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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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, At Home in Her Tomb
, Christine Liu-Perkins
, Han Dynasty
, Qin Dynasty
, Sarah Brannen
, Add a tag
|Photograph by David Schlatter|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 dimsumâ€”small plates of juicy dumplings, steamed buns, and other mouthwatering treatsâ€”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 clothesâ€”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.
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.*****
|It is believed that burning mock money and other paper goods sends them to the ancestors.|| |
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.
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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I didnâ€™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!
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 â€śNever run from a bear,â€ť 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.
|Grizzly & Discovery Center, West Yellowstone|
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.
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.
|Original artwork from Wild About Bears|
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).------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!
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.
|Author Jane Sutcliffe|
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 itâ€”literallyâ€”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, â€śNo, grazie.â€ť
Florenceâ€™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 artistâ€™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 Shelleyâ€™s expressive illustrations are full of whimsy, period detail, and is evocative of Michelangeloâ€™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.
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.
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 â€ścontraband of warâ€ť and granted protection. As word spread, thousands of runaway slaves poured into the fort. These â€ścontrabandsâ€ť 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 Proclamationâ€”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.
As Goldy Luck and the Three Pandasâ€™ publication date finally arrives on Jan. 7, 2014, after a lengthy and arduous nine-year journey, I canâ€™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 bearsâ€™ 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 Bearâ€™s perspective (I believe it was called â€śPapa Bearâ€™s Good Deedâ€ť). The story began from the moment Goldilocks ran away, leaving her hat behind, and Papa Bearâ€™s journey to find Goldy and return the hat to herâ€”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 didnâ€™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 â€śwhat ifâ€ť question popped into my head. What if Goldilocks wasnâ€™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 â€śGo Dil Lok and the Three Chansâ€ť 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 (â€śLuckâ€ť 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 Chanâ€™s record). And a greatly detailed Chinese New Year parade with lion dancers. I thought itâ€™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 uncleâ€™s massage chair and my parentsâ€™ 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 â€śluckyâ€ť red envelopes, eating turnip cakes) into the story and thinking up ways to make Goldyâ€™s experiences more culturally relevant (â€śShe felt like stuffing in a pork bun,â€ť â€śThe mattress felt as hard as a week-old almond cookieâ€ť)
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 childrenâ€™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.
Posted by Natasha Yim, author of Goldy Luck and the Three Pandas, releasing January 7, 2014.
'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 thatâ€™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 Iâ€™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 bumpsâ€”thrills and chillsâ€”and are filled with a deep-down certainty thatâ€™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, â€śYou know, Alyssa, so many kids think a black hole is a hole.â€ť My head reeled. My understanding of the universe shifted. I got those goose bumps. â€śItâ€™s not?!â€ť 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 loveâ€”and I think kids loveâ€”about Carolynâ€™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 sheâ€™s not just a fellow explorer; sheâ€™s also an expert guide. She points out amazing sights and leads you to new heights of understandingâ€”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 Iâ€™ve ever read.
Can you talk a bit about your vision for how readers will encounter Black Hole? Iâ€™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. Iâ€™m hoping that those kids who arenâ€™t necessarily interested in science will see the coverâ€”with its cool topic, gorgeous image, intriguing title, and sassy speech bubbleâ€”and be intrigued enough to open the book. Once hooked, theyâ€™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 itâ€™s also about fundamental principles of physics.
And thatâ€™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 authorâ€™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, Iâ€™ve worked with Carolyn for years now â€“ just about the time when she started writing books, actually. I know her work as an educator, but Iâ€™m curious: What do you think is unique about Carolynâ€™s writing?
Well, Iâ€™ve mentioned Carolynâ€™s inimitable voice. Thatâ€™s certainly unique; thereâ€™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, thatâ€™s not strictly true, but itâ€™s close to the truth. Thanks to this book, I can now explain black holes to my five-year-old son! Iâ€™ll always be grateful to Carolyn for thatâ€”as well as for her gracious, enthusiastic, tireless collaboration. As an editor, I have learned so much from working on this book:
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.
- 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 writersâ€™ 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 (Donâ€™t dumb it down!) and the author (Itâ€™s her book!)
- How to keep it fun (In our hundreds of emails, we never got tired of making jokesâ€”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.
