlantic in 1984. My English teacher passed around the new issue of National Geographic, which featured on its cover a ghostly blue image of the ship in its watery grave, taken directly above it by a roving remote-controlled deep-sea film camera called Alvin. Then she passed out a photocopy of an article that gave an overview of the Titanictragedy: that it was the biggest and most luxurious passenger ship ever built and was proclaimed to be “unsinkable”; that it hit an iceberg on its maiden voyage from Southampton, UK, to New York City in 1912 and sank, taking 1,500 passengers with it into the freezing water; that, though it carried a total of 2,224 passengers and crew, it only held enough lifeboats for 1,178; that its list of passengers included some of the richest people in the world; and that the majority of those lost on the ship were the third-class passengers, mostly immigrants, who were stuck below decks without a fighting chance to access the limited number of lifeboats on the main deck.

Paging through the National Geographic—with its full-color photographs of the wreckage two-and-a-half miles below the surface, its timelines of the tragedy, its diagrams and drawings of the gash in the hull the iceberg had made—I was transfixed by the sheer horror of what all those passengers­­­­—those who lived and those who died—must have gone through on the night of April 14, 1912.  

I became obsessed with the story, and started tracking down any books out there that told it. I scoured my local library, uncovering a few titles—The Story of the Titanic As Told by Its Survivors, by Jack Winocour from 1960, The Odyssey of C.H. Lightoller by Patrick Stenson from 1984, and, of course, Walter Lord’s classic from 1955, A Night to Remember—and read them with eyes wide and a chill running down my back. The stories collected in the pages of these books were horrifying, even more so for being true. These were real people, lucky enough to have secured a place on Titanic’s maiden voyage across the Atlantic, and, four days after departing Southampton, unlucky enough to be fighting for their lives amid the wailing of people drowning, the horrible creaking and groaning of the massive ocean liner as it surrendered to the sea, and the dark, earsplitting chaos that would only subside after the ship had disappeared under the water and almost 1,200 lives had been snuffed out.

Tales of terror from our history have always drawn me in, whether they took place during the Civil War that gave rise to countless battlefield horrors, the Gilded Age that produced the Titanic, or the Great Depression that birthed dust storms on the Great Plains that suffocated thousands and turned the sky black. So when I was approached by Hilary Poole, the editor and creator of the Horrors of History series for Charlesbridge, about writing a book for young readers about the Galveston hurricane of 1900, it seemed like the perfect project for me to take on. Even though I was a little nervous about writing for a young audience for the first time, I was excited at the prospect of researching and writing about an event that had been largely forgotten—much like Titanichad mostly disappeared into the mists of history until Bob Ballard’s amazing discovery reignited interest in the story of the doomed ocean liner. I wanted to bring this horrific bit of history to life for the hungry young readers I know are out there, since I once was one.

The hurricane of 1900 remains the deadliest in American history, and it changed the trajectory of the island city of Galveston forever. For my book City of the Dead, I plumbed survivor accounts, newspaper articles, historical records, and local archives to bring to life various Galvestonians’ experiences during this storm that hit on September 8, 1900, and killed 6,000 to 8,000 people, nearly one quarter of the city’s population. I discovered amazing stories of survival, heartbreaking accounts of bravery and sacrifice, and jaw-dropping details of the merciless violence of Mother Nature at her worst.

I was particularly gratified to be able to write about the Sisters of Charity orphanage, which sat just a little ways from the beach. The story of the child survivors is truly astounding, and City of the Dead represents the first time their accounts have been dramatized in an historical novel. 

City of the Deadis dedicated to the people of Galveston who suffered this tragedy. It is my hope that it will ignite in young readers not only an interest in exploring the frightful and awe-inspiring stories of death and survival in Galveston in 1900, but also a desire to start their own searches into the countless amazing and spine-tingling true tales from our country’s past. 



Posted by T. Neill Anderson, author of City of the Dead, the first book in the Horrors of History series. This is his first book for young readers, and one that he wishes was around to enlighten (and terrify) him when he was a kid. T. Neill Anderson lives and writes in Brooklyn, New York. 

The Horrors of History series commemorates horrific, life-changing events in our nation's past. Each novel combines thorough research, first-hand accounts, and fictionalized characters and scenes to make history accessible to young readers. The results are gripping tales of devastation and bravery, made all the more intriguing by their foundation in real-life events. Stay tuned for the February 2014 release of Ocean of Fire: The Burning of Columbia, 1865, which details life in the South at the end of the American Civil War through the retelling of the fire that swept through Columbia, South Carolina, after the city surrendered to General Sherman’s Union troops.

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17.

Picture 
Author Anna McQuinn shares LOLA AT THE LIBRARY and other stories with the children of Chicago. Read about her visits to the Chicago Public Library, Lurie Children's Hospital, and ALA on her blog.

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18. Things That Could Eat You: Nonfiction for Young Readers



There used to be birds big enough to eat you, I tell my audience. Oh, yes. You. In one gulp.

Kids love this, the little frisson of danger and at the same time the inviolable safety of many, many years blocking them off from the savagery. It’s the draw of prehistory, what makes it so fun. Everybody loves T. rex. Nobody wants to be eaten by one.

Everybody loves terror birds too.

