Being Yourself -Upside Down…

Happy Almost Book Birthday Beatrice Zinker!  We are so excited that tomorrow you are being showcased into the world. We had the pleasure of meeting Beatrice prior to release from an ARC. Shelley Johannes, author and illustrator has done a great job capturing what it’s like to be an unique individual. Beatrice has heart, is a good friend, but is often misunderstood because, well, she thinks upside down. This early middle grade novel is perfect for a read aloud promoting individuality in all elementary grades. We can see Beatrice having a line of independent readers waiting to read her book, (while sitting upside down). We thank Shelley for spending time thinking about our interview questions. We learned so much about her and the book from the answers. We hope you enjoy them as much as we did!

3 Questions about Beatrice Zinker Upside Down Thinker

What three words would you use to describe your book?

Beatrice is always a bright spot for me. She makes me laugh, reminds me to have fun, and motivates me to look for the good in everything. I hope she does the same for readers—so I’m going to say:  funny, fun, and sunny-side-up.

We loved reading about this free-thinking, be-your-own-person-character; who is she modeled after?

Thank you! When Beatrice first showed up in my brain—dressed in a ninja suit, hanging from the ceiling—she was a manifestation of my own guilty conscience. She amused me endlessly, and eventually became her own person, with her own story.

If you were to pick a character from another book to be Beatrice’s friend, who would you say?

There are so many possible answers! Carter Higgins recently joked about writing some Beatrice/Dory fan fiction. Now I really want to arrange a friendship! I think Beatrice and Dory Fantasmagory would get into lots of fabulous, unintended trouble together, and have a ridiculous amount of fun.

3 Questions about You

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

My first career was architecture— but at this point, if I weren’t a writer, I’d want to be a school librarian. Watching kids get excited about books, and helping them find one they love, is a magical experience.

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

The “one book” condition is almost impossible! I’m going to cheat and fit in two. As a child, Anne of Green Gables was that book. As an adult, Extra Yarn by Mac Barnett and Jon Klassen wrapped itself around my heart.  Both Anne and Annabelle represent my favorite type of hero—the girl who refuses to become jaded. Deliberate optimism is a form of bravery I cherish.

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

There are several pizza boxes and lots of Mountain Dew. Read into that at will.  =)

To learn more about Shelley Johannes please visit her website or feel free to follow her on Twitter and/or Instagram.

Homerun Derby

There is a lot going on in our communities today;  A lot of remembering, a lot of sorrow, a lot of looking forward, a lot of unknown, and a lot of rebuilding.  It’s during our hardships that we tend to lean on people we love, and embrace our families.  Whether thinking about our country sixteen years ago, or those displaced by the recent hurricanes, it’s reassuring to know that we have friends and family to help us through.  

This holds true in the wonderfully written book by Carter Higgins, A Rambler Steals Home.  Derby Clark finds herself unsettled in the place that is the closest she gets to a permanent home.  It’s through friendship and family that she’s able to help those she cares about most while learning lessons about herself, as well.  

Here’s what Carter had to say when we asked her three questions about the book, three questions about her.

3 Questions about A Rambler Steals Home

What three words would you use to describe your book?

Sweet, simple, heartfelt

What traits about Derby are most similar to you? Which traits are not like you at all?

Derby and I both have general cheery outlooks and look for the best in people. We’re both empathetic, thoughtful, and a little stubborn. She’s much more comfortable with constant change than I am, and she’s so even keel and adaptable. I love those things about her, and wish I had some of them!

Rambler had a lot of characters with backstories involving sorrow.  Did you base any of the events in their lives on experiences you’ve had?  

It’s true! Though I hope the sorrow reads as connective tissue of our human experience–that contentment feels more robust when you’ve tasted a little sadness. I think a lot of experiencing life involves sorrow. Kids and grownups feel this with an equal amount of fragility and the fortitude it requires. Nothing is directly related to any of my own experiences, and yet I have a lot in common with these characters. Wouldn’t we all?

