Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Process-The Crux of Reading Young Adult Novels

The process of reading Young Adult books usually begins around the age of fourteen, when the Middle Grade phase of reading books for pleasure and/or in the curriculum wanes. Young Adult novels sparkle and shine for the older, more mature reader. Let the magic begin!

Young Adult novels can be found in many guises. From fantasy to dystopia to romance to historical fiction to…the sky, as someone said, is the limit. And perhaps even that is not the limit anymore with all the space opera options swirling around the reader.

A teenager, of course, should be the protagonist and preferably the antagonist as well. Adults are certainly welcome within the pages but should only be supporting characters and happily can be villains (as many adults seem to be villains within a teen’s real life.)

The most important part of a Young Adult novel is this: The teenager/s should act like teens! And this is where the process becomes important, because growing up is just that. For the impressionable teen to mature, for new concepts and values to light up his/her brain, the truth must shine through. Of course, that truth can be dark, hurtful, even sinister. But truth must be there, on the page, in the very sinew and soul of the book. If it isn’t, the work will be a sham. It will be false and clearly a danger to the reader, who by virtue of his/her youth, is beyond vulnerable to what s/he reads.

My debut Young Adult novel, Beulah Land, tells the story of a seventeen-year-old girl who lives in the Missouri Ozarks. Part of the book deals with dark, hurtful, and sinister events. The protagonist, Violette Sinclair, is smart, and strong-minded, and gay. She and her best friend, Junior McKenna, navigate treacherous territory in the form of a dog fight ring, a corrupt sheriff, and Vi’s mother, who harbors dark and sinister secrets.

A coming-of-age story, it is my great hope that Beulah Land will not only sparkle and shine for the reader but will give insight, courage, and above all, integrity to all who read the book. And, of course, viva to the process. Once more, let the magic begin!

Friday, October 13, 2017

Beulah Land: Young Adult Novel by Nancy Stewart

How does a seventeen-year-old gay girl survive life in the Missouri Ozarks, where every day can be a threat to her existence? My debut Young Adult novel, Beulah Land, tells that very story.

Violette Sinclair, a smart, ambitious young woman, wants to be a veterinarian like her boss, Claire Campbell. She plans to leave raw and threatening Bucktown, Missouri as soon as possible and never come back.

Her only friend is Junior McKenna, the local high school football star. Together, they begin a saga that leads them through their rural world of family feuds, dog-fighting, and the very real threat of  Vi's being murdered. This is a place where someone who doesn't fit in could wake up dead.

Vi and Junior decide to do whatever it takes to rid Bucktown of Dale Woodbine. The tale takes the two on a journey of self-awareness, and personal growth, and ultimately, of redemption.

This book, in a real way, took me on a journey as well. It began after the death of a much-loved cousin who died too soon from a rare cancer. Although the book is fiction, there are threads of a family story woven throughout the pages.

My cousin was a lesbian and as such, was made to feel unworthy by some people in general and a few family members in particular, including her mother. At Jill's Celebration of Life party, the novel came to me almost fully formed. I began writing it the minute I returned home.

The book, in many ways, was cathartic to write. It led me down a winding path of childhood, through warrens of memories that I had not visited in many years. In doing so, I was able to see the past that had eluded me, and writing it brought it into sharp focus.

My wish from my heart to yours is that you enjoy the book and, if you pick up a piece of wisdom here and there, so much the better. Happy reading!

Monday, September 25, 2017

How “The Snowy Day” Became an Evergreen Illustration on Diversity

Ezra Jack Keats’s The Snowy Day was published in 1962.  As a book with an African-American protagonist, publishers had considered stories like his part of a niche market. Peter, the small Brooklyn boy who was the hero of Keats’s tale, defied those expectations, and the book went on to become a bestseller nationwide.

In 1963, Keats was awarded the Caldecott Medal for the year’s “most distinguished” American children’s book. Even now, 55 years later, The Snowy Day continues to resonate. In September of this year, the U.S. Postal Service announced that Peter—sporting his signature bright-red snowsuit—will appear on the next round of Forever Stamps.

Long before he found his way onto a stamp, however, Peter was a boy who was featured in a series of snapshots in a 1940 issue of Life magazine. Keats, then in his mid-twenties, was so struck by the sweet face of the unnamed, African-American child that he cut out the photo essay and held onto it. The magazine clipping stayed with him during jobs as a background illustrator for Captain Marvel comics and, later, designing camouflage patterns while in the Army.