Imagine a really big, carnivorous ostrich. A bird as tall as a basketball hoop, with a beak as heavy and sharp as an axe. These birds didn’t fly. They didn’t need to. They ran down anything they wanted to eat, and they ate it. Terror birds ruled South America for millions of years.

Then they were gone. Now all we have are bones.

But bones tell a story.



Interior spread from Ancient Animals: Terror Bird

I have plans for my next several lives. First I’m going to be a set designer; I love they way a good set is a cradle and a launch pad for theatrical magic. Then I’m going to be a marine biologist, so I can study dolphins and get paid for swimming. After that, I’ll be a paleontologist. I’ll pry the past loose from its rocky bed, bone by bone, tooth by tooth. I’ll blow the dust off chips and scraps of ancient creatures and put them back together. I’ll rewrite the lost story of life.

No, wait. Maybe I’ll just write nonfiction for children. Then I’ll get to do all of it in one narrow lifetime.

This is one of the things I love about my job—I get to find out everything. For past books, I’ve researched the Elizabethan theater, the American flag, how vipers locate prey, how much a blue whale’s tongue weighs, and what Abraham Lincoln said to his wife when she suggested that he run for president. Now I get to find out about terror birds, the top predators of ancient South America, ruthless avian rulers of an island continent. I also get to discover the vital role of a top predator in an ecosystem, how a hunter like a terror bird makes life possible for the species it devours.

Then I can turn my attention to saber-toothed cats, cunning predators who competed with our own ancestors for food. I learn how paleontologists deduce facts of behavior from bits of bone. (How do we know the saber-toothed cat was an ambush hunter? Its short bobtail, like a bobcat’s today. Cats who chase have long tails, to counterbalance the body on a turn. Cats who ambush have short ones.) I learn about pack or pride behavior, its gains (aid in raising young, access to mates, cooperative hunting to bring down large prey) and its costs (competition for food in a limited territory).

And then I put this fascinating research together with something I already know—how hungry young readers are for facts. For truth. For nonfiction.

“Is this true?” my five-year-old daughter asks insistently. “Is this a true book?” She doesn’t know the boundaries quite yet, doesn’t automatically understand that dragons and talking monkeys make a book fictional, that dinosaurs and saber-toothed tigers make it real. But she wants to know, and she wants books to tell her: what’s real and what’s a dream, what could once have eaten her and what never will.

Kids want to know, just like I do—how a giant flightless bird hunted, whether a cat with giant teeth purred or roared. (No to the first, yes to the second.) And they want books written in their own language and at their own level to tell them. Even the shape of an early reader says who it is made for. The small trim size and the compact format declare that these are books for a single young reader to treasure. The expanse of a picture book, made for sharing, is gone. Early readers are books for a child to read on her own, to hold and pore over and cherish. Language and art work together to open up a world of information. A single reader’s mind acts as a key.

I’ve written picture books and novels, poetry and prose, fiction and fantasy and “true books.” Out of all of those, nonfiction early readers are the hardest. I once did nineteen drafts of a single manuscript. First the facts must be found, selected, organized, and then the language must be agonized over. Can I make that sentence clearer? Did I just start with a prepositional phrase? That word has three syllables—can I find one with two, or one? Keep the concepts complex; keep the language simple; keep the clauses short. On every page. On every line. 

But the challenge is worth it, when I visit classrooms and see the kids' eyes light up and their hands shoot into the air. They know, you see. They know about science, about animals, about prehistory. They come armed with facts and dying to share them, enthusiastic beyond measure for books that show them the astonishing truth of their world.

Terror birds. Saber-toothed cats. Other wonderful creatures of prehistory. These animals have vanished, but their bones can still tell us their stories. We need scientists to interpret this dusty, ancient language, and we also need writers to share information about these creatures with the rest of us. Then we need readers to gobble up that information and ask for more. Maybe some of my readers, hungry for “true books,” will become scientists one day, digging up more facts, knitting together more theories, sharing what they find out, teaching us more.

I don’t need more lives after all. I just need readers who will take what I offer them into their own futures. They will be the ones to create, learn, and discover more than my own life would ever be able to hold.

Posted by Sarah L. Thomson, author of Ancient Animals: Terror Bird, which releases on August 1st, 2013.

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19. Played any games lately?



Here’s my theory: if grown-ups spent more time playing, we’d all be a lot healthier, happier, more productive, and less stressed. So when I say my new book, The Art of Stone Skipping and Other Fun Old-Time Games, isn’t just for children, I mean it!

When’s the last time you played Red Rover or Leap Frog—or bobbed for apples or went on a scavenger hunt? If you’re a teacher, a parent with young children, or a grandparent, you probably get some pretty good play opportunities. But for those who no longer—or haven’t ever—come in contact with children, the concept of “play” may have become completely foreign.



That’s truly sad, because play is a key factor for enjoying good health—both physical and mental—as well as a long life. Numerous studies have documented these benefits for adults who play games:

  • More creativity
  • More laughter (which improves heart rate and lung capacity)
  • Reduced blood pressure
  • Decreased depression
  • Longer lifespan
Children get those same benefits, plus they learn vital skills such as:
  • Social skills and interaction
  • Ethics
  • Self-control
  • Following rules and instructions 
But scientific studies aside, the best reason for playing games is that it’s fun! In a world where drudgery and tragedy are too often our constant companions, the interjection of an occasional dose of fun is as essential as air.


