Wednesday, January 25, 2023

Multicultural Children's Book Day Reviews ~by Christy Mihaly

On January 26, 2023, Multicultural Children's Book Day (MCBD) celebrates its tenth anniversary of bringing culturally diverse books to children, parents, teachers, and librarians. This children's literacy project was founded by Valarie Budayr and Mia Wenjen, two moms who decided to shine the spotlight on multicultural books. As part of the annual celebration, bloggers receive a variety of books to review.

This year, I received two historical fiction books to review for MCBD. They're quite different from one another, and I'm excited to share them both here. 

Finding Moon Rabbit (CBH Media, 2022) is a middle grade novel by J.C. Kato (winner of the 2015 SCBWI Karen Cushman award) and J.C.²  This touching story is narrated by Koko, a young California girl sent with her mother and sister to Heart Mountain Relocation Center in Wyoming as part of the forced relocation of Japanese Americans during World War II. Koko's father has been sent to another camp, and her letters to him reflect her sorrow at the separation. 

Middle grade readers will empathize with Koko's plight while learning important history. Koko must navigate her loss of freedom, learn to live in cramped quarters, confront racism and injustice, make new friends, and find meaning and love in an involuntary community of people exiled within their own country. Illustrations include excerpts of historical documents and sketches by Estelle Ishigo, who also appears as a character in the story. Ishigo was a white woman who entered Heart Mountain with her Japanese American husband and recorded scenes of camp life in her sketchbooks. A note from the authors reveals that thirteen family members were held in wartime internment camps, and that their book found its beginnings in family stories. Find out more here

In Vicki: An Urban Legend and other short stories, author Diana Huang offers a selection of intriguing stories. The book's first half centers on Vicki, a girl from Los Angeles's Chinatown. A band of Black teens inadvertently kidnap Vicki in the process of nabbing her mother's Toyota to flee from a robbery. Good-natured and charming, they drive her to their home in South Central where Grandma treats her to some delicious and unfamiliar foods and everyone makes her comfortable before they return her to her Chinatown the next day. In this "urban legend," Vicki befriends the robbers, meets various of their family members, helps them out, escapes a riot, and learns a bit about racial and economic inequality. It's April 1992, during the trial of a group of police officers for the beating of Rodney King. Huang weaves humor into this lively L.A. tall tale of race, culture, and adventure. She is a gifted artist, and you can read more about her work here
The organizers of MCBD invite you to join the celebration, online and in real life. Year-round, MCBD offers free resources, teaching tools, booklists, downloads, and an initiative to distribute diverse, multicultural books -- over 10,000 to date. Details on this year's virtual celebrations are below. And check out these supporters:

MCBD 2023 is honored to be Supported by these Medallion Sponsors!

FOUNDER’S CIRCLE: Mia Wenjen (Pragmaticmom) and Valarie Budayr’s (

🏅 Super Platinum Sponsor: Author Deedee Cummings and Make A Way Media

🏅 Platinum Sponsors: Language Lizard Bilingual Books in 50+ Languages 

🏅 Gold Sponsors: Interlink Books, Publisher Spotlight 

🏅 Silver Sponsors: Cardinal Rule Press,  Lee & Low, Barefoot Books, Kimberly Gordon Biddle

🏅 Bronze Sponsors: Vivian Kirkfield, Patrice McLaurin , Quarto Group, Carole P. Roman, Star Bright Books,, Redfin Canada, Bay Equity Home Loans,, Title Forward

MCBD 2023 is honored to be Supported by these Author Sponsors!

