Book Reviews, Uncategorized

Neurodiversity in Children’s Picture Books

Yes, I know Autism Awareness Month is April – not August. But they both begin with the letter ‘A’. And autism is a lifelong condition. It does not go away when spring ends and summer begins. It does not go away when a child grows up and turns 18. Approximately 1 in 59 children has been diagnosed with some form of autism spectrum disorder, according to the CDC.
I am neuro-diverse. I recall the day I stumbled on the website nldline.com while helping a library patron search for books on learning disabilities for math rather than language. My eyes opened wide. There were people with the same issues as me! What joy!
My own neurologically atypical existence was complicated by the fact that I am an immigrant. By the time I was ten, I had lived on three continents, and spoke three languages. That could be why my issues and challenges were not taken seriously and sometimes attributed to cultural difference.
When I was growing up in the 1960s, little was known about neurodiversity. I had difficulty in group conversations, so I tended to stay to myself – and came to believe I was shy. (I’m not). Even as an adult, group conversations still pose a problem. I don’t read body language well so I don’t know when it’s ok to speak – so I either stay quiet or interrupt.
I was told I was immature and would grow up eventually, or that I was lazy and not trying hard enough. Now I know that I have slow processing speed, and that is why everything takes longer.
Yet no matter how hard I tried, I kept failing at certain things. I never learned to ride a bike, or to throw and catch a ball. We tell our kids, “You can do anything if you try.” But this is not true. Not only will I never be a brain surgeon – I’ll never be a ballerina because I have dyspraxia. I’m a klutz.
We’re all different – and that makes for an interesting world. No matter which spectrum we belong to, everyone has strengths, and everyone has challenges. All humans are equal. All have dignity.
I have gathered some recently published books that feature neurologically diverse characters. Most are fiction. The last two are nonfiction biographies About Temple Grandin, a neuro-diverse woman whose contributions to science and inventions resulted in groundbreaking improvements for farms worldwide.


A Friend for Henry

by Jenn Bailey, ill by Mika Song. Chronicle Books 2019. 32 p. ; 535 words.
2020 Schneider Family Honor Book.
In this story about searching for a friend in a new classroom that is too loud and too close, Henry’s analytical, literal personality comes through. A touching story that will appeal to anyone looking for friendship but especially to those with neurological differences.


How to Babysit a Logan

by Callie Metler-Smith, ill by Cindy Vattathil. Clear Fork Publishing 2019. 32 p; 407 words.
What a great message about how a pet can be a best friend. Such a wonderful bond between the cat and the boy! Shows we all need and can give support. Beautiful illustrations and a great story for all kids! The cat, Thunderbolt, explains how he spends his time making sure Logan is safe and loved. A beautiful bond between a pet and an autistic boy. encourages discussion and understanding about what life is like with autism. informational in such an easy, conversational tone

This Beach Is Loud

by Samantha Cotterill (au/ill), Dial Books, 2019. 32 p.; 318 words.
Even fun things can feel overwhelming. For all children – but especially children on the spectrum – new things and things with sensory overload can be overwhelming. This book does an excellent job of portraying this feeling, and the tension is resolved joyfully at the end. This book also shows the use of calming activities like breathing and counting. As a word nerd rather than a picture person I found some of the circular text that goes off the page very difficult to read.

Too Sticky! Sensory Issues with Autism

by Jen Malia ill by Joanne Lew Vriethoff. Albert Whitman, April 1, 2020. 32 p.; 1,005 words.

The own-voices book portrays sensory issues and Holly’s struggle well. We see the MCs feelings and the support she gets from her family. The slime science experiment relates to STEM concepts. It shows empathy. However, I thought for a picture book at over 1,000 words it was a bit too long. Also, the child-protagonist is constantly prodded by adults and does not solve her own problem.

Noah Chases the Wind

by Michelle Worthington ill by Joseph Cowman. Redleaf Lane (an imprint of Redleaf Press), 2015. 32 pages; 449 words.
Winner of the silver medal in the Moonbeam Children’s Books Award in the Picture Book 4–8-year-old category from Independent Publisher ; Winner of the Gelett Burgess Children’s Book Award
The first two lines say it all: “Noah knew he was different. He could see things that others couldn’t.” The rest of the story shows the beauty of being different. This is a story for every child who feels different or sees the world through a different lens – not just those on the spectrum or with sensory integration disorder. This whimsical story also highlights Noah’s special interest in weather.

The boy who said nonsense

by Felicia Sanzari Chernesky ill by Nicola Anderson. Albert Whitman & Company, 2016. 32 pages; 862 words.
Celebrates diversity. Because Tate doesn’t communicate like other children, it takes time to recognize is special gift for math. Shows we’re all unique and need to be valued for our gifts in spite of challenges we may have.


Cy Makes a Friend

by Ann Marie Stephens ill by Tracy Subisak. Boyds Mills Press, 2019. 32 p.; 252 words.
A wonderful, fun read! Many children have trouble making friends because they are shy or different. This is a great book for everyone who feels vulnerable and is afraid to reach out to make friends.

Benji, the Bad Day and Me

by Sally J. Pla, Ill by Ken Min. Lee & Low Books, 2018. 32 p.
Everyone has a bad day occasionally. This story reminds me of the classic Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day. But here, the main character Sammy’s brother Benji, who comforts him, is autistic. The book touches on the feelings not just of those who are neuro-diverse, but their siblings. The author notes, “It’s important to note that no two autistic kids are alike, and their needs and behaviors will always be different.”


