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Viewing: Blog Posts Tagged with: Picture Books, Most Recent at Top [Help]
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1. They All Saw A Cat

They All Saw A Cat. Brendan Wenzel. 2016. Chronicle. 44 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: The cat walked through the world, with its whiskers, ears, and paws...and the child saw a CAT, and the dog saw a CAT, and the fox saw a CAT. Yes, they all saw the cat.

Premise/plot: Have you ever wondered how a mouse sees a cat? how a dog sees a cat? how a fish sees a cat? how a bird sees a cat? Brendan Wenzel's picture book plays with young readers' concept of perspective.

My thoughts: I really enjoyed this one. I did. Each spread is unique and interesting. Each reveals how a creature--a flea, a bee, a skunk, a bat, a child--sees a cat. Though it is the same cat, ever creature "sees" a different cat. I'll be honest, the illustrations steal the show. That plus the premise. I would definitely recommend this one.

Text: 4 out of 5
Illustrations: 5 out of 5
Total: 9 out of 10


© 2016 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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2. Guest Post: David Jacobson on Trusting the Illustrator & the Publishing Process

By David Jacobson
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

For the last eight years, I have worked for a small Seattle book publisher called Chin Music Press.

I've done everything from fact checking and copy editing to developmental- and line-editing, from setting up book tours to reading through the slush pile (a task I actually enjoyed).

But during all that time, my name never appeared on the cover of a book.

That changed this September with the release of my first title, Are You an Echo?: The Lost Poetry of Misuzu Kaneko. A picture book, it's both biography and anthology of a much-loved Japanese children's poet, whose work has yet to be introduced to English-language readers.

Becoming an author, I learned, is a humbling experience. I had to endure the red-penciling of my not-so-flawless prose (something I used to dish out myself), and the frustration of waiting for each cog in the publishing machine to take its spin—editing, illustrating, book designing, leveling, printing, marketing, reviewing, even mailing—as deadlines came and went.

The experience opened my eyes to the anxiety authors feel as they lose more and more control over their creation, something that had not really dawned on me despite my years working in publishing.


As a staff member at a publisher, I had dealt with authors who continued to rework small details of their text until the bitter end, who agonized over each cover illustration, or who fretted over how their book page appeared on Amazon. Indeed, the degree to which authors continued "meddling" in their books sometimes affected how well we worked with them.

But being on the author side of the equation taught me just how important it is to give up control, regardless of the anxiety it might cause. That was particularly true of my interactions with Are You an Echo? illustrator Toshikado Hajiri.

David
When it came time to decide which cover to use, I requested multiple cover sketches, asking for one thing after another to be changed. But I couldn't get satisfied.

 Finally, since I was unsure of how to proceed, I asked our book designer Dan Shafer for advice. He recommended limiting how much I was trying to steer the illustrator. Illustrators, he said, do their best work when they have freedom to react to the text in their own way.

Ultimately, I left Toshi to his own devices and he ended up producing a glorious painting of Misuzu and her daughter at sunset.

We went with that.

During my time at Chin Music, there have been many occasions when interactions between writer and editor, or writer and designer have produced unexpected results.

Current author A. V. Crofts tells of her own positive experience of letting go how she thought the cover of her book should look. In another of our titles, Todd Shimoda's Oh! a Mystery of Mono no Aware, book designer Josh Powell brilliantly conceived of the idea of printing the entire book (both text and illustrations) in shades of black-and-white except for the very end.

Photo credit below.
Though initially intended to reduce the cost of the book, his solution resulted in a final explosion of color that dramatically enhanced the conclusion.

Writing is often thought to be a solo activity where one can wield total control over ones craft.

Oddly enough, its twin, publishing—the business of connecting writers to readers—is more of a team sport, requiring the combined input of different players with different skills and sensibilities.

So, as an author, don't try to control everything in your book. Find really good people to join your team. Then let your editor, illustrator, designer, or translator bring something of him or herself to the process.

The result may surprise you.

interior illustration from the book
Cynsational Notes

Photo of Misuzu, Courtesy of Preservation Association of Misuzu Kaneko's Work.

Review of the Day: Are You An Echo? by David Jacobson from Elizabeth Bird at A Fuse #8 Production. Peek: "I hope that the fame that came to Kaneko after the 2011 tsunami will take place in America, without the aid of a national disaster. And I hope that every child that reads, or is read, one of her poems feels that little sense of empathy she conveyed so effortlessly in her life."

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3. SCBWI 2016 Winter Reading List ~ Dee and Deb Off They Go Kindergarten First Day Jitters


 Dee and Deb's travels continue... Their latest stop... 

SCBWI 2016 Winter Reading List
<!--[if gte mso 9]> Normal 0 false false false EN-US JA X-NONE <![endif]-->

The Reading List Program includes books of all genres from our PAL authors and illustrators, both front list and backlist titles.
This is an opportunity to find that book that a kid or teen will enjoy and can engage with the fun and adventure of reading.
Authors and illustrators from close to your hometown to those around the world are featured on the List. The Lists will be
published bi-annually, in the Summer and Winter.



Snoopy Dance!

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Best wishes,
Donna M. McDine
Multi Award-winning Children's Author

Ignite curiosity in your child through reading!


Connect with


Dee and Deb Off They Go Kindergarten First Day Jitters ~ December 2015 ~ Guardian Angel Publishing, Inc. ~ 2016 Purple Dragonfly Honorable Mention Picture Books Five and Under and Story Monster Approved


A Sandy Grave ~ January 2014 ~ Guardian Angel Publishing, Inc. ~ 2014 Purple Dragonfly 1st Place Picture Books 6+, Story Monster Approved, Beach Book Festival Honorable Mention 2014 and Reader's Favorite Five Star Review

Powder Monkey ~ May 2013 ~ Guardian Angel Publishing, Inc. ~ 2015 Purple Dragonfly Book Award Historical Fiction 1st Place, Story Monster Approved and Reader's Favorite Five Star Review


Hockey Agony ~ January 2013 ~ Guardian Angel Publishing, Inc. ~ 2015 Purple Dragonfly Book Award Honorable Mention Picture Books 6+, New England Book Festival Honorable Mention 2014, Story Monster Approved and Reader's Favorite Five Star Review


The Golden Pathway ~ August 2010 ~ Guardian Angel Publishing, Inc.
~ Literary Classics Silver Award and Seal of Approval, Readers Favorite 2012 International Book Awards Honorable Mention and Dan Poynter's Global e-Book Awards Finalist

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4. Kids' Caldecott Club, Part 1

Kids' Caldecott Club is up and running!

In our first session, we talked about the Caldecott award, and about how the Caldecott committee works. We talked about layers, theme, and tone in story, and what we will look for as we hunt for the most distinguished picture books of 2016.

 
Here's one - Alan's Big Scary Teeth by Jarvis.
I asked the kids to tell me what kind of tone or mood they predicted it might have.
"Funny."

 
The Tree in the Courtyard by Jeff Gottesfeld, ill. by Peter McCarty
shows a different tone - historical, poignant.

 
The Night Gardener by the Fan Brothers
feels mysterious and intricate

Henry and Leo by Pamela Zagarienski
has a soft and ethereal mood.

We're starting with about 28 books this year because we only have so much time.
It would be lovely to absolutely roll in a roomful of books, but considering that we are working with after-school hours, 28 books is perfect. 


Our wonderful librarian Martha helped as we evaluated two books with our ballots this week.

First, we examined the cover, jacket flaps, endpapers, copyright page.
We looked for interesting notes about the making of the book.

