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The vibrant colors of Patricia Polacco's artwork brighten the winter months. Her family background, Eastern European and Jewish on one side, Irish and Christian on the other side, give her two rich cultures to explore.
The Trees of the Dancing Goats. Trisha loves Hanukkah and she loves the brightly colored animals her grandfather carves as gifts during the season. Trisha also loves her neighborhood and sharing her neighbors' traditions. When she visits her neighbors, she finds that many of them are sick with scarlet fever. There would be no Christmas for them. Then Grampa comes up with a wonderful idea.
Uncle Vova's Tree. Polacco visits her Eastern European background to tell a story about her Uncle Vova and his fantastic Christmas tree.
Christmas Tapestry. When a pastor's new church in Detroit is damaged by rain, his son helps him find a beautiful tapestry to hang on the wall for Christmas Eve services. The tapestry has a secret that leads to a real holiday miracle.
Welcome Comfort. Foster child, Welcome Comfort, finds it hard to believe in Christmas. But his new friend, Mr. Hamp, the school custodian, gives Welcome a wonderful surprise.
An Orange for Frankie. A young boy worries that his father won't return from a trip with the Christmas oranges. Remember Christmas oranges? My orange was always a bulge in the toe of my stocking, but Frankie's orange nestles with others on the mantelpiece. This is another story from Polacco's family. Add a Comment
Natalie Lloyd is the author of A Snicker of Magic and her newest book The Key to Extraordinary. She lives in Chattanooga, Tennessee. She collects old books, listens to bluegrass music, and loves exploring quirky mountain towns with her dog, Biscuit.
And . . . she is a reading superhero! Read her story to find out how she became a reading superhero, and how YOU can too!
TUI T. SUTHERLAND is the author of the Wings of Fire series, the Menagerie trilogy, and the Pet Trouble series, as well as a contributing author to the bestselling Spirit Animals and Seekers series (as part of the Erin Hunter team). She lives in Massachusetts with her wonderful husband, two adorable sons, and one very patient dog.
And . . . she is a reading superhero! Read her story to find out how she became a reading superhero, and how YOU can too!
A group marketing blitz during the month of August? My initial reaction was UGH!I’m a writer, not a marketer, but since I have a new book out, (RUBY LEE & ME, Scholastic, 2016), I accepted the challenge.
I see only one negative to group marketing, which is losing total control. On the other hand, there are lots of benefits. Benefits like:
Better Results for Less Effort: A team can get more done than a single person. #MGGetsReal will be featured on at least ten blogs during the month of August, but I only had to write two posts.
Better Ideas: Brainstorming often produced better ideas than I generated on my own. We held a brainstorming session and decided on a hashtag to tweet about our marketing plan. We settled on #MGGetsReal.
Expertise: Joyce Moyer Hostetter, author of, (BLUE, COMFORT, & AIM, Boyds Mills Press), worked with her daughter and prepared a video that features all five of our books. I’ve never made a video before, and it would have taken me a long time to learn.
Greater Marketing Reach: We all have different professional contacts, so the number of people we can reach as a group is greater than if I were going it alone.
Motivation: Working as a group kept each of us motivated to do our part.
Any group of authors with a common theme could implement a plan like ours. Our plan:
Read/write reviews for each book.
Seek to engage teachers/librarians.
Write for two blogs not our own, (seeking blogs with national exposure where possible).
Develop “group ads” for social media.
Develop a unique hashtag for the effort. We chose #MGGetsReal because our books tackle a tough topic in a way appropriate for Middle Grade readers.
Post to social media 3x week for the month of August in a way that highlights all five books.
Retweet using the hashtag #MGGetsReal.
Feature other writers on our own blogs if applicable.
Develop a video that highlights all five of the books featured below:
THE LAST CHERRY BLOSSOM by Kathleen Burkinshaw– Kathleen’s mother was a Hiroshima survivor. In this novel based on that experience, Kathleen shows the effect war has on children, and that sometimes the enemy is very much like us.
WHAT FLOWERS REMEMBER by Shannon Wiersbitzky– Shannon’s own grandfather suffered from Alzheimer’s, and in this novel she paints a realistic picture of a man losing his memory and of the young girl who loves him.
COMFORT by Joyce Moyer Hostetter– COMFORT tells the story of how Ann Fay’s dad is tormented by combat memories following WWII, and how his trauma hurts the whole family.
JUST A DROP OF WATER by Kerry O’Malley Cerra– This book takes place in the aftermath of 9/11. It shows how normally tolerant people developed prejudice toward their Muslim neighbors.
RUBY LEE & ME by Shannon Hitchcock—Following a tragic accident, two friends, one black, and one white, struggle with school integration. I lived through integration so this book is close to my heart.
A group marketing blitz during the month of August? I hope your initial reaction is YAY! Join #MGGetsReal on social media and give us a retweet, a Facebook share, and consider reviewing our books.
Readers will relate to Fenway’s impulsivity and delight in descriptions from his dog’s-eye view. Teachers and adults will appreciate generous sprinklings of rich vocabulary. –School Library Journal
Fenway may not understand Hattie’s behavior, but readers looking through his uncomprehending eyes will follow her ups and downs easily as she adjusts to the move. They’ll also wince in sympathy as she tries, with mixed success, to train, or even restrain, her barky, hyper, emotional pet. —Booklist
This perky, pet-centered tale takes readers inside the head of Fenway, an energetic and perpetually hopeful Jack Russell terrier with a deep love for food, intense hatred of squirrels, and undying adoration of his “small human,” Hattie. . . A fun, fresh frolic that animal-loving kids are sure to enjoy.—Publishers Weekly
Please tell us about your book.
Fenway and Hattie is about a dog named Fenway and his girl Hattie who move from an apartment in the city to a house in the suburbs, where they each struggle with big changes. But you only get Fenway’s side of the story, because the whole book is told from his point of view.
What inspired you to write this story?
I was inspired to write this story when my own family experienced a move and our dog was afraid we’d leave him behind. The move was hard on all of us, but I was especially tuned in to my dog’s fears and insecurities. As we took long walks together, I noticed how he checked everything out and I started to wonder what was going through his mind. That’s how the character of Fenway was born.
Could you share with readers a few interesting tidbits you learned while researching?
I’ve learned a lot about how dogs experience the world! Here are some interesting tidbits:
Dogs smell! But dogs don’t just smell scents; they use their noses to gather information. By smelling, dogs can tell:
What’s new vs. what’s familiar
If a person or another dog is a male or female
What foods you’ve eaten
What places you’ve been
If a scent is faint or strong (that’s how dogs tell time)
What you’ve touched and what’s touched you
Dogs can even smell people’s feelings
Dogs make sounds, but they primarily communicate by body language. How dogs carry their ears or tails, whether they’re panting or baring their teeth, and what posture they assume can tell another dog all kinds of information. And dogs read our body language, too. They know from our bodies how we’re feeling and what our intentions are.
Dogs are always studying people. They know our routines – maybe better than we know ourselves! They also pick up on cues, like grabbing the leash comes before going for a walk. Dogs know all of our habits and when something changes, a dog is usually the first to notice!
What are some special challenges associated with writing from a dog’s point of view?
Ha! How long is this blog, Caroline? I like to say that writing from a dog’s point of view is just like regular writing only with both hands tied behind your back!
Seriously though, since dogs don’t understand most human language, I can only write actions, sounds, or observations that a dog would know – I can’t rely on human dialogue.