"What do most Nobel Laureates, innovative entrepreneurs, artists and performers, well-adjusted children, happy couples and families, and the most successfully adapted mammals have in common? They play enthusiastically throughout their lives."
~ Stuart Brown, The National Institute for Play



Preserving the Past for the Future
Did I write The Art of Stone Skipping and Other Fun Old-Time Games for adults? Well, maybe. I mean, if we don’t pass on the ridiculous fun of balloon and egg tosses and the hilarity of crab walking and sack races to the next generation, who will? Mostly I wrote this book because I can’t stand to think that technology might wipe out activities that have survived since the beginning of time. I love Pac-Man as much as anyone but, frankly, it pales in comparison to the rollicking adventure of Capture the Flag, and when electricity and batteries are not to be had, a shadow puppet by candlelight will always be a bored child’s best friend.

My research also fueled a fascination with how connected we are, globally speaking, through the games with which we grew up. Keep-Away, which goes by at least four other names in various regions of the U.S., is played in Africa under the name “Mbube, Mbube” (the Zulu word for lion), and in almost every other country in the world. That beloved game has been around since the 17th century and I saw it being played at an apartment complex just last week. How many things can boast that kind of longevity?!

I’ve been a poetry missionary for many years because I believe so strongly in all it has to offer us; after researching this book, I’m adding playfulness to my list of Life Essentials. Whether it’s physical play that gets us up and moving, or mental play that keeps our synapses sharp, there’s plenty of proof that “those who play get more out of their day!"

But don’t take my word for it: listen to thepresentation below by Dr. Stuart Brown, founder of the National Institute for Play, who says, “play is as important to humans as vitamins or sleep.” Dr. Brown gave this presentation as a TEDTalk in March 2009.




Or just watch my very favorite YouTube video, which shows that a little bit of creativity and a playful attitude can turn even the bleakest situation into a good time!



Posted by J. J. Ferrer, author of The Art of Stone Skipping and Other Fun Old-Time Games.
 

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20. Don't judge the Queen



You, old woman, scribe with the strange name, write this down. Write it truly. I know well you scribblers often lie. The heiroglyphs of my life make wounds. Even the letters my Roman husbands used can cut deep. But remember this: you cannot judge me. You are but a writer. I am the queen. Only I can judge.

You sneer at me, oh I know. I have had your words translated. You think to laugh at my brother-marriage. Well know this: in Egypt we royals kept the blood lines pure by marrying ourselves. But I was the oldest. My brother schemed with crafty men. He had to die. There was no shame in ordering it. You cannot judge. I am the queen.

You laughed at me marrying the old Roman men. Well, know this: they held great power. It is no shame to marry that way, to keep the power lines strong. Only power can hold on to power, only power can breed more power. You cannot judge. I am the queen.

You thought the style of my life was an excess of feasts and festivals, of great barges and beautiful clothing, dazzling jewels. That I had servants and slave. Of course I did. There was no shame in it. The poor expect it. They lived through me. I was their mornings, I was their evenings. You cannot judge. I am the queen.

And in the end when all was lost, you pitied me. I did not want your pity. I did not want their pity. A queen who encourages pity is a queen who is lost. Lost to her kingdom, lost to her people, lost to history. The asp was my choice, the poison my salvation, death my new life. You cannot judge.

Only I can judge. After all, in death as in life, I am the queen.

Posted by Cleopatra, The Queen of Denial. Bad Girl from 69-30 BCE.
©2013 Jane Yolen, all rights reserved

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21. Live from the Tower of London: Queen Anne Boleyn



Strange stuff, this 21st century. Lurking around my eternal resting place, the Tower of London, I encounter all sorts of oddities. First of all, people do not run from this place anymore, but instead, they seem to flock to it! And what’s more—they pay money to do so! They all seem intrigued by the stories and tales of the people murdered and imprisoned here. If only they knew . . .


I appear to be quite the topic of conversation around here. And rightfully so! I was imprisoned here, wrongfully, at the hand of my husband, King Henry VIII. He said I betrayed him, that I ran around with other men! Ha! The real truth is that I did not bear him a son and, anxious to try anew with someone else, he threw me in the Tower like a common criminal, ended my life by beheading me here. How kind of him to wait until I was true and dead to engage himself to Jane Seymour—a whole day he waited! Well, let me say—Jane may have bore him the son he always wanted, but it was I who gave birth to Elizabeth, the greatest queen of England.

The Tower of London

And what’s more, there is a dreadful display right at the site of the scaffold where many were executed—myself included. I suppose I should feel . . . honored? After all, the literature I see tossed in the rubbish bins calls this disdainful monstrosity a “memorial site.” A glass pillow sits there, as though the act of losing one’s head is a relaxing experience. Quite the contrary!

Scaffold site at the Tower of London

Aside from the changes in the Tower, I’ve also heard news of a book about me, Bad Girls. I have several problems with it: first of all, I am not bad! I was wronged! Secondly, I am not a girl! I am a Queen! (And it would do you well to remember that.) Third of all, I do not appreciate being lumped together with the likes of some of those women. Surely I did nothing to deserve being bound together in literary eternity with Mary Tudor!

