Category Archives: children’s books

youngest-marcher

I had the pleasure of chatting with the lovely Cynthia Levinson, author of  the 2012 award winning “We’ve Got a Job,” that highlights four youngsters who took active roles in the Civil Rights Movement. One of those children was Audrey Faye Hendricks, the subject of Cynthia’s newest book, “The Youngest Marcher,” illustrated by the fantastic Vanessa Brantley Newton.

LI:1. How did you decide to focus on Audrey Faye Hendricks after writing We’ve Got a Job?

Cynthia Levinson: The idea actually came from Atheneum. When my agent, Erin Murphy, called in 2009 or 2010 to tell me there was interest in the book proposal I’d written about the Birmingham Children’s March, she said there were two offers—one for a picture book and the other for a middle grade. What did I want to do? My instincts told me the story needed multiple perspectives, and I opted for a book for ten- to fourteen-year-olds. After We’ve Got a Job: The 1963 Birmingham Children’s March (Peachtree Publishers) came out in 2012, I asked Erin to find out if Atheneum would still be interested in a picture book. And they were!

We’ve Got a Job focuses on four young marchers.  One of those four children was only nine years old. With a protagonist the same age as my readership, Audrey Faye Hendricks instantly became the main character.  

LI:2. Was it more difficult to write the picture book or the YA book about the Civil Rights Movement and kids’ involvement  in it?

Cynthia Levinson :Both! We’ve Got a Job was my first book. So, I had to learn to conduct interviews, find photographs, keep track of all of the research, write a book, get edited… It was a real learning experience in so many ways.

But, so was writing a picture book. Honing in on younger readers, cutting and shaping text, and considering page turns are very challenging. And, for the first time, I experienced working with an illustrator—the fabulous Vanessa Brantley Newton.

  LI:3. Did you meet any of Audrey’s family in real life?

Cynthia Levinson: Indeed. I interviewed Audrey at her home and saw where her mother made Hot Rolls Baptized in Butter, where Dr. King sat at her dinner table, and where her church choir director practiced protest songs on her upright piano. Then, Audrey’s sister, Jan, filled me in on details about how feisty Audrey was! And, she gave me the recipe. That was like gold.

LI:4. Do you have a favorite illustration or scene from the book?

Cynthia Levinson: I have two favorites. One is the spread at the dinner table where Audrey and her mother both have one eye open and the other closed during Dr. King’s prayer. Audrey looks saucy and her mother disapproving—it’s perfect! The other is the spread where Audrey is lying on her side on her cot in jail, with her back to the reader, staring at the wall. It’s both brilliant and heartbreaking.

content

  • Age Range: 5 – 10 years
  • Grade Level: Kindergarten – 5
  • Hardcover: 40 pages
  • Publisher: Atheneum Books for Young Readers (January 17, 2017)

Author Interview: Celebrating Reading with Lisa Papp

 

51n80sucywl__ac_us160_

 

I had the pleasure of chatting with author/illustrator Lisa Papp, whose newest book is titled, “Madeline Finn and the Library Dog,” published by Peachtree Publishers. Lisa has illustrated numerous picture books, but I was captivated by this one that celebrates the idea of using therapy dogs in libraries to help struggling readers. Lisa and I are both pet owners of rescue cats and my lovely rescue cat, Lucy, is by my side as I am writing this blog post!

 LI: What inspired your idea for Madeline Finn and the Library Dog?

Lisa Papp: This story comes straight from the heart. When you meet these beautiful therapy dogs and their owners, you can’t help but fall in love. They are such a tremendous gift to our communities. I discovered the Reading-to-Dogs program at my local library. My husband, Rob, and I were returning books when we saw a long line of dogs waltzing in the side door. We couldn’t help but follow them in. It was a beautiful, sunny day and I remember these gorgeous dogs sitting in a large, bright room with lots of windows. There were about twelve dogs that day along with their owners. A couple of minutes later, the kids came in. That’s when the smiles started. For an hour and a half, we watched kids read to the dogs. The children chose a book, then chose a dog. Some of the parents told us they couldn’t get their child to pick up a book at home, but they would come to the library for this.