Uniquely Wired

by Julia Cook, ill by Anita DuFalla. Boys Town Press, 2018, 32 p.
In this first-person narrated story, Zak, a boy who is autistic, shares his quirks, interests and view of life. However, the author fails to address uniqueness – because no two people on the spectrum are alike – and describes some autistic traits as gifts, confusing many readers. The author needs to learn more about the subject before attempting to write about it.

All My Stripes: A Story for Children with Autism

by Shaina Rudolph (Author), Danielle Royer (Author), Jennifer Zivoin (Illustrator). Magination Press, 2015. 40 p. Gold Medal, Mom’s Choice Awards
Zane the Zebra has many stripes! The book brings an important message about accepting our differences.
After a troubling day at school when his autistic qualities – sensory issues, inability to communicate with his classmates, wanting to do a project differently and not understanding figurative language – make him feel different, his Mom explains that only one of his stripes is autism. He has many other excellent stripes, like honesty, curiosity, caring, and navigation. Zane feels better about himself and comes to understand that all the stripes together make him who he is. There are many pages of helpful information in the backmatter.
The problems with the book are that some of the incidents would not really happen. No teacher would leave a kid behind during a fire drill, cowering under the desk until the firemen arrived.

A Manual for Marco: Living, Learning, and Laughing With an Autistic Sibling by Shaila Abdullah, ill by Iman Tejpar. Loving Healing Press, 2015. 36p.
This book is written from the point-of-view of an eight-year-old girl learning how to deal with her autistic brother Marco. Presented in a notebook format, she writes down the things her brother does. The reader sees the importance of acceptance and love.
Backmatter contains a list of of things to remember to make life with an autistic sibling easier. Also included are resources for more information about autism.

How to Build a Hug: Temple Grandin and Her Amazing Squeeze Machine by Amy Guglielmo , Jacqueline Tourville , and Giselle Potter et al. Atheneum Books for Young Readers , 2018 ; 48 p.
A wonderful story about overcoming obstacles, especially emotional and sensory ones.
A wonderful story about overcoming obstacles, especially emotional and sensory ones. The story begins with a problem and shows how Temple felt as a child, how she found her own unique and creative solution from experiencing the world around her. The backmatter author’s note shares more about Temple Grandin and her amazing scientific contributions as a pioneer in her field.

The Girl Who Thought in Pictures: the Story of Dr. Temple Grandin By Julia Finley Mosca Ill by:Daniel Rieley. The Innovation Press, 2017. 40 p.
Written in rhyme with beautiful illustrations, this account addresses Temple’s challenges and accomplishments. The story shows how being inclusive makes a positive impact on everyone. Backmatter includes a letter from Temple Grandin, interesting details from the author’s interviews, a timeline and a two-page prose biography.

Best in Show

Writing Is Mining- featuring Beth Anderson

Hello Everyone!

I hope this blog post finds you all having a great summer in our new normal. Today I am thrilled to have Beth Anderson as our featured guest. As you know, she is an accomplished writer focusing on narrative nonfiction and historical fiction picture books. Her quote “Writing is Mining” holds such truth. She describes writing in these genres as digging for those special memories, emotions, and meaning. Beth has wonderful strategies for showing in these areas.

TS: Beth, thank you so much for being our guest today and congratulations on your October release of “Smelly” Kelly and His Super Senses: How James Kelly’s Nose Saved the New York City SubwayWhether drafting or revising, how do you know when it is necessary to show action, scene and sensory elements?

BA: Thank you so much for inviting me to share some thoughts on the essential “show vs. tell.”

I believe in action wherever it makes sense – the more the better. Keeping the characters active keeps the reader turning pages. Actions reveal character so it’s a huge part of the emotional arc. But there also has to be the flow in and out, along with weaving in needed context. Constant action for the sake of action is exhausting! 

Scenes carry the emotional arc of the main character as well as the plot. They move the story forward, stepping-stones in the character’s transformation that build to the story’s end. If a scene doesn’t serve that purpose, then it needs to go or be revised to carry a piece of the emotional arc. Sometimes, even “internal” scenes can be active. Here’s an example from Lizzie Demands a Seat with the additional challenge of required context:

She eyed empty seats. Despite being born a “free black” in a “free state,” she’d never been treated as equal. She’d been rejected, restricted, and refused by schools, restaurants, and theaters. Suddenly late-for-church wasn’t as important as late-for-equality. Lizzie stood firm.

Passengers murmured.

Horses snorted.

Pedestrians gathered.

Finally, the driver held up the reins. “We need to go.”

Scenes play out best with action, and if you can use action to transition between scenes, do that, too. “Smelly” Kelly and His Super Senses, releasing Oct. 13, was a huge challenge regarding transitions between scenes. There was so little information on James Kelly’s days in the NYC subway, all I had were anecdotes with the potential to be priceless scenes. I had to find a way to organize them with a special “heart” thread and effectively transition between scenes to avoid an “episodic” feel. Here’s an example of an active transition that lets us pause with the character and progress to the next scene:

“Exhausted, he paused and peered through the crowd gathered at the movie poster. Even superheroes needed help.”

And here’s an example from An Inconvenient Alphabet where I used imagery to actively transition. Instead of saying that Noah Webster wanted to reform American English spelling, it became:

“Armed with the twenty-six letters of the English alphabet everyone knew and loved, Noah launched a spelling revolution—ready to turn “rong” spelling into “rite.””