Next, we "read" the pictures all through, page by page, without words.
We searched for themes, color, mood, point of view, excellent details.

Then, I read the book aloud.

We asked ourselves what the book was about.
We asked what else it was about.
We looked for details to support our ideas,
nuances in text and art, in layout, in font.
We asked ourselves if the text and illustrations wove well together, or clashed.

We asked if the book would appeal to kids, if kids would be excited about that book.

We filled out our ballots and put them in their matching envelopes.

Exciting!

Here are the books we examined this week:

We All Saw a Cat by Brendan Wenzel
I'm utterly wowed by the mind-explosions They All Saw a Cat creates. 
I love the details our kids' committee noticed - 
like balance in layout, patterns in text that echo in the illustrations, 
exuberant differences in perspective throughout this book.
Genius!


The Music in George's Head : George Gershwin Creates Rhapsody in Blue
by Suzanne Slade, illustrated by Stacy Innerst
Another wowzer!

Kids pointed out that the illustrations are done in browns and blues,
which seemed fitting considering that it's about Rhapsody in Blue.
They liked the playful hand lettering,
and the way the story begins, crescendos, and ends.
We listened to Rhapsody in Blue as we tidied up.
What a jazzy bright delight!

I love my library!



Stay tuned for updates as our Caldecott Club continues.
I'll post notes on our ballot and criteria next time.

If you're a local friend, you're welcome to join us!

We're meeting Thursdays 

at the Jefferson County Library in Port Hadlock

from 3:45-4:45 p.m.

See more info here.

Except on Thanksgiving.
That's reserved for the turkey eating club.












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5. Picture Book Monday with a review of Du Iz Tak?

Many people are convinced that the best stories are ones that are packed with a huge cast of characters, a constantly changing backdrop, a busy back story, and a great deal of drama. To be sure such stories are gratifying and engaging, but smaller, quieter tales can be incredibly rich and rewarding as well. Today's picture book story is just such a tale. The characters are insects, the setting never changes, and the events that unfold are not packed with grandiose spectacles. Instead, we are given a gem of a story that takes us into a small world where powerful and meaningful things happen on a small scale.

Du Iz Tak?Du Iz Tak?
Carson Ellis
Picture Book
For ages 5 and up
Candlewick Press, 2016, 978-0-7636-6530-2
One day two elegant insects see that a green plant is growing out of the ground and they wonder what it is. A while later three young beetles turn up and the green thing has grown. They too would like to know what the plant is. The beetles climb to the first layer of leaves and they want to go higher to the second set but they cannot reach. They decide to go and ask Icky the caterpillar if they can borrow a ladder. The kindly fellow goes and gets his very long ladder and he props it up against the plant.
  With the ladder in place, the three beetles can now climb as high as they like, and when they get up into the higher branches of the plant– which is quite a way up now because the plant is still growing - they decide to build a tree house. Actually they build three tree houses at different levels, and life is wonderful. Then a huge spider builds a web around the houses and the plant, and the beetles can do nothing about the invader who has taken over their home.
   In this wonderful picture book, several backyard stories featuring insect characters unfold before our eyes. The insects speak their own language, which is not surprising when you think about it, but luckily we can figure out much of what they are saying and we have no trouble understanding what is going on. What is delightful about this story is that though the main characters are insects, and though the setting in the book is the same one throughout the tale, the story we witness is rich, charming, and satisfying.

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6. Children's Author Interview and Book Giveaway at Free Book Friday


Having shied away from social media from quite some time, I'm now back with an interview and book giveaway at Free Book Friday.

Visit me at Free Book Friday and enter at a chance to win a free copy of Dee and Deb Off They Go Kindergarten First Day Jitters...

http://freebookfriday.com/2016/11/dee-and-deb-off-they-go-kindergarten-first-day-jitters-by-donna-mcdine/

The concept behind Free Book Friday...

It's simple. Every Friday, we give away free books!
Each week, we feature a new set of authors with a chance to win autographed copies of his/her book.
Just sign up using the entry form at the bottom of the post. Winners are chosen at random and posted every Friday morning. Hence the name, "Free Book Friday!"
Thank you for taking the time out to visit with me! Please feel free to share with your friends if you so wish!
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Best wishes,
Donna M. McDine
Multi Award-winning Children's Author

Ignite curiosity in your child through reading!

Connect with

Dee and Deb Off They Go Kindergarten First Day Jitters ~ December 2015 ~ Guardian Angel Publishing, Inc. ~ 2016 Purple DragonFly Honorable Mention Picture Books 5 and under and Story Monster Approved

A Sandy Grave ~ January 2014 ~ Guardian Angel Publishing, Inc. ~ 2014 Purple Dragonfly 1st Place Picture Books 6+, Story Monster Approved, Beach Book Festival Honorable Mention 2014 and Reader's Favorite Five Star Review

Powder Monkey ~ May 2013 ~ Guardian Angel Publishing, Inc. ~ 2015 Purple Dragonfly Book Award Historical Fiction 1st Place, Story Monster Approved and Reader's Favorite Five Star Review

Hockey Agony ~ January 2013 ~ Guardian Angel Publishing, Inc. ~ 2015 Purple Dragonfly Book Award Honorable Mention Picture Books 6+, New England Book Festival Honorable Mention 2014, Story Monster Approved and Reader's Favorite Five Star Review

The Golden Pathway ~ August 2010 ~ Guardian Angel Publishing, Inc. ~ Literary Classics Silver Award and Seal of Approval, Readers Favorite 2012 International Book Awards Honorable Mention and Dan Poynter's Global e-Book Awards Finalist

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7. A Celebration of Beatrix Potter: Art & Letters by More than 30 of Today's Favorite Children's Book Illustrators by Frederick Warne & Co., 112pp, RL 4



Beatrix Potter and her books were a meaningful part of my childhood. As a child, I loved all things tiny - and what's not to love about a tidy little pile of green books with white trim? Especially when the illustrations inside carry you away to a magical world that exists behind hedges, under piles of oily-tasting mown grass and near the damp edges of a pond dotted with lily pads? As a parent reading her books to my children, it was harder to make sense of her strange world, although the illustrations and curious ways of the animals remained transportive enough to make me very excited to get my hands on A Celebration of Beatrix Potter: Art and Letters by More than 30 of Today's Favorite Children's Book Illustrators.

Beyond the obvious attributes that keep Potter's books on the shelves 100 plus years after her debut, The Tale of Peter Rabbit, which was originally self-published, are the facts of the woman herself. Born in 1866 and growing up in the Victorian era, Potter was fiercely independent and "unwavering curiosity led her to become a cryptographer, an amateur scientist, an award-winning farmer, a political activist, a revolutionary conservationist and a forward thinking business woman." Pretty spectacular accomplishments for a woman of wealth in an era when women were expected to follow rigid social structures. This celebration of Potter and her 150th birthday is a delight for anyone who is a fan of contemporary children's book illustrators. 


From favorites of mine like David Wiesner, Chris Haughton, Jen Corace, Renata Liwska Brendan Wenzel, Dan Santat and Tony DiTerlizzi, to greats like Rosemary Wells, Peggy Rathmann, Wendell Minor, Brian Pinkney and Tomie de Paola, fans of Potter will absolutely delight at their renderings of favorite characters. Nine of Potter's books are featured here, with portions reprinted, along with a brief paragraph about the origins of each book and remembrances from contributors. I completely enjoyed flipping through the pages, seeing Potter's originals next to new interpretations and being transported one more time to that world behind the hedgerow. Such a treat!