It was so inspiring to watch. Many of the children were self-conscious at first, but that all changed when they got next to a dog. Dogs have that wonderful gift of unconditional love. That wonderful gift of accepting you just as you are. The children responded to that immediately. They read them story after story, petting the dogs and stroking their ears while they worked out the tough words. And they stayed at it – the entire hour and a half! The bond between the children and the dogs was pure magic. These wonderful therapy dogs and their owners let me tag along for the better part of a year. I count them as dear friends now. They, and the children they help, are the inspiration for the book.

LI: Do you have any pets/rescue pets?

Lisa Papp:As a matter of fact, we have three rescued cats. All siblings. My husband and I had gone to a flea market in search of a sprinkler. We came home with three kitties instead. Who could resist? We told ourselves things like…oh, so and so loves cats, maybe she’ll want one.….and this one looks like our real estate agent’s cat, she’ll probably want another one just like him, etc. That was eight years ago and we couldn’t be happier to have kept all three. They are wonderful little beings, even if a bit naughty at times. Can’t imagine life without them. I guess you could call them therapy cats because they definitely keep me and my husband sane. There’s nothing better than a kitty snuggle after a hard day. And when we take life too seriously, they are the first to remind us to lighten up – a “who can catch the ball in the air” game does wonders for the soul.

LI: What future projects are you working on?

Lisa Papp: I have the unfortunate habit of working on multiple projects at once. With that in mind, I can tell you I do have a few Madeline Finn adventures up my sleeve, as well as a couple of novels midstream. All illustrated. It seems, no matter if I’m dreaming up picture books or novels, they always center around animals.

LI: What advice would you give to today’s kids who love to draw?

Lisa Papp:I would say, “Keep doing it!” All the time. Anywhere you can. All those characters, all those stories you’re dreaming up will stay with you somewhere. It’s like an invisible basket you’re filling up. All that imagination, the practice of making something from nothing, the pure joy of creating – all of that will serve you well. Because that’s what will sustain you – even if you don’t become an artist. You will know how to reach inside yourself, into that basket of freedom where your imagination has no limits. When you learn to tap into that creativity, it’s something you’ll enjoy the rest of your life.

  • Age Range: 4 – 8 years
  • Grade Level: Kindergarten – 3
  • Lexile Measure: 370
  • Hardcover: 32 pages
  • Publisher: Peachtree Publishers (October 1, 2016)

Stepping Out of Your Comfort Zone

believe2

Writers are always told ” write about what you know.” So when I started to delve into the world of children’s writing , that was not great information for me; because I wanted to write nonfiction, about new and unknown subjects or places. I come from the background of writing feature news articles for adults. I have always been more comfortable reading and writing nonfiction. But after an almost two year stretch of  acceptance and revisions  for a nonfiction kid lit biography I wrote, came the  ultimate rejection from a great publisher. I was crushed.   I then decided to step out of the comfort zone and try writing fiction picture books instead of nonfiction.

Write about what you know: Family, nature, humor.  I wrote my first fiction picture book  about two years ago and received requests from a couple of publishers who liked it, but wanted some edits. Still haven’t sold that title, but it has led to more fiction writing.   My newest manuscript is being read by  a few agents and editors right now and I feel confidence in it. It’s funny and kids like funny; it has a feline main character who can read and write.

Working on tightening my fiction writing led to me recently selling my first online short story, written with a lot of dialog; way out of my comfort zone of writing nonfiction narrative. I still plan on writing kids’ nonfiction; I have started on some new ideas for researching in the next few months. But sometimes it is good to try new things and step outside of that comfortable box and stretch your goals a little. For me, the fiction writing led to better writing and revising and I can say it was worth it to take on the challenge.

