Category Archives: kid lit

Author Interview: Jenna Grodzicki

I recently had the pleasure of meeting debut author and fellow elementary librarian, Jenna Grodzicki, at the spring NJSCBWI Conference. Jenna’s newest book is “Pixie’s Adventure,” published by  eTreasures.



What inspired you to write your debut picture book, Pixie’s Adventure?

The idea for Pixie’s Adventure came to me over 10 years ago.  Our cat, who was always trying to sneak outside, escaped during a thunderstorm.  My husband and I spent two hours looking for her in the pouring rain.  We finally found her on our neighbor’s front porch.  Even though I had always dreamed of writing picture books, it took me a long time to actually start. Quite frankly, I was scared to take that risk.  In early 2015, a combination of events prompted me to pick up a pencil, and Pixie’s Adventure was the first story I wrote.  The rest is history!

What is the topic of your next picture book?

My second picture book, Finn Finds a Friend, is coming out in October with Clear Fork Publishing.  It is about a lemon shark named Finn who wants to make some new friends. Unfortunately, his sharky appearance causes potential buddies to swim away or hide.  Finn must demonstrate it’s what’s on the inside that truly matters in order to convince the sea creatures that he’s not looking for his next meal.

In addition to Finn, I have 6 other manuscripts (and counting!) I’m working on, including one nonfiction piece.

Who are your favorite authors for kids?

Wow, this is a tough question.  I have so many favorites, it’s hard to choose!  When I was little, I loved Nancy Drew (Carolyn Keene) and the Babysitters Club (Ann M. Martin). Among my favorite picture books were Miss Nelson is Missing, The Paper Bag Princess, and Click, Clack, Moo.   Today, I absolutely love Mo Willems.  His Elephant and Piggie books are a hit with every one of my students, as well as my son.  I’m also a big fan of Ame Dyckman, Kate Messner, Drew Daywalt, and Jon Klassen.

What are your interests/hobbies besides writing?

In addition to writing, I absolutely love to read.  I’m really into YA right now, especially anything by Sarah J. Maas.  I love the Boston Red Sox – we try to go to Fenway Park at least once a year.  In the winter, I enjoy skiing.  And of course, my favorite thing to do is spend time with my husband and our two crazy awesome children!




Thanks Jenna, for your awesome answers!






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.


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

Diversity is Every Day



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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.





Writing Narrative Non-Fiction for Kids : Weaving Together Facts and Fiction

inventors-secret-cvr_large                                                                                                         The job of the non-fiction writer is tough; besides getting the facts straight, we need to weave together a narrative that presents the facts in an interesting way for readers.  Doing the research can sometimes be the easier of the two parts of the narrative non-fiction writer’s job. Finding the right voice and editing your story can take longer than finding the facts.

Where to start?  Find an interesting subject for kids who has not been written about endlessly. If you are going to write about Abraham Lincoln or Martin Luther King, what is the spin on your story that is different from the dozens of books already out there?  There have been great new children’s bios in the past few years about  Albert Einstein, Gordon Parks, even one about  the friendship between Henry Ford and Thomas Edison. All of these books relied on strong writing and beautiful illustration to drive forward story.

As a researcher I find my subjects by reading, reading, reading. Newspaper and magazine articles  provide a great starting path to finding good subjects for non-fiction. I spend a lot of time in the American History and Biography sections of my library looking for new subjects to research. When I find a person who I think will be interesting to kids or who is an undiscovered hero, I am ready to begin my writing. It usually takes me a few weeks to get the facts, but a few months to write the main story and connect the dots on how to make a scientist’s or historian’s life relatable to kids today. I try to find facts about the person when they were a child and who or what inspired them when they were younger. Is there an important life event of your subject that can be the main plot line of your narrative children’s biography?

Last, but not least, after you have the narrative done, take a few weeks to let your manuscript rest. Read it over with fresh eyes and edit out all the extraneous words; the ands, the “thes” and too many hes, and shes . It’s amazing what a second, third or tenth look at your writing will find. Have some other readers’  opinions.  A strong, respectful  or poetic voice about your subject  throughout your manuscript is key. If you love who or what you are writing about it will show.