Source: Review Copy

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8. We Found A Hat

We Found A Hat. Jon Klassen. 2016. Candlewick. 56 pages. [Source: Review copy]

First sentence: We found a hat. We found it together. But there is only one hat. And there are two of us.

Premise/plot: Jon Klassen is very, very, very, very, very popular. But he has a very, very, very, very, very odd sense of humor. This is the third 'hat' book. (Three picture books with 'hat' in the title. But different characters, different hats, as far as I can recall.) This picture book is about what happens when two very good friends want the same hat.

My thoughts: Well, I'll be honest. I read it three or four times through and the confusion hasn't left me. I could pretend that I "get" this book. I could join in with those saying that it's oh-so-wonderful and one of the best books ever. I could use the excuse that I don't want to spoil the book for anyone else by talking about it. Or the excuse that it was so good it left me speechless. But I won't. I don't think that you should have to read a picture book a dozen times to "get" the brilliance of the 'twist' ending. The other two books were odd but understandable. This one? Not so much.

Text: 3 out of 5
Illustrations: 3 out of 5
Total: 6 out of 10


© 2016 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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9. Alphonse, That is Not OK to Do! by Daisy Hirst


Earlier this year I enthusiastically reviewed the marvelous debut picture book from Daisy HirstThe Girl with the Parrot on Her Head. Hirst's book subtly, thoughtfully and genuinely addresses the emotions of loneliness, anger and fear in a small child while simultaneously creating a setting and story that captures the imagination, creativity and curious logic of children. And, as with all the best picture books, Hirst makes this all seem effortless. Whatever countless hours, months and years of work that went into creating her picture book become an seemingly effortlessly engaging, charming story that leaves readers and listeners with so much to talk about. Hirst accomplishes the same magic with her new book, Alphonse, That Is Not OK to Do!, a sibling story that is a joy to read. In fact, I read it over and over to kindergarten, first and second graders the week before writing this review and I discovered something new and wonderful about the book with each reading. And, as with her debut book, Hirst's new picture book gives readers and listeners so much to think and talk about.

Alphonse, That Is Not OK to Do! begins, "Once there was Natalie," and we see a happy red monster swinging as she holds her parents's hands. A page turn brings the arrival of Alphonse. While Natalie's facial expression is less than cheerful, she, "mostly did not mind there being Alphonse." We see the two playing together, making things together and naming pigeons together, but we also learn that sometimes Alphonse draws on things Natalie has made and occasionally eats her books, which she hates.


One day, when things aren't going well for Natalie, Alphonse sends her over the edge. She finds him under the bed, eating her favorite book. If you look closely you will notice that Alphonse is eating A Bargain for Frances by Russell Hoban which, Hirst's bio reveals, was her favorite audio book as a child. She tells him that is not OK to do, then draws an angry picture in which a tiny Alphonse is being assailed by "a tornado, two beasts and a swarm of peas." Alone in her bath, Natalie becomes worried when she thinks she hears her drawing come to life. In a very clever twist that took me a reading or two to notice, the sounds that Natalie hears (which are being made by Alphonse as he tries to get the tape to repair Natalie's book down from a high shelf with the vacuum then a chair) do actually echo the sounds that her drawing might make. Natalie is scared, and remorseful. A two page spread shows her at the right corner of the recto, wrapped in her towel and looking worried. A page turn reveals the scene below.


Hirst ends her book with an explanation and apology from Alphonse, which Natalie responds too with sweet concern and her own apology for being mean. Alphonse then shows Natalie that he finished her picture and her expression is one of trepidation. Happily, she thinks it is "Most Excellent Fantastic!" and the two go on to draw more together.

I realize that I basically told the whole story of Alphonse, That Is Not OK to Do! here, but I wanted you to get a feel for the excellent story telling on display as well as the superb, caring character that is Natalie. There are teachable moments in this book and moments where you will want to stop and talk with the listeners. Best of all, there are no adults in this book, allowing Natalie and Alphonse to work things out themselves, which is so much more powerful than having mom or dad come in and sort things out.

For a glimpse into the long process of writing this book, and the collaborations along the way that shaped it, read Hirst's contribution to Picture Book Party, a blog by Walker Books UK, partner with my favorite publisher of picture books, Candlewick Press.

The Girl with the Parrot on Her Head



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10. Author Interview: Debbie Levy on I Dissent: Ruth Bader Ginsburg Makes Her Mark

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Happy Election Day! Go vote!

We welcome author Debbie Levy to talk about her new picture book biography. 

From the promotional copy of I Dissent: Ruth Bader Ginsburg Makes Her Mark, illustrated by Elizabeth Baddeley (Simon & Schuster, 2016):

Ruth Bader Ginsburg has spent her lifetime disagreeing . . . with creaky old ideas. With unfairness. With inequality. She has disagreed. She has disapproved. She has objected and resisted. 

She has dissented!

Disagreeable? No. Determined? Yes! 

Ruth Bader Ginsburg has changed her life, and ours, by voicing her disagreements and standing up for what’s right. This picture book about the first female Jewish justice of the U.S. Supreme Court shows that disagreeing does not make you disagreeable and that important change can happen one disagreement at a time.

See also the Glorious RBG Blog (click to view 11 entries).

Welcome to Cynsations, Debbie! We're both graduates of The University of Michigan Law School. Did you practice law or go straight to writing for young readers like I did (or rather like I did after clerking)?

I did practice law for several years after law school. But writing books for children is the only job I’ve held for more than six years. Lawyer at a big Washington, D.C. law firm: six years. Newspaper editor: six years. Then I took a class at the Writer’s Center in Bethesda, Maryland, with the excellent Mary Quattlebaum. (Check out her books, and her reviewing work!)

Writing for children: This was a vocation with long-term potential.

Michigan Law School Reading Room
Hey, I have a newspaper background, too--so much in common! You write fiction and nonfiction across formats and age levels. Often I hear from new writers that they feel pressured to pick one focus. What has your range of pursuits done for you in terms of craft and career?

I think the writers you’re hearing from are telling a truth: There can be pressure to pick one focus or, to put it otherwise, to establish a “brand.”

I think I must have subconsciously scoffed at the notion that I could ever be a brand—ha, a Debbie Levy brand!—so, for better or worse, I’ve mostly followed my interests and allowed serendipity a role in choosing projects.

Also, one solution for writers who do want to be multi-focal is to have more than publisher. I realize that doesn’t solve a beginning writer’s problem, who may be looking for Publisher #1. But it is an option once you start getting published.

Congratulations on the release of I Dissent: Ruth Bader Ginsburg Makes Her Mark, illustrated by Elizabeth Baddeley (Simon & Schuster, 2016)! What about Ruth Bader Ginsburg called to you as a writer?

Thank you! Like many people, I knew that the Glorious RBG was the second woman to serve on the Supreme Court of the United States and the first Jewish woman on the Court.

I knew that, before that, she was a federal appeals court judge in Washington, D.C., and, before that, one of leading lawyers in the field of equal rights for women and girls.

What I didn’t know, until I started researching more deeply about her, is that she has been disagreeing with unfairness and with things that are just plain wrong from the time she was a little girl.

I mean, she objected to being excluded from shop class in grade school, and being required to take cooking and sewing instead! When on a car trip with her parents, she disagreed with she saw a sign outside a hotel that read “No Dogs or Jews Allowed.” Later, of course, she went on to disagree, resist, object, and dissent her way into big things.

And she’s been doing this for years with a voice that is not loud (people lean in to hear her words), in a manner that is not obnoxious (more benefit of the doubt than bashing, more insight than invective), and in service of justice.