Sensory elements enrich the reading experience by inviting readers into the moment, immersing them in the setting, and connecting readers to characters on multiple levels. As you will see in “Smelly” Kelly’s story, I use sensory elements liberally!

TS: Are there specific strategies, tools or resources you use to incorporate more    showing/descriptive language?

 

I use the online thesaurus a lot. If you can find just the right word, it can make an illustration note or other words unnecessary. For instance, recently I replaced “took” with “claimed.” It made a huge difference—adding attitude.

I can’t resist onomatopoeia. But besides sounds, I also ask myself – What would that look like? In “Smelly” Kelly, there are lots of stinks. Instead of trying to describe the stink in the New Yorker Hotel, it was more fun to show the reaction to the smell.

“Maids pinched their noses. Guests fled. Engineers analyzed and pondered, but they couldn’t figure out where the leak was coming from.”

I also try to “show” emotions, especially what cannot be shown easily by an illustrator. When Kelly realizes he’s not doing enough, I tried to show that feeling of inadequacy:

A broken steam line blasted water pipes.

Kelly shook his head. Someone could’ve been burned. Sniffing wasn’t enough. He needed to listen, to hear sounds no one else heard.

There’s some physical movement there, but mostly I take you inside Kelly’s head. And that’s another powerful way to achieve more showing. Many writers call it psychic distance. Once I learned about it, my writing changed and became more immediate. The example above doesn’t say “he thought” or “he scolded himself” or “he realized.” Cutting the “head verbs” eliminates that filter between the reader and the character. It’s like the difference between indirect speech (He told me to stop.) and direct speech (STOP!). If you go straight to the words or realization or thought, the reader feels it as the character, and it eliminates the “telling.”

TS: Would you like to share an example of a before and after where you needed to show  more and found the right words to paint the image for the reader?

BA: Sure! I looked back at an early version of “Smelly” Kelly and His Super Senses. Here’s one line that was very “telling”:

“He settled into an apartment and took a job with the subway.”

Because that involved an action (took a job in the subway) that set off the whole story, I needed to show motivation and the emotion behind that decision. It evolved into a scene with “showing” and delightful illustrations:

James set out to find a job, but, as always, his incredible nose proved troublesome.

Fish market—no!

Sanitation—no!

Meat packing—NO!

He felt a rumble below the sidewalk and peered through the grate. The damp air bristled with mystery.

TS: Writing is about balance. How do you know you’ve got it just right? What tips or suggestions do you have for writers in terms of striving for that balance of showing versus telling?

BA: Generally, I think showing appears in scenes and telling in transitions. Emotion and important action pieces require showing. That’s what keeps your story alive, where you want the reader to connect. Telling can speed up the narrative to get to the good stuff, but too much can bog it down. Showing and telling are intertwined with pacing, characterization, and point of view. It’s truly a complicated dance. When I researched to prepare a presentation on point of view and really examined how it works in a picture book, I found that the “camera” goes in and out—and that in and out is achieved with showing and telling, and also involves “proximity.” Just another reason to read and analyze LOTS of books!

TS: Wow, Beth! You have given so much to think about. Your knowledge and command over the elements are so strong and comes through your writing vividly. Thank you!

 

Beth Anderson, author of Lizzie Demands a Seat, An Inconvenient Alphabet, and “Smelly” Kelly and His Super Senses, is drawn to stories that open minds, touch hearts, and inspire questions. A former educator who has always marveled at the power of books, she hopes that voices from the past will help children discover their own. Beth has more historical gems on the way!

Learn more about Beth and her amazing books at:

Website: bethandersonwriter.com 

Pinterest, Twitter, Instagram: @Bandersonwriter

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/beth.anderson.33671748

signed copies of books available from Old Firehouse Books

Book Reviews

Book Review – The Bridge Home

Welcome back to our book review section. The book I’m reviewing this time is the middle-grade novel The Bridge Home by Padma Venkatraman. My hope is that this will be an interactive review, so if you have read The Bridge Home, please post your thoughts in the comments. If you know of a middle-grader who has read it, I would also love to hear their comments. Why? Well, I’m a bit on the fence with this one. Not in terms of how it is written; I think it’s fantastic. What I’m trying to determine is whether it would be a suitable gift for my cousin’s very sensitive 11-year-old daughter.

The Bridge Home is set in Chennai, India, and told in the form of a letter from 11-year-old Viji to her sister, Rukku. Initially, the letter details their time together on the streets of Chennai after running away from home to escape their abusive father. Life on the streets is hard but Viji and Rukku form a strong bond with two homeless boys and they work together to make ends meet. During this time Viji learns more about herself and Rukku, the older but more vulnerable sister. After Rukku dies, Viji’s letter becomes a way for her to come to terms with her life without Rukku in it.

During the writing of The Bridge Home, Venkatraman called on her own experiences as a child watching her mother work with less privileged children. As an adult, she visited schools in India where homeless children are offered support and assistance. She also drew on first-hand accounts and her own journal entries, and based the characters in her book on children she knew. Her experiences and research are evident on every page.

The overall topic is depressing and distressing, however, Venkatraman provides moments of levity: puppy antics, the eating of an orange, beadwork, the ocean. Publishers Weekly calls The Bridge Home “a poignant portrait of love, sacrifice, and chosen family in the midst of poverty”. I couldn’t have said it better.

