Monday, January 30, 2017

STILL A FAMILY - Book Review and Interview with Brenda Reeves Sturgis Part 1 - by Kathy Halsey

The connection I made  to Brenda Reeves Sturgis via Tara Lazar's Storystorm community made today’s post  possible. STILL A FAMILY by Brenda Reeves Sturgis has a book birthday tomorrow. Today I review the book and begin a two part interview on Brenda. Read Part 2 of my interview onThursday, February 9.
STILL A FAMILY is a timely picture book that shares what some folks deem a "difficult" topic" for children – homelessness. Yet, the book is upbeat and honest. Brenda sprinkles facts and dispels myths about the homeless in this sweet story of a young girl and her parents who navigate the hard truth of being apart, yet together. Children and some adults may not know that there are very few shelters where families can remain intact. Men usually live in a shelter just for them, while women and children are housed in another.

Check out the book trailer above for another book look.

Author Sturgis picks just the right details and tone to share in this young girl's story. She makes friends, has a doll named Molly who is always in tow, and meets her father in the park for family fun, just like most families do, homeless or not. But, reality is portrayed realistically. Our main character misses her own bed and the quiet of her home; she stands in soup kitchen lines, and she wishes her shoes weren't so tight. Her parents look for work daily, and sometimes when it rains, they must create a lean-to. The young girl's refrain, "We're still a family" will reassure young readers that love prevails even in hard times. Jo-Shin Lee's compelling, child-like illustrations will also make young readers feel a part of the narrative. 

The Author's Note and Resources section in the back matter further illuminate the problem of homelessness and what we all can do to help. Finally, even though Amazon indicates age ranges as K-3 grade, I feel that students grades 4-8 could also appreciate this picture book. Innovative teachers will find a way to incorporate social studies and service learning/community projects into a unit with this book.
Author Brenda Reeves Sturgis
How We Can Help
1. Brenda suggests sharing or buying a copy of this book for your local homeless shelter. She sent me a free, autographed copy for review purposes. (A percentage of every copy of STILL A FAMILY will go toward helping homeless shelters.)
2. I plan to buy a second copy to donate to my downtown Columbus, Ohio shelter. I'll contact the shelter and see if I can conduct a story time with the children there. Since my burgeoning bookshelves need a weeding, I'm going to also donate a variety of gently-used children's books, too. (You may want to do the same thing and brush up on your read aloud skills. It's a win-win for all.)
3. Brenda speaks from her heart when she says, "My goal is to touch a million hearts. And my ultimate goal is for those million hearts to do SOMETHING, anything, to help. Even one small thing can help somebody: purchase socks, buy a bus pass, donate money, or a book.  We see homeless people on the streets and we avert our eyes, we put our heads down, we fidget with our radios, we lock our doors.  Most of us do this BECAUSE... it is scary."
4. You can purchase this book via Amazon (click here) or at your favorite book store.
Q & A with Brenda, Part One
K: Before you wrote STILL A FAMILY, did your research include visiting homeless shelters or talking with homeless children? What opened your heart to this topic?
B. I have not had the honor of speaking to children in shelters yet, however that is my biggest goal and my life's upcoming mission. Although I have made several calls to shelters, I have not been able to get "in" the door yet. Shelter staffs are always so busy helping day in and out.
Once the book comes out, I plan to go to shelters to read and share it. Fourteen years ago, at the beginning of my writing career, I did create a book drive for shelters and children's hospitals. Many authors sent me copies of their books, which I sent to shelters across the country. This serious problem has been on my heart for many years, and now I can actually do something to raise social awareness.

K : I was impressed by your ability as a writer to broach a so-called "tough" topic. How did you get the tone right and what other craft considerations came into play?

B: Kathy, this is a great question! Thank you for asking it. At first, I wrote this book in rhyme. The opening stanza started like this, "In the hubbub of the city, under brisk and starry skies, I plumped my chilly pillow and arranged our scarce supplies." As a rhymer, this was where my heart wanted to go with this story. However, the rhyme did not fit the story AT ALL.  It was too upbeat. BUT...after thoughtful editorial feedback, and trying to find the right tone, I knew it had to be rewritten in prose. Prose to me has always been like pulling teeth. BEYOND DIFFICULT.

