Wednesday, April 29, 2020

Interview: Michelle Schaub and DREAM BIG, LITTLE SCIENTIST

Welcome to another TAKE FIVE interview. I hope that you’ll take five minutes to get to know more about  picture book writer and poet, Michelle Schaub and hear about her latest book, Dream Big, Little Scientist.

Five Questions for Michelle:

1. In Dream Big, Little Scientist, twelve kids get ready for bed in rooms that show their love for different branches of science. How did you come up with the idea for a science bedtime book?

Remember those old Reese’s commercials where two people walk down the street, one holding a chocolate bar and the other a jar of peanut butter? When they collide, one exclaims, “Your chocolate is in my peanut butter!” and the other says “Your peanut butter is in my chocolate!” However, when they sample the combination, they both love it. In my case, the chocolate was science and the peanut butter was a bedtime story.  I had been mulling over two separate projects, one a poetry collection that introduced kids to various types of science, and the other a bedtime book. One day, while I was sipping a cappuccino at Starbucks, WHAM! The two ideas collided in my mind, and the result turned out to be pretty tasty!

2. Every page of Dream Big, Little Scientist contains a plethora of images to suggest each child’s particular scientific affinity, from tools scientists use to posters of famous scientists.  What resources and suggestions to you have to help educators and parents dig into this multi-layered book?

My editor at Charlesbridge, Karen Boss, the illustrator, Alice Potter, and I worked hard to weave rich content into Dream Big, Little Scientists. On one hand, the book is a lullaby, filled with imagery, rhythm, and rhyme. On the other, it’s an introduction to science, “packed with STEM goodness,” as one reviewer noted. We’ve created several resources to help educators and parents use the book as a launch pad for scientific inquiry. These resources are particularly useful for at-home learning.  To start, the final page of the book provides definitions of each branch of science and suggests activities to help children begin to “think like a scientist.” In addition, I’ve created an educators’ guide, available at,  brimming with resources to help kids learn more about the scientific charts and tools depicted on each page.  

The educators guide also has printable activities, including a chart to engage readers in data analysis of their friends and family members’ favorite branches of science. Finally, readers can learn more about the real life scientists shown on posters in each room by perusing their biographies on my website at With numerous entry points into STEM topics, Dream Big, Little Scientists is definitely a book to return to again and again.
3. Do you have a favorite branch of science?  

Personally, I’m a botany girl. I love tinkering in my garden, particularly when it comes to growing heirloom veggies. Each summer, I try to grow a unique vegetable, one I hadn’t heard of before. I tend to choose varieties with names that spark my imagination. Last summer I grew Snow White eggplant. My fascination with heirloom produce is also the reason I love farmers’ markets. I enjoy wandering around the market and discovering new fruit and vegetable treasures. It’s what inspired me to write my first poetry collection, Fresh-Picked Poetry: A Day at the Farmers’ Market.

4. For what age group would you recommend your book?

As a soothing bedtime book in verse, Dream Big Little Scientists is a natural choice for early childhood through kindergarten audiences. However, the abundance of STEM details in the illustrations and backmatter provide opportunities to engage the curiosity of older elementary students as well.  I’ve even had middle school science teachers purchase the book to use as an introduction to the different branches of science they’ll cover in a school year. It would also make a great graduation gift for students planning to study science in college or graduate school.

5. For the last question -- Can you share something that readers might now know about you?

While I write full-time now, for ten years I was a language arts teacher. One of my passions was making poetry accessible and fun for students, so I wove it into my curriculum whenever possible. Each week, I created Friday poetry challenges. For these challenges I introduced poetry forms from different children’s poetry picture books and encouraged students to create their own poems based the mentor texts. I even used poetry to reinforce grammar and vocabulary. I still teach a poetry elective class to third graders, and I love coming up with new lessons to spark a love of poetry. I share those lessons and mentor texts on my site POETRY BOOST,  My resources work for both classroom and at-home learning. I hope, through POETRY BOOST, to spread the message to educators and parents that children’s poetry picture books are an amazing tool to boost student literacy! 

Thanks Michelle, for the great information for teachers, librarians, families, and readers of all ages!

