Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Young Adult Novel, Beulah Land Coming from Interlude Press, Fall of 2017

Please forgive me for posting some news dear to my heart!  My Young Adult LGBTQ novel Beulah Land is to be published by Duet Books, an imprint of Interlude Press in the autumn of 2017.  I am so delighted to be associated with this august and award-winning publishing house.  I know it is a fitting place for my book to have found a home. 

Interlude PressAnnie Harper, one of the founders of Interlude Press, said she has for years recognized the need for fiction that the teen LGBTQ audience can relate to, yet emphasized the universal appeal of Duet titles. “Like all young adults, characters in YA books are discovering who they are and trying to find the courage to show themselves to the world."

Duet’s name is a play on Interlude Press’s musical connotation and, Harper explained, “also implies a little bit of innocence, as well as the love story theme. But that said,” she added, “we are putting out love stories that have an additional dimension to them. We are focusing on stories where romance serves as a catalyst for characters to discover who they are and show their authentic selves.

Beulah Land, according to the publishing house is the story of:

A courageous teenager fights for social justice, survival, and self-defining truth in the forbidding Missouri Ozarks

It is my hope the book will speak not only to teens but to all people who seek to find truth in their lives and about the world.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Fun and Enlightening Picture Book: Preaching to the Chickens

Congressman John Lewis, famed civil rights worker, used to preach to his 60 farmyard chickens.  He felt this was a good way to sharpen his speaking skills.  He loved his chickens, knew each by name, and protected them from those who wanted to trade for them, rescued them when they fell into the well, and even once brought a nearly drowned chick back to life. 

Bringing a message of peace when the chickens fought over food, John earned the nickname “Preacher” from his siblings. Illustrator Lewis’ signature watercolors paint a lively picture of John Lewis’ life growing up on a farm with a close and hardworking Christian family.  The beautifully illustrated chickens and the love John shows them will warm readers' hearts.

Given the seriousness of what Lewis faced on the march from Selma to Montgomery and the gravity of the issues he has dealt with throughout his career, this joy-inducing back story reveals an entertaining facet to the congressman’s life that young readers will appreciate.

Have a look at this marvelous book for kids.  You and they won't regret it!

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

How Diverse is Children's Literature? Have a Look at this Infographic

This is such an important topic that I decided to post the following article in its entirety:

You hear about it so often these days that you just might wonder: How diverse is children's literature, really? The numbers have been improving slowly, but they remain far from true representation. Now, a new, shareable infographic has the numbers you need to talk about diversity in kidlit, and — admittedly — the outlook is pretty grim.

Adek Berry (AFP Getty Images)
Since 1985, the University of Wisconsin - Madison's Cooperative Children's Book Center (CCBC) has compiled data on diversity in children's book publishing. For the first few years, the CCBC concerned itself only with those books that were written or illustrated by black authors. In 1994, researchers "began also keeping track of the numbers of books by Asian/Pacific and Asian/Pacific American, First/Native Nation and Latino book creators," as well as those books written about people of color by authors of any race.

Several years ago, children's book illustrator Tina Kügler created a widely circulated infographic, "Diversity in Children's Books 2012," which used then-current data from the CCBC. At the time, 93 percent of children's books were about white or non-human characters*.

Although the numbers have changed in the years since Kügler first published her illustration, it has remained in use. In response to St. Catherine University professor Sarah Park Dahlen's request for information on an updated version, a chain reaction led to illustrator David Huyck's involvement. Huyck created a new infographic on diversity in children's literature, and released it under a Creative Commons license.

The good news is that children's literature is roughly twice as diverse now as it was in 2012. The number of white and non-human characters is down to 85.8 percent. Representation for black characters has more than doubled, while Latinx, Asian, and Pacific Islander characters are also showing huge gains over their 2012 numbers. Unfortunately, the numbers are still low across the board, and Native American and First Nations characters continue to make up less than 1 percent of children's book characters. Books about people of color only barely outpace those about animals, trucks, and other non-human characters.

No wonder Marley Dias got tired of reading about white boys and dogs.
We need diverse books, so that children grow up seeing themselves reflected in the stories they read. White children have no problem locating books about people who look like them, but children of color do not have that luxury. Although 37 percent of people in the U.S. are not white, only 10 percent of children's books published since 1994 "contain[ed] multicultural content," according to Lee & Low Books.