There are so many elements of the human world that dogs don’t know. Fenway doesn’t know how old Hattie is or what town they live in. And he certainly doesn’t know what she does when she’s not with him — unless he can see, hear, or smell clues, and he often comes to the wrong conclusion!
For instance, early on in the story, Hattie is packing. Fenway remembers that he’s seen her do this before – right before she disappeared and left him alone. And something really terrible must’ve happened to her because when she came back she smelled like burnt marshmallows and squirrels.
What topics does your book touch upon that would make it a perfect fit for the classroom?
Fenway and Hattie is a perfect mentor text for both point of view and inference. My classroom guide contains both POV activities and exercises as well as a discussion guide for the book – which as you can see from the packing example I just described is a lot of inference!
I’ve been revisiting book friends lately, books that have been a part of my life since fifth grade. It’s been years since I’ve re-read L.M. Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables series, but I’ve got a good reason to pick them up again.
An invaluable resource for any and everyone who has children in their lives! Jamie Martin has scoured the best in children’s literature from around the globe and compiled in one volume, book recommendations sure to appeal to the reader in your life. — LeVar Burton, Reading Rainbow
This is an especially joyous post for me today. My dear friend Jamie C. Martin, who has been steadily working on a book for five years, released it into the world earlier this month, and I want everyone to know about it!
Please tell us about your book.
Give Your Child the World: Raising Globally Minded Kids One Book at a Time is a global reading treasury for those “can’t-get-enough” book lovers, map collectors, adventure seekers, and wanderers-at-heart. It’s a resource for those who want their kids to grow up loving the neighbor next door as well as the one on the other side of the world. It’s for parents and educators who hope to raise world-lovers and world-changers.
The book includes more than 600 of the best children’s book recommendations from around the world, organized by region, country, and age range (ages 4-12). It also shares the story of how my own family became a multicultural one, with four nationalities represented under our roof.
Could you tell us about yourself?
My British husband Steve and I have been married for almost 18 years. We have three children. Jonathan, our biological son, joined our family first. Next came our son Elijah, who we adopted when he was still an infant from Liberia, West Africa. Both boys are now 11 years old. And our daughter Trishna joined our family from India at the age of 4—she just recently turned 13 (our first teenager, wow!).
I’ve been blogging for over seven years now, and my main online home is currently SimpleHomeschool.net, where I write alongside a fabulous group of contributors about intentional education, mindful parenting, and the joy found in a pile of books.
Where did the idea for Give Your Child the World first come from?
Back when I was a new mom, there was a book I adored. Actually I think you might have been the first to tell me about it, Caroline?!* Honey for a Child’s Heart by Gladys Hunt is all about using books in family life. In it the author has categorized the best classic children’s literature into a variety of lists that parents can easily use. I loved that she had done all the work so that I didn’t have to! I spent hours poring over that book as a young mom and starting our own home library.
But as our unique, multi-cultural family grew, I realized I needed a way to connect us more deeply to other cultures. We weren’t able to do much traveling at that time, but I found I could use books to add that new dimension to our family.
When I started looking for the best global books out there, I was more or less on my own to research and separate the good from the bad. That got me thinking about a reading treasury, like the one I had loved so much, but with an around-the-world focus. I thought about how much time it would have saved me save me, and eventually I thought I might as well create that resource for others!
How has children’s literature shaped your family’s everyday conversations?
Now that my kids are a little older, I can see many of the benefits that weren’t as obvious when they were still young. We have this rich book heritage, made up of all those pages we’ve read together, and I love that. So when things come up in the news, or even a personal challenge arises, often there will be a connection to a story that we can turn to for help and encouragement.
I like to think that in twenty years when the kids are grown, married, and have kids of their own, they might look back on their childhood through the lens of all the books we read. I hope these titles have taken root deep in their souls, building their characters page by page, strengthening them for when hard times inevitably come, and leading them to look not just for a career but a calling. A way to make a difference, big or small, in this world.
How has children’s literature played into your children’s understanding of the world around them?
You shared a quote with me years ago from Newbery medal-winning author Katherine Paterson that I have gone back to again and again. She said that “the books we read in childhood are a rehearsal for experiences later in life.”** And I couldn’t agree more.
Creating a family culture of books means our kids have the chance to live a thousand lives before leaving home. They can travel the world (and beyond!) all while safe within our four walls. They can feel the pain of a character’s flaws and learn from their mistakes, without having to experience the actual consequences. I don’t see reading as a way to escape reality, but as a way to prepare our kids for real life in a unique and beautiful way.
It makes me so happy to see organizations highlighting this issue, and I’m thrilled to add my work to all that others have contributed. Give Your Child the World makes the process of finding multicultural books so much simpler for parents, families, and educators. Taking the time to research titles is something that busy mamas and papas often don’t have, and knowing that a trusted voice has done all that for them means they can get busy with the fun part: reading their way around the world with their kids!
And speaking of reading around the world, Jamie and Sarah Mackenzie of the Read Aloud Revival are pairing up to run an eight-week online book club which does just that. Click through to learn more. The adventure begins 27 June.
** I have to confess I’ve attributed this quote to both Katherine Paterson and Lois Lowry at various times and places! While I don’t know who originally said it, I do know I heard Katherine Paterson share these very words at an event in Washington DC in 2000 when talking about her Bridge to Terabithia.
Twelve-year-old Nella Sabatini’s life is changing too soon, too fast. Her best friend, Clem, doesn’t seem concerned; she’s busy figuring out the best way to spend the “leap second”—an extra second about to be added to the world’s official clock. The only person who might understand how Nella feels is Angela, but the two of them have gone from being “secret sisters” to not talking at all.
Then Angela’s idolized big brother makes a terrible, fatal mistake, one that tears apart their tight-knit community and plunges his family into a whirlwind of harsh publicity and judgment. In the midst of this controversy, Nella is faced with a series of startling revelations about her parents, friends, and neighborhood. As Angela’s situation becomes dangerous, Nella must choose whether to stand by or stand up. Her heart tries to tell her what to do, but can you always trust your heart? The clock ticks down, and in that extra second, past and present merge—the future will be up to her.
With an engaging protagonist, a fast-moving story, important themes subtly conveyed, and touches of humor, this is a richly layered story that will have wide appeal. — Kirkus Reviews, starred review
Nella’s growing awareness of endings and beginnings, the meaning of friendship, and the power of choices combine to create an unsettling, compelling, and heartwarming tale. — Publishers Weekly, starred review
What drew you to this story?
Every Single Second didn’t draw me in—it yanked me! To be honest, I was afraid of this story. I wasn’t sure I’d be able to write it. But it got hold of me and refused to let go.
I first began thinking about it when a local young woman (whose family I slightly knew) threatened to commit a crime. Even though she had problems that left her too frail and confused to hurt anyone, she was arrested and jailed. On-line, she became the object of scorn and mockery from people who, of course, knew nothing about her. Her family was already reeling from what had happened, and this casual cruelty devastated them all the more. I couldn’t stop thinking about how easily we can judge others, without any real understanding of them.
The other event was a shooting much like the central event of Every Single Second, which I readabout in the news.An African-American man who’d been in a car accident knocked on a door late at night and the woman inside called 9-1-1. Police officers showed up, and within seconds the injured, unarmed man was dead. Photos of him and the white officer who shot him were printed side by side. The victim looked heart-breakingly young and earnest. The officer was also young, and his expression was a blur of confusion and fear. Their faces riveted me. Two unconnected lives had crossed; one moment had changed everything. I kept thinking about who the officer was, wondering how he became the person who pulled that trigger. Again, I wanted to know more, to look deeper and try, if I could, to understand.
