Wednesday, August 12, 2020

Giveaway and Interview with Picture Book Writer Kirsti Call ~ by Christy Mihaly

A big GROG welcome to picture book author Kirsti Call. Kirsti is offering a signed ARC (advance copy) of her forthcoming picture book, Mootilda's Bad Mood ... just comment and/or tweet to be entered in our giveaway (details below)! 

   GROG:  Welcome, Kirsti! I know that in addition to writing, you co-host the new Picture Book Look podcast, and you're a Cybils judge and co-coordinator of Reading for Research Month (ReFoReMo). 
    Before we talk about your books, please tell us a little about ReFoReMo. What does it involve, and why should GROG readers participate?

    Kirsti: ReFoReMo was originally Carrie Charley Brown’s idea, and when she asked me to join in on the fun, I was thrilled. We had both judged for the Cybils awards, which helped us understand how reading great books helps us write great books. Paying attention to what I love about a story, and attempting to add those elements into my own stories, is one of my favorite ways to improve my writing. We wanted to share that with others.

Well, thanks to you and ReFoReMo for sharing all those mentor text insights. What more should our readers know about ReFoReMo?
    Kirsti: ReFoReMo is not only for writers, but for librarians, teachers, and kids. Though we post every Tuesday all year long, March is our challenge month. That's when authors, educators, librarians, agents and editors share insights and favorite mentor texts that we can read and learn from. 

ReFoReMo is a great resource for anyone who loves picture books. Now, what can you tell us about judging the Cybils?

A: For the last six years, I’ve read all 300-ish nominated picture books for the Cybils award over a two-month period. This picture book overload totally helps me understand the market, what editors love, and what I love about picture books.

Read, read, read, right? Kirsti, you're also a marriage and family therapist. Does that work give you story ideas or otherwise inform your children's books?

Kirsti: I love using bibliotherapy in my work as a therapist. Reading and discussing books in therapy helps people process and heal. This work definitely influences my stories and what I write. In fact, if you read my forthcoming picture book, Mootilda’s Bad Mood (Sept. 1, 2020, Little Bee), you'll notice a very obvious connection between the story and my work as a therapist. 

Spread from Mootilda: "We're in a bad mooooooood!"
Mootilda's Bad Mood is co-written with Corey Rosen Schwartz and illustrated by Claudia Ranucci. It's about a cow in a bad mood. Where did this fun idea come from?

   Kirsti: Corey and I joke about her being in a bad mood and me being in a good mood all the time.  We thought it would be fun to take that dynamic and explore how a cow in a bad mood would approach life ... and overcome all the cow-tastrophes that make her feel worse and worse. 

Uh-oh, cow-pun alert!! Kirsti, how does the co-writing process work differently from solo writing?

   Kirsti: Corey and I have written many manuscripts together. In fact, we have another book coming out in the fall of 2021 with Little Brown. It’s called "Cold Turkey!" Writing together involves lots of texts and messaging in google docs and talking on the phone. It’s a much more social than writing solo.

  Big congratulations on Mootilda, Kirsti (and Corey and Claudia). I'm sorry, though, about the timing.
How have you been promoting your new book in the midst of the covid-19 closures and cancellations?
Book Launch in the Time of Covid (Sept.5)

Kirsti: Little Bee is planning a virtual book tour that we’re excited to participate in. We have a couple of virtual events coming up on Sept. 5 at The Writing Barn, and Sept. 8 at An Unlikely Story. We’re also considering a socially distanced book launch at a farm featuring cows and ice-cream. We’ve created some digital assets that we’ll be offering with pre-sales. In fact ...

** ALERT! GROG Bonus! **  

... if any GROG readers pre-order Mootilda, they can DM me on Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram to receive a signed bookplate, sticker, and mood-o-meter coloring page. 

We’re trying to be creative in these uncertain times. But one thing I am certain of, "Mootilda's Bad Mood" is something that will resonate with many people given the pandemic.

    These days it takes extra imagination and energy to get our books into readers' hands. Good luck with your launch! What else would you like GROG readers to know about you and your books?

