Wednesday, June 26, 2024

The Literary Ecosystem Needs You by Kathy Halsey

 Fragile Ecosystems

Good day, readers. We have a rather heavy, but important topic today, but we'll be taking our annual summer break. We'll be back Wednesday, August 28. Enjoy summer!

With the heat indices climbing and the heat librarians are taking over book selection this year, I‘ve been thinking a lot about change and fragile ecosystems. 

Whether we like it or not, we who share this planet are all connected by our actions, lack of action, or lack of knowledge in the fight for a healthy planet. 

The literary ecosystem is no different. Authors and illustrators, publishers, agents, libraries, educators, and ultimately, readers and our actions affect the literary health of our country, too. 

The Literary Ecosystem Today

Citizen groups propelled by a small, vocal minority are causing irreparable harm when they insist school boards, library boards, local and state governments ban or sequester books they deem “pornogprahic” or “obscene,” while not defining these terms. Here in Ohio, two such bills have been introduced in the legislature that propose criminal penalties for librarians who “pander or display obscene or harmful material.”

What is the rest of the literary ecosystem to do? A good first step is to arm ourselves with information about misconceptions regarding how librarians select books. 

When a book challenge comes into a school system, the procedure from the 1980s until recently was guided by a collection development policy written by certified librarians in a district and then approved by the Board of Education. Certified, credentialled librarians take Master’s degree level courses in order to develop good selection policies that meet the needs of diverse, ever-changing communities.  

Fast-forward to the last few years, and we have challenges by groups like Moms for Liberty that advocate against school curricula that mention LGBT rights, race and ethnicity, and critical race theory. School Boards and state legislatures are taking book selection and acquisition out of the hands of library professionals by forming their own committees to decide the fate of materials.They are by-passing the agreed-upon policies in place by and created by library professionals. 

We can begin to defend our literary ecosystem and arm ourselves with the knowledge of how books are selected for public school libraries. Remember that my words can’t encapsulate the plethora of books written on the theory and practice of selection development or the graduate training taken by certified librarians or the time it takes to stay current on books published in a year.   

What You Should Know about Material Selection  


1. Yearly material selection is only possible with well-funded library budgets. Budgets may fluctuate from year to year or be slashed within a year due to school levies not passing. Book costs keep rising, budget may be stagnant.

2. Collection development is based on the library and district’s mission statement, the demographic population the library serves, the information needs of the patrons and educators, and the physical space to house the collection.

3. From the ALA Toolkit for Selection Criteria: “Every library — academic, public, and school (public, private, charter, independent, and international) — should have a comprehensive written policy that guides the selection, deselection or weeding, and reconsideration of library resources. This is the three-part Collection Development process.

4. The most valuable selection policy is current; it is reviewed and revised on a regular basis; and it is familiar to all members of a library’s staff. The policy should be approved by the library’s governing board or other policy-making body and disseminated widely for understanding by all stakeholders.”

5. The reconsideration policy of library resources is the main focus in the media and those seeking to challenge resources. The other 2 key components of how books land on library shelves are rarely regarded by the public. They are the heart of selection and where librarians spend their time. Unfortunately book challenges (reconsideration) are taking more and more time. The most predominant criteria used in school libraries is to “support and enrich the curriculum and/or students’ personal interests and learning”. 

5. Here is an example of the Mission Statement from the school district from which I retired: to empower our diverse learning community with access to a rich and evolving collection of resources, both physical and digital. We strive to inspire a love of reading, research, and lifelong learning by providing a welcoming and flexible space that encourages exploration, creativity, and collaboration.

Actionable Takeaways for Allies 

1. Find out who is in charge of book/material selection at your local school or the entire school district. Go to the school librarian, principal, or school board office to get this information.

2 Know that many school districts do not employ certified, credentialled librarians at all buildings. A library may employ a school aide with no degree in education or with no library training. There may be one district-level certified librarian who oversees all the schools.

3. Find out when your local school board meets, attend meetings and stay informed. In states like Texas, authors Chris Barton and Bethany Hegedus attend meetings. (Thank you!) Chris adds this information in his newsletter. If you can’t attend meetings in person, check to see if they are on the school district website. 

4. Get to know your local school librarians and public librarians and ask how you can help them out.

5. Keep abreast of what's at issue. Join Authors Against Banned Books: Discover PEN America

Let’s keep our literary ecosystem strong so we all have FREADom to Read! Please add other supportive organizations or allies in the comments.

