March 3 – World Wildlife Day and Interview with Author Heather Lang

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About the Holiday

A vast number of plant and animal species are facing endangerment or extinction due to human caused climate change. World Wildlife Day was created in 1973 as an effort to protect the many endangered species of the world. It is an international holiday with a new theme each year to celebrate the biodiversity of our earth while also promoting awareness and advocacy. The theme for this year’s observance is “Forests and Livelihoods: Sustaining People and Planet.” There are many wonderful ways to celebrate this holiday; spend some time in nature, pick up litter around your block, find out about activities going on in your hometown, and read books to educate yourself and others on the livelihood of forests, wildlife and the environment.  To learn more about World Wildlife Day, and the virtual events happening today, visit this webpage: https://www.wildlifeday.org/. If you are searching for books to celebrate, The Leaf Detective is a perfect fit!

Thanks to Boyds Mills for providing a digital copy of The Leaf Detective for review consideration. All opinions on the book are my own.

Reviewed by Dorothy Levine

The Leaf Detective: How Margaret Lowman Uncovered the Secrets of the Rainforest

Written by Heather Lang | Illustrated by Jana Christy

 

As a child, Meg was quite shy to make friends. She spent lots of time studying and playing with wildlife: “Meg wrapped herself in nature, like a soft blanket.” As she continued to grow, so did her passion for leaves, trees, and nature. Meg attended Sydney University in Australia. In 1979, she became the first person at her graduate school to study the rainforest. Through her studies Meg learned that people had been all the way to outer space to study, but nobody had ever ventured to the tippity top of a canopy tree. Instead, they studied trees from far away through binoculars. Oftentimes scientists would spray trees with chemicals so that the harmed leaves and animals would drop to the forest floor where people could study them up close. Meg sought to change this.

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Image copyright Jana Christy, 2021, text copyright Heather Lang, 2021. Courtesy of Calkins Creek.

“In the dark, damp forest the trees rose up to distant rustling, squawks and screeches, shadows in the treetops. How could she get up there?” Meg Lowman created her own slingshot and harness and inched up a coachwood tree. When she reached the canopy, she knew she’d found the perfect place to study and explore. Meg is quoted saying, “From then on, I never looked back…or down!”

Meg continued to create new strategies to study the canopy, as a scientist does. And in doing so she made so many discoveries, such as: “We now believe the canopy is home to approximately half the plant and animal species on land.” Many people tried to stop Meg along her journey. They told her she couldn’t take science classes, climb trees, or make inventions because she was a woman. But Meg ignored them. She continued to investigate.

She knew that rainforests were (and are) in danger, and that so many creatures rely on the rainforest ecosystem. People all over the world were cutting down large parts of the rainforests for wood, rubber, paper, and farmland. This worried Meg; she wanted to find a way to protect rainforests before they all disappeared. “She wondered, How can one leaf detective make a difference? How can I save the trees?…Then an idea crawled into Meg’s thoughts—a way to speak for the trees.”

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Image copyright Jana Christy, 2021, text copyright Heather Lang, 2021. Courtesy of Calkins Creek.

Meg traveled around the world. She spoke to people across many different countries; taught them how to climb trees, build canopy walkways—she showed people the many gifts rainforests have to offer. Meg educated communities on how they could share their rainforest with outsiders, showcase its beauty to create revenue rather than chopping them down for resources. By using her voice and creative mind, Meg helped implement systems that have saved many trees and creatures across the world.

Meg Lowman continues to study trees, save rainforests, and teach people how to shift their economies to center around ecotourism and sustainable crops rather than resource extraction. She has used her voice to save rainforests across the world, and yet she still says, “If only I could have achieved as much as the tree!… But I have not. I have whittled away at relatively small goals in comparison to the grander accomplishments of a tree.”

Backmatter includes an author’s note detailing Heather Lang’s visit to meet Margaret Lowman in the Amazon rainforest in Perú. The note includes more information on Dr. Lowman’s advocacy work and is followed by an illustrated educational spread on the layers of canopies, and species featured throughout the story are labeled in the final spread, for readers to learn more about specific animals that make their homes in the rainforest.

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Image copyright Jana Christy, 2021, text copyright Heather Lang, 2021. Courtesy of Calkins Creek.

Heather Lang’s lyrical writing matches the carefulness with which Meg studies leaves, trees, and the rainforest canopy. Her compelling storytelling is rich with facts and sensory imagery that immerse readers in the environment and Meg’s determination to understand and, later, save it. Scattered images of leaves drop fun facts and definitions for readers about the rainforest, canopies, transpiration, herbivores, and more. Quotes from Dr. Lowman are thoughtfully placed throughout the story in a manner that neatly flows. The Leaf Detective urges readers to understand that “a tree is not just a tree” but rather “a shelter for animals and people, / a recycler and provider of water, / a creator of food and oxygen, / an inventor of medicine/ a soldier against climate change.”

Jana Christy’s digital drawings contain stunning detail and show an accurate scale of one small person in comparison to the vastness of the rainforest. Her mesmerizing wildlife creatures and immersive watercolor blues and greens transport readers right into the rainforest with “Canopy Meg.” The lush greens of the rainforests contrast strikingly with the spread on deforestation, in which fallen trees lay scattered on the bare, brown ground. Readers will also be interested to see the innovations that have made the trees more accessible to people. One can read the book over and over and notice new details every time. It is a book to treasure, to study, to read and re-read again. 

Come unearth the secrets of the rainforest with Margaret Lowman in this book that’s budding with knowledge, empathy, and magic, and is a tale of how one person can make a difference. The intriguing facts, poignant quotes from Dr. Lowman herself, and beautiful poetic writing will leave readers of this book inspired with wonder and with a hunger for advocacy. The Leaf Detective: How Margaret Lowman Uncovered the Secrets of the Rainforest is an urgent must-read for all ages.

A portion of Heather Lang’s royalties for this book go to TREE Foundation—an organization that funds field trips for children to get into nature, canopy projects, and science book distribution for children with limited access to STEAM, girls especially. 

Ages 6 – 10

Calkins Creek, 2021 | ISBN 978-1684371778

Discover more about Heather Lang and her books on her website.

To learn more about Jana Christy, her books, and her art, visit her website.

Meet Heather Lang

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Heather Lang loves to write about real women who overcame extraordinary obstacles and never gave up on their dreams. Her research has taken her to the skies, the treetops of the Amazon, and the depths of the ocean. Her award-winning picture book biographies include, QUEEN OF THE TRACK: Alice Coachman, Olympic High-Jump Champion, THE ORIGINAL COWGIRL: The Wild Adventures of Lucille Mulhall, FEARLESS FLYER: Ruth Law and Her Flying Machine, SWIMMING WITH SHARKS: The Daring Discoveries of Eugenie Clark, and ANYBODY’S GAME: Kathryn Johnston, The First Girl to Play Little League Baseball. When she is not writing, she enjoys going on adventures with her husband and four children. Visit Heather at www.heatherlangbooks.com.

Today I am thrilled to be interviewing author Heather Lang about her new biographical picture book The Leaf Detective: How Margaret Lowman Uncovered the Secrets of the Rainforest. Heather provides some thoughtful notes for shy readers, riveting stories from the rainforest and insight into the importance of exploring and caring for nature.

Can you tell us a little bit about what made you decide to write The Leaf Detective?  

We’ve caused enormous harm to our planet over the last few centuries, and I’m especially concerned about our rainforests. I knew I wanted to write a biography that was also a science book about the rainforest. When I read about Meg’s pioneering work and deep passion for trees, I was hooked! I couldn’t wait to find out how this quiet, nature-loving child, who didn’t know women could be scientists, became a world-class scientist and conservationist.

In the story you talk about how Meg was shy to make playmates with other kids. Were you also a shy kid growing up? Do you have any advice for readers who may relate to this aspect of Meg’s childhood? 

Like Meg, I was very shy as a child and remember wishing I were more outgoing. But as I grew older, I began to recognize the many advantages to being shy! My shy nature led me to sit back and observe. And that led to deeper thinking and understanding, a strong imagination, and creativity. Shy people often think more before they speak. They make their words count, which coincidentally is an important part of writing picture books. This also makes shy people good listeners and thoughtful friends. 

I’m still shy in many ways, and my recommendation to readers who might identify with this is to embrace your shyness! At the same time, don’t let it stop you from doing things you want to do. Meg Lowman told me she used to get so nervous before presenting in graduate school that she’d get physically sick. But with practice, practice, practice, she’s become a captivating presenter and educator. If you watch a few of her FUN FACTS FROM THE FIELD videos on my website, you’ll see what I mean! 

How would you describe your connection to nature? Would you consider yourself a “detective” in any ways? 

I’m constantly in awe of nature and its countless gifts and surprises. Nothing sparks my curiosity more than our natural world, and my curiosity is probably my most important tool as a writer. Being open-minded and asking questions not only generates ideas, but also leads me to think more deeply about a topic and examine it closely from lots of different angles. And of course that generates more detective work and more learning about my topic and myself. Being a detective is one of my favorite parts of writing books.

Do you have a favorite rainforest tree or creature? If so, tell me about it a bit!

When I arrived in the Amazon rainforest, I couldn’t wait to see a sloth! But during my time there I became fascinated with ants. They are everywhere in the rainforest, even in the canopy. I think it’s amazing how such tiny creatures can be so hardworking and organized. Their teamwork is unbelievable. And they are invaluable to the health of our rainforests. Among other things, they’re in charge of waste management on the rainforest floor, and they disperse seeds and aerate the soil!

What was the most rewarding part of writing The Leaf Detective?

