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.

 

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Book Reviews

Book Review – The Important Thing about Margaret Wise Brown

“Here and now, we say to Barnett and Jacoby: We SEE what you’ve done. You’ve paid tribute to a woman who changed picture books. Forever.”  —Kirkus Reviews

Margaret Wise Brown by Consuelo Kanaga 

The important thing about The Important Thing about Margaret Wise Brown by Mac Barnett and Sarah Jacoby is that it’s a book. It is one of the most interesting and unusual picture books I have read. If you pick it up expecting to read about Margaret Wise Brown’s life in chronological order, prepare to be surprised. If you pick it up expecting to read a fully formed snippet of one aspect of Margaret Wise Brown’s life, prepare to be surprised. If you expect this to be a book just about Margaret Wise Brown, prepare to be surprised.

This book is in chronological order – sort of. We are told the date of Margaret’s birth, what she did as a child, a bit about her as an adult, what she did as an author and how her life ended, all in order. In between, there are tangents and side stories. You never know quite what you’re going to get on the next page: perhaps it’s Margaret Wise Brown swimming naked in cold water or having a tea party with Ursula Nordstrom on the steps of the New York Public Library. Or perhaps it’s something that doesn’t seem to be about Margaret Wise Brown at all.

It has a pick-and-mix feel; it can be opened at almost any page and the event savored, much like Margaret Wise Brown’s own books. Nothing is what it seems. From the first page the reader is set up to be told a list of important things about Margaret Wise Brown, but turn the page and there is more about books in general than there is about Margaret Wise Brown. Turn the page again and there is more about writers in general than Margaret Wise Brown. There is a quick summary of Margaret Wise Brown’s childhood focusing on her pets and particularly her rabbits, short précis of three of her books, a bit about her dog Crispin’s Crispian and other short snapshots of her life. There are three double-page spreads devoted to the librarian Anne Carroll Moore and another three devoted to Margaret’s interactions with Anne and the New York Public Library in general, including her tea party on the steps with Ursula Nordstrom.

A surprising thing about this book (or perhaps it is an important thing) is that it is about more than Margaret Wise Brown. It’s about books and writers and challenges. It’s about taking risks and being free to explore storytelling in unusual and unexpected ways, just as Margaret Wise Brown did. This book pushes picture book boundaries. Perhaps you can only do this if you’re Mac Barnett but I hope not.

Barnett and Jacoby, I also see what you have done. And the important thing about The Important Thing about Margaret Wise Brown is that it’s a book.

Book Reviews

Book Review – The Mapmakers’ Race by Eirlys Hunter

Welcome back to the Wonder of Words book review section. Last time I reviewed Once Long Ago and talked about the importance of traditional tales as part of a child’s book collection. This time I am reviewing New Zealand author, Eirlys Hunter’s middle-grade novel, The Mapmakers’ Race.

Sal, Joe, Francie and Humphrey Santander’s father hasn’t returned from his latest expedition. Worn out with worry and with no money left, their mapmaking mother chooses to enter the family in the Mapmakers’ Race. Contestants have 28 days to find and map the best route through the unchartered wilderness from Grand Prospect to New Coalhaven. With a prize pool that will solve almost all of their problems what have the Santanders got to lose? Unfortunately, a lot. When the children’s mother is left behind at a train station en route to the start line, the children are stranded in Grand Prospect not knowing what to do. Finally, they decide to embark on the race by themselves, hoping their mother can catch up.

What ensues is a madcap adventure as the Santander children do their best to make their parents proud in spite of dangerous terrain, terrifying beasts, villainous adults and each other. Every day provides a new challenge for the children and they overcome each one through quick thinking, experimentation and perseverance. While not set in our world, the story is not completely fantastical either: perhaps the best way to describe it is magical realism set in a world similar to our own with just a splash of steampunk. Some of the scenes could be a little scary for younger children but I am a firm believer that in the safety of a book children need to see dangerous and scary scenarios worked through and overcome.

Eirlys Hunter has devised a strong cast of characters and an engaging plot to create a true adventure story where overcoming obstacles to meet the final goal is key. Not only does she write adventure with skill, but in the story’s down moments she also has a beautiful way with words. Here is a taste:

The moon hung so big and bright that he could barely make out any stars until he turned his back to the moon and looked towards the dark horizon where there were tens, then hundreds, then thousands of stars pulsing silently – chips of ice in an infinite, frozen world.

Alongside Hunter’s rollicking text are illustrations by Kirsten Slade whose map drawings add shape to the story.

If you are interested in investigating further, there is the Look Inside feature on Amazon plus an extract in the New Zealand online magazine The Sapling. The Mapmakers’ Race can be purchased at Amazon or the Book Depository. If you are in New Zealand please support your local bookstore or order online at The Children’s Bookshop, Wellington.

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.

Best in Show

Strategies for Showing Versus Telling

Hi Everyone!

Welcome to our fourth blog post! What an honor it is to be able to interview authors on their strategies for showing readers their stories through the most amazing selection of words. Ever WONDER how they accomplish this? Best In Show blog posts will showcase authors sharing their strategies for captivating the audience through showing, not telling. In addition, I will share some tips for building the love of reading in an era where technology largely competes for a child’s attention. I hope you find the information useful whether you are writing your next book, presentation, or looking for ways to encourage a child in your life to read, read, read!!

Our WONDER OF WORDS guest today is picture and chapter book author, Ariel Bernstein (www.arielbernsteinbooks.com). I had the pleasure and honor of working with and learning from Ariel in a critique group in 2015-2016 and saw her talent for showing versus telling right away. It has been such a joy to watch her career as an author blossom. My students Skyped with her last fall and learned so much.