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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, â€ścontrabandâ€ť was surely preferable to â€śslave,â€ť 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. Boringâ€”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 joyâ€”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? Poetryâ€”rememoryâ€”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.
<!--[if gte mso 9]> Normal 0 false false false EN-US X-NONE X-NONE MicrosoftInternetExplorer4 <![endif]--> 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.There's a satisfying congruencyâ€”closureâ€”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, sharedâ€”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 Ragginâ€™ Jazzinâ€™ Rockinâ€™: A History of American Musical Instrument Makers (ALA Notable Childrenâ€™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.
It was 1996. My first childrenâ€™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 goodâ€”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.
â€śSo now are you going to write a real book? You know, one for adults.â€ť
â€śItâ€™s nonfiction? Thatâ€™s great. But wouldnâ€™t you rather write fiction?â€ť
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 perspectiveâ€”and the answersâ€”I needed.
One night around a campfire at the edge of Tanzaniaâ€™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 personâ€™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:
â€śWhy do stone walls run through the middle of the woods?â€ť
â€śWhy do sassafras trees have three kinds of leaves?â€ť
â€śWhy donâ€™t chipmunks build their nests in trees like squirrels?â€ť
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. â€śAll the trees seem kind of small,â€ť 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 didnâ€™t write fiction.
They knew why children were my primary audience.
And suddenly, so did I. It was another "aha moment."
Now, 17 years later, Iâ€™ve written more than 150 childrenâ€™s books about science and nature, including my newest title No Monkeys, No Chocolate (Charlesbridge, 2013). Some people still ask me why Iâ€™ve never written a book for adults. Others want to know if Iâ€™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 todayâ€™s children their own "aha moments" in the natural worldâ€”the same gift my dad gave me on that special walk through the Massachusetts woods.
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 shouldnâ€™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 letâ€™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 letâ€™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
."One of the most satisfying folklore collections in recent memory."
--Kirkus Reviews, starred review
As a young reader, my tastes often tended toward the macabre, fantastical, and horrifyingâ€”I probably started reading Stephen King before I should have. Books were an opportunity to keep myself up at nightâ€”even after the lights were off and the books were closed, Iâ€™d lay in bed awake, my mind replaying over and over a slideshow of the startling images Iâ€™d just absorbed. Though I was also a sucker for classics like Charlotteâ€™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 eventâ€”an out-of-control factory fire, an earthquake hitting a city, a terrorist attackâ€”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 â€śunsinkableâ€ť; 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 Geographicâ€”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 madeâ€”I was transfixed by the sheer horror of what all those passengersÂÂÂÂâ€”those who lived and those who diedâ€”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 titlesâ€”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 Lordâ€™s classic from 1955, A Night to Rememberâ€”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 Titanicâ€™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 forgottenâ€”much like Titanichad mostly disappeared into the mists of history until Bob Ballardâ€™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 Galvestoniansâ€™ experiences during this storm that hit on September 8, 1900, and killed 6,000 to 8,000 people, nearly one quarter of the cityâ€™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 countryâ€™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 Shermanâ€™s Union troops.
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
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. Itâ€™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 didnâ€™t fly. They didnâ€™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 Iâ€™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 Iâ€™m going to be a marine biologist, so I can study dolphins and get paid for swimming. After that, Iâ€™ll be a paleontologist. Iâ€™ll pry the past loose from its rocky bed, bone by bone, tooth by tooth. Iâ€™ll blow the dust off chips and scraps of ancient creatures and put them back together. Iâ€™ll rewrite the lost story of life.
No, wait. Maybe Iâ€™ll just write nonfiction for children. Then Iâ€™ll get to do all of it in one narrow lifetime.
This is one of the things I love about my jobâ€”I get to find out everything. For past books, Iâ€™ve researched the Elizabethan theater, the American flag, how vipers locate prey, how much a blue whaleâ€™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 bobcatâ€™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 knowâ€”how hungry young readers are for facts. For truth. For nonfiction.
â€śIs this true?â€ť my five-year-old daughter asks insistently. â€śIs this a true book?â€ť She doesnâ€™t know the boundaries quite yet, doesnâ€™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: whatâ€™s real and whatâ€™s a dream, what could once have eaten her and what never will.
Kids want to know, just like I doâ€”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 readerâ€™s mind acts as a key.