Wednesday, April 22, 2020

Environmental Writing sends Earth Day message

by Sue Heavenrich

On a normal spring day bees cluster on willow catkins, filling the air with buzzing. But last year the bees were few and far between. I began to worry we might have a silent spring.

Thing is, native and bumble bee populations are declining. For those of us who like to eat, this is a problem because bees pollinate 75 percent of the fruits, vegetables, and nuts grown in the United States – about $3 billion worth of crops each year. Plus, they pollinate plants and fruit trees that provide food for birds and other wildlife.

Rebecca E. Hirsch dives into the pollinator crisis in her most recent book, Where Have All the Bees Gone? She begins her tale by taking the reader on a field trip to find Franklin’s bumble bee, once common in Oregon and California. That bee hasn’t been seen since 2001, and it’s not the only bumble bee in decline either. In her book, Rebecca highlights what can happen when wild bees disappear. For example, decades of pesticide use in apple orchards in Sichuan, China, killed off the natural pollinators. Now farmers have to pay workers to climb ladders and hand-pollinate the blossoms using paintbrushes of bamboo and chicken feathers.

But, says Rebecca, we can change things. She concludes her book with two chapters devoted to bee conservation and positive action kids – and their families –  can take: plant gardens for pollinators; engage in citizen science bee counts; and encourage organic farming and gardening. Back matter includes a list of online resources and links to citizen science projects making it a perfect book for Earth Day!

So I caught up with Rebecca by phone a few weeks ago. Had she intended her book to be an activist call to action, I wondered?

Yes, she said. “I wanted to embrace the more activist part of environmental writing. I wanted to appeal to emotion and encourage people to take action.” So she turned to Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring as a mentor text, reading and re-reading passages to see how Rachel put words to the page.

Inspiration to write about bees came while volunteering at a local pollinator garden. It was eight years ago, Rebecca said.  “At first I worked there because I wanted to see the butterflies. But all the master gardeners talked about were the bees, so I started to pay attention to them.” When Rebecca planted native plants in her own garden, she noticed the bees visited every day. The butterflies? Only occasionally.

When she heard hints about bees in trouble, Rebecca began learning about the Rusty patch bumble bee. It was the first bee to be put on the endangered species list, “and that was when I decided to do a book about bees,” she said. Rebecca also spent time at a rural school. One of the teachers works with his class to convert a strip of grass into pollinator garden every year.

“There’s so much that people can do to help,” Rebecca says. “If you put native plants in your garden, bees will show up! If you mow less often and let the clover grow, bees will show up.”

As a nonfiction writer, Rebecca feels most comfortable with facts. “I had to learn that it’s okay for people to have a point of view.” As she read other writers, Rebecca decided that she needed to figure out how to imbue her writing with a more activist voice. “We need to be shouting about the environmental stuff,” she said, referring to climate change and other issues. “Even if you’re not an environmental writer, find a way to work environmental concerns into your story.”

You can find out more about Rebecca at her website.

Wednesday, April 15, 2020

Craft Chat with Debut Author Mary Wagley Copp by Kathy Halsey

Many of my New England writer friends have books coming out right now. This week I'm excited to  feature Mary Wagley Copp's WHEREVER I GO, illustrated by Munir D. Mohammed. Mary' s book birthday is April 21, 2020 and you can pre-ordered it now. As an incentive, thanks to Dorcas International Institute of RI, if you order a book in April from Books on the Square,  a copy will be donated to a resettled child and your autographed book will support an indie bookstore! 

Book Review

Although Abia's been in an Ethiopian refugee camp for sever years, four months, and sixteen days, she 's still a child who creates her own imaginary world. She's queen of the fields, queen of balancing water, and queen of her noisy drum. Yet, she must sleep on a prickly mat,  collect fire wood, and take care of her baby cousin. 
The thought of moving to a strange, unknown land scares her, but she brings her can-do, queenly spirit with her. Once in her forever home, Abia continues marching, balancing, and racing as only a proper queen can. 

WHEREVER I GO is a picture book the world needs right now with it's upbeat yet realistic message about resilience, hard times, hope, and refugees. Author Copp creates a main character who is at once relatable and realistic. Abia's voice and personality shine through the honest depiction of refugee life, a writing feat that was deftly crafted. Readers know Abia and her family situation yet see they are not victims to be pitied. Mohammed's realistic acrylic illustrations add another layer of truth and beauty to the book. Educators and librarians will appreciate the back matter and well-curated reading list from picture books to young adult novels on the refugee experience.  I honestly had tears in my eyes and a smile on my face when I finished Abia's story.