Keats moved from Paris to his native New York in 1949, where he established a career as a commercial illustrator for the likes of Reader’s Digest and the New York Times Book Review. And then, almost two decades after he’d first seen the photographs in Life, he dug up the clipping when he was invited to write and illustrate his own children’s book. He set about building a world around that little boy, and used collage for the very first time.

The result was a near-universal tale of a young child’s day spent wandering through his neighborhood, freshly blanketed in snow. Peter crunches through the powder, leaving trails of footprints. He flops onto the ground to make snow angels. And, as he’s heading home, he stores a snowball in his pocket to save for later (only to find hours after that, mysteriously, it has vanished).
Although the Jewish-American, Keats was no stranger to discrimination—born Jacob Ezra Katz, some say he changed his name to avoid rampant anti-Semitism—he was white. In an essay in the Saturday Review, one writer criticized Peter’s mother for her resemblance to the stereotypical “mammy” figure.

But according to Deborah Pope, the executive director of the Ezra Jack Keats Foundation, Keats had never intended for the book to be an explicit political statement. “None of the manuscripts I’d been illustrating featured any black kids—except for token blacks in the background,” Keats wrote in an unpublished autobiography. “My book would have him there simply because he should have been there all along.”
Despite the criticism, many were enchanted by the story—including Langston Hughes, who sent Keats a fan letter soon after the book was published. Another note, Pope said, came from a teacher who explained that the African-American children in her class were using brown crayons to draw themselves for the first time. “Before that, they used pink crayons,” Pope said. “But Ezra’s book helped them to see themselves.”
Peter continued to appear in Keats’s later books. Readers have watched him grow up: learn to whistle, welcome a baby sister to the family, even navigate a budding relationship with a girl. And Keats’s inspiration—the boy from Life magazine—remained with the author throughout his life.
“To this very day I still have him,” he wrote, “and look at that wonderful kid whom I had discovered over forty years ago.”

Saturday, August 19, 2017

The Syrian Refugee Crisis through Authors' Eyes

The Syrian Crisis is a human disaster of epic proportions.  And, of course, the effect on children is beyond egregious. It has caused some authors to take on the subject for young readers.  Their stories, for he most part, are fiction and highlight the conflict for middle and high school students.

Some of the books address the Islamic State and the ongoing wars between the Shias and Sunnis. The protagonist feature young Muslim refugees and their plight in coping with a war-torn environment.

I have chosen two books to highlight:

Refugee, Alan Gratz’s middle-grade novel focuses on a 12-year-old boy named Mahmoud Bishara.  He and his family flee the violence in Aleppo after his family’s home is destroyed.  They have to contend with smugglers and militants as his family charts a treacherous course through Turkey and across the Mediterranean to Europe. His younger brother, Waleed — based on Omran Daqneesh, the Syrian boy whose shell-shocked photo was seen around the world after the bombing — is too traumatized to even cry.

http://suzannedelrizzo.com/Suzanne Del Rizzo’s picture book My Beautiful Birds is based on an article she read about a Syrian boy living in Jordan in the Zaatari refugee camp. He tamed wild birds. In her book, Sami is a boy who trains pigeons and must leave his birds behind when his family evacuates from their home in Syria and walks to a refugee camp in Jordan. There, he finds solace in caring for wild birds.

Carrie Gelson, an elementary school teacher in Vancouver, read My Beautiful Birds to her class. One student in particular, Nour Alahmad Almahmoud, a 12-year-old Syrian girl whose family came to Canada from a refugee camp in Jordan in late 2015. When the book was read to her, she became overwhelmed and ran outside in tears. In a Skye interview, she said:

I cried because it’s like this book makes me remember everything. I felt like this family in the book is my family.

We, as fellow citizens of this small planet, must care for one another, be respectful of others' differences as well as similarities, and remember that we are on this journey together. Only then can we achieve peace in this world.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

New Maurice Sendak Children's Book Discovered

What a lovely surprise for fans of Maurice Sendak
Lynn Caponera, president of the Maurice Sendak Foundation, was going through the late artist’s files last year “to see what could be discarded,” she said. “I was asking myself, do we really need all these?” when she found a typewritten manuscript titled Presto and Zesto in Limboland, co-authored by Sendak and his frequent collaborator, Arthur Yorinks.
 Caponera, who managed Sendak’s household for decades, didn’t remember the two friends working on a text with that title, so she scanned the manuscript and e-mailed it to Michael di Capua, Sendak’s longtime editor and publisher.  Of the newly discovered book, he said:
I read it in disbelief.  What a miracle to find this buried treasure in the archives. To think something as good as this has been lying around there gathering dust.
Sendak, considered by many to be the most influential picture book creator of the 20th century, will have another publication in the 21st, five years after his death. PW has the exclusive news that Michael di Capua Books/HarperCollins plans to publish Presto and Zesto in Limboland in fall 2018.
This will be the third book collaboration for Yorinks and Sendak, following The Miami Giant (1995) and Mommy? (2006), which were both also edited by di Capua. In addition to their publishing collaborations, the longtime friends also co-founded the Night Kitchen Theater. The title of the new book references an inside joke between them.