3 Questions about You

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

I’d love to drive a bookmobile. That also maybe serves coffee? That sounds amazing.

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

I love the sign on Rosie’s Door by Maurice Sendak. It holds so many kid truths, like dress up wholly turns you into somebody else, days with nothing to do are the best days, and that home is a  wonderful place to curl up at night. Recently, I purchased a new copy because I hadn’t had one for so long, and I was so stunned at how much had truly gotten stuck into me. I love that about books.

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

I have more than one variety of cold brew coffee stacked up inside the door. You never know!

 

Thank you Carter for taking the time to chat with us! We are so excited for your new picture book, This is Not A Valentine!

If you’d like to learn more about Carter please visit her website or follow her on Twitter and/or Instagram.

Why’d the Chicken Cross the Road?…

Exit Strategy by Lauren Allbright

I really wanted to start this blog with a joke, since this book is about a boy, Ross, who researches different ways to be funny after accidentally making a humorous exit from a school before he and his mom moved to another place. But even after reading the book, I realized I am not funny and any attempts might make you stop reading this post now. So I will tell about how I had an opportunity to meet the lovely author of the book, Exit Strategy at Second Star to the Right Books a few weeks ago. Lauren Allbright came into the Rumpus Room (back garage of the store where they hold events) with her three adorable and enthusiastic children, all wearing t-shirts with the book cover on them and the #justshowupbooktour. Lauren was so sweet talking to all the other girls who attended and then came over to me to introduce herself. She told me the whole family was traveling in an RV during the summer for her book tour, so cool! Once I arrived it started to rain, something that rarely happens in Denver, but when it does, you are usually guaranteed sun in a few hours. Go figure it started to rain harder as more people showed up. Once the wet fans arrived Lauren talked to the crowd about her book and read an excerpt.

 

While Lauren signed books I asked her a few interview questions, I later emailed her some of them and others.

Please read what she had to say when asked, 3 questions about the book and 3 questions about her…

3 Questions about Exit Strategy

What three words would you use to describe your book?

Funny, sincere, and redeeming.

We love how there is a layer of the book that can teach/reinforce graphs and charts!  When making the book, what was the process for picking which graph/chart would fit appropriately?

After I researched how to be funny and what people perceived to be funny, I put it all in a flow chart. When I first started my research, I was doing it for me son and I wanted to give him a graphic with the info. Then I thought, “This is helpful to me!” which led to thinking about all the time I could have used a handy-dandy chart to tell me to tell the joke or keep it to myself. (I STILL need the chart sometimes!) Somewhere in there, the idea for EXIT STRATEGY got planted. Since I knew I wanted to use the flowchart at the end of the book, it made sense for there to be graphics throughout. I browsed science fair projects (thank you, Pinterest!)  to see which ones I liked and which ones supported the story. Making the charts and graphs were my favorite part of writing this book! They also helped me really understand the main character and how he sees the world.

What research did you do to learn more about how to be funny?

This was overwhelming at first! “Funny” is such an abstract concept (and changes based on the situation and setting). I started out reading websites and interviews by comedians and took a bunch of notes. After that I watched TV shows with laugh tracks and paid a lot of attention to when the laugh tracks were played–that is where the producers WANT you to laugh. When I heard them, I’d ask, “Was that funny to me?” and “Why did I think that was funny or not funny.” I also watched people as they watched TV or chatted with others and noted what made them literally laugh out loud. And, of course, I have my own field research–years of trying to be funny (and often failing!).

3 Questions about You

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

I’d love to be a dancer for a famous singer. I am not that talented, but I LOVE to dance and move and work hard at a physical goal.

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

I just finished THE HATE U GIVE by Angie Thomas. It is very timely, of course, but Angie is so good at creating a story and showing (rather than telling) how people can react and how the same situation can be viewed very differently. THE HATE U GIVE is so textured and layered, there is so much to absorb and think about.