Iâ€™ve written picture books and novels, poetry and prose, fiction and fantasy and â€śtrue books.â€ť 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 syllablesâ€”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 â€śtrue books,â€ť will become scientists one day, digging up more facts, knitting together more theories, sharing what they find out, teaching us more.
I donâ€™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.
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 JosĂ© 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 â€śitâ€ť 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 TeotitlĂˇn 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 otherâ€™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 RomĂˇn puts into words our sentiment: And, looking at these walls inside the tower,written by Frederico VigilI realize the strength of my heritage,the contradictions of our history,the battles won and lostwithin 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 Vigily mirando estas paredesme doy cuenta de la fuerza de mi herencia,las contradicciones de nuestra historia,las batallas perdidas y ganadasdentro del corazĂłn.Hemos estado cruzando nuestras vidas durante siglos.Mezclado nuestra sangre y nuestra fe.Mezclando tradiciones, mĂşsica y baile.Mezclando nuestras lenguas y nuestra literatura.Una mezcla hacia una realidad mĂˇs amplia,una identidad mayor.Una que ahora nos llama latina, latino. ÂˇSĂ! ÂˇSomos 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.
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?
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.
|Face research for Dara in A Path of Stars|
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.
at 85 Main Street, Watertown, MA (two doors down). Free and open to the public!
For more information about this event, please click here.
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. Global Baby GirlsFrom 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
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.
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 NeighborhoodPercy 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 SongKenyaâ€™s homework is to pick her favorite song and share it with her class. Sounds simple, but for Kenya, itâ€™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 WeeklyI 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 waysâ€”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 RainbowWe 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 worldsâ€”her Harlem neighborhood and the advanced school she attendsâ€”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 TrashMagic 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 StarsDara'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, "ÂˇYupi!"? 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. Gandhiâ€™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 WeeklyCamel 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.
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."
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.
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 whatâ€™s moreâ€”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 Seymourâ€”a whole day he waited! Well, let me sayâ€”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 whatâ€™s more, there is a dreadful display right at the site of the scaffold where many were executedâ€”myself included. I suppose I should feel . . . honored? After all, the literature I see tossed in the rubbish bins calls this disdainful monstrosity a â€śmemorial site.â€ť A glass pillow sits there, as though the act of losing oneâ€™s head is a relaxing experience. Quite the contrary!
|Scaffold site at the Tower of London|Aside from the changes in the Tower, Iâ€™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, youâ€™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 youâ€™ve done. Itâ€™s quite astounding how well you managed to capture my essenceâ€”have we met? Posted by Queen Anne Boleyn, the woman who lost her head for love. Bad Girl from circa 1500-1536.
When we think about the issue of bullying, images of older children and young adults come to mind. Those are the examples that we see in the news: children ganging up on one another, hazing situations that turn into serious incidents of physical and psychological harassment, cyber-bulling, and more.
However, bullying takes place at all ages, even with very young children. It can take the form of anything from relatively minor name-calling to very serious aggressive actions. It can occur in person or hidden in notes and other communications. It can be first-hand, with one person directly bullying another, or indirect through gossip and talking with third parties.
Addressing bulling at an early age is critical. Young children need to learn to recognize bullying and they need to develop strategies for stopping it. They also need to learn how to protect themselves if they are being bullied, and ways to empathize with and support others who are being bullied. Finally, they need to better understand the reasons behind bullying and how to address them.
Thatâ€™s what inspired me to write Freda Stops a Bully. I want to give young children a chance to witness a bullying incident and to consider the roles of everyone involved: the victim, the person doing the bullying, and any bystanders who see the bullying taking place. Most importantly, I want to provide some strategies for young children to use to stop people who are bullying them.
When Freda wears her bright pink shoes to school, a boy named Max taunts her. â€śFunny Feet! Funny Feet!â€ť yells Max. His friends all laugh. But Freda doesnâ€™t think itâ€™s funny. She puts her shoes way in the back of her closet and plans to never wear them again. That doesnâ€™t stop Max. â€śHi, Funny Feet!â€ť he hollers. â€śWhere are your funny shoes?â€ť
Through advice from adults, including her mom and her teacher, Miss Cathy, and suggestions from her supportive friends, Percy and Emma, Freda tries a number of strategies, including not listening, walking away, and getting help. When none of those works, she finally turns to Max and shouts, â€śStop it!â€ť Max and his friends are surprised. â€śI was just trying to be funny,â€ť said Max. Freda explains that she didnâ€™t think it was funny at all.