Craft Chat Questions for WHEREVER I GO

K: What was the submission journey like for your debut book? (How many queries, how you found your agent, etc.) 

Mary: Well, I can’t really say I found my agent. I went to a workshop where I had a very insightful critique with my eventual agent. The feedback was actually a bit overwhelming as she challenged many aspects of my story and how I wrote it. It was a lot for me to digest. I don’t know where the energy and determination came from that particular evening but I literally stayed up the entire night and totally revised my manuscript. I had another critique with her the next day and, although I could have read a different manuscript, I was determined to get this one right so I shared my revisions. About 2 months later I signed with her. In about a month, we were out on submission and in came an offer! 

K: In your recent interview on Critter Lit with Lindsay Ward, you said putting your energy into your craft rather than chasing publication was important for you. What classes, workshops, books would you recommend to pre-published writers? 

Mary: Yes! I am so glad, in retrospect, that I had no illusions of finding an agent in my beginning years. I didn’t even at the conference where I met my eventual agent. Of course, I wanted to have a story turn into a real-life book at some point but I was so focused on learning the craft. For all the folks starting out – I’d keep that in mind. Learn the craft first! Be patient. It is a long haul and there is a lot to learn. Listen. Be open to feedback. I signed up for SCBWI, took classes and workshops, signed up for critiques at conferences and joined 2 critique groups. I love Highlights and Whispering Pines (that’s where I met you, Kathy!) The New England SCBWI conference is phenomenal. Besides the learning, this is where you can connect with your writing friends in person! 
I have discovered that I am not a great online learner so I will continue to attend conferences. I also ask for critiques (from independent editors) as birthday presents from my family!

K: How did you begin working in the refugee settlement world? How did this experience and being a filmmaker influence this story? What skills transfer from movie-making to writing picture books? 

Mary: When our family moved back from Ecuador I became certified in teaching English as a Second Language (ESL). I remember sitting in on a few ESL classes at a resettlement agency to get a feel for it. That was my first introduction to ESL and to working with newcomers. Concurrently, my young daughter was looking for some volunteer work on weekends and school breaks. She worked in the toddler center of the same resettlement program. She met some incredible families who had just arrived to our community. We all stayed part of this resettlement agency - and those families. This eventually led to my working on a documentary featuring the agency’s work in supporting resettled families. It was producing this film as well as getting to know so many resettled folks that inspired me to write WHEREVER I GO.

The similarity between producing films and writing stories is that in both, you need HEART. How do you want your reader or viewer to feel at the end? The take-away is really the essence of the story. Also, one needs to be a collaborator. Both making a film and publishing a picture book is a real orchestration of talents and passions. 

K: Your main character Abia is a resilient role model yet an “everyday” kid with childhood wishes and dreams. I love Abia’s imaginary world where she is the queen. I’m curious about how Abia’s personality came to you. 

Mary: I know a few Abias in the real world – former refugees and now resettled. They are indeed models of resiliency and they’re also just like other kids the world over – creative, curious, joyful, playful. I just gave Abia those attributes as she goes about her daily chores in the camp.

One of the many drafts of this story was in 3rdperson. One agent told me it sounded like I was a documentary filmmaker looking into the life of this family! Ha, little did she know! She wanted a closer telling. I guess I hadn’t made the leap from documentary story-telling to writing for children. So I made Abia the storyteller. In doing so, I was able to imagine being a little girl again. That was fun! What little girl doesn’t pretend to be a princess or a queen?

K: Although WHEREVER I GO is fiction, the book gives a realistic look at what life is like in a refugee camp. What are your tips on weaving factual information into fiction?

Mary: Oh, great question. I’d say that staying true to your story line is important. For sure, get your facts correct (research, research) but if it is a fictional story, your commitment is to the story. If the factual information moves your story along or offers richness to the setting then rely on that as PART of the story. If need be an author’s note or back matter, then make it a great fact-filled supplement.

K: What are you working on next? 