To the authors of this . . . strangebook: 

Ms. Yolen, I appreciate your tendency to argue on my behalf. Quite the queen, you’d make. 

Ms. Stemple, since when is being manipulative a crime? However, you seem to me someone who would have gotten the better of my late husband, and for that I must admire you somewhat. 

And to the illustrator, Ms. Guay . . . a fine job you’ve done. It’s quite astounding how well you managed to capture my essence—have we met?


Posted by Queen Anne Boleyn, the woman who lost her head for love. Bad Girl from circa 1500-1536.

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22. The Inner Child in the Poet



Hopscotch chalk colors driveways and sidewalks, thrashers are singing lustily, kites high-flying gustily. The world is bursting with life, song, and hope after winter's torpor. April, appropriately designatedPoetry Month, beckons each creature to join the creative process. 

Writing poetry often occurs first as a response to such beauty and exuberance, and some people think of it only that way, but poetry's an appropriate expression for life in all its guises. It captures the comedic irritation of spring winds and Russian-immigrant tumbleweeds in...

AH, SPRING!   Wind herds tumbleweeds/ down the Southwest interstate/ at posted speed./ Oncoming car grills grin/ through Russian thistle whiskers.

Poetry exposes the underbelly of war in the last stanzas of... 

*CODE TALKER   [he] meets two other camouflaged survivors/ helps the famished men set snares/ for chickens they'd heard scratching/ in the brush.// He had passed the hens - - -/ themselves once famished in this war - - -/ as they plumped themselves/ on maggots feasting/ upon fallen-soldier flesh. 

Although many authors begin in childhood, I came to writing--beyond thank-you notes, letters, and school papers--with graying hair. Writing this blog couldn't have been imagined, much less happened, in my youth. Writing would have kept me inside. I was an outside kid playing ball, flying kites, and exploring along the local creek.

My fondest childhood hours were spent at the end of our block in a large vacant lot where things grew WILD. Up in the cherry tree, I was a bird viewing the world below. Lying on the ground, I imagined what life was like for beetles and crickets with grasses tall as trees towering above. I puzzled why ants walked single-file like second graders returning to class.

I'd heard that God punished the snake for its role in Eden by depriving it of legs. I, however, couldn't see how the garter snake was disadvantaged as it slithered with a grace unequaled by footed creatures. Nor was it bothered by skinned knees, stubbed toes or broken bones from falling. I amassed my observations and kept them to myself. I certainly didn't write about them. Nor could I have predicted, many years later, being so touched by an intact snake skeleton that I'd write... 

*SNAKE SPEAKS   Among the dunes/ beneath a ponderosa pine/ articulated skeleton of snake// speaks to me/in supple syllables/ of vertebrae/ and curved ribs/ fine as needles// till I can hear/ it slither-stitch/ its shifting shape/ across the sand/ in search of prey. 

After my dad died, we moved to an older neighborhood without a vacant lot. As the oldest of three children I took on more family responsibility. Life progressed with its hormonal changes, work at the corner drugstore, college, teaching, and marriage--all in cities. I had assumed life's traditional roles and forgotten the vacant lot until many years later when my husband and I settled on ranch land in New Mexico among red rock mesas and miles of space.

I learned to recognize our new neighbors as much by sound as by sight: the whhipp whhipp whhipp of ravens flying overhead, the descending co coo coo coooo of the romantic roadrunner. In October my pulse responded to the warbling call of gray waves of sandhill cranes lapping their way across the sky along an invisible path first marked millions of years ago.

Among the neighbors I was getting to know was a black widow spider, the first one I'd ever seen, her telltale red hourglass on a body sleek as polished jet. She lived, not in the neat orb of garden spiders, but in a ragtag web littered with gray exoskeletons hanging about like ghosts of her previous meals.

In those days before PCs were common and Google was a verb, I took notes, wrote down questions, and went to the bookmobile to learn that the tiny brown spider that awkwardly approached my black widow wasn't just a meal, but was her mate plucking the lines of her web like a harp to announce his intentions, that the marble-size silk ball she turned and tended was her egg sac. I watched spiderlings hatch one by one by one by one and sail off in the breeze on strands of silk like kite tails that delivered hundreds of young to new homes.

I had reconnected to my vacant lot, responding to nature with the awe and wonder of a child. Only now my vacant lot was 60 acres and I didn't have to grow up.

But I did feel the need to capture these experiences in a tangible way after I'd all but lost them for those many years. I also wanted to share my findings and excitement with children who don't have the advantage of exploring undeveloped places. "A Dangerous Lady," about the black widow spider, was my first article. It appeared in Cricket magazine. I continued to write.

Poetry crept into my writing along with the rhythms and sensuousness of the seasons. I watched extravaganzas of horizontal lightning on onyx nights, accepted the extremes of drought and floods, and attended to the details of a land many call barren. I started to read poetry and took classes. I began writing with much more awareness of my writing tools.

