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.

 

Sparkle Boy Shines Bright

Author Lesléa Newman contacted Storymamas about her newest book, Sparkle Boy. We were so excited to get this one in the mail and share it with our own kiddos as well as the students we teach. A little boy, Casey, loves all the sparkly things his sister is wearing: her skirt, her bracelet, her nail polish and he wants to wear sparkly things too. But her sister doesn’t agree and claims that boys can’t wear sparkly things. We love the adults in the book who fully support Casey’s interests. Eventually once Casey’s sister hears other kids making fun of him she sticks up for him and believes he can be whoever he wants to be and wear whatever he feels comfortable wearing. It’s a story of acceptance, kindness, sibling love and the freedom to be who you want to be! We love the beautiful, textured illustrations and know that this book will be one that makes children believe they can also be themselves and free to break the gender stereotypes. Lesléa was so kind to answer some questions for us about her book, read on to hear about her writing process and a little bit about her as a person!

3 Questions about Sparkle Boy

What was your inspiration for writing Sparkle Boy?

All the “sparkle boys” in my life, young and old! I have a good friend who loves to dress up in silky nightgowns and matching peignoirs. He only feels safe to do so in the privacy of his home. I have thought a lot about that. Then one year, I attended family week in Provincetown and met many little boys who love to wear tutus. One boy’s father said, “I wish he could dress like this all year instead of just for one week.” I thought a lot about that, too. I wrote SPARKLE BOY in hopes of expanding these “safety zones.” The entire world should be a safe place for any one of us to dress as we please without fear of ridicule or harm.

What do you hope children take away after reading this book?

I hope children will take away the idea that we all deserve to be who we are, and that skirts, nail polish, and glittery jewelry have no gender. They are for everyone who wants to wear them. I hope the book relays the message that everyone deserves acceptance and respect, and that diversity enriches our world.

What was your process for writing Sparkle Boy?

I wrote SPARKLE BOY the way I write all my books: by longhand in a spiral notebook. I wrote the first draft quickly, without looking back. Then I read it over and revised it. Then I read the new second draft and revised it. After I did this about twenty times (really!) I showed it to my spouse, who is an excellent reader, to my writer’s group which is made up of extremely smart women, and my wonderful agent. After I got their feedback, I revised and revised and revised. Then when the book was ready, my agent sent it out and I was lucky enough to have it accepted by Lee & Low, which is a fabulous children’s book press whose mission is to fill the world with diverse children’s books. Then my editor gave me notes and I revised once more. And then the text of the book was done and ready to be illustrated by the fantastically talented Maria Mola.

3 Questions about You

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

Ooh, this is a hard question. I would want to work with animals because I am such an animal lover. But I can’t stand the sight of blood (I pass our easily!) so I could never be a veterinarian. I would love to be an animal therapist and bring dogs and cats to nursing homes and hospitals. When my dad was recently in the hospital, he was visited by a collie named Alfie and it cheered him up so much. But I think I will stick to being a writer (and continue to write books about animals, such as Ketzel, The Cat Who Composed and The Best Cat in The World).

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

Oh, there are just so many, it’s hard to pick just one. But if I had to, it would be Anne Frank’s The Diary of a Young Girl which taught me more about human nature than any other book I have ever read.

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

There is always some form of dark chocolate in my refrigerator. My beloved grandmother, who lived to be 99 years old always ate a tiny bit of chocolate every night so “life shouldn’t be bitter.” I am proud to carry on this tradition!

 

BONUS Question

What does your workspace look like? 

I actually have two work spaces, one at home, and one away from home. At home, I have a big room with a couch and a desk and chair and lots of bookshelves. My desk faces a wall and on the wall, among my awards is the only painting I have ever done: a portrait of my dog, Angus who came to live with my family when I was 12. Outside of my home, I work at a writer’s collective called The Writers Mill where I share a room with 3 other women. Our motto is “Industry Loves Company.” I have also been known to write in coffee shops and hotel rooms, and on planes, trains, and buses. That’s the beauty of writing: all you need is a pen and notebook and an open heart and mind and you can do it anywhere.

The wall of awards and her first painting!

 

Thank you Lesléa for writing such an important book and making it entertaining, adorable and one that all kids can connect to in some way.

Where Oliver Fits – A New Cale Atkinson Picture Book

The Storymamas fell in love with Cale’s work even before we actually read any of his books! How you ask? Cale released a book trailer prior to the release of his book To The Sea. After watching, we were eager to get our hands on the book and it did not disappoint. He has since released two more books that he both wrote and illustrated, Explorers of the Wild and Maxwell the Barber.