|Click here to download the "A Closer Look" poster!|
The story ends with Max wearing purple gym shoes with stars on them. He walks right up to Freda and says, â€śFunny Feet! Thatâ€™s me!â€ť
This wasnâ€™t an easy book to write. First, I had to find an example of bullying that wasnâ€™t too scary for young children, yet at the same time was strong enough so they would recognize that it was hurtful. I made sure that the person doing the teasing was never labeled as a â€śbully,â€ť a designation that might become permanent and self-fulfilling. I provided some examples of peer support and adult intervention, and some reasons that people bully others. Bullying is complex!
Teachers, librarians, parents, and other caregivers can help young children to better understand bullying and what to do about it by reading my book and others that deal with this topic. After reading the books, they can encourage a discussion of the key ideas that are presented in the story. The strategies that can be used to stop bullying can be posted on a classroom wall, the refrigerator door, or other places where children will see them again and again.
Short plays and puppet shows can be created around bullying. This is a good way to reinforce all the elements involved in the process. Children can be encouraged to draw pictures about bullying and then to discuss them with others. These, too, can be posted for ongoing reference.
The important thing is to find ways to stop bullying whenever and wherever it occurs. Letâ€™s agree to work together to stop bullying -- right now!
Posted by Stuart J. Murphy
Freda Stops a Bully is part of Stuart J. Murphyâ€™s I See I LearnÂ® Series.
The series includes sixteen childrenâ€™s books that are organized in four domains: Social, Emotional, Health and safety, and Cognitive Skills. Dealing with Bullying is categorized as an Emotional Skill.
Websites that may be helpful in dealing with bullying include:
When I was a child living in Poland, I had a favorite book of poetry called Sto Bajek (100 Tales Sto Byâ€˛ek ) by Jan Brzechwa (Yon Bzhehâ€˛va.) He was Polandâ€™s equivalent of Dr. Seuss with his unleashed imagination, impeccable meter, wonderful rhythms, and playful language. He wrote of talking trees and whining vegetables, fish mathematicians and arguing coat sleeves. The humor was preposterous and sure to bring on giggles, and the sounds and wordplay were pure joy. I could not get enough of his poems.
I could read and write before I turned six, and I attribute this to the many hours I spent listening to these verses, hearing the sounds, reciting them, looking at the words, and with my familyâ€™s help, putting the puzzle together.
At age seven I immigrated to the United States, and upon arrival my Aunt and Uncle gave me a big book of Mother Goose. Now I had the challenge of learning to speak and write in a whole new language, but results came quickly with this wonderful treasury of quirky old rhymes to inspire and teach me. Little did I know that someday I would extend many of them into picture books.
I always dreamed of becoming a childrenâ€™s book author and illustrator, but I had no idea that the majority of my titles would be Mother Goose rhymes. It all started over twenty years ago, when my first publisher asked me to write and illustrate something well-known. We decided that nursery rhymes lent themselves well to extension. And so I came up with a story for The Itsy Bitsy Spider, starting with the original verse and then adding new verses to create a simple but not insignificant plot.
To my delight, the book was an instant hit with early educators. Preschool and kindergarten teachers from across the nation, who I met at conferences or who wrote to me, said the book was helpful in teaching children to read. Here are the reasons they cited: Children recognize the title and that piques their interest to look inside the book. Knowing the first verse gives them confidence to learn the rest of the verses. The repetition of the first line in each stanza (The itsy bitsy spider climbed up the...waterspout, kitchen wall, rocking chair...), the predictability of the rhyming sounds, and the added benefit of singing the verses accelerates learning.
Sadly, some teachers also told me that a percentage of their students were not familiar with nursery rhymes. They encouraged me to extend more of these verses into picture books and suggested their favorites: Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star, Baa Baa Black Sheep, Row Row Row Your Boat and many others. I was happy to oblige. :-)
In creating these extensions, though I add my own twist, I strive to match not only the meter (which is critical), but also the essence of the original rhyme. In Twinkle Twinkle Little Star, I tried to maintain the wonder of a child gazing at the night sky, wishing on a star. In Baa Baa Black Sheep, the focus was on asking the sheep for something: "Have you any wool?" (I had kittens asking for milk, a horse asking for hay, etc.) In Row, Row, Row Your Boat, I continued the adventure of merrily rowing a boat down the stream, though not always so gently.