In addition to sounds, pattern, repetition, rhythm, and rhyme, I consider point of view, shape, and poetic form. I try to listen for what a poem needs. Capturing emotional truth often means not always or in all ways telling exactly what happened. In the following excerpt I chose first person to enhance the poignancy of 

*THE WATCH MAN   The way I know it's my birthday is when Mom tells me to stay home from school to wait for him. . . . I take the small box he pushes into my hand. Open it he commands. It's a watch. It's always a watch. Thanks I say. You're thirteen now, he notes. Be good. Be good startles me. It's the most interest he's ever expressed in what I do. It's the last time I see my dad.

Rather than using a strict traditional form or even free verse, I felt the prose poem format suited the emotional bleakness in "The Watch Man."

I no longer separate poetry from nature. Even the worst disasters call me to dip into the well of poetic choices for adequate expression. So did gross aspects of eating and being eaten seek to become 29 children's poems about the food chain in What's for Dinner? Quirky, Squirmy Poems  from the Animal World.A dose of humor helps make distasteful facts more palatable.

When I hear children or adults giggle or say, "I didn't know that," I know I've succeeded in communicating my fascination with nature's facts and idiosyncrasies.

As a children's writer, there's a special satisfaction when my words are paired with complementary art such as David Clark's illustrations for the cover and poems in this book:





 


For me, a silver-haired eight year old, what it means to be a poet is to be childlike, in the sense of seeing with unbiased eyes and heart, and to write honestly in the best language possible for the subject and for my audience. 


------------------------------------------------

Posted by Katherine B. Hauth, author of What's for Dinner? Quirky, Squirmy Poems from the Animal World. All poems in this post are written by Katherine. Poems marked with an asterisk (*) are from the six-poet anthology, 66 Poems from the Route.

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23. Multiculturalism within Latinos

I lived for over a decade in Somerville, the next town up from Cambridge, in Boston, Massachusetts. There was no "T"--as we called the subway--in Davis Square when I moved there, and for the first couple of years I rode a bus to Harvard to catch the train to downtown Boston. I remember hiding behind a book while I studied the world around me. In each ride I could count Greeks, Irish, Polish, Portuguese, and Italians sharing with me the early morning and whatever temperature was in season. I thought I would miss that when I moved to San Francisco; not the weather, mind you, but the fact that there were restaurants, street celebrations, and friends from all over the world that gave daily meaning to the word multiculturalism.

How far from reality that thought was! What I encountered in California was equally diverse, but this time within the Latino culture. Just a few weeks ago in celebration of spring, some forty friends descended to our house and at some point we formed a circle to acknowledge friendship and humor in the passing of time. In that circle there were at least fifteen different representations of the word "Latino," not only from the country of origin but also from ethnicity, language, and cultural evolution.

Not even our friends from the same country, Mexico, have the same first language or culture. Some of the fifty indigenous languages that are still alive in Mexico have crossed the border and fortunately survive in the realm of intimate everyday life. All of us had one language in common, English, and many two, when adding Spanish. A few three, counting the regional first languages we were born in, but the great evidence was how the mix of Latinos within the Latino community have evolved. My Salvadorian friend Vicky has married José from Mexico. Victor from Honduras has married Emilia from Panama. And my Cuban friend Diana is about to get married to a Venezuelan. I could of course continue mentioning the even larger mix that I see in the third generation. Latinos are expanding their horizons, as did all other immigrants before. 

When Alma Flor proposed the idea of writing our latest book, Yes! We Are Latinos, I immediately understood the importance of a gallery of portraits that would reflect the reality that surrounds us. Co-authorship is something we have been practicing for two decades. "It doubles the thought, the passion, and the craft," we tell people who ask how does “it” work. This particular book has been both a challenge and a pleasure. Alma Flor had hundreds of students in her doctoral program at the University of San Francisco who brought their roots to class to expose, dissect, study, comprehend, and embrace the identity hidden in their names. Many were Latinos. We joined them in a project in Teotitlán del Valle, near Oaxaca, during a summer that resulted in a profound experience for all of us. The seeds of those conversations, encounters, and friendships grew in the form of words that make up Yes! We Are Latinos.

One topic that kept coming into conversations among friends and students was the need that we all felt to share the journey, to tell each other where we came from, and how that came to be. The history of our individual immigration became the question of the social and political circumstances that motivated some and forced others to leave their countries of origin to come to the United States. In the case of Alma Flor and myself, we both are first generation immigrants. Others in our circles are second, third, or too far back to remember. We realized that it was common to many of us the need to know more about each other’s history, and I agreed with Alma Flor that we needed to leave a record of all of this, to provide knowledge of the past, and a foundation for this new social group called Latinos to continue on the path towards a broader identity. In the words of the last profile in the book, our character named Román puts into words our sentiment: 

And, looking at these walls inside the tower,
written by Frederico Vigil
I realize the strength of my heritage,
the contradictions of our history,
the battles won and lost
within our hearts.
We have been mixing for centuries.
Mixing our blood, and our faiths.
Mixing traditions, music, and dance.
Mixing our languages, our literatures.
Mixing us into a greater reality,
a larger identity.
One that now calls us Latino.
Yes! We are Latinos. 


