I Hope You Meet The Dollar Kids Soon! (And Author Interview)

In my head this is how I met Jennifer Richard Jacobson… Courtney and I were eating lunch in the common area of Nerdcamp. I had brought some delicious Costco cookies from home and shared one with Courtney. I took one and then I had 2 cookies left. I looked over and asked the 2 women next to me if they’d like a cookie. Each agreed and we started chatting. Very quickly I learned that these sweet-toothed women were Jacqueline Davies of The Lemonade Wars Series and Jennifer Richard Jacobson of the popular series Andy Shane. After talking about our group and mission Jennifer handed us an Arc of The Dollar Kids.

I must admit I hadn’t heard anything about the book (which in a way I like sometimes, but from a publicity stand point I hope this post allows it to be put on more people’s TBR lists!) I was intrigued by the cover. And another thing I will admit is that I didn’t read the back of the book until after I had started it. The story starts with a short comic that sets up a major problem for our main character, Lowen. By page 4 we’ve found out Lowen’s friend was shot and killed and this sets the stage for the rest of the book. Lowen is ridden with guilt over his friend’s death and when an opportunity comes along to bid on a house costing a dollar in a small town where they can explore new opportunities as a family, the family agrees it’s worth a shot.  

This book is intense, heartfelt, frustrating and touching all at the same time. I think that with such heavy topics and a total of almost 400 pages, the target audience would be 5th grade and up. I think the characters were so enduring in their own ways and I loved meeting and getting to know each one of them. Jennifer does a wonderful job of allowing you to grow with each character. Also, besides the comic that starts the book, there are others scattered through that puts you inside Lowen’s thoughts. I thought this was a clever way to portray some of his feelings. When I finished the book I felt a sense of fulfillment that I had gotten to know the Dollar Kids and part sad that I was leaving them. But it will be a book I recommend to many. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did!

Thank you Jennifer for taking the time to answer 3 questions about the book and 3 questions about you!

3 Questions about The Dollar Kids

What are three words you’d use to describe your book?

Thought-provoking, entertaining, uplifting

How did you come up with the idea for the dollar houses storyline?

My husband’s hometown is a former mill town and each time we visited, we observed more decline. We’d brainstorm ways the town might stimulate growth.  I’d heard about dollar programs happening in other parts of the country and began to wonder what would happen if this little town decided to sell homes for one dollar. That “What if . . .” turned into this story.

All the characters are all very complex.  Which one was the easiest to create, which was the hardest?  

Thank you for saying that all of the characters are complex!  I work hard to create characters who, like real people, have contradictions.  Mum was probably the easiest to create because her persistence and determination are similar to mine.  We are not easily dissuaded.

Lowen was no doubt the hardest character to develop. All of my protagonists concerns tap into my deepest fears. In this story, Lowen is trying to cope with his guilt over a friend’s death.  While writing the story, I was wracked with guilt for having decided to have my beloved dog put down. I hated knowing that I was the one who determined when her life would end.

3 Questions about You

If you weren’t a writer, what would you want to be and why?

A teacher.  And actually, I am!  I no longer have my own classroom, but I travel around the country providing instruction and support on Writer’s Workshop.

What is one book that has stuck with you since you’ve read it?

Piecing Me Together by Renée Watson.  Renée does such an incredible job of showing us how blind (and shallow) “good intentions” can be.  I was trying to do something similar with The Dollar Kids.

What is one item in your refrigerator that tells us about you?

Champagne.  Though my books tackle difficult issues, I do believe that life — and people– give us so much to celebrate!

To Learn more about Jennifer Richard Jacobson visit her website or you can find her on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook.

Meet Yasmin…and Author Interview

Meet Yasmin! is a new early chapter book by Saadia Faruqi.  We were generously given a copy to read and review, and all opinions are our own.

Yasmin is a Pakistani American second-grader who is a problem solver, and throughout all of the stories, is a child that never gave up.  Meet Yasmin! is comprised of four mini-books, whose colorful illustrations by Hatem Aly are an engaging addition to the text.  All four books deal with real-life situations children Yasmin’s age typically face each day .  She is a character that is easy to relate to, and throughout the book you learn a lot about her parents and culture.  Books should be windows and mirrors*, and Meet Yasmin is that for many children around the world.  We think every  classroom should have a copy of this book in their library.