Authors: Sivan Hong, Amanda Hsiung-Blodgett, Josh Funk , Stephanie M. Wildman, Gwen Jackson, Diana Huang, Afsaneh Moradian, Kathleen Burkinshaw, Eugenia Chu, Jacqueline Jules, Alejandra Domenzain, Gaia Cornwall, Ruth Spiro, Evelyn Sanchez-Toledo, Tonya Duncan Ellis, Kiyanda and Benjamin Young/Twin Powers Books, Kimberly Lee , Tameka Fryer Brown, Talia Aikens-Nuñez, Marcia Argueta Mickelson, Kerry O’Malley Cerra, Jennie Liu, Heather Murphy Capps, Diane Wilson, Sun Yung Shin, Shannon Gibney, John Coy, Irene Latham and Charles Waters, Maritza M Mejia, Lois Petren, J.C. Kato and J.C.², CultureGroove, Lindsey Rowe Parker, Red Comet Press, Shifa Saltagi Safadi, Nancy Tupper Ling, Deborah Acio, Asha Hagood, Priya Kumari, Chris Singleton, Padma Venkatraman, Teresa Robeson, Valerie Williams-Sanchez and Valorena Publishing, Martha Seif Simpson, Rochelle Melander, Alva Sachs, Moni Ritchie Hadley, Gea Meijering, Frances Díaz Evans, Michael Genhart, Angela H. Dale, Courtney Kelly, Queenbe Monyei, Jamia Wilson, Charnaie Gordon, Debbie Ridpath Ohi, Debbie Zapata, Jacquetta Nammar Feldman, Natasha Yim, Tracy T. Agnelli, Kitty Feld, Anna Maria DiDio, Ko Kim, Shachi Kaushik 

MCBD 2023 is Honored to be Supported by our CoHosts and Global CoHosts!

MCBD 2023 is Honored to be Supported by these Media Partners!

Check out MCBD's Multicultural Books for Kids Pinterest Board!

📌 FREE RESOURCES from Multicultural Children’s Book Day

📌 Register HERE for the MCBD Read Your World Virtual Party.  Thursday, January 26, 2023, at 9 pm EST for the 10th annual Multicultural Children's Book Day Read Your World Virtual Party! This year it's on Zoom (not Twitter). An epically fun and fast-paced hour will feature multicultural book discussions, addressing timely issues, diverse book recommendations, & reading ideas. MCBD will be giving away an 8-Book Bundle every 5 minutes plus Bonus Prizes as well!

*** US and Global participants welcome. ***

Follow the hashtag #ReadYourWorld to join the online conversation, and connect with like-minded parts, authors, publishers, educators, organizations, and librarians.

Wednesday, January 18, 2023

Back Matter: A Chance to Be More Than a Story, Guest Post by Beth Anderson

Today we have a guest post by author Beth Anderson, who recently had a new picture book biography released, CLOAKED IN COURAGE: UNCOVERING DEBORAH SAMPSON, PATRIOT SOLDIER, illustrated by Anne Lambelet, published by Calkins Creek. I, (Tina Cho), love learning more about the writing craft from Beth. Today she teaches us about back matter. 

For readers, back matter can be scary. Dense paragraphs covering page after page. UGH. Even an author, NF fan, and former educator like me has to admit to sometimes closing the book rather than committing to all that “grown up” text at the end of a gorgeous picture book experience. I know it’s where the author shares lots of great stuff that didn’t fit in the story….but, there’s always the potential of a gigantic info dump. Too much deters. What’s important? What will enhance the story you’ve told? What might answer questions arising from the text? What will invite more thought and exploration?

Creating Back Matter for CLOAKED IN COURAGE

As I wrote CLOAKED IN COURAGE: UNCOVERING DEBORAH SAMPSON, PATRIOT SOLDIER, so much of what I was doing was trying to sort out facts from fiction. Her story had been corrupted early on by one man’s desire to make her into his version of a heroine. And much of that misinformation was carried forward in other sources. One source, Masquerade: The Life and Times of Deborah Sampson, Continental Soldier by Alfred Young, focused on that process of finding the truth, and his historical detective skills were as fascinating as Sampson’s story. So, when it came to back matter, I knew I wanted to share some of that process and my learning with students and educators—some tips along with a few challenges of being a history detective. That choice has resulted in positive comments from reviewers and readers. And I hope it becomes a teaching tool in the classroom.