As I worked, national events, including the unthinkable death of Tamir Rice here in Cleveland, made the writing harder but also more urgent.
During my middle and high school years, three different accidental shootings affected my classmates, one resulting in death. Unfortunately, other young people have had similar experiences. Even so, I can’t think of one book I’ve ever encountered on the subject. What are some of the challenges you faced in writing about such a difficult topic?
Writing for young readers is always an enormous privilege, but I especially felt that with this book. I so badly wanted to get this complicated story right! Stories, like our lives, don’t march in straight lines. They rush forward, slip backward, skitter sideways. We think in terms of beginnings and endings, but I wanted to show that every story starts long before “chapter one” and continues way beyond “the end”. I wrote from the point of view of Nella, a white girl who’s close to the shooter. She’s been shaped by her community, as we all are. For me, the book’s biggest challenge was to be true to who Nella is, while showing her begin to question what she’s been taught. It’s scary to reject things we’ve always believed. It’s risky to trust our own hearts, and form a new, untried view of the world. Every Single Second deals with class and racial divides, and questions of what it means to be “good” or “bad”. These are the kinds of issues middle graders get really passionate about, and my deepest, fondest hope is that the book will inspire lots of questions and discussions. (I’m very glad that HarperCollins will publish a reading and discussion guide teachers and book groups can use!)
When writing about difficult things, do you intentionally bring in moments to ease the tension of the storyline? If yes, how so?
I was brought up to believe we need humor in bad times even more than in good. I’m a natural optimist, and love to laugh (one more reason I adore being around kids). While I was working on this book, the venerable Jeptha A. Stone miraculously appeared. He’s a monument who lives (in a manner of speaking) in the cemetery where Nella’s father is the groundskeeper, and he serves as a sort of Greek chorus. Jeptha is a pompous old guy with a heart of (what else?) stone, and he gets his own story arc. One of the book’s themes is that we all have powerful voices, if only we have the courage to use them, and one of my very favorite moments is when Jeptha speaks. Or does he?
the monument that gave me the idea for Jeptha Stone
Maybe the biggest challenge of writing middle grade is respecting the huge issues kids face without going too far into the darkness. Let there always be light and laughter!
How is Every Single Second different from your other books? How is it similar?
I’ve never dealt so directly with violence. Some people might also say I’ve never written about anything so topical, though really, unfortunately, the book’s issues have been with us for a very, very long time. Something I was aware of the whole time I was writing was that I didn’t want to hold back. With this book, I pinned my meaty heart to my sleeve.
But Every Single Second does share things with my earlier books. Nella’s neighborhood is crucial to the story. A sense of place is always deeply important to me (What Happened on Fox Street and Moonpenny Island are titled for their settings!).My characters often come from working class families, and economic class is always an issue, even when it just hovers in the background. Also, I can’t seem to stop writing about sisters or father-daughter relationships!
What are you working on now?
I just finished writing the fourth book in my series for younger middle grade readers. Cody andthe Fountain of Happiness came out last spring, and Cody and the Mysteries of the Universe published this April. These are such fun books to write, and Eliza Wheeler’s illustrations are genius!
Now I’m tiptoeing around a middle grade novel set in a fictional country more than a hundred years ago. I’d really love to write fantasy, but I’m just too literal a person. I’m hoping that escaping the present and wandering the past will be the next best thing.
Tricia is offering one reader here the opportunity to win signed a copy of Every Single Second. Simply leave a comment below by Friday, June 17. A winner will be randomly selected. US residents only, please.
Tricia is the author of many books for children, including the award winning middle grade novels What Happened on Fox Street, its well-loved sequel, Mo Wren Lost and Found, and Moonpenny Island. Tricia has worked as a Head Start teacher and a children’s librarian. Besides writing and, of course, reading, she loves doing school and library visits. Mother of three grown daughters (and a brand new Nana!), she lives in Cleveland Heights, Ohio. You can contact her at www.triciaspringstubb.com.
You can’t be a writer, if you’re not a reader.
– Tish Rabe’s message for children
Tish Rabe is the author behind the latest generation of Dr. Seuss books. When the beloved author of classics including The Cat In the Hat and What Pet Should I Get? passed away, Rabe was tasked with keeping his legacy alive through his rhyming picture books. Rabe has been writing Cat in the Hat books for 20 years!
Tish Rabe is a masterful rhymer which is evident as she makes learning about subjects including space, health, and biology seem beyond fun! She writes the spin-off books based on the daily PBS Kids series, “The Cat In the Hat Knows A Lot About That!” It takes over two years for Rabe and her team — including illustrators Aristides Ruiz and Joe Mathieu — to create each book. The silly rhyming facts are vetted by scientists; down to the color of planets!
Stay tuned to find out Tish Rabe’s Three Rs, how she writes her rhymes, where she got her break in children’s television, and to learn more about how the books and television series go hand-in-hand. Also, Rabe has some great advice for your little authors!
We’re giving away three (3) bundles of books for this episode of StoryMakers. Each bundle includes a of copy of Tish Rabe’s picture books, LOVE YOU, HUG YOU, READ TO YOU; ¡TE AMO, TE ABRAZO, LEO CONTIGO!; OH, BABY, THE PLACES YOU’LL GO!; CLAM-I-AM; THERE’S NO PLACE LIKE SPACE; and THE I BELIEVE BUNNY. The giveaway ends at 11:59 PM on June 14, 2016. ENTER NOW!
There are three things I’ll always do … love you, hug you, read to you. The simple promise of togetherness offered in this board book is enhanced by interactive prompts throughout, encouraging parents to engage with their child while reading. Studies show that asking questions, like the ones in this book, helps children learn to read faster than if they just listen to a story. Love and literacy are gifts we can give to our children every day Also available as bilingual (Spanish and English) edition entitled ¡Te amo, te abrazo, leo contigo!
¡Te amo, te Abrazo, Leo Contigo!/Love You, Hug You, Read to You! is a bi-lingual book written in both Spanish and English. Studies have shown that asking children’s questions about what’s happening in a book helps them learn to read faster than if they just sit and listen to a story so this book features interactive questions in both languages. It also offers the opportunity for Spanish speakers to learn English and English speakers to learn Spanish!
Artfully adapted almost entirely from Ted Geisel’s work, this introduction to the world of Dr. Seuss is a must for expectant parents and new babies In simple rhymed verse, author Tish Rabe extolls the joys awaiting newborns when they meet the Cat in the Hat, Horton the Elephant, Yertle the Turtle, the Great Birthday Bird, the Grinch, and twenty-five other beloved Seuss characters. Written to be read aloud to babies and babies-to-be (“yes,” babies in utero ), the book includes a brief introduction by “Mrs.” Dr. Seuss Audrey Geisel revealing how she and Ted were fascinated by the idea that babies could hear sounds while still in the womb and might actually respond to the voices of their parents. A perfect gift for baby showers and newborns, Oh, Baby, the Places You’ll Go is the ideal way to nurture a love of reading and Dr. Seuss in the very youngest children.
The I Believe Bunny
Written by Tish Rabe, illustrated by Frank Enderby
Published by Thomas Nelson
Introducing the I Believe Bunny—a delightful new series that helps kids learn about believing, sharing, and putting their faith into action.