We had the opportunity to interview Saadia Faruqi, here are three questions about the book & 3 questions about the her

3 Questions about Meet Yasmin

What are three words you’d use to describe your book?

Relevant. Fun. Timely.

What literary character would Yasmin be friends with and why?

In contemporary characters, Yasmin would probably be friends with Katie Woo, from the Katie Woo series by Fran Manushkin. Going back a bit, she’d probably have much in common with Meg from A Wrinkle in Time. These are all girls who aren’t superheroes, and they often struggle with what life throws at them, but they don’t give up.

What was your motivation for making Yasmin into an early chapter book vs. wanting it to be a middle grade book or even a picture book?

Actually this book started out as a picture book, and then somehow evolved into an early reader series. So it’s gone through some iterations before it found the skin it was comfortable in. I feel that the age group of K-2 is perfect for what Yasmin stands for. It’s the time when kids are just learning about their identities and the world around them, and this age is the perfect age to learn about Yasmin and her family.

3 Questions about You

If you weren’t a writer, what would you want to be and why?

Is that even possible? I’m a writer forever! But if I wasn’t a writer I’d be working in some sort of marketing job because I really enjoy the promotion aspect of book publishing as well. And then I’d write a book about how to do that!

What is one book that has stuck with you since you’ve read it?

I recently read Some Kind of Courage by Dan Gemeinhart and was really shook by it. I think books that handle death and loss in a way children can handle it are so important, and I can’t stop telling everyone about this book!

What is one item in your refrigerator that tells us about you?

There is a lot of Diet Coke in there, which is only for me and nobody else is allowed to drink! It’s my go-to source of caffeine since I don’t drink tea or coffee, and it helps me think when I’m trying to relax.

Thank you Saadia for taking the time to chat with us!

To learn more about Saadia Faruqi please visit her website or you can follow her on Twitter, Instagram or Facebook

* Credit given to: Rudine Sims Bishop for the term

Join The Unicorn Rescue Society!

We were lucky enough to be chosen to join The Unicorn Rescue Society-The Basque Dragon blog tour!  Thank you Penguin Publishing for sending us a free ARC.  We have enjoyed this series and know it will be loved by all readers.

If you haven’t read the first book, you should start there…you’re in for a real treat!  In the first book, The Creature of the Pines, you meet the entertaining and adventurous characters.  And of course, learn about The Unicorn Rescue Society.

After you read this series, we’re pretty sure you will be wanting to join The Rescue Society yourself!  Afraid to go at it alone?  We’re here to help!  We’ve written a letter for you to give to a friend that might need a little convincing.  After all, secret societies are more fun with a pal!  Check it out below:

If our letter doesn’t help you convince your friend, here’s what Penguin has to say about The Unicorn Rescue Society. 

A fully illustrated, globe-trotting new middle grade fantasy-adventure series about mythical creatures and their cultures of origin, from the Newbery Honor-winning author of The Inquisitor’s Tale.

Elliot and Uchenna have barely recovered from their first adventure with the Unicorn Rescue Society when the mysterious Professor Fauna approaches them with an all-new quest. And this time, they’re going to have to cross the Atlantic Ocean to the Basque Country. Elliot and Uchenna, with Jersey in tow, soon wonder whether their newest, fire-breathing rescue might be more than they can handle. And why do the evil-doing Schmoke Brothers seem to be involved yet again?

This is the second book in Unicorn Rescue Society, an exciting and hilarious new series about friendship, adventure, and mythical creatures from around the world by Newbery Honor-winning author Adam Gidwitz teamed up with Mixtape Club founders Jesse Casey and Chris Smith, and Hatem Aly, illustrator of The Inquisitor’s Tale.”

The Unicorn Rescue Society: The Basque Dragon is out July 10th!  And be sure to check out www.unicornrescuesociety.com to learn more about the characters, the books, and the authors & illustrators.