Usually I leave the first verse intact. Only once did I make a change and that was in Froggie Went A-Courtinâ€™, which has the line: "with a sword and pistol by his side." I changed it to: "with a rose and chocolates by his side." I thought Froggie stood a much better chance of finding love with flowers and sweets than with deadly weapons. :-)
When I visit schools, I start my presentation by singing one or two of my books to the children. Usually we sing the first verse together and then I sing the rest. Sometimes they are quite surprised by the new verses and try to sing along with me, repeating the traditional one. They are especially surprised by my book Shoo Fly in which I used the original verse as a refrain, but changed it a bit (after the first time).
Original verse/first refrain:
Shoo fly donâ€™t bother me,
Shoo fly donâ€™t bother me,
Shoo fly! Donâ€™t bother me--
I belong to somebody.
Two other refrains:
Shoo fly donâ€™t bother me!
Go fly to Tennessee.
Leave on the count of three--
Canâ€™t you see youâ€™re bugging me?
Shoo fly donâ€™t bother me!
Go spread your wings and flee
Across the great blue sea,
All the way to Waikiki."Look how many different â€śEâ€ť sounds I had to come up with: flee, three, Tennessee, Waikiki..." I tell the children. And then I ask them to think of some other words that rhyme with "me."
The sounds of words, and especially rhyming words, certainly enchanted me as a child and instilled in me a love of language. I am honored and gratified to have my books used in classrooms, and I hope the words I conjure up and the pictures I paint bring joy to my wonderful little readers.
To learn more about Iza Trapani and her books, please visit her at www.izatrapani.com and check out her blog, In and Out of My Studio.
Click here for a list of Iza's books, including Haunted Party, the perfect read for a fun Halloween treat!
During a recent school visit, a second-grader asked where I got the idea for my latest book The House That George Built. While answering her question I realized this story began in the same way as most of my picture booksâ€”when I accidentally stumbled upon a fascinating, little-known piece of history which literally gave me goosebumps. In the case of George, inspiration struck when a proud dad was telling me about the White House model his daughter made for a school project. He mentioned George Washington designed and built the Presidentâ€™s House, yet he was the only president who never lived there. Really?! (Cue goosebumps.)
Immediately a title came to mind, The House That George Built. But before I could consider writing this story, I had to do research to determine if there was enough "good-stuff" to make a picture book (unofficial author term which means relatively unknown, yet captivating facts which lend themselves to a complete story arc with a satisfying ending). So I hurried down to my local library where I checked out The President's House, a two-volume set of colossal books filled with detailed White House history by noted historian and author, William Seale. One thousand, two hundred and twenty four pages later, I knew there was plenty of "good-stuff" for a story. Now I had to figure out the best way to tell it.
Considering the book title idea, my first thought was to share Georgeâ€™s story using an adaptation of "The House That Jack Built" nursery rhyme. From my research I knew George was intricately involved in the entire building processâ€”from selecting the house design and plot of land where it would be built, to deciding the best roofing materialâ€”so I was concerned a revision of that tightly structured rhyming piece wouldnâ€™t provide enough room for all the interesting facts Iâ€™d found. After some consideration, I decided the nursery rhyme adaption would be a fun, unique way to provide basic information about the main building elements of the house (brick, stone, wood), and by adding some lively prose paragraphs, I could share all the details of Georgeâ€™s huge building project.
But the research and writing of this book was just the beginning of my adventures with George. The illustration process was incredibly exciting as I watched the talented, award-winning artist Rebecca Bond bring history to life with her detailed, historically accurate sketches, which later turned into breathtaking, watercolor masterpieces.
|Early sketch by Rebecca Bond from The House That George Built|
|A final spread by Rebecca Bond from The House That George Built |
Then came something Iâ€™d been waiting my entire writing career to doâ€”Iâ€™d always wanted to dedicate a book to my parents, but for one reason or another none of my previous books felt right. But George was perfect! First, my parents names are George and Martha (for real), and theyâ€™d created a wonderful home for our family. So after many years, I finally dedicated a book to my parents.
|Suzanne Slade visits the White House|
Later, I had the opportunity to visit to the White House. What a thrill to personally see the magnificent home Iâ€™d studied for years. Iâ€™d be lying if I didnâ€™t say my heart skipped a beat the first time I spied that gorgeous white stone exterior, which Iâ€™d learned turned white when it was first painted with a stone sealer made of ground-up rice. As I admired the stately two-story design, I remembered the original plans called for three stories, but without enough stone to cover three floors George had modified the plans to two. I smiled when I looked up at the massive roof, recalling that the first roof of impressive heavy slate rock leaked every time it rained.