This writing project was filled with rewards every step of the way! I learned so much about our rainforests and trees and gained a true understanding of how interconnected we all are—plants, animals, and humans. Getting to really know Meg Lowman and learning from her firsthand was thrilling and strengthened my writing in many important ways. It was also really rewarding to stretch myself as a writer and find a way to effectively write a book that seemed ambitious at first—a biography and conservation book that wove in quotes and science facts. 

Are there any stories from your trip to meet Meg that you did not get the chance to include in your author’s note that you’d like to share?

While I was on my Amazon adventure with Meg, I had many exciting moments. I loved learning from the Indigenous people how to use a blow gun, make clay, and braid palm leaves to make thatched roofs. The local shaman taught me how he uses different plants in the rainforest to treat and prevent injuries and illnesses—from bronchitis to poisonous snake bites. He also helped me confront my fear of snakes by bringing one over for me to touch. I even let it gently coil around my neck! But my favorite moments were exploring with Meg, especially at night and early in the morning when there’s so much activity in the rainforest.

What are you working on next?

I’m having a blast working on a new informational picture book series about extraordinary animals for Candlewick Press with my co-author/illustrator and close friend Jamie Harper. The first book, Supermoms!, features cool nonfiction facts about 18 amazing animal moms in a graphic format with humorous callouts. 

I’m also working on a collective biography for readers in grades 3 – 7. More to come on that soon!

Thanks so much for chatting with me Heather! I had a lovely time hearing about your inspiration, stories, writing process and tips for shy readers. Looking forward to learning and reading more from you in the months and years to come.

World Wildlife Day Activity

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You can create your own rainforest with this coloring page. Use the blank space around the picture to label the layers as shown on the last page of The Leaf Detective!

Rainforest Coloring Page

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Three different beautiful World Wildlife Day 2021 posters in six languages are available for download here.

You can find The Leaf Detective at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

January 19 – National Popcorn Day Cover Reveal of Let’s Pop, Pop, Popcorn!

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Let’s Pop, Pop, Popcorn!

Written by Cynthia Schumerth | Illustrated by Mary Reaves Uhles

 

Have you ever wondered what happens to your popcorn before it lands in the bowl? Kernel-by-kernel, step-by-step, this story takes readers through the process of growing, harvesting, and finally popping delicious popcorn! However you take it – salted, buttered, or caramelized, every variation of America’s favorite snack begins in the same place. 

Backmatter includes STEM-related discussions about corn kernels and why these kinds of kernels pop when heated, a science activity, and an art project.

With Cynthia Schumerth’s exuberant and educational rhymes that bounce like bursting popcorn and Mary Reaves Uhles’s vibrant, action-packed illustrations of a group of kids planting, harvesting, shucking, cooking (KABOOM!), and eating this favorite snack, Let’s Pop, Pop, Popcorn! makes the perfect reading treat for any movie night or story time! 

I’m excited to be talking with Cynthia Schumerth and Mary Reaves Uhles to discover how they turned America’s favorite snack into a book so deliciously fun!

Meet Cynthia Schumerth

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Cindy grew up in a small town in Wisconsin where kids played outside from sun-up to sun-down. Much of her writing reflects her love of nature, animals, and family. Cindy believes the power of words is magical and if even one child can find something they can relate to in a story, then that story just might change their world. Cindy lives with her husband and their rescue dog Chance in the same small town she grew up in. Together they raised two amazing children. You can connect with Cynthia on Twitter.

I’m really looking forward to learning more about popcorn when your book’s released! What inspired you to write Let’s Pop, Pop, Popcorn!?
 

My love of popcorn! Growing up, popcorn was a special treat. It was something that got our entire family sitting together, sharing stories, and having a lot of laughs. This is something I’ve shared with my own children as they grew up. The truth is that I’d been having a bit of writer’s block before I came up with the idea for Let’s Pop, Pop, Popcorn! I knew I needed something new, something fresh, but I was drawing a blank.

Then I got to thinking… at writing conferences and workshops there is one comment that you hear over and over—write what you love. Well, I love popcorn, so I thought why not write about that? Thoughts about popcorn floated around my head for a few days (maybe weeks).  I considered different ideas about how to use popcorn in a book before I came up with the idea of a farm-to-table story. I grew up in a gardening family and it seemed like a great idea to share the entire process—from seed to the end product of a fluffy, tasty treat—with young readers in a fun way.  

From planting to popping, so much goes into creating the popcorn we love to munch. Can you talk a little about how you decided on the structure of your book—which combines nonfiction with lyrical storytelling?

Initially, I wrote it as a basic farm-to-table story. I wanted it to be fun while still having an interesting takeaway for kids. During a critique, it was suggested that I bring more of the specific popcorn terms into the story instead of having them only in the backmatter. I really liked that idea, but I had worked very hard to get the rhyme and rhythm just right. I had a tough decision to make—keep the story written in rhyme and somehow figure out how to incorporate words like: germ, endosperm, and pericarp into it, or rewrite the story an entirely different way.

I don’t usually write in rhyme. Rhyme is hard because it has to be perfect, but I decided to stick with it because I really liked the flow of the story. I knew I had to make sure the rhyme worked perfectly while still keeping the story factually accurate, and that was a bit of a hurdle. However, I think it’s true that if you write what you love, things work out. When the final manuscript was accepted, my editor surprised me by saying, “Don’t change a thing. I think it’s perfect just the way it is!  In the end, we did change three words, but having to change only three words in the entire manuscript is something I am very proud of!

Did you learn anything surprising about popcorn while writing this book?
 

I was surprised by how simple the process of going from popcorn seed to popped popcorn actually is. It’s both fascinating and something that kids (and adults) can easily understand. How cool is it that after reading Let’s Pop, Pop, Popcorn!, the reader will be able to impress their friends with scientific knowledge about popcorn and how it pops?! It’s surprising how many people don’t know how the hard, little popcorn seeds turn into puffs of white yumminess.

Another thing that I found surprising is that some folks will pour milk over a bowl of popcorn with a little sugar and have popcorn as a breakfast cereal. I haven’t tried that myself, and to be honest, I’m not sure I will.

Mary’s cover is so enticing. What were your first thoughts when you saw the art for the cover and the interior illustrations.

When our editor told me Mary had been chosen as the illustrator, of course I searched out her work. I was so excited because I think she does great work and she was already an accomplished picture book illustrator! I had to wait over two years before I got to see the cover art, and then longer to see the inside pages, but it was well worth the wait. I think her drawings and her choice of color palette for Let’s Pop, Pop, Popcorn! are vibrant and inviting. And those kids in the story—I want to be friends with all of them!

I feel very lucky to share this book with Mary. I think this cover will stand out on the shelvesI know it would catch my own eye and I’d pick it up. I think kids will really like it, too.

Have you ever tried to grow popcorn?
 

Actually, one summer my kids and I did try growing popcorn!  Not all the plants made it and the ones that did, didn’t produce as much as we had hoped. After we harvested, dried, and shucked the ears, we were able to get enough kernels to make one pot of popcorn. You know what? It was the best popcorn we ever had! Growing something with your own hands is so satisfying. I hope after reading Let’s Pop, Pop, Popcorn!, kids will want to give growing their own popcorn a try.

Of course, I can’t let you go without asking—what is your favorite type or flavor of popcorn?
 

I like caramel corn, kettle corn, and I’ve sprinkled parmesan cheese on my popcorn, but if I have to choose a favorite, I’m a salt-only popcorn girl. There are yellow and white types of popping corn, and I prefer white. I think it has more crunch to it. I like my popcorn cooked the good old-fashioned way, in a pot on top of the stove. I have my grandmothers popcorn pan from when I was growing up—it’s over 75 years old! That pan has probably popped thousands of bowls of popcorn. Recently, I’ve started using coconut oil when I pop my corn, and I really like the flavor you get. If you’re worried about the taste, don’t be! It doesn’t taste like coconut; it’s just healthier than using other oils.

Meet Mary Reaves Uhles

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Mary Reaves Uhles has illustrated several children’s books, including The Little Kids’ Table, by Mary Ann McCabe Riehle; The Twelve Days of Christmas in Tennessee, by Alice Faye Duncan; and the poetry collection Kooky Crumbs, by Children’s Poet Laureate J. Patrick Lewis. Before illustrating books for children, Mary worked as an animator on projects for Warner Brothers and Fisher-Price Interactive. A graduate of Ringling College of Art and Design, Mary lives with her family in Nashville, Tennessee. Find her online at maryuhles.com.

What were your first thoughts when you received the manuscript for Let’s Pop Pop Popcorn!?

My first thoughts werewell this is great, I LOVE popcorn! I truly don’t think I could have done as good a job with the book if I didn’t love EATING popcorn and even tried growing it myself when I was about 9 or 10. I was excited about the concept of the cutaway pages where we see the seeds in the dirt, I always loved that kind of thing in illustrations when I was a kid.

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Image copyright Mary Reaves Uhles, 2021, text copyright Cynthia Schumerth, 2021. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

And finally, I wanted to have a page or two to draw an environment that looked like where I grew uphuge fields dotted with trailers or houses. Kids and animals of all kinds would spill across the fields as if we owned them! While I didn’t have that many interiors to show in the book, the details of the inside of the blue trailer, such as the green fern curtains, are taken directly from memories of my friends’ houses.

Your cover illustration is so much fun! Did you go through many iterations and revisions before deciding on this final image? Could you take readers through the cover’s journey?

Thank you! I’m really happy with how it turned out. I knew I wanted the cover to have a lot of energy, with popcorn popping everywhere but how to get there? I went through several different thumbnails, some with characters on the cover, some with just popcorn.

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Image copyright Mary Uhles, 2021

Finally I decided on having just one of the child characters. I picked the little girl with glasses because, well, I liked her glasses! Then it was a matter of getting her close to the pot but not so close it might feel a bit dangerous to have all that popcorn (and the lid) flying at her face.