Kid Review: Lou Lou & Pea and The Bicentennial Bonanza

Thank you Jill Diamond for sending Marley, our kid reviewer,  the free Advanced Reader Copy (ARC) of your latest friendship adventure- Lou Lou & Pea and the Bicentennial Bonanza.

Marley is a voracious 5th grade reader and couldn’t wait to get her hands on this book! Here is her summary and review!

Lulu and Pea is a story about two friends who have different hobbies but cherish their friendship. In the story, Lulu and Pea’s neighborhood is hosting the party for the town’s 200th birthday and everyone is preparing. Then the mayor leaves the town and the party is in the hands of the vice mayor. Soon, the town’s preparation and excitement goes down the drain when the party is moved to another neighborhood and, coincidently enough, it is the vice mayor’s neighborhood. Can Lulu and Pea save their town’s preparations and party, or will their bonanza turn into a disappointment?

 I would recommend this book for young readers who want a challenge and older readers who just want a great story. I rate this book with 5 stars because of the way it draws you in and you don’t want to stop reading.

All in all, this was a wonderful book and I give a big thanks to Storymamas for letting me review it.

This book was released a few weeks ago, so feel free to run to a bookstore and buy a copy today!

Marley is finishing up the school year and will soon be off to middle school in the fall. She loves reading, and spends hours before bed getting lost in books! She enjoys soccer, theater, being with friends, is a wonderful niece to Storymama Kim, and loves to read to her cousins any chance she gets! 

 

To learn more about Jill Diamond checkout her website or follow her on twitter.

The Way to Bea

When you open a book and then find yourself ignoring the world, and before you know it you have finished the book, you know you’ve experienced something special. That’s how it was from the moment we met Bea and we thank Little Brown School & Library for sending us an advance copy of the book.

In the The Way To Bea by Kat Yeh, the main character, Bea is a girl in middle school, navigating everything that is hard about life..family, friends, school, and trying to figure out who she really is. Bea has a hard time adjusting to middle school, as she’s had a falling out with her best friend over the summer. When starting school she becomes quiet and reserved as she adjusts to the changes that come with middle school, as well as the big changes that are happening at home. Bea finds comfort in writing notes and poems with invisible ink, and hides them in what she thinks is a secret spot in the woods. Her secret pen-pal, combined with new friends Bea has made, help her truly understand herself and what it means to be true friends.

Kat paints a wonderful picture and shows readers how our talents and creativity can be outlets when dealing with life’s troubles. For example, Bea is a talented poet and Bea’s mom is also a well respected artist. Kat’s characters are memorable, her story is engaging and we hope you will take the time to read, meet and fall in love with Bea!

Kat was kind enough to answer 3 questions about the book & 3 questions about herself!

3 ?s about The Way To Bea

What are three words you use to describe your book?

Poetic

Adventurous

Hopeful

Tell us more about the inspiration for the characters. Were they based on anyone from your own life?

The Way to Bea is about Beatrix Lee, a twelve year old girl who loses her friend group at the start of 7th grade. Something similar happened to me in 9th grade. My best friends and I began to grow apart. We started hanging out with different crowds and just didn’t have the same kind of time together that we’d always had before.

When I started writing this book, I thought a lot about how different that experience would have been if i had been 12 and in 7th grade (like Bea) instead of 14 and in 9th grade. And what if…instead of a gradual growing apart, there had been a dramatic incident that forced the breaking up of the friendship. What would that have been like? While Bea’s story isn’t quite mine, she is very much like me. Thinking about poems, drawing and scribbling and making up stories and day-dreaming all the time.

When my daughter read the book, she thought that Bea’s parents were very much like me and my real life husband, Peter — she laughed and thought it was hilarious how lovey-dovey they were. So I guess that’s a good thing 🙂 Though when I was writing, I pictured Bea’s father as a combination of my brother in law, who is a very fun and goofy guy and Gene Yuen Lang, who is a wonderful author and graphic novelist (just like Bea’s dad!). I did add some physical elements to some characters based on friends. But mostly, the other characters came out of my imagination with just little hints of people I know.

What was the the original pitch that led to this book? How did it evolve over the drafts?

I was nervous when I pitched this book. I had loved writing my first novel, The Truth About Twinkie Pie. The story and the characters came so naturally to me. And i just didn’t know how to begin this next book. So, I started with the idea that If I had an emotional connection to the story, I would fall back into that wonderful place where the words just flowed. I thought back to my 9th grade year and the changing of friend groups. But I knew I needed something more. Here is the pitch that I sent my editor.

“For 13 year old Dandy, the start of her freshman year in high school feels like she’s on a ride she has no control over. Everything around her is changing and shifting faster than she can handle: her best friends start hanging with a different crowd and she just can’t figure out who she is and how she fits in anywhere — for now, all she wants is to just blend in and disappear. But nothing about Dandy blends into a crowd. She’s different. From being a year younger than everyone in her grade — to the way she looks — to her famous and infamous family — to her talent in the arts which she considers squashing to prevent drawing even more attention to herself. And if that wasn’t enough, in her confusing search for a place to fit in, she finds the person she is spending the most time with is new student David – a boy with Asperger’s who is obsessed with drawing mazes. When Dandy starts leaving torn pieces of paper with her feelings written on them tucked into secret places around campus, she is surprised when she starts receiving responses. LITTLE GIRL IN THE MIDDLE is a story about navigating the painful twists and turns of changing friendships, figuring out how to accept the things that make you You, and then finding the bravery to let the world see.”

As you can see, the initial pitch a little different from the final book. I actually knew nothing of the plot when I wrote this. I liked the idea of hiding pieces of paper with messages on them and receiving answers, but I didn’t know who was sending the messages to her yet. And I remember that I just kinda threw in that David was “obsessed with drawing mazes.” I always liked mazes and thought that would be an interesting thing to write about. Plus I just felt like I needed more detail in this proposal. I wanted to sound like i knew what I was talking about! I had no idea that mazes and labyrinths would become a central theme to the book.

As I worked with my editor, we decided to make Dandy younger and I set her at 12 and in 7th grade. I also changed her name several times! She was Dandy for a long time. Then Tomie. I played with a few other names and then realized that she was definitely a Bea. A Bea trying to figure out how to Be. And that led me to realizing that David was actually Will. Someone who was making small changes – and determined to be a better friend. I liked the future promise of the word Will (I will, you will, he will) and it just had to be his name. After their friendship started shaping for me, I knew that this story would be about life as a maze. And being brave enough to work your way through.

3 ?s about You

If you weren’t a writer, what would you want to be and why?

I’d love to be an artist. I haven’t had a lot of time to paint and draw since I’ve started writing novels and picture books and I really miss that part of my life. I have a beautiful studio that I’ve never set up because we moved into this house just as I started writing my first novel. My easel and flat files and all my art supplies are all just lying there, waiting for me to have time again.

When I think about art and the creation of art, I feel the same way I do when I think about writing. It’s all about finding deep truths, expressing them, and (hopefully) connecting. Both writing and art are such very personal things. I hope to always create in a very honest way because I truly believe this is how you find your people. And how they find you.

What is one book that has stuck with you since you’ve read it?

There are so many books that could fit into this answer. I think I’ll say WATERSHIP DOWN by Richard Adams. I read it in 6th grade and it was my first really BIG novel. I remember thinking about how fat the paperback was and how tiny the type was. It looked like a grown-up book with a serious cover. But the second I started reading, I was transported.

WATERSHIP DOWN is the story of rabbits in search of a new home when their warren is destroyed by humans. I still love and reread this book often. The rabbits have their own language and history. They have legends and stories. They love and take care of each other and argue and fight. And through their story and adventure, they show us that strength is not just about size. That bravery shows up in the smallest of us. And that you can be little and different and strange and still be someone who can make a true difference for the ones you care about. Oh, I love this book. And now I want to go and read it again.

What is one item in your fridge that tells us about you?

Right now, it’s a fruit drawer overflowing with Ruby Red Grapefruit – though, that will be changing soon. Which tells you that I become obsessed — completely and utterly obsessed—with whatever is seasonal and delicious. And then I eat and eat and eat it until the next seasonal thing pops up. I can’t wait for Spring veggies. Baby artichokes and spring peas and asparagus.. The funny thing is that 99% of the time, it’s fruit and veggies that I become excited about EXCEPT for one thing that comes into season late Fall. Mallomars. This always cracks me up. Mallomars are seasonal, because their delicate chocolate coating would melt in the summer 🙂 so it’s always exciting when the first boxes show up in the Fall.

Thanks for chatting with Storymamas! We loved you answers! 

To learn more about Kat and her work. Please visit Kat’s website, Instagram, Twitter and Facebook.

Take a trip to the Amazon Rainforest: Let’s Celebrate Multicultural Children’s Book Day

Bom Dia! Good Day! We want to join in celebrating multicultural day by sharing a wonderful travel series!

Thank you to Janelle, a Medallion Level Sponsor for sending us the book, Mystery of the Troubled Toucan by Lisa Travis, illustrated by Adam Turner to review and enjoy. Thank you also to Valarie Budayr from Jump Into A Book and Mia Wenjen from PragmaticMom for raising awareness for multicultural books and for celebrating diversity! All opinions are our own.

The book Mystery of the Troubled Toucan is an adventure travel series for ages 6-9 called A Pack-n-Go Girls Adventure, this book takes place in Brazil and is the first in the series. It is about two girls, Sofia and Júlia, who develop a friendship when Sofia comes from Florida with her dad to visit the Amazon Rainforest. Along with the new experiences the rainforest brings she meets a new friend, Júlia.

It’s a mystery that involves a danger signaling toucan, pink dolphins, poachers and two girls who want to save the animals of the rainforest. Not only is it a story about the beautiful country of Brazil but Lisa does a wonderful job of embedding a tricky family situation for Sofia. Her parents are going through a divorce and she is constantly worried throughout the story about what her family will look like when she returns home. Meanwhile Júlia doesn’t seem to worry about too much and often says, “nao se preocupe”, don’t worry when Sofia starts to get upset or worried about something. The friendship the girls build throughout the story is heartwarming. We especially enjoyed the ending of the book when Sofia is on her way home and sees from the airplane the area where two bodies of water meet and she realizes that this is just like her family will be, “separate but not together”.

Lisa writes with such imagery you feel you’re in the rainforest as the girls experience various animals, plants, food and even the Portuguese language. Reading the story made us want to read more about Brazil and get on an airplane to experience it all ourselves! As a bonus feature at the end of the book there is a place with various lists of interesting facts about Brazil like: the history, government, a map, food, weather, Portuguese/English word translations and a travel journal for those that end up going to the country.

Check out the Multicultural Children’s Book Day website for more information about the wonderful event and their mission to spread the diverse book love!

 

Spotlight On: Debbie Ridpath Ohi

If you’ve never heard of or interacted with Debbie Ridpath Ohi, you need to immediately! We met her a few years back at Nerdcamp Michigan, when she had just come out with her debut picture book, Where Are My Books?   

During our chat we asked her if she’d Skype with our students in the coming year and she was thrilled to do so. Boy, are we glad we asked her. Our students had the best time “meeting” her. She had boundless energy and was also able to do a demonstration of how she created her found object art. During the Skype she turned a crumbled up piece of paper into a beautiful ballerina wearing a tutu.  One of the questions I asked her toward the end of our session was “what advice would you give to these students?” Her answer was incredible and the message she spoke about is still mentioned to this day, over two years later! She told my kids she had wished she knew earlier, that you don’t always need to be perfect the first time! Here’s a tweet a student sent her following the Skype session:

Besides being a wonderful person, I want to talk about her illustrations. We were so excited to read her new solo book Sam and Eva that came out a few weeks ago. The illustrations tell a lot of the story, but the book itself has many important themes. If you have not read this book, it’s a great one to add to #classroombookaday to discuss friendship, flexible thinking, or how art can tell many stories!

We are so happy she continues to come out with new books so often. Whether she is doing both writing and drawing or just illustrating, you will love her work! Debbie was kind enough to answer 3 questions about the book and 3 questions about her. Enjoy!

3 questions about the book

What can fans of your work expect from Sam and Eva?

A fun creative clash between two young artists, inspired by cartoon wars that a friend and I had back in our university days. Sam is drawing when Eva arrives, wanting to collaborate. The creative clash that ensues when their drawings start to come to life is fun and chaotic…but then both children realize things are getting out of hand and decide to work together. Sam & Eva is about art, creative collaboration and friendship.

What does your workplace look like?

As you can tell, I do not have one of those spacious, sunlit artist studios that overlooks a verdant meadow blooming with wildflowers. My office is in the basement, and I have covered up the windows with colourful scarves because (1) I never look out the windows anyway when I’m working, and (2) one window “looks out” under our deck and the other is blocked by bushes.

My husband Jeff and I call my office my “cave.” And I do so love my Office Cave.

What was your process for writing and illustrating Sam and Eva?  Was it the same as when you created Where Are My Books?

For Sam and Eva, I came up with a picture book dummy (a rough mock-up of the picture book) ahead of time and sent that to my editor, Justin Chanda at Simon & Schuster Children’s. He accepted it the next morning! I had to put off working on Sam & Eva for a while since I was working on other book projects first, so I had to reread it several times when it WAS time to work on the book to remind myself of the story.

Then I worked on the text with Justin, improving the story flow, page turns and language. Although I started working on character sketches earlier, I didn’t start working on the layout sketches for the interior spreads until the text was finalized. During the art phase, I worked mainly with my art director at Simon & Schuster, Laurent Linn. Laurent helped me figure out how to improve the visual aspect. I’ve worked with Justin and Laurent on my other picture books with S&S, and I learn so much from them with each project!

In contrast, Where Are My Books? took a lot longer to finalize the story and art. The main reason? It was my first solo picture book! I felt like such a newbie and had so many questions. Hm…in many ways, I still feel like a newbie and do keep asking a lot of questions! I figure that’s a good thing, however — it means that I’m still learning.

3 questions about you

If you weren’t an illustrator/author, what would you want to be and why?

A songwriter/musician. I’ve always loved making music with other people, and have written and co-written songs for my music group as a fun hobby, plus have done a few session musician gigs. A couple of the songs I wrote made it to national radio! In a parallel universe, I think I’d try to make a living writing music and playing music. It’s a whole other type of creative collaboration.

What is one book that has stuck with you since you’ve read it?

Dandelion Wine by Ray Bradbury. It’s the first book that made me aware of how voice can enhance my reading experience.

What is one item in your fridge that tells us about you?

Ha! Fun question. Hm, let me think. Ok, how about this: some radish tops, leaves attached. Most people discard this part of the radish but I like saving them for potential found object art. Also: some shrivelled up basil leaves – I had been planning to use them for found object art but, um….forgot!

Thank you Debbie for chatting with us!

To learn more about Debbie please visit her website. Or follow her on Instragram and Twitter.

World Kindness- #middleschoolpicturebook

Last year I wrote a post about how I use Thank You Mr. Falker by Patricia Polacco in my classroom for a special Thanksgiving activity. Please take the time to read that post here. 

Today is also World Kindness Day and although I am currently staying home with my two boys for the year and don’t have a class to do this activity with, I decided to become my own student and show kindness to an old teacher. Last night I reread the book and then wrote a thank you letter to an old teacher in my life. I picked a woman who was my cooperating teacher for my student teaching in 2001! I have been in contact with her off and on through the years and decided I wanted her to be the recipient of a letter from me. I hope I hear back from her. Please keep your fingers crossed with me.

Another reason I want bring this book up is because I want to reiterate how important picture books can be for all ages. Right now there is a movement called #classroombookaday, which has many elementary, middle and even high school classes taking the time each day to read a picture book. I feel this book is the perfect #picturebooksformiddleschool! Published in 2012, it is a heart warming story about a bright girl, who has difficulty reading, finds comfort in drawing, and in 5th grade finally meets a teacher who helps her become a reader. Every time I read it I get tears in my eyes when she reencounters her teacher at the end. This is a great time to read it aloud in your classroom and have the students give thanks to the many teachers who have helped shaped who they are.

Please leave a comment on how you’ve used this book or any other “giving thanks” favorites!

 

Keith Haring – The Boy Who Kept Drawing

 

I grew up just outside New York City, starting when I was young, my family went into Manhattan quite a bit for dinner, theater, etc. Each time we drove down the FDR (a highway on the East side) we would pass this giant orange wall with fun people drawn on it and above the people I was always able to read the words, “Crack is Wack”.  Little did I know what crack was at that age or that it was the work of artist Keith Haring. But the image made a lasting impression on me and my family. I learned that Keith was the artist of that wall many years later when my sister bought a print of his and had it hung on her bedroom wall. Then as I got older I enjoyed seeing his work pop up in different places.

I was so excited when I heard there was a picture book written about him. The same day I discovered it on one of Donalyn Miller’s Books for a Better World slides,  I ran to get myself a copy. To my surprise the book was written by Kay A. Haring, Keith’s sister. The book explores his journey as an artist and how he felt that anybody should be able to enjoy his art. I loved learning that his exhibitions always brought a diverse group of people, ranging from celebrities, collectors, and families.  I think his passion for art and sharing it with the world will really resonate with kids. 

Kay was kind enough to provide us with more pictures of her and Keith as well as answer 3 questions about the book and 3 questions about her.

Kay and Keith

The Haring Family


3 Questions about Keith Haring: The Boy Who Just Kept Drawing

What was your process for writing Keith Haring: The Boy Who Just Kept Drawing?

I always wanted to tell my brother’s story emphasizing his generous nature and over the last decade had drafted at least three different storylines. About five years ago I joined a writer’s group and needed something to present, so I resurrected those drafts and combined them into one.  I knew then that I had to pursue this project, so I started to explore the process to publish, and joined SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators). I found an agent the first time I made queries and within three months we met with four publishers and had two offers. After accepting an offer, it took three years to bring to print. Much of this time was spent on carefully selecting and integrating Keith’s artwork with Robert Neubecker’s illustrations.

The actual content of the story was easy to write. I wanted children to experience Keith’s generosity and his easy going, fun-loving personality. While there were dozens of scenarios I could choose from, there were a few situations that stood out as hallmarks of Keith’s dedication and commitment to community.  The difficult part of a story like this is to edit it down to a reasonable length. Many scenes had to be cut or combined in order to shape the final message.

Because this book is so personal, were you able to pick the illustrator?

No. That’s not the way it works when you use one of the big publishers. I was fortunate, however, that the editor believed it best that we collaborate and it turned out the illustrator lives in our vacation town, so we were able to meet in person a number of times. Plus, he lived and worked in NYC in the 80’s. Robert Neubecker’s understanding of and contributions from the art/street scene was invaluable.  

What do you think Keith would say if he read this book?

Do I really look like that? (He always had a sense of humor!)

 

3 Questions about You

If you weren’t a writer, what would you want to be and why?

A Park Ranger in the National Park system. I love nature and science, because they hold inevitable truths and incredible beauty.  How awesome would it be to walk beneath the trees everyday and expand the minds of children (and adults) by exposing them to new elements in nature?  One of my favorite volunteer jobs was to introduce people to sea urchins and hermit crabs at the Waikiki Aquarium.  I learned invaluable lessons about people and how they interact with their environment and hopefully encouraged a few kids to pursue biology and conservation.

 

What is one book that has stuck with you since you’ve read it?

While living in Hawai’i, I read the novel “Moloka’i” by Alan Brennert, and was fortunate to visit Kalaupapa and walk the trail leading down – and back out – of the former leprosy community.  The novel portrays a personal glimpse into the life of someone exiled because of a disease and how the human spirit triumphs no matter the circumstance.