If you have read The Bridge Home, please let me know your thoughts in the comments, particularly around its suitability for a sensitive 11-year-old. I’m looking forward to hearing what you have to say.

Pitch It to Me

~THE PITCH IT TO ME CHALLENGE~

Welcome back, everyone! It’s time again for another Pitch It to Me Challenge! Actually, it’s a few days past the time, but if you are like me and just finishing up remote learning with two young kids at home, then getting anything done at all is an accomplishment.

And speaking of accomplishments, let’s revisit the results of the last challenge where author Kaylynn Johnsen pitched her work against guest pitcher Nancy Churnin and me. This is the first challenge with a tie for first place AND the third-place pitch was only one vote behind. I will officially declare Kaylynn the winner since she now has three pitches that are all equally pleasing to our readers. Thank you to Kaylynn and Nancy for participating!

For this round, we have author Laura Roettiger pitching her STEM-loaded work-in-progress, MY SISTER THE SCIENTIST. I met Laura through 12×12, just like my WONDERful critique partners on this blog, and we’ve been supporting one another through the ups and downs of the publishing process ever since. I’m so excited to have her here!

Strolling on up to the plate as our guest star pitcher is our very own Tina Shepardson, who is about to dive onto the picture book scene with her debut, WALKOUT, later this summer. She also has a chapter book on the way that all dog lovers won’t want to miss. It’s sure to be a home run.

And now for the challenge! Take a look at the three pitches in the voting box. They are in no particular order so you’ll never know whose is whose (the author’s, mine, or our special guest-star pitcher). Vote for your favorite, and if you are so inclined, leave a comment, too. We love hearing from our readers!

You have until August 1, 2020, to cast your vote. Please vote only once, but feel free to tell your friends about us and get them in on the action.

 

About Laura:

Laura Roettiger is the author of ALIANA REACHES FOR THE MOON and has enjoyed working with children ever since she was no longer considered a child herself. She was a reading specialist and elementary teacher in Chicago, IL before moving to the Rocky Mountains of Colorado where she worked in Environmental Education and as a mentor for new teachers for two years at a STEM school. She is a judge for Rate Your Story, works with third grade classrooms through #KidsNeedMentors, tutors adults in the Boulder Reads Literacy program at the Boulder Public Library, and works with BookstoKids, a Colorado based literacy nonprofit. Her superpower is encouraging curiosity in children and her students, letting them know she believes in them. She has three children of her own whose curiosity and creativity led all of them into STEM related professions.

Find Laura at her website: https://lauraroettigerbooks.com/

Purchase ALIANA REACHES FOR THE MOON through your local indie bookstore OR:

Eifrig Publishing

Amazon

About Tina: 

Tina is an award-winning teacher and debut picture book author of WALKOUT(2019) and CANINES UNLEASHED(2021), both with Clear Fork Publishing. She is a Debut Picture Book Study Group moderator and an active member of SCBWI and 12×12. Find her in Upstate New York with her family enjoying the latest snowstorm.

Find Tina at: www.tinashepardson.comwww.instagram.com/hank_madeleine/, www.facebook.com/TinaMShepardson/, or twitter.com/ShepardsonTina

Pre-Order WALKOUT through your local indie bookstore
OR at:
CLOSING REMARKS:
Thank you to all our wonderful authors who continue to step up to the plate for these challenges. I couldn’t do it without you! (Literally. I really couldn’t.) Until next time . . .

 

 

 

 

Finding Creativity

Exploring Inspiration with Lindsay Leslie

Hi, Word Wonderers! Are your kids driving you bananas as we stay safe and stay home? Have they uttered the dreaded, whiney B-word? (Bored–ugh.) Send them outside with this gorgeous new picture book by Lindsay Leslie, DUSK EXPLORERS, out this past Tuesday. It’s an exciting adventure down memory lane for me and a lyrical manual on exploring and discovering how the familiar streets and yards change as night approaches. I’m eager to talk to Lindsay on how this story came to be and how she finds creativity in memories and the world around her. 

9781624148712_f23d4

Candice: Thanks for being here, Lindsay! Tell us about the inspiration for your story.

Lindsay: We’ve all heard folks in the children’s literature world say steer clear of rhyme unless you can do it really well. So, in 2016, I watched Julie Hedlund’s Verse Curse session as part of The Picture Book Summit to see what all the fuss was about. What I took away from the session was a fierce love of free verse–the lyricism and rhythm–rather than the rhyme. I’m not exactly sure what Julie said that sparked my idea for DUSK EXPLORERS during that session, but I think it was to drum up a memory from childhood that would translate to today. The first thought that leapt into my mind was the invigorating and freeing moments I had with my sister and neighborhood friends playing after dinner in the summertime. We played all the games, shared all the secrets, laughed all the laughs until the street lights blinked on and the sun disappeared. Another reason for my writing this story was I desperately want these moments for the children of today, for my children. I want them to have the unbridled freedom of roaming the neighborhood streets, so they can build their autonomy and self-confidence, and enjoy all that’s available to them just outside their front door.

Candice: Admirable goals and your story definitely accomplishes all that. I prefer the lyricism and rhythm of free-verse, too. My critique partners help me come to my senses when I get a random wild hair to write in rhyme. 😉 What is your favorite part of the creative process?