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Image copyright Mary Uhles, 2021

I did popcorn kernels on lots of different Photoshop layers so that, in the final design, the art director could move them to work around the final type. Since there was a lot of action with the popcorn I wanted the background behind the character to be a fairly flat color. I liked the idea of using the blue from the kitchen juxtaposed with the copper pot.

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Image copyright Mary Reaves Uhles, 2021, courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

Now, I’m sure readers would love a little sneak peek into the interior. I’ve been lucky enough to see that they can certainly look forward to lots of action and different perspectives! Can you talk a little about how you translated Cynthia’s story into such dynamic illustrations?

Well I used to be an animator so when I begin laying out a book I do it like a film storyboard, with each page turn being a new camera angle. I really think so much of our emotional journey in a book (or movie or TV show) happens with how the camera makes us feel in proximity to the subject. As the plants start to grow I wanted to bring readers close to the tiny stalks and then move them farther and farther back as the plants get bigger and bigger.

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Image copyright Mary Reaves Uhles, 2021, text copyright Cynthia Schumerth, 2021. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

 I did the same thing with the kernels in the pot.. I wanted to actually bring the camera down inside the pot so the readers were right next to the POP when it happened.

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Image copyright Mary Reaves Uhles, 2021, text copyright Cynthia Schumerth, 2021. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

In some of the illustrationslike the image of the kernels being pluckedI wanted the reader to feel like they were doing it… so the perspective is from over the bowl. Art director Felicia Macheske and I discussed having lots of different kids doing different tasks throughout the book but waiting until the very end to show all the kids together on a spread. I really liked that idea as it feels very celebratory but it was also a lot to keep track ofwhich kids were appearing on which pages so it stayed balanced. I actually had a visual spreadsheet at one point so I could keep track. I had to laugh that this is now my third book to have a big crowd at the end! In The Little Kids’ Table a huge family gathers around the table and in A Tuba Christmas we see the whole tuba orchestra.

Did you learn anything new about popcorn while working on this book?

Well I actually did not know there were only two kinds of popcorn! Also I looked at lots of different pictures of popcorn to get the details correct and I found it interesting how much smaller popcorn kernels are than ‘corn on the cob’ kernels. A friend of mine gave me a couple of popcorn cobs with the kernels still on when I started sketches and I kept them in my studio the whole time for reference.

In your dedication, I noticed that you give a shout out to Jackson (Team Popcorn) and Grace (Team Chex Mix). Is there a competition for favorite snack in your family?

Ha ha! I don’t know that there is a competition, but I knew from the beginning that this book’s dedication would have to say something about my son’s love of popcorn. Any time there’s family movie night he’s so excited because I’ll make popcorn. For the record I make it the stovetop way, just like in the book. But my daughter is not a fan of popcorn! So I always have to come up with alternate snacks. Her favorite is Chex Mix.

Now that we know Cynthia’s favorite popcorn, I know readers would love to hear what your type or flavor of popcorn is.

I do love just good, old-fashioned stovetop popcorn with a dash of butter and a few more dashes of salt. But I also love kettle corn! It’s my favorite ‘fair food’ as in, getting it at the state fair in giant greasy bags.

Thanks so much! You two have made me hungry! While readers check out where they can preorder Let’s Pop, Pop, Popcorn!, I’m going to go cook up some nice buttery, salty popcorn for myself! But first, I’d like to invite everyone to enter my giveaway of the book! You’ll find the details right here!

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You can preorder Let’s Pop, Pop, Popcorn! at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

December 3 – Cover Reveal of Stompin’ at the Savoy: How Chick Webb Became the King of Drums

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Stompin’ at the Savoy: How Chick Webb Became the King of Drums

Written by Moira Rose Donohue | Illustrated by Laura Freeman

 

Although a disability stunted his growth and left him with a hunched back, William Henry “Chick” Webb didn’t let that get in the way of pursuing his dreams of being a musician. Even as a young child, Chick saw the world as one big drum. He pounded out rhythms on everything from stair railings to pots and pans with a wooden spoon until he earned enough money selling newspapers to buy himself a real set.

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Image copyright Laura Freeman, 2021, text copyright Moira Rose Donohue, 2021. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

He saved more money and was at last able to buy a drum set where he could “bang on the bass drum, crash the cymbals, and rattle the snare.” When he was still a teenager, he played drums in several bands. His talent and love for music eventually brought him to the big time as an influential big band leader. But Chick wanted to be at the top. Would he get his chance? This picture-book biography bops with the sounds and dance moves of the Swing era and one of the most famous clubs in America as it relates the life of Black American jazz drummer Chick Webb, who in the 1930s earned the nickname the “King of the Savoy.”

With Moira Rose Donohue’s scintillating storytelling about a time in musical history that still resonates today and Laura Freeman’s vibrant illustrations that ring with bright horns, soar on a sublime voice, and pulsate with the beat of a master drummer, Stompin’ at the Savoy – which Kirkus calls “an effervescent celebration”is a book that will inspire children.

I’m thrilled to be talking today with Moira Rose Donohue and Laura Freeman to learn more about how they brought the extraordinary story of Chick Webb to life for young readers. 

Meet Moira Rose Donohue

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Moira Rose Donohue has written over 35 books for children, most of them nonfiction, including National Geographic’s Little Kids First Big Book of the Rain Forest and two Junior Library Guild selections: Great White Sharks (Scholastic/Children’s Press) and The Invasion of Normandy (North Star Editions). She loves tap dancing, opera, hockey, and animals. Moira lives in St. Petersburg, Florida, with her dog, Petunia.

Among the many titles you’ve published are books on nature, history, and many, many biographies of figures from explorers to sports stars to civil rights leaders. What is your favorite thing about writing biographies? What was the initial spark that prompted you to choose Chick Webb as the subject of your newest book?

The thing I like most about writing biographies is that through the extensive research you have to do, you eventually discover the “essence” of the person—that unique quality that guided him/her/them to act in a way that made a difference in the world.

My initial interest in Chick was sparked when I was watching a re-airing of the Ken Burns documentary on jazz music. When the movie reached the evolution of swing and big bands, Chick Webb was mentioned. I have always loved Big Band music, even though it was not the music of my era. I was familiar with all the big band musicians discussed except Chick Webb. So, of course I had to research him. When I saw his life-loving grin and learned that he had to face the challenges of an affliction that left him no taller than an average eight-year-old boy, I was hooked.

Can you talk a little about the story readers will discover in Stompin’ at the Savoy and take readers on the book’s journey from idea to published book?

This book is not a chronicle of Chick’s life. It focuses on his resilient and competitive spirit because that’s what struck a chord with me. I love contests, and so, apparently, did Chick. To showcase his competitiveness, the climax of the book is his legendary band battle with 6-foot tall Benny Goodman, the King of Swing—a contest so exciting that almost 10,000 people showed up, inside the Savoy and outside on Lenox Avenue. You’ll have to read the book to find out who won!

What was one of the most surprising things you learned about Chick Webb during your research?

As a drummer and a band leader, Chick was precise and demanding. He told his musicians to practice and to be perfect. This didn’t surprise me because my daughter is a percussionist and I know that to be successful, practice and discipline are essential. What did surprise me is that, on occasion, Chick was known to give in to his wilder side and ride around town on the back of a motorcycle, standing up.

Researching Chick Webb was tricky because not much has been written about him. I had to call upon librarians, my superheroes, to watch a documentary at the Library of Congress and to find out what his childhood home looked like (thanks to the Enoch Pratt Free Library in Baltimore).

For an author it must be thrilling to see your story come to life visually. When did you see the cover and illustrations for your story? What was your first reaction?

I have been a big fan of Laura’s work for some time, so I knew when I got the sketches in May, 2020 that they would be wonderful. But the best part was that she completely understood the Big Band era and captured the ethos of the Savoy perfectly. It turns out that she had a connection to it—her father danced at the Savoy Ballroom.

As for the cover, which I didn’t see until early October, 2020, well…it brought tears to my eyes. The purple background is such a perfect choice for the King of Drums. And Laura even managed to put his signature green chicks on his drum set!

What would you like young readers to take away from the story of Chick Webb?

Although I cannot fully understand the magnitude and complexities of Chick’s struggle, as someone who is only 4 feet 11 inches tall and always trying to figure out how to reach things in high places, I relate to the challenges of being a short person. I completely understood his need to make his bass drum pedal higher so he could reach it! And I admired his perseverance. I hope the young readers will see Chick’s story as an inspiration—a story of someone who believed in himself and his music. Chick was a person with short stature who created a giant sound.  

When will readers be able to find Stompin’ at the Savoy on bookstore shelves? Do you have any special events planned that readers can look forward to?

Stompin’ at the Savoy will be available for purchase on January 15, 2021. We are planning on setting up a virtual book release celebration with Tombolo Books. For more information and updates, please check my website, moirarosedonohue.net. And I am hoping to have an in-person event in Baltimore, Chick’s (and my son’s) home, when it’s safe to do so. 

You can connect with Moira Rose Donohue on

Her website | Twitter

Meet Laura Freeman

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Laura Freeman has illustrated many fine children’s books over the years, including Fancy Party Gowns: The Story of Fashion Designer Ann Cole Lowe, written by Deborah Blumenthal, and the Coretta Scott King Honor book Hidden Figures: The True Story of Four Black Women and the Space Race, by Margot Lee Shetterly and Winifred Conkling. Laura now lives in Atlanta, Georgia, with her husband and their two children. 

I think readers are fascinated by an artist’s process in translating a manuscript to images that explain, highlight, and enhance the text. Can you talk a little about how you approached the manuscript for Stompin’ at the Savoy and then developed your illustrations – especially this stunning cover.