In the children’s picture book genre, an unforgettable one is “You Made Me a Mother” by Laurenne Sala, illustrated by Robin Preiss Glasser.  Not since I read “Love You Forever” to my kids, thirty years ago, has a story made me tear up, every time.  And now that I know more about the serendipity that is involved in combining words with illustrations, I recognize this as a true masterpiece.

What is one item in your fridge that tells us about you?

Half & half – for my morning coffee. 🙂

Kay talking about Keith and the book with kids

Thank you so much for allowing us to interview you! To learn more about Kay visit her website.  Also, proceeds from the book go to Berks County Community Foundation, an organization in her family hometown that benefits the youth. To find out more visit them at bccf.org

Melanie Crowder talks Three Pennies & More…

I met Melanie at an event a few months ago at Second Star to The Right Books in Denver, Colorado. Melanie sat in a room with me and we book talked many Middle Grade book titles to other educators. She of course gave her own book talk about her book, Three Pennies. Although it was on my TBR pile, I hadn’t yet read it. But man, after her talk about how important this book was to her and the passion in her voice, I knew it had to be moved up. After the talks, Melanie turned and gave a copy to us. I went home and promptly started it….


They say books should be mirrors and windows for readers. This book was a window for me into the difficulties of being a child in the foster care system. In the author’s notes Melanie mentions that she advanced time lines for the sake of the story and is fully aware things take much longer than portrayed in the book. The short chapters, told from different perspectives made such a heavy book seem light and easy to read. I felt that the book read almost as if I was watching it as a movie. The raw emotions from the characters help you step into their shoes. You felt for Marin when she explains why she wants to be invisible in her foster care home. And the desperation when she wants to find her mother. Melanie has created a wonderful book that many would see as a mirror, and I hope that one day those children will find a loving home.  

Melanie was kind enough to answer 3 questions about the book and 3 questions about her.

3 Questions about Three Pennies

Were you familiar with the I Ching prior to writing this story?

I wasn’t—at all!

Here’s the story. The last time I visited Montana for my niece’s birthday, my sister had this amazing idea to do a scavenger hunt on bikes for the kids that would lead them ultimately to this sweet little ice cream shop. Perfect. The kind of party a kid would remember forever, right?

Well, the kids were five, so some were ready for the BMX course, but others were still rocking the strider bike. It was a little bit of a logistical challenge, to say the least…

At some point, when faced with too many decisions piling on top of each other, my sister said:

Enough! Let’s ask the I Ching what we should do.

Me: The what?

Her: The I Ching. Duh.

Okay, so I needed an education. My sister explained that the I Ching is an ancient Chinese divination text, credited to Confucius, that has been used for centuries by people to guide them through life. She explained that you could ask questions about everyday kinds of things, or you can ask the BIG questions of life.

So my sister is telling me all about how the I Ching works and I have an honest-to-goodness physical reaction. Something between goosebumps and that feeling you get in the middle of a thunderstorm when there’s a little too much electricity in the air.

I just knew in that moment that someday I was going to write a book about a girl who used the I Ching to figure out her life’s problems.

How did the idea of the different perspectives come to you?

You know, it was that way from the very beginning. That’s just how the story came to me.

This is such an important topic, what was the journey to getting it published?

I am very fortunate—I have an excellent relationship with my middle grade editor. Three Pennies was our third book together. So when I got the idea, I polished up a few sample pages and sent them her way. I loved the story. She loved the story. The publisher loved the story. And that was that!

3 Questions about You

If you weren’t a writer, what would you want to be and why?

When I was a middle grade reader, I was positive I’d be a marine biologist. These days, though, something to do with digging in the dirt sounds pretty great.

What is one book that has stuck with you since you’ve read it?

I read The Blue Sword once a year, usually when the weather turns colder. It’s a little like comfort food by this point!

What is one item in your fridge that tells us about you?

My family has lived in Oregon for generations, and some of the best memories from my childhood are from running around my great uncle’s filbert orchard on the McKenzie River. To this day, I keep a bag of filberts in my fridge for snacking and for when I’m missing home.

Thank you Melanie for talking with storymamas!

To learn more about Melanie and her other books visit her website or you can find her on Instagram or Twitter.