Children will identify with Bunny and learn along with him that God is always there to help. Prayer works! Little Mouse is in trouble and Bunny is the only one nearby to help her. But, Bunny is too small. He has to set aside his own fear and trust in God. By putting his faith into action, Bunny is able to help Little Mouse and save the day.
Not only does this precious book teach the importance of calling on God for our every need, it helps children remember to be thankful for God’s work in their lives.
Written by Tish Rabe, illustrated by Aristides Ruiz and Joe Mathieu
Published by Random House Books for Young Readers
Normal the Fish is hosting a seaside talkshow for the Fish Channel and the Cat in the Hat and Thing One and Thing Two are cameracat and crew. Among Norval’s special guests are his old friend Clam-I-Am (a shy gal who lives in the sand and likes to spit), along with horseshoe and hermit crabs, jellyfish, sand fleas, starfish, seagulls, and miscellaneous mollusks. Seaweed, seaglass, tides, tidal pools, dunes, driftwood, and waves make cameo appearances, too. “Warning: Beginning readers are apt to be swept away.”
“Au revoir,” Pluto In this newly revised, bestselling backlist title, beginning readers and budding astronomers are launched on a wild trip to visit the now “eight “planets in our solar system (per the International Astronomical Union’s 2006 decision to downgrade Pluto from a planet to a dwarf planet), along with the Cat in the Hat, Thing One, Thing Two, Dick, and Sally. It’s a reading adventure that’s out of this world.
ABOUT TISH RABE
Wish Rabe has written over 160 children’s books for Sesame Street, Disney, Blue’s Clues, Curious George, Huff and Puff and many others. In 1996 — five years after the death of Dr. Seuss — she was selected by Dr. Seuss Enterprises to create The Cat in the Hat’s Learning Library, a new line of rhyming science books for early readers. A television series based on these books, The Cat in the Hat Knows a Lot About That, airs daily on PBS Kids.
Ms. Rabe also wrote the popular Dr. Seuss book for parents-to-be Oh the Places You’ll Go to be read in Utero! and created her own character, The I Believe Bunny, which won a Mom’s Choice Award for Best Picture Book – Gold. She also wrote scripts for children’s television series including “Clifford”, “Clifford’s Puppy Days” and was the Head Writer for “I Spy!” for Scholastic Entertainment and HBO family.
In 1982, she traveled to China with Jim Henson’s Muppets to produce “Big Bird in China”, which won the Emmy for Best Children’s Special for NBC. Later that year, she became Senior Producer of a new science series for kids on PBS called “3-2-1 Contact”. During the five seasons of the show, Ms. Rabe wrote scripts as well as lyrics for songs including “What Does Your Garbage Say?”, “Electricity is the Power” and “People are Mammals Too”.
We’re trying to make math cool … It’s for everybody and it’s everywhere. It’s a part of your life. — Billy Aronson
Jennifer Oxley and Billy Aronson are the team behind the award-winning PBS series “Peg + Cat”. Peg is a little girl whose life is a big math problem, which she solves with her best friend, Cat. Her world looks like math as the backdrop is graph paper and various items are made from simple shapes. The animated television series Peg + Cat has won seven Daytime Emmy Awards including Outstanding Pre-School Children’s Animated Program, Outstanding Individual Achievement in Animation (Jennifer Oxley), and Outstanding Writing in a Pre-School Animated Program.
Parents and teachers who want to continue the STEAM fun offline can turn to the Peg + Cat books written by the series creators. In this episode of StoryMakers Rocco Staino, Billy Aronson, and Jennifer Oxley discuss the creative vision for the series and several themes central to the series of books. Fun, simple mathematics, diversity, and a seamless flow are essential to the success of the books and television series.
Oxley and Aronson offer encouraging messages about mathematics that will inspire children, parents, and teachers alike.
We’re giving away three (3) sets of books for this episode of StoryMakers. Each set includes a of copy of Jennifer and Billy’s picture book, PEG + CAT: THE PIZZA PROBLEM and PEG + CAT: THE RACE CAR PROBLEM. The giveaway ends at 11:59 PM on June 7, 2016. ENTER NOW!
What do fractions have to do with pizza? The stars of the Emmy Award winning animated series “Peg + Cat” serve up a delicious new episode.
It’s lunchtime at Peg’s Pizza Place. Peg and Cat are excited to take their first order from the Teens only to learn that some of their customers want a whole pizza while one of them wants half a pie. How can Peg and Cat make half a pie when they don t know what “half “is? Luckily, Ramone and Mac are there to help, with a slice up the middle of the pizza. As more customers come in, things get entertaining, with Peg singing a jazzy song and Cat doing a dance. But soon there’s another problem: four orders, but only two and a half pizzas left. Peg is totally freaking out until Cat reminds her that when it comes to halves and wholes, it’s all in how you slice it.
Peg and Cat, stars of their own Emmy Award winning animated TV series, zoom into a picture book and put math skills to the test in a lively racing adventure. Peg and Cat have built an amazing car out of things they found lying around. They’ve named her Hot Buttered Lightning (since she’s built for speed), and they plan to win the Tallapegga Twenty. If they can make it out of the junkyard, that is. It’s a good thing Peg knows the best shape to use to make wheels and how to count laps to see who is ahead. And it’s lucky that Cat reminds Peg to keep calm when she’s “totally freaking out.” Will Peg and Cat be the first to complete twenty laps and win the Golden Cup? Or will it be one of their quirky competitors? Count on Peg and Cat to rev up young problem-solvers for an exciting race to the finish.
ABOUT JENNIFER OXLEY
Jennifer Oxley was born in Hollywood, California and caught the filmmaking bug early – she made her first film at the age of seven. Since then she has directed fifteen short films for Sesame Street, as well as the award-winning adaptation of Spike Lee and Tanya Lewis Lee’s children’s book, Please, Baby, Please.
Her latest film, The Music Box, was acquired by The Museum of Modern Art for their permanent children’s film collection. Her work in children’s television includes directing and artistic credits. Jennifer is the recipient of an Emmy Award for her role as director on Little Bill, and she created the look and animation style of The Wonder Pets!, which won an Environmental Media Award and the prestigious Japan Prize.
Most recently Jennifer teamed up with Billy Aronson to create Peg + Cat for PBS Kids, and is co-founder of 9ate7 Productions.
Billy Aronson is a playwright and writer. Aronson is probably best known for creating the original concept behind the Tony award-winning rock opera Rent. He’s written several plays and musicals. Also, he’s written for popular children’s shows, and cartoons including Courage the Cowardly, Codename: Kids Next Door, The Backyardigans, The Wonder Pets, and Beavis and Butthead.
Aronson attended Princeton University. He counts several plays by Shakespeare, Looney Tunes, and The Brothers Grimm among his influences. Billy Aronson is a co-creator of Peg + Cat for PBS Kids, and is co-founder of 9ate7 Productions, with Jennifer Oxley.
Learn more about his playwriting, television work, and here.
Author Julie Hedlund and illustrator Susan Eaddy collaborated on My Love for You Is the Sun, a beautiful book that celebrates the many ways we express love for others. In this craft-based episode of StoryMakers, Eaddy teaches Hedlund and host Rocco Staino how to make a relief sculpture based on the illustration style used in the book. The author and illustrator provide examples of additional activities parents, caretakers, and teachers can do with children. Viewers are encouraged to explore color and texture creation.
Julie Hedlund is familiar to many aspiring and established children’s literature authors. She is the founder of 12×12, a year long picture book writing challenge where members write 12 drafts in 12 months. Hedlund celebrated five years of the 12×12 challenge in early 2016.