I always spend a lot of time looking at photos and researching the character and time period before starting. For Stompin’ I wanted to get in the mood, and so I searched for his music online and was surprised to find that I recognized the title song (which was written in 1933!). Maybe I watch too many old movies, but it really is great! I found great old photos of him at his drum kit and photos of the Savoy nightclub as well as people dancing and swinging to the orchestra. Since it was the ’30’s, all the photos I found were in black and white so I dug into the internet to find out what color his drum kit was… and I found conflicting information. One article stated that the kit was pearlized cream decorated with sparkly green chicks but the accompanying photo showed the chicks as being red. I ended up trusting the words since the photo was obviously hand tinted. I hope I got it right but guess it’s not the end of the world if I’m wrong! 

The cover is just a peek at what readers have to look forward to in the book. Can you give them a little taste of what’s in store inside?

I tried to give the illustrations a sense of movement to mimic the way Chick’s music makes me feel. There are a lot of colorful musical notes dancing throughout almost all of the pages. There is one spread in particular where if you look closely you can find them in a pattern in the ironwork of the staircase that Chick falls down as a child. Even though he’s not playing music on this page I wanted the notes to foreshadow his future.

What aspects of Chick Webb’s story did you most want to express in your illustrations? Is there a spread in the book that you particularly enjoyed creating?

Even though he had a tragic accident when he was a child that affected him for the rest of his life, his music is so full of joy – I wanted the book to feel joyful! I wanted it to be bright and colorful. There’s one spread in the book that depicts a battle of the bands. The one where Chick’s band goes up against Benny Goodman’s band. It was one of the last images I tackled because I have to admit, I had no idea how I was going to pull it off. There was just so much going on. I wanted to show the excitement and electricity of the moment – both bands playing their instruments, Chick’s band in white tuxedos, Benny Goodman’s band in black, Chick at his drum kit, Gene Krupka breaking his drum head. All this, but I didn’t want it to look busy and confusing. It ended up being one of my favorite images in the book!

I’ve been fortunate to review several of your picture books. In each one the illustrations are uniquely suited for the subject and yet instantly recognizable as your work. What would you say is your signature style? How did you develop it?

Thank you for saying so! I guess I’d say my illustrations are somewhat realistic in that I do try to capture a likeness. But still not so much so that I can’t deviate from reality to make a point. I guess you could say my work has a collage feel to it since I love to play around with patterns and textures too. I think that the amount of research I do shows up in the illustrations. I try to immerse myself in the time period of the book. I love finding the right clothing and hairstyles. What did the streets look like? The cars? What kind of technology was available? What about the furniture? I collect 100’s of photos of all these things. Very few end up in the books, but the essence of what I’ve seen does… I hope!

What do you hope children will take away from your illustrations for Stompin’ at the Savoy?

I hope that they can see themselves in his story. I love that he didn’t let his physical limitations stop him from doing what he wanted to do. He had to sit on a high stool to reach the drums. He couldn’t reach the bass drum pedal on the stool, so he had a special one made. He even embraced what surely started out as a derogatory nickname and called himself Chick.

Like Moira, many of your books for children are biographies. What draws you to those projects? What are the challenges and the rewards of working on biographies?

I especially like learning about people I may never have heard of and learning new things about people I have heard of. If I don’t know the information, chances are that most kids don’t either. With a biography there’s the challenge of capturing a likeness. Sometimes there are lots of photos and videos of the person I’m depicting to reference. Other times, not so much. I may need to distill the person’s facial features and try to figure out what they might look like from a different angle or as a child when there really aren’t any reference photos to go by. I want to do them justice because I feel honored to be involved in uncovering their stories.

You can connect with Laura Freeman on

Her website | Instagram | Twitter

Thanks so much Moira and Laura for these insightful answers! I’m sure readers are as excited to read Stompin’ at the Savoy: How Chick Webb Became the King of Drums as I am! While we have to wait a little longer to find the book in bookstores, everyone’s invited to enter my giveaway for a chance to win a copy!

Stompin’ at the Savoy: How Chick Webb Became the King of Drums Giveaway

 

I’m excited to partner with Sleeping Bear Press in Twitter giveaway of:

  • One (1) copy of Stompin’ at the Savoy, written by Moira Rose Donohue| illustrated by Laura Freeman 

Here’s how to enter:

  • Follow Sleeping Bear Press 
  • Retweet a giveaway tweet
  • Bonus: Reply with your favorite kind of music for an extra entry (each reply gives you one more entry).

This giveaway is open from December 3 through December 9 and ends at 8:00 p.m. EST.

A winner will be chosen on December 10. The prize book will be sent from Sleeping Bear Press in January.

Giveaway open to U.S. addresses only. | Prizing provided by Sleeping Bear Press.

To learn more about Stompin’ at the Savoy: How Chick Webb Became the King of Drums and other marvelous books from Sleeping Bear Press, visit their website.

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You can preorder Stompin’ at the Savoy: How Chick Webb Became the King of Drums at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

 

April 1 – Reading is Funny Day and Interview with Author Lori Degman

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About the Holiday

Nothing’s better than hearing the giggles of a child reading a funny book! And thanks to today’s holiday, that sound can echo through your home all day long. It’s easy to celebrate too. Just grab your favorite funny books or find read alouds by your favorite authors and illustrators and settle in for a day of laughs. Or do a bit of both! And if you’re looking for a new book to add to your shelf, check into ordering today’s book for a fun trip around the country!

Travel Guide for Monsters

Written by Lori Degman | Illustrated by Dave Szalay

 

If you’ve ever wondered what it would be like to travel with monsters from coast to coast across America, then pack your bags and let’s get started! First stop is San Fransisco, California, where we hop a trolley for sightseeing. But maybe before we go on you should know: “While riding on a cable car, / Your monster should be cautious. / The ups and downs of Frisco hills / can make a monster nauseuous!” After taking in all the grandeur of the Bay Area, head down to Hollywood, where you and your monster can do some stargazing.

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Image copyright Dave Szalay, 2020, text copyright Lori Degman, 2020. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

Traveling east, you can visit the Grand Canyon in Arizona and  take a tour of Wyoming. While there… “You’re likely to get thirsty when you / hike up in the mountains. / Make sure to warn your monster / that those geysers are not fountains.” South Dakota and Mount Rushmore are next on the itinerary then it’s on to Chicago for some “face time” at the ballpark. In Nashville, Tennessee, your monster will love to kick up his (cowboy booted) heels to some down-home fiddle music.

A swing through the south just isn’t complete without enjoying Florida’s amusement parks or a wild adventure: “Down south among the everglades, / your monster should wear waders / when playing ‘Marco Polo’ / with the crocodiles and gators.” If your monster likes swimming, he’ll love the beaches in Massachusetts—just watch his choice of snacks!

While on the East Coast, don’t forget to visit our nation’s capital in Washington DC and New York State, where your monster can get a bird’s eye view from the crown of Lady Liberty and make a splash at Niagara Falls. And when you finally get back home, you may have just one lingering question about your trip: “How will you explain your monster’s crazy souvenirs?”

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Image copyright Dave Szalay, 2020, text copyright Lori Degman, 2020. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

Clever and funny, Lori Degman’s rhymed verses follow a high-interest itinerary across the country and will delight kids, who will very much wish they could join in the ultra-fun, little-bit-risky, and larger-than-life activities in each of the landmarks visited. These snapshots of America take in transportation, celebrity, grandeur, sports, music, and history and will spark an interest in learning more about each city and attraction.

Accompanying Degman’s story are Dave Szalay’s vivid depictions of each landmark, where some of the cutest—I mean most fearsome—monsters sightsee their way to hilarious result. Each image is framed with site-appropriate wallpaper, sporting a shield with the state’s name, a compass showing the state’s direction, and a little mode of transportation—from retro cars to trains to buses to airplanes. Szalay’s realistic portraits of each landmark will entice kids to look up the actual destination, and they’ll love picking out their favorite from among their whimsical travel buddies.

A laugh-out-loud and captivating travelogue for monster fans and monster fans of travel alike, Travel Guide for Monsters would be an often-asked-for addition to home, school, and public library bookshelves.

Ages 5 – 8

Sleeping Bear Press, 2020 | ISBN 978-1534110373

Discover more about Lori Degman on her website.

To learn more about Dave Szalay, his books, and his art, visit his website.

Meet Lori Degman

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Today, I’m monstrously exited to be talking with Lori Degman about her book, traveling, and her special musical talent! My blog partner Jakki’s two sons also get in on the fun with a few questions of their own!

Thanks so much for having me on your blog, Kathy!

Jack would like to know: How did you get the idea for travel guide for monsters? 

Hi Jack! I actually got the original idea from another Jack – Colin Jack, the illustrator of my first book, 1 Zany Zoo. About eight years ago, Colin asked me if I could write a picture book about teaching monsters manners when traveling on public transportation. I tried, but I just couldn’t come up with anything I liked. About a year later I tried again and, instead of focusing on the type of transportation, I focused on location. I wrote the first stanza, “When traveling with monsters on a trip across the nation/this guide will give you tips to have a marvelous vacation”, then followed the same rhyme scheme and wrote couplets about different locations around the country.                                                 

Steve asks: Did you travel to places in your book? 

Hi Steve! I didn’t travel to any of the places to research them, but I’ve been to most of them on vacations in the past. I would love to go to each of them and talk to kids about the book at each place – maybe one of these days!                            

Steve and Jack were wondering: We really like the monsters. Do you know how Dave Szalay came up with them? Do you have a favorite monster?

I love the monsters too! I don’t know how Dave came up with them, so I went straight to the source and here is Dave’s answer: “I looked at the word history of monsters, mythology, legends, and folktales.  I read about the characteristics of monsters throughout history and then invented each monster based on what I learned.” 

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Dave Szalay chats about his monsters with Jack and Steve from his studio.