    Kirsti: I’m super excited about another book that’s coming out with HMH in March—Cow Says Meow. I’m not certain why all of my upcoming books feature farm animals, but I do have a pair of cow shoes I can wear for each release date! 
Kirsti Call (whose cow shoe [and foot] appears below) is the co-host of the new Picture Book Look podcast and co-coordinator of ReFoReMo. She reads, reviews, revises and critiques every day as an "elf" for the 12x12 Picture Book Challenge, a blogger for Writer's Rumpus, and a critique group member. She's judged the Cybils award for fiction picture books since 2015. Kirsti has a picture book, MOOTILDA'S BAD MOOD (Little Bee) coming in the fall of 2020. COW SAYS MEOW (HMH) and COLD TURKEY (Little Brown) release in 2021. Kirsti is represented by Emma Sector at Prospect Agency.

For the GIVEAWAY: 

Your name will be entered for a chance to win Kirsti's signed ARC if you: 
(1) comment on this post (below) explaining why you'd like to win the ARC.
(2) tweet about this post, mentioning GROG and Kirsti Call, and tag me (@CMwriter4kids). 
Do both to get two chances!

We'll draw the winning name and post it on the GROG post next week. Good luck!

And remember, if you pre-order Mootilda's Bad Mood, contact Kirsti to get your swag. 

Find her here:
@kirsticall (Instagram)
Kirstine Erekson Call (Facebook)
@kirsticall (Twitter)

Thanks for visiting GROG! 
(And don't forget to leave a comment ...) 
Christy Mihaly

Wednesday, August 5, 2020

How to Turn Your Vacation into a Star Story by Tina Cho

Yesterday (August 4th) was the book birthday of The Ocean Calls: A Haenyeo Mermaid Story published by Kokila, illustrated by Jess X. Snow, my 4th picture book. It’s the end of summer, and I want to encourage you Grog Blog readers to turn your curiosities and vacations into stories! Then your vacations can be tax deductible, hehe.
An 83 year old haenyeo & me
So, it all started with a tweet I read on Twitter in 2016 about the haenyeo. Here I was living in South Korea, and I had never heard of them! They are diving women off the coast of Jeju Island, the southern tip of Korea. They are unique because they don’t use breathing equipment, and most of them are over 50 years of age. Some are in their 80s. 

I scoured the Internet for everything I could read and watch about these fascinating mermaids of the sea. I wrote a first draft. This draft was pure nonfiction, and I thought Highlights Magazine would be interested. I was correct. They were interested, but they wanted more sensory details and quotes. Ugh. No sale.

Jeju Island
I asked my husband how far Jeju was from where we lived, how much it would cost to fly there, etc… It turned out to be a cheap ticket & 30 minute flight. This would be our spring break vacation. I could research haenyeo. I dragged took my family to every haenyeo spot around the island. I took photos, talked to them, and even visited the haenyeo museum. When I returned home, I wrote a new story, this one fictional with a haenyeo grandmother teaching her granddaughter the tradition. The story went through 9 drafts with my critique groups. My agent sold it to Kokila, a new imprint of Penguin Random House in 2018. Since then, we’ve flown back to Jeju for spring break 2019 and snapped more photos for the illustrator, Jess X. Snow. I also found haenyeo in Busan, a large city on the southern tip of Korea and was able to take photos of them.
intergenerational theme

My advice for turning your vacation into a star story:

1. Plan your vacations around your curiosities and places you are interested in.
Canola among the volcanic rocks
2. Write down detailed sensory notes. Because I was able to watch the haenyeo firsthand, I could hear their special breathing called sumbisori which sounds like “hoowi,” when they exhale all their held-in breath. You will find that several times in my book. I took photos of the landscapes and shared them with the illustrator. Off the sandy shores were fields of bright yellow canola flowers and volcanic rocks. Jess did a beautiful job showing it! This is my favorite scene.

my favorite spread

3. Find a way to tell your story using your vacation as the backdrop. You can write nonfiction, or like me, fictionalize it but keep it based on something true.

4. Take lots and lots of photos and videos. You never know when an editor or illustrator will need them. I took photos of locals’ houses, and when invited inside a haneyo spot, I took more photos. 
Haenyeo spot in Busan, South Korea
5. Talk to the locals. Get their perspective on things.