Although children's book publishing appears to be slowly growing more diverse, it remains to be seen whether the trend toward inclusive content will continue in this matter. Gains in representation can be lost just as quickly as they were made, as this year's Man Booker Prize shortlist shows.
So buy diverse books. Talk to your local librarian about creating a more inclusive selection. Pursue the stories of people from marginalized communities, and support the storytellers. Do your part, and we can make sure every kid has a representative bookshelf.

*The exact percentage of books about non-human characters is not accounted for on Kügler's infographic, but it is a distinct category on David Huyck's image.
Image: David Huyck/Dropbox

Friday, September 9, 2016

From the Grave: Spooktacular New Middle Grade Novel by Cynthia Reeg

Frankenstein Frightface Gordon is not your typical sixth-grade monster.  In fact, in Uggerland, where goblins and myriad other scary beings thrive, Frank is a monster of a different color.  Blue, actually, not the sickly green shade coveted by his kind. 
Frankly, Frank is a monster who likes order, not chaos, clean and tidy clothes, not fashion conjured up to frighten folks to death, and worst of all, being kind, not bullying other monsters.  Oh, my.  This will never do!
The problem is, of course, Frank does not fit into the Uggerland mold; he just isn't "one of us."  When a law is passed to get rid of misfits such as Frank, he must do something about it.  But what?  Seems as if he has to prove his monster mettle, and he does.
Cynthia Reeg
The language and puns peppered throughout the book will tickle any middle grader's heart.  Gems such as:  Monster Up, Snotfargle, Picklepuss, to name just a few, set the tone of a book sure to please kids of this age.
From the Grave is a funny and fresh approach to a monster story.  Cynthia Reeg has created a lovable young monster who is kind, considerate, and really does not like bullies.  Great growing up lessons for kids with no preaching can be found within the pages of this well-written and timely.

Ms. Reeg lives in St. Louis, MO and is a former librarian.  She doesn't remember a time when writing was not important to her, and it shows!

Five spookily designed T-shirts in child sizes!

Simply preorder FROM THE GRAVE and send a digital receipt copy/photo to:  publicity@jollyfishpress.com

The links for placing your order:

Jolly Fish Press

Barnes & Noble
Books A Million

The GiveAway ends September 23

Friday, August 19, 2016

How Do Children of Color Feel About Prejudice? Books that help Explain!

How can white kids comprehend what children of color go through every day in a divided society?  Having that all important conversation of racism with people not you is difficult but important.  One of the answers, of course, can be found in the pages of kids' books.  Below are a few that just might break a barrier or two, leading to better understanding all around.

Patricia Polacco's Pink and Say is a timeless story based around the Civil War that details a story of a black family who put their life in danger to care for a young white boy who was wounded. Great for taking a small look into racism, Polacco's book will help your children see just how dangerous it was to be caring as a person of color.
 The Jacket by Andrew Clements tells a story that many children of color have experienced with being accused of something negative based off of their skin color. Delivering a walk into a well-needed learning opportunity, The Jacket is a great book for showing children the ugly truth about prejudice.

Under the Same Sky tells a perfect story of white privilege and entitlement when 14-year-old Joe Pedersen is forced to work on his father's farm with the hired Mexican laborers. An important story on racism and truth, Cynthia DeFelice's look into how those that are different than us is well needed within today's youth.
Jacqueline Woodson's The Other Side is a story of a friendship not held by the restraints of color and displays a very realistic lesson on how racism is taught to the youth.  A brown girl named Clover and a white girl named Anna are divided by their town's segregation fence.  They sit together on top of the fence and become friends.

There are so many fine examples of books similar to these that will enlighten all kids of middle years.  Have a look for yourself.  Better yet, take that callow-aged kid with you, and grow together!

Friday, July 15, 2016

One Kid’s Book for Every 830 Children in DC Neighborhood of Anacostia

 For children, the high-poverty D.C. neighborhood of Anacostia is a book desert. According to a new study from NYU researchers on the availability of children’s books in low-income neighborhoods in several U.S. cities, only one age-appropriate book is available for every 830 children there. Anacostia isn’t alone.
(John Spaulding/AP Images for JetBlue’s Soar with Reading Program)
 In neighborhoods lacking book stores — which many low-income neighborhoods, increasingly segregated, do — access is limited. A 2001 study found that in middle-income neighborhoods, 13 books were available to purchase for every child, while in neighborhoods of concentrated poverty, only one book was available for every 300 children.

