by Anastasia Suen
Whenever I visit schools the children always ask, “Where do you get your ideas?” It’s one of my most frequently asked questions. They always seem surprised when I say that ideas are everywhere. I find ideas at home, in school, and in books, magazines, and newspapers. I also find them on the television and the internet. There is always something interesting that can be used in a story. So what did I use in this story? The clues are on the cover….
I love how the cover of my first Boxcar Children Mystery tells the story at a glance. You see the four Aldens working together. It’s a classic Boxcar Children moment! That’s why I loved these books as a child. The Aldens don’t sit around worrying – they make things happen! What are they up to this time? The title is our first clue…this book is called The Zombie Project.
Why did I choose a zombie for this book? Zombies are scary, but not too scary. After all they walk slowly, so you can get away…usually! It’s the chance that you might not escape that makes it interesting. Furthermore, zombies are dead, but they’re not. They’re “undead.” Zombies used to be people like us, but now they’re trapped between life and death because of voodoo or some sort of nasty virus. So they look like us, but not quite. Instead, they’re all gory and disgusting, making them the perfect bad guy for a mystery. If you look closely at the cover, you can see the zombie walking past the river.
Things that go bump in the night
You can see a cabin in the woods on the book cover, too. It’s right behind the zombie. I’ve never seen a zombie up close, thank goodness, but I do know about camping and staying in cabins in the woods. It’s so nice to get away from the lights of the city and see all the stars at night. Oh, but those noises…those strange noises in the woods…they can keep you awake at night. Who is really out there?
Our family has had some interesting experiences camping in the woods. One night in the middle of a thunderstorm, we heard a loud cracking sound. It was a massive lightning strike, one that shut off the cabin’s power for hours. As Snoopy would say, “It was a dark and stormy night.”
Another night we heard a noise outside the cabin and when we looked out the window, it was a bear! A young bear was wandering around knocking over trash cans looking for something to eat. There was nothing to eat in our trash can, so it moved on.
On the book cover you can also see Henry holding a fishing pole and a bucket. The Aldens aren’t just fishing for clues; they’re fishing in the water. This is something that our family always does whenever we go camping in the woods. Fishing is a must.
My father taught me to fish when I was Benny’s age. I learned how to fish in the river, just like the Alden children do in this book. When my children were young, we taught them how to fish, too. It can be hard to sit there quietly and wait, but when you feel that tug on your pole, ah, sweet reward.
There’s nothing like eating a freshly caught fish cooked over a campfire. Yum! Cooking over an open flame makes the food so tasty. Later, as the fire dwindles down, it’s time for campfire stories. The sun has set, so the woods all around you are dark…and then someone tells a scary story. It’s a campfire tradition.
It is by the campfire that Henry, Jessie, Violet and Benny find out more about the Legend of the Winding River Zombie. They know the story isn’t true, it can’t be. Everyone knows that zombies aren’t real.
These days I've been reviewing picture books over at Book Buds
or at The Edge of the Forest
. But once and awhile a picture book I really want to mention has already been reviewed on both sites. Such is the case with Martha Ann's Quilt for Queen Victoria.Martha Ann's Quilt for Queen Victoria
is the story of one woman's dream--a dream she held dear despite ridicule and the dismissal of her family and friends. Based on a true account, Martha Ann's Quilt for Queen Victoria
also chronicles this dream within the context of what can only be called a difficult life.
Martha Ann was born a slave in Tennessee. Her father began saving to buy the family's freedom and move to Liberia, where Martha Ann and her siblings could not only live as free people, but also attend school. Unfortunately, shortly after arriving to Liberia, African fever killed Martha Ann's parents and her sisters, leaving her with only her brothers. The small family survived and Martha Ann married. One day, Martha Ann read about Queen Victoria in the newspaper: "She admired Queen Victoria for trying to save her and others from slavery by sending the navy." Martha Ann resolves to meet Queen Victoria and thank her in person.
Martha Ann began
saving coins in the same red box her father used to collect monies for the move to Liberia. She also begins to make a gift for the queen--a beautiful quilt with a coffee tree design. Martha Ann survives gunfire at the hands of local tribesmen, the death of two husbands, and the taunts of local children: "Auntie Martha gonna see the Queen,/Stitching a quilt of coffee beans./How man stitches will it take?/Two-four-six-eight!"
Finally, when Martha Ann was in her 70s, the wife of Liberia's first president, Mrs. Jane Roberts, helps Martha Ann make the trip to present her quilt to Queen Victoria.
Martha Ann's life and dream comprise quite a story in and of themselves. But author Kyra
E. Hicks lends a majesty to the tale, with simple, heartfelt prose and a focus on the dream above all. Lee Edward Fodi's
illustrations perfectly accent this text--while realistic, they also have a childlike quality that emphasizes the prominence of the dream in the story.Martha Ann's Quilt for Queen Victoria
is best suited for children ages six to ten. Read it aloud to a second- to fourth-grade class: this story will change the way they think about the world and inspire them to hold on to their dreams.
Review copy received by the author.
Martha Ann resources:A photo of Martha Ann Ricks in the National Portrait Gallery in London
. The portrait was commissioned by Queen Victoria.Kyra E. Hicks website
, which includes a teaching guide for Martha Ann's Quilt for Queen Victoria
and information on African-American quilting.