6. Find the uniqueness of your vacation story. My uniqueness is the haenyeo themselves. I couldn’t find any English children’s books about them. 

7. Find a way to relate your story to today’s generation of kids. In my story the main character is afraid to swim & dive in deep water. She also learns something new from her grandmother. And many kids nowadays are trying new things since they have been home-bound.

8. Add layers of themes. My story showcases women and girls who are strong and courageous, attune to nature, with an intergenerational thread, the passing of tradition and culture, in a caring sisterhood of community.

9. Make sure it has a snazzy title that gives a hint about the story and snags an agent or editor. Add back matter if appropriate.

10. Send it to your critique group(s). I belong to 3. And they each chimed in with different perspectives and advice.

The Ocean Calls garnered 4 stars—from Kirkus, Booklist, Publisher’s Weekly, & School Library Journal. It’s also a Junior Library Guild selection.

Me in South Korea

Bio: Tina Cho is the author of four picture books-- Rice from Heaven: The Secret Mission to Feed North Koreans (Little Bee Books August 2018), Korean Celebrations (Tuttle August 2019), My Breakfast with Jesus: Worshipping God around the World ( Harvest House June 2, 2020), and The Ocean Calls: A Haenyeo Mermaid Story (Kokila/Penguin Random House Aug. 4, 2020). Her lyrical middle grade graphic novel, The Tune Without Words, debuts from Harper Alley in 2023. On July 22nd, she and her family flew across the ocean to start a new life back in the states. Korea will always be part of their home.

Wednesday, July 29, 2020

What's New at the Library?

By Leslie Colin Tribble

It's been awhile since I've talked about some new books we've received at the library where I work. There have been a lot of great books come in, and just as quickly go right back out in the hands of eager children. Our library was closed from mid-March until June when we reopened to the public, but during that time we were super busy providing materials to library patrons of all ages through our curbside delivery program. Every day there were lots of tall stacks of picture books waiting to be picked up by eager families.

Now that we're open again, I had a hard time getting new picture books to bring home so I could write about them. Kids and adults came in and stripped the shelves bare of all the new books they hadn't gotten to read for nearly three months.

Here are a few books I grabbed one morning before we opened so I could have something to talk about.

Here We Go Digging for Dinosaur Bones - Susan Lendroth and Bob Kolar. Set to the tune of "here we go round the mulberry bush" this simple picture book brings the world of paleontology to young children. Four scientists take off in their jeep on a warm and sunny morning to look for dinosaur bones. The song part of the text is featured in larger font across the double page spreads, while a small paragraph of factual information sits on the lower right corner. The process of discovery, excavation, sifting, and transporting fossils continues until we finally see a picture of the dinosaur in all its terrifying glory. The book finishes with three short pages of back matter and some activities readers can do to go along with the actions of the story. I really appreciated the simple, clean illustrations and the hidden animals which you might actually see at a fossil site in Montana where the book is based. I'm always searching for fossils on my walks in Wyoming so I really enjoyed this book.

Khalil and Mr. Hagerty and the Backyard Treasures - Tricia Springstubb and Elaheh Taherian.
Khalil and his family live in the upstairs of a house, while Mr. Hagerty lives downstairs. They both enjoy spending time in the yard and each helps the other with words - words that Khalil can't pronounce while he's reading, and words that Mr. Hagerty can't remember when he's talking. Both characters have the same idea about finding backyard treasures and discover a new word, Friend. I liked the juxtaposition of young and old yet the commonality of both needing help with words. The illustrations are eye catching and the story is just lovely. At one point Khalil and Mr. Hagerty share slices of chocolate cake and milk - what's not to love about that?

My Friend Earth - Patricia MacLachlan and Francesca Sanna. This is a beautiful book of dynamic illustrations in muted tones of blues, greens and browns with lots of cutouts for peeking onto the next page. The story is about the flow of seasons and how Earth creates homes for her creatures. I loved the Earth child interacting with, and caring for, her family. There's a lot to discuss while reading this book including weather events and things like floods, drought and the cycle of life on our planet.