Lindsay: My favorite part is always the beginning and all the possibilities of a new story. Nothing thrills me more than having a cool concept pop into my mind and writing that first draft. I like to let my mind go and just drum up whatever it wants. Then the hard part begins. I think I’m terrible at editing on my own. I get pretty stymied. I work really well with the direction of CPs and my editors, so I know this is an area of improvement for me… to wrangle myself during the editing process.

Dusk Explorer Spread

Candice: Do you have other creative outlets or hobbies? Do they cross into your writing?

Lindsay: Loads! I’m crocheting right now. I love to free draw with my kiddos. I love strength training and cycling. I used to ride a lot before I had children, and now I’m enjoying long rides with them. I also love to bake pies, as I used to own a pie company back in the day. You would think I would have written a story inspired by those times, but nope. The right idea hasn’t come to me yet. I’m waiting, though. I think all creative outlets and hobbies inform one another in some way. I just couldn’t tell you how. I think that work is being done in my subconscious.

Candice: A pie company?! How fun! Do you have any tips you’d like to share about finding creativity?

Lindsay: Truly listen and observe. I don’t think there is any one way to find creativity, but there are lots of ways to increase your chances of your mind being open to the function of thinking creatively. I think listening and observing do just that for me, and then I start asking the “what if” questions. Also, I’m really digging writing workshops right now. I need to take more. I’ve always been a coachable person, so taking a workshop kind of fills that bucket. It gives me a coach for the moment and I can get out of my own way.

Dusk Explorer Spread2

Candice: One of the positive effects of the coronavirus are a plethora of digital workshops and I’m definitely taking advantage of those. Creativity usually seems to lead to more creativity. Do you have another book project you’re working on that you could give us a hint about?

Lindsay: Oh, I have many! I have about four picture books I’m currently writing right now. I also have a middle grade I’m trying to edit. (See above about being a terrible self-editor, because that’s where I am right now with it.) I actually wrote a picture book based on my MG WIP. How’s that for procrastinating on editing? I also have awesome news I wish I could share, but I can’t yet. Soon, I hope!

Can’t wait to hear more! Thanks for answering my questions, Lindsay. And congrats on DUSK EXPLORERS’ release!

Want this gorgeous book in your neighborhood? Be sure to request it from your local library or independent bookstore, they do so much for our communities and need our support during this pandemic! You can also find it at www.bookshop.org which also supports local indie bookshops (you can pick your own local indie if they’re an affiliate. If not, it goes into a pot to be divided among indie book stores.)

Lindsay Leslie Headshot

A diary keeper, a journalism major, a public relations executive, now a children’s author—Lindsay Leslie has always operated in a world of written words. She likes to bring her unique outlook on life, quirky humor, and play with words to the page in picture books. Lindsay is the author of THIS BOOK IS SPINELESSNOVA THE STAR EATER, and DUSK EXPLORERS (Page Street Kids). She lives in Austin, Texas, with her husband, two sons, two fur-beasts, a guinea pig, and a tortoise.

Ellen Rooney, who also illustrated Her Fearless Run, loves illustrating and designing nature-related work. She has her BFA from the University of Victoria. A painter, printmaker, and collage artist, she resides in British Columbia, Canada, with her husband.

Call to creativity: sift through your childhood memories for exciting things kids today can do as they’re staying home. Comment with your brainstorms for a chance to win a non-rhyming picture book manuscript critique from me!

Book Reviews

Life in our surreal reality

Overnight, a pandemic changed the world. Suddenly conversation is about germs, viruses and bacteria. We’re learning new terms, like stay-at-home orders, social distancing and quarantine. We’re disinfecting everything from shopping carts to gas pumps. Everyone is donning masks – not just bank robbers.

Memorial Day is the official start of summer – and no one knows what this summer will bring. Many venues are closed and summer events, like outdoor concerts, have been canceled.

We want to explain this new, surreal reality to our children. As a teenager, I was fascinated by The Microbe Hunters by Paul de Kruif (1890–1971). Though written in 1926, the author was able to make microbiology exciting. The nonfiction book reads like a novel, with vivid characters and a dramatic plot.

Today, pandemic-themed kids’ books are popping up like dandelions in the yard. Catchy titles, like Sharona Corona, Paula and the Pandemic, Lucy and the Corona Virus, Little Unicorn Stuck at Home, the Day the Lines Changed.

Other titles are more straightforward: Sophie’s Questions about the Pandemic; Where did everybody go? What is Social Distancing? What’s a Quarantine? Not forever but for now: A story for children about feelings and the coronavirus.

Books about staying at home or social distancing include A Little SPOT Stays Home and Stuck in the Dog House. Other titles, like Keep away from Germs and The Coronavirus Monster: An Unwanted Visitor from the Germ Planet, discuss controlling germs by handwashing. There’s even a coloring book: Understanding the Coronavirus – COVID-19 Coloring Activity Book for Kids.

Most of these books are self-published in a hurry by well-meaning folks with few credentials in medicine or literature. However, three stand out above the rest.

Coronavirus: A Book for Children, by Elizabeth Jenner and Axel Scheffler, the illustrator of “The Gruffalo,” and the staff of publisher Nosy Crow. This book, for children aged 5 – 12, was created with input from educators, a child psychologist, and experts at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine. It is based on scientific facts, and written in a kid-friendly way. It attempts to explain what the virus is, how it is caught, and why so many things – from schools to restaurants, stores and playgrounds – are closed.