We’d wanted to try Hoppin’ John—the black-eyed pea dish served on January 1st for good luck—ever since Uncle Albert published New Year be Coming!: A Gullah Year in 2002. So this time last year, when we were in the middle of production on the book Shanté Keys and the New Year’s Peas, we were sure to cook up a pot of black-eyed peas at home on New Year’s Day. Not just for the good luck (though editors could always use some, you know, to make up for bad rejection-letter karma) but for research purposes. We picked a recipe and fixed it for dinner.
It was some tasty stuff, and we like to think that we were pretty lucky in 2007. Good things are happening with our current and upcoming titles, which we’ll continue to tell you about here. And for this new batch of peas on Monday, we’ll be serving it with greens (for money), cornbread (for gold), and tomatoes (for health). Also, celery for starred reviews, and ham for getting our books on state master reading lists. Okay, we made those last two up. Still, we’re going to try!
If you’d like to make your own batch of Hoppin’ John on New Year’s Day, try author Gail Piernas-Davenport’s recipe, which appears in the back of Shanté Keys. Click below for more, and have a Happy New Year!
3/4 cup chopped onion; 3/4 cup chopped celery; 2 cloves garlic, minced; 2 teaspoons canola oil; 1 12-ounce package fresh black-eyed peas, rinsed*; 2 2/3 cups chicken broth; 1/2 pound cubed ham; 1 bay leaf; cooked rice.
Heat the oil in a large pot and sauté onions, celery, and garlic until tender, about 3 minutes. Add peas, chicken broth, ham, and bay leaf. Boil for 3 minutes, then lower heat, cover and simmer until peas are tender, about 45 minutes. Check the pot occasionally and add water if needed. Remove bay leaf and serve over cooked rice. Season to suit taste.
* This recipe uses fresh black-eyed peas, which can be found in the produce section of your supermarket, but you can also use canned peas or dried peas (follow instructions).
We’ve found this time of year we get more manuscript submissions in our slush pile than usual. We think this might be because 1.) plenty of people—especially teachers and school librarians—are on holiday break in late December and have extra time to stamp all those SASEs and 2.) “Write and publish a children’s book” sounds like a fabulous New Year’s resolution, doesn’t it?
We don’t mind the extra mail—and yes, we do read ALL the submissions, every last one. And with all these new aspiring authors, there are bound to be questions. One we hear a lot is: When’s the best time of year to submit a manuscript? It depends on the publisher: some places receive unsolicited submissions for only a few months out of the year (and some don’t at all). But we’re always open to submissions—for us, the slush season is year-round. We read all the time, and when we’ve found enough book projects to fill our next list, we look for books for the list after that!
We publish books twice a year: our Fall list comes out in September, and it’s when we publish books about fall and winter holidays (Halloween, Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, Christmas, Groundhog Day, and so on), while books about spring and summer holidays (Easter, Cinco de Mayo, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, etc.) are published in March on our Spring list. Plenty of our other titles have seasonal considerations as well—we make sure we publish our books in time for African-American History Month, the start of the school year, or even the apple harvest. Sometimes, it’s all in the timing.
But if you’re a writer wondering when you should send your holiday or seasonal book manuscript—well, “anytime” still applies. (One thing we editors learn early on is to have flexible imaginations. We’ll read stories about Santa Claus even during a heat wave in August.) Keep in mind that it always takes time to consider a submission, and even longer to publish it—this is especially true of picture books: an illustrator will need several months to produce the artwork. So if you sent us a Christmas story last week, it isn’t likely to be published in time for next Christmas. (Alas, your friends and family won’t get your book in their stockings, and you’ll have to give them all Chia Pets again.) And if you have a picture book idea about, say, the winter Olympics, you’ll need to get it into a publisher’s hands ASAP for it to be out in time for 2010—and at some publishers, you’ll be too late already.
What this all means, of course, is that your New Year’s “publish a children’s book” resolution for 2008 will probably take until at least 2009 to accomplish. So what are you waiting for? Read our guidelines!
Though the winners of the Cybils Awards will not be announced for a few months, the final nominations are in. If you are not familiar with this award here is a little information as written by editor of the Cybils blog, Anne Levy:
"One of the most innovative aspects of the Cybils--something that differentiates it from other children's and YA book awards--is the fact that it's a grassroots effort to find the best in kids' books. Our nominations are drawn from the internet public, and our nominating and judging panelists comprise a broad cross-section of bloggers with a common interest in recognizing quality literature for children and young adults."
So, you, the reading public, made these nominations. Now it will be up to a panel of blogger judges to decide which of the splendid books nominated will be chosen to win awards. If you are looking for new books to buy for children this Holiday Season you might like to look at the nomination lists
. You will find the best of the best here. For more information about this award please visit the Cybils Awards blog
Oh man. If I didn't already own the Lisbeth Zwerger edition of The Gift of the Magi, I'd be sorely tempted by this:
THE GIFT OF THE MAGI
illus. by P.J. Lynch
What am I talking about - I'm already sorely tempted. And it's not like I don't have a long-standing habit of acquiring multiple editions of my holiday favorites. So far the count stands at:
A Christmas Carol - 5 (7 if you count audios and spin-offs)
The Night Before Christmas - 3
A Christmas Memory - 2
Plus 8 various nativity-themed picture books
Cripe, I think I'm crumbling. Besides, that $20 credit at Powells.com is still smoldering in my virtual pocket....