K: What other members of your personal writing community helped you make this book shine?
B: My editor, Andrea Hall, Albert Whitman & Company, gave me wonderful direction with tone and clarity. In the first draft, the family hit tough times, Dad lost his job; the electricity was cut off. I liken these events to a tornado that picked up speed and landed this family in the shelter. After many rounds of revision, Andrea asked for something different.
Now my brilliant critique partner, Carrie Clickard (MAGIC FOR SALE) said, "Brenda, they don't want to know how they got into the shelter, they want to know how a family stays a family while living in a shelter." And just like that, the light bulb came on; I wrote the story; Andrea was correct in her vision. (K's note - a great editor is key - we need to listen up and understand what they and our CPs are telling us!)

K: What advice do you have for us non-rhymers?
B: Writing rhyme is so tough. Your meter must be 100% spot-on, and it's hard to sell. (Think foreign rights, translation, and salability in the foreign market.) People told me, "If you never want to be published, write in rhyme." I'm a tad stubborn and didn't believe them, so I pushed on and did sell 10 TEN TURKEYS IN THE ROAD to Marshall Cavendish and then to Scholastic. THE LAKE WHERE LOON LIVES, a cumulative rhymer, sold to Islandport Press, and TOUCHDOWN is published by MeeGenius. (Find all my books on my web site here.)

K: And now a few rapid-fire questions and answers:
K: Favorite dessert? B: Creme' Brulée
K: Favorite author? B: Lisa Wheeler, Kelly DiPucchio, the late Linda Smith, Carrie Clickard, Jenni Bielcki, and Mona Pease.
K: Favorite place to write? Always in my yellow sunshiny office.
More about Brenda's journey as an author, more advice to writers, and more folks she'd like to thank on Thursday, February 9.
K: We writers can be chatty, but Brenda's parting words to GROG readers today are, "Don't lose heart. Keep on. Keep believing that your dream can happen. Do the work you need to do. Use everyday to help somebody because you get back what you put out ten-fold - whether it's good or bad, it all comes back."
K: Thank you, Kelly. Remember, more inspiration on February 9. Until then, Brenda and I ask you to go make a difference for others however you can.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

LOVING vs. VIRGINIA: Multi-Cultural Children's Book Day Review ~ Christy Mihaly

Tomorrow is the fourth annual Multi-Cultural Children's Book Day. Hurray! 

If you're a teacher looking for multicultural resources, check out the MCBD Classroom Kindness Kit. MCBD also is making available free books for teachers and diversity book lists and activities for parents and educators.

There's more information about the non-profit MCBD at the end of this post.

As part of MCBD, I have the great pleasure of reviewing Patricia Hruby Powell's excellent forthcoming Loving vs. Virginia.

Described as "a documentary novel of the landmark civil rights case," this book tells the story behind the 1967 United States Supreme Court case holding that states can't ban interracial marriage. It's illustrated by Shadra Strickland and published by Chronicle Books. In addition to Strickland's pictures (in a style she refers to as visual journalism from the 1950s and 1960s), the work features photographs and other primary source materials. Patricia Hruby Powell, author of the award-winning Josephine: The Dazzling Life of Josephine Baker, creates an excellent introduction to an important civil rights issue. At 260 pages, it's advertised for readers 12 and up. 
This spread from Loving v. Virginia illustrates the reality of "separate but equal" segregated schools.
Using verse, the author alternates between the voices of Mildred Jeter Loving (of Native American and African American heritage) and Richard Loving (white). Richard was a friend of Millie's older brothers as they grew up in a racially mixed rural community in Virginia, attending segregated schools. 

The short, poetic chapters provide emotional insights into the family lives, the injustice, the fears and devotion of this young couple. Outside of their small community, white onlookers stare at the couple and hurl insults. They're barred from entering whites-only venues. The injustices anger them, even as their love deepens. They travel to Washington, D.C. to get married. Only weeks later, they're arrested in bed, and terrorized by the local Sheriff because of their "illegal" marriage. They spend time in jail, stand trial and are convicted, and return to Washington, D.C. as exiles. Later, represented by the ACLU, the Lovings initiate their groundbreaking legal case. Nine years later, after numerous setbacks, the Supreme Court unanimously rules in their favor. They return at last to make their home and raise their children in Virginia, where they started. The main narrative spans fifteen years, 1952 to 1967.
First date with brothers and sister at the drive-in

Stopped by the Sheriff again

Arrested in the night, for being married
This hybrid historical fiction novel works well. Its fictional approach allows for lively dialog and lets us see into the hearts of the protagonists, while the factual background and supporting materials provide contextual information about the times in which the Lovings lived. Kudos to the team that created this beautiful book. I recommend it for readers of all ages. Note that some parents may want to be aware that the book describes the birth of the Lovings' first child before their marriage. Mildred left high school to have her first baby. 

Back matter includes a list of interviews conducted by the author and a timeline. Reading this novel may inspire older readers to read more deeply on the covered subject and related issues.
Mildred and Richard Loving, in a photo from the book

Multicultural Children's Book Day was founded by Valarie Budayr from Jump Into A Book and Mia Wenjen from PragmaticMom. Their mission is to raise awareness on the ongoing need to include kid’s books that celebrate diversity in home and school bookshelves while also working diligently to get more of these types of books into the hands of young readers, parents and educators. 

Despite census data that shows 37% of the US population consists of people of color, only 10% of children’s books published have diversity content. Using the Multicultural Children’s Book Day holiday, the MCBD Team are on a mission to change all of that.
Sponsors: Platinum Sponsors include Scholastic, Barefoot Books and Broccoli. Other Medallion Level Sponsors include Author Carole P. Roman, Audrey Press, Candlewick Press, Fathers Incorporated, KidLitTV, Capstone Young Readers, ChildsPlayUsa, Author Gayle Swift, Wisdom Tales Press, Lee& Low Books, The Pack-n-Go Girls, Live Oak Media, Author Charlotte Riggle, Chronicle Books and Pomelo Books.

Author Sponsors include: Karen Leggett Abouraya, Veronica Appleton, Susan Bernardo, Kathleen Burkinshaw, Maria Dismondy, D.G. Driver, Geoff Griffin, Savannah Hendricks, Stephen Hodges, Carmen Bernier-Grand,Vahid Imani, Gwen Jackson, Hena, Kahn, David Kelly, Mariana Llanos, Natasha Moulton-Levy, Teddy O'Malley, Stacy McAnulty, Cerece Murphy, Miranda Paul, Annette Pimentel, Greg Ransom, Sandra Richards, Elsa Takaoka, Graciela Tiscareño-Sato, Sarah Stevenson, Monica Mathis-Stowe SmartChoiceNation, and Andrea Y. Wang.

Monday, January 23, 2017

Writing about Lesser-Known Holidays: Lunar New Year by Tina Cho

January 28th marks Lunar New Year! I remember growing up in the Midwest of America hardly acknowledging that it was on the calendar. We might occasionally order Chinese food and that was the extent of our celebration. Now that I live in Asia, it's a three-day holiday in South Korea. It's one of the most important holidays of the year, sort of like a second Christmas. People give practical gifts of money, fruits, meat trays, or other foods. They might dress in traditional clothing, and most return to their hometowns for feasting and honoring relatives with deep bows. Children reap the most benefits, receiving hefty sums of money from relatives. Some play traditional games, but everyone enjoys relaxation from work and seeing old faces.
The New Year's bow: My children bowing in front of my father-in-law. Afterwards, he gives them money.
When I looked for books about Lunar New Year, I only found those about how the Chinese celebrate. I couldn't find any in our school library about the Korean celebration. My search on Pinterest found one.

I know Korean publishers have produced them, but I don't know of any others in English. (If you do, please tell me.) So my ears and eyes will be searching this weekend for fresh story ideas about this holiday. 

I did make something about Lunar New Year from Korean culture to use in my classroom. I put it in my little Teachers Pay Teachers store. I've already sold some. 

What about other lesser-known holidays told from your culture or background? Kids and adults would appreciate learning how a variety of people celebrate. It's important to keep traditions alive and pass to the next generation.

And for those of you needing ideas in your Idea Notebook (hint, hint Storystorm), I hope something here will help.

 Now go scour the calendar and find those holidays. How can you add your spin on it?

Happy Lunar New Year!

If you'd like more info on writing about culture, please see my other posts here and here.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Anticipating Newbery and Caldecott Awards ~ by Patricia Toht

I LOVE this time of year! It's the week before the American Library Association's Midwinter meeting, and I'm filled with...

ALA Midwinter is where and when the winners of the Caldecott and Newbery Medals are announced, the two most prestigious honors in American children's literature.

My store from 1988-1995
Perhaps my anticipation hearkens back to my days as a bookseller. For most small, independent bookstores, if you do not have the winning titles on hand, there's a great likelihood that you'll be out of stock for quite awhile. Current stock is immediately snatched up and further copies require a reprint. So each January, I played the guessing game of which titles would win.

As a reminder, the Randolph Caldecott Medal is awarded to the best illustrated children's book of the year. The winner is usually a picture book. But sometimes a novel wins, like in 2008 when Brian Selznick's THE INVENTION OF HUGO CABRET took the prize. 

The John Newbery Medal is awarded to the best written children's book of the year. The winner is usually a novel. But sometimes a picture book wins, like in 2016, when Matt de la Peña's LAST STOP ON MARKET STREET won. 

Nowadays, I work in a middle school library. But I still try to guess at the winners, with the goal of having added those books to our collection before the announcement. 

An educated guess is so much better than a wild one, so here is how I go about it:
Nearly 22,000 children's books are traditionally published each year, and I'm a slow reader. To narrow the list, I rely on these sources:

1) Reviews (especially starred ones) from School Library Journal, Booklist, Kirkus, Horn Book, and Publishers' Weekly.

2) Blogs like Fuse #8, 100 Scope Notes, Nerdy Book Club, Pragmatic Mom, Brightly.

3) Bookstores, like our local Anderson's Bookshop, which holds a Mock Newbery vote for participants. They have great taste in books, so I try to read all of them.

4) Librarians and writing friends, who also have impeccable taste in books.

And then I read.

        And read.

                And read some more.

So what are my "educated" guesses?

For the Caldecott gold medal, I would love for the winner to be SOME WRITER!: THE STORY OF E.B. WHITE, written and illustrated by Melissa Sweet. In this biography of the CHARLOTTE'S WEB author, the illustrations are integral and seamlessly woven with the text, and I found myself lingering on every page to soak up the details.

For Caldecott honors, I choose two books. THEY ALL SAW A CAT, written and illustrated by Brendan Wenzel, is a brilliant take on how different creatures uniquely view a cat.  

[Confession: While I would love for SOME WRITER to win, I really think THEY ALL SAW A CAT will win.] 

BEFORE MORNING, written by Joyce Sidman and illustrated by Beth Krommes, is a lyrical wish for a snow day. (I do have a creative crush on Joyce Sidman, so I confess to my bias.)

For the Newbery gold medal, I choose THE GIRL WHO DRANK THE MOON, by Kelly Barnhill. The language in this book is luscious! And the drawing together of the individual story threads into a knot of tension before the conclusion had me reading late into the night.

For Newbery honors, I'll choose two as well. WOLF HOLLOW by Lauren Wolk, the story of a girl, a war veteran, and a bully, and how kindness and honesty triumphs amid sorrow. Lovely "sense of place" to this one. 

THE WILD ROBOT by Peter Brown maroons a robot in the wilderness and asks her to survive. I was very moved by this tussle between technology and nature, rooting for the robot with all my heart.

The awards will be announced on Monday, January 23, 2017, at 8 am ET. If you'd like to watch it live, the awards will be streamed on the I Love Libraries Facebook page.

I'm hoping my guesses are as good as the Mock Caldecott results in Colby Sharp's third grade classroom last year:

What are YOUR picks this year, readers??? 


Monday, January 16, 2017

Part 2 - Library Visit from a Writer's POV - by Kathy Halsey

Today we'll focus in on one area of the school library program that most directly connects to the writer/author/illustrator to the librarian and school the author visit. In the district from which I retired, author visits have always been big celebrations that are planned almost a year ahead with the school librarian being the point person. (If your school library does not have a certified librarian, the point person may be a reading teacher, English teacher, or even a parent group such as the PTO/PTA.)