M: I actually have 2 manuscripts out to editors now and I am super excited about a nonfiction picture book that I am working on. I have been reading about an amazing creature who was in captivity for years and was recently released and doing very well – her journey continues, and I love following her. As you can tell, I love stories about journeys!

Mary Wagley Copp has worked for many years in the refugee resettlement community. She was a producer of an Emmy Award–winning documentary on refugee resettlement, which was the inspiration for this book. Her professional life has also included community organizing in Appalachia, teaching in Ecuador, and being executive director of two nonprofit organizations. When she’s not writing, Mary teaches ESL to newcomers in her community. She lives in Westport, Massachusetts, with her husband, their puppy, and their chickens. They have three grown children.

Wednesday, April 8, 2020

Four Questions and Picture Books for Passover ~ Christy Mihaly (and friends)

It's Passover! Pesach Sameach to all and sundry. 
Ready for Passover 2019 at the Mihaly house
On this day, Jewish families traditionally retell the story of Moses at a festive seder meal. This year, things will be different. Many seders will be very small gatherings, while others will go online for virtual fellowship. I know folks will find many creative ways to keep the Passover blessings flowing. 

A highlight of the seder is when a child (customarily the youngest) asks the Four Questions. So here GROG asks Four Questions of four distinguished authors of Jewish-themed books. We've included recommendations for kids' Passover books at the end. Enjoy! 

For those who celebrate Easter or Ramadan later this month, or if you're just thankful for the springtime -- Joy to you all!

Our cast of characters:
Nancy Churnin: Nancy's most recent release is For Spacious Skies, about Katharine Lee Bates, who wrote "America the Beautiful." Nancy has published a plethora of inspiring picture book biographies about people who are famous, or ought to be. They include Irving Berlin: The Immigrant Who Made America Sing, and Martin & Anne: The Kindred Spirits of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Anne Frank.

Carol Gordon Ekster: Carol is a former teacher and an energetic booster of literacy and of other children's writers. She has been publishing humorous, lively, and engaging picture books since 2002. She's the author of Before I Sleep; Ruth the Sleuth and the Messy Room; You Know What? and other wonderful books.
Carol Coven GrannickCarol is a GROGger and an accomplished  poet who enjoys writing narrative nonfiction and other stories for children. Her debut novel-in-verse, Reeni's Turn, is slated to release September 13. It follows a shy and self-conscious tween who embarks on a misdirected journey to find courage, self-acceptance, and a new identity, and we can't wait to read it! 
Linda Elovitz Marshall: Linda has been an early childhood educator and a farmer and is the author of a range of fiction picture books (most recently, Have You Ever Seen a Ziz?). She has written many Jewish-themed stories, including The Passover Lamb, and the recently released Shalom Bayit: A Peaceful Home. This year she'll be publishing several nonfiction picture books, including one about Anne Frank. 
❤ ❤ ❤ ❤

GROG: Welcome, ladies. I'll start by asking: What's your motivation for writing Jewish stories?

Linda: For me it's been happenstance and a lot of good luck. I saw an announcement for a conference (inexpensive, as conferences go) for Jewish children’s writers….and I figured, I’m Jewish. I’m writing children’s books. The dates look good! The price is right! I’ll go! That was the beginning of this wonderful ride.
Carol Coven Grannick: My strong desire to include Jewish content in my upcoming novel in verse, and in some published and unpublished work, is because often, my own Jewish life and experiences inform the heart of the story. During the course of many revisions of REENI’S TURN (Regal House Publishing/Fitzroy Books, September 13, 2020), the Jewish content became an “issue.” I was asked to increase it, then take it out, and put it back in, and—the best advice of all—make certain the content was significant in moving the story forward. The day after I completed my final draft, the Pittsburgh synagogue shooting occurred. Something inside me said, That’s it. I’m never taking the Jewish content out again.

Carol Gordon EksterI've always felt connected to my Jewish roots. I grew up with my father’s family, his seven brothers and sisters, my many cousins, and Bubie and Zadie being consistent presences in my life. Every story I write comes to me… whether in a dream or when I’m exercising, or when I least expect it! In the last couple of years, more and more Jewish stories have come to me this way.