Me again – It’s really hard to pick a favorite monster because they’re all so great!  But, probably the monster in the Everglades is my favorite.  I especially love his waders. 

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Image copyright Dave Szalay, 2020, text copyright Lori Degman, 2020. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

Hi Lori! Jack and Steve had some awesome questions, and I love your and Dave’s (thanks, Dave!) answers. I really enjoyed your clever rhymes and the monsters’ experiences. Could you take readers through a little bit of your process of writing this book?

Thanks so much, Kathy!  Once I established the rhyme scheme I was going to use and my plan to include different travel locations (as mentioned in question #1), I started listing places I’d been, like Mt. Rushmore, Statue of Liberty, Washington DC, and some places I’ve never been but want to visit in the future, like Niagara Falls and Cape Cod. Then I came up with ideas of some fun and silly things you’d tell your monster to do – or not to do – at these locations. Some of the locations went through several revisions with different tourist attractions. I think my hometown of Chicago had the most changes. First, I wrote about the elevated trains, then about the museums, and finally I wrote about Wrigley field – home of the Chicago Cubs. After writing the thirteen couplets, it was just a matter of getting the meter and rhyme just right.

You grew up and still live in Chicago. If you were going to take a trip, would you head north, south, east, or west? Why?

Within the United States, I’d like to take a road trip to all the states in the northeast. I’ve only spent time in New York City, Boston, and Washington DC, so I’d love to see all the other states up there. I’d probably go in the fall to see the changing leaves!

In your bio, you say that you love to write song parodies. How did you start doing them? Do you get to share these anywhere? Can you give readers a verse or two?

I wrote song parodies now and then, just for fun. But I started doing it a lot when I decided to write a musical for my long-time college friends and me. I wrote The Sound of MacMurray (our college) using the songs from The Sound of Music. Then I wrote a Christmas songbook for us, rewriting popular Christmas carols. When my friends and I turned 50, I wrote a song for each of them – and they wrote one for me. There are a lot of inside jokes in those songs, so I don’t think they’d be very funny to you. I did write a short song when my friend was diagnosed with Hashimoto Thyroiditis. It wasn’t serious or life threatening, otherwise I wouldn’t joke about it. But, when she told me the name of it, I knew I had to write a song about it! The song, Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious from Mary Poppins fit perfectly. Here’s the song:                                                                                      “Hashimoto Thyroiditis, that’s her diagnosis / just a goiter on her neck so it’s a good prognosis / if she takes her medicine, that’s all the risk it poses / Hashimoto Thyroiditis, that’s her diagnosis.”

Just from reading your extensive 2020 event schedule, it looks like you love to meet with your readers. What do you like best about meeting with fans of your books?

As I’m writing this, I’m in my house for the 10th day in a row because of the Coronavirus! Because of that, my bookstore and school visits will most likely be canceled, which makes me really sad. I’m going to try to reschedule them for next school year. I was a teacher for 32 years and I’ve always loved children, so school visits are so much fun for me! I love motivating kids to read and write and use their imaginations.                                                                                               

Did your family take trips when you were a child? Do you remember one that made a special impression? Would you like to share a memory from a trip with your own kids?

Growing up, I had two sisters and one brother and my mom raised us by herself. She had to work a lot and we didn’t have much money, so we didn’t go on many trips. Sometimes we’d drive to our aunt and uncle’s cottage on a lake or to the Wisconsin Dells. The one big trip we took, when I was 9, was a driving trip to Washington DC and then down to Nashville to visit our cousins. That was before they had seat belts, so my three siblings and I squeezed into the back seat of our car the whole way. That was before cars had air-conditioning too, which made it a really long, hot drive.

The most exciting trip we took with my own kids was to London, England. Luckily for me, I won a trip for two there, including airfare and hotel, so we only had to buy the airplane tickets for our kids! Speaking of winning trips – I’ve also won trips to San Francisco and Hawaii! I’m pretty lucky I guess.

Traveling is always fun, but staycations are fun too. What’s one of your favorite tourist attractions in Chicago? What’s a favorite not-so-well-known spot?

I love the Art Institute of Chicago! It’s so huge, there’s always something new to see when you go there.  Plus, they have special exhibits all the time. All of the Chicago museums are really cool!

A fun not-so-well-known thing to do in Chicago is take an architectural boat tour. There are a couple of companies that will take you down the Chicago River and a guide will tell the history of the different buildings and their architects. It’s fun – but make sure to do it on a warm day!

What’s up next for you?

I don’t have any picture books under contract right now but I have several manuscripts out on submission, so hopefully that will change soon. In the meantime, I’m enjoying writing, doing school visits (once they’re open again) and spending time with family and friends!

Thanks, Lori! It’s been so fun chatting with you! Kids will have a blast traveling vicariously with your and Dave’s monsters!

You can connect with Lori on Facebook | Instagram | Twitter

Reading is Funny Day Activity

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Pack Your Bags for Fun! Board Game

 

If you love to travel, you know the first thing you have to do is pack your suitcase. With this printable game you can stuff your bag full of everything you’ll need for an awesome trip!

Supplies

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Directions

  1. Print one game board and set of playing cards for each player
  2. Print one playing die
  3. Players can color their suitcase game board if they’d like
  4. Cut out individual game cards and give a set to each player
  5. Cut out and assemble playing die, taping edges together
  6. Choose a player to go first. Play continues to the right.
  7. Players roll the die to place items on their backpack
  8. The first player to get all six items is the winner

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You can find Travel Guide for Monsters at these booksellers

Anderson’s Bookshop | Barbara’s Bookstore | Between the Lynes | Booked | The Book Stall | Amazon | IndieBound 

Picture Book Review

 

February 6 – It’s Children’s Authors and Illustrators Week and Interview with Author Sally Nicholls

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About the Holiday

If you’re a fan of children’s authors and illustrators, then this week is one you’ll want to celebrate. All week long, authors and illustrators visit bookstores, schools, and other venues to share their love of children’s literature and get kids and adults excited about reading and writing. Some of these events include storytelling, writing workshops, readings, and presentations. To find out more about the Children’s Authors Network and discover classroom resources to use throughout the year, visit the Children’s Authors Network website.

The Button Book

Written by Sally Nicholls | Illustrated by Bethan Woollvin

 

A squirrel comes across a red button on the forest floor. He nudges it with a stick and then gives it a good press just to see what will happen. Ha! The button’s lid opens and a little horn rises on a pole. “Beep!” it says. A dog and a bird appear from behind a tree and a bush to find out what the noise is all about. Now the three of them find an orange button. The squirrel gives it a push. “It’s a clapping button! Everybody clap!”

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Image copyright Bethan Woollvin, 2020, text copyright Sally Nicholls, 2020. Courtesy of Tundra Books.

When the dog, the bird, and the squirrel find a blue button in the forest, they wonder how they’ll ever press it. This button is so big all three could stand on it and there would still be room. Luckily, an elephant is passing by. This blue button is “a singing button!” Two more animals wander by to listen to the trio sing. Down the road, the five friends find a green button that makes everyone giggle—well, almost everyone.

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Image copyright Bethan Woollvin, 2020, text copyright Sally Nicholls, 2020. Courtesy of Tundra Books.

But the yellow button is one everyone likes. “It’s a bouncing button!” Wow! Everyone’s bouncing and tumbling—right off the page. Time to settle down to some cuddles with the pink button. Ahhh. Maybe this would be a good time to stop pressing buttons. Well…there is a purple button right over there. Everyone’s a little unsure—should they press it or not?

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Image copyright Bethan Woollvin, 2020, text copyright Sally Nicholls, 2020. Courtesy of Tundra Books.

No! Stop! “Ha ha! Hee hee! That tickles! “Please, press the pink button, quick!” Oh no! Not the green button again! “Have you learned any manners yet?” Oh, good. This is more like it––the blue button! Yay! Let’s sing and play some instruments. The red button wants a little attention again too! Hey, look! There’s a new white button on the wall. What does that one do? Wait! It’s dark now. What are we supposed to…. Oh! “Goodnight, everyone.”

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Image copyright Bethan Woollvin, 2020, text copyright Sally Nicholls, 2020. Courtesy of Tundra Books.

Sally Nicholls’ fresh take on interactive picture books will have kids in stitches as they beep and clap, sing and dance, jump and hug, and do all the moves while eagerly wanting to see which button they get to press next. Nicholls’ prompts are irresistibly enticing and become funnier and more personal with every page turn. Her cyclical storyline gives readers the chance to revisit their favorite buttons while leading to the surprising, but just-right ending (or is it really the end?). Along with all of this fun, kids are also introduced to various colors, shapes, sizes and spatial relationships. There are plenty of opportunities for kids to count and talk about different types of buttons as well.

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Image copyright Bethan Woollvin, 2020, text copyright Sally Nicholls, 2020. Courtesy of Tundra Books.

Young readers will be enchanted with Bethan Woollvin’s curious, bubbly, talented, fun-loving kids…I mean…characters as they discover button after button on pages that mirror each button’s color. As if by magic, the squirrel, dog, bird, and other friends also change color as they press and respond to every button, inviting readers to follow along. While kids will egg on the animals to press all the other buttons, when they come to the white switch on the wall, children may very well let out a plaintive Noooooo…! But Woollvin has them covered here too. A little exploration of the nighttime bedroom will reward readers with a “Wake Up!” button so they can start all over again.

If you’re looking for a lively read aloud to spark interactive story times that will be asked for again and again, you’ll want to add The Button Book to your home, classroom, or public library collection.

Ages 3 – 7

Tundra Books, 2020 | ISBN 978-0735267152

Discover more about Sally Nicholls and her books on her website.

To learn more about Bethan Woollvin, her books, and her art, visit her website.