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

*Goes to put a random/non-food item in the fridge to make this easy to answer*

Just kidding.

A loaf of Udi’s gluten-free bread. My middle son and I have Celiac Disease, so we buy Udi’s in bulk. We always have multiple loaves in the deep freeze and one in the fridge. I wasn’t diagnosed until I was an adult (my son actually got diagnosed first and that’s how we knew how to look at Celiac for me). I was so sick as a kid. And tired. Eating gluten free doesn’t feel like a burden because I’m just so happy to be healthy now! (Though sometimes people can make me feel like I’m a burden for needing to eat sans gluten!)

But that ends on a bummer note, so how about a mom joke from the book?

Question: What do you call of firefly that backs into a fan?

Answer: De-lighted!

 

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?  

Back To School #booksnaps

In early June I was intrigued with #booksnaps when they kept popping up on my twitter feed. I would see a photo of a page from the book, the tweeter’s bitmoji and typed up text. Although most of the time I hadn’t read the book, I felt their fuel, their fire, their reaction to whatever they were reading. Wow!  If I was enjoying learning about what these people were thinking and learning during their reading, I am sure this would be a great tool to to use with my students, as they would love seeing each other’s #booksnaps and learning more about each other. It turns out the creator of #booksnaps presented at the International Society for Educational Technology (ISTE) Conference in San Antonio where 2 storymamas had the privilege of attending. We attended the ignite session for Tara Martin, #booksnaps creator. She shared during this session that she wanted to find a way to use the app her son couldn’t put down (Snapchat) to do some visual storytelling. And shortly after #booksnaps was born and has been taking the social media world by storm. Her session showed the power of #booksnaps and how it helps get into the student’s head on their thoughts and feelings toward text and how it relates to their life. Also, by using a book snap, it allows the reader to comprehend the text and internalize what the author is saying. Tara has been amazing and has created a website full of information and how-to videos on making #booksnaps. Although it started with Snapchat, she has made videos using many other apps, including Snapchat, Seesaw, Book Creator and more. Check it out! Free resources are great! Thanks Tara!

Shortly after the conference I made my first #booksnaps while reading the ARC copy of Smart Cookie by Elly Swartz. I used Snapchat, but as Tara’s website shows, many different apps can be used.

Using #booksnaps has helped me look deeper into text, share my thoughts, and also remember more parts of the story. I can only imagine the impact it will have with my students when I introduce it to them. Beside the impact, I know the students will be engaged in the process. I had so much fun finding the right words to write and bitmoji to use.

So for today we thought it would be fun to use three back to school books to show you how to use #booksnaps when reading a picture book. All 3 storymamas picked a book and tried it out.  We are all new at this and are learning as we go, but are excited to use with students. We can see it in our reading workshops and it would be great in content areas! Please feel free to comment on how you are using #booksnaps in the classroom! We hope you enjoy the books we chose and our #booksnaps!

 

 

     

 

 

Frazzled: Definitely Not a Disaster

It happens every time I walk by the “new books” section of the library…I grab every book that catches my eye, even though I have about thirty books at home waiting to be read.  I just can’t help myself!  That is exactly what happened when I walked past Frazzled for the first time.  The cover just sucked me in, and when I flipped through the pages, I knew that I both needed to read it, and pick up a copy at the bookstore for my classroom.  Trust me, you’ll feel the same.  I thought this book was spot-on to what middle grade readers would like and can relate to, with the combination of words and illustrations making it fun and enjoyable to read.  While at the ALA conference, I was able to get an advance copy of the next book in the Frazzled series, coming out September 26th.  It didn’t disappoint!  Enjoy our interview with the talented author and illustrator of Frazzled: Everyday Disasters and Impending Doom, and Frazzled: Ordinary Mishaps and Inevitable Catastrophes, Booki Vivat!  

 

3 Questions about Frazzled

What three words would you use to describe your books?