We’re giving away three (3) prize packs for this episode of StoryMakers. Each prize pack includes a of copy of Julie Hedlund’s picture book, MY LOVE FOR YOU IS THE SUN and art supplies to make your own clay art inspired by Susan Eaddy’s work. The giveaway ends at 11:59 PM on May 31, 2016. ENTER NOW!
My Love for You is the Sun is a love letter from parent to child, written in verse and expressing that timeless and unconditional love through metaphors from the natural world. My love for you is the sun, a tree, the rain, a river but of course, its also about more than familial or parental love, its about the universal, infinite nature of love itself, and as such, will hold crossover appeal for all ages. Edited by best-selling childrens book author Emma Walton-Hamilton, and illustrated with the amazing clay art of Susan Eaddy, this melodious tour of parent-and-child animals in their various habitats will mesmerize children at bedtime, and help them feel a connection with the loved one sharing it with them. With soothing verses evoking the beauty and wonder of the natural world, combined with stunning, hand-sculpted clay illustrations, this book is one families everywhere will read again and again.
Finally, in the fall of 2009 I attended a regional SCBWI conference in Denver. I was swollen with inspiration, hope and desire to not only write, but to make a career from writing. On the drive home, I had an epiphany — “What if I could feel as inspired, driven and hopeful every day as I do today?”
So I made the decision to leave my job – right as the world economy collapsed. Everyone, myself included, thought I was crazy, but I no longer felt like I had a choice. I knew I needed to give a writing career a shot, and that I needed to start immediately.
I began writing my blog, signed up for a few social media networks, wrote another picture book manuscript, signed up for an SCBWI national conference in New York and never looked back.
People often ask me why I write for children. I write for children because I want to make their lives better through books. Yes, books educate children, give them adventures, escape, and entertainment. But books also give children hope. And what could be more important and profound than that?
One of the reasons I enjoy clay so much is that I don’t really know how to do it. Each illustration is a discovery process as I study nature and animals and try to figure out how to bring them to life in clay.
My finished clay critters live in pizza boxes, and I suspect that they play at night while we slumber.
I was an Art Director for fifteen years, and won some international 3D illustration awards and a Grammy nomination. But my passion is, and always has been, illustrating and writing for children.
I am the Regional advisor for the Midsouth SCBWI, and a member of the SCBWI Bologna Team. I love to travel and have done school visits anywhere in the world from Taiwan to Alabama to Hong Kong.
Counting Thyme is the story of Thyme Owens, an eleven-year-old girl whose family moves across the country for her little brother’s cancer treatment. It’s a story about family, friendship, and finding your place in the world when life throws you a curveball.
What inspired you to write this story?
The idea for this story came to me after I read a bunch of middle grade books with protagonists who were facing serious illnesses. I wondered what it would be like to be the sibling of a gravely ill child. I wondered how the conflicts at home would influence the conflicts at school. I thought it would be especially tough if you were just starting middle school, with all of the social pressures involved at that time in life. Thyme’s story grew from there!
Could you share with readers how you conducted your research or share a few interesting tidbits you learned while researching?
In my past life as a product designer, I did a ton of research at the outset of every new project. It’s no different for me with books. Once I have an idea, I conduct an audit—which is a fancy way of saying that I cast a wide net and gather research from all of the reputable sources in that subject area. With Counting Thyme, I gathered a tremendous amount of information online, because research hospitals are very interested in sharing knowledge. I also read countless blogs posted by parents of pediatric cancer patients to gain insight into their everyday lives and the ups and downs of treatment. When I had questions, I posted them on discussion forums and parents graciously answered, helping me understand the intricacies of their world.
What are some special challenges associated with writing middle grade?
My favorite thing about MG fiction is the way it explores tough topics in an honest way, while preserving a safe space for young readers. It’s tough to nail that balance. It took many passes of revision to balance the emotion and the information in Counting Thyme, so that readers can understand what’s happening without being bogged down by too much medical information. My favorite books are the ones that manage this balance effortlessly (although I now know that a lot of effort goes into that!).
What topics does your book touch upon that would make it a perfect fit for the classroom?
Because Counting Thyme is set in New York City, there’s a lot going on in the story. Thyme’s family moves into a multiple story apartment building, so she experiences living with close neighbors for the first time, which is a great touchstone for talking about the different ways that people live. There are also characters of many different backgrounds and ethnicities, which is what makes NYC so wonderful. This theme provides an opportunity to talk about different family traditions and cultures. Other themes touch on sibling relationships, honesty versus secrets, what it means to be a friend, and what it means to be counted (in your family, and in the world at large).
Have you ever wondered why Charles Lutwidge Dodgson wrote as Lewis Carroll? Or why Theodor Seuss Geisel better known as Dr. Seuss had not one but two pseudonyms? Find the answers in the following infographic reblogged with the kind permission of Jonkers Rare Books.
I've been playing the literary name game and came up with Bobby Anne Harding for a possible pen name. This combination of my nickname, middle name and mother’s maiden name has quite a ring to it don’t you think? If I wanted to disguise my gender, I could use the shorter and more masculine sounding Bob Harding.
Yoga isn’t only for adults. More American parents are introducing their children to the ancient practice which originated in India. Preliminary studies show it is beneficial for reducing stress and improving mood. Certified yoga instructor and author Susan Verde wrote I Am Yoga, a picture book which helps children explore mindfulness through relationships and movement. The book is one of several kid lit collaborations between Verde and the New York Times bestselling author and illustrator Peter H. Reynolds. His relaxed illustration style helps convey Susan Verde’s message of peace, stillness of mind, and tranquility.
Susan Verde and StoryMakers host Rocco Staino were joined by — via satellite — kid lit singer and songwriter Emily Arrow. Arrow has written and performed songs based on children’s books. Together, Verde and Arrow collaborated on a song and music video for I Am Yoga. Emily Arrow’s song lyrics draw heavily from the book. Arrow’s latest CD, “Storytime Singalong, Volume 1”, is a combination of songs based on popular kid lit and tunes for young readers.
Watch Susan Verde’s interview at the Westchester Children’s Book Festival.
We’re giving away three (3) prize packs including of copy of Susan Verde’s picture book, I AM YOGA and Emily Arrow’s STORYTIMESINGALONG, VOL.1 CD. The giveaway ends at 11:59 PM on May 25, 2016. ENTER NOW!
I Am Yoga Written by Susan Verde, illustrations by Peter H. Reynolds
Published by Harry N. Abrams
An eagle soaring among the clouds or a star twinkling in the night sky … a camel in the desert or a boat sailing across the sea yoga has the power of transformation. Not only does it strengthen bodies and calm minds, but with a little imagination, it can show us that anything is possible. New York Times bestselling illustrator Peter H. Reynolds and author and certified yoga instructor Susan Verde team up again in this book about creativity and the power of self-expression. I Am Yoga encourages children to explore the world of yoga and make room in their hearts for the world beyond it. A kid-friendly guide to 16 yoga poses is included.
ABOUT SUSAN VERDE
Susan Verdeis an award-winning children’s book author, elementary educator, and a certified children’s yoga instructor. Her books highlight the unique manner in which children see the world. Her stories focus on their interactions with their surroundings with emphasis on problem solving in a calming and mindful way. Susan’s books are used to teach children how to express gratitude and to support each other.