The recent NYU study, published in the journal Urban Education, compares the availability of children’s books in one high-poverty neighborhood and one “borderline” neighborhood in six U.S. cities. In D.C., Detroit and Los Angeles, they surveyed one neighborhood with a poverty rate of 40 percent or above and another with a poverty rate between 18 and 40 percent. Researchers went street to street in each neighborhood, counting the number and types of print resources available for purchase, from books to magazines to newspapers. In total, they counted 82,389 resources in 75 stores. In three of the six neighborhoods, they found no bookstores at all. Dollar stores were the most common place to buy children’s books.

In each city, researchers found that the borderline communities had on average 16 times more books per child than the high-poverty neighborhoods in the same city. D.C. had the largest divide: In Anacostia, 830 children would need to share a book, while only two would share in Capitol Hill. In Detroit, 42 children in Hamtramck would need to share a book; eleven would in the borderline University District.

“Children’s books are hard to come by in high-poverty neighborhoods. These ‘book deserts’ may seriously constrain young children’s opportunities to come to school ready to learn,” said Susan B. Neuman, professor of childhood and literacy education at NYU Steinhardt and the study’s lead author. “Without resources, school readiness skills accumulated throughout the year are likely to drop precipitously during the summer. This ‘summer slide’ is a serious issue for children in poor and borderline communities, and having limited access to books may have serious consequences.”

JetBlue funded the NYU study. The NYC-headquartered airline has funneled $1.75 million in book donations to kids in many U.S. cities through its “Soar with Reading” initiative. Last year, the program introduced (free) book vending machines to Anacostia and dispensed 27,000 books. The vending project started its second year at the beginning of July.

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

An Abandoned Walmart No More!

Just an abandoned Walmart, right?  Not anymore.  Because of some civic forethought, it is now a bright and airy library in McAllen Texas.
City officials decided that they weren’t going to let a perfectly good abandoned Walmart location go to waste. Rather than let nearly 2.5 football fields of space rot and decay, they decided to transform it into something useful and amazing.
It has now become the largest single-floor public library in the United States of America at 124,500 square feet.

Visit this beautiful library and you’ll get to partake of a full computer lab, 16 public meeting spaces, 14 study rooms, and two genealogy research computer stations.

Cicero once said, “If you have a library and a garden, you have everything you need.” Hence, it can be said that the town of McAllen, Texas has everything it needs.

According to the library directors, new user registration increased by an impressive 23 percent.
What was once a warehouse filled with numerous items humanity never really needed in the first place, now it is filled with a purpose far greater.

Friday, June 17, 2016

Non-Fiction and Ethics

Perhaps you would like to write a non-fiction book?  You are in plentiful company.  Each year nearly 300,000 books are published in the US.  About four out of five are non-fiction! 
While there are lots of non-fiction books out there to keep yours company, there are some potential pitfalls associated with the genre.  Let’s discuss that.
We all know non-fiction is just that—something that must be truthful, not concocted from our imaginations as with fiction.  Not only, however, does it have to be the truth, we as authors have to do due diligence to make it that way.  Simply put, we must hold ourselves to the highest standard to ensure the content of our work is true and accurate to the best of our ability.  Yes, it’s exactly what lawyers are expected to do, and is, in fact, a legal term.
So how do we achieve this high-minded standard and not get sued for all our efforts, which is the end game of this post.  Here are a few guideposts:

1.       If you’re not sure of your source/s be sure to investigate their credentials, making certain they are qualified and are who they say they are.

2.      Obtain confirmation from unrelated sources to support what your primary sources provided.  (More research on your part but necessary and well worth the effort.)

3.      Whenever possible, try to get confirmation from secondary sources what you learned from your primary sources.

4.      When depending on your memory or personal experiences, secure independent corroboration.  *Crucial in narrative non-fiction.

5.      If something does not seem correct, even though the source is trustworthy, satisfy whatever doubts you have about the veracity of the material. Trust your instincts.