“The Challenge of Being a History Detective”

It all begins with the Google search, right? In researching colonial times, it helps to know that there was no standard spelling. (See AN INCONVENIENT ALPHABET for that story for kids. 😊 ) Sampson’s name was originally spelled SAMSON. Other names in the story also had multiple spellings. So with that understanding, your access and search widens.

 Then I shared some examples of primary sources. They’re “golden” but can’t be blindly trusted as 100% truth. Critical thinking is essential. I offered some thoughts on the value of secondary sources and went into setting. In the classroom, setting is defined as “time and place,” but I wanted students to think about all that involves for a book like CLOAKED IN COURAGE. I provided specifics such as Continental Army life, using disguises, traditions, and media influence. Also, the importance of trying to understand the meaning of what we learn within the context of the times, not today’s world.

Finally, I provided transparency with some notes about the details in the story that are in question, and that there is so much we can never know. Reading about how the public reacted to her, we know that Deborah Sampson tested the tolerance of her time. She broke barriers, and those courageous actions had a lasting impact. While the book was in the publication process, Congress passed a bill providing protections for female soldiers and veterans—The Deborah Sampson Act. We added that to the back matter because including connections to today helps bring relevance and meaning to stories from the past.

 And there’s more! The back matter in CLOAKED IN COURAGE contains an Author’s Note, which allows kids to see the writer’s personal connection to the story. The Bibliography might be a bit more interesting considering the history detective information. I’m a big fan of quotes and love to include one from or about the main character to give a stronger sense of the person. In this book, I shared a quote about Deborah Sampson from her pension approval signed by John Hancock, someone kids encounter in the basic history of the time. And of course, Acknowledgments—Thank You’s are important in any endeavor, and readers see that it is indeed a collaborative effort.

A Bit on the Benefits of Back Matter

·       For young readers and listeners: extends interest in a book over time, sparks curiosity, enriches story.

·       For teachers: becomes a teaching tool, supports curriculum, adds a higher reading level and different types of text, can support English Language Learners and struggling readers with graphic elements.

·       For publishers: increases range and potential for marketability, can catch reviewers’ eyes.

·       For authors: adds value to your submission, shares more of the story, can be the starting point for a school presentation.

Making Back Matter Inviting

To invite young readers in think about: “density” of text; short sections; graphics, images, and engaging visuals; interactive pieces such as Q&A or search & find.

To support educators consider: What might connect to curriculum or support classroom skills? Further resources are handy. Author’s (and illustrator’s) Notes contribute to understanding objectives like “author’s purpose” and “author’s point of view.” A variety of information formats can expand literacy skills.

 Transparency: Truth matters. Share inconsistencies in research and fictional elements to encourage critical thinking.


More Ideas for Back Matter

Afterword, Words to Know/Glossary, Timeline, Diagrams, Activities, Call to action, Letters, Crafts, Recipes, Experiments, Fun Facts, and Photographs of people, places, processes, realia, etc.  Please feel free to share more ideas in the comments!

 Thank you so much, Beth! And here's my little review of Cloaked in Courage.

Another fantastic picture book biography from Beth Anderson, illustrated by Anne Lambelet, about Deborah Sampson, secret patriot soldier, who used her rebel spirit to push boundaries for women. Never giving up, she accomplished all that she set out to do and more. Beautiful illustrations accompany this riveting text. Impressive back matter explains the usage of primary and secondary sources and how Anderson composed a story using little and conflicting information about her. 

Beth Anderson, a former educator, has always marveled at the power of books. Driven by curiosity and a love for words, she writes untold tales, hoping to inspire kids to laugh, ponder, and question. She’s the award-winning author of CLOAKED IN COURAGE, FRANZ’S PHANTASMAGORICAL MACHINE, REVOLUTIONARY PRUDENCE WRIGHT, TAD LINCOLN’S RESTLESS WRIGGLE, “SMELLY” KELLY AND HIS SUPER SENSES, LIZZIE DEMANDS A SEAT!, and AN INCONVENIENT ALPHABET. Beth has more historical picture books on the way.  
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Educator Guide link -

Wednesday, January 11, 2023

Supercharge your Writing with the Pomodoro Method by Julie Phend



Have you made a New Year's resolution to write more often and get more done? Here's a trick to make it happen. You can supercharge your productivity by adapting the Pomodoro study technique to your writing practice. Hang on to see how it works.