Pienso en sus palabras, las de Frederico Vigil
y mirando estas paredes
me doy cuenta de la fuerza de mi herencia,
las contradicciones de nuestra historia,
las batallas perdidas y ganadas
dentro del corazón.
Hemos estado cruzando nuestras vidas durante siglos.
Mezclado nuestra sangre y nuestra fe.
Mezclando tradiciones, música y baile.
Mezclando nuestras lenguas y nuestra literatura.
Una mezcla hacia una realidad más amplia,
una identidad mayor.
Una que ahora nos llama latina, latino. 
¡Sí! ¡Somos latinos!



Posted by F. Isabel Campoy, co-author of Yes! We Are Latinos, which releases August 1, 2013. 


Headed to ALA at the end of the month? Mark your calendars! On Sunday, June 30th at 1:00 PM, Isabel and Alma Flor Ada, along with author Judy Goldman and Teresa Mlawer, translator and expert on Spanish and bilingual titles, will discuss the trends and needs in the Spanish/Bilingual and Latino Interest marketplace. Click here to learn more about this special ALA Book Buzz program.

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24. Seeing All of Us in Diverse Children's Books



This past March I sat around a table with a group of women, discussing my latest picture book, A Path of Stars, the story of the relationship between a young Cambodian American girl named Dara and her grandmother, a survivor of the "Killing Fields." The group happened to be inmates at the local women's prison, participants in a wonderful reading and writing program led by author Monica Wood (When We Were the Kennedys); I was the visiting author-illustrator. 

Going around the circle, each participant--mostly white women raised in Maine--shared a response to the book. No one said, "I really liked this opportunity to learn about another culture," though I'm sure they did absorb new information. Instead, what I heard again and again was, "I really loved this book because it reminded me of my relationship with my grandmother."

In the course of the conversation, we discovered another connection between the characters in my book and the women. Like Dara's grandmother, they were survivors.


A scene from A Path of Stars; Dara and her grandmother

So often, "multicultural" books are relegated to the purpose of examining differences, such as during Black History Month. What if books with diverse characters and cultures--like the ones in the previous post--were seen as being about, and necessary to, all of us?

Face research for Dara in A Path of Stars
In 1998, I traveled with a black South African friend to southern Africa, as preparation for illustrating a nonfiction book, Africa is Not a Country by Margy Burns Knight and Mark Melnicove. I wasn't planning to do any specific research so much as to look for some sense of connection, some insight that would inform my attempts to portray the diverse range of African cultures, none of which I belonged to and all of which I knew little about. I expected the countries I would be visiting--Swaziland and Zimbabwe as well as South Africa--would be the most culturally different of anything I'd ever seen, the equivalent of traveling to the moon.

That wasn't my experience. As I shopped open air markets in Capetown, walked the dusty paths of my friend's hometown neighborhood of Dube in Soweto, and bought food from street vendors in Durban, instead of a sense of curiosity at the exotic, my response was recognition. Despite the different colors of the landscape and the different customs of people's lives, I kept seeing things that seemed somehow familiar. It took me days to realize that I was reminded of the neighborhoods I'd grown up in in 1960s South Korea, of the ways in which daily life--from brushing teeth to bathing to baby care--was communal and took place in plain sight in the streets and alleyways. In the streets of southern Africa, I saw my own story. 

This was the insight that I brought back with me from my trip, the touchstone I held onto as I went through the lengthy process of research, consulting, collaboration, and critique, to create accurate and respectful images. It taught me that after all the essential work, there's another aspect to authentic representation that can't be found in the data. If we are to truly connect across all our differences, we have to let our hearts respond, and we have to trust those responses as true expressions of our common humanity.

I don't leap over differences to get to commonalities. As I'm researching and creating, I'm focused on the particular details of what defines human uniqueness, in groups and in individuals. The details of difference matter, and have meaning. I keep remembering how little I know, what blinders I'm wearing, that I often can't even imagine what questions to ask. I assume I will make many mistakes. I seek lots of input from primary source experts, people with lived experience, to help me see what I can't see.

But the North Star towards which I am navigating is the core belonging of each of us to one human community. In the images we communicate of "other people"--through the words and pictures we create as writers and illustrators, and the books we share with children as educators and parents--the sweet spot is lively, particular human being. To see, and reach for, our own selves reflected there. Anything less is not enough for our children. 

Ultimately, authentic diversity isn't about getting it "right." It's about getting each other. 


Posted by Anne Sibley O'Brien, author and illustrator of several books for young readers, including A Path of Stars. Anne blogged for Unabridged about the process of creating A Path of Stars here.


Meet Anne during Children's Book Week! 
In partnership with Primary Source and Charlesbridge, Anne Sibley O'Brien will be discussing race, ethnicity, and diversity in children's books. 

Her program, entitled "From the Heart: Illustrating Across Race and Culture," will take place on Tuesday, May 14th from 4:00 PM to 6:00 PM at the Watertown Public Library, 123 Main Street, Watertown, MA

A reception and book signing will follow at the Charlesbridge Original Illustration Gallery 
at 85 Main Street, Watertown, MA (two doors down). Free and open to the public! 
For more information about this event, please click here.

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25. A List of Books to Promote Community and Peace

In light of the recent events in Boston, and here in Watertown, Massachusetts, we have heard from many teachers, librarians, and parents looking for books that will help open a line of communication with children about how to deal with these tragic events. While Charlesbridge does publish books that help young children learn to discuss loss, they don't touch upon the themes of the recent events and why someone would cause so much pain.