So, I realized, the story of her life offers this inspiring lesson: Disagreeing does not make you disagreeable, and important change happens one disagreement at a time. Is it any wonder, then, that I thought she was a great person to introduce to young people in a picture book?

Agreed! Many of my favorite people disagree strongly with injustice. What were the challenges (research, psychological, logistical) in bringing the story to life?

I feel lucky to live in the Washington, D.C. area, because although Justice Ginsburg didnot find time for an interview with me last summer when I was working on this book, she did grant me access to her papers on deposit in the Manuscript Division at the Library of Congress (practically next door to the Supreme Court!).

I’ve gone through at least one Manuscript Division collection before, but none like this. So tidy! Meticulous! Her speeches typed on 4 x 6 cards: impeccable! Her handwritten notes on yellow legal sheets discussing and advocating for the Equal Rights Amendment that never got adopted!

Although I didn’t absolutely need to read piles of drafts of legal briefs and memoranda, I dived into this stuff with gusto; you do get a sense of a person from their papers.

Oh, wait. You asked for challenges. It is a challenge to write about someone, a living, active person, without having an interview. But there were many, many print and video interviews of RBG for me to consult. Many scholarly articles, by and about her.

And she did review the manuscript last October. She sent a nice little note, and wrote in some handwritten notes in the margins of my typescript. I took all her edits!

Since you’ve specifically mentioned “psychological challenges”—I lost my mother three years ago.

Debbie's mother kayaking on the Wye River
She was a vibrant, ever-curious, outgoing woman, someone always interested in another person’s story, someone who as a girl dreamed of being a journalist (she ended up in the wholesale costume jewelry business instead), and she would have been over the moon to know that I was writing a book about RBG, to know that I was elbow-deep in RBG materials at the Library of Congress, to know that RBG looked over my manuscript pre-publication.

I’m answering your questions, Cyn, the morning after the book launch for I Disssent, which we held at D.C.’s great Politics & Prose Bookstore. Many friends who had known my mother attended.

I said there, “I cannot help but think that had my mother still been alive, she would have figured out a way to get me into RBG’s chambers for an interview—and she along with me!”

The room was filled with knowing smiles and laughter. Someone even called out my mother’s signature phrase: “Let me ask you a question”—her way of getting people to open up to her.

That helped with the pain of not having Mom there. (And, really, she would have snagged me an interview.)

Talk to us about disagreeing. It sounds like a negative focus for a children's book. Is it? In either case, why do you think it's important in the conversation of youth literature?

Yes, let’s talk about disagreeing! The theme of disagreeing is really what sold my editor at Simon & Schuster on this book.

From the very beginning, we were really excited about creating a book that said to all kids, and to girls in particular, that disagreeing does not make a person disagreeable, and that you can accomplish big things for yourself and for the world through dissent and by finding another way when the world says “no” to you.

It’s a positive message, but it’s also a message that says you don’t have to be positive—that is, you don’t have to sound or look positive, you don’t have to just say yes and smile and go along with things that you believe are wrong—to be a good person.

At the same time, simply disagreeing without more isn’t really enough if you want to change your life or anyone else’s. On the back of the book, we’ve put this RBG quote: “Fight for the things that you care about. But do it in a way that will lead others to join you.”

Seems simple, right? But it’s that second sentence that is so hard to pull off.

Many authors discover reoccurring themes in their work? Is this true of you? If so, could you tell us about it and how I Dissent fits in?

I seem to return to the theme of Outsiderness. My mother, protagonist of the nonfiction-in-verse The Year of Goodbyes (Hyperion, 2010), being an outsider as a girl in Nazi Germany in 1938. Danielle, protagonist of my young adult novel Imperfect Spiral (Bloomsbury, 2013), who finds an unexpected antidote to her feelings of being the outsider in an unlikely friendship with the six-year-old boy she babysits one summer.

The African American individuals and communities, outsiders in their own country, in my nonfiction picture book We Shall Overcome: The Story of A Song (Disney-Jump at the Sun, 2013).

Today we may look at RBG and see the ultimate insider—she’s a U.S. Supreme Court Justice, for heaven’s sake! But she overcame the outsiderness of being a Jew in a sometimes hostile Gentile world, of being a young woman in the (then) overwhelmingly male-dominated world of law school, of being a female lawyer in a (then) man’s profession, and of being an advocate for legal and social changes that went against the grain of society’s traditional norms. There’s my theme.

What do you love about your writing life?

Other writers. What good communities and friendships I’ve found!

What do you do when you're not writing or out-and-about in your author hat?

Walk in the woods or along the nearby Chesapeake and Ohio Canal. Kayak in the Chesapeake Bay area. Fish in the Chesapeake Bay area. Read.

Think about whoever my next dog will be.

Apologize to my cat for thinking about my next dog.

You know, the usual.

What can your readers look forward to next?

In February 2017, Soldier Song, A True Story of the Civil War (Disney-Hyperon). An 80-page picture book for older children about a remarkable event that occurred after the Battle of Fredericksburg. Illustrated by the excellent, creative Gilbert Ford, with lots of room for excerpts from soldier’s letters and diaries. I’m excited about this!

Don't miss The Glorious RBG Blog!


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11. Picture Book Monday with a review of Penguin Problems

Like it or not, we all are, on occasion, prone to being a little self-centered. When the world does not give us what we want we whine and wail about how terrible our life is and how the system is out to get us. In today's book you will meet a penguin who is convinced that every aspect of his life is a disaster, a nightmare. And then someone comes along who helps him gain a little perspective.

This is a deliciously funny book, and it is also one that gives is a gentle, thoughtful reminder that we should take the time to look around so that we see what we are perhaps missing.

Penguin ProblemsPenguin Problems
Jory John
Illustrated by Lane Smith
Picture Book
For ages 5 and up
Random House, 2016, 978-0-553-51337-0
One morning Penguin wakes up “way too early” and immediately he starts to complain. His beak is cold, the other penguins are making too much noise, and it snowed again the night before and he does not really like snow. Or the sun, which is too bright.
   Feeling hungry, Penguin heads to the ocean. He finds the water too salty and he does not think he floats enough. In short he sinks “like a dumb rock.” When he dives under water to look for fish he encounters a hungry orca, and a hungry seal, and a hungry shark.
   Though he is still hungry himself, Penguin gets out of the water because his flippers are tired from all the hard swimming he has had to do to avoid being eaten. It is hard work swimming when you are a penguin. It’s also hard work walking, or rather waddling, on land. If only Penguin could fly, but he can’t. If only Penguin could figure out which of the many penguins around him is his mother or father but he can’t because all the penguins look alike. If only….
   Then a walrus comes over to a now thoroughly upset Penguin and offers him a few sage words of advice.
   It is all too easy to get disgruntled about one’s life, to spend one’s days complaining about all the things that are not perfect, and to feel much put upon by one’s circumstances. However, behaving in this manner does not really make anything better. In fact, griping and grumbling more often than not just makes us feel worse.
   In this clever picture book we meet a very disgruntled penguin who is so busy being upset with his lot in life that he forgets to notice that there are many wonderful things around him, things that should be giving him joy. If only he would bother to notice them.

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12. Whew! Just in Time!

She's five now and tomorrow is her party.  I went to the bookstore and I was appalled to realize that my obsession with middle grade fiction has left me unfamiliar with current picture books.  I managed.  I bought Mo Willems'  The Thank You Book.  We are big Mo Willems fans, she and I.  And then, because she is my granddaughter and I don't have to care about protecting her from commercialism quite as much, I bought her an I Can Read book about one of her favorite TV shows.

No, Mo, thank YOU!!