Nancy: Jewish tradition teaches us that we are here to repair the world. All of my books, including those that aren't overtly Jewish, try to do that by focusing on people who have left the world a better place and I hope will encourage the kids to look for ways they can leave the world a better place, too. My books with Jewish subjects, Irving Berlin, the Immigrant Boy Who Made America Sing (illustrated by James Rey Sanchez) and Martin & Anne, the Kindred Spirits of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Anne Frank (illustrated by Yevgenia Nayberg), focus on people who changed the world for the better. Martin & Anne believed in justice and goodness even in the face of darkness and hate, and left us with words that articulated their vision of a better world where everyone is treated with equality and love.
Writing about Irving Berlin, I dug deeply into his Jewishness, with the help of a Jewish music educator, Mark Kreditor, who pointed out to me that the last three notes of the shema prayer are also the last three notes of “God Bless America.” This shows how Irving brought his deepest, spiritual beliefs, the shema prayer, into a oneness with his love of his new country, America. It underlines how “God Bless America” was, essentially, his prayer for America. It helps us understand why he never took money for this song, and instead donated the royalties to the children of America through a gift to the Girl and Boy Scouts. 

GROG: That's powerful motivation. I think if you have that sense of identity or mission in your writing, you're also going to write with a great deal of heart. 
My next question is, Are you worried about being "pigeon-holed" as a "Jewish writer"?

Carol Coven Grannick: Yes and no. I can’t write anything that isn’t true to my heart, values, beliefs. So if a story is  “pigeon-holed,” I hope it would identify the opportunity to learn about Jewish life, religion, and culture, just as it does for the wonderful multitude of other diverse categories. If I only wrote Jewish-themed work, and was considered a “Jewish writer” I’d be perfectly proud, just as I am proud to be a Jewish American woman.

Carol Gordon Ekster: No! My published books are secular…well that is except the Catholic one. Before I Sleep: I Say Thank You (Pauline Books and Media, 2015) started out as a bedtime shema prayer. I woke up in the middle of the night repeating, “Before I sleep, it’s time to pray…” and knew I had to write a story related to that. When it didn’t sell to Jewish publishers, I revised to make it more secular. Then a critique buddy told me a publisher was interested in her book about forgiveness, and I thought maybe they’d want a gratitude book … and they did! They just happened to be a Catholic publisher. The book won awards and is in its third printing. So it's right where it should be.  And my rabbi felt it fit with the theme of Rosh Hashana and asked me to read it at the children’s holiday service last year. Sharing this book up on the bima was a wonderful moment for me.

Nancy: No. I write the books I feel I must write, the books that come from my heart. I don’t worry about them being Jewish or not Jewish. I cannot control how someone might pigeon-hole me and I don’t worry about what I can’t control. All I can control is doing the best, most honest, truthful and I hope helpful work I can and trust that it will reach the children it needs to reach and have a positive impact on hearts and minds.
Linda's recent release, about Beatrix Potter

Linda: No, because I write a lot, about anything and everything. I’m interested in many things - from science to biography to word-play. I love learning new things and, especially, trying to decode complex language and thoughts into words everyone can understand.  This year, especially, my publishing scope has broadened with the release of three picture book biographies.

GROG: So, you write the books you feel driven to write – something we should all strive to do, right?

I'm wondering about organizations supporting Jewish books and writers. PJ Library is a Jewish literacy nonprofit that distributes books with Jewish content to families. Have you worked with PJ Library, or are you a member of a group of writers of Jewish-themed books?

Nancy: I am a proud co-founder and member of the Book Meshuggenahs and also a member of the Jewish Kidlit Mavens. I love the camaraderie of both groups, which have different missions. The Book Meshuggenahs are Jewish women writing books with Jewish characters and themes. We all support each other and kids. We just launched a Chai-ku contest to encourage kids to write haiku with Jewish themes. I’m happy about the way the contest is encouraging kids to take pride and share their Jewish ideas and heritage.

 Jewish Kidlit Mavens is a group of creators, librarians, educators, publishers, journalists — lots of different people who care about Jewish literature for kids. I learn so much from our conversations about the larger Jewish kid lit community and appreciate the support from the members there, too.

I was also selected for the Yiddish Book Center's Tent program, sponsored by PJ Library. It was a pleasure to meet the people at PJ Library and the Yiddish Book Center and see their passion for getting good books with Jewish themes into children’s hands.