Funny – Abbie is a very expressive, dramatic character. That combined with all the complications of middle school life makes for some pretty hilarious moments. Plus, it’s full of lots of entertaining doodles that help get readers into Abbie’s head!

Honest – Writing Frazzled was a very personal experience for me. I wanted to capture the middle school experience as honestly as I could. Because of this, many aspects of Abbie’s story are rooted in my own experiences at that age. Even though Abbie is a fictional character, so much of her personality and feelings are influenced by who I was when I was younger and the memories I have from middle school!

Empowering – Abbie goes into middle school feeling overwhelmed and underprepared. At first, she really just wants to survive, but what she learns is that even in her angst and uncertainty, she has power and a voice and the ability to change the world around her. I hope readers will read this book and feel empowered in whatever they’re dealing with in their own lives!

 

When writing a hybrid book like this, what is the process to figuring out what the pages will look like?

My process for each page is a little different—and that’s actually what makes it so exciting and fun to write! When I first started the Frazzled series, I’d never written an illustrated novel like this before, so I spent a lot of time trying to figure out my writing process. It wasn’t until I began writing and drawing simultaneously that the whole process began to flow naturally. Sometimes I’d write a scene and figure out what I wanted to draw later, other times I had an image in my head and would write around that. Frazzled is heavily illustrated, but it’s much less structured than a comic or graphic novel. The layout and structure varies from page to page, so my creative process is constantly adapting and evolving as I tell the story.

Being in the publishing world, you’ve been around books quite a lot! What inspired you to take your doodles and turn them into something more?  

The idea for Frazzled actually came from a pretty dramatic drawing of me that said “I live my life in a constant state of impending doom.” It made me think about when I first started feeling that way, and I realized it all went back to middle school.

I knew that there were a lot of stories about the middle school experience, but growing up, I never really saw many characters who looked like me. I think, to some extent, that lack of representation and visibility was always at the back of my mind, so when it came to telling this story, it felt like Abbie Wu was the right character to help me do it. Through Abbie, I was inspired to not just explore those frazzled middle school feelings, but to write my younger self into a literary landscape where I hadn’t really existed before.

 

3 Questions about You

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

Is it cheating to say that I would still want to do something with books and kids? I can’t imagine doing anything else! I’d actually love to be a children’s librarian. A good librarian can make such a huge difference for young readers. Growing up, I was really lucky to know some amazing librarians. They hosted book clubs, organized fun reading events, and always had a great new recommendation waiting for me when I finished a book. Plus, it would be really fun talking to kids and getting them excited about books!

 

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

The most recent book I’ve read that I can’t stop thinking about is Orphan Island by Laurel Snyder. It perfectly captures everything I felt (and sometimes still feel) about growing up and not knowing what that means and having to do it anyway. It’s one of those books that asks all the right questions, but doesn’t necessarily prescribe answers. It lets readers figure those out for themselves, and I love that. It’s been a while, but I’m still thinking about how I felt when I read Orphan Island. Honestly, I want everyone to read it so we can talk about it!

Laurel Snyder talks a little bit about her book on The Nerdy Book Club blog here: https://nerdybookclub.wordpress.com/2017/05/24/what-i-was-thinking-about-by-laurel-snyder/.

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

I always have some ice cream in my fridge… even though I live next door to an ice cream shop. (Really, I do!) I don’t know what that says about me, though. Maybe that means I like to be prepared. Or maybe it just tells you that I really like ice cream.

How Will You Make Your Mark?

33 days until…

A book and a day dedicated to discussing with kids how to make their mark on the world…one of our favorite days to celebrate as educator moms! This year Dot Day is on September 15, 2017, are you celebrating? If you’re either an educator or a parent, or both, celebrating this day is important, it’s fun, it’s exciting, it’s international. So if you are planning on celebrating share with us your ideas in the comments below and take a look at some of our ideas too! Parents and educators are great at “stealing ideas”, well maybe let’s say getting inspiration from others, that seems less negative and after all Dot Day is all about positivity!