 

 

Diversity is Every Day

 

 

Marisol McDonald Doesn't Match / Marisol McDonald no combina ...

 

Here comes another month of celebrating cultures! Black History Month, Hispanic Heritage Month, Filipino American History Month, Native American Heritage Month. While I applaud celebrating diversity, shouldn’t every day be a Diversity Day?

It is almost thirty years this month that I started teaching urban kids in Harlem. And from that time, in the mid 1980’s until today, so much has changed. We only had the books of the father of African American kid lit, Walter Dean Myers, to offer up to to middle school and high school kids who wanted to see themselves depicted realistically in books.  Forget about finding any diversity in picture books then.  Today we have wonderfully diverse picture and chapter books by the likes of Walter’s son, Christopher Myers, Don Tate, Kwame Alexander, Zetta Elliott, Jacqueline Woodson, just to name a few authors of color. Monica Brown, Margarita L’Engle and Meg Medina are Latina authors representing their Hispanic culture in picture and middle grade books.  Not to mention this year’s multi award winner, Matt de la Pena, whose “Last Stop on Market Street,” has universal themes for kids of all colors.  Joseph Bruhac continues to be the master spinner of tales with Native American settings and characters.

Publishers like Lee and Low, Tu Books, Kar-Ben and Apples and Honey Press strive to show kids of different races and religions in their publishing choices. Theses publishers were not around in the 1980’s when I first had to recommend books to kids of color.  I have seen a multitude of changes in children’s lit as both a teacher and currently librarian. But I say to you, shouldn’t every day be a diversity day, to learn about a new culture? I now teach to a predominantly Haitian- American population and while we do spend a large amount of time learning and reading about African American history, which is great,  I also love for my students to read about other cultures. I have had some interesting conversations with African American fourth and fifth graders about the Holocaust and how my grandfather lost many of his siblings during Hitler’s regime.  If we only learn about our own culture, we are not getting the full picture of humanity.  And despite what many are saying, I have seen big and great changes in the world of children’s literature over the past few decades.

 

 

 

 

“And may the odds be ever in your favor.”

keep-calm-and-may-the-odds-be-ever-in-your-favor-true-writers-31678317-500-700

I am not a mathematical person. I hated taking Statistics in college. But it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see that for unpublished writers the odds are not in our favor.  Here’s hoping that 2016, is a great year for debut, unpublished writers of kid and YA lit. There has been a renaissance of lovely picture book illustrators in 2015 and YA writers of dystopian chronicles about fictional characters in fictional lands seems to be the norm. But what about a good, old-fashioned story?  I am primarily a non-fiction writer and we depend on great research and facts, woven with lyrical writing. Sometimes that makes our stories even harder to sell and market, especially for the children’s market which is highly fiction driven.

But it is a New Year. And there have been statistics, aha, that say print book sales for kids are up  and e-books sales for kids are dwindling. Kids are reading again, be it graphic novels or even non-fiction picture books. It is still a delight to this kid’s librarian to see a young child holding a physical book rather than an IPad. So, to my writer friends out there, don’t give up hope. 2016 is just around the corner and kids are still reading the old-fashioned way. And since eighteen, chai, is a lucky number in Judaism, 2016 added together, 18  doubled or 36, this just might be your lucky year!

Author Interview: Celebrating Hanukkah with Karen Rostoker-Gruber

Hanukkah’s starting one week from today and it’s a perfect time to grab a copy of author Karen Rostoker-Gruber’s newest gem, Farmer Kobi’s Hanukkah Match.

I had the pleasure of catching up with her and chatting about not only Farmer Kobi, but some of her earlier works. Karen is an award-winning New Jersey author who loves to feature animals as her main characters. What better way to get kids interested in reading!  Library Inspirations had the following questions to ask:

LI:  What inspired your idea for Farmer Kobi’s Hannukah Match? You often have animals as characters, but this time with a Jewish theme.