Free for You and Me - Christy Mihaly and Manu Montoya. I found the Grog's very own Christy Mihaly on our new shelves with her book on the First Amendment. Written in verse, Christy does a beautiful job explaining our First Amendment and what that means to ordinary citizens. Everyone should read this book and get a refresher course on this bedrock law of our country. I like how each section of the amendment is further explained through talk bubbles, showing in a concrete way what that particular Freedom means. Christy finishes off the book with four pages of backmatter to round out the discussion. Thanks Christy and Manu for creating such an important book.

My last selection is a YA nonfiction book. I've never featured a YA book before, but when this one came across my desk this week I knew I had to share.

Dancing at the Pity Party: a dead mom graphic memoir - Tyler Feder. This book deals with the very important, yet almost taboo, subject of a parent dying. Tyler Feder's mother died when she was a college freshman and she created this graphic novel ten years later. The book frankly deals with all the emotions, the hardships, and life upheavals a child (of any age) experiences with the death of a parent. I feel the graphic novel format makes it very accessible to young people - it's not like trying to read an adult book on grief which oftentimes isn't much more than a lot of words that don't have any meaning. As a graphic novel it's easy to read, easy to understand the emotions, and if the reader has experienced a similar loss, easy to feel like someone gets you. My own children lost their father at 12 and 7 years and I wish I'd had this book to help them identify and be able to discuss their own struggles. Although the story is sad, it also beautifully displays the deep relationship between a daughter and her mother. And the story ends on a simple, but hopeful note of continuance.

So there's my latest roundup. Libraries are opening back up to their patrons so get out to your local branch and check out some of these great books.

Wednesday, July 22, 2020

She Wears Many Hats...Interview with Alayne Kay Christian

By Janie Reinart

Alayne Kay Christian

It is my great pleasure to welcome Alayne to the Grog for an interview.This charming and creative lady sees a picture book in almost everything. Not only is Alayne Kay Christian an editor, but she is also an award-winning author, and creator and teacher of her own picture book writing course. Alayne is always generous with her time and a cheerleader for writers learning the craft. Let's dive into the questions.

1. How did you get the idea for your stories?

Both of my latest picture books are based on true stories. I got the idea for An Old Man and His Penguin: How Dindim Made João Pereira de Souza an Honorary Penguin in 2016 when a flood of videos and news articles arose about this very unusual love story between, can you guess? An old man and a penguin. Even though João first met Dindim in 2011, for some reason—at least to my knowledge—the story didn’t break until October of 2015 when the Wall Street Journal featured the odd pair. 

For The Weed that Woke Christmas: The Mostly True Tale of the Toledo Christmas Weed, I first saw the story on the news. The story was such a testament to goodness, love, and the human spirit that I was compelled to share this lovely message with children. 

The beautiful true story is about a weed, a family that put the first Christmas decoration on the weed, and a city and nation who was reminded of the true Christmas spirit. I call it the “mostly true tale” because in the book, I tell the story from the weed’s perspective. 

2. What is your favorite part of the story?

Wow! That’s a tough question. I think for both stories, the endings are my favorite parts because they are so touching and leave a message of hope. Next to the ending, in The Weed That Woke Christmas my favorite part is the turning point. And with An Old Man and His Penguin, I just love the ups and downs throughout.

I must also share that I love the art in both books—thanks to Milanka Reardon (Old Man) and Polina Gortman (Christmas Weed).

3. How long did it take to write? Get to a publisher?

I started writing An Old Man and His Penguin in 2016 and have done countless revisions over the years. I started writing The Weed That Woke Christmas in early 2019, so that one took a lot less time to get to publication.

Alayne's workspace

4.What is your writing routine?

Because I’m so busy now with Blue Whale Press, I feel like I can’t afford a routine. So, it’s a difficult balancing act to fit it “all” in. I write new stories when I’m moved to get them out in my first draft. Usually, once this happens, the story keeps calling me, so I do my best to dedicate some focus time. 

However, revisions on more established stories keep calling me too. So, decisions, decisions. I have a fabulous critique group and some fantastic critique buddies. 

When I get encouraging and inspiring critiques with suggestions that I have no doubt will help me take my story to the next level, I have to choose between working on a new story and revising the established story. Any story that has gained interest from an agent or editor always takes priority when revising.