LindaI’ve worked with PJ Library on several of my books. It's been wonderfully helpful and inspiring. It thrills me to see my stories finding their way into so many homes!

Carol Gordon Ekster: I'm a member of the Jewish Kidlit Mavens on Facebook, but not a member of Book Meshuggenahs as I don’t have a Jewish book published…yet! This past December I was excited to sell my first Jewish story to Highlights Magazine.

Carol Coven Grannick: I belong to the somewhat new and fabulous Facebook group, Jewish Kidlit Mavens. I’ve not worked with PJ Library, but it’s not off my radar!

GROG: Our fourth question is: Have you written a Passover book?

Linda: Yes! The Passover Lamb was one of my first stories… It wouldn’t have been written had it not been for my having attended (thank you, Fran Manushkin, author of Miriam’s Cup, for the invitation!) to a long-ago meeting of the PJ Library book selection people with prospective authors. The story took place on our farm when we were raising sheep. A ewe had given birth a few days earlier. But she was not feeding one of her lambs - so we had to take over with a bottle. Raising a lamb on a bottle is one of the most fun things about having sheep. It can also be a pain in the neck. Somehow, we had to figure out how to get to the seder – more than 2 hours away—and what to do with our bottle lamb!

Carol Gordon Ekster: I love Passover! It’s one of the joy-filled holidays that I remember so fondly, celebrating as a child with my large extended family. And I still love the seders we share today with a group of friends. I love the songs, the foods, and the significance of the holiday. I've written two Passover-themed picture books that are waiting for the right publisher.
From Carol Coven Grannick's Passover Table

Carol Coven Grannick: I have a not-yet-published Passover picture book, ELIJAH DOES THE DISHES, in which the heroine’s father is overseas in the military during Passover. My forthcoming novel, REENI’S TURN, includes a Passover scene during Reeni’s family Seder, in which she comes to a major realization. This scene, like the book itself, reflects my own experiences and spiritual sensibilities, and helps my character push forward on her journey.

Nancy: I have not written a Passover book, just because I haven’t yet found the right story to tell. I am working on a picture book that may be perfect for Purim though!

Thanks so much to all of you. That wraps up our Four Questions. 
Below we've rounded up some popular Passover picture books, including two that are new this year, with comments by our authors. Thanks for visiting!
The Passover Mouse, by Joy Nelkin Wieder (Doubleday, 2020) (one little mouse upsets the entire village's preparations for Passover when it takes some bread)
Carol Gordon Ekster: This is a well-written original Passover tale with perfect picture book ingredients – excellent writing, tension, a repeated refrain, a surprise solution, and beautiful illustrations.
Nancy: A charming new addition for our Passover collection! It is always good to see a small creature — someone to whom a child can relate — can seem to cause a disturbance, which is actually a wonderful way of bringing people together.

Welcoming Elijah: A Passover Tale with a Tail, by Leslea Newman (Charlesbridge, 2020)
Carol Gordon Ekster: I love the structure of this picture book...the repetition of comparing what's happening inside and outside. I love the heartwarming feel of the book while it teaches us about Passover. You read with anticipation knowing the boy and cat are both waiting for something. Sweet surprise ending and the illustrations are wonderful.
Nancy: A new book by Leslea Newman is always a treat. I am looking forward to this reminder that miracles can be found in unexpected places.

Pippa's Passover Plate, by Vivian Kirkfield (Holiday House, 2019)
Carol Gordon Ekster: I love the repeated refrain, the rhyming text and adorable illustrations. This is such a fun Passover book!
Nancy: Pippa and her search to find her Passover plate is an uplifting and whimsical reminder that it not only takes a village to put together a seder, but the seder is sweeter when you invite that village to partake.

More than Enough, by April Halprin Wayland (Dial Books, 2016)
Nancy: This teaches children the concept of dayenu and offers a great reminder for kids to be thankful.
Carol Coven Grannick: This book is lovely for all ages, engaging children in a developmentally accessible way of understanding the concept of gratitude, an important Passover theme.

The Passover Lamb, by Linda Elovitz Marshall (Random House, 2013)
Nancy:  A sweet story about caring for those in need, set on a farm, brings a fresh look at the baby Moses part of the Passover tale.

The Longest Night, by Laurel Snyder (Random House, 2013)
Nancy: I love how this book whisks kids back in time so they can experience what it may have been like to live through the time of Passover.