6.      Try to avoid relying upon only one eyewitness account or what only one person remembers.  Two or more can make all the difference!
Let me end by saying I usually don’t give lists of how to do things.  These six tips, though, can save a non-fiction writer many headaches with a lawsuit on the side!  Again, I cannot stress enough the due diligence factor in tackling non-fiction, particularly with topics as medicine, history or biography.  Due diligence is first among equals for a strong, successful and well-executed work of non-fiction!

Saturday, June 4, 2016

‘Frog and Toad’ Stories Ahead of their Times

Arnold Lobel, author and illustrator of the Frog and Toad series, was born in 1933 and raised in Schenectady, New York. Having begun his career doing work for advertising agencies, he started illustrating for Harper & Row in 1961, and the following year published his book “A Zoo for Mr. Muster,” about a man who becomes a zookeeper so that he can spend every day with his animal friends.
Are Frog and Toad Gay? Arnold Lobel Came Out After Writing Children's BookDuring his career, he worked on dozens of children’s books, both as a writer and as an illustrator, and also, in some instances, in collaboration with his wife, Anita Kempler, whom he met while studying art and theatre as an undergraduate, at Pratt Institute.
In his Frog and Toad books, published between 1970 and 1979, the pair visit each other at home and explore their natural surroundings together, occasionally seeing other animals, like a snail who is the mailman, or birds who enjoy cookies that Frog and Toad throw out when they can’t stop eating them. Many of these stories still make me laugh, like the one in which Toad wakes up and makes a list of things to do. “Wake up,” he writes, then immediately crosses it out. “I have done that,” he says.
Courtesy the Arnold Lobel Estate

As a child, Lobel's daughter, Adrianne didn’t think there was anything particularly special about her father reading her the stories he’d written.
It was just ‘Papa’s written another story—he’s going to read it to me now.'
She recalled a time when she and her younger brother Adam were fighting in the back of a car on a road trip. “My father had been very quiet for a long time, and I guess he couldn’t stand listening to us anymore, and he said, ‘Do you want to hear a story?’ So we settled down, and he recited from beginning to end in verse a story he had just written in his head.”

When Adrienne was asked why she thought the books have such staying power, she said:
 “It was the only thing he wrote that involved a relationship.  I’ve watched children grow up, and that whole drama that’s kind of the precursor to the hell of romance later in life—who is best friends with whom and who likes who when, and this person doesn’t like me now—it’s very painful, and I think that children really like to hear that this is not abnormal, that Frog and Toad go through these dramas every day.”
Adrianne suspects that there’s another dimension to Frog and Toad's sustained popularity. Frog and Toad are “of the same sex, and they love each other.  It was quite ahead of its time in that respect.” In 1974, four years after the first book in the series was published, Lobel came out to his family as gay. “I think ‘Frog and Toad’ really was the beginning of him coming out,” Adrianne said
 Lobel never publicly discussed a connection between the series and his sexuality, but he did comment on the ways in which personal material made its way into his stories. In a 1977 interview with the children’s-book journal The Lion and the Unicorn, he said:
You know, if an adult has an unhappy love affair, he writes about it. He exorcises it out of himself, perhaps, by writing a novel about it. Well, if I have an unhappy love affair, I have to somehow use all that pain and suffering but turn it into a work for children.
Lobel, who died in 1987, was an early victim of the AIDS crisis. “He was only fifty-four,” Adrianne said. “Think of all the stories we missed.”

Friday, May 20, 2016

What do Librarians Want to See in Middle Grade Books?