While working on The House That George Built, I was constantly amazed by the fascinating history I discovered about the President's House (which was renamed the White House by Theodore Roosevelt in 1901), and I hope readers enjoy learning about America's most famous home as much as I did!
My new book, Too Hot? Too Cold? Keeping BodyTemperature Just Right (February 2013), grew out of many years researching animals and learning how each one has adapted in its own way to the weather and temperature of its habitat. Some animals migrate or hibernate; others grow thick coats of fur in winter and shed it in summer; some, such as those that live in the desert, restrict their activities to night, when the air is cooler. I began to realize that there were many parallels between animals and the way people adjust to variations in temperature in the places where they live. We may not grow thick fur to keep warm, but we do put on heavy coats and jackets when it is cold outside.
|Caroline Arnold, age 10, with her brothers|
I grew up in Minnesota where winters are cold and summers are hot. When I was ten, my mother took a photo in front of our house of me and my brothers all bundled up in our snowsuits and mittens on a snowy February day. She wrote on the back of the photo that the temperature that day was minus fourteen degrees Fahrenheit! I have fond memories of sledding and ice skating on cold winter days in Minneapolis. In summer, when temperatures soared into the nineties, my brothers and I stayed cool by swimming in the lake not far from our house.
I now live in Los Angeles, California, where the seasonal variations are not so extreme. Even so, there are clear differences between winter and summer. On warm summer days, I often see lizards sunning themselves in my driveway. On cool winter days, the lizards hide among the rocks. In spring and fall, I enjoy watching birds as they migrate through southern California on their way to and from their summer homes farther north.
As I worked on the book, I tried to think of activities that would help readers understand the concepts I was describing. It is one thing to read about an idea, and another to experience it. Here are three simple activities you can do that are related to information presented in Too Hot? Too Cold?
Getting Heat From the Sun
Dark colors are good for absorbing the sunâ€™s heat. Thatâ€™s why vultures will hold out their dark wings on cold mornings to catch the sunâ€™s rays. Light colors reflect the sun and help keep an animal cool. The addax, an antelope that lives on the Arabian Peninsula, has a light-colored summer coat to help protect it from the desert sun.
Activity: Hot Rocks
In this activity you can test how well dark and light colors absorb the sunâ€™s heat.
You will need: Two rocks (about the size of your fist), white paint, black paint, a paintbrush
Paint one rock white and the other rock black. Put both rocks in the sun and wait for one hour. Then feel the rocks. Which rock feels warmer?
The white rock reflects the sunâ€™s rays and stays cool. The black rock soaks up the sunâ€™s rays and becomes warm. To stay cool on a hot day, would you wear a dark shirt or a light one?
Migrating to Keep Warm or Cool
Some animals leave their homes, or migrate, when the weather gets too cold or too hot. Many birds migrate. Some of them fly thousands of miles between their winter and summer homes. Strong wings make them good flyers.
Activity: Wingspan Measuring Tape
Have you ever wondered what kind of bird would you be, if you could fly? A bird flies with its arms, which are covered with feathers. Stretch out your arms as if you were flying. Here's how you can make a measuring tape to find out your wingspan...
You will need: heavy paper (such as cardstock), scissors, tape, a pencil, and a bird guidebook.
Cut the paper in 1.5 inch strips. A paper cutter works well if you have one. Or, use your scissors. You will have eleven strips, each eleven inches long.
Connect the ends of the strips with tape. (Strapping tape is best, but any tape will do.) You will have now a strip 121 inches long. Look in the bird guidebook to find the wingspans of various birds. Then, start at one end and use a yardstick or measuring tape to mark the tape with the width of each bird's wingspan. Here are some of wingspans on my tape: emperor penguin, 32 inches; peregrine falcon, 3.5 feet; red-tailed hawk, 4.5 feet; flamingo, 5 feet; turkey vulture, 6 feet; golden eagle, 7 feet; bald eagle, 8 feet; California condor, 9.5 feet. You can add the wingspans of any birds you like.