Meet Sally Nicholls

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I’m thrilled to have this chance to talk to Sally Nicholls today about her adorable and fun picture book, its journey, and what she’s looking forward to in sharing it with readers.

You burst into the book world with your debut middle grade novel Ways to Live Forever, which won the Waterstones Children’s Book Prize and was made into a movie in 2010. Since then you’ve published many more novels, including your latest middle-grade, A Chase in Time. The Button Book is your first picture book. What inspired you to write this story?

Reading to my baby! He loved books, but until he was about eighteen months, he didn’t like any that were just story. He wanted books he could interact with. I used to go to the library and look for anything with a button or a flap or touchy-feely bits. We read a lot of picture books, and I was fascinated by which ones worked and which ones didn’t – why exactly were Fox’s Socks and Where’s Spot? so successful but other books weren’t?

I decided I’d like to have a go at writing one myself. I know paper engineering and fur and so forth is expensive for publishers, and realistically that wasn’t my area of expertise anyway. So I set myself the challenge to write a book a baby would enjoy in the same interactive way, but only using words.

I love how active and funny The Button Book is! Kids are definitely going to be giggling, up on their feet, and playing along. It also has a wonderful cyclical storyline. How did you choose what the buttons do and infuse your story with so much reader interaction?

The Button Book is basically all the things my baby loved the most. If I wanted to make him laugh, I would pretty much just blow raspberries at him or tickle him or get him to clap. So that part was very easy.

The cyclical storyline came from watching programmes like The Teletubbies which really play on repetition. And also having my own baby who liked to say “Again!” Of course, the joy of The Button Book, which I hadn’t really realised until I read it with my second child, is that the child can have as much ‘again’ as they want just by pressing the button.

Bethan Woollvin’s adorable illustrations really invite camaraderie and play. What was your reaction to seeing her illustrations? Do you have a favorite spread and if so, what do you love about it?

I love Bethan’s work. My British publisher asked if I’d like to work with her and it was an instant yes. I’m not a very visual thinker, so I didn’t really have any expectations for how the book would look when it was illustrated. It’s been so exciting to see it take shape.

I think my favourite spread is probably the cover. It looks so colourful and inviting and unusual.

How has the experience of publishing a picture book differed from publishing your novels? Was there any part of the process that surprised you?

How long it took! I was sent finished artwork about eighteen months before the book was published. Printing picture books is so expensive that publishers need to get as many co-editions as possible to reduce the cost. So there’s a very long lead time.

What’s the best part about being an author for children? What are you most looking forward to as you promote The Button Book and share it with readers?

Books matter so much to young children. I’ve seen how much they matter to my family, and one of the most joyful things about The Button Book is how much my second baby loves it. (My eldest likes it too, but he’s a bit old for it now. Also, my baby has no idea that his mum wrote the book, which makes his love even more special.) So that, and also hearing from readers who have been touched by my books in particular ways, perhaps if the storyline resonates with them, or helps them through a difficult time, or just helps them learn to read!

Do you have any anecdote from a book event that you’d like to share?

I took The Button Book in to share with my eldest son’s class, and I got the children to help me make up a story. It was Halloween, so the children said they wanted a story about a vampire who likes flowers. One little boy objected (I think because he wanted his own idea to be picked) which my son took as a misogynistic slight. “Boys can like flowers!” he told him. I felt very proud.

What’s up next for you?

I’m currently finishing off a YA novel about a teen mother whose baby is being raised as her youngest brother. It’s a romance and a family story, and it’s set in a Yorkshire village in Christmas 1919, so there’s a ball, and a young man in an army greatcoat, and lots of chilblains. I don’t know if that’s going to find an American publisher though.

My next picture book is called Who Makes a Forest? It’s an ecological story about the power of small things to come together to make great changes.

What is your favorite holiday? Why is it your favorite?

This sounds weird, but I love the dead days between Christmas and New Year. All the stress of Christmas is over, everyone is off work and school, families are together, and it’s understood that your job is just to snuggle up by the fire and eat leftover turkey and Christmas cake and mince pies.

Thanks, Sally! It’s been wonderful chatting with you! I wish you all the best with The Button Book and all of your books and am looking forward to seeing Who Makes a Forest? when it’s released.

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You can find The Button Book at these booksellers

Amazon |Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

 

March 14 – Moth-er Day and Interview with Author Karlin Gray

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About the Holiday

Did you know that some moths are even more beautiful than butterflies? It’s true! Adorned in vibrant oranges, greens, blues, and reds and with patterns more intricate than the finest fabrics, moths are some of nature’s loveliest creatures. With spring right around the corner, moths will once again be emerging in woods, fields, and gardens, so today take a little time to celebrate these often overlooked insects and learn more about them and their habitats.

Sleeping Bear Press sent me a copy of An Extraordinary Ordinary Moth to check out. All opinions are my own. 

An Extraordinary Ordinary Moth

Written by Karlin Gray | Illustrated by Steliyana Doneva

 

As a grayish-brown moth flits among the leaves framed by the full moon, he says, “I’m an ordinary moth, / as you can plainly see. / A dusty, grayish, dull insect— / nothing-special me.”  He compares himself to the Luna Moth “who floats in graceful green” and to the Spider Moth who’s “so cool at Halloween!” He’s nothing like the Hummingbird Moth who mimics its namesake bird, and he can’t hide like the Wood Nymph Moth that looks like “birdy dung.” He’s much smaller than the Atlas Moth and not as pretty as a butterfly. While all of these are special—extraordinary even—this little guy thinks he is just “a dusty, grayish moth— / very ordinary.”

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Image copyright Steliyana Doneva, 2018, text copyright Karlin Gray, 2018. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

But then a little boy runs through the yard shouting “‘A moth! A moth!’” The moth freezes against a wall, afraid and unsure and hoping to hide. But when the moth sees the excitement in the boy’s eyes, he moves “toward his joyful light.” He lands in the boy’s hands, uncertain still if he’ll be shooed away. And sure enough, the boy’s sister screams, “‘Ew, a bug!’” When she knocks her brother’s hand away, the moth flies off.

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Image copyright Steliyana Doneva, 2018, text copyright Karlin Gray, 2018. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

The moth hears the boy tell his sister, “‘Hey, it’s an insect—not a bug— / and my favorite kind!’” then he sees the boy trailing him “all through the yard. / with her two steps behind.” She thinks the moth is nothing special, but her brother disagrees. And as the moth alights on his finger, he shows her why. What looks like dust are really “‘scales that keep him warm at night. / And they flake off in a web so he escapes all right.’”

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-an-extraordinary-ordinary-moth-web

Image copyright Steliyana Doneva, 2018, text copyright Karlin Gray, 2018. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

The little girl’s a bit more interested but thinks his color is “kind of blah.” The boy explains that the moth is the color of tree bark and can camouflage himself during the day while he sleeps. Then at night he’s ready to fly, guided by moonlight and the scents he smells through his antennae. Now the little girl thinks the moth is pretty cool. She calls their mom to come and see, and when Mom wants to know what bug they found, “the girl says, ‘Mom—a moth’s an insect, / and out favorite kind!’”

Hearing that, the moth soars in the moonlight with a new self image—“So how ‘bout THAT?! / I’m someone’s FAVORITE! / Little grayish me— / proof of how / EXTRAORDINARY / ordinary can be.”

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-an-extraordinary-ordinary-moth-mom

Image copyright Steliyana Doneva, 2018, text copyright Karlin Gray, 2018. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

Ten Extraordinary Facts about Moths, as well as an activity for constructing a moth observation box follow the text.

Through her vivacious rhymes, Karlin Gray elevates the “ordinary” back-porch moth to star status with fascinating facts that will lure kids to discover more. The conversational verses echo a sweet sibling relationship while the moth, overhearing them, begins to appreciate himself. The bookending of the children’s story with the moth’s thoughts—first comparing himself to other moths and later realizing his own merits—will encourage readers to think about the nature of nature and about the importance of positive interactions with others. Told from the moth’s point of view, the story also has a deeper meaning, reminding readers that, like this moth, people also have special talents  that make them exceptional. Taking extra time to really learn about another’s unique qualities and to get to know them is exciting and has benefits for all.  

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Image copyright Steliyana Doneva, 2018, text copyright Karlin Gray, 2018. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

Steliyana Doneva’s gorgeous illustrations of moths and butterflies will dazzle insect-loving kids and convert the more squeamish. Doneva captures each delicate marking and texture of the little grayish moth as it flits in the light and camouflages itself on the wall and tree. The moth is also well spotlighted against Doneva’s vibrant backyard oasis where the little boy and his sister discover him. Nighttime scenes sparkle with starlight, and the full moon brings out the rich blues of an evening sky. The boy’s enthusiasm for moths and nature is infectious and will captivate young readers, enticing them to look closer at the world around them.

An Extraordinary Ordinary Moth is a beautiful, eye-opening book that would spur further discovery for nature and science lovers at home and in science or STEM classrooms.

Ages 4 – 8

Sleeping Bear Press, 2018 | ISBN 978-1-58536-372-8

Discover more about Karlin Gray and her books on her website.

View a portfolio of work by Steliyana Doneva and learn more about her on her website.

Download and have fun with these An Extraordinary Ordinary Moth Activity Sheets!

An Extraordinary Ordinary Moth Matching | An Extraordinary Ordinary Moth Fill in the Blank

Moth-er Day Activity

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Beautiful Moths Game

 

Moths go through many stages of metamorphosis—from egg to caterpillar to cocoon— before they finally emerge as a moth. In this game, help six moths emerge from their cocoons to win!