To get started on Dot Day you have to find a copy of the book by the infamous Peter H. Reynolds, The Dot. Did you know that the book has been published in so many different languages, even the website about International Dot Day doesn’t quite know the number of languages! (The book is that good!)

After acquiring the book (I suggest buying because you’re going to want a copy for yourself) we have some ideas that would work in a classroom or at home or even both. As our readers we know you are very creative and could adapt any of the activities below to something that will work for you and the children you are around.

VIDEOS/OTHER MEDIA:

We like to show the following video of “The Dot” song by the famous children’s book singer, Emily Arrow and author/illustrator, Peter Reynolds. Be warned though it’s pretty catchy so you may be singing it way beyond Dot Day! 😉

And here’s another version of the song without the book images and Emily’s smiling face

Something that children are often intrigued by (and let’s be honest, adults too) is learning the story behind the creation and idea of a book. So here Peter Reynolds talks about the beginnings of The Dot. It’s about 2 minutes and 45 seconds long so short and sweet.

ACTIVITIES:

  • Wonderopolis

If you haven’t used Wonderopolis in your classroom or at home, it’s time to start! It’s an informative and interesting collection of wonders from science to history to How Do You Connect the Dots, which is perfect for Dot Day!

  • The 30 Dot Challenge

Using this sheet create a collaborative piece of dot art. First make sure children have a variety of writing utensils (pencils, crayons, markers). Give each artist 3 minutes to fill in as many dots as they can by drawing something different in each circle. Some ideas are patterns, doodles, shapes, animals, plants, words, or create something using more than one circle. This is really for the artist to challenge him/herself to draw using the dot as the guide. Anything goes, but try not to give too much direction and let the children be creative. After the three minutes is up you can have the kids share their favorite, the most challenging, the one that took the most time, whichever dot they would like. To make it collaborative you can cut all or a few circles out and glue onto one big sheet of paper so everyone’s dot is represented, everyone has put their mark on the art piece.

USING TECHNOLOGY:

  • Watch Your Dot Come to Life…

This activity takes a little pre-work as you need to make sure you’ve downloaded the free app Quiver3D on a device.Then you need to make sure you have enough copies of this Dot Day free download of the specific paper you will need. Then let the kiddos create their own special dot using the paper. The app will make the dot come to life and you and the kids will be enthralled and amazed at what you will see. If you’re in a classroom setting or at home you can take a screenshot of the alive dot to save it. Here’s one that I did a few years back when the app was called ColAR but it’s the same idea.

We All Need a Dog in Our Lives

img_9801-1.jpgI finished reading Dog Man Unleashed by Dav Pilkey and thought it was a great graphic novel. This is the second book in the Dog Man series and it tells more about how Dog Man fights the villians. My favorite part is when Flat Petey uses the magical spray to be bad and Dog Man beats him. I love the illustrations and how creative the story is. It is also very funny; even my mom liked it. Dav is also the author of Captain Underpants, another favorite series of mine. Dav is truly talented and I can’t wait for Dog Man #3 and #4 to come out later this year!

 

Charlie M. is a third grader who loves reading, video games, and playing sports.  And he loves chewing gum.

3D Printed Miracle

The storymamas had the opportunity to “meet” Deborah Lee Rose and Jane Veltkamp, the authors of the new non-fiction book Beauty and the Beak: How Science, Technology, and a 3D Printed Beak Rescued a Bald Eagle.  They collaborated to tell the story of Beauty, a bald eagle that lost part of her beak to a gunshot wound.  Her injuries healed, but her beak did not.  When Janie, a raptor biologist, met Beauty, she felt compelled to help.  Her compassion for the eagle was relentless, and she worked with others to help create a prosthetic beak for Beauty using a 3D printer.  Janie worked with Deborah, an accomplished science writer, to share Beauty’s story with the world through an engaging narrative format and vivid photographs.

Beauty and the Beak would be a wonderful narrative nonfiction text as a read aloud and an addition to your classroom library.  It provides a concrete example of design thinking and perseverance.  By thinking through different ideas, Janie and her team were able to come up with a solution that allowed Beauty to regain the use of a beak.

The end of the book is full of additional resources and an educator’s guide can be found several places; on Deborah’s website, www.deborahleerose.com, Janie’s website at www.birdsofpreynorthwest.org and from the Cornell Lab Publishing Group’s Educators page https://cornelllabpublishinggroup.com/educators-2/?v=7516fd43adaa
We can’t wait for the world to hear Beauty’s story!

3 Questions about Beauty and the Beak

What three words would you use to describe this book?

Deborah: uplifting, inspiring, eye-opening

Janie: labor of love

How did you hear about Beauty/get hooked up together to create this story?

Deborah: I had read about Beauty in several articles on animal prosthetics—the story of her pioneering prosthetic beak was reported worldwide. I wanted to know much more about Beauty herself, about Janie’s work to help her, and about bald eagles, so I called Janie at Birds of Prey Northwest, the raptor center she founded and directs in Idaho. From that first conversation grew a fantastic, ongoing collaboration to coauthor Beauty and the Beak. I ended up learning so much, thanks to Janie’s encyclopedic knowledge about bald eagles and her long experience in speaking about Beauty and other raptors to public audiences.

Janie: I had wanted to work with a science writer on Beauty’s story. When Deborah called me, and I learned that she was both a national science writer and award winning children’s author, I knew together we could capture Beauty’s powerful story in a children’s book. I already had lots of photos from Beauty’s beak surgery, by amazing photographer Glen Hush; once we found the incredible bald eagle photos available from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service National Digital Library, we knew we could tell kids about Beauty beginning with her life in the wild, all the way up to what her life is like today at Birds of Prey Northwest.

What was the process you used to create the story together?

Deborah: There were so many wonderful steps to the process—including my meeting Beauty face to face in Idaho!—which happened over the course of the last three years. We spent countless hours by phone and email finding out the best way to tell Beauty’s story through both text and photos. Janie and I wanted children (and adults) to understand how critical Beauty’s beak was even from the time she was born, and how disastrous losing her beak really was.

Janie: We reached out to many people for insight and help including other raptor biologists, wildlife experts, engineers, 3D printing specialists, STEM educators, and wildlife photographers. The Idaho STEM Action Center helped us with 3D printing, to make life-size replicas of Beauty’s prosthetic beak that we can share with public audiences. And even beyond Beauty’s story, we wanted to tell about the natural history of bald eagle populations in the United States—how bald eagles nearly went extinct on the U.S. mainland, how scientists worked to reintroduce bald eagles to areas where they had nearly disappeared, and what risks bald eagles still face today. We were very lucky, thanks to our publisher, to have Cornell Lab of Ornithology add special content to the book about bald eagle conservation.

 

3 Questions About You

If you weren’t able to do your current job, what would you want to be and why?

Deborah: I have been a science writer for a long time, and would always want to  work in some way to communicate science to public audiences.

Janie: My dream is to open a raptor education center that millions of people could visit from all over the country and the world.

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

Janie: A book that has stayed with me since I was growing up is Aesop’s Fables. I especially love the story about the wisdom of the crow, because it’s about problem solving and the intelligence of birds. Science continues to prove how intelligent birds are across their many species. After all the years I have worked with raptors, I continue to be amazed by their intelligence.

Deborah: The book that affected my whole career was Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White. I adored it as a child, because I could fully imagine myself in the story even though it was as far from my city life as you could imagine. I read it again as an adult, and discovered an even deeper reason that I love it–because the character of Charlotte is truly a writer, who understands the power of words to teach, entertain, inspire and even save a life.