Ask two people to hold the ends of your tape. Then you can measure your wingspan. When you are not using the tape, it folds up like an accordion.
Keeping Warm Through Thick and Thin
Large objects gain and lose heat more slowly than small objects. Animals with large bodies warm up and cool down more slowly than smaller animals. They have less surface area in relation to their size than smaller animals do. For example, a crocodileâ€™s huge body helps it retain body heat longer than a smaller reptile could. This lets it remain active even after the sun has gone down.
Activity: Cooling Thermometers
This experiment is a simple demonstration comparing the length of time it takes for objects of two different sizes to cool down in your refrigerator.
You will need: 2 household thermometers, 4 washcloths, rubber bands, paper and pencil, a clock.
Look at the thermometers and write down the room temperature. Wrap one thermometer in one washcloth and fasten it with rubber bands. Wrap the other thermometer in three washcloths and fasten with rubber bands. Put both thermometers in a refrigerator for five minutes. Then take them out, unwrap them, and look at the temperature on each thermometer. Which one cooled off the most?
These activities can be done at home or at school. I enjoy doing the wingspan activity during my presentation when I do author visits at schools. Third graders are almost always red tailed hawks. Two students together, fingertip to fingertip, have the wingspan of one bald eagle!
My new book Snow School was inspired by my love of cats, especially wild cats. There are none more fascinating than snow leopards. These wild cats are so rare there are believed to be as few as 3,500 left in the entire world.
As always, when I want to learn more about a wild animal I go exploring. Thatâ€™s how I came to spend a winter in Antarctica, the experience that inspired me to write A Motherâ€™s Journey, a story about what female emperor penguins do while the males hatch out the eggs.
Sometimes, though, I just canâ€™t get to the places I need to go to explore firsthand. Then I track down experts who have been able to go to those places and studied the wild animals I want to write about. That was the case with Snow School. I had the pleasure of interviewing Dr. Tom McCarthy who has spent many years climbing the high, rugged mountains of Pakistan in order to learn about the life and behavior of snow leopards.
To see where snow leopards live and where the story of Snow School takes place, go online to find out about Pakistan (in red on the globe to the left). Also search for information about the Hindu Kush Mountains, the setting for the story. This habitat is one of the harshest on earth and requires the cats to be able to chase fast prey downhill over very rocky terrain.
|From Snow School|
Even during his many years studying snow leopards Dr. McCarthy shared that he only had a chance to watch a few downhill chases as snow leopards caught prey. He said, â€śOnce, I was lucky enough to see a mother have two cubs with her while she hunted.â€ť
Dr. McCarthy guessed these cubs were in training. Snow leopard cubs spend two years with their mothers learning to survive on their own. That inspired me to wonder what lessons snow leopard cubs need to learn in order to be successful in the extreme conditions of their home habitat.
|Dr. Tom McCarthy with a snow leopard cub (photo courtesy of Panthera Snow Leopard Trust)|
For one thing, as soon as theyâ€™re big enough, snow leopard cubs travel with their mother. That way they get a close look at the features of their environment. And they learn the shortest, safest routes to take.
|Fr0m Snow School|
To get a feel for what the snow leopard cubs are learning, go to your local park or playground with a parent or adult partner. Take along a pencil and a notepad. Draw a map of the area. Use symbols to mark any key landmarks, like fountains or statues, big trees, or benches. Next, study the map with your partner and plan the fastest, safest path to use to travel across the mapped area. Then use a watch to time how long it takes you to run across the area following your chosen path. Afterwards, revisit the map and decide if another way might be easier and safer. Time test your new route.
|From Snow School|
The snow leopardâ€™s habitat is really a high desert with very steep terrain. When these cats hunt, they have to chase down prey animals, like ibex, capable of running down steep, rocky slopes without falling. And they have to pounce at just the right moment to stop their prey without going over a cliff.
