Wednesday, March 25, 2020

WIDE RESEARCH: “WE ARE MADE BY HISTORY” --Guest Post by Author Beth Anderson

Beth Anderson
I, Tina Cho, want to welcome author Beth Anderson back to the Grog Blog. Both of us had debut picture books in 2018, & you can read about her previous book here. I have learned so much from Beth's blog and expertise as a nonfiction picture book writer. She's the author of An Inconvenient Alphabet: Ben Franklin & Noah Webster's Spelling Revolution (2018) and most recently, Lizzie Demands a Seat: Elizabeth Jennings Fights for Streetcar Rights. (Jan. 2020) Beth is going to show us about researching widely to get to know our character & story. Plus, you can watch her talk about the book at the end of this post. Take it away, Beth!

Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “We are not makers of history, we are made by history.” As I researched, wrote, and revised Lizzie Demands a Seat, I really got it.

I learned a lot about researching wide, as well as deep, with Lizzie’s story. As my reach widened, I saw how delving into the issues and complexities of the time and place can provide valuable insight into character and a deeper understanding of crucial emotional elements like motivation, stakes, and impact, especially when there’s limited information about a person.

I’ll show you what I mean with a few examples, along with some lines from the book, of how wide research opened the story up as I understood more about how Elizabeth Jennings was “made by history.”

Elizabeth Jennings’ published statement revealed her cleverness, poise, tenacity, courage, confidence, and own sense of self. What shaped her character? Her abolitionist parents, certainly. But beyond the basic meaning, the more important question is how did that play out? I learned about community, social attitudes, and key ideas and goals of the African American movement to abolish slavery and obtain equal rights in the north.

·             Education – One goal was to educate both children and adults in order to better their lives. With that, the fact that Elizabeth Jennings was a teacher makes her part of a movement, which goes much deeper than a “job” and enhances her impact and commitment. As part of the movement, we understand why her fight to ride goes beyond her as an individual to a court fight that will impact all African Americans.
“This wasn’t about her. It was about dignity, about justice—ideas she’d been raised on.”

And when you add her being part of a movement to her upbringing in a home frequented by leaders like Frederick Douglass and J.W.C. Pennington, it underscores her urgency and courage when she stands strong against the conductor.
“Suddenly late-for-church wasn’t as important as late-for-equality.”

·             Public opinion – Another goal of the movement was to affect public opinion to bring about social change. They used newspapers, lectures, and personal narratives to inform, create empathy, and present the idea that democracy isn’t democracy if all can’t participate equally. Knowing about the importance of public opinion, the fact that a white witness offered to testify for her might carry more meaning as a “representative” of public opinion. The fact that no one on the streetcar objected to her presence also reinforces the idea that many whites might believe in her rights. That’s encouraging for Lizzie on more than a personal level.  
“As she watched him disappear, a flicker of hope sparked. A witness. Someone who believed in her rights.”  

When it came to the court case of Elizabeth Jennings v. The Third Avenue Railroad Company, I had very little information. With no court records and only a few newspaper articles about the ruling, wider research and an expert allowed deeper understanding.

·             Motivation - First, it’s easy to understand her motivation for standing firm against the conductor’s words and for taking her case to court after reading about the African American movement of the time.  
“There was one place where justice for one could mean justice for all. A courtroom.”

·             Risk/Stakes – At first glance, her risk was losing due to discrimination. But looking at the history of the right to ride, I learned about a case lost thirteen years earlier that worsened discrimination. To the public, the loss appeared to support segregation. Knowing this increases her stakes and the emotional tension of her decision.
“But if she failed to win, she could make it worse. Thirteen years before, a black man lost his case for the right to ride. No one had dared try again.”

This loss also made it clear why many blacks didn’t want to push too hard for rights and believed that waiting it out was better. With this I understood how crucial community support was for Elizabeth Jennings and why she didn’t take it to court on her own.

·             Jury – While black men could vote at the time and could technically serve on a jury, tradition probably ruled and excluded them. With a white judge and jury, once again we see the importance of shifting public opinion.
“Newspapers printed Lizzie’s account. Her father spoke in churches, wrote letters and articles, and appealed for public support.”

·             Judges – In the cases that followed hers, some people won and some lost. Given her precedent, why? It turns out a judge’s instructions to the jury were key. He could emphasize business rights or individual rights and tip the case. This also provided information for a more complete courtroom scene.
“The Third Avenue Railroad Company argued for its right to do what was good for business.”

