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Archive for the ‘Picture Books’ Category

Weed Appreciation

wild violetsTexas is heating up, and weeds are going wild! The other day, I was sitting in my yard watching the little girl and boy across the way watering their “flower gardens” with glasses of water that they repeatedly refilled. Their flower gardens are huge patches of weeds—wild violets to be exact. This brought me back to my childhood days where weeds were vegetables on my play dishes. And we had quite the variety of “vegetables” to play make-believe with. But my most favorite was the dandelion. I was so proud of the bouquets I picked for my mother who always showed such joy and appreciation when she put them in a jar of water. I loved making dandelion jewelry. And even until this day, I can’t resist blowing dandelion seeds in the air and making wishes. Even better, is to catch a seed floating in the air, catch it, make a wish and then return it on its journey. I have a strange belief that those are the best at making their way to the wish fairies.

Goodness and love washed over the city. Summer ReadingSpeaking of weeds, in The Weed That Woke Christmas my mostly true tale of the Toledo Christmas Weed, Weed gets its start as a seed tumbling on a breeze.

“When Weed was a seed, it tumbled on a breeze and snuggled in a crack, smack-dab in the middle of a busy traffic island.

Spring rains showered, and Weed sprouted.

Summer sun warmed. Weed grew.”

Don’t let the “Christmas” title fool you. The Weed That Woke Christmas (illustrated by Polina Gortman) is a wonderful spring and summer book. In fact, it is best read at those times. Kindness, generosity, love and unity are just as important in the spring and summer as they are at Christmas. Perhaps even more important because Christmas, for many of us, is the season of giving. But what if we kept the spirit of Christmas in our hearts and demonstrated it through our actions year round? What a wonderful world this could be. I encourage you to read the book, and inspire your kids to spread the spirit of Christmas no matter what time of year. You can find a lot of activity suggestions here. They are somewhat related to Christmas, but fun and great brainstorming seed. Or have fun dreaming up your own with the kids.

Dandelion wishesAt the end of this post, you will find some links to videos that demonstrate how to make dandelion necklaces, rings, and crowns. You can also make bracelets using the same method as the necklace. Have fun doing it on your own or with kids. Don’t forget to put some in a jar of water to sit on your table or counter. It’s sure to make you smile (at least on the inside.)

When it’s time to wish on dandelion seeds, suggest that your kids make some wishes for others. I like to think of it as praying on a breeze.

My intention today was to just mention that it is National Weed Appreciation Day and talk about my book and the two books that follow. But when I saw the children watering their “flowers” and my childhood memories came pouring in, I couldn’t help but expand a little.

Dawn_Prochovnic_Lucy's Blooms Cover Art

In honor of Weed Appreciation Day, I also want to share my friend Dawn Babb Prochovnic’s picture book Lucy’s Blooms (illustrated by Alice Brereton) is another good book for spring and summer reading. And another good book about kindness.

Here is the description borrowed from Amazon. “The town’s annual flower contest is coming soon, and a young girl puts her heart into growing a lively bunch of flowers she finds in a meadow. As her grandmother guides her in nurturing a garden, the girl learns that winning isn’t the true reward—it’s the special love found in caring for something or someone. Lucy’s Blooms celebrates the joy and happiness that the world has to offer, through the beauty of nature, the kindness and love of family, and the unique specialness in the most unexpected places.”

weeds find a wayA wonderful book about appreciating weeds is Weeds Find a Way by Cindy Jenson-Elliott and illustrated by Carolyn Fisher. It has great back matter talking about the value of weeds.

Here is the description borrowed from Amazon: “From bright yellow dandelions popping through cracks in sidewalks to purple loosestrife growing rampant along roadways, weeds offer unexpected splashes of color and life to the least likely of places. With lovely language and a sly sense of humor, this beautiful picture book celebrates the tenacious temperaments of these pesky plants and is sure to have little ones chanting, ‘Way to go, weeds!’”

Weed cover better quality for social mediaI hope my memories sparked some of your own. And I hope that you will share these books with your children. And always be thinking kindness, generosity, love and unity.

At the time of this writing The Weed That Woke Christmas (illustrated by Polina Gortman) hardcover is on sale for the amazing deal of $4.40 with free prime shipping! This is the time to stock up for Christmas gifts in addition to getting one for spring and summer reading and inspiration.