Snow leopards do have some natural built-in advantages. One is a very long tail. Dr. McCarthy reports that a snow leopardâ€™s tail is all muscle and that itâ€™s heavy. He said, â€śIt must even be heavy for the snow leopard. In snow, Iâ€™d see a mark where a cat would start to drag its tail after every two or three steps. So holding up its long tail must be tiring.â€ť
Having such a long tail is worth the effort, though, when the snow leopard starts to run. It swings its tail back and forth and that helps it stay balanced while twisting and turning. To get a feel for how its tail helps a snow leopard stay balanced, try this: stand on one foot with your hands at your sides. Then repeat standing on one foot, but this time stretch out your arms and move them forward and backward.
|From Snow School|
Snow leopards also have big feet that act like snowshoes, helping them walk on top of fluffy snow. In fact, Dr. McCarthy reported a snow leopardâ€™s feet leave very round footprints because their feet are about as wide as they are long (about four to five inches in both directions.) Measure the length and width of one of your feet. How much longer is your foot that it is wide? And, just for fun, figure out how much longer your foot is than a snow leopardâ€™s.
These cats also have a lot of fur around their toes and the pads of their feet to shield them from the ice and snow. Like housecats, snow leopards have retractable claws. They put these out to help them climb and to stop themselves from skidding.
Dr. McCarthy reported that once a snow leopard catches prey it needs a safe place to eatâ€”safer than on a steep mountainside. Dr. McCarthy said, â€śIâ€™ve watched a snow leopard drag a big goat that weighs as much, if not slightly more, than the cat does. And it dragged its prey uphill.â€ť
|From Snow School|
Imagine pulling something that weighs as much as you do. Now, imagine doing it the way a snow leopard does. This cat bites to grab its prey. Then it drags this weight between its legs. This is another behavior snow leopard cubs learn by being copycats, doing what their mother does.
From an early age, the cubs learn the smell of whatâ€™s good to hunt because their mother brings home prey. See if youâ€™ve learned to identify your food by its scent. Have an adult partner blindfold you. Then have your partner hold each of the following five food items, one at a time, under your nose for you to sniff. Test your scent IQ on the following: peanut butter, orange juice, mustard, cheese, and ketchup.
You might be surprised to learn that snow leopards usually only get a chance to catch big prey about once a week. So when it is successful, the cat is likely to stay by its prey and eat as much as 25 pounds of meat a day for two to three days. How much is that? Weigh a plate. Then put the food youâ€™re going to eat for dinner on that plate and weigh it again. Subtract the weight of the plate to see how much your meal weighs. How many of those meals would you have to eat to equal what a snow leopard eats when food is available?
Can you guess what snow leopards do after such big meals? Youâ€™re right! They sleep. Like lions, tigers, and housecats, snow leopards sleep most of the day to save their energy for hunting.
I hope you enjoy reading Snow School. For more activities and to explore more of my books visit my blog Write On! Sandra Markle.Posted by Sandra Markle, author of Snow School.All illustrations copyright 2013 by Alan Marks from Snow School.
|From Snow School|
Whenâ€™s the last time you played Red Rover or Leap Frogâ€”or bobbed for apples or went on a scavenger hunt? If youâ€™re a teacher, a parent with young children, or a grandparent, you probably get some pretty good play opportunities. But for those who no longerâ€”or havenâ€™t everâ€”come in contact with children, the concept of â€śplayâ€ť may have become completely foreign.
Thatâ€™s truly sad, because play is a key factor for enjoying good healthâ€”both physical and mentalâ€”as well as a long life. Numerous studies have documented these benefits for adults who play games:
Children get those same benefits, plus they learn vital skills such as:
- More creativity
- More laughter (which improves heart rate and lung capacity)
- Reduced blood pressure
- Decreased depression
- Longer lifespan
- Social skills and interaction
- Following rules and instructions
But scientific studies aside, the best reason for playing games is that itâ€™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 donâ€™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 canâ€™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 childâ€™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 â€śMbube, Mbubeâ€ť (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?!
Iâ€™ve been a poetry missionary for many years because I believe so strongly in all it has to offer us; after researching this book, Iâ€™m adding playfulness to my list of Life Essentials. Whether itâ€™s physical play that gets us up and moving, or mental play that keeps our synapses sharp, thereâ€™s plenty of proof that â€śthose who play get more out of their day!"But donâ€™t take my word for it: listen to thepresentation below by Dr. Stuart Brown, founder of the National Institute for Play, who says, â€śplay is as important to humans as vitamins or sleep.â€ť 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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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.