You may be in a similar quandary as the frenzied gift-giving season arrives.  All the FB posts and tweets are now counting down in days to You-Know-When.

Just in time!!!  The New York Times Book Review has published the Best Illustrated Books of 2016 list.   Hmm, it's not the best PICTURE books of the year, but, look, they all seem to be for children.  Here's the list.  I am baffled to admit that I recognize only one title on this entire list.

Anyway, these may not be the best picture books but the artwork in each one is superb.  If you have the luxury of giving the children in your life books they want to read AND books you want them to experience, well, do it!

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13. Because of Thursday

Because of Thursday. Patricia Polacco. 2016. Simon & Schuster. 40 pages. [Source: Review copy]

First sentence: Thursdays had always been lucky for Annie Fetlock. She was born on a Thursday. She won her first cooking contest at the age of eight on a Thursday. She met the love of her life, Mario, on a Thursday. They were married on a bright Thursday afternoon, and their two children were each born on a Thursday. One in June and the other in July. It was actually on a Thursday that Annie and Mario opened their diner together. And it was on a Thursday that Annie made her signature creation. A splendid pasta salad.

Premise/plot: I'm tempted to say there are two kinds of people in the world: those who love Patricia Polacco, and those who don't. If you've read Polacco, chances are, you'll know exactly what I mean. Her picture books tend to be for older readers, have a LOT of text, and tell wonderful, heartfelt, emotionally compelling STORIES. Not every Polacco is a tear-jerker. But. More often than not, she gives readers stories and characters worth thinking about. She doesn't go for the quick laugh or the word pun.

Annie Fetlock is the heroine of Because of Thursday. The first two or three pages fly readers through the first sixty or so years of her life. And then, the story begins...

My thoughts: If you love cats, I think you HAVE to read this one. While the title could be "Because of Thursday" for a couple of reasons, I'm going to go with the CAT. I really love how Thursday (the cat) really, truly brought joy into her life again and changed all her luck, if you will.

Who else should read this one? If you love COOKING or EATING or watching the Food Network.

Note to everyone: DON'T FORGET THIS ONE FOR THE 2017 CYBILS.

Text: 5 out of 5
Illustrations: 5 out of 5
Total: 10 out of 10


© 2016 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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14. Won Ton: A Cat Tale Told in Haiku

Won Ton. Lee Wardlaw. Illustrated by Eugene Yelchin. 2011. 40 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: Nice place they got here. Bed. Bowl. Blankie. Just like home! Or so I've been told.

Premise/plot: Won-Ton (not his *real* name) is a shelter cat who's been adopted by a young boy. The book tells--in verse--what happens next. If you love cats, then this one is a real treat. For example:
Your tummy, soft as/ warm dough. I kneed and kneed, then/ bake it with a nap.
or
I explained it loud/ and clear. What part of "meow"/ don't you understand?
or
Sorry about the/ squish in your shoe. Must've/ been something I ate.
My thoughts: I do love cats. (Even though I'm allergic.) And this picture book alternates being cute and funny. I definitely enjoyed it.

Text: 4 out of 5
Illustrations: 4 out of 5
Total: 8 out of 10




© 2016 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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15. Before Morning by Joyce Sidman, illustrated by Beth Krommes


Joyce Sidman and Beth Krommes have a way with creating meditatively beautiful books that make you slow down and think about the world around you. Their works are like the picture book equivalents of a deep, cleansing breath. With their newest book, Before Morning, they visit the magical world of a snow day. I say magical because, as a native Southern Californian, a snow day seems extremely exotic and unattainable, almost like getting to visit Santa's workshop or Dumbledore's office. 



Before Morning begins with eight pages of illustrations that show us a mother and child walking home through a bustling city as night falls. Entering their apartment, we see the table is set for dinner, and parents are hugging, yet the look on the child's face is one of sadness. The final page of illustrations before the text begins shows the mother sitting on her child's bed saying goodnight. She is in a pilot's uniform and a book about Amelia Earhart is on the child's bed. It is time for her to go to work. A page turn reveals the words, "In the deep woolen dark, as we slumber unknowing, let the sky fill with flurry and flight." As an afterword from Sidman tells us, Before Morning is written in the form of an "invocation - a poem that invites something to happen, often asking for help or support." As the wonderful poetry of Sidman's text flows on, she asks that the "air turn to feathers, the earth turn to sugar," as she asks for snow to fall. We see the city dwellers cope as their world is blanketed in white and we see anxious, weary travelers at the airport, watching the snow fall out the windows as Sidman asks to let "urgent plans founder," and let "pathways be hidden from sight." As the story goes on, readers will realize that the invocation is from (or for?) the child wishing for the mother's return and having that wish granted. "Please - just this once - change the world before morning: make it slow and delightful . . . and white." The final illustrations show the family happily reunited and heading out into the newly white world for a day of sledding.



One thing I especially like about Krommes's scratchboard illustrations are the almost genderlessness of her characters, allowing readers to imagine a boy or a girl child awaiting her mother's return. I wish I lived in a snowy place and my kids were small again so that we could read Before Morning together, cozy in bed, on a night when snow has been promised, falling asleep and hoping to be greeted by a snow day in the morning - the gift of a pause in our busy lives. A deep, cleansing breath.




 More books by 
Joyce Sidman & Beth Krommes:






Source: Review Copy


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16. How to Be A Good Cat

How To Be A Good Cat. Gail Page. 2011. Bloomsbury. 32 pages. [Source: Review copy]

First sentence: Bobo was good. He liked to help. So when Mr. Hiccup asked Mrs. Birdhead if someone could look after his kitten, Bobo volunteered!

Premise/plot: Bonkers, the neighbor's kitten, IS very, very naughty. Bobo has quite a time trying to keep up with him. When Bobo stops treating him like a dog, and, instead seeks to learn ALL ABOUT CATS (from a cat), things improve. He learns how to sneak, how to chat, how to stretch, how to clean himself, how to climb...

My thoughts: I liked this one. Bonkers is quite adorable. A perfectly cute and sweet-looking gray and white kitten. Of course, readers learn that he's not quite as innocent as he appears. But it's fun to read about these two.

Do I love the illustrations? I can't say that I do. Oh, I definitely loved Bonkers, and how he's illustrated. Some quite expressive illustrations!!! But there is something about how Bobo is drawn--he's almost always, always on two legs instead of four. He doesn't look like a dog. He looks like a human in a dog costume. And that, for some reason, bothers me. Also, the cat who teaches Bobo how to act like a cat walks on two legs. And it's just unnatural looking.

Text: 5 out of 5
Illustrations: 2 out of 5
Total: 7 out of 10


© 2016 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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17. Who What Where? by Olivier Tallec



Last Year I enthusiastically reviewed the curiously out of the ordinary picture book Who Done It? by Olivier Tallec. Everything about Tallec's book was fun and funny. Tallec brings back the same cast of characters and more mysteries to be solved in his newest book Who What Where?

With a spine on the horizontal, the format makes you lift the cover and hold the book in a different way, a way that lends itself to the story inside. Tallec's questions are not as easy to answer as they seem at first. Readers will pore over illustrations trying to figure out who chose the rug for a hiding place, who is looking in the mirror, who is playing ghosts and who jumped a little too much on the bed. The crime scene is at the top of the fold with the line up of possible perps below it. Tallec's bright palette and fantastic facial expressions on his humans and animals make Who What Where? a real gem. Be sure to find either or both of these books by Tallec and be ready to have a very fun time reading with your little one.