 

What Is COVID-19? (Engaging Readers) by Alexis Roumanis, published by Engage Books. These are three volumes of early readers, from Level 1 (32 pages, for children aged 3 – 6) to Level 4 (48 pages, for ages 9 – 11) that aim to explain the covid pandemic to children at different levels.

Anna and the Germ that came to visit by Christianne Klein and Helene Van Sant-Klein, published by Truth Fairy Media. Christianne is an award-winning news anchor; Helene is a licensed clinical counselor, family therapist, and registered nurse with experience in parenting and trauma. The mother-and-daughter team brings their expertise in bibliotherapy, counseling and media to the subject of the pandemic.

This list is only a start, since new books on this subject are emerging daily. I hope you will find some of them helpful.

Emory University held a competition for writers and illustrations of books about COVID-19. The winners can be found here:

http://globalhealth.emory.edu/what/events_programs/COVID-19%20eBook%20Comp.html

winners

Uncategorized

Welcome to Debut Author Jolene Gutiérrez

Hello Everyone,

We hope this blog post finds you all safe and healthy during this very uncertain time. Recently, I had the opportunity and privilege to speak with Jolene Gutiérrez about her two debut books. I first met Jolene in the Children’s Book Academy where we both took Mira Reisberg’s amazing picture book course. For both for us, this class has changed our lives. Jolene’s first release is the adorable picture book entitled Mac and Cheese and the Personal Space Invader, releasing on August 11, 2020, with Clear Fork Publishing. Her second is Bionic Beasts, a middle-grade nonfiction book releasing October 6, 2020, with Lerner/Millbrook Press. What an exciting time for this very hardworking mother and full-time librarian who, by the way, is also remotely teaching at this time.

TS: Welcome Jolene! Thank you for taking the time to share some of your writing strategies. Whether drafting or revising, how do you know when it is necessary to show action, scene and sensory elements?

JG: What a great question! When I’m revising my story, if I can’t visualize a scene or if the story is “sagging” in some way, I look at these elements. Action, scene, and sensory elements might show up in my writing when I’m drafting, but I try to focus on them during my various rounds of revision. With middle-grade fiction where I have the luxury of using more words, I work to make sure scenes are very sensory in order to connect readers to the story—so that students who might struggle to visualize things have some sensory connection that will draw them in. With picture books, though, I think some of the scene and sensory elements can be left to the illustrator.

And action is so important! I’m the school librarian at a school for diverse learners and have a large ADHD population. When I’m writing, I think of the action-packed, information-filled, or funny books that hook my students as readers and try to emulate that style. When I’m revising, I tend to set my manuscript aside a bit and work on other projects. When I come back to my manuscript with fresh eyes, I read chapters aloud to myself and try to ensure that there is a purpose to every character, every setting, and every scene—that they are all working together to move the story forward.

TS: Are there specific strategies, tools, or resources you use to incorporate more descriptive language?

JG: I try to put myself in my character’s shoes even if the story isn’t first-person, I try to involve the senses as much as possible, and I like to use dialogue to put the reader (and myself) in the scene. I also use passive verbs a lot in early drafts and try to catch that in revision and switch to active verbs.

TS: Could you share an example of a before and after where you needed to show more and found the right words to paint the image for the reader?

JG: Sure! Our words are so limited and the story is so dependent on illustrations in picture books, so finding an example was a little challenging, but here’s a scene we can compare:

Early draft of Mac and Cheese and the Personal Space Invader:

During snack time, I sit next to Nina. When I lean close to see what she’s eating, she moves away.

Published version of Mac and Cheese and the Personal Space Invader:

At snack time, I sit next to Nina, squeezing in close, just like Mac and Cheese do. Nina frowns and leans away.

We’re in first person for both of the scenes, but I think the published version is more powerful because language like “squeezing in close” puts the reader in the scene. We’re also reminded that Oliver, our main character, gets close to Nina because squeezing in next to a friend is something classroom guinea pigs Mac and Cheese would do. Also, in the old version, Nina “moves away,” but in the published version, she “frowns and leans away,” which is more descriptive and hints at her emotions.

TS: Writing is about balance. How do you know you’ve got it just right? What tips or suggestions do you have for writers in terms of striving for that balance of showing versus telling?

JG: I’d say show us as much as possible—put us in that scene so we feel like we’re experiencing the story! But there are some things you just have to tell us or your book will be unnecessarily long. We don’t need to experience every hour of every day with characters, for example, or showing would become tedious. Telling is a great way to quickly impart information to the reader, and sometimes that immediacy is needed to keep the momentum going in a story.

TS: Thank you so much Jolene for sharing your tips and strategies. I love how writers have such a variety of different techniques to convey their stories.

Below is Jolene’s contact information, bio, and links to preorder her terrific new books! Congratulations Jolene!

Bio: Jolene grew up on a farm in northeastern Colorado and now lives in a suburb of Denver, where she’s been a school librarian for 25 years. She spends her days sharing children’s books and her nights writing them. She’s a wife of 21 years and a mama to two teenage humans and three preteen dogs. Jolene is an active member of SCBWI and The Author’s Guild, a We Need Diverse Books mentorship finalist and a Writing with the Stars mentee. She is the author of Mac and Cheese and the Personal Space Invader (Clear Fork, 2020) and Bionic Beasts: Saving Lives with Artificial Flippers, Legs, and Beaks (Lerner, 2020). Learn more at www.jolenegutierrez.com.