Take a Break:

Research shows that people are more productive when they take regular breaks. 

“What?” I hear you scoffing. “Taking breaks will make me a more productive writer?”

Yes, it will. If your breaks are regular and intentional, and your time on task is uninterrupted.


I discovered this accidentally while writing on days when I do laundry. I set a timer for as long as the load will take. And then I write, challenging myself to see how much I can do in that time. When the timer goes off, I get up, fold the load, and put the next one in. Then I’m back at my desk writing against the clock until the next load is ready. Oddly enough, I noticed that those days are among my most productive, despite the constant interruptions.

 I wondered why.


The Pomodoro Study Technique:

I learned the answer when I heard Christopher Maselli speak at a writing conference about using the Pomodoro Method to write faster and better. The Pomodoro Method started as an academic study strategy, alternating blocks of time: 25 minutes of intense study followed by a 5- minute break.


Maselli has modified the strategy for writers, using productivity research to underpin the plan.


The Research:


Maselli cited research by a group studying employee productivity. 

The study found that the most productive workers took frequent breaks. Looking into brain research to discover why, they learned that the human brain functions in spurts of high energy (about an hour long) followed by shorter periods of low energy (about 15 minutes.) Furthermore, these studies show that the brain has a unique focus when it is intensely engaged for 52 minutes of work, followed by 17 minutes of rest.


This was an “aha” moment for me. Most loads of laundry dry in about 50 minutes in my machine, so I was writing in the sweet spot of intense focus between breaks for doing the wash.





Pomodoro for Writers: 

Maselli has adapted these findings to the practice of writing. Here's how it works:

  • Turn off all distractions. 
  • Set a timer for 52 minutes. During those 52 minutes, write as much as you can. 
  • When the timer goes off, stop—even if you're in the middle of a sentence. 
  • Set your timer for 17 minutes and leave the room. 
  • Do something entirely different: fold a load of laundry, take a walk, make a quick phone call, meditate, do some yoga. 
  • When your timer goes off, your break is over. Go back to your desk and write for another 52 minutes.


Maselli notes that most writers can only manage three or four sessions in a day because the writing focus is so intense. But at the end of that time, you will find that you've done at least as much as when you've spent a whole day in front of the computer.



Intense Focus:

The key to this strategy’s power is that the periods of writing (work) are focused. No distractions are allowed. For 52 minutes, you are intensely engaged in your writing. It's just you and the page.


But when the timer goes off, you must get up and do something else. You want to harness the periods of peak productivity.




But what about Flow?

Some writers insist this method will interrupt the flow of their thoughts or prevent them from “getting in the zone.” However, even when the writing is flowing, the brain will slow after about an hour. If you give it the break it craves, your brain comes back to the page rested, focused, and eager to get back to work.


How do you achieve a distraction-free environment?

Avoiding distraction is crucial to focus. Here are some tips to make sure your work periods are distraction-free.

  • Ban your phone. Research shows that the average person looks at their phone every twelve minutes. That’s a lot of distraction, not to mention temptation. Disable it by turning on the “Do not Disturb” feature or putting it in airplane mode.  Better yet, put it in another room. 
  • Set your computer to hide notifications and turn off all sound. 
  • Do not open the Internet, even for research. (You can research at a separate time, adjusting topics to Pomodoro periods for peak productivity.) 
  • Close your door. 
  • Tell your friends and family that you are working. (One writer friend told me she wears a special scarf when she is writing. When the scarf is on, her family knows she is not to be disturbed.)


Why not try it?

Give the Pomodoro Method a try and see if it makes a difference for you. Then come back to the Grog Blog and let us know how it worked.


For more tips on improving your writing productivity, check out Chris Maselli’s website: