Tag Archives: children’s books

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.

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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!

 

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Thanks Jenna, for your awesome answers!

 

 

 

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.

 

 

 

 

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

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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

 

 

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.

 

 

A World Without Octobers- STEM and roots of growing lifelong readers

Writers’ block has haunted me for a few weeks after the death of my dad. Finally, my creative juices are flowing again and I have to thank my kindergarteners I teach library skills to for that.  It’s true- everything you need to know about life you learn in kindergarten. Because of my love of nature I feel inspired to teach my PreK and K all about its beauty, especially since they live in a very urban environment, an inner city. Every year we read favorite picture books, like “The Leaf Man,” ” How Many Seeds in a Pumpkin?” and “The Runaway Pumpkin.”   Every year I bring in mini pumpkins in October and teach them about the parts of a plant and the life cycle of a plant from seed to sprout.  At the end of October, I always give the pumpkins to the kids to keep, after they have graced the library desks. There are actual arguments about who gets to take the pumpkins home. I have to raffle them off and still some kids are upset. I cannot possibly buy 200 or 300 pumpkins for all the Prek to 2 graders I teach, but I do know that I have instilled in them a love for reading and learning about nature. We count pumpkins, look at the fall leaves and read so many books about them, fiction and non-fiction. The fall is probably my favorite season. October’s glorious colors and the crisper weather inspire me.  I discover migratory birds returning back south or west in my garden during October and November.  My lovely garden plants start to hibernate for winter, turning brown and dry. And I wait for the spring when I will again teach my students about the life cycle of nature, but this time of the miraculous monarch butterfly.