Source: Review Copy

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18. Picture Book Monday with a review of Shy

For many of us, talking to people we do not know is a very hard thing to do. Even when we really want to make friends, taking that step to connect with someone new seems almost insurmountable, especially if it takes us out of comfort zone and forces us to go somewhere that we are not familiar with.

Today's picture book beautifully captures the journey that a character takes when he has to leave the place he knows, to seek out something that he desperately needs.

ShyShy
Deborah Freedman
Picture Book
For ages
Penguin Random House, 2016, 978-0-451-47496-4
Shy is happiest when he is “between the pages of a book,” when he can go to “a land far away” and experience “once upon a time.” Shy particularly loves books about birds, where he happily reads about their beauty and their songs. The sad thing is that Shy has never heard real bird song because the birds in books cannot sing.
   Then one day a little yellow bird flies by, a real bird that sings. Shy is delighted, and overwhelmed. He would love to talk to the bird but has no idea how to do so. What if he makes a mess of things, what if he makes a fool of himself, what if…
   And then the bird is gone.
   Shy so wants to follow the bird, but he has never left his safe little hiding place within the pages of books. He has never ventured out into the world. Though he is afraid, Shy leaves his home for the first time in his life and what he sees as he seeks out the bird amazes him. There are all kinds of animals, and there are birds, lots of birds. Shy hears the song of his bird and follows, and then comes that moment when he needs to speak, to connect with the bird, but Shy cannot get the words out and then…
   The bird is gone again and Shy is alone once more.
   Many of us find it very hard to venture away from the places that make us feel safe, the places that we are used to. If we are lucky, something comes along that pulls us out of our safe areas, and we enter a world full of marvels and possibilities, the most precious of these being friendships and connections with others. This remarkable picture book explores the journey a very shy character makes when something from the outside world touches him so such a degree that he has to follow; he has to leave the safety of his book for the sake of something wonderful.

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19. Once, Twice, Thrice

A little girl "reads" to her father at bedtime.  "One mouse, two mouses, three mouses."

So begins my friend's new picture book, "Once, Twice, Thrice" by Kim Chatel.  Like parents everywhere in the English speaking world, the father explains that when you add one mouse to another mouse, you get two mice.  Are two houses called hice, then?

The father daughter duo explore other irregular plurals in this cleverly written and charmingly illustrated book.  Artist Kathleen Bullock picks just the right color palette for a night time tale.

Besides being a sweet bedtime story, this book will be a winner in primary language arts classes and with ESL teachers. 

Click here to get your own copy.




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20. I Am a Story by Dan Yaccarino





Dan Yaccarino has written a picture book that really speaks to me. I Am A Story tells the story of, well, storytelling, with the story as narrator. As Frank Viva writes in his review, it's "kind of a historical biography of storytelling." Yaccarino uses a bright, primary palette for his illustrations, with the colors evoking and connecting different time periods. I Am a Story is the perfect book for a librarian and teacher, especially for someone who works in a school where character education is a major pillar of our curriculum. I Am a Story solidifies my belief that stories connect us and form the foundation of a community, a culture. While words can divide us, I think that ultimately, story telling unites us.


Yaccarino begins his book, "I am a story. I was told around a campfire." From there we are off on a journey that visits the highlights (and some low points) of the varied and long history of storytelling. From carvings and pictographs to tapestries and illuminated manuscripts. 


Yaccarino goes on to share the places where stories are discovered, from private to public libraries, biblioburros and Little Free Libraries. Stories are shared through the radio, and here Yaccarino shows a family around the radio, probably listening to The War of the Worlds. Another illustration shows movie goers enjoying Georges Méliès A Trip to the Moon. Television and computers are also shown as a way to share stories. Censorship, book banning and book burning are also addressed. Yaccarino ends I Am a Story with these wonderful words, "I've inspired millions. I can go with you anywhere and will live forever. I am a story."





Source: Review Copy

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21. Also an Octopus or A Little Bit of Nothing by Maggie Tokuda-Hall, illustrated by Benji Davies



Sometimes I will do a cold reading to a class of kids when I want to get a group opinion on a picture book. Occasionally, I will love a picture book that I read in the silence of my own home and it falls flat when I read it out loud to a group of kids. And vice versa. More than once I have not been moved by a picture book only to have the audience go crazy for it. I read Also an Octopus or A Little Bit of Nothing by Maggie Tokuda-Hall, illustrated by the marvelous Benji Davies (author and illustrator of Grandad's Island), out loud without even cracking the spine first, to two classes of kindergarteners and it was a hit - for all of us. Also an Octopus turned out to be a special treat for me because it is a book about story telling and how to tell a story, something dear to my heart. This is especially so since I became the librarian in a school where more than two-thirds of the student body are English language learners, less than two-thirds are reading at grade level and very few have the stamina to read a whole book (that is not a graphic novel). I am constantly talking to my students about story structure, the problem and solving the problem and Also an Octopus perfectly packs this lesson into a brilliantly and brightly illustrated picture book that is so fun to read.


 I was especially excited to learn that debut author Maggie Tokuda-Hall, a former children's bookseller and event coordinator at a well loved, independent San Francisco bookstore, was inspired to write Also an Octopus after repeated readings (out loud, for work) of Jon Klassen's I Want My Hat Back. When she asked herself, "Why is this book so good?" the answer she realized that it is the "perfect basic story, stripped down to the bare parts: Bear, quite simply, wants his hat back." This led Tokuda-Hall to begin writing a story about an octopus who wants to travel to far away galaxies but first, she realized, "Every story starts the same way . . . with nothing."





Moving on from nothing, every story needs a character. How about an octopus who plays the ukulele? But, Tokua-Hall tells readers, "in order for it to be a story, and not just an octopus, that octopus needs to want something." Thus, the problem is identified and the main character can spend the rest of the story solving the problem! As you can see from Davies's wonderfully bright illustrations that pop with purples, yellows and oranges, there are many ways to solve this problem. Tokuda-Hall, who said she felt like she "won the illustrator lottery" when she was paired with Davies, felt that Davies not only shared her vision for this story but "made it so much better and cooler" with the strong sense of story that his illustrations embody. I couldn't agree more! The words and pictures are perfectly paired in Also an Octopus, with Davies's artwork bringing the crazy world embodied in the text to life.

Whether you are looking for a spectacularly illustrated picture book that is a delight to read out loud (or to yourself) or a tool to teach story structure and story telling to kids (or adults), Also an Octopus or A Little Bit of Nothing is a MUST.

Source: Review Copy

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22. Box by Min Flyte, illustrated by Rosalind Beardshaw


Box by Min Flyte with illustrations by Rosalind Beardshaw is about one of my favorite things - boxes. Building cardboard box forts as a kid and for my kids, as well as smaller cardboard box houses for dolls and toys, is  and long has been one of my favorite things to do. With Box, Flyte and Beardshaw have created a marvelous story and exploration that little listeners will love. Best of all, and crucial for a book in which boxes are the star, there are TONS of flaps to lift and boxes to peek inside!




Unfortunately, I could not find any illustrations to show you just how fantastically the flaps compliment the illustrations and story so I'll just have to describe them. Thomas, Alice, Sam and Nancy each have a box. What is inside each box? A drum, a blanket, a tricycle and more boxes! Five flaps lift to reveal a toy mouse sleeping in a cozy little box. After the boxes are emptied, of course they need to be played with every bit as much as the things that were inside! Imaginations take off and castles, pirate ships and puppet theaters are created - all with flaps to lift. But wait, there's more! If you put all the boxes together you get a special flap that unfolds, like an accordion, to reveal a rocket ship! But wait - there's even more! A four page gatefold reveals one more creation, followed by tired out inventors and creators asleep - in a box, of course!

