Book Reviews

What are you grateful for?

The Thanksgiving holiday is behind us. Most folks gathered with family and friends, eating the same menu as last year and sharing our blessings.

Now is the time for frantic holiday shopping and listing what we wish for rather than what we are grateful for. But we need to be grateful each and every day of the year. It is still important to cultivate the attitude of gratitude.

Here are some books that teach children the importance of cultivating gratitude.

 

ThankU: Poems of Gratitude by Miranda Paul, illustrated by Marlena Myles. Millbrook Press, 2019.

This collection of poems by more than 30 poets shows that we can – and should – be grateful in all seasons. The opening poem, Giving Thanks by Joe Bruchac, tells us each day is a gift to be treasured. Some poems are not explicitly about gratitude. Instead, they give thanks for the sky, dimples, shoes, birds, snow, a rock on the beach. Some are serious; others are funny. Each showcases a different poetic form; these are explained in the back of the book.

 

Thank you, Earth: A love letter to our planet by April Pulley Sayre. Greenwillow Books, 2018.

Thank You, Earth: A Love Letter to Our Planet

Like many of the poems in Miranda Paul’s collection, this poem and beautiful photo essay is an ode of gratitude – in this case, to our earth. The poem begins:

“Dear earth,

Thank you for water and those that float,

for slippery seaweed and stone.

Thank you for mountains and minerals,

that strengthen bills and bone.”

This simple, powerful message helps us appreciate our world. The back of the book contains three pages of scientific information.

 

The Thank You Book by Mary Lyn Ray, illustrated by Stephanie Graegin. HMH Books for Young Readers, 2018.

Thank you isn’t just for learning manners. It’s also when something makes a little hum – a happy little hum – inside you and you want to answer back.”

So begins Mary Lyn Ray’s latest book that teaches about giving thanks for both small and large things in our lives. The text explores appreciation for laps, books, jackets, puddles, and the earth we live on. It tells us that thank you “is also for when hurt and sad and not-so-good gets better”. The lyrical text and detailed pencil and watercolor illustrations make the characters and the concept of gratitude come alive to young readers.

 

We Are Grateful Otsaliheliga by Traci Soreli, illustrated by Frané Lessac.

Charlesbridge, 2018.

This beautiful, lyrical picture book focuses on the Cherokee custom of celebrating blessings as well as reflecting on struggles. The story winds its way through the seasons looking at expressions of gratitude in fall, winter, spring, and summer. Each season begins with “we say Otsaheliga / oh – yah – LEE – hay – lee – gah / we are grateful.

 

Thankful by Eileen Spinelli, illustrated by Archie Preston. Zonderkids, 2017.

The gardener’s thankful for every green sprout” is the opening line. The fun, rhyming text and whimsical illustrations with bold lines and soft colors celebrate daily blessings. The poem features examples of what people are grateful for: the gardener, for green sprouts; the painter, for color and light; the poet, for words that rhyme; children, for storytime. This great read-aloud reminds us of how special we are.

 

Look and Be Grateful by Tomie DePaola. Holiday House, 2015.

The short (37 words) text of this beautiful book encourages us to open our eyes, look around, and be grateful.

 

The Thankful Book by Todd Parr. Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, 2012.

The story opens with “Every day I try to think about the things I’m thankful for.” The main character tries to think of something he appreciates each day: his shadow, music, his hair. Bold lines, bright colors, and easy, playful text encourage children to find something they can be grateful for.

We all need to learn to express gratitude each and every day. Here is a triolet* poem I wrote a few years ago:

Thanksgiving

is gratitude

for living.

Thanksgiving.

For fun, for food,

for fortitude,

Thanksgiving

is gratitude.

 

What are you grateful for today?

 

 

* The triolet is a short, 8-line poem of repetition, The first line of the poem is used three times and the second line is used twice. There are only 3 other lines to write: 2 of those lines rhyme with the first line, the other rhymes with the second line.

 

 

 

Book Reviews, Finding Creativity, Uncategorized

Words Matter

“We speak, we write, we do language. That is how civilizations heal.” Toni Morrison

As readers, we are drawn to words. Over the years I have been drawn to Michener, Uris, Tolkien, Barbara Kingsolver and Barbara Ehrenreich. As a youngster in Poland, I was raised on the works of Janusz Korczak, the poetry of Jan Brzechwa, Maria Konopnicka and (in translation from Spanish) Monro Leaf’s The Story of Ferdinand. After we arrived in the United States, I read Rudyard Kipling’s Jungle Books, Hugh Lofting’s Dr. Dolittle stories and Maguerite de Angeli’s Door in the Wall. And of course, there were all the classics – the Brothers’ Grimm, Johanna Spyri, Jules Verne, Charles Dickens. Who are some of your favorite authors?

As writers, we know words matter. I often say, “Words are my world”.  “In the beginning was the word.” We paint the world through words. We develop characters and plot with words.