What is the wish list for middle grade books at this time?  Two librarians discuss their wants and needs, and it is interesting and a bit surprising as well.
Jennifer Hubert Swan is the director of library services at Little Red School House and Elisabeth Irwin High School in Manhattan. She served on the 2006 Michael L. Printz Award Committee and chaired the 2012 YALSA Award for Excellence in Nonfiction for Young Adults committee. She also teaches young adult literature and youth library programming in Pratt Institute’s School of Information and writes about books for teens on Reading Rants, her blog.
Katie Richert is the assistant head of youth services at the Bloomingdale Public Library in a Chicago suburb. She is a member of the 2017 Michael L. Printz Award Committee. When she isn’t reading books for committee work, she says, she is “storytiming” it up with preschoolers around town.
Richert:  "I’d like publishers to know that the kids love a series, but a great standalone can still have the same impact on a reader....I was surprised by the love that Roller Girl [by Victoria Jameson] has gotten. I cannot keep that on the shelf! That one book has lead to great discussions with both boys and girls, more interest in our graphic novels, and more interest in Roller Derby—yes, Roller Derby!'
"I, too, have loved how books are now featuring diversity and different sexual orientations in all genres. I think that is showing how much these things affect kids and teens and need to be part of every story. I also have liked that there have been more books focusing on mental illness. It was something that might have been taboo before to talk about, but it affects a lot of people. I like how there are both books describing living with mental illness and also living with a family member facing this same issue. I think showcasing this in young adult or middle grade literature is bringing it out for discussion. That could mean a world of difference to a teen facing mental illness or dealing with mental illness at home."
Swan: "While on the topic of diversity in general, it would be so nice to see some middle-grade and YA fiction that included characters grappling with issues of spirituality, especially Christianity. While we see titles where teens are exploring their Jewish (Never Mind the Goldbergs; Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist) or Muslim (Does My Head Look Big in This?; I Love I Hate I Miss My Sister) culture or roots, very rarely is Christianity discussed in a mainstream, secular way in popular fiction."
"And on a lighter note, more smart, humorous books for the middle school set (A Tale Dark and Grimm and The Schwa Was Here are my go-to book-talk choices for middle schoolers and I could hand-sell a library-full of more titles like those) and more YA gross-out, laugh-out-loud books like Don Calame’s Swim the Fly series. Every year I win the respect of an eighth-grade boy when I recommend those books to him. There is no bodily function that Calame is afraid to write about, which makes for some hilariously horrifying situations that seem to be especially appreciated by eighth-grade boys."

Saturday, April 30, 2016

What's So Special about Shakespeare? Best Shakespeare Books for Younger Kids

It’s hard to avoid Shakespeare in this 400th anniversary year of his death, and the UK is celebrating in style with a bevy of kids' books, among many other things, of course!

Saturday, April 23, 2016

New Picture Book: John Lennon's "Imagine" from Amnesty International

A new picture book from Amnesty International pairs John Lennon's "Imagine" lyrics with illustrations from Peace for Paris doodler Jean Jullien. Imagine follows a young pigeon on his quest to bring peace to all birds. The Guardian reports that "[t]he picture book aims to share more information about the work that Amnesty International do around the world." Part of the sales proceeds go directly to the charity.

"Imagine" entered the annals of pop culture back in 1971. Arguably Lennon's most famous song, it envisions a "brotherhood of man" where national, class-based, and religious divisions were nonexistent. Numerous artists — including Madonna, Elton John, and A Perfect Circle — have covered the song in the 45 years since its initial release.

Frances Lincoln Children's Books will publish Amnesty International's Imagine in September 2017.

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Simon & Schuster Launches New Imprint for Muslim-Themed Kids' Books

This presidential race season brings talk of radical Muslims and the threat of terrorism.  It  the perfect time for Simon & Schuster to launch a new imprint focusing on feel-good, Muslim-themed children's books.

Simon & Schuster says Salaam Reads will be "the first imprint at a major publisher focused on Muslim characters and stories.

"[It will] introduce readers of all faiths and backgrounds to a wide variety of Muslim children and families, and offer Muslim kids an opportunity to see themselves reflected positively in published works."

The imprint, which takes its name from the Arabic word for "peace," will release an annual minimum of nine titles for young readers of all ages — including picture and chapter books, and middle-grade and young adult titles.

"There is an incredible range of cultural and religious traditions among Muslims in the United States and across the globe, illustrating that there is no one way to be Muslim," Simon & Schuster executive editor Zareen Jaffery said.

Jon Anderson, President of Simon & Schuster Children's Publishing, added: "There are 3.3 million Muslims in the United States, 1.6 billion in the world, and they are an undeserved literary market. Children's books are a fantastic way to get to know our local and global Muslim neighbors."    