LINKS TO VIDEOS FOR MAKING DANDELION JEWELRY AND CROWNS

There are also some activity suggestions and some more info about the value of weeds here.

Dandelion necklace

A Classic Dandelion Activity to Try Today!

Dandelion rings

Dandelion crown

Dandelion crown

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Untold stories will remain untold if we can only tell those with a complete historical record. (1)

A big thank you to Beth Anderson for sharing her wisdom with us. In this fabulous guest post, she walks us through how she found the theme and heart in two of her true-story picture books.

REVOLUTIONARY PRUDENCE WRIGHT (Illustrated by Susan Reagan 2/1/22) and FRANZ’S PHANTASMAGORICAL MACHINE (Illustrated by Caroline Hamel 5/3/22)

prudence and franz together

WRITING TRUE STORIES WITH THEME AND HEART

by Beth Anderson

One of the topics that Alayne wanted to explore on her blog is theme, the big universal ideas we find in stories. When I explore a person or event for a potential story, I look for themes that kids can relate to—themes are “connect-ers.” As I write, more emerge, and I need to choose my focus. For me, themes are the easy part. But it’s the “heart”—that golden nugget I’m after—that’s the hard part. It’s a unique angle, frame, or lens that filters the story through me to find special meaning. That’s the piece that will make my story different than someone else’s and resonate at the end for the reader.

With REVOLUTIONARY PRUDENCE WRIGHT (2/1/22) and FRANZ’S PHANTASMAGORICAL MACHINE (5/3/22), important themes naturally sprang from the stories as I researched. But with both, I had a problem. Limited information. And then the decision—do I abandon the story because I can’t verify or obtain all the details I need? This decision really rests on the potential “heart”—the thread that makes the story matter.

I discovered so much goodness with theme and character in both stories that I didn’t want to let them go. Untold stories will remain untold if we can only tell those with a complete historical record. I believe the heart is the vital part of any narrative, whether purely nonfiction or not. So if I can find a heart that rises above any missing details, I go after it and let the story be historical fiction. For me, what matters most is the story.

In REVOLUTIONARY PRUDENCE WRIGHT, I found a number of minor themes, but the most prominent theme is that of gender equality. You see it set up in the epigraph, before the story even starts.

These are the times that try men’s [and women’s] souls.”  – Thomas Paine

intro quote

That theme appears in the opening spread with Prudence as a child, expands when the women resist British rule with boycotts as weapons, and is reinforced by the women taking on the men’s work when they march off to Concord. Gender equality is also reflected in choices Susan Reagan, the illustrator, made. An early spread shows the men voting at the town meeting with a chorus of “Ayes,” and later, when Prudence rallies the women, we see their chorus of “Ayes.”

quilt min women

Though that theme is strong, it’s not the heart. My path to the heart started with examining “choices.” As I narrowed that idea, it moved toward rising above roles and breaking traditions to see possibility and one’s own capableness and agency. Personal independence requires throwing off confining expectations imposed by society—self-determination. I realized the most important take away from her story is, literally, the power of her story, a microcosm of the larger one of gaining independence. I’d seen that her story continues to inspire people today, despite the missing proofs. While passing down Prudence’s lantern makes me say “wow!” and contributes to the reality of her as a real person, it’s her story that makes that artifact significant and her story that carries forward her conviction and courage to empower others.

One look at the cover of FRANZ’S PHANTASMAGORICAL MACHINE tells you it’s a very different story than PRUDENCE’s. But actually, it’s another story that deals with seeing possibility. My immediate connection to Franz Gsellmann’s story was that I was also a child who loved to “tinker, putter, and build.” I wanted to see inside objects, create, and figure out how things worked. To this day, I can’t help but ask, “What’s going on in there?”—the question that echoes through the book.

The twin themes that carry FRANZ’S story are joy in creativity and the power of curiosity and wonder. Clearly, I love epigraphs, because this book has one, too, setting up theme.

The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the source of all true art and science.”  -Albert Einstein

Screen Shot 2022-02-11 at 3.46.22 PM

FRANZ was one of my early stories on this writing journey, and I hadn’t learned about the importance of finding the unique heart, vital idea, so what?, or take-away when I started it. But somehow, a heart idea was lurking in my mind all along. I revised this story over several years as I learned more about craft. The heart thread emerged as a question, so appropriate for a story about curiosity.