Facebook: facebook.com/writerjolene

Twitter: twitter.com/writerjolene

Instagram: instagram.com/writerjolene

LinkedIn: linkedin.com/in/writerjolene

Pinterest: pinterest.com/writerjolene

 

Preorder Links:

Mac and Cheese and the Personal Space Invader:

https://www.clearforkpublishing.com/store/p149/personalspaceinvader.html# 

Bionic Beasts:

https://www.amazon.com/Bionic-Beasts-Saving-Artificial-Flippers/dp/1541589408/ref=sr_1_2?dchild=1&keywords=bionic+beasts+jolene&qid=1587390720&sr=8-2

Book Reviews

Book Review – Swing Sideways

Welcome once more to our book review section. This month I am reviewing Swing Sideways, a middle-grade novel by Nanci Turner Steveson published by HarperCollins in 2016. In Swing Sideways, Annie Stockton and her parents leave the city for a summer in the country where Annie has been promised freedom. It’s a rare gift given her mother controls and over-schedules most of Annie’s life. When Annie meets California who is staying on her grandfather’s farm, freedom goes into over-drive. California takes Annie on wild and secret adventures, at the top of the list the quest to find the ponies California’s mom rode as a child. Once the ponies are found, surely California’s mother and grandfather will reunite. But too many secrets lurk underneath the surface for Annie and California to have a smooth ride. Friendships, parenting and the art of letting go are all examined through Annie’s emotional journey to growing independence.

Because I like to change things up a bit, I asked Nanci Turner Steveson to help me review Swing Sideways. Our conversation is in the video below.

Pitch It to Me

~ THE PITCH IT TO ME CHALLENGE ~

Welcome back to the Pitch It To Me Challenge! We are thankful to all you WONDERful readers for stopping by to support a new round of creatives. These ladies have stepped up to the plate and forced me to work harder than ever to craft a punchy pitch. But first, let’s visit the results of the last challenge. Guest star Dr. Mira Reisberg hit a home run with her delightful pitch of author Patricia Saunders’ beautifully composed story. But if you know Mira, this is hardly a surprise. She’s a Rockstar! I’m grateful to both of them for joining us.

And speaking of gratitude (which there can’t be enough of during this challenging and uncertain time), I am pleased to have fellow 12×12’er Kaylynn Johnsen join us with her pitch for DON’T KICK THE DUCK, a humorous story with an unforgettable character. Kaylynn is a hard-working author waiting in excitement for her debut book to come out with AACP Publishing. A big congrats to Kaylynn!

To round out this challenge, I have one of the brightest stars in the Kidlit community joining us with a pitch to knock your socks off. It’s award-winning author NANCY CHURNIN! (Insert shouts of joy!) Nancy’s list of published works is phenomenal and continues to grow with each passing year. She is an expert word weaver, bringing us stories of people who have made our world a better place. And . . . she is one tough challenger!

As always, I’m including photos, links, and additional information about Kaylynn and Nancy below. Be sure to check out what they are up to, and support Nancy by ordering or requesting your library to purchase any of her lovely books (especially her two newest books, BEAUTIFUL SHADES OF BROWN, THE ART OF LAURA WHEELER WARING and FOR SPACIOUS SKIES: KATHERINE LEE BATES AND THE INSPIRATION FOR “AMERICA THE BEAUTIFUL”).

And now for the challenge! Take a look at the three pitches in the voting box. They are in no particular order so you’ll never know whose is whose (the author’s, mine, or our special guest-star pitcher). Vote for your favorite, and if you are so inclined, leave a comment, too. We love hearing from our readers!

You have until June 1, 2020, to cast your vote. Please vote only once, but feel free to tell your friends about us and get them in on the action.

 

ABOUT KAYLYNN:

Some of my earliest memories involve storytelling. I remember laying under quilts with the silver needles flashing in and out, burning marshmallows around roaring fires, and sitting still as a mouse while the grown-ups spilled story after story into my thirsty ears. “Remember when” were, and still are, some of my favorite words.

I received an offer of publication from AACP Publishing for the first three books in the Lottie Series. I am pretty sure I did some awkwardly uncoordinated dance, and I use that word loosely, of joy. I look forward to sharing more and more stories with more and more people.

SOCIAL MEDIA:

Instagram (@kaylynnjohnsen), Twitter (@johnsen66k), Pinterest (@kaylynnjohnsen), Facebook (@kaylynnjohnsen), or Website (www.kaylynnjohnsen.com)

ABOUT NANCY:

Nancy Churnin is the award-winning author of eight picture book biographies with a ninth due in 2021. Beautiful Shades of Brown, The Art of Laura Wheeler Waring, is A Mighty Girl pick that will be featured at the 2020 Ruby Bridges Reading Festival at the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis, Tenn. in May. The William Hoy Story, a Texas 2X2 pick, has been on multiple state reading lists. Manjhi Moves a Mountain is the winner of the 2018 South Asia Book Award and a Junior Library Guild selection. Martin & Anne, the Kindred Spirits of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Anne Frank is on the 2020 Notable Book for a Global Society list from the International Literacy Association. Irving Berlin, the Immigrant Boy Who Made America Sing is a 2019 Sydney Taylor and National Council for the Social Studies Notable. Nancy graduated cum laude from Harvard, has a masters from Columbia and lives in Plano, Texas with her husband, a dog named Dog and two cantankerous cats.
SOCIAL MEDIA: 
Facebook (Nancy Churnin Children’s Books)
Twitter (@nchurnin)
Instagram (@nchurnin)
Website (www.nancychurnin.com)
PURCHASE LINKS: 

 

 

 

 

For Spacious Skies: Katherine Lee Bates and the Inspiration for “America the Beautiful”

Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or Interabang Books (located in Dallas, Texas!)