Saturday, July 8, 2017

New book Coming from "Goodnight Moon" author, Margaret Wise Brown

In October, 2017, there will be Good Day, Good Night, a previously unpublished book by Margaret Wise Brown.

It consists of two fragments written in 1950 and put away after Brown’s sudden death two years later, then combined by an editor a few years ago.  HarperCollins Children’s Books will publish it with original art by the author-illustrator, Loren Long.
Good Day, Good Night is not a sequel to Goodnight Moon, which did not sell well during Brown’s lifetime, finding its extraordinary success only years later.

 While Goodnight Moon takes place inside a house on a single evening, the new story follows its young-bunny protagonist as he wakes up, goes outside and greets numerous things, then heads back home and bids it all good night.
Good Day, Good Night began in a 1950 letter from Brown to one of her editors that Amy Gary, who wrote a biography of Brown, came across several years ago at the Westerly library. In it, Brown describes plans for a book in which, Ms. Gary said, “the child goes to sleep with the same things they wake up with.” Reading the letter, she continued, enabled her to see the connection between what had seemed to be two separate manuscripts — one about waking and one about going to sleep — in the trunk.
Margaret Wise Brown
Putting the two parts together required her to do some editing, Ms. Gary said, while keeping in mind Brown’s possible intentions and “trying to remain as true as we could to what she wanted it to be.” As for the title, “I worked with Margaret’s notes and the manuscript to develop” it, she said.
What will you think of the new book, Dear Reader?  Will it live up to Goodnight Moon?  Only time and the reader will judge that.  A few moons from now will more than tell the story!

Monday, June 5, 2017

Dear Reader, Love, Author Blog Post

I have posted my letter to the Dear Reader, Love, Author Blog.  Hope you enjoy it!
Dear Reader, 
Have you ever walked along a beach somewhere on this glorious planet and found instant inspiration, an epiphany of sorts?  Well, that is exactly what happened to me one glorious December day seven years ago on Clearwater Beach, Florida.  Right out of the blue, as it were.  Here’s what happened:  Strolling along on wet sand, I came across the outline of a heart.  But what was written inside stopped mine. Only one word. Bella. It became completely clear that I write a book about a beach girl called Bella. And from that bolt of insight, Bella was born.
As sometimes happens, an almost simultaneous incident occurred; this time a terrible one: The Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico on April 20, 2010. The entire world was inundated with wrenching photos of once blue water slicked over by deadly oil, birds drenched and weighted down with the deadly stuff, and BP executives spewing invectives about how it was not their fault. And something snapped in me.  I sat down and wrote One Pelican at a Time: A Story of the Gulf Oil Spill.  Not only was Bella the protagonist.  Her best friend Britt joined her in the effort.  And that book began the Bella and Britt beach series. 
My newest offering, Mystery at Manatee Key, is the fourth in the series and features Britt front and center.  It is she alone who must rescue Bella and the ranger from a ring of manatee smugglers.  By now, the series reader is familiar with the ranger, who is warm-hearted and loves all things beachy.  Dwayne Smarr is the bad guy and Britt’s nemesis throughout much of the book.  He is so bad that he’s fun to love to hate.  With kids, black and white rules, and Dwayne has no shades of gray!
Throughout the series, I have tried to infuse a love of and respect for nature and Mother Earth, the only home we humans have at this point in our galaxy.  Without being preachy, it is my hope that in reading the books, children will find a fun story, interesting facts, and a love of learning interwoven throughout the pages.  If all that occurs, I’ve been a successful author and have done my intended job.

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Celebrate Children's Book Week May 1-7

Children’s Book Week began in 1913. Franklin K. Matthiews, the librarian of the Boy Scouts of America, began touring the country to promote higher standards in children’s books. He proposed creating a Children’s Book Week, which would be supported by all interested groups: publishers, booksellers, and librarians.

Mathiews enlisted two important allies: Frederic G. Melcher, editor of Publishers Weekly who believed that “a great nation is a reading nation,” and Anne Carroll Moore, the Superintendent of Children’s Works at the New York Public Library and a major figure in the library world. With the help of Melcher and Moore, in 1916, the American Booksellers Association and the American Library Association sponsored a Good Book Week with the Boy Scouts of America.