In FRANZ’S story, I was fascinated by the intersection of science/technology and art. As all sorts of questions popped in my head, the heart of the story, the driving question, took shape. While I don’t want to provide any spoilers, I’ll share this much: Does a machine have to produce a physical object? Is the value of an effort or idea in fulfilling expectations?

PastedGraphic-3

While themes are universals, the heart is personal. It’s the job of the writer to select one or two themes, and then to define and support them with word choices, imagery, and focus. Theme is not the same as “heart,” but the two ideas are connected. Each enhances the other. I see theme as up front and out there, and heart as more stealthy, blossoming at the end.

My first choice is to bring heart to a strictly nonfiction story. But if I can’t have both, I’ll let the uncertainty of a few details be explained in back matter and go for the heart. In my experience as a reader and a writer, all the verifiable details in the world can’t make up for a story without heart.

Beth Anderson hi res squareBeth Anderson, a former English as a Second Language teacher, has always marveled at the power of books. With linguistics and reading degrees, a fascination with language, and a penchant for untold tales, she strives for accidental learning in the midst of a great story. Beth lives in Loveland, Colorado where she laughs, ponders, and questions; and hopes to inspire kids to do the same. She’s the award-winning author of TAD LINCOLN’S RESTLESS WRIGGLE (10/2021), “SMELLY” KELLY AND HIS SUPER SENSES, LIZZIE DEMANDS A SEAT!, and AN INCONVENIENT ALPHABET. Beth has more historical gems on the way. Learn more about Beth at bethandersonwriter.com Signed copies of Beth’s books can be found here.

 

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Since January 20 is National Penguin Day, I think this is a good time to share that I have finally found the answer to the question, “Whatever happened to Dindim and João Pereira de Souza?” In case you don’t know, these are the real-life characters from my picture book AN OLD MAN AND HIS PENGUIN: HOW DINDIM MADE JOÃO PEREIRA DE SOUZA AN HONORARY PENGUIN (illustrated by Milanka Reardon).

Winner for (1)

In February 2021, I was contacted by a television production company asking about the rights to my book. They questioned (as many people have) whatever happened to Dindim? From the time I started writing the story back in 2016, I had tried to answer that question. I never had any luck. But this time, the stars were aligned and I found some answers. Once again, I reached out to João Paulo Krajewski, PhD (I never heard back from him the first time.) He is a nature and wildlife documentarian at Natural History Brazil and the person who became friends with João Pereira de Souza and his family. His interviews with Pereira de Souza and documentary about him and Dindim are how I, and the rest of the world, first learned about this unusual father-son relationship between an old man and his penguin. This time, February 2021, I got a response.

He assured me that João Pereira de Souza was fine. And then he wrote, “I contacted Mr João Pereira last year about this story. Unfortunately, Dindim has not returned to Ilha Grande since one year I’ve filmed this story (I think this was 5 years ago). Since no tracking devices have been attached to him, it’s hard to know what happened to him.”

Again, the stars aligned, and I was able to find two videos from 2020 about João still waiting on the beach for Dindim’s return. I suspect he will faithfully and lovingly continue to wait for the rest of his days. Unfortunately, João is speaking in Portuguese with no subtitles. Fortunately, I have a friend who translated the key points for me. Sofia Flores also translated the documentary for me as part of my research for the book, and she is acknowledged in the book.

Following is what Sofia shared with me. Warning: It is quite sad.

Alayne, the first video is only him saying he has been waiting for Dindim. He is talking to Dindim and asking him to come, so Joao can be happy again and play with him. He shows his 3 friends and says they are always at the sea, so Joao asks them to keep on the lookout for Dindim. In the second one, he says how much he misses him and how he wishes Dindim would come back. He is calling him and he says that he is always thinking about him. He offers him sardines and that he can come play with his dog and he can pinch his dog as usual. He says, “I am waiting for you here day and night.”

Backmatter1_OldManAndHisPenguin_MilankaRI much more prefer the ending in my book. And as I wrote in my author’s note in the book, “Like João, I dream about Dindim. I imagine that he goes to the sea to be with other penguins and one day, he will return with his children to meet their human grandfather.

Dindim and family

Final spreadFollowing are the videos mentioned above.

João waits August 2020

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