Beautiful Shades of Brown, The Art of Laura Wheeler Waring

Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or Interabang Books (located in Dallas, Texas!)

 

CLOSING REMARKS

I cannot thank everyone enough for contributing to this challenge. I always look forward to seeing what our readers like best and having the opportunity to offer fresh ideas with feedback to our brave pitchers. Here is a last round of applause for Dr. Mira Reisberg and Patricia Saunders for their support and super pitches! And best of luck to Kaylynn Johnsen and Nancy Churnin in this new round! Until next time . . .

 

Finding Creativity

Finding Inspiration in Nature

Hi, Wonderers! Thanks for being here as we focus on finding creativity, this time from illustrator Lisa Johnston Hancock. Lisa and I met when our kiddos became friends in preschool–they’re both big into bugs and being creative. Her picture book, YELLOW-SPECKLED BLACKBIRD, written by Dylan Pritchett, released February 18th with MacLaren-Cochrane Publishing.

Candice: Welcome to the Wonder of Words (and today Wonder Of Pictures!), Lisa. You know I adore your nature-infused paintings. Where did you get the inspiration for how you wanted to visually tell the story of the Yellow-Speckled Blackbird? LJH 3.14 pic1

Lisa: I get inspiration from many different sources. I like to visit parks, zoos, beaches or anywhere to see actual birds in action. My children are also great sources of inspiration for poses. They love watching me work and get really excited when I ask them to model for me. I keep a folder of reference photos for birds, children and environment that I use as inspiration. I knew that the bird was going to be a Starling and the story would take place in an urban environment to illustrate how we see nature all around us.

We don’t have to be out in “nature” to appreciate the natural world.

I worked on these illustrations almost 2 years ago and at that time, I was working strictly in watercolor and beginning to explore digital media. The majority of this book was created traditionally with a little bit of digital for editing.

Candice: What is your favorite part of the creative process?

Lisa: My favorite part of the creative process is working through color schemes. I find color to be the most challenging part of illustrating a picture book and I like the challenge. The color palette can visually express the mood or tone of a story so it’s important to get it right. I will try out several different color palettes before I settle on one.

Candice: Color palettes do make such a difference! I don’t think I really understood that until I started studying picture books. Do you have other creative outlets or hobbies? How do they cross into your artwork?

Lisa: I love birds, insects, animals, trees and plant life. Basically, exploring nature whenever I have the chance. We recently moved to California and hummingbirds are EVERYWHERE! We have several species that hang around all year because the climate is so mild. Any extra time that I have is spent with my two children. I would say that yes, they definitely cross over into my artwork. LJH 3.14 pic2

Candice: I enjoy seeing all your California creatures come alive on your social media. Do you have any tips you’d like to share about finding creativity?

Lisa: I would say that if you are struggling, go for a walk or pencil in a coffee date with a fellow creative. What I like most about this area is that the people are so friendly. I think it’s because the weather is so nice. The traffic is not great, as you may have heard. Be that as it may, I have found that other illustrators are ready and willing to meet up for a coffee and drawing session or to talk of creative things. It is incredibly inspirational to have an artist community. It doesn’t even have to be local. With social media, you can reach out to other creatives just to say hi, or ask what brush they used. As creatives we tend to be introverts and I’m somewhere in the middle. I try to put myself out there and I recommend that you do the same.

Candice: I agree, social media has definitely helped me as an extroverted introvert. It’s tough to put yourself out there but the payback is so worth it. The critique group behind this shared blog is my case in point! Creativity usually seems to lead to more creativity. Do you have another book project you’re working on that you could give us a hint about?

Lisa: I recently finished illustrations for “Sophie’s New Song” that will be self-published by author and psychologist, Michelle Whitfield, in April. I’m also working on some promotional material for her.

My goal for 2020 is to complete a dummy for a picture book that I wrote, as well as a few finished illustrations that I can share with publishers. In October, I attended a workshop at the Highlights Foundation and received some really helpful, constructive feedback. I will be working on that this summer and possibly attending the SCBWI conference in L.A. I mean, I’m so close now.

Candice: That’s right! No excuse not to go. I cannot wait for your picture book to be submission ready. Having seen a mock-up dummy I know how amazing it is. Thanks so much for being here today!

Y’all be sure to check out Lisa’s artwork on her website and social media links. You can request YELLOW-SPECKLED BLACKBIRD at your local indie bookstore or online at Bookshop.org which also helps support independent booksellers.

LJH march14Lisa Johnston Hancock is an award-winning studio artist, picture book illustrator, and art educator. She enjoys creating work that focuses on environmental education, encouraging a lifelong positive attitude toward the natural world. Lisa recently moved with her husband and two children from sunny Southern Alabama to sunny Southern California.

www.lisajohnstonhancock.com
www.instagram.com/lisajohnstonhancock
www.twitter.com/LisaJHancockArt
www.facebook.com/LisaJohnstonHancockArt

For this month’s Call to Creativity, go for a walk. Observe the nature around you. Comment with an observation that inspires you and a random comment will win a picture book critique!