Supplies

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Directions

  1. Print a Tree Branch Game Board and set of Moth Cards for each player
  2. Print one Moth Playing Die
  3. Choose a player to go first
  4. The first player rolls the die and places the matching moth card on one of the cocoons on the Tree Branch Game Board
  5. Play then moves to the player on the left
  6. Players continue to roll the die and place moths on each cocoon
  7. If a player rolls a moth that they already have placed on their game board, they pass the die to the next player and wait for their next turn.
  8. The player who fills their Tree Branch with moths first is the winner

Meet Karlin Gray

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Today I’m excited to talk with Karlin Gray about how moths became extraordinary in her eyes, what types of characters she’s drawn to, and what might be the best holiday in the world

Did you like to write as a child? How did you get started writing books for children?

Yes, I did like to write as a child. When I was little, I would retell stories like Alice in Wonderland, changing the names and some details. Someone must have explained ‘plagiarism’ to me and, eventually, I learned to write my own stories.

I started writing picture books when my son was a toddler (about seven years ago). I joined a local writing center where I workshopped all three of my contracted books, including AN EXTRAORDINARY ORDINARY MOTH.

Before you began working in the publishing field and writing for children, you worked for newspapers. Can you talk a little about that experience? What did you like most about it? Has it influenced your work for children?

After college, my first two jobs were graphic design positions at weekly newspapers in Northern Virginia and D.C. I loved learning about the publishing process—how words and images were selected, designed, printed, and distributed. It’s a fast-paced, exhausting business. But those jobs taught me to work on a deadline which helps me as a children’s book writer, for sure!

What inspired you to write about moths?

My son. When he was three, he announced that the moth was his favorite insect. I imagined that moth was having a bad day—comparing himself to “cooler” moths like the Luna moth or Spider moth—and then overheard my son’s statement. It’s a nice reminder that sometimes it takes just one kind comment to improve someone’s day.

What do you think makes the “ordinary” extraordinary?

Perspective. My son saw something special in a creature that I never really considered. But his interest piqued my interest, so I did some research. That led me to learning several amazing things about moths. Now, instead of shooing them away, I celebrate moths in An Extraordinary Ordinary Moth.

What was your process in writing An Extraordinary Ordinary Moth?

Once the first line popped into my head—“I’m an ordinary moth, as you can plainly see…”—the story was set in rhyme. Usually, I research then write a story. But here, I did my research as I wrote the manuscript. The first draft took a couple days and was MESSY. I workshopped the manuscript on and off for two years, tightening the story, rhyme, and meter. I eliminated a whole stanza where the ordinary moth compares itself to other moths like the poodle moth. Trust me, it wasn’t easy cutting out the poodle moth! But, like they say, sometimes you have to kill your darlings.

Do you have a favorite place to write? If so, can you describe it a little? Do you have a favorite thing on your desk or in your writing space?

In my house I have an office but I don’t do much writing there. I usually move from the dining table to the kitchen table to the outside table when it’s warm.

In an earlier interview, you mentioned that you had “stories about presidents, magicians, explorers, athletes, mermaids, monsters, scarecrows, cats, mice, and one sad moth” in your desk drawer. What types of characters—or personalities—attract your creative interest? Do you have a preference for nonfiction? If so, why?

Oh yeah, I guess I’ll have to change that since the “sad moth” is out of the drawer and on the cover of a book. I’m a sucker for characters whose “flaws” are really their strengths, and I love a good finding-your-tribe story. Both nonfiction and fiction stories appeal to me but I enjoy the challenge of taking a true story and translating it into a picture book—selecting a character and timeframe, finding dialogue and active details, setting the tone and style, and staying true to the facts as well as the heart of the story.

In your website biography you have links to “things you like.” These are amazing and range from The American Mural Project to Storyline Online to the Landfill Harmonic. Can you talk about what draws you to these types of projects? Why do you think they are important not only for those directly involved in them, but for all kids—and adults?

Those two projects have a lot of heart. I met Ellen—she is a tiny person who has a big personality and a HUGE dream. The fact that one person had a goal to make the biggest indoor art installation is worthy of a book right there! And the Landfill Harmonic group—kids making music with trash!—was made into a book, Ada’s Violin by Susan Hood. I think both of those stories appeal to kids because it shows them that there are no limitations in art.

What’s the best part about writing for kids?

So many things…but probably the best is when kids tell me that they want to be a writer when they grow up. My response is always: “If I could do it, you can do it.”

You share your books at school and bookstore events. Do you have any anecdote from an event you’d like to share?

Twice a month I volunteer at a nearby school where I read books selected by the teacher. When I read my first book NADIA to the kids, the first graders had a hard time believing that I was the author. They knew me as someone who visited every other week and read a book from their shelves. They didn’t know me as a writer so that was a fun surprise for them.

What’s up next for you?

My next picture book is a biography of Serena Williams—SERENA: THE LITTLEST SISTER—and will be published in early 2019.

What is your favorite holiday and why?

Probably New Year’s Eve. We can see the town fireworks from our back deck so we invite a few families over for a casual get-together. It’s a nice way to end the year and the kids love staying up past midnight.

And, until your email, I didn’t know there was a Moth-er Day. (Not to be confused with Mother’s Day.) Very cool. The moth is also celebrated during National Moth Week in July: http://nationalmothweek.org

Do you have any anecdote from a holiday that you’d like to share?

When I was 10-14 years old, I lived in Japan because my dad worked with the military. I remember feeling sorry for Japanese kids because they didn’t celebrate holidays like Christmas or Halloween. But once I discovered that they had an even better holiday—Children’s Day!!—then I just felt sorry for myself.

Thanks so much for this great chat, Karlin! I wish you all the best with An Extraordinary Ordinary Moth and all of your books!

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You can find An Extraordinary Ordinary Moth at these booksellers:

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million | IndieBound | Sleeping Bear Press

You can connect with Karlin Gray on

Facebook | Pinterest | Twitter

Picture Book Review

November 1 – National Author’s Day & Interview with Author Linda Booth Sweeney

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About the Holiday

There may be no better month to celebrate Author’s Day than in November. Not only is it Picture Book Month, but thousands of people set aside their usual routine to take part in NaNoWriMo or National Novel Writing Month, when writers try to complete at least a first draft of a novel in one month. To kick off all of this literary love today, we remember and honor American authors past and present. The holiday was instituted in 1928 by Nellie Verne Burt McPherson, president of the Bement, Illinois Women’s Club. An avid reader, she established Author’s Day to thank writer Irving Bacheller who sent her an autographed story in response to her fan letter. The day was officially recognized in 1949 by the United States Department of Commerce. McPherson’s granddaughter, Sue Cole, has promoted the holiday since her Nellie’s death in 1968 and encourages people to spend a bit of the day writing a note of appreciation to their favorite author.

When the Snow Falls

Written by Linda Booth Sweeney | Illustrated by Jana Christy

 

A little curly-haired girl and her younger brother wake up from a sleepover with Grandma to a magical sight. As they gaze out the big picture window in the little girl’s room, they’re dazzled to see “When the snow falls…Frost paints. / Skies gray. / Windows sparkle/ Snow? Yay!” There’s no school today, so Mommy and Daddy and Grandma bundle up and get the kids ready to head outdoors to take care of the farm animals.

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Image copyright Jana Christy, 2017, text copyright Linda Booth Sweeney, 2017. Courtesy of G. P. Putnam’s Sons for Young Readers.

Soft flakes flutter down, piling into deep drifts and providing a little extra after-breakfast treat as “Boot sink. / Lashes flick. / Tongues tickle. / We lick.” In the barn the horses, puppies, and chickens are just as excited about the snowy day. Riding an old chair sled, Grandma and her grandchildren glide down the hill, following tracks left by lively rabbits and now-dozing foxes.

Deep in the forest the three take in the beauty: “Woods hush. / Fields glisten. / Wren sings. / We listen.” On the other side of the woods, people continue their daily routine but at a slower pace as “plows push” and “mountains grow.” Grandma and the kids slide into town, where people are hard at work keeping up with the storm: “Wheels crunch. / Shovels scoop. / Ice cracks! / Awnings droop.”

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Image copyright Jana Christy, 2017, text copyright Linda Booth Sweeney, 2017. Courtesy of G. P. Putnam’s Sons for Young Readers.

The trio has reached Grandma and Grandpa’s house. They all grab shovels and help clear the walk. Now it’s Grandpa’s turn to have some fun. He takes his granddaughter by the hand, seats her little brother on a sled, and walk to the park. There, kids are making snowmen, building snow forts, and zipping down hills on their snow saucers. At the bottom of the hill everyone plops into the fluff and make snow angels.

It’s been an exhilarating, adventurous day, but twilight is on the horizon and now “toes tingle. / Lips quiver. / Cheeks glow. / We shiver.” As grandma calls from her front porch, the little girl and Grandpa, carrying his grandson, race toward home amid the swirling snowflakes. Inside, the light, warmth, and cozy comforts of warm soup, popcorn, and a crackling fire await. Later, the two kids enjoy quiet time with Grandma and Grandpa when “Cocoa warms. / Mittens puddle. / Day dawdles. / We cuddle.”

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Image copyright Jana Christy, 2017, text copyright Linda Booth Sweeney, 2017. Courtesy of G. P. Putnam’s Sons for Young Readers.

With her brilliantly expressive staccato sentences—each only two words long—Linda Booth Sweeney evokes the sights, sounds, and joy of a care-free, snowy day. Each four-line, rhyming verse abounds with melodic verbs that spark readers’ imaginations and concrete nouns that in many places form delightful alliterative pairs that softly trip off the tongue. Readers will love the story line that takes them from a rustic farmhouse to Grandma and Grandpa’s cozy home through woods, over hills, past the highway, and into downtown all with the help of an old-style sled. Several verses full of snow day fun play out like a long afternoon spent with friends, leading naturally into the slower pace and loving comfort of the night spent with Grandma and Grandpa.

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Image copyright Jana Christy, 2017, text copyright Linda Booth Sweeney, 2017. Courtesy of G. P. Putnam’s Sons for Young Readers.