However, one thing that Charlesbridge does very well is publish books about community, humanity, and the beauty in diversity. We want to share these books with you here.

Please share your suggestions in the comments. Perhaps we can build a huge book list and through books we can build a bridge to a better world.

Global Baby Girls

From Peru to China, from Russia to Mali, this board book features captivating photographs of baby girls to share a simple, yet powerful message: no matter where they are born, baby girls can grow up to change the world. 





 I'm in Love with a Big Blue Frog

A huge hit for Peter, Paul and Mary in 1967, this song has been a favorite in classrooms, camps, and at sing-alongs ever since. Not only do children delight in the playful tune, but adults also embrace its lyrics, which gently send a message of tolerance in the most light-hearted, humorous way. 



Camille's Team

Camille loves to build sand forts at the beach. But it's hard to build a big fort alone. Camille and her friends make a plan. They find that they can get more done--and have more fun--when they work together.

 

Percy's Neighborhood

Percy helps his dad hang signs for the Neighborhood Fun Run. Along the way, Percy meets the community helpers who make See and Learn City a better place to live, work, and play. Percy is excited to tell the gang about the new friends he met in the neighborhood.

 Kenya's Song

Kenya’s homework is to pick her favorite song and share it with her class. Sounds simple, but for Kenya, it’s anything but. With all that beautiful music in the world, how can she possibly choose? 




 Over the Rainbow

 Leading into the song's familiar chorus is a lesser-known verse describing the world as a "hopeless jumble," portrayed in Puybaret's acrylic paintings as a rain-soaked, windblown cityscape. Giving a nod to the film, the setting shifts to a farm, where a rainbow appears at a girl's window to lead her to "a place behind the sun, just a step beyond the rain."  When she returns to her barnlike home, the creatures and celestial objects from her magical journey remain, turning the wistful tenor of the closing lines ("Why, oh, why can't I?") into a statement of defiance that speaks to the power of imagination. Grammy-winner Judy Collins sings the title track and two other songs on an accompanying CD.
                                                                                                                -- Publishers Weekly

I Am Different!

This clever picture book presents sixteen visual puzzles. On every page, readers must pick out the one item that is different from the rest--a different color, a different shape, reversed from left to right, or just asleep when others are awake!

The phrase "Can you find me?" is shown in a different language on every page.

 Children from Australia to Zimbabwe

Celebrate the many faces of children around the world.

Vibrant color photographs portray positive images of children that help foster a sense of global citizenship. With an abundance of information about cultures, languages, and environment, this fascinating journey around the world will inspire both young and old alike. Readers will also discover Xanadu, an ideal imaginary land described and illustrated by elementary school children.

 Children of the U.S.A.
 Celebrate the diversity of the United States!

There is no typical American child. Children may share similar activities and pastimes, but they represent a variety of ethnic, cultural, and religious backgrounds. Striking photographs showcase fifty-one cities -- one from each state, as well as our nation's capital, Washington, D.C. The photos and facts feature common activities and interests, as well as varied foods, languages, entertainment, sports, and other examples of daily life throughout the country.

Faith

Families around the world celebrate faith in many different ways—through praying, singing, learning, helping, caring, and more. With stunning photographs from many cultures and religious traditions, Faith celebrates the ways in which people worship around the globe.


 Be My Neighbor

Around the world, children live in community with others, sharing homes, resources, and experiences with their neighbors. This book celebrates what it means to be a neighbor the whole world over -- from Vietnam to the United States, Austria to Kenya and everywhere in between.

With Words of Wisdom from Mr. Fred Rogers.

 To Be a Kid

Unquestionably, to be a kid is the most exciting thing to be. Filled with beautiful photographs, To Be a Kid celebrates kids as they play and learn, as they spend time with their friends and family, and as they discover their environment and the world. Kids, no matter where they are from, share this same wonderful adventure and at the heart of it a kid is just a kid.

 Somos un arco iris/We Are a Rainbow

We Are a Rainbow helps young readers begin building the cultural bridges of common human understanding through simple comparisons of culture from breakfast foods to legends. Colorful cut-paper art and gentle language deliver this universal message eloquently.





 The ABC Book of American Homes

Houses in trees, houses on water, houses with wheels! America is a country of diverse people who live in all types of homes--homes made of wood, metal, glass, even snow! In the desert, on a farm, or by the beach, American houses have only one thing in common--they provide shelter and comfort to those who live in them. No matter the size, shape, or location, they are places to call home.


 Candy Shop

When an act of bigotry scars the sidewalk in front of the candy shop and frightens the store owner, Daniel knows he must do something to fight back. A tender story of a young boy's courage in the face of prejudice.





 Different Just Like Me

This celebration of a world of difference is sure to make every reader appreciate the distinctive qualities in themselves and everyone around them.




 Don't Say Ain't

In the 1950s, Dana struggles to live in two worlds—her Harlem neighborhood and the advanced school she attends—while staying true to herself. Irene Smalls and Colin Bootman team up in this heart-warming story of friendship, integration, opportunity, and hard choices.