5. What is your favorite writing craft book?

The first one I always recommend to emerging writers is Ann Whitford Paul’s Writing Picture Books. I have so many craft books that I feel it would be impossible to choose just one. 

For novels, Janice Hardy has some excellent books and workbooks. And her Fiction University blog has non-stop tips on writing. I can’t let myself get started on all the craft books that I love and would recommend because this interview would never end ;-)

6. What inspires you to write?

My creative spirit won’t be still, so I have no choice but to respond. But I am most moved by true stories or ideas that touch my heart or funny bone. Motivation to write comes from being in critique groups and any sense of success—even if it’s a positive one-sentence manuscript rejection. 

Publication doesn’t help my addiction, with every one of my books that have been brought to life via amazing illustrations and brought into the world through publication, I have another story that I love that I must see come to life.

And then, there is my original and everlasting desire to touch the readers of my books through language and meaningful stories.

7. What are you working on now?

I’m working on a request for a rewrite and resubmit from an editor. All my fabulous critique partners have given me their thoughts, and I’m putting the puzzle pieces together for the rewrite. 

I’m also trying to find the funny and light-hearted side of my creative spirit. So, I’ve got already critiqued light-hearted stories awaiting revisions that are allowing me a chance to experiment with a different side of me as a children’s writer.

You can pre-order An Old Man and His Penguin here.

8. Words of advice for writers. 

One thing I’ve been thinking about a lot lately is the importance of the training ground that peer manuscript critiques provide. I think it is important to experience critiques through this training ground and work to learn your craft via working with peers before spending money on professional critiques. 

Among other things, this training ground helps you learn how to deal with constructive criticism on an emotional level and on a decision-making level. It also opens your mind to trying different things, and helps you learn your craft. 

You can experience giving and receiving peer critiques by joining a critique group or taking advantage of manuscript swap groups, such as the ones KidLit411, SubItClub, and sometimes SCBWI offer. And if you are a 12 X 12 member, take advantage of their full manuscript critique benefit.

Along the lines of being in a critique group for a while before paying for a professional critique, and maybe even before submitting to agents and publishers, my next tip is to be patient. For most authors, publication does not happen overnight and for many it took years before their debut book.

Do everything in your power to learn. There is so much information available online, in writing groups and the online writing community, in craft books, in courses and webinars, and on and on. 

And as you learn, read as many books in your genre as possible. But don’t just read them. Analyze them. What do they have in common? What makes their beginnings grab you? What makes the beginnings special? What makes the middle keep you engaged and turning pages? 

If you are writing chapter books or novels, how does each chapter move the story forward? How does each chapter compel you to keep reading? What makes the ending of picture books or novels touch you and leave you feeling satisfied? And on and on I could go. Then, use what you have learned to create or analyze your own work.

I’d like to give a big thank you to you Janie and the GROG team for having me as a guest on your fabulous and informative blog.

Thank you, Alayne for joining us. May the success of your books go swimmingly. 

Alayne Kay Christian is the acquisitions editor for Blue Whale Press and an award-winning children’s book author. She is the creator and teacher of a picture book writing course Art of Arc. Her published works include Sienna, the Cowgirl Fairy chapter book series and the picture book Butterfly Kisses for Grandma and Grandpa. The second Sienna, the Cowgirl Fairy book, Cowboy Trouble, will be released in the summer of 2020. The Weed That Woke Christmas: The Mostly True Story of the Toledo Christmas Weed will be available late summer 2020. Her next picture book Faith Beneath the Bridge will come into the world in 2021. Born in the Rockies, raised in Chicago, and now a true-blue Texan, Alayne’s writing shares her creative spirit and the kinship to nature and humanity that reside within her heart. 

From the desk of Suzy aka Prairie Garden Girl

The winners from the July 15th giveaway are:

Annette Whipple 
Jarm Del Boccio

Please contact me at

Wednesday, July 15, 2020

Rethinking Social Media Time for Creatives

By Suzy Leopold

How are you doing with social media [SM] during these unprecedented times?