Fourth Graders Actively Engaged in A Picture Book Look

Wednesday, June 19, 2024

Illustration Notes [To note? Or not to note?] by Guest post author Beth Anderson

 Today I welcome back author Beth Anderson to the Grog Blog. Her latest picture book, Thomas Jefferson's Battle for Science: Bias, Truth, and a Mighty Moose! published May 14, 2024, from Calkins Creek.

Illustration notes are one of those things authors always have questions about. To note? Or not to note? We’re told they have negative effects. But we also tend to think they’re necessary at times. As a writer of narrative nonfiction, I know details have to be right, but at the same time, I don’t want notes to detract from a read by an editor or overstep with an illustrator.

As I pored over the pre-publication passes for THOMAS JEFFERSON’S BATTLE FOR SCIENCE: BIAS, TRUTH, AND A MIGHTY MOOSE!, checking art and text before it went out for printing, I was amazed at how illustrator Jeremy Holmes had merged text and art. The finished spreads were so seamless and intertwined that I couldn’t tell what I had written in the manuscript and what he had added in illustration. When I see books like that, I often wonder what specifically was in the text, illustration notes, and added in art.

So, I went back to see the evolution…

The submitted manuscript had a few illustration notes within the story, including a few optional quotes that could be used. I also had a note for the editor at the end, as I usually do, containing some specifics on the situation in a few scenes to help clarify for an illustrator what wasn’t contained in the text.

Then I looked at the editorial revisions…

Most all the illustration notes in the story disappeared during this process. Why? The revisions clarified so the notes weren’t needed. Sometimes the addition or changing of as little as one word can eliminate the need for a note.

 That brought me to compare that final manuscript with the book to see how Jeremy worked his magic…

Well, first of all, it was abundantly clear at the sketch stage that he had dug deep into research himself. The art was filled with magnificent details. Some spreads had a somewhat graphic novel-ish (yes, I’m sure that’s the correct art term) look that included bits of text. So…where did some of those text pieces originate?

Here are a few examples of text in art and art in text: 

Take a look at this spread and guess what came from me and what came from Jeremy… 

My text had the first three exclamation words (because, of course, I love sets of three!), and he added the 4th. With his format using four panels, the addition of “poppycock” was perfect.

On a previous page, there are a couple similar words added in the art that were his.

 Jeremy also used little white boxes with comments or a few words in various spots. A few originated in my text, and he moved them into the art, but most of those are his creation. Some of those boxes add humor, others offer historical tidbits (which could have come from a scene  illustration note, but I don’t think they did).

 There are also a few primary source documents in the art. Jeremy’s choices showcase priceless examples that enhance the story and most definitely provide something for kids to pore over on a second read and likely inspire “Whaaaaaaat?”…LOL…“ew.” One of the documents was the bill for the moose. I had tried to find a way to include pieces of it in the text, but it ended up being cut. Jeremy didn’t know that. What fun to see it on the page in the art!

 He totally got my tone and angle, and made it all come to life. He amped up the emotional arc, added to pacing, and brought so much creative fun to the story. And in the end, guess what, he didn’t need my illustration notes. He didn’t use the quotes I offered, didn’t depend on my scene details. He illustrated his vision of the story and integrated it perfectly with mine. Luck? No. Skill. A skilled and wonderfully creative illustrator, chosen by a skilled editor, Carolyn Yoder, who matched just the right illustrator to the text!

 So, my conclusion is…

Unless your story is very different than what the reader needs to see, the old adage applies—the fewer the illustration notes, the better. For me, cutting them forces more clarity in the writing.

 We hope you’ll enjoy the story!


Watch the introductory video!

Publisher book page:

For signed copies, visit Old Firehouse Books here:


Educator Guide:

Class Video Visit with Beth Anderson and illustrator Jeremy Holmes from Second Star to the Right Bookstore:  

For more on Beth’s books and to explore her blog, visit 


Wednesday, June 12, 2024

Serious Science Presented Not So Seriously

by Sue Heavenrich

Greenwillow Books, June 4, 2024
 I love it when an author can present serious science in a fun – and even humorous – way. So I couldn’t wait to get my hands on a copy of Abi Cushman’s newest picture book, Flamingos Are Pretty Funky. It’s the second (Not So) Serious Guide book and just as fun to read as her earlier guide, Wombats Are Pretty Weird, which  I reviewed last year.