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

Janie: Tiny bits of salmon—to feed orphaned baby ospreys. There is always something in my frig that will be used to feed the raptors who are in my care.

Deb: Whole wheat pastry flour—I love to bake my own muffins. It took me a while to perfect my favorite recipe, and that process was a lot like creating a book!

 

Can’t wait to read about Beauty?  You’re in luck!  We are giving away THREE copies of Beauty and the Beak, thanks to Deborah, Janie, and their team.  Head on over to @storymamas on Instagram to enter!

Happy Book Birthday to…Refugee!!

Refugee is amazing…Refugee is significant…Refugee is thought-provoking…Refugee is unbelievable but surprisingly historical fiction!

Alan Gratz, author and creator of Refugee, was kind enough to step away from his very busy schedule of moving, writing his new book, getting ready for the launch of Refugee, raising his 14 year old daughter and hosting the last local pub trivia game after 7 years to hangout with Storymamas for an hour to discuss Refugee.

According to Alan, in three words, Refugee is:

  1. Action-packed (he decided to make it a hyphenated one-word word)

“I write books I don’t want kids to put down.”

  1. Important

He really didn’t want to use this word to describe his own book, he’s very humble, but he said it’s  because supporting refugee children is important to him, important for kids to know what is happening today and what has happened in the past, important to bring attention to refugees. So important, in fact, that Alan has tried to volunteer his home to host refugee families, but he lives in the ‘boonies’ and it’s better for refugees to live in bigger cities where there are more opportunities and a larger support system. So instead he gives money to causes like Save the Children and UNICEF. He’s such an amazing author and person he’s even giving a portion of the proceeds made from the book sales of Refugee to UNICEF to support refugee children around the world. Is that not enough reason to buy the book and read it, if not for our words of love for this wonderful book?! 😉

  1. Harrowing

This book focuses on some pretty scary stuff. When Alan does school visits he asks thought-provoking questions to help kids imagine life as a refugee child, and the answers to these questions are harrowing:

-Who of the three characters would you be?

-When you leave your house, where do you go?

-If you leave your country, can you get out, will other countries let you in, where would you go?

-What will you put in your backpack?

-What 10 things that fit in your backpack would you take with?

-When you get to the new place you’ll live, are you going to walk into the same grade level classroom or will you have to go back to 4th grade at the age of 14 because you don’t speak the language?

Harrowing!

The Birth of Refugee

Interestingly enough Alan wasn’t planning on writing this book, he was planning to write a story about the youngest kid who joined the navy, but when presented to the sales department he was told this book was already being written. WHAT?! Can you imagine being an author, having an idea, doing preliminary research and being told your idea is already being written?! But nonetheless, he’s a dedicated author and this didn’t deter him. He had to come up with a new idea, a new book. He thought the story of the MS. St Louis, a boat carrying Jewish refugees from Germany during WWII heading to Cuba, was an interesting one but that there wasn’t enough there for an entire book. Then during the late winter of 2015, he went on vacation with his family to the Florida Keys. One morning he went for a walk on the beach and saw sitting there in the sand, a raft. Not the raft you are probably imagining, a life raft full of air, but this raft was made of metal roofing from a shed wrapped around sideways, 2 by 4’s, a motorcycle engine and inside were sitting wet clothes, 2 liter bottles of water and candy they had used on their journey.  Alan and his family were changed from that moment on thinking about how when they were sleeping in their comfy hotel, refugees came to America. While they were sitting by the pool reading books, this family was trying to survive on a makeshift raft. Alan went home, but he couldn’t stop thinking about the scene on the beach.

Then walking his dog one day, back from vacation, a story, a novella as he called it, started to be born based on his knowledge of the MS St. Louis, the visions of the raft in the Keys, most likely from Cuba, and the constant, terrifying news stories about Syria. It left him feeling like he needed to do something, something needed to be written, and so once he ended his travel he outlined, researched and began to write Refugee.