Is SM supporting your reading, writing, and creating goals? For many creatives, SM can be a distraction as one attempts to stay informed with issues and concerns during a global pandemic and a call for kindness and respect for all.

I notice when I step back from social media for short, frequent pauses I find more time to do what matters to me. I’m not planning on giving up on my Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter accounts completely. However, I’ve found these social media breaks impact my life in positive ways, including more reading, more writing, more creating, and most importantly more family time. I am thankful for the connections I’ve made with like minded writers I’ve met online, from trusted critique partners to friendships. 

Taking conscious SM breaks provides more headspace for creativity to show up in new ways.
I picked these flowers for you!

Social media and smartphone use are destroying attention span.

We’ve become a distracted world. Research shows our attention span is shorter than that of a goldfish. Research shows our attention span is becoming less. Check out the research in this info gram:

We are interrupted by notifications, reminders, and alerts almost all day long.

Often we interrupt ourselves to quickly check email messages, Facebook posts, create a tweet on Twitter, and/or scroll through Instagram. “Just checking in” derails deep, concentrated creative work and usually extends longer than just a five to ten minute quick look.

The human brain needs twenty minutes to resume and get back on task after a distraction.

As a writer, having an online presence somewhere is important for followers and a reading audience. However, one doesn’t need to be everywhere, all of the time on line.

Social media impacts our creativity in positive and negative ways.

Social media and searching the Internet can spark creativity. There are valuable emails to read, blogs to learn from, and FB posts written by like minded creatives. Many of these posts share information, inspiration, and encouragement for readers, writers, and creators.

These online communities can push your creative boundaries. However, there needs to be a balance. Spending too much time on SM can derail your goals.

The Internet and social media offer resources to writers and illustrators and can be an excellent tool.

There may be times to step away from online communities and engage with people in your community to bring fresh ideas that you won’t find on your FB feed.

Talking and reading about writing are not the same as actual writing.

“Social media groups for writers practically beg us to talk about our work, and it’s easy to spend our designated writing time talking about writing instead of actually writing. It’s important that we balance our desire to connect online with our need to guard our work time.”
Jess Townes, Co-Regional Advisor for the Kansas-Missouri SCBWI

Revisit the SMART goals you created at the beginning of the year. Make adjustments if need be. Push your writing to the next level.

For more information about goals click SMART goals. An additional post can be found by clicking more SMART goals.

I picked some more flowers for you

“Don’t wait, write. Take an hour a week, or twenty minutes a day. Or a four day retreat. If writing is something you love to do, then just do it. Plain and simple. You can do it. Don’t wait, write.”
Amanda Zieba, Children’s Book Author

Balance your desire to connect online with your need to set aside valuable time to read, write, and create.

In the comments below share a tip about how you balance your creative time with social media time to be eligible for the giveaway. If you follow the instructions, I’ll put your name in a hat and draw two winners. Each winner will receive a hand crafted bookmark painted with watercolors. U. S. Mail only.

The two lucky winners will be announced on the next GROG Blog on July 22nd. Good luck!

Wednesday, July 8, 2020

A Sporting Chance : Author Lori Alexander Talks NF Chapter Books and More by Kathy Halsey

Book Review  
GROG readers probably know by now that I 'm a picture book biography/nonfiction aficianado. So when AZ author friend Lori Alexander published a chapter book biography with illustrations and historical photos, I knew had to read it. My verdict matches that of the Kirkus starred review, "Informative, engaging, and important." 

I was curious to see the structure of a chapter book biography. The 128-page book meant for grades 3-7 (HMH Books for Young Readers) reads quickly and grabs the reader with factual sidebars, fresh, engaging illustrations by Allan Drummond, and a mix of history, sports, medicine. Readers will identify and cheer on  Ludwig Guttmann, a Jewish boy who disliked school, but became a neurologist who changed lives, fought the Nazis as a doctor, gave hope to those with spinal injuries, and created the Paralympic Games.   

This book has so many hooks to reel in readers. Teachers and librarians will swoon over the deep back matter. Parents will appreciate a story about hard times, prejudice, and illness – a perfect jumping off point for discussions about social issues we face today. Best of all, this book amplifies hope, heart, and everyday heroism. I highly recommend it!  