Yankee at the Seder, by Elka Weber (Tricycle Press, 2009)
Nancy: A welcome message during our polarized times of how what binds us together is deeper and more enduring than what pulls us apart.

Abuelita's Secret Matzahs, by Sandy Eisenberg Sasso (Clerisy Press, 2005)
Nancy: A wonderful and important story of the CryptoJews that shines a light on the diversity of the Jewish experience.

Wednesday, April 1, 2020

HOW LONG IS FOREVER Is a Sweet PB Treat - No Foolin' - by Kathy Halsey

Happy April, GROG readers. If you've been hunkered down, you may notice kids ask questions that are VERY hard to answer, like HOW LONG IS FOEVER? Don't despair because debut author Kelly Carey and illustrator Qing Zhuang have the answer to that question with their picture book from Charlesbridge launching April 7, 2020. 

Book Review

received an advanced copy of this delicious book from Kelly Carey, a New England friend I met at NESCBWI and the Whispering Pines Writing Retreats. (Note that Kelly didn't bribe me with the scrumptious blueberry pie featured in this book.) 

I love a book that has multiple hooks and HOW LONG IS FOREVER has some great ones: seemingly unanswerable questions, whip-smart grandparents who know how to keep grandkids busy, and DESSERT.  

Like most kids, Mason doesn't like to wait, especially when it involves Nana's blueberry pie. But Grandpa's smart and asks Mason a philosophical question about time to occupy his mind. Mason's sure he has the answer as he and Grandpa wander through the family's farm. Picture book writers will appreciate the comparisons Carey sets up for Mason: is forever as long as it takes to plant corn, or as long as Grandpa's had his tractor, or as long as water's raced down the streams? Readers will be delighted by the heartwarming ending.

HOW LONG IS FOREVER is a book that will stand up to multiple readings and audiences. Amazon pinpoints an age range of 3-7, but educators and librarians can use this picture book for older ages to discuss and write about abstract topics. The story taps into the universal theme of waiting, the concept of time, and the love between grandparents and their grandchildren. The warm, timeless quality of Qing Zhuang's colored-pencil-and watercolor illustrations add to the special, everyday moments between generations. Grab this book for Grandparents Day, Mothers' Day, or any day you want to celebrate simple, family times together. 

Interview & Craft Chat with Kelly

K: How did you decide on this topic that is rather esoteric in nature? How do you think other abstract topics like this could be approached by PBWriters?

Kelly: I think kids are amazing philosophers and if given the chance will jump at exploring abstract topics. They have an unsoiled view of the world and their approach to heavy themes can be fantastic and refreshing. 

In How Long Is Forever?I flipped the script a little bit. Kids are usually the ones asking the questions, but here Grandpa is asking the question and Mason has to find the answer. I’ll chalk that up to my Jesuit education at Fairfield University. The Jesuit style of teaching looks for the teacher to ask just the right questions so that the student discovers the answer on their own and in the process has a more rewarding and significant learning experience.  How often have you been cautioned to let your main character solve their own problem? That’s the Jesuit method and picture books are a great vehicle to ask questions and help guide young readers as they find their own answer. 

There are some wonderful examples of picture books that ask big esoteric questions. Books like:  Where Does Thursday Go?by Janeen Brain,What Color Is A Kiss by Rocio Bonilla and What Do You Do With An Idea by Kobi Yamada. I hope that How Long Is Forever? will be a nice addition to this list and I hope it encourages kids to think about what is forever in their lives.

K: Did “intergenerationality” come into the story naturally – grandparents instead of parents? Why did you make that choice? 

Kelly: The story always featured my main character and a grandparent. That intergenerational span created the vehicle to explore the different perspectives an eight year old and an eighty year old bring to the question of forever. However, the original story was about a boy impatiently waiting with his grandparents for his parent to arrive home with a new sibling. That plot line changed for two reasons. First, the new baby theme really took over the story and I lost the deeper exploration of forever and the differing perspectives offered by both young Mason and his grandfather. Add in Patricia MacLachlan’s All The Place to Love that had explored the theme of expecting a new sibling so masterfully, and I decided it was time for a revision.