Among Salaam's first titles to be published next year are:
  • "Salam Alaikum" — a picture book celebrating peace, community, and love based on the popular song of the same name by global social media sensation and recording artist Harris J.
  • "Musa, Moises, Mo and Kevin" — a picture book introducing four kindergarten best friends who share their holiday traditions for Eid, Christmas, Rosh Hashanah, and Pi Day, written by H.A. Raz.
  • "The Gauntlet of Blood and Sand" — a middle–grade adventure about a 12-year-old Bangladeshi American from New York and her quest to save her brother from a supernatural board game, written by Karuna Riazi.
  • "Yo Soy Muslim" — a lyrical picture book in which a parent shares with their child the joy and pride in having a multicultural heritage, written by Mark Gonzales, an HBO Def Jam poet.

Monday, March 28, 2016

Make Way for Ducklings Turns Seventy-Five

Those of us who grew up with Make Way for Ducklings may not remember all eight of them:  Jack, Kack, Lack, Mack, Nack, Ouack, Pack, and Quack. But we recall the adventure with their parents, Mr. and Mrs Mallard all of whom lived  on an island in Boston’s Charles River.

 Written and illustrated by Robert McCloskey (1914–1983), who published Make Way for Ducklings with Viking in 1941, who can forget Mrs. Mallard’s daily excursions to the Boston Public Garden, followed by her brood. The kind police officers who stopped traffic to allow them to cross the road, has become synonymous with American childhood.

On March 29, the publisher will release a 75th-anniversary edition of the classic, which includes a CD-audio recording of the book read by Brian Hatch, and a fold-out poster map featuring Boston landmarks – and of course the ducklings – created by Paul O. Zelinsky.
Illustrated with sepia drawings rather than the traditional black-and-white pictures found in most children’s books of the day, McCloskey’s picture book earned him the 1942 Caldecott Medal. There are five million copies of Viking’s edition of the book in print, and in 2003 Make Way for Ducklings was designated the official book of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.
McCloskey bought four mallards, which he observed and sketched swimming in his bathtub and waddling through his studio, to make sure he captured their movements accurately in the book.
Fans can also honor the classic on Boston’s annual Duckling Day, held this year on May 8, Mother’s Day, when McCloskey’s daughter, Sal McCloskey (who inspired Blueberries for Sal), will lead the parade recreating the Mallard family’s journey. In another tribute, the Eric Carle Museum in Amherst, Mass., will display more than 90 original artworks in an exhibition, “Americana on Parade: The Life of Robert McCloskey,” from June 19 through October 23.

Saturday, March 12, 2016

Simon & Schuster to Launch Imprint for Muslim (and Other) Kids

We Americans find ourselves in the middle of a presidential season where, among other issues, radical Muslims and the threat of terrorism are central issues.  Enter Simon & Schuster, the august publisher, that is launching a new imprint focusing in feel-good, Muslim-themed children's books.

Simon & Schuster says Salaam Reads will be "the first imprint at a major publisher focused on Muslim characters and stories.

"[It will] introduce readers of all faiths and backgrounds to a wide variety of Muslim children and families, and offer Muslim kids an opportunity to see themselves reflected positively in published works."

The imprint, which takes its name from the Arabic word for "peace," will release an annual minimum of nine titles for young readers of all ages — including picture and chapter books, and middle-grade and young adult titles.

Simon & Schuster executive editor Zareen Jaffery said:

Our aim with the Salaam Reads imprint is in part to provide fun and compelling books for Muslim children, but we also intend for these books to be entertaining and enriching for a larger non-Muslim audience.

Among Salaam's first titles to be published next year are:
  • "Salam Alaikum" — a picture book celebrating peace, community, and love based on the popular song of the same name by global social media sensation and recording artist Harris J.
  • "Musa, Moises, Mo and Kevin" — a picture book introducing four kindergarten best friends who share their holiday traditions for Eid, Christmas, Rosh Hashanah, and Pi Day, written by H.A. Raz.
  • "The Gauntlet of Blood and Sand" — a middle–grade adventure about a 12-year-old Bangladeshi American from New York and her quest to save her brother from a supernatural board game, written by Karuna Riazi.
  • "Yo Soy Muslim" — a lyrical picture book in which a parent shares with their child the joy and pride in having a multicultural heritage, written by Mark Gonzales, an HBO Def Jam poet.