Craft Chat with Lori Alexander 

KH: You began your writing career with humorous, fictional picture books and added nonfiction, biography and longer forms, such as A Sporting Chance. How did this transition happen? What new skills were necessary for crafting a chapter book biography?

LA: That’s correct! I had a few funny picture books under my belt when my agent inquired about my interest in nonfiction. I’m embarrassed to share that I never considered writing it before that. My husband is a scientist and one night he mentioned how much more informed doctors and pathologist were after the invention of the microscope. That got my wheels spinning! I wrote my first nonfiction manuscript, All in a Drop: How Antony Van Leeuwenhoek Discovered an Invisible World in picture book format. Later, I expanded to chapter book length when my wise editor at Houghton Mifflin Harcourt suggested the content would be a better fit for slightly older readers (3rd-7th grades). She was right! All in a Drop won a Sibert Honor for distinguished nonfiction earlier this year. As far as swinging from PBs to the longer form, it helped to read several “mentor” chapter books. Those gave me a feel for chapter length, vocabulary level, and layout of sidebars and back matter.   

KH: How did you first find out about Ludwig Gutmann? How did you craft his story to appeal to kids?  I know you have personal inspiration with the topic.

LA: My daughter was born with a condition called pseudoarthrosis. It affects the tibia in her left leg. We didn’t have a diagnosis until she was bearing weight as a newly walking toddler and her leg broke. The bone wouldn’t heal and after six months, her leg was still fractured. In many cases, children with pseudoarthrosis undergo multiple surgeries in attempts to get the affected bone to heal. If the bone won’t fuse, amputation is the next course of action. Although we’ve had some success with surgeries, bone grafts, rodding, and a leg brace, the amputation has always been in the back of our minds. We love to watch the Paralympics to show our daughter (now 13 years old) that legs aren’t required for gold medals. Success comes to those who work for it! Here’s a short clip that aired on our local Tucson news with a bit more of the story:

When I pitched Ludwig Guttmann to my editor at HMH, I emphasized the great mix of history, medicine, and sports. I wrote a 2-page “mini-proposal” with some historical highlights, possible sidebar topics, STEM tie-ins, and a competitive analysis explaining how the title would fit into the current market (comp titles come in handy here!). I’m so glad she was game to team-up once again! A Sporting Chance: How Ludwig Guttmann Created the Paralympic Games released in April 2020.

KH:  The pacing, the interweaving of sidebars, science, and narrative arc such strengths of this biography. How did you interlace all these threads?

LA: I used a narrative nonfiction format so the remarkable events of Ludwig’s life would read like a story with a main character who has a problem to solve. I always like to begin with details from childhood. This gives young readers a hint at what’s to come (Ludwig was small but fast, was smart but didn’t love school, liked to play sports, and stood up for his Jewish friends when they were bullied). Ludwig was Jewish and lived in Germany up until 1938. In addition to details about his life, I had to provide historical context to young readers who may not be familiar with this part of world history.
Ludwig was a neurologist and worked with spinal injury patients. In the early 1900s, about 80% of these paraplegic patients died, mostly from bladder infections and infections caused by bedsores from their full-body casts. Doctors called them “incurables.” But Ludwig wanted to make a difference. He removed casts and worked to get his patients sitting upright in bed. He brought in physical therapists and wheelchairs and gave his patients simple jobs to do. He wanted these young men and women, many who were soldiers in WWII, to feel like part of society again.
When his patients believed simple tasks, like feeding and dressing themselves, were no longer possible, Ludwig encouraged them to try until they were successful. So whether I was writing about Hitler’s rise to power or the science behind the nervous system, I tried to use simple, straightforward language to present information in an age-appropriate, yet engaging manner.

KH: What was your organizational process for all these moving parts? Scrivener? Old-fashioned notebooks and folders? 