Source: Review Copy

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23. Picture Book Monday with a review of They all saw a cat

So many of the world's problems arise because we think everyone thinks and sees things the way we do. We dare to think that they if they don't see things our way, then they are in the wrong. We forget that who we are - our life experiences and our background - hugely affect our perceptions.

This amazing picture book shows us how different characters all see the same thing in very different ways. Their viewpoints are startling, visually, and give us cause to pause. As we look at the artwork we are gently reminded to think about how we perceive our world.

They All Saw a CatThey all saw a cat
Brendan Wenzel
Picture Book
For ages 5 and up
Chronicle Books, 2016, 978-1-4521-5013-0
A cat, wearing a red collar that has a little yellow bell attached to it, goes out into the world with its whiskers ready and its tail in the air. The cat is seen by a child, a dog, a fox, a goldfish, a mouse, a bee, a bird, a flea, a snake, a skunk, a worm, and bat. One would think that they would all see the cat in the same way, but this is not the case.
   To the child the cat is a smiling, benign animal that is there to be patted. The dog sees the cat as a lean, mean looking creature. The goldfish, from its watery home in a fish bowl, sees a blurry shape with enormous yellow eyes. For the poor mouse the cat is a monstrous beast with yellow, slit eyes, huge claws, and sharp fangs. The bee, with its compound eyes, sees a pointillist cat, a vague figure made up of lots of colors. The bat, flying in the night sky, also sees a shape made up of dots, but the dots it sees are white in color.
   Every animal sees the cat differently depending on its perspective and its place in the food chain. The kinds of eyes and senses they have also determine what the cat looks like to them. How does that cat see itself?
   This wonderful picture book takes children on a journey into the imagination. It also presents them with the idea that different characters will see the same thing in widely different ways. We all view the world through eyes that are touched by our biases, interests, and backgrounds, and therefore we have to be sensitive to the fact that other people’s perceptions are not like our own.

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24. Author-Illustrator Interview: Ambelin Kwaymullina on Justice, Hope & Her Creative Family

Sample chapter from Candlewick Press
By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

The second of a four-installment dialogue with Ambelin and Cynthia.  

Our focus is on the creative life and process, speculative fiction, diversity, privilege, indigenous literature, and books for young readers.

Yesterday, Ambelin spoke on ethics, the writing process and own voices.

We have children’s-YA literature and the law in common. That’s actually a pretty common combination here in the states. Why do you think there are so many people involved in both?

Well, I’ve had some of my law students suggest the law is so horribly dry that it drives people to being creative in order to escape its clutches (these are generally the students who are studying law because their parents thought it was a good idea).

But for me at least, I think the reason I studied law and the reason I write are the same. In both realms, I am seeking justice – and justice, in Aboriginal societies, generally equates to balance, not just between human beings but between all forms of life (and everything lives).

I write speculative fiction because I want to write about the possibility of defeating injustice; to write about the terrible things that were (and are) while imagining what could be.

The oppressive law I wrote about in the Tribe series divides people into three categories: those without an ability (Citizens); those with an ability (Illegals); and those whose ability is considered benign (Exempts).

This is not an invented law. It is based on the Western Australian Natives (Citizenship Rights) Act 1944, a piece of legislation that purported to offer Aboriginal people ‘citizenship’ by exempting us from racially-based restrictions that only applied to my ancestors in the first place because they were Aboriginal.

In the Tribe series, this law is ultimately defeated by an alliance of the marginalised and the privileged, and by a heroine whose power is to identify and sustain the connections between all life.

And in writing of connections, I am writing of something that is central to the law in Aboriginal legal systems where (at its broadest) law is the processes of living in the world that sustain the world.

You clearly articulate the impact of white privilege on writing and writers, noting the negative impact on the work of Native voices and POC voices. What would you say to those Native and POC writers who may find themselves angry, frustrated, hurt or discouraged by these dynamics?

First: it’s not you. Exclusion is not something you are inventing in your head and you are neither unlucky nor unworthy.

It helps in this context to form connections with other Indigenous writers as well as with writers of colour, LGBTI writers, and writers with a disability.

You are likely to hear stories of authors getting similar comments across different contexts (e.g: you’re not writing to the Indigenous experience … this story is too Asian … gay books don’t sell … we’ve already published a ‘disability book’ this year).

It matters to have a network of people with whom to share both the good and bad experiences; and perhaps most importantly, to understand that you are not alone.

Second, never forget how to laugh. Some of the comments I’ve listed above have been part of the experience of other writers that they’ve laughed about with me – not because these comments are not discriminatory and hurtful, but because laughter has always been one of the ways in which marginalised peoples have dealt with pain.

Third, define success in your own terms. We all know what ‘success’ is supposed to be in literary industry terms: book sales and/or critical acclaim (preferably both). I’m not saying we shouldn’t aspire to that. But I also think that if marginalised writers define our success solely in the terms set by an industry that consistently privileges white, straight, cis-gendered people who don’t have a disability, we are also buying into an underlying lie.

The lie is that if we can just prove we are good enough we will be treated equally. But once equality has to be earned, it is no longer equality.

So I think it’s important that each of us define success according to what matters to us – and for me, it’s being a person that my ancestors would be proud of.

Book sales wouldn’t overly interest them. But honouring who they were, and who I am; treating cultural knowledge with respect; helping other Indigenous writers whenever and wherever I can – these are the kinds of things they’d be concerned about.

Fourth: be hopeful. I am. I locate my hope in people, and there are many, many people working towards a world in which all voices have an equal opportunity to speak and all stories are equally heard.

I think change will come, and in the meantime, I’m proud to be a part of a global community of voices, marginalised and privilege alike, that are speaking out for justice.

While you don’t feel it’s appropriate for non-Indigenous writers to reflect your community in first person or deep third, you are open to them writing secondary characters. Why does your opinion differ depending on how centered the character’s perspective is in the story?

Ambelin's desk
I don’t think it’s appropriate for non-Indigenous people to speak as if they are Indigenous, especially given the operation of privilege which means that non-Indigenous voices will be heard in a way that Indigenous voices are not.

For me, writing from an ‘outsider’ perspective (so not in first or deep third) is to respect boundaries; to accept there are limits on what we can know of others and how we should represent others in our own work.

When I write of experiences of marginalisation not my own, I do it from an outsider perspective – reflecting that this is much as I can understand and that understanding may of course be wrong; I am not suggesting that I know what it is to see the world from an ‘insider’ view of a group to which I don’t belong. I think the spaces must be created for everyone to speak to their own worlds, and I want to be part of making those spaces a reality.

What advice do you have for non-Indigenous writers in crafting those secondary characters?

I think something you’ve said is the best place to start – you’ve spoken of the need for writers to read 100 books by Indigenous people before writing about us.

I agree. No one should be writing an Indigenous character without being familiar with Indigenous stories (not the ones told about us but the ones told by us).

It’s also important to ensure that any stories people are reading are ethically published because there is a vast body of Indigenous stories that were taken by anthropologists and others and are now in the public domain without the informed consent (or sometimes even the knowledge) of the Indigenous peoples concerned.

The easiest way to check that a story is appropriately published is to see who holds the copyright; where Indigenous peoples hold copyright in their own stories it is at least some indication that they control the text.

In addition to reading stories, I’d say, become familiar with representation issues. Engage with the online dialogue happening around representation and children’s literature as it relates to Indigenous peoples. There are no shortage of voices speaking in this space.