TS: Hi Ariel, Congratulations on the recent release of your new chapter book series WARREN & DRAGON (Viking Children’s, 2018). Thank you so much for spending some time with me today. Where do your story ideas originate from?

AB: It’s hard to pinpoint exact places where story ideas originate from! Often when an interesting idea pops into my head, or I see something interesting happen in real life, I will write it down. Later on, I’ll try and see if I can turn the idea into an actual story. For example, during one winter I heard a kid say, “I want the cold to go somewhere else.” I thought that could become a funny story of a kid trying to convince winter to go away. I wrote the picture book and although it never sold, I enjoyed the experience of writing it.

TS: When revising manuscripts, how do you identify which areas need more showing and less telling?

AB: Sometimes it’s hard for me to have a good perspective on my own writing. I get feedback from other writers who give me critiques, and if they think I need to show more and tell less, I listen!

TS: Are there specific strategies you use to incorporate more descriptive language?

AS: I try not to use much descriptive language with a picture book as the illustrations will show almost everything. With the chapter book, sometimes during revisions I’ll see that a scene moves too quickly, so to slow it down I will try and add descriptions of people and places.

TS: How do you know when you’ve finally got it just right?

AS: It’s hard to answer this because if you wait a while and look back at a manuscript, there’s always a chance you’ll want to change something! But after listening to feedback from critique partners and revising a number of times, it comes down to instinct that my manuscript is ready to be sent to my agent. And then she might have suggestions for revisions! And if an editor acquires it, there might be even more revising.

TS: Do you have any tips or suggestions for how writers can be more aware of painting that full picture for the reader and listeners?

AS: This isn’t new advice, but it’s the perfect one – read, read, and read some more! Read like a writer – figure out how a book you enjoy draws you in (is it the interesting characters? The setting? The voice?), how it keeps your attention (the chapter endings? The quick pace? An engaging plot?), and how the ending leaves you feeling satisfied (are all loose ends tied up? Is there a twist ending? Does it make you want to re-read the book?). Be aware of these things when writing and revising your own work.

TS: My students love Owl, Monkey, Warren and Dragon. Your characters are relatable to readers of all ages. They remind us what it is like to behave and express emotions and that is a wonderful thing! Thank you for sharing you gift of words with us and we look forward to many more books!

warren and dragon.jpgowl and balloon.jpg

You can find Ariel’s books at:

www.arielbernsteinbooks.com

Facebook: fb.me/ArielBBooks

Twitter: @ArielBBooks

Instagram: @arielbbooks

Tips For Creating Lifelong Readers:

Reading is a whole lot easier when kids learn early in life how much fun it can be. Here are five easy tips as everyone settles into those Back To School routines:

-Read bedtime stories to your kids every night: let them choose the story

-Always ask questions as you go: helps keep kids engaged

-Read and repeat: this helps build confidence

-Read more pages and fewer screens: have more books available than phones

-Visit your local library: this can be such a fun family outing

Thank you for joining us today and enjoy our next post by Gabrielle Copeland Schoeffield on November 3rd!!

Book Reviews

Book Review – Once Long Ago

Once Long Ago, the book I read as a child until it fell apart, is the book I have chosen for my first review.

Once Long Ago: Folk and Fairy Tales of the World, first published in 1962 by Golden Pleasure Books, is a collection of 70 traditional tales from 49 different cultures retold by Roger Lancelyn Green and illustrated by Vojtěch Kubašta.

As well as compiling myths, legends, and fairy tales from around the world, Green was a biographer of children’s writers and a member of the Oxford literary group, the Inklings, along with J. R. R. Tolkien and C. S. Lewis.  In Once Long Ago, Green’s writing retains the fairy tale format of earlier versions while creating a magic that appealed to me as a child, and still does as an adult. My old favourites, Cinderella, Jack and the Beanstalk and Little Snow White, are all included and I quickly gained new favourites: the Australian tale, The Bunyip, the Flemish tale, The Twelve Dancing Princesses, and the Norse tale, Why the Sea is Salt.

I have read questions online about how accurate Green may have been in writing stories from cultures other than his own. We have to remember that this book was published in 1962 and to have a volume of such diverse tales from a wide range of cultures is to be commended. I am choosing to believe that Green researched these stories thoroughly and took due care and time when creating his versions of them. The English story, The Three Bears, does support this view since there is no Goldilocks in sight. Instead, the original character, a little old woman, is the antagonist.

Not only is this book a fine example of great storytelling, it is also a work of art. Born in Vienna, Kubašta moved to Prague when he was four. He studied architecture and civil engineering but soon moved into his life-long career as a commercial artist and book designer. He is perhaps most famous for his pop-up books. His illustrations in Once Long Ago are bold, bright and filled with emotion: the image of the old witch on her raft of snakes in the Armenian tale Zoulvisia is impressively evil, the arrogance of the chicken in the Spanish tale The Half-Chick is cleverly depicted, and my favourite image of all, that of the girl in the English tale Coat of Rushes accepting her new silver dress from the fairy, is hauntingly beautiful.

A few years ago, for a significant birthday, I treated myself to my own copy of the book to the tune of $NZ500 ($US330). It may seem odd that I am reviewing a book now classed as “hard to find” and costing a fair penny to buy should you find a copy. What I want to illustrate is the need for children to be exposed to traditional tales, and not just those of their own culture but stories from all around the world. I learnt about people different to me through these tales and I would like to think this created a strong foundation for fairness, acceptance and tolerance. I encourage you to find a modern collection of traditional tales from around the world; one filled with stunning illustrations and magical stories, preferably one where the stories are written and illustrated by people who grew up with them. Since this is such a personal choice I can’t recommend what volume you buy, but I can say that if your children read it until it is faded and frayed then it is a book well-loved and one they will carry with them forever.