LA: Ludwig’s fascinating life story spans 80 years. Born in 1899, he lived through both world wars, so I had quite a bit of historical ground to cover. At the same time, I didn’t want this chapter book to be overwhelming to young readers. Strategic use of “sidebars” allowed me to include fascinating tidbits without interrupting the main narrative.
I haven’t tried software like Scrivener to stay organized. I tend to have a Word doc open for ongoing notes and especially to remember the sources of quotes that I want to use later in the story. Mostly, my desk is covered with printed journal articles and research books with lots of little post-it flags sticking out of their pages. And it feels like I always have a hundred tabs open on my computer. That’s the trick with nonfiction. There’s so much info at our fingertips (the big slab of marble), we authors need to decide what to cut out and what to keep (to carve a stunning statue!).

KH: I’m impressed by the scope of this book as well as the amount of photos, images, and interviews you amassed in its creation. Did you get a photo budget or was the onus on you?

LA: Yes, there was a photo budget and I blew right through it! HMH actually increased the budget midway through the project and I still spent some out-of-pocket (we included around 40 historical photos). I didn’t realize how expensive photographs can be, especially from sites like Getty. But along with the Allan Drummond’s beautiful illustrations, the photographs added so much to the final look and feel of the book. The photo research itself (finding appropriate photos and securing permissions) can be quite time consuming. I didn’t realize these tasks were all part of the author’s role until I landed my first nonfiction contract.

KH:  A Sporting Chance garnered a starred review from Kirkus and is a Junior Library Guild Selection. What was your feeling when you found out? Do these accolades affect a book? For you personally, what was your proudest moment so far with Gutmann’s story?

LA: I was thrilled to receive the starred review from Kirkus. They are notoriously tough! Another starred review just rolled in from Horn Book Magazine. It feels great to read such compliments about the text and the art of this book. I do think these reviews help a bit, especially when it comes to teachers and librarians adding books to their collections.
Since this book only recently released, I’ll say my proudest moment so far is simply getting Ludwig’s story out into the world. One of my favorite parts is the “ah-ha” moment that inspired Ludwig to create organized sporting competitions. One day out on the hospital lawn, he caught a group of his patients in their wheelchairs using upside-down walking canes to hit a puck. It reminded him of polo without the horses. Ludwig began to wonder if sports could help with rehabilitation. He brought in equipment to teach his patients archery. In 1948, he hosted a small archery competition between two hospitals. More sports and more participants joined each year. At first, people laughed at the idea. They told Ludwig that no one would watch his wheelchair games. But that didn’t stop him. His small competition on the hospital lawn grew into Paralympic Games we know today. In 2016, more than 4000 athletes competed in the summer Paralympics in Rio. The Games broke viewership records with a global television audience of more than 4.1 billion people!

There aren’t many children’s books that feature people with disabilities. It’s important for kids with varying abilities to see themselves in books. And it’s important for all readers to be exposed to the themes of compassion, tenacity, and social justice that are woven throughout this story.

KH: Any online readings or other book events our readers can follow regarding A Sporting Chance: How Paralympics Founder Ludwig Guttmann Saved Lives with Sports? What’s up next for you?

LA: This is such a tough time to release a new book! I *had* all kinds of book festivals and school visits on my calendar but everything was cancelled. I’m hoping to make another big marketing push for this one next summer, before the rescheduled Paralympics games in 2021! For now, I’m working on a third biography for HMH. It hasn’t been announced yet so I won’t give away too many details. But it will be in a similar chapter book format, with lots of full-color illustrations, for grades 3-7. In addition, I have a board book releasing in October from Scholastic (FUTURE DOCTOR is the fourth book in the Future Baby series). I also have a picture book called MINI MIGHTY SWEEPS, about a little street sweeper with a big job to do, coming from HarperCollins in 2022. 

Lori Alexander loves to read and write! She has written picture books like BACKHOE JOE (Harper) and FAMOUSLY PHOEBE (Sterling) as well as the FUTURE BABY board book series (Scholastic). Her first non-fiction chapter book, ALL IN A DROP (HMH) received a Sibert Honor Award. Her new book, A SPORTING CHANCE (HMH), is a Junior Library Guild Selection and received a Kirkus starred review. Lori resides in sunny Tucson, Arizona, with her scientist husband and two book loving kids. She runs when it’s cool and swims when it’s hot. Then she gets back to reading and writing. Visit Lori at or on Twitter @LoriJAlexander or Instagram @lorialexanderbooks