As parents and teachers, we teach children to use words wisely.

This is increasingly important when our country’s leaders use derogatory, negative, foul language and resort to name-calling. As someone who was called names, tormented and bullied due to cultural and neurological differences, I’m sensitive to this type of language.

What message does it teach our children? How should we respond?

I suggest we respond with love by teaching kindness. Being kind can make a huge difference in someone’s life.

Some books that teach the importance of our words, kindness and inclusivity:

The Big Umbrella words and pictures by Amy June Bates. Simon and Schuster Books for Young Readers 2018. 32 p; 89 words

There is always room for everyone under the big umbrella that loves to gather people in. This free verse, beautifully illustrated poem shares the message of inclusiveness in a fun way. Our hearts have the same capacity to expand – there is no limit to how many people we can love and include.

Be Kind by Pat Zietlow Miller ill by Jen Hill. Roaring Brook Press 2018. 32p; 400 words

Be Kind copy

When Tanisha spills grape juice all over her dress, her classmate tries to be kind. But it is not always easy. Examples of kindness include giving, helping, and paying attention. These small acts are important and build more acts of kindness.

If you plant a seed words and pictures by Kadir Nelson. Baker and Bray 2017 (an imprint of Harper Collins).

If you plant a seed copy

In this short poem, we learn that the things we plant grow and grow and grow. They can be carrots or tomatoes, selfishness or kindness.

Words and Your Heart words and pictures by Kate Jane Neal. Simon & Schuster Children’s Books, 2017.

words and your heart copy

In her debut, Kate Jane Neal explains simply and directly the power our words have. She shows how our words impact others – both for good and for evil.

Here is a poem I wrote about words:

WORDS: HANDLE WITH CARE

As children, we were told to say:

“Sticks and stones may break my bones,

but words can never hurt me.”

Yet words often cause injury and pain…

The scars don’t show,

but the wounds may never heal.

Words

 or their absence

have power:

They can hurt, or they can heal.

They can bruise, or they can mend.

They can kill – or give new life.

Words

evoke image, smell, taste, sound, mood, feel.

Words have power.

Words are real.

 

Words

tell a story,

convey a message,

convince the skeptic,

stir up mood and feelings.

Words.

Use them with care

to encourage, engage, enrich.

It is said: “The pen is mightier than the sword.”

Words

can change lives.

You

can change the world

one word at a time.

What is a quote or poem that resonates with you?

What are some of your favorite books that teach kindness?

How can your words help change our world?

Share it in the comments to pass along the power of words.

 

Finding Creativity

SYNERGY!

When Janean, a friend and fellow writer, asked me to collaborate on a story I was hesitant. For 30 years, I have written solo: articles, books, poems, stories.

Yes, I have critique partners. I know that picture books are a marriage of two great minds – the writer and illustrator –further refined by the editor. That’s part of their unique magic!

Still, I found it difficult to grasp why two writers would work together on a story. Research revealed that collaboration between authors is not uncommon, so I asked a few authors to describe how they worked together.

The prolific author of 376 children’s books Jane Yolen has worked with other writers often, including her son and daughter. She partnered with others because she admired their work, needed their expertise, or ’to give a foot up’ into publication. “Two authors share their talents, their research, and provide a critical eye,” she said. “It’s important to set ego aside, decide whose name goes first, and share the royalties and advance equally.”

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Amy Gugliemo, a member of my northern NY Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, has had several partnerships. She was first approached by a parent to work jointly on a book about her art-based curriculum which taught all subjects, including math and science. She enthusiastically agreed. The result was the Touch the Art series of books with Julie Appel. Later, Amy partnered with Jacqueline Tourville, another critique group friend. ”Jacqueline and I have similar sense of humor and we spent a lot of time swapping work, so we just started writing together,” she said.

 

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While Julie and Amy would meet in person or chat on the phone, Jacqueline and Amy work through email, sending drafts to one another for edits. “We will go back and forth until we’re both happy,” says Amy. “I’ve been very lucky with my collaborations and I would be open to working with other authors in the future. Publishing is a difficult sport and the best thing about collaboration is having someone to share the ups and downs of the business. It’s always great to celebrate with a friend!”

 

Matt Forrest Esenwine teamed up with Deb Bruss on the story Don’t Ask a Dinosaur. Matt and Deb are in the same SCBWI writers group. According to Matt, Deb gave Matt a general concept and a few lines, but no plot or ending. This sat by his computer for a few months, until he figured out where to go with it. They revised it about 20 times, sharing the versions with one another using Google docs and receiving feedback from their critique group. “One good thing about working together is the back-and-forth of ideas. You have to be able to compromise, and let go of the idea that this is your baby. Co-authored projects are a joy to complete, knowing two people have put so much time, talent, and effort into one little book,” said Matt.