Alan admitted when writing, he works the hardest on creating characters, writing interesting, impactful characters. The plot, no problem, he loves writing the plot, he’s a “plot junky”, but when he needs to create characters he writes more than just an outline, he writes a character sheet for each one. He knows how imperative it is to write characters who the reader can connect with, characters who the reader understands. So with Refugee he knew he needed to create the three characters: Mahmoud, Josef and Isabel on and off the page. He needed to share their background stories, those ‘behind-the-scenes’ stories, answer the question who are they now but really, what made them that way?

He wants readers to wonder and think deeply about his characters. He wants readers to think about:

*Why is Mahmoud invisible? Why does he want to be invisible? Why does he embrace that?

*Why does Josef want to grow up to be an adult all of the sudden?

*What are Isabel’s hopes and dreams? Why is she scared of the water? What happened with her grandmother, how does that haunt her and maybe hold her back from what she needs to do?

But developing these stories took a lot of work, research and thought. Because Alan was writing a book about three different characters, in three different time periods, his research was different. The research about Josef, the Jewish refugee, was done in a more traditional research method of checking out books and taking notes. But the stories about Isabel, the Cuban refugee, and Mahmoud, the Syrian refugee, he explained, were much more difficult since these two stories are more recent. While the characters are fictional, everything that happens to his characters were real accounts taken from current reporting resources like magazine and newspaper articles, so finding those stories took a lot more time and effort.

One quote Alan goes back to often when talking about this book is by Eglantyne Jebb, founder of Save the Children,  “Every war is a war against the child.” Children are the ones paying the price for war, whether it’s war or famine. His book is less about why they had to leave and more about what they do to survive and thus he developed characters who showed bravery even in a time of huge sacrifice and challenge. He also wanted to give each character ownership over their journey because in a time of tragedy, a time of suffering, kids are the ones who suffer the most since they are unable take action, unlike adults. Once you meet his characters and hear their stories, you will be forever changed, forever empathetic, and maybe like us you will wonder if you were in these situations what you would have done, could you have survived all they endure?

The Process of Writing

Alan, like many authors, has a system for writing and it goes something like this; a month of researching, a month of outlining, a month for his first draft and then a long process of drafting and editing, drafting and editing and finally publishing. He usually takes every three months off from traveling to do author visits and such so he can do the actual writing of his books.

The way Alan outlines his books is very interesting. Here’s a sneak peak of his ‘book board’.

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Each notecard is a chapter in the book. We were curious about where the notecards and outlines go once he is done with the writing. He is too much of a sentimentalist to throw them away and what’s really cool is that a lot of universities collect author’s work. He gives his work to the University of Central Florida in honor of one of his beloved professors who taught him to use YA in the classroom, Tedd Hipple. So if you’re curious you can head to the university, read his book and look at his process for Refugee as well as his other books and those of other authors.

Who is Alan Gratz?

A new career…Interestingly enough if Alan wasn’t an author he would be a game show host because he loves game shows. He grew up watching them and with his trivia hosting gig he probably would make an amazing game show host!

An influential book….One book that has stuck with Alan through the years is Tuck Everlasting because it tackled the topic of death as being a natural part of the cycle of life. As a kid he was so afraid to die, he was preoccupied with his own death. He hadn’t read about death in this context before and so in 7th grade this book had a large impact on him. While he doesn’t reread books often, this one has been reread many times and he even read it to his daughter.

The fridge….Something very interesting we learned about Alan was that he has very little in his fridge. If you looked inside every day would be the same. You would find a round glass bowl with pizza dough in it, because every night for dinner, since 8th grade, he eats a cheese pizza. According to his math he has eaten about 30,000 pizzas in his life. Sounds delicious! So if you ever invite Alan to eat with you, make sure there is pizza at the restaurant!

Storymamas were changed by Refugee and we highly recommend picking up a copy today!

To learn more Alan Gratz checkout his website or follow him on twitter & instagram