Where Oliver Fits is his new picture book released today. Cale was kind enough to answer our 3 questions about the book and 3 questions about himself. He also provided us with pictures to give you an inside look into his process.

Style test for Oliver

3 Questions about Where Oliver Fits

Who did you dedicate the book to and why?

In many ways I wrote Where Oliver Fits for anyone out there who at some point, (future, present or past) felt they didn’t really fit in. I think we all relate to that feeling at some point or another in our lives, myself included, so decided to dedicate it to ‘Anyone trying to find where they fit’. Hopefully those reading can see they’re not the only ones going through the trials and tribulations of trying to fit in, we all do, including Oliver!

What does your workspace look like? 

Funny enough, you can actually see more workspace in the Where Oliver Fits book trailer!

Link to trailer: https://vimeo.com/226057089

I have to admit my workspace doesn’t usually look quite as tidy as in the trailer. Generally there are papers, pencils, and pens strewn around! Also a good chance you’ll find a mug of coffee or tea.I usually have various things that inspire me or fun mementos on the magnet boards above my desk as well as different toys and things on my shelves.

My FAVORITE things at my workspace would probably have to be the statues a great friend of mine made for me as a surprise of each of my book characters (including Tim from To the Sea, The Explorer from Explorers of the Wild, and Oliver from Where Oliver Fits)!

What was your process for writing Where Oliver Fits?

The process writing this book all began with the initial idea: “We are all puzzle pieces, running around, trying to find our fit”.

A lot of the book’s main set up and progression came to me pretty easy after the idea. Like writing any book, it did have it’s many shifts, pivots and rewrites along the way!

Initially the book was written with only narration and the main puzzle piece character didn’t speak or even have a name! Later on it became clear that the story worked much better by giving the main character a larger role and personality in the story.

 

I also hummed and hawed for quite a long time on what the puzzles should be that Oliver dreams of being part of. For a long time there was going to be a big bearded pirate, a robot riding a unicorn and a cat wearing a suit. Later on there was also dinosaur scene and underwater scene. I’m happy with my final choices, but it definitely took some thinking and playing around to get there!

**Above are photos Cale provided us to see his process. They are both concept and style tests.

3 Questions about You

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

Whewf, that’s a tough one! (I’m going to assume you also mean if I wasn’t an artist too).

It’s hard for me to not jump to another creative ship, such as filmmaking or music. I could see working with animals. Let’s say either working to help rescue/protect animals, or opening my own pug puppy cafe, where they all wear little top hats and bowties.

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

I really thought ‘The Journey’ by Francesca Sanna was a recent beautifully done picture book.  The story and artwork did an amazing job of showcasing the refugee experience. It has stuck with me for it’s powerful story, as well as inspirational artwork!

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

Hmmm what’s in there…?

In the summer heat gotta have some watermelon in there!

Probably a craft beverage of some variety and definitely lots of the local fruits and veg that grow around where we live. Delicious cherries and peaches abound!

 

Thank you Cale for taking the time to answer our questions and send us these amazing behind the scene photos! Where Oliver Fits comes out today, so be sure to check it out.

To learn more about Cale, you can visit him on his website or follow him on Twitter and/or Instragram

Empathy and Friendship Book Recommendations

In our current society, it is important more than ever to teach children to be kind and compassionate.  By modeling how to be a good friend and teaching them how to be empathetic, the hope is they begin to exhibit these behaviors in their own lives.  There are so many wonderful books out there, but these are some of our favorites that we have used in the classroom and at home that have strong themes.  What are some that you would add to the list?  

Be Better…

She makes you want to be a better…

… friend

…citizen

…teacher

…parent

…stranger

…everything

She’s Amy Krouse Rosenthal (AKR). An amazing leader of kindness, a creative writer, a filmmaker, an exceptional thinker. Yesterday I visited the Carrie Secrist Gallery in Chicago to see the Amy Krouse Rosenthal: A Beauty Salon exhibit. It was moving, magical, thoughtful, creative, heartfelt; I could go on and on about how unbelievable it was. The beautiful gallery was filled with a huge yellow wall with words of truth and kindness, beanbags, coffee, AKR’s work, movies and of course books, lots of her gorgeous books. I love her books, I love her word play, I love her out-the-box thinking. She has so many wonderful books and you’re missing out if you haven’t read one, or let’s be honest, every single one of them.