Susan became a certified kids yoga instructor and children’s book author, after several years in the education field. “Her stories inspire children to celebrate their own, unique stories and journey. Her writing also inspires adults to let their inner child out to dream of infinite possibilities… and maybe come out for a spontaneous game of hopscotch every now and then.”
Susan’s latest book, The Water Princess, will be published in late 2016. The book is another collaboration with he bestselling, award-winning, author and illustrator, Peter H. Reynolds. Peter and Susan have collaborated on The Museum, You & Me, and I Am Yoga. Susan lives in East Hampton, New York with her three children and dog.
Emily Arrow is the 2015 winner of the John Lennon Songwriting Contest in the Children’s Category for her song “The Curious Garden Song”. The song was inspired by the book THE CURIOUS GARDEN by Peter Brown. Emily was also a finalist in the 2015 Great American Song Contest and the 2014 John Lennon Songwriting Contest. Emily Arrow creates literature inspired music for children, cultivating an appreciation and love for singing, songwriting, literature, and art. She performs storytimes of her original music regularly in Los Angeles at Once Upon A Time Bookstore and Children’s Book World. Emily is touring in support of the album at schools, bookstores, and libraries around the country!
Originally from Ohio, Emily played the piano, read a lot of books, and led a neighborhood “kids only choir.” Fast forward to now and…she’s still silly, she still sings incessantly, and she still loves books! She is a graduate of Berklee College of Music in Boston and earned her graduate-level teaching certification in Orff-Shulwerk Levels I & II. After graduating Emily became a K-6 music teacher at a performing arts-based elementary school in Los Angeles. During her time teaching, she found that her passion was collaborating with the library, art, and technology departments. Which led her to her current career as a kidlit singer/songwriter!
Nick Bruel’s Bad Kitty is everyone’s favorite mischievous feline. Recently, the series creator and Bad Kitty herself were interviewed by Rocco Staino on StoryMakers. The Bad Kitty series is a favorite of early readers and those who’ve been introduced to chapter books. Bruel discusses the evolution of the Bad Kitty series — from picture books to chapter books; his inspiration for going against the sometimes syrupy sweet kid lit grain; and how Bad Kitty went from page to stage. Nick Bruel has appeared in the Princeton Book Festival and Carle Honors episodes of StoryMakers.
When Kitty is happy and healthy, everything is perfect. She jumps around, eats everything in sight, and has the energy to keep slobbering puppies in their place. But when she’s sick, all she can do is lie in her bed. Looks like it’s time for this sick kitty to go…to the vet. When Kitty’s family finally manages to get their clawing, angry pet into the doctor’s office, it’s a wild adventure for Kitty, who has to get the most dreaded thing of all…a shot. Once the shot is administered, Kitty is cast into an ingenious dream within a dream sequence in which she has to make right by Puppy or risk being shut out of PussyCat heaven forever. This ninth installment of the popular Bad Kitty series from Nick Bruel is chock-full of brilliant supporting characters and, of course, the crankiest bad kitty you’ve ever seen.
ABOUT NICK BRUEL
Nick Bruel is the author and illustrator of New York Times bestseller Boing! and the Bad Kitty books, among others. He is a freelance illustrator and cartoonist, and during his down time, he collects PEZ dispensers and grows tomatoes in the backyard. He lives in Tarrytown, NY with his wife Carina and their lovely cat Esmerelda.
Nearly 20 local authors and illustrators will be giving talks, readings, and signings over this three day event. We will also have a table set up with as many local authors’ and illustrators’ books as we can get our hands on! Many autographed copies will be available.
*Bonus, the fair coincides with Barnes & Noble’s Educator Appreciation Week—meaning all educators (K-12) that have signed up for an education membership with Barnes & Noble, will get 25% off their purchases!
This is a huge event for New Mexico’s chapter of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators — the first of its kind. I’ll be there Sunday, April 17 from noon to two and will read Over in the Wetlands and give a presentation about Roanoke’s Lost Colony. (If you’re an elementary teacher, be sure to pick up a copy of Blue Birds. It’s on the New Mexico Battle of the Books list next year).
Please spread the word. I’d love to see you there!
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I few weeks ago I shared a link to a blog post by teacher Colby Sharp. In it he talked about picking up a middle grade book and feeling like he’d seen it all before. Then he read these words by author Linda Urban:
Reviewers say: “Not *another* sad animal book!” or “Had my fill of theme X!” You are adults. You have been reading a long time.
Colby went on to say “middle grade books are not about you and me” (in other words, the adults out there).
I’ve thought so much about Colby’s and Linda’s words these past few months. They’ve helped me solidify some of my ideas about children’s literature, actually. While I will always, always, always believe a good book is a good book for everyone, regardless of age (though not all books are for every reader, which is another discussion entirely), Linda has reminded me that children’s literature is first and foremost for children.
Of course I know this, but I think sometimes I bring an outside perspective (as both reader and writer) that doesn’t always serve the work best. Rather, this is where I’d like my focus to be:
If this book is for a young reader, what is it they’ll discover that will be meaningful and ring true?
What am I willing to say as an author that might feel trite or old news to the grow ups but could be new and important to young readers?
Am I willing as a reader not to have my needs met first when I am reading middle grade?
I’m curious what readers here think.
Click through to sign up for my quarterly newsletter and you’ll receive a free printable from my novel, Blue Birds. Enjoy!
Julie Berry is the author of the acclaimed young adult novel The Passion of Dolssa, the award-winning, All the Truth That’s in Me (2013, Viking) and The Scandalous Sisterhood of Prickwillow Place(2014, Roaring Brook), and six other critically acclaimed titles for young readers. She grew up in western New York and holds a BS from Rensselaer in communication and an MFA from Vermont College in writing for children and young adults. Before becoming an author, she worked in software sales and marketing. She now lives in southern California with her husband and four sons. Find her online at www.julieberrybooks.com, or on Twitter.
What typically comes first for you: a character? An era? A story idea? How do you proceed from there?
For The Passion of Dolssa, both character and era came first, or rather, both found me independently. For a long time I’d been fascinated by the brave young women mystics of the Middle Ages. I had wanted to explore them more in some kind of project. Quite separately, I thought it would be fun to write a main character who was a matchmaker. In yet another corner of my brain, an idea rolled around about a group of three sisters, witches in a very small sense of the word, running a tavern (although young). In another disconnected vein of my life, I was taking a history of the Middle Ages course, where I learned for the first time about the violent history of anti-heresy warfare and inquisition in southern France in the 13th Century. Then one day I had a sort of eureka moment where all of these separate strands braided themselves together as one story idea. And I was off and running.
How do you conduct your research?
Muddlingly. I try to immerse myself as much as I can in books about, and written during, that time period. One of the most important things, I find, is determining which are the most credible, current, trusted academians whose books will best help you unravel the complex past. History (the study of the past, as opposed to the past itself) is anything but monolithic and unanimous. Our study and understanding of our past is constantly changing. So I think it’s vital to be a critical consumer of historical sources, and pay close attention to choosing well whom to trust. Once I know what I’m looking for, it’s often a hunt to acquire rare or out-of-print titles that I need. I try to read as much as I can that was written during that time period, also, so I can hear the voices and language of the time (filtered through the lens of who’s doing the writing – too often it’s only the elite and the empowered). I generally need to read my important sources twice.