Karen: Ever since I wrote “Rooster Can’t Cock-a-Doodle-Doo,” in 2004 for Dial Books for Young Readers, which sold A LOT of copies, was nominated for awards: The Missouri Show Me Award, The International Reading Association, Children’s Choices Award, was put on the Bureau of Education and Research’s Best of the Year list for 2005, and selected to be a Dolly Parton Imagination Library selection two years in a row (selling like 75,000 copies both years) I couldn’t get farm animals out of my head.  They wanted to be in another book.  Since the Rooster book was doing very well, my editor at Dial had asked me to write a sequel.  I did.  It was called “Farmer Ted’s Dinner Date.” But, like most good things in life, that editor left Dial.  So, I kept that book sitting in my drawer until 2013.

In 2013 I met with Rabbi Ron Isaacs.  He was my Rabbi at Temple Sholom in Bridgewater, NJ.  I wanted to tap a different market–the Jewish market–and I wondered if there were any stories that I currently had that would be of any use, if I just revised them.  One of the manuscripts that I gave him to read was “Farmer Ted’s Dinner Date.”  He told me that there were a lot of Jewish values in that book, and that I should send that manuscript to some Jewish publications once I “baked” in more Jewish customs, or food, or something.  That night I went home and did a lot of thinking.  It dawned on me that I had the perfect fix.  A lot of my family members live in Israel and some live on the most famous moshav there–The Nahalal Moshav.  I went to the library, and found out that there are currently NO (nada, ziltch) children’s books about life on a moshav.  So I contacted my cousins in Israel, had them send me photographs of life on a moshav-pictures of the tractors that they drive, the houses that they live in, the clothes that they wear, animals that they have, and things that they keep in their pantry.  I rewrote the book, changed the animals (and the puns), changed the food that the farmer served (he was always a vegetarian, but now he was eating more Israeli food), the farmer’s name, the setting, and the title to “Farmer Yehuda’s Dinner Date,”  and submitted it to Behrman House.  At that time Behrman House, which is a publishing house that is really big in the Jewish Educational world, was launching a new press for the trade market called, “Apples and Honey Press.” It was perfect timing.  🙂

LI:  Was it fun to collaborate with your co-author, Rabbi Ron Isaacs? What are the Jewish values in your book?

Karen: Rabbi Ron and I are having a blast working together.  Not only did we write together (me: the story, Ron: the “A Note for Families”), but we are also putting on Hanukkah shows.  I didn’t realize that Ron not only sings and plays guitar, but is a magician as well.  I am an author and a ventriloquist, so it is quite the match.  We are having so much fun; I can’t believe we are getting paid for it.  🙂

LI: I love your Ferret character series, any plans for more books in that series?

Karen: Thank you for loving my ferret friends (Fudge and Einstein).  They are quite the ferret duo.  When the first ferret book, “Ferret Fun,” came out I was working with Margery Cuyler at Marshall Cavendish.  Marshall Cavendish was sold to Amazon when “Ferret Fun in the Sun,” was released,  and Margery Cuyler left, so I don’t think more ferret books will be coming out.  😦

I write about animals because they don’t have limitations or restrictions.  What I mean by that is that no one (parents, editors) gets upset if a cat goes outside alone, without holding someone’s hand to cross the street, or if a ferret explores a bit in the book and meets up with a snake, without its owner, etc.  There is a bit too much to consider when writing about an actual child.  Also, I get to use puns when I have the animals talk and that is always so much fun.  🙂

 Karen’s website is: http://www.karenrostoker-gruber.com/

And get your latkes frying, dreidels spinning and please read this newest Hannukah classic with your family!

Farmer Kobi’s Hanukkah Match
by Karen Rostoker-Gruber & Rabbi Ron Issacs; illus. by CB Decker
32 pages; ages 4-7
Apples & Honey Press, 2015