In glorious two-page spreads, the wind-swept snow swirls, spatters, and blankets the world in downy white fluff. Jana Christy takes children into the family’s large farmhouse kitchen where a blackboard announces Grandma’s Sunday sleepover as well as Monday’s snow day in place of the crossed-out piano lesson. The family steps out into the sparkling countryside where purple mountains form a backdrop for the barn and sheep pen. As Grandma and the kids start their journey, the forest, a quiet enclave of teal and greens, welcomes them. By the time they reach town, cars are stuck in snowdrifts, snow shovels scrape against the sidewalk, and kids are heading to the park.

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Image copyright Jana Christy, 2017. Courtesy of G. P. Putnam’s Sons for Young Readers.

The thrill of playing in the snow is palpable as saucers zoom down hills, hats fly off, and hair blows in the wind. The final spreads of Grandma and Grandpa’s tidy home glow with love and laughter as the kids pull off their snow gear, their dog shakes off the snow, and they settle on the couch for cocoa and cuddles. The busy townspeople, happy playmates, and close-knit mixed-race family make When the Snow Falls a cheerful celebration of diversity.

When the Snow Falls is a joyous book to add to winter collections and would be often asked for during home, classroom, and library story times.

Ages 3 – 7

G. P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers, 2017 | ISBN 978-0399547201

Discover more about Linda Booth Sweeney, her books and her systems work, visit her website.

To learn more about Jana Christy, her art, and her books, visit her website.

National Author’s Day Activity

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Snow Buddies

Even when there’s no snow, you can make yourself a snow buddy with this fun and easy craft!

Supplies

  • White dress ankle socks
  • Polyester Fiber Fill
  • Tiny buttons
  • Fleece or ribbon, enough for a little scarf
  • Toothpicks
  • Twigs
  • Orange craft paint
  • Cardboard
  • White rubber bands, one or two depending on the size of the snowman
  • Fabric or craft glue
  • Small hair band (optional)

Directions

To Make the Snowman

  1. Cut a circle from the cardboard about 2 inches in diameter for the base
  2. Place the cardboard circle in the bottom of the sock
  3. Fill the sock with fiber fill about ¾ full or to where the ribbed ankle cuff begins. Pack tightly while making a sausage shape. You can make your snowman different shapes with the amount of fill you use.
  4. Stretch out the cuff of the sock and tie it off near the top of the fill either with a loop knot or with the hairband.
  5. Fold the cuff down around the top of the filled sock to make the hat.
  6. Wrap a rubber band around the middle of the sock to make a two-snowball snowman. For a three-snowball snowman, use two rubber bands. Adjust the rubber bands to make the “snowballs” different sizes.

To Make the Scarf

  1. Cut a strip of fleece or ribbon 8 to 10 inches long by ½ inch wide
  2. Tie the fleece or ribbon around the neck of the snowman
  3. To Make the Nose
  4. Dip one end of the toothpick into orange paint, let dry
  5. Cut the toothpick in half
  6. Stick the toothpick into the head or top portion of the snowman

To Make the Arms

  1. Insert small twigs into each side of the body of the snowman
  2. You can also use wire or cardboard to make the arms
  3. Attach two mini-buttons to the face for eyes with the fabric or craft glue
  4. Display your Snow Buddy

Interview with Linda Booth Sweeney

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As the weather turns cooler, I’m happy to talk with Linda Booth Sweeney about the event that inspired her first book for children, a favorite wintertime activity, and how we can learn to see and benefit from systems.

How did you get started writing for children?

It seems like I’ve always been writing though it has taken me a long time to call myself a writer. During our last move, I discovered an old cardboard box from my parents’ attic.  After moving it literally for years, I finally opened it this summer. Inside there must have been 15 diaries and journals. When I looked at the dates, I realized that I started writing in those when I was about twelve and I really haven’t stopped. 

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I actually remember the exact day I began writing for children! Jack, my oldest son (now 19), was three. I was pushing him around Cambridge in one of those $20 pop-up strollers. We were a good fifteen minutes from home when a gale force wind blew in. The little canopy on this stroller snapped off and I remember feeling like the stroller lifted up off the ground. This was before cell phones so there was no calling for a ride. I put my head down and ran for home. Well, Jack loved that, and the wind blowing! He was bouncing up and down, pointing to everything he saw: signs rattling, balls rolling, hats flying.

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Image copyright Jana Christy, 2017, text copyright Linda Booth Sweeney, 2017. Courtesy of G. P. Putnam’s Sons for Young Readers.

During his nap that afternoon, I flopped down at my desk, grateful we made it home in one piece. Jack’s excitement was contagious and his words were swimming around my head so I wrote them down. That was the beginning of my first children’s book, When the Wind Blows.

Using short, two-word phrases, your picture books are so evocative of actions outdoors and indoors as well as internal emotions. Can you describe your writing process?

I was mimicking the voice of a three-year old so the two words. Balls roll. Object and action. Noun and verb. It just made sense. In my other books like the one I’m working on now about the sculptor of the Lincoln Memorial, I am writing for older readers (ages 7-12). My sentences are longer. The book is inspired by big themes like being true to oneself, equality, social justice, and love for country so I find myself writing punchy sentences in the scenes and more lyrically the bridges, or the transitions, between scenes.

Do you remember your favorite picture book when you were a child?

As a little kid, I always loved Dr. Seuss books. My imagination was going full tilt as a kid. Dr. Seuss made me feel like the other worlds I created were not just okay but to be celebrated! As a nine-year-old, I devoured Encyclopedia Brown and anything by James Herriot.

Your first book for children, When the Wind Blows, takes readers on a jaunt through town on a blustery day. When the Snow Falls is a joyful romp through a winter day. What is it about weather that inspires you and your writing?

It’s the immediacy that weather brings. When the rain is pouring down or the snow is falling, that grabs my attention. Of course my attention is also on how to keep my fingers warm or my feet dry. But I can’t think of much else. I love that. I have to be in the moment. My favorite poet, Mary Oliver, captures this idea well in her “Instructions for living a life:
Pay attention.
Be astonished.
Tell about it.”

If you’re outside stomping in puddles or making snow angels, who needs to be on a phone? There’s a lot of research coming out that equates nature to a “vitamin” we all need. Richard Louv, the author of Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder, says it well: “Just as children need good nutrition and adequate sleep, they may very well need contact with nature.” 

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-linda-booth-sweeney

You mentioned in one of your blog posts that When the Snow Falls first took shape during “found time” during the winter of 2015 with its four nearly back-to-back snow storms. Do you have any advice for recognizing and taking advantage of found time not only for writers, but for anyone?

I think the biggest opportunity to enjoy found time comes when we’re willing to put down technology. Sure the photos we can take on our iPhone may be lovely but what if sometimes we are just there, fully present, open and even willing to be a little bored.  Maybe then we can be dazzled by the red Cardinal that lands on the white snowman or the hush that creeps in when no can one drive.

What is your favorite wintertime activity?

I love looking for snow art and especially love seeing it through the eyes of little ones. I’m always amazed by the “art” that forms during snow storms – polka-dotted fields, top hats on fence caps, intricate patterns on round porch tables, delicate animal tracks that look like instructions for some kind of dance move. 

And then of course there is cross country skiing with my family and my crazy friends.

Your other work involves Systems Thinking. Can you describe systems thinking and talk about your systems thinking work with children and schools?

Sure. Like a spider’s web, what happens on one part of the web affects every other part. The same is true of living systems. A pond, our family, our school, a city, the climate—these are all systems. They have two or more parts that interact over time. What’s really interesting is that these different kinds of systems share some similarities, and they can act in surprisingly similar ways. (You can learn more about my systems work here).

How does considering systems thinking and living systems benefit children and their education?

Systems thinking, or “Thinking about systems,” means paying attention to the interrelationships and patterns that surround us. My experience, and that of systems educators around the globe, shows that children are naturally attuned to this. They can read If You Give a Mouse a Cookie by Laura Numeroff and then recognize that same closed loop of cause and effect in their everyday lives.  

A few years back I wrote When a Butterfly SneezesA Guide for Helping Kids Explore Connections in our World as a resource for anyone who wants to help children think about interconnections in our world. Each chapter focuses on a favorite children’s picture book—like If You Give a Mouse a Cookie and The Sneetches by Dr. Seuss—and shows how to use the story to engage children in systems thinking. I just finished updating that book and the new version should be up and ready by next week!

To answer your question about how systems thinking benefits children, learning about systems, and about living systems in particular, can help children to make better decisions and avoid unintended consequences. It can also help them to develop a more compassionate and sustainable sensibility about what is beautiful and what is essential.

I always come back to the Joseph Campbell quote—“People who don’t have a concept of the whole, can do very unfortunate things.…”—and flip it: People—and especially children—who have a concept of the whole can do very fortunate things. If we encourage young people to look for the “whole” and not just focus on the parts, they will be geared toward seeing connections and will not see things in isolation. So much in our culture forces us into compartments. But just as we teach kids not to be victims of advertising, we can teach them to see beyond the obvious, to see the systems all around us.  

What’s up next for you? 

My next children’s book is a richly illustrated biography about Daniel Chester French, the sculptor of the Lincoln Memorial.  I am thrilled to be working with Shawn Fields a representational artist on this book.  The working title of the book is Monument Man, and that subject is very much a part of our public conversation at this point in our history. 

Thanks, Linda! Your books inspire us to look closure and pay attention to the moment, and I wish you all the best with them!

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-when-the-snow-falls-cover

You can connect with Linda Booth Sweeney on:

Her Website | Twitter | Facebook | Linked in

You can find When the Snow Falls with these booksellers:

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million | IndieBound | Penguin Random House

Picture Book Review