I thought hard about my audience and my main character. What makes an eight year old impatient? The answer was lots of things much simpler than a new sibling. I replaced the new sibling with dessert. Now Mason complains that waiting for Nana’s pie is taking forever. By removing the complicated arrival of a sibling, the story focuses on Mason exploring the meaning of forever.

I’m glad I revised. Once you get that first draft done, and you create your main character, it is helpful to do a deep dive into what matters to your main character. Then consider what books already exists in the market. Using this strategy, I found a way to tweak my story that not only made it more unique, but also allowed the central theme to really resonate.

K: How did you build a local writing community?

Kelly: A few years ago I took a workshop at the NESCBWI conference taught by Matthew Winner. Matthew was talking about using social media as part of your writing career. What really resonated with me was Matthew’s advice to be authentic in all of your interactions; whether old fashioned in person or on social media. I really took that to heart and worked on it LONG before I had a book contract. 

First, I attended workshops, meet & greets, and conferences with the mantra “be a sponge not a sprinkler”. I didn’t go to make sure everyone found out all about me, my projects, and what I knew – I went to learn what other folks were working on, what they had to share, what advice they wanted to offer. The result was that I found deeper connections and discovered meaningful ways that I could offer help and advice after the initial meeting. If I learned that someone was working on a mystery about ghosts and I read a really good ghost mystery, I’d send that new friend a quick email offering up the book as a possible mentor text or comp title. If I came across an agent’s wish list that mentioned themes that coincided with a project someone had mentioned, I’d ping them with the link. Almost universally, I’ve noticed that folks I’ve reached out to help have been quick to return the favor. Those are the relationships that I value and that are truly valuable. 

I also make it a priority to recognize authors and illustrators who are doing great work. If I read a picture book that I love, I send out a tweet tagging the author, illustrator and publisher. I post reviews on Goodreads if I finish a swoon worthy middle grade. Compliments are free. Why not hand them out like you’re flinging candy from a parade float? It’s fun and joyous, and unlike candy – calorie free! More often than not, I get a thank you from the creator and BAM we are connected. 

You need to get out into the community by taking workshops, going to conferences, finding critique groups but be sure you approach each new colleague looking to find out how you can help them as opposed to what you can get out of them. Be a helper and the karma universe will reward you by sending helpers into your path too!

K: How do pre-pubbed writers prepare for launching their first book? What’s the best thing you’ve done for your launch? 

Kelly: The best thing I’ve done to support my debut launch is joining The Soaring ‘20s Debut group. We are a group of authors and illustrators who all have debuts launching. There is a huge learning curve to all the marketing efforts that go into a book launch; pooling my energy and knowledge with those of 36 other folks has been key! 

I could never accomplish everything individually that the debut group is doing collectively. We’ve got folks working on our website, a team running a blog, a committee handling giveaways and the efforts go on and on! The amazing illustrators in the group have produced wonderful book birthday graphics that I would never have been able to manage. Some members are librarians while others are booksellers and their expertise is super helpful.

My advice is to seek out a group of folks with debuts launching and pool your efforts. Kirsten Larson, author of WOOD, WIRE, WINGS (Calkins Creek, 2020) has put together a fabulous guide for starting a debut marketing group. You can check it out here.

K: How do you launch a book in a time uncertainty like this? 

Kelly: Some of my launch activities are getting a derailed by the need for social distancing and quarantine orders but folks can still order a signed copy of How Long Is Forever?by visiting books from your local independent bookstores is a wonderful way to not only support authors but to help out bookstores that are struggling under the pressures of dealing with the pandemic. 

If you are looking for ways to make homebound days fun, you can find an activity guide to accompany the book and links to blueberry dessert recipes here


Kelly Carey’s debut How Long is Forever? releases from  Charlesbridge April 7, 2020.  Her award winning magazine fiction stories have been published for over a decade in Highlights for Children, Girls’ World, and Clubhouse Jr.

She is a graduate of The Institute of Children’s Literature and an active member of SCBWI. She belongs to The Writers’ Loft in Sherborn, MA and is the proud co-founder of the blog 24 Carrot Writing (  Kelly’s writing received the Higher Goals Award from the Evangelical Press Association in 2008, 2009 and 2015. Kelly lives in Upton, MA with her husband and three children. Learn more about Kelly at her website