And finally: words spoken about marginalised peoples have a weight and a cost. But if you are not a member of that group, then it’s a weight that you don’t carry and a cost that you don’t pay.

So don’t measure the impact of your words by how they will be read by people like you. Measure them by how they’ll be read by the people you’re writing about.

How did you learn your craft as a writer and illustrator?

By doing! I have no formal training in writing or illustration. But nor do a lot of Australian Indigenous writers and illustrators, and we have been storytellers for thousands of years.

So to learn craft I look to the work of Indigenous writers and artists, both within Australia and elsewhere, as well as to the ancient teachings of my people.

What inspired you to direct your talents toward creating stories for young readers?

In my YA series, I was writing about a superhero, so it had to be about a teenager. I don’t believe grown ups have it in us to save the world, because we are spectacularly failing to do so.

But in the young I see all the hope for the future – they are more interconnected, quick to embrace new ideas, and passionate about fighting anything they perceive as an injustice.

They’re also more honest, especially the children for whom I write picture books. When they like a book, they write me lovely letters telling me how they sleep with the book under their pillow and begging me to write more. When they don’t like it they’re equally forthright.

People ask sometimes whether its difficult as an author to deal with bad reviews, to which I say: try writing for six-year-olds. Every once in a while, children send me letters about one or the other of my picture books that begin something like this: “My teacher made me read your book. I didn’t like it.”

I’ve had a few of these letters that went on for ten pages or more, and since that length is like War and Peace from a six-year-old, it means I’ve had kids hate my work enough to send me the child equivalent of Tolstoy.

Adverse reviews from grown-ups are nothing in comparison.

What was your initial inspiration for The Tribe series?

Sample chapter from Candlewick Press
My brother Blaze. He came up to me one day and said, “I’ve got an awesome title for a book. It’s called The Interrogation of Ashala Wolf.”

I said, “That’s a pretty good title – what’s the story?’

To which Blaze replied, “Oh, there’s no story. Just the name, and I can’t be bothered writing it so I’m giving to you.”

Having bestowed the title of the novel upon me, he wandered off, leaving me to start thinking about the story. (And for anyone who’s read any of the Tribe series, the character of Jaz is very like my brother Blaze).

What were the challenges—literary, research, psychological and logistical—of bringing the stories to life?

I think the primary challenge is this: in so many ways, I wasn’t writing fiction. A post-apocalyptic world is not a fantasy for Indigenous peoples; the colonial apocalypse has already happened and much of The Tribe series is drawn from Australian colonial history.

Much of it too is drawn from the experiences of my ancestors and that is why hope runs so strongly through the narrative. They held on to hope through hard, cruel times when all their choices were taken away from them.

Indigenous peoples are so often spoken of as victims and I certainly don’t wish to minimise the suffering and the multi-generational trauma inflicted upon us by the colonial project. But the very fact that the Indigenous peoples of the world survived determined efforts to destroy us demonstrates our great strength.

I think the ability to hold onto hope is part of that strength and its something I try to honour.

You’ve created several picture books with Sally Morgan. Could you tell us about your work together?

Ambelin with her creative family
So, Sally is my mum. I’ve also done books with my two brothers, Blaze and Zeke, and the four of us have written together as a family. We’re all authors and artists, and we always give each other an honest opinion – sometimes this results in one of us storming off (usually me or Zeke, we’re both excellent stormers).

Generally, once we’ve had a chance to think about the criticism we come creeping sheepishly back and agree that yes, actually, that particular portion of the narrative (which we were previously so proud of) does indeed need more work.

I think from the outside our working process probably looks chaotic; we all talk at the same time and over each other; generally, the person with the best story gets to hold the floor until they get boring and someone else interrupts. If you want a place in the conversation in my family, you have to be prepared to earn it.

What can your readers look forward to next?

I’m working on three YA novels right now, but the one I’ll finish first is a book I’m writing with my brother Zeke.

It’s a mystery with fantasy elements that’s told from the perspective of three Indigenous female protagonists. It’s been a difficult book to write in places because terrible things happen in it, but its ultimately a story about the power of young Indigenous women and how they find their way home.

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25. Getting Batty

It is Bat Week! Did you know that bats are needed to control pests, spread seeds, and pollinate plants? Scientists learn a lot about the welfare of bat populations based on the crops that they help grow. And on October 31st we may be spooked out by the nocturnal winged creatures, but did you know that they help make the chocolate in our trick-or-treat bags?

Bat week is all about helping conserve the more than 1,100 species that live on every continent except Antarctica, and Bat Conservation International has many different ways that you can help bats that live in your neighborhood. Check it out!

If you want to get the facts first, here is an Arbordale booklist that will make you go batty!

HomeCaveHome in the Cave  – by Janet Halfmann, illus. by Shennen Bersani

Baby Bat loves his cave home and never wants to leave it. While practicing flapping his wings one night, he falls, and Pluribus Packrat rescues him. They then explore the deepest, darkest corners of the cave where they meet amazing animals—animals that don’t need eyes to see or colors to hide from enemies. Baby Bat learns how important bats are to the cave habitat and how other cave-living critters rely on them for their food. Will Baby Bat finally venture out of the cave to help the other animals?

LittleBat_coverLittle Red Bat – by Carole Gerber, illus. by Christina Wald

Red bats can hibernate or migrate to warmer regions during the winter. Should this solitary little bat stay or should she go? That’s the question the little red bat ponders as the leaves fall and the nights get colder! Some animals, such as the squirrel, tell her to stay. But what about the dangerous creatures that hunt red bats in winter? The sparrow and others urge her to go. But where? Carole Gerber takes young readers on an educational journey through one bat’s seasonal dilemma in Little Red Bat. Imaginative illustrations by Christina Wald give little red bat charm and personality, and children will be waiting and wondering what will happen next. Will the little red bat stay put or migrate south for safety and warmth?

RainforestPAPERBACK with flapsThe Rainforest Grew All Around – by Susan K. Mitchell, illus. by Connie McLennan

Imaginations will soar from the forest floor, up through the canopy and back down again, following the circle of life. The jungle comes alive as children learn about the wide variety of creatures lurking in the lush Amazon rainforest in this clever adaptation of the song “The Green Grass Grew All Around.” Search each page to find unique rainforest bugs and butterflies hiding in the illustrations. Delve even deeper into the jungle using sidebars and the “For Creative Minds” educational section, both filled with fun facts about the plants and animals, how they live in the rainforest and the products we use that come from the rainforest.

DeepDesert_187Deep in the Desert – by Rhonda Lucas Donald, – by Rhonda Lucas Donald, illus. by Sherry Neidigh

Catchy desert twists on traditional children’s songs and poems will have children chiming in about cactuses, camels, and more as they learn about the desert habitat and its flora and fauna. Tarkawara hops on the desert sand instead of a kookaburra sitting in an old gum tree. And teapots aren’t the only things that are short and stout—just look at the javelina’s hooves and snout. Travel the world’s deserts to dig with meerkats, fly with bats, and hiss with Gila monsters! Whether sung or read aloud, Deep in the Desert makes learning about deserts anything but dry.

batcount_187And Coming in spring of 2017 Bat Count: A Citizen Science Story
by Anna Forrester, illus. by Susan Detwiler

Jojo is prepping for an exciting night; it’s time for the bat count! Bats have always been a welcome presence during the summers in the family barn. But over the years, the numbers have dwindled as many bats in the area caught White Nose Syndrome. Jojo and her family count the bats and send the numbers to scientists who study bats, to see if the bat population can recover. On a summer evening, the family quietly makes their way to the lawn to watch the sky and count the visitors to their farm.


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