Flamingos are tall wading birds that wear bright pink feathers. And they have pink legs and even pink feet. You may have seen some at a zoo or in an aviary, and recently they’ve been in the news. Since last summer, flamingos have taken up residence in Florida in places where they haven’t been seen for decades. Flamingos, it turns out, were once common in Florida. But their lovely pink plumage was prized for decorating ladies hats. So flamingos were hunted out of existence in the 1800s. And now they’re back – perhaps blown in by hurricane, say some scientists.

So now is the perfect time to learn more about these flamboyant birds. In her book, Abi Cushman invites readers to get up close and personal with flamingos. But not that close!

“Back up a little,” she writes. “A little more …There! Behold the flamingo…”  And with that she’s off and telling us all about where flamingos live and their names (er, species), and why their feathers are pink. It has to do with what they eat – shrimp – and … 

“Have you tried eating more peas? I hear green is a pretty stylish color, too.” 

Sorry for the interruption. That was Joey the snake. He hangs out in sidebars and page margins adding comedic commentary. Back to flamingos … I enjoyed Abi’s new book so much that I invited her over to the GROG for a cuppa and a chat.

Sue: I love the beginning "too close... back up..." How did you decide where to begin with this book?

Abi Cushman
Abi: With both Wombats Are Pretty Weird and Flamingos Are Pretty Funky, I like to think of the narrator as someone who is trying to do a serious nature documentary, but things go a bit sideways. I thought it would be funny to play with the idea of “Can you spot the flamingo?” Well, of course you can because it’s bright pink. So I thought I’d take it a step further (or rather, a step too close) and zoom in all the way to its feathers to start.

Sue:  You've got a map to show where different flamingos are found around the world. And I think this is where we first meet their personalities. How and when did you decide the Lesser Flamingo would be cranky?

Abi: I mean, wouldn’t you be cranky if your name was Lesser? No doubt the name came about because this flamingo is small, but surely we could come up with a better name. It’s a bit insulting. To be fair, none of the flamingos have very creative common names, which was great for me because it provided fodder for jokes.

Sue: What inspired you to write this book?

Abi: I always wanted to make more “[Not So] Serious Guide” books in a similar vein to Wombats Are Pretty Weird. But I added flamingos as a potential animal to pitch to my editor after reading a National Geographic Kids article about how flamingos can live in very extreme environments. I had already known about them getting their pink coloring from their food, but I learned about their tough scaly legs and their ability to drink salt water from the article. That made me want to dig even deeper, and I discovered even more cool traits. I think flamingos make a great subject for a book because most people are familiar with them but may not know how weird and special they are.

Sue:  Do you have flamingos living anywhere near you? (Not that flamingos are native to Connecticut) 

Abi: I am lucky in that I often see wading birds where I live in Connecticut, including snowy egrets and great blue herons. However, the closest flamingos probably live at the Roger Williams Zoo in Rhode Island.

Sue: We first met Joey-the-Snake in your Wombat book. When did you decide he'd be in Flamingos are Pretty Funky? And will we see him in any future books?

Abi: When I was thinking about how to continue the series, I actually wasn’t sure if I should have Joey the snake again or a different animal to provide commentary. But then once I thought of the joke comparing the bright pink color of the flamingos to Joey’s “drab pea-greeny” color, I felt like I could make it work. I like having him in this second book because it adds continuity to the series. I have ideas for more animals Joey can meet, and it is my sincere hope that you will see him in future books!

Sue: Thanks for hanging out at the GROG, and I can’t wait to see more “not so serious” guides! 

Abi Cushman is the author-illustrator of Soaked! (Viking, 2020), Animals Go Vroom! (Viking, 2021 Wombats Are Pretty Weird (Greenwillow Books, 2023) and illustrated The Quiet Forest (written by Charlotte Offsay) published earlier this year. When she’s not writing about weird animals, Abi enjoys running, playing tennis, and eating nachos. She lives on the Connecticut shoreline with her husband and two kids. Find out more about Abi and her books at her website at her website.

Wednesday, June 5, 2024

Vicky Fang has a new series! ~Christy Mihaly

I'm delighted to welcome author-illustrator Vicky Fang to GROG today. Vicky's published books include the "Best Buddies" early readers and the "Friendbots" and "Layla and the Bots" series. Lots of great STEM content there! Vicky's newest book (released June 4) kicks off a funny, relatable new early chapter book series. She tells us about it here.