Also, after seeing how judges could tip the scale, when the judge in Lizzie’s case said that streetcars were required to carry all respectable, well-behaved people, I considered how the key words, “well-behaved” and “respectable,” could be interpreted differently by different people. No doubt Lizzie knew this all too well, and it presented an opportunity to amp up her anxiety. 
“Was it ‘respectable’ to demand her rights? Was it ‘well-behaved’ to fight back? If the jury didn’t think so, they could deny her right to ride.”

In addition to deepening the emotional impact of Lizzie Demands a Seat, wide research brought my “vital idea” into focus—no hero does it alone, change requires many, creating a “path of inspiration” through history.

It’s true – “we are made by history.” And I think that’s an important concept for us as writers.
Wide research is time-consuming work. But when Kirkus, in a starred review, said, “…Anderson’s third-person text allows readers under Lizzie’s skin…,” that was the highest praise I could ever hope for.

Thank you, Beth. That was very helpful, especially for me & my nonfiction writing. I came across Beth talking about her book on Kidlit TV and know you would all love to watch it. Click here! And below are photos of the neat shoe activity she does on Kidlit TV.

Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest: @BAndersonWriter

Beth Anderson loves digging into history and culture for undiscovered gems, exploring points of view, and playing with words. A former educator who has always marveled at the power of books, she is drawn to stories that open minds, touch hearts, and inspire questions. Born and raised in Illinois, she now lives in Loveland, Colorado. Author of AN INCONVENIENT ALPHABET (S&S 2018), LIZZIE DEMANDS A SEAT (Boyds Mills & Kane, 2020), and “SMELLY” KELLY AND HIS SUPER SENSES: HOW JAMES KELLY’S NOSE SAVED THE NEW YORK CITY SUBWAY (Oct. 2020, Boyds Mills & Kane), Beth has more historical gems on the way.

From the desk of Suzy aka Prairie Garden Girl--
The winners from the March 18th Giveaway are:
Charlotte Dixon
Janet Smart

Wednesday, March 18, 2020

Let's Look at Leads and a Giveaway

by Suzy Leopold

Time to learn about leads and opening lines of well-written stories.

The first lines of a story use the just right words to give a reader a quick peek at the character[s], setting, and story line.

The opening lines must hook a reader. The lead is filled with power to keep the reader turning the page. Coax the reader to continue reading.

A writer must spend time crafting a compelling opening to support all of the hard work of planning, researching, writing, and rewriting a manuscript. These first words help to shape a story.

"The lead must do real work."
--Wiliam Zinsser

How can a writer bring color and cadence to one's story idea through a carefully crafted opening line? 
My students and I begin by examining mentor texts. Recently published books are studied and analyzed. Students are encouraged to read like a writer.
"If I don't like the opening sentences, I put the book back 
[on the shelf]--even if I like another book by that author."
--Peter, 5th grader

As an educator, I need to support students in understanding the lead sentence--the opening sentence, and how it must compel the reader to continue.

Together let's take a look at three nonfiction picture books.
Written by
 Sandra Moore
Illustrated by Kazumi Wilds

Author Sandra Moore begins with these two sentences with a POV from a bonsai tree:

"I was born nearly four hundred years ago on the island of Miyajima. As I pushed up through the dirt, I saw my reflection in the mountain lake."

Written by Julie Leung
Illustrated by Chris Sasaki
Does this opening line, written by Julie Leung, capture your interest?

"Before he became an artist named Tyrus Wong, he was a boy named Wong Geng Yeo who traveled with his father across a vast ocean to America, clutching a bundle of papers in his hand."
Written by Miranda Paul
Illustrated by John Parra

This opening line, by Miranda Paul, includes two sentences and a page turn.

"For thousands of years, people have loved stories about heroes.

Mythical heroes, historical heroes, and
even . . . "

All three of these leads use the element of "show, don't tell". Each book depicts sensory images. Color and cadence are used in the opening lines. Do you note specific nouns and strong verbs? 

Additionally, I note the three authors' voices included many of the Five Ws. The illustrator, too, incorporated images to support the opening lines.

Through pictures:
an inanimate object
Through words, “As I pushed up through the dirt, . . .” Through pictures: a tiny seedling pushed its way through the soil Through words,
“. . . nearly four hundred years ago . . .”
Through words:
“ . . . on the island of Miyajima.” Through pictures: In a forest
Through pictures: a tiny seedling with a big story

Through words, “. . . an artist named
Tyrus Wong . . . Through pictures:
Father & son aboard a ship
Through words, “ . . . an artist named Tyrus Wong, . . .” Through pictures:
Immigrant, Tyrus & his father
Through pictures:
People aboard a ship from years ago. 

Through words: . . . “Across a vast ocean to America,
 . . . “
Through pictures:
Immigrants aboard a ship from years ago 
Through pictures & words: An implied theme of immigration to seek better opportunities
Through pictures: heroes Through words, “. . . people have loved stories about heroes.”
Through pictures: heroes
Through words, 
For thousands of years,. . .”
Through pictures: An implied location of everywhere. Through words: “. . . Throughout the years, people have loved stories about heroes.”
An opening line may:
  • Begin with a question.
  • Start with a fascinating fact.
  • Share an enticing andecdote.
  • State a quote.
  • Dive immediately into action.
  • Start off with a conversation that includes dialogue.
  • Depict a memorable image.
Spend time developing a compelling lead, to make every sentence that follows live up to the lead's power. 

Keep the reader wondering, inquisitive, and wanting more.

In the comments below share and write a compelling first line from a nonfiction book to be eligible to win a hand-crafted bookmark painted with watercolors. If you follow the instructions, I'll put your name in a hat and draw two winners. U. S. mail only.

I will announce the lucky winners on the next GROG Blog, March 25th. Good luck. 

1. Write the lead that compelled you to read further. 
2. Include the the title of the book, the author, the illustrator, and the publication date 
3. Remember to include your name and email address.
Post script thoughts: During this time, with many schools closed, I note many generous folks sharing read alouds, story time, activities, drawing tips, writing lessons, and more online. Thank you bloggers, authors, illustrators, etc. for encouraging children to avoid "The Spring Slide". 

Want more information? Click on Avoid the Spring Slide to find a list of links. I will continue to update the post with more resources overtime.

May our children continue to learn, grow, stay engaged and be healthy. 

Wednesday, March 11, 2020

10 Things I Learned about Book Marketing: Guest Post by Dawn Babb Prochovnic

I, Tina Cho, met Dawn Babb Prochovnic, in the online kidlit world. She's the author of Where Does a Cowgirl Go Potty? and Where Does a Pirate Go Potty?. Welcome to the Grog Blog.

This past October, I launched two new picture books into the world: Where Does a Cowgirl Go Potty? and Where Does a Pirate Go Potty? These were my 18th and 19th picture books, so I came to the table with experience, but it had been several years since my last launch, so in some ways I felt like a debut author all over again. I’ve learned so much about book marketing during the past year, and I’m happy for the opportunity to share some of my insights and experiences with you today. Here goes: 

1. Build a Plan...

I’m a small business owner, and I was a project manager and a corporate trainer earlier in my career, so developing and implementing plans comes somewhat naturally to me. The plans I developed for my book launch looked less like a business/project/training plan, and more like a menu of ideas, or a particularly robust to-do list. I started formulating my to-do list soon after I signed my book contract, about a year and half before my two latest books launched. 

2. ...But Be Flexible.

My to-do list included things I actually got around to such as, “update my email contacts,” “create and purchase bookmarks and refreshed business cards,” “write an article for my local SCBWI chapter’s newsletter,” “consider starting a new blog feature called ‘Birth Stories for Books,’” and “propose workshops for targeted organizations such as the local parent/child preschool cooperatives’ annual conference.” My to-do list also included several things that I haven’t (yet!) gotten around to, such as “write articles for targeted early childhood and/or early literacy focused publications,” “host a Goodreads giveaway,” and “design and order refreshed signage for book events.” Those things will happen. Eventually.

3. Take Pause to Reflect and Reorganize. 

My to-do list seems to grow, not shrink, as time goes on and new ideas occur to me. Each week I take pause to evaluate the tasks I’ve completed and identify the tasks I aim to complete in the coming week. I write a weekly “goal report” from the prior week and a “goal plan” for the coming week, and I share this summary with one of my critique partners. This singular task, although time consuming in its own right, is one of the most important things I do to help me stay on track. It’s also what helps me remember that I need to keep submitting new work if I want more of my books to make their way into the world, and it’s the tool that’s helping me think about how I will transition some of my marketing attention to my next release, scheduled for spring of 2021. 