The Flag We Love

This spirited tribute to Old Glory will inspire readers, young and old, to take a new look at the greatest emblem of the United States of America. With patriotic verse and historical facts, The Flag We Love explores how our flag has become an enduring part of our nation's proud history and heritage. From its earliest designs to its role in peace-time and war, the Star-Spangled Banner will take on a whole new meaning for all readers.

 Hats Off To Hair!

Hair is our most versatile feature and kids everywhere have created their own unique styles. Exquisite paintings of kids from many cultures show us the beauty, splendor, and wonder of our hairstyles.




Magic Trash

Magic Trash offers strong themes of working together, the power of art, and the importance of inspiring community--especially kids--to affect action. The Heidelberg Project is internationally recognized for providing arts education to children and adults and for the ongoing development of several houses on Heidelberg Street. Not only does the Heidelberg Project prove that when a community works together it can rebuild itself, but it also addresses the issues of recycling, environmentalism, and community on a global level.

A Path of Stars

Dara's grandmother, Lok Yeay, is full of stories about her life growing up in Cambodia, before she immigrated to the United States. Lok Yeay tells her granddaughter of the fruits and plants that grew there, and how her family would sit in their yard and watch the stars that glowed like fireflies. Lok Yeay tells Dara about her brother, Lok Ta, who is still in Cambodia, and how one day she will return with Dara and Dara's family to visit the place she still considers home. But when a phone call disrupts Lok Yeay's dream to see her brother again, Dara becomes determined to bring her grandmother back to a place of happiness. 

 Priscilla and the Hollyhocks
Priscilla is only four years old when her mother is sold to another master. All Priscilla has to remember her mother by are the hollyhocks she planted by the cow pond. At age ten, Priscilla is sold to a Cherokee family and continues her life as a slave. She keeps hope for a better life alive by planting hollyhocks wherever she goes. At last, her forced march along the Trail of Tears brings a chance encounter that leads to her freedom.

A story of how love overcomes hate.

Subway Ride

A fantastical journey introduces young readers to subway travel. Five children pay the fare, pass through the gates, and zip through the tunnels of subway stations in ten cities around the globe. The trip around the world underscores how travel and cultural connections create community.

The Searcher and Old Tree

Beloved author-illustrator David McPhail crafts a simple, yet powerful, allegory about the safety of home and the strength of unconditional love.







This Is America

What is America? It's the special places that remind us of important events. It's the people who have dedicated themselves to improving our country. And most of all, it's the ideals and beliefs that we share. Informative text and bold scratchboard illustrations pay homage to our country's past and present.




The Ugly Vegetables

The neighbors' gardens look so much prettier and so much more inviting to the young gardener than the garden of "black-purple-green vines, fuzzy wrinkled leaves, prickly stems, and a few little yellow flowers" that she and her mother grow. Nevertheless, mother assures her that "these are better than flowers." Come harvest time, everyone agrees as those ugly Chinese vegetables become the tastiest, most aromatic soup they have ever known. As the neighborhood comes together to share flowers and ugly vegetable soup, the young gardener learns that regardless of appearances, everything has its own beauty and purpose.

Yum! Yuck!

At a busy street market, kids eating ice cream exclaim, "Yum!" in English, "Geshmak!" in Yiddish, and "Nam-nam!" in Danish. But disaster strikes when a little dog overturns a spice cart, showering pepper on everyone's ice cream. Will the kids end up crying, "Hai hai," or cheering, "¡Yupi!"? energetic art and a lift-the-flap feature make exploring languages fun.



 You See a Circus

A young acrobat shows his friends around the big top, but all is not as it seems. His uncle, the strongman, always manages to lose their wrestling matches. The scary-looking tattooed man is a regular Joe who likes to pull funny practical jokes. And the daring trapeze artists make their son do homework just like everyday parents! Lively watercolors capture the excitement of the circus and the coziness of home.


After Gandhi

In 1908 Mohandas Gandhi spoke to a crowd of 3,000. Together they protested against an unjust law without guns or rioting. Peacefully they made a difference. Gandhi’s words and deeds influenced countless others to work toward the goals of freedom and justice through peaceful methods.




Bamboo People

  "Perkins seamlessly blends cultural, political, religious, and philosophical context into her story, which is distinguished by humor, astute insights into human nature, and memorable characters."
--Publishers Weekly





Camel Rider 

War has broken out in the Middle East and all foreigners are fleeing. Instead of escaping with his neighbors, Adam sneaks off to save his dog, which has been left behind. Lost in the desert, Adam meets Walid, an abused camel boy who is on the run. Together they struggle to survive the elements and elude the revengeful master from whom Walid has fled. Cultural and language barriers are wide, but with ingenuity and determination the two boys bridge their differences, helping each other to survive and learn what true friendship is.


Candy Bomber

After World War II the United States and Britain airlifted food and supplies into Russian-blockaded West Berlin. US Air Force Lieutenant Gail S. Halvorsen knew the children of the city were suffering. To lift their spirits, he began dropping chocolate and gum by parachute.

Michael O. Tunnell tells an inspiring tale of candy and courage, illustrated with Lt. Halvorsen's personal photographs, as well as letters and drawings from the children of Berlin to their beloved "Uncle Wiggly Wings."

Flying the Dragon

"A quiet, beautifully moving portrayal of a multicultural family."
--Kirkus Review





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