Back to School with Picture Book Author Audrey Vernick

It’s that time of year again! Parents and teachers are getting ready, kids are getting nervous that summer is ending. To ease the transition back, why not introduce some humorous and fun new books into your school year? As a librarian I love to find new picture books perfect for my kindergarten and first graders. I interviewed Audrey Vernick, who is not only a great picture book author, but a fellow writer friend who I grew up with back in Queens, NYC.  Our  shared love of reading and baseball (Yankees and Mets) probably harkens back to those simpler days in the 1970’s before cyberspace and cell phones.  Audrey is a prolific writer who has four new books to be released in 2016, both fiction and non-fiction.  Her newest is the hilarious “First Grade Dropout.” We had a lovely chat about books, writing and baseball.

Lisa:  What were some of your favorite books/authors to read when you were in elementary school?

Audrey: I very much remember loving Ursula Nordstrom’s The Secret Language, Louise Fitzhugh’s Harriet the Spy, and Frances Hodgson Burnett’s The Secret Garden. I read that magical garden-discovery scene over and over. Syd Hoff’s novel, Irving and Me, is something I read repeatedly too, though I don’t know why. I think it was fascinating to be in a boy brain in that way for me when I was in fifth grade.

Lisa: How did Mrs. Falon, our PS 184 librarian, influence you?

Audrey: For me, Mrs. Falon is most memorable for coupling arts and crafts with alliteration and ambitious lyric attempts. Every year, as I remember it, we had to make a “Barney Bookworm” out of a squiggly piece of styrofoam. We may have pierced Barney in the general eye area to string a bit of yarn through his head so we could wear him around our necks. And Mrs. Falon wrote her own lyrics to “O Tannenbaum” to include Chanukah in a December holiday song, memorably rhyming remember and December. But most palpably of all, I remember that Mrs. Falon wore a very generous amount of tea rose perfume.

Lisa: Who are some of your fav picture book authors for kids today?

Audrey: SO MANY! Liz Garton Scanlon, Deborah Underwood. Bob Shea hits my funny bone. Newcomer Beth Ferry is sort of astounding with her perfect debut book, Stick and Stone hitting the NY Times Bestsellers List! I’ll always be madly in love with James Marshall’s George and Martha books. And I could spend years looking at Kadir Nelson’s illustrations and not grow bored.

Lisa: Do you prefer to write fiction or non-fiction, since you are a prolific author in both

Audrey: I honestly enjoy both–that’s why I write both. I wouldn’t love writing about something I don’t care about–like explorers or clouds or something. That would feel like dreaded homework. But I get to choose what I write about, one of my favorite things about what I do.

Lisa: Some of your books are so funny. (ie. Is YourBuffalo Ready for Kindergarden?,
First Grade Dropout, Edgar) Do you have an author who influenced your
humorous style?

 Audrey: Thank you! I had to think about the answer to this one. And I’m pretty sure this is it. Mo Willems broke it all open. Or at least he’s the writer on my radar who leapt over what passed for funny in picture books to a genuinely funny place. I wouldn’t say he influenced my style, but I think he’s the one who gave me permission to be a more genuine kind of funny in my books. People who know me well say my books read just like me talking. For that influence, I guess I’d look toward my family on 23rd Avenue in Whitestone

LIsa: Finally I would be remiss if I didn’t ask about your love of baseball. You have a new book coming out next year, The Kid from Diamond Street: The Extraordinary Story of Baseball Legend Edith Houghton, about a female ball player and have 2 prior titles about baseball players. How did you get so interested in the sport?

Audrey: I become a stuttery mess when I’m asked this at author visits. I’ve concluded that explaining why you like something is really hard. My preference for purple over white grape juice–it tastes better–is not easy to articulate in a way that really explains it. There are a few reasons. I love baseball’s rich history. I like that it’s played without a clock. It’s a game with an enormous amount of time in it (too much for those who are not fans), and it allows a brain to sometimes get hazy and drift and find the stories within the game or reflect back on another game or just savor the moment. As someone who is not a natural high-fiver, I have hilarious memories of high fiving strangers at Yankee Stadium after some incredible moments–amazing plays in the postseason, Jeter’s 3000th hit, Josh Hamilton’s insane moonshots at the Home Run Derby come to mind).

There’s also the improbability of the game that delights me. In crafting stories, we’re supposed to write an ending that’s surprising but that ultimately seems almost inevitable. On the nights that baseball does that–wow.

To read more about Audrey’s books, take a look at her lovely new website at