In addition to lots of reading, I spend a lot of time with maps and museum resources, trying to see as much as possible what the world I envision actually looked like. I look for music historians who can help me hear their nearly lost tunes, and for historically based cookbooks so I know what ingredients they had and how they cooked. I’m chasing down all sorts of things like when would the sun have set at that latitude at this date, and what did they eat/wear/shoot/burn/drive/marry, etc.. Best of all, whenever possible, I try to go to the location where my story takes place. I need to absorb the sense of place as much as my senses allow me to.
You do have a specific system for collecting data?
I fear I don’t have a specific system for anything in my life. ☺ “Dive in and muck around” is pretty much my approach.
At what point do you feel comfortable beginning to draft? How does your research continue once you begin writing?
I usually write in tandem with the research. I’m quite comfortable making changes later as I need to. But I think getting to know a character and getting to know her world can happen in tandem, so long as you’re willing to make painful changes if needed. For example, if you reach a point where you realize that your character has attitudes or opinions she couldn’t possibly have had at that place and time, you have to be willing to perform radical character surgery. But that said, I find that I can hum along on both tracks. Writing a rough first draft as I research helps me focus my inquiries onto things I actually need to know.
What is your favorite thing about research?
Oh, I could just stay right in the research rabbit-hole and never come out. I love, love, love the learning. At first, all the strange names and places are generally bewildering. Most complex historical texts will introduce you to a long list of players in the drama of the past, and it’s a lot to keep track of. In my last book, just about every man, no lie, was named Raimon. “Everyone’s Named Raymond,” basically. So the magic, for me, is when I’ve studied enough and taken enough notes to reach the point where it’s all clicking. I remember who’s who and where’s where and why it all matters. When I can coherently explain it to someone else in detail, then I know I’m ready to make a good story with it. It feels terrific to reach the peak of that mountain.
What are some obstacles writing historical fiction brings?
The pill that was hardest for me to swallow, but most necessary, is accepting that fact that no matter how hard I work to be accurate, I can’t ever be fully accurate in my depiction of the past. This is because, no matter how I try to understand their world, their beliefs, their cultural context, I can’t stop myself from being someone who looks at it from the anachronistic perspective of their future. I am looking back. I know how their story ends. And I’m a child of a different planet, so to speak. The past is a country I’ve never visited, nor can I. Even the most devotedly researched book remains a work of artifice, of pretend, of illusion. So, in a sense, the hardest part of this job is that you know from the get-go that you’ll fail. Art comes into play as you accept those limitations and reach toward the ideal of truth, beautifully if possible, anyway.
What’s one of the most interesting things you’ve learned while researching?
Stuff that’s generally unprintable.
Why is historical fiction important?
I’m not sure how many people would ever decide to study the past, preserve it for future generations, and distill what it has to teach us, if they didn’t learn to care about it, somewhere along the line. I think historical fiction, especially the highest quality historical fiction for young readers, helps link young minds to the past through the caring they come to feel for real and fictitious characters, now dead. The hallmark of good fiction is how it tells the truth and enables empathy. By pointing that understanding and caring toward the past, we help young people – not just the future historians, but future thinkers of every kind – see themselves as heirs of a tremendous legacy and the forebears of a hopeful future. In other words, as a part of, but not the center of, humanity.
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In the spirit of celebrating moms KidLit TV produced a Mother’s Day special inspired by Josh Funk’s popular rhyming picture book, Lady Pancake and Sir French Toast. Lady Pancake and Sir French Toast are best friends who find out there is only one drop of syrup left in the refrigerator. Soon the friends embark on a hysterical and sometimes treacherous dash to get that one last drop. Of course they they both learn a valuable lesson — but the end is anything but typical.
StoryMakers host Rocco Staino and Josh Funk were joined by dad and travel blogger Jason Greene (One Good Dad). Together the trio cooked up a Mother’s Day breakfast fit for a queen … A queen who loves pancakes, French toast, strawberries and cream! If you’re still thinking about what to do for the special lady in your life — whether she be your partner, wife, or mom — we highly recommend watching this episode. If that’s not enough to keep you glued to the screen, two of Jason’s children make a special appearance.
What’s your idea of the perfect Mother’s Day? What’s your favorite breakfast dish? Let us know in the comment section below!
We’re giving away three (3) copies of Josh Funk’s picture book, Lady Pancake & Sir French Toast. The giveaway ends at 11:59 PM on May 18, 2016. Enter now!
A thoroughly delicious picture book about the funniest “food fight!” ever! Lady Pancake & Sir French Toast have a beautiful friendship—until they discover that there’s only one drop of maple syrup left. Off they go, racing past the Orange Juice Fountain, skiing through Sauerkraut Peak, and reeling down the linguini. But who will enjoy the sweet taste of victory? And could working together be better than tearing each other apart? The action-packed rhyme makes for an adrenaline-filled breakfast … even without a drop of coffee!
ABOUT JOSH FUNK
Via Josh Funk Books Josh Funk writes silly stories and somehow tricks people into publishing them as picture books – such as the award-winning Lady Pancake & Sir French Toast (Sterling), as well as the forthcoming picture books Pirasaurs! (Scholastic 8/30/16), Dear Dragon (Viking/Penguin 9/6/16), It’s Not Jack and the Beanstalk (Two Lions, 2017), and more.
Josh is a board member of The Writers’ Loft in Sherborn, MA and the co-coordinator of the 2016 and 2017 New England Regional SCBWI Conferences.
Josh grew up in New England and studied Computer Science in school. Today, he still lives in New England and when not writing Java code or Python scripts, he drinks Java coffee and writes picture book manuscripts.
Josh is terrible at writing bios, so please help fill in the blanks. Josh enjoys _______ during ________ and has always loved __________. He has played ____________ since age __ and his biggest fear in life is being eaten by a __________.
Via One Good Dad
From the time I was a child, my dream was to become an actor and a writer. After college, I set out along with my wife to chase that dream. We arrived in New York City and I was ready to “make it.” After a few years of auditioning and bit parts here and there, my wife gave me the news that I was about to take on the biggest role imaginable — the role of a daddy. After my son was born, I became a stay-at-home dad and now I’m a proud papa of 4 children. Being a stay-at-home dad has changed the way I think about myself and the world around me. And that has lead me to become a dad blogger and travel blogger. My blog touches on parenting challenges and rewards, faith, travel, entertainment, sports, sponsorships and reviews, or whatever else is keeping me from getting that great night of sleep I so desperately need.
While I was reading Summer of Lost and Found I wanted to sit down and have a good talk with Rebecca. I hope this interview will read like the conversation I wish we’d had — because in many ways that’s exactly what it is: two authors talking about our experiences writing about the island of Roanoke.
Have you been to the island of Roanoke? Your descriptions of the island, from the flora to the town of Manteo to the historical sites, were so vivid!
Thanks! I have been to Roanoke, and I hope to visit the island again. I spent a week there when I was working on the third or fourth draft of the book. It was thrilling to visit a place that has captured my imagination since I was a kid. And the island didn’t disappoint me. I love traveling to places with a lot of history and a lot of natural beauty, and Roanoke certainly has both. I am a bit of a plant nerd (Nell’s mom has one of my dream careers), so I was really interested in the vegetation on the island—I took tons of photographs to document it.
I found it interesting that my Alis and your Ambrose both contrast London with Roanoke. Such a different world it must have been for those 1587 colonists. And Nell experiences some of the same, coming to the island from New York City.
I found the similarities in their impressions of Roanoke so interesting, too. I love the passage in Blue Birds in which Alis compares Roanoke with London. I think both Alis and Ambrose remark on how the island’s fresh smells are a delight, coming from the stinky streets of London.