When you visit your school library, look to see if there are clues that point to former author visits. Front and center at the Winchester Trail School library (3-5 building) is a wall that is signed by every author since 2004. 
How Are Authors Chosen?
Ask your librarian how they choose authors and how they plan to make the visit successful for the school, the author, and themselves.  Often, school librarians ask each other through social media if other librarians in their area have had a certain author for a visit or if another school/district would like to share an author and expenses. An author's reputation with school visits, his/her book titles and how they fit into the curriculum, as well as travel considerations are all factors in choosing authors. 
At Winchester Trail, librarian Janie Kantner has an interesting student population to consider, also: Third graders and fifth graders can be light years apart in reading and interest levels. This year an author who writes graphic novels is under consideration because his books are accessible to the youngest demographic and still "cool" enough for fifth graders. 

Other Considerations

 1. Librarians become super stars, too. With the right PR ahead of an author's visit, kids become enamored with the author and by association, the librarian. 
2. You may be surprised to learn that the school librarian's roll and visibility are heightened, too, with a successful author visit. Superintendents, school board members and local media are often invited by savvy librarians who need to build capacity and credibility in order to have funds for future author visits. 
3. Funds come from many sources: book fairs, grants,  and the book budget which keeps shrinking as book prices rise. As an author, think about how you can keep costs affordable. Could you stay at the librarian's house instead of a hotel the night before? Would a Skype visit be just as impactful? What value-added piece could you add without changing your price structure?
4. A vist begins long before an author sets foot in the door.  A librarian usually buys multiple copies of the author's books for the collection, reads them all, and book talks them through class visits. They create lesson plans that harried teachers swamped with tests and mandates can use before/after the author visit. Simple evaluation tools and feedback forms may be used to see if the visit was successful. Data talks these days. The school librarian becomes a "jobber" and secures books for students to buy and sends letters home to parents regarding the book buying procedure. 
If you have book flyers already created, evaluation sheets made up, a teachers' guide of your books, you have made the librarian's job much more efficient. Author Miranda Paul has great tools on her web site already in place. Check them out here to get ideas of your own. It is no coincidence that Miranda visited the Canal Winchester K-2 building last year. Miranda was traveling to an Ohio SCBWI convention, stayed at my house overnight, reduced her fee for a half day visit and sold a ton of books. (I was Miranda's escort to the SCBWI conference so this was a special circumstance, but Miranda's flexibility made this event possible.)

5. With a great visit, the author's impact is felt long after. As I shelved books this past Friday, many books by Blue Balliet were on the cart, They fly off the book shelves still because Blue was our featured author last year. Today when checking the library catalog, most of multiple copies of her many titles were on hold or checked out. ( I counted 36 books by Blue Balliet in the collection.) She did large group and small class visits. Students were inspired to write plays from her MG works, discover the writing process from a published author's point of view, and create word mobiles of their favorite words from her books.

Next Steps

1. Ask your local school librarian if you can visit and help out during the next author visit. You could organize the stacks of books to be signed, help set up an author luncheon, ferry the author to and from the school if the librarian is busy. 
2. Take your writer's notebook and shadow the author if possible, but be discreet. Note how the author introduces him/herself, how they interact with students and adults, how they personalize books, what added value they bring to the visit. 
3. Even if you are pre-published, you can interact with students in small ways now. Offer to read at story times periodically at your school library, help out during book fairs, suggest sharing how you conduct research as a "real" writer when the librarian conducts research units with teachers. Make sure to have permission from administrators and teachers before you plunge in. I've been lucky enough to interact in all these ways the past two years at Winchester Trail. 
4. If you have no real connection or feel shy about approaching a school librarian, maybe one of your published author friends will let you tag along on a visit. The more you can connect with schools, school librarians, and students before you conduct your own author visits, the more confident you'll feel when you make your debut. My very first pre-pub writer visit was with a middle school student writers' club after school. They treated me as a true author and even gave me roses. You never know what is possible unless you put yourself out there and create opportunities that benefit students, teachers and you!

If you have questions on visiting your school library that I haven't answered in Part 1 (here) or Part 2 of this series, leave them in the comments and I'll answer them or do another post.