4. Variety is the Spice of Life.

I incorporated MANY different things into my book marketing efforts. If an opportunity presented itself, and I could fit it into my schedule, I tried to find a way to work it to my plans. I thought less about whether or not the opportunity would result in book sales and more about whether or not the opportunity sounded fun, or opened the door for me to learn a new skill, or gave me the chance to make a new friend, make the world a better place, or simply feel good about being a part of it. The truth is, it’s hard to tell if any one event or activity genuinely moved the needle in terms of book sales, but I do know that the experiences enriched my life, and for that I am grateful. 

5. Don’t Overdo it. It’s Okay to Say, “No.”

Adding book promotion activities into an already full life can be enriching, but it can also become overwhelming and exhausting! I really got into the marketing swing of things, and as much as I enjoyed all of the activities and experiences I engaged in leading up to and during the launch of my books, I will likely be more discerning next time around. By discerning, I don’t mean that I will choose to focus only on those activities that are certain to result in book sales, but I will give myself permission to decline some opportunities, even if I can find an opening on my calendar. Sometimes, the best thing to do with an opening on your calendar is to relax and give yourself time to rest and recharge. Or write!

6. Connect with Your Community.

One of the best parts of being a member of the kidlit community is to actively engage as a participant in said community. I’m so happy that I ramped up my level of involvement with my local SCBWI chapter and that I attended a wide variety of launch events for friends, old and new. Many of these launch events were book launches, but I also attended album launch parties, open mics, and art exhibit openings. I’m so glad that I did. These events were as enjoyable as they were instructive. I highly recommend engaging fully in the artistic community in your local area. 

7. Broaden your Definition of Community. 

One of the things I’d like to do going forward is broaden the communities with which I engage. For example, the “Birth Stories for Books” feature on my blog currently focuses on interviews and guest posts with fellow book creators. I’d like to expand my reach on this platform to include other creative folks, such as songwriters, performing musicians, fine artists, and other makers. I’d also like to step outside of the author/illustrator/editor/agent bubble I’ve somewhat limited myself to on social media, and explore opportunities to participate in other interest-based communities. For example, I follow and/or participate in Twitter conversations such as #AskAgent, #PBPitch, and #PBChat, and I actively participate in a storytime-focused professional learning community created by and for youth librarians on Facebook. I suspect there are similar opportunities that bring together early childhood educators, parents of young children, and unique subsets of parenting groups, such as parents who are potty training or homeschooling their children. I’d like to explore other opportunities of this nature that might exist (while also being mindful of not getting too bogged down, over-engaging).

8. Make Friends. Build Relationships.

The main way I try to stay inoculated from getting “too bogged down, over-engaging” is to focus on building authentic relationships. I may not engage as widely or as actively as might be possible, but I do try to engage authentically. Book sales come and go. Friendships last forever; or so I hope. 

9. Collaborate.

Some of my book-launch-related friendships have developed into collaboration opportunities. I made friends with several different performing/recording musicians along the way, two of whom I had the pleasure of collaborating with to create the songs that back up my book trailers. I also made friends with “pirate-people,” “cowgirl-people,” and “potty-people” (such as the authors of other potty-themed books, potty-training consultants, and fellow potty-humorists). I’ve done collaborative give-aways with some of my fellow “potty-people,” and I hope to do more of this sort of thing going forward. Just recently I received the cutests photos from one of the mamas who won one of the collaborative giveaways. The joy I received from these photos is priceless. 

10. Have fun! 

This is probably the most important tip I can share. Book promotion is, or can be, all-consuming. By and large, I would say, if it’s not fun, take it off the list. You tried it. Great. Now move on. Find another avenue to connect with your readers. Give that a try, and keep trying out new ideas until you find the ones that align with your idea of fun. I love hats, costumes, themed decorations, and silly props. I laugh Every Time I audibly flush my little toy toilet at book events. Seriously, I do. I love my poo emoji speaker. I think it’s a hoot to give away pirate’s booty at a book event for a book entitled Where Does a Pirate Go Potty?, and I love when people notice that I display my bookmarks in a roll of toilet paper. So, even when I’ve participated in a book event that wasn’t as well attended as I’d hoped, or didn’t attract the right audience for my particular books, I still feel like I came away with a win if I had fun. Laughter goes a long way to re-filling my creative cup. 