The contrast between those two places was something that I thought about a lot while writing the book—how jarring it must have been to travel from the London crowds to a less developed place. Moving is difficult, at any age and in any time period. But it’s hard to even imagine what an adjustment coming to Roanoke would have been for early colonists. While I was visiting the settlement site at the Roanoke Island Festival Park, one of the guides pointed out how important tradespeople were in the colonist community. They couldn’t buy building supplies for their new homes, so they needed woodworkers and blacksmiths. It made me wonder about things like the state of the colonists’ shoes—they couldn’t simply go purchase more if they wore them out while traipsing around the island. (Hopefully one of the colonists was a cobbler?) The colonists weren’t only leaving most of their worldly possessions behind, but also their ways of daily life.
It’s funny, but I realized while making the trip from NYC to Roanoke that I was imitating/recreating the experience of my main character, Nell. I had already researched the island, but even so I found many things to surprise and delight me when I experienced it firsthand. Some of Nell’s observations are really based on my own—things I noted or was intrigued about, like how green and forested the island is, as opposed to sandy-beachy, or how some of Manteo’s architecture incorporates the look of English building styles.
When I was writing Blue Birds, I sometimes struggled with the hazy aspects of the history. My editor was the one who taught me that history can be hazy but stories can’t. In other words, for the sake of the story, I had to come down on one side or the other when it came to certain events that historians are unsure about. What decisions did you have to make when creating Ambrose’s story about aspects of history that weren’t clear cut?
I love that lesson from your editor—and I will use it in the future! When writing historical fiction, I have a hard time straying from facts. My tendency is to get bogged down in the details I’ve uncovered during research—I want to include every single interesting fact. I have to remind myself that my first priority is to tell the story, and overloading it with historical details, as fascinating as I find them, might not serve the story—or my reader. For example, at first I tried to incorporate real artifacts that have been uncovered in and around the island, but eventually I decided to fictionalize most of the ones in the book.
The historical record so far doesn’t offer a definitive conclusion about what really happened to the Lost Colonists, and I found that both frustrating and kind of liberating. I was fortunate in that a Roanoke historian read the manuscript for me and critiqued the historical accuracy. Luckily, the choices I made about the more ambiguous elements were plausible enough that she didn’t object. There have been some great archaeological finds in the past few years (I think you and I had a Twitter conversation last summer about the Site X artifacts that made big news), so even if it makes some of the history in my book inaccurate, I hope at some point the truth is uncovered!
It’s both strange and satisfying to read someone else’s story that deals with the same characters in mine, ones based on real people. I had the same experience when reading Cate of the Lost Colony, another Roanoke story. It’s almost like I’m in a club with a handful of authors. What was that like for you?
I am thrilled to think that I’m now in the club of Roanoke authors! Before the book went off to copy edits, I only read nonfiction about the island and the Lost Colony. I was really concerned that other authors’ unique visions of Roanoke would influence mine. The day I turned in the last revision, I pulled my copy of Blue Birds off the shelf because I had been dying to read it. “Strange and satisfying” is a great way to describe reading other fiction about Roanoke. I felt like I knew your characters before I even met them on the page because the story and setting of Roanoke were so familiar to me. Some of Alis’s beautiful observations almost felt like déjà vu after spending so much time imagining characters that would be her contemporaries. But at the same time, your Roanoke story shed new light on the island and its history and people. I’ve incorporated this idea of how perspective affects historical fiction into a writing workshop—in which several kids choose the same historical setting, event, or character and independently write a short scene about it. When they compare their writing, it’s so interesting to see how much each writer’s perspective shifts the focus.
Was there anyone from the 1587 colony that especially intrigued you? I was fascinated with Thomas Humfrey, the only child to travel to Roanoke without a parent. I originally had Thomas in my story, but later blended him with my George Howe Jr. character.
Wow, I wasn’t aware of that part of Thomas Humfrey’s story—that is fascinating! What a brave kid. I thought a lot about George Howe Jr., actually, because of how his father died on the island. It was so sad to think of a child going through an experience like the long and trying journey to Roanoke, and then losing a parent—I think only six days after they arrived. Early on, I considered making George a central character in my book, but I ended up focusing on another colonist.
Like Ambrose, Nell is missing her father and is lonely for a friend. What else do your two characters have in common? What does this show us about the past and the present?
I think both Ambrose and Nell are very curious and loyal. Their friendship blossoms despite their city-country differences because they are both so passionate about exploring their surroundings and uncovering the history around them. Now that you bring it up, what they have in common might show how being in that middle-grade “age of wonder,” and starting to discover the world around you, is a universal experience. I loved how the friendship between Kimi and Alis developed in Blue Birds, and seeing what those girls shared. It’s interesting that so many Roanoke stories express this theme in unique ways.
I see we both read Lee Miller’s book, Roanoke: Solving the Mystery of the Lost Colony. What did you think of her theory that the pilot Simon Fernandez tried to sabotage the colonists and that abandoning them to Roanoke was part of the plan?
I found that a really intriguing idea (I do like a good conspiracy theory!), and Lee Miller makes a convincing argument. But I’m not convinced there is enough research to back it up at this point. For now I’m more inclined to think that Simon Fernandez was an opportunist—and probably a jerk—but not necessarily a saboteur. I’m curious to hear what you think about this!
I’m with you on this one. In addition to Fernandez’s strong personality, I think John White wasn’t the strongest leader. It feels inevitable that they clashed. Speaking of Governor White, what do you think really happened once he left the island?
Oh, this is so hard to answer. The kid in me, who fell in love with this history mystery, still wants to believe that something creepy or shocking befell the colonists. When I was visiting the Roanoke Island Festival Park museum, I looked at a binder full of theories that kid visitors had written down: alien abductions, massive hurricanes, Spanish spies and pirates all played a part. Because of the famous “CRO” carving, I believe some colonists left the island to join Manteo’s village on Croatoan. But based on some recent archaeological discoveries—and what a guide at Fort Raleigh told me when I was visiting—I think it’s also likely that a group colonists left the area to head “50 miles into the main,” toward the Chesapeake, where they would have an easier time setting up a permanent colony. Over the years, the group(s) probably slowly dissolved as many of the colonists assimilated into Native communities. I loved the way Blue Birds ended and explained what happened, and I was so satisfied by the last scene! (Also, the song that Alis overhears is one that I actually sang in a youth choir, and it has stuck around in my head for the past couple of decades, so I enjoyed that detail very much.)
This is the second book you’ve written that blends the past with the present. I’d love to hear your thoughts behind doing this.
I’ve loved history, and historical fiction, since I was a kid. I think the books I’ve written that blend contemporary with historical are sort of a natural expression of that enthusiasm. I didn’t consciously try to do this, but the way my characters stumble onto history might reflect how my own fascination with it developed as a young reader—I’d come across a factoid or visit a historical site with my family and get completely wrapped up in that story of the past. Nell and Audrey (from my first book, When Audrey Met Alice) both do that. I do kind of hope readers might want to dig deeper into some of the historical content in my books—or that they inspire kids to explore whatever history topics fascinate them.
I did just finish a third book, though, and it is all historical fiction. That was a new (and fun) writing challenge, to focus only on the past!
Thank you so much, Rebecca, for indulging me in this conversation. I hope our paths cross in person someday soon. Readers, learn more about Rebecca and her books, including her newest release, The Summer of Lost and Found, at her website, www.rebeccabehrens.com.