If you’re around the city in the next few days, definitely stop in the gallery, the exhibit closes on August 12th.  

If you’re not in the city and aren’t able to make it before then, here are a few highlights from my day today:

Her work and her ideas…

The amazing “I Was Here” wall…

It is meant to be interactive. A place you can share your thoughts, drawings, sign your name or respond to a prompt. Some of my favorites were:

While the prompt changed a few times throughout the exhibit, yesterday it said, “Think about what ATM stands for in your mind, grab one of these pens, and write it.”

To Amy, ATM stood for Always Trust Magic. Here are some ATM’s. Mine is up there somewhere. What would you write?

The movie that made me tear up…

The Money Tree

I leave you with this (even though it wasn’t in the exhibit) but because you’re a reader of our blog, which most likely means you’re a booklover like us, just marvel at a video AKR made of her Book-Filled House (you can find more of her videos on her blog).

Inspired? Exhilarated? Want to do something kind? You can…you can read her books to children, you can participate in acts of kindness, you can donate to the AKR Yellow Umbrella Foundation, you can do something, anything that shares happiness, love and kindness with others.

Choosing Kindness

If my children learn anything from me, it’s that they learn to be nice, good human beings. Sure, I work on letters, colors, shapes, but more importantly, I work on manners, showing kindness, and thinking of others. This I find to be the harder of the two. At four years old, my daughter, A, has plenty of time to learn the academics, and what she does know has come through books, play, and conversations. But it’s the social pieces, the pieces that I feel are way more important, take longer and are harder to develop. It might also be directly correlated with the amount of gray hairs popping up on my head.

I’ve been a teacher for fifteen years, have babysat, and now have my own children. So it’s safe to say that I’ve been around a lot of kids. And what have I learned about kids in all those years? That sometimes they suck. Kids can be so cruel and mean, and I often wonder where it comes from?  The other day we were at the pool and A recognized a friend, X, from school. I had the baby, so I was equally excited because that meant I could sit with him and she would be off playing. But it didn’t quite work out that way. As I sat far enough away to let her do her own thing, I was also close enough to see what was going on. And I witnessed her swimming after X, calling his name, as he continued to avoid her and hide. It broke my heart. This isn’t the first time, but it still stings just as bad. In swims this adorable little girl,

B, who bravely goes up to my daughter and asks her to play. Perfect, I think. But was does my darling daughter do? Tells her no, she doesn’t want to play with her. What? After all of our conversations about being a kind friend, she tells this kid no? Trying to avoid being a controlling mom, I call A over to simply have a conversation with her. When I asked her why she didn’t want to play with the little girl, she told me it was because she was playing with X. X, as in the kid that is swimming away from you and doesn’t really seem to want to play? Yes, she replied. After some coaching, she ended up playing with B, and had a blast.  But it was the in-the-moment guidance, me being very blunt in telling her that X is swimming away and doesn’t seem to want to play with her and that she has an opportunity to make a new friend and play with someone that seems interested in her, that helped her navigate through the situation.  And I won’t always be there to help, and she isn’t always going to want to hear her mother’s “lecture”. But if we don’t teach and model positive social behavior at an early age, they grow up not knowing. And I have a feeling these are the kids that I come across, the ones that have “encouraged” me to teach kindness.

So what better way to do this? With books, of course. It’s the conversations around books that offer up the best lessons. There are some books that you can pick out bits and pieces to talk about, where a sibling in mean, a child doesn’t share. I’ve even done voluntary lunch book clubs at school based on books with kids that are different and their struggles with their peers.  And then there are books where you want to frame every single page of the book as reminders of how to be a better a person. Where the book seems to have

IMG_9228

a glow around it and you want to shout, “This, this is what life is about.” So when my copy of We’re All Wonders arrived in the mail, and the light seemed to glow from inside of the box, I knew this one wouldn’t let me down. I’ve already read it to my daughter, and while she heard the message, I don’t think one time through will magically make her a kind and compassionate kid. It takes time. And it takes books like this as a starting point.

We have to teach our kids to be kind, to be accepting of others. Because if we don’t, who will? How will they learn that it’s ok to be different, that if we were all the same, life would be boring? They have to learn it from us. From our conversations, and more importantly, from our actions. When I pick my daughter up from preschool each day, I always ask her, “What is one thing you did today to show kindness to someone else?” Maybe it’s time we all start asking ourselves that.

Are there any favorite books you have that model kindness?

 

Painting rocks to spread kindness, helping her brother, baking Christmas cookies for the fire and police departments.