11. Bonus Tip!

I realized as I started writing this article, that I had many more things that I’ve learned about book marketing in this past year than I could possibly share in one blog post. So what’s a writer to do in this situation? Keep writing, of course! I’ll be sharing more tips about my book-launch learning experiences (and how I’ll incorporate these learnings into my next launch, in spring 2021) on my own blog … soon!  Come visit me at I’ll aim to have a companion-post up sometime in April (and I’ll comment below when I do). 

Thank you so much, Tina and the Grog Blog team, for inviting me to share what I’ve learned about book marketing with your readers. Your blog has been so helpful to me over the years, and it’s an honor to be able to share my experiences with others, in return. 

Dawn’s Bio:

Dawn Babb Prochovnic, MA is an author, educator, speaker, and the founder of SmallTalk Learning, which provides American Sign Language education and early literacy consulting. She has authored multiple children’s books including Where Does a Cowgirl Go Potty? and Where Does a Pirate Go Potty? (West Margin Press, 2019), and The Nest Where I Like to Rest (Abdo, 2012), an Oregon Book Awards finalist. Dawn’s story, First Day Jitters, was published in the award-winning book, Oregon Reads Aloud, a keepsake collection of 25 read-aloud stories for children celebrating all things Oregon (Graphic Arts Books, Hardcover/2016, Paperback/2020). Dawn’s next book, Lucy’s Blooms, about the magic of childhood firmly rooted in unconditional love, is due for release in 2021. Dawn lives in Portland, Oregon with her family and a collection of crazy hats. If you ask what her favorite color is, she’ll usually say, purple. Learn more at or follow Dawn on social media: Twitter and Instagram: @DawnProchovnic and Facebook: @DawnProchovnicAuthor.

Related links: 

Wednesday, March 4, 2020

Diving into the First Amendment with Chris Mihaly

by Sue Heavenrich

Free For You and Me: What our First Amendment Means
by Christy Mihaly; illus. by Manu Montoya
32 pages; ages 4-8
Albert Whitman, 2020

There are forty-five words to the First Amendment of our United States Constitution. In clear, unambiguous language those 45 words – about the length of an average sidebar in a kid’s nonfiction book – guarantee us the freedom of religion, speech, press, assembly, and petition. And yet…

“Adults are confused about the First Amendment,” says author (and fellow GROGger) Chris Mihaly. “I want to make sure young people understand what it is.” Using a combination of rhyming text and speech bubbles, she developed a contemporary story to show how kids might use the freedoms enumerated in A-1.

The first freedom: religion. “The constitution makes this clear: every faith is welcome here,” Chris writes. So simple a notion, even a child can understand it.

Freedom of speech is a big issue for people of all ages. The First Amendment allows us to speak out, share our point of view, disagree, discuss, argue. It even allows us to criticize our own government. Illustrations in the book depict an event in 1798, when Vermont congressman Matthew Lyon was arrested for criticizing President John Adams. Imagine being tossed in jail for criticizing your town’s mayor, the governor, the President of the United States. The First Amendment prevents that today. And yet, Chris notes, there are some countries where people are arrested for criticizing the government.

Chris addresses each part of the First Amendment, aka A-1, as they are listed in the Constitution, so next up is Freedom of the Press. Her main point: a democracy needs a free press so people can make informed decisions.

“That’s why reporters keep track of events,” she writes. Reporters ask “hard questions to help things make sense.” Parents and teachers tell children that knowledge is power, but how do you gain that knowledge? Chris wanted to depict a modern situation in which readers could recognize the importance of news in their lives, so she shows children discussing a news story that affects them: a potential closing of their playground.

The trick, Chris says, is to help young readers learn to read critically and to assess which media outlets are reliable. So when she visits classes, she talks about how to spot fake news.

Does freedom of the press include lies? I asked. It's complicated, Chris says. The Supreme Court has ruled that intentionally false statements may not be protected, depending on the circumstances. When a newspaper makes an honest mistake, they print a correction of the fact.

Freedom of assembly is specifically listed in A-1. That means people can hold marches and rallies, demonstrations, parades, and protests. “Regardless of your point of view, people have a right to assembly,” Chris says. “And our government should be helping to keep people safe when they are protesting.”

Chris chose to frame her story in rhyme because these freedoms have become complicated issues for people to discuss. And for those who want lots more details, she includes back matter where she explains each part of A-1 in detail. She also includes a timeline of examples when people exercised their First Amendment rights: petitioning for the right to vote (1913), marching for civil rights (1963) and more. There’s also a great bunch of resources for learning more about the Constitution and Bill of Rights.

You can find out more about Chris and her books and articles at her website.