Welcome, Vicky! To start, maybe you could tell us a little about yourself and why you write books for kids.


Thank you for having me! I started writing and illustrating because I wanted to inspire kids in STEM, and have expanded from there. But the common thread that remains through all my books is encouraging kids to be creative problem solvers, whether that be in STEM or friendships or school—or anywhere!

And now you have three new books coming out! Tell us about one of them!

My next book, AVA LIN, BEST FRIEND! is the start of a brand-new early chapter book series! It features a six-and-a-half year old girl who is navigating school, family, and friends—often with unintended and hilarious results. Ava Lin is Chinese American, which you’ll see in the little details of her life, but her knack for getting into—and out of—sticky situations is familiar to us all.

Great cover! So you are the illustrator as well as the author?

Yes. AVA LIN is the first chapter book series that I have self-illustrated, so I’m incredibly proud of it! I’m hugely grateful to my editor, Sarah Ketchersid, and my art director, Lisa Rudden, at Candlewick for giving me the opportunity and supporting me along the way.

What inspired you to invent Ava and write her story? How did you get the ideas?

AVA LIN is inspired by my kids and my own childhood. I’ve loved watching the earnestness, curiosity, triumphs, and relatable misunderstanding of my own kids and wanted to capture that in this series. They’ve loved watching these books come to life too. We laugh about Ava Lin’s antics together, and when something appropriately funny happens in real life, they say “This should be in an Ava Lin book!”

AVA LIN, BEST FRIEND! (Credit: Candlewick, ©2024 Vicky Fang)

Love that your kids are looking out for ideas for you!

How long did it take you to write this book? 

The idea for AVA LIN sat in my head for several months and then I wrote the first draft during a weekend retreat. (I love retreats.) After that, I probably revised for a few weeks before sending it off to my agent.

That's a great tip for procrastinating writers! Take a retreat!

After you wrote it at that retreat,Vicky, how long did it take to sell the manuscript?

It took about six months to sell Ava Lin. It did sell in the first round of submissions, but the submission process feels so slow these days!

Tell me about it. So slooooow.

What do you hope readers take away from reading Ava's story?

I hope the series makes kids laugh! I also hope that kids will relate to Ava Lin’s experiences—to see that Ava makes mistakes all the time, but that everything is always somehow okay in the end. And that even when things don’t turn out the way she expected, it doesn’t stop her from approaching life with curiosity and optimism. And last but not least, I hope these books help kids fall in love with reading!

AVA LIN, BEST FRIEND! (Credit: Candlewick, ©2024 Vicky Fang)

As an illustrator, you get an additional level of input into your books.

Tell us something about how you did the illustrations for Ava.

I had so much fun illustrating these books. I think I most enjoy the expressiveness that I was able to pull into each of Ava’s life moments. I also just had my first classroom visit where I taught kids how to draw Ava Lin, and it was such a delight to see their own versions of Ava Lin!

What was most surprising about doing these illustrations?

I hadn’t realized how much fun it would be to do this style of illustration, interspersed between text. Each illustration gets to be like its own mini-story, which was super fun to do. I think because Ava Lin is such an enthusiastic character, it also felt joyful to draw the things she loves, like animals, bubble tea, and treasure!

AVA LIN, BEST FRIEND! (Credit: Candlewick, ©2024 Vicky Fang)

This series looks really fun!

Okay, Vicky, tell us: What advice do you have for writers?

Thinking about this series specifically, I feel like it really leveraged everything I’ve learned as an author and illustrator up to this point. I was able to think about crafting multiple elements of this book (plot, character, arc, heart, pacing, etc.) in a much more fluid way than I had been able to in my previous books. And I’m still learning and getting better! So my advice to writers is to just keep at it. Slowly but surely, you will get better and better. 

Also, if you’re looking for more writing and publishing advice from me, I started a newsletter with my friend and critique partner, Christine N Evans (Dear Mr. G, The Wist Library) called Kidlit Survival Guide—check it out!

Thanks, VIcky! Last question: What’s next for you?

I’ve just finished art for Ava Lin Book 2, and am starting sketches for Book 3! I’m also working on sketches for my next series, an early graphic novel series called ONE MAD CAT.

That's a lot! Thanks for taking the time to chat here. I look forward to reading all these amazing books.