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David Harrison and Sandy Asher co-authored the play, Jesse and Grace: A Best Friend’s Story. Sandy would write a poem from Grace’s point of view, send it to David, and he would respond from Jesse’s POV. Since neither knew in advance what the other would say, “the telling was spontaneous and personal and related to the interior thinking of each character,” said David.

Trisha Speed Shaskan and Stephen Shaskan teamed up on their graphic novel series Q & RAY and picture book PUNK SKUNKS. They like to formulate ideas together, then brainstorm the conflict. “You need to allow ample space for everyone’s ideas and keep things positive,” they wrote in a Storystorm blog post. They believe finding someone you fully trust and maintaining mutual respect is essential.

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I began to see that working together is synergistic – the effect is greater than the sum of its parts, resulting in a better story than when each writer works alone. I have high hopes for the story Janean and I are creating together.

Book Reviews

On Being Thankful

November days are dark, dim, dismal, dreary. They’re also Days of Gratitude when we ponder what we’re thankful for. This November, I’m thankful for words. For much of my life, words have been important in my world. As a dyspraxic kid, I needed words to understand my world. I was an early talker and early reader.

I’m grateful for the words of my childhood – Polish words. My favorite stories were Janusz Korczak’s tales about King Matt the First. I also enjoyed Grimm’s fairy tales and all the children’s classics like Cinderella and Snow White.  We moved to Israel; Hebrew words. I recall reading Joanna Spyri’s Heidi. The first stories I read in English were Kipling’s Jungle Book and Marguerite de Angeli’s The Door in the Wall. As I got older, I enjoyed Mark Twain and Charles Dickens. In high school, it was Tolkien, Michener, Uris, Steinbeck.

The possession that I am most thankful for is my library card. I used the library a lot as a child, and I use it a lot today as an aspiring author. When I was young, my friends existed in books and lived in other worlds – worlds those books transported me to. I could lose myself in a book and forget my loneliness. The little card is my key to other worlds via books, DVDs, and CDs.

Today there are many books that teach children the importance of cultivating gratitude. At my local library, I was drawn to three gratitude books. In Look and be Grateful, Tomie De Paola’s simple words and bright pictures encourages young children to be grateful for each and every day. In Suzy Capozzi’s and Eren Unten’s I am Thankful, a boy learns to think positively even when things don’t go the way he wants. In Grateful Gracie by Jennifer Tissot and Cecilia Washburn, Gracie helps her older, grumpy brother learn the power of gratitude. The book teaches kids that we can remember the good things even when days are gray and life seems hard.

Among the classics are Shel Silverstein’s The Giving Tree, Dr. Seuss’ Did I ever tell you how lucky you are?, and Stan Berenstain’s The Berenstain Bears Count their Blessings.

These five titles common on almost every list of gratitude books for kids:

The Thankful Book           The Thankful Book by Todd Parr, which celebrates all the little things children can give thanks for.Bear Says Thanks (The Bear Books)

Bear Says Thanks is a story of friendship and gratitude  by By Karma Wilson, Illustrated by Jane Chapman

Grateful: A Song of Giving Thanks is a book and CD that combines words, illustrations and music in a stirring anthem to gratitude.

 

Gratitude Soup by Olivia Rosewood, where Violet the Purple Fairy mixes everything she’s grateful for in an imaginary soup pot.

Thankful by Eileen Spinelli illustrated by Archie Preston encourages kids to be thankful for even the smallest blessings. “The poet is thankful for words that rhyme, the children, for morning story time,” she writes.

Her words resonate in my heart; I’m thankful for words.  

I’m thankful for the gift of words and wordsmithing my dad passed on to me. We lived on different continents, traveled separate pathways. I have no memories, few mementos, and only one gift: Language. Like father, like daughter – both lovers of words. For that, I’m grateful.

I’m thankful for writing partners, writer’s groups, writing teachers and mentors, so many resources to improve my craft.

Words matter. With my writing gift, I hope to encourage, engage, enrich the lives of my readers – as my life has been enriched by the written word. I hope to use my words, my voice, to encourage, to affect positive change in our world, to share peace, love, life, joy, faith, hope.

WORDS: Handle with Care

 As children, we were told to say:

“Sticks and stones may break my bones,

but words can never hurt me.”

Yet words often cause injury and pain…

The scars don’t show,

but the wounds may never heal.

**

Words – or their absence – have power:

They can hurt, or they can heal.

They can bruise, or they can mend.

They can kill – or give new life.

**

Words.

Use them with care.

To encourage, engage, enrich.

It is said:

“The pen is mightier than the sword.”

Words

can change lives.

You

can change the world

one word at a time.

**

Some say a picture

is worth a thousand words, but…

Pictures lack sound, smell, or taste…

 Words evoke image,

smell, taste, sound, mood, feel.

Words have power.

Words are real.

**

Words tell a story,

convey a message,

convince the skeptic,

stir up mood and feelings.

 My world of words

is worth more

than a thousand pictures.