In 1944, the newly-established Children’s Book Council assumed responsibility for administering Children’s Book Week. In 2008, Children’s Book Week moved from November to May. At that time, the administration of Children’s Book Week, including planning official events and creating original materials, was transferred to Every Child a Reader, CBC’s charitable arm.

This year, the 98th celebration of Children’s Book Week, will feature an increased number of events, reformatted Children’s Choice Book Awards, an enhanced online presence, and additional promotional materials available to participating bookstores, schools, and libraries.

Celebrate this special week by reading a new or favorite book to your young readers.  When this is done, everybody wins!

Monday, March 6, 2017

Roald Dahl's "Billy and the Minpins" to Have New Illustrations

Re-titled to reflect Roald Dahl’s original name for the book, Billy and the Minpins (1991) is the first time Quentin Blake has illustrated a new Roald Dahl hero in nearly 20 years.  This new title celebrates Billy as the quintessential Roald Dahl child hero.
Billy and the Minpins is the story of heroic Billy who saves the Minpins, tiny tree-dwelling people whose children are the size of matchsticks, from the fearsome Gruncher.
It explores themes seen in many of Roald Dahl’s other much-loved children’s novels including; small people living in a big world; the glory of flight; confronting demons; and, most importantly, the child hero. In Billy and the Minpins, readers will experience again the magical collaboration between Roald Dahl and Quentin Blake through a brand-new interpretation of Roald’s parting gift.
The Minpins was originally illustrated by Patrick Benson. This edition is still in print today and will sit alongside the new black-and-white edition, Billy and the Minpins.
Quentin Blake said:
I was delighted to be asked to illustrate Roald’s Billy and the Minpins; it feels like the cornerstone in our long collaboration together. As Roald's parting gift, Patrick Benson's illustrations in the original edition were perfectly suited to the lyrical feel of The Minpins. I have always greatly admired Patrick's artwork and am so pleased both books will sit alongside each other, reaching fans of all ages. This new edition has nearly fifty pages of black-and-white drawings, which means I can enjoy myself tremendously going into all the details of Billy’s exploits and adventures with the Minpins in the mysterious forest!
So, for all you Roald Dahl fans out there, look for this new-illustrated book.  Have fun!

Friday, February 10, 2017

A Mark Twain Bedtime Story to be Published Soon

A bedtime story Mark Twain told his daughters in 1879 — never published before — will be released this fall as a children’s book.

The Purloining of Prince Oleomargarine is an 11-chapter, 152-page illustrated storybook “for all ages” with a first printing of 250,000 copies. The “unfinished” story is being completed by author Philip Stead and illustrator Erin Stead and will be published Sept. 26 by Doubleday Books for Young Readers, the publisher announced Friday.

The basis for the book is 16 pages of handwritten notes Twain made after he told his young daughters a fairy tale one night while the family was staying in Paris.

The Purloining of Prince Oleomargarine, according to the publisher, “follows a young boy who eats the flower sprouted by a magical seed and gains the ability to talk to animals. From there, the boy and his new animal friends go off on a wild adventure to rescue a kidnapped prince.”

The fragmented tale by the author of Adventures of Huckleberry Finn  was discovered in 2011 by visiting scholar John Bird at the Mark Twain Papers & Project at the University of California, Berkley.

Philip and Erin Stead, who are married, won the 2011 Caldecott Medal for their children's book A Sick Day for Amos McGee.

They have framed the Prince tale as “told to me by my friend, Mr. Mark Twain,” and include occasional interruptions by an imagined meeting over tea between Philip and Twain, according to a news release.

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

A New Children's Book About Transgenderism Will Be Taught in U.K. Primary Schools

A taxpayer-funded book about transgenderism is about to be introduced in schools in the United Kingdom to children as young as seven, provoking significant controversy. The book — Can I Tell You About Gender Diversity? — focuses on a 12-year-old who is transitioning from a girl to a boy through drugs. Critics contend the book not only will confuse its young audiences but advocates medical interventions that are harmful.

The book begins:

My name is Kit and I’m 12 years old. I live in a house with my mum and dad, and our dog, Pickle. When I was born, the doctors told my mum and dad that they had a baby girl, and so for the first few years of my life that’s how my parents raised me. This is called being assigned female at birth. I wasn’t ever very happy that way.

Kit begins to use puberty-blocking drugs to undergo a sex change in the book and “stop my body developing in ways that make me unhappy.”

According to the book’s publisher, Jessica Kingsley Publishers, the book’s intent is to “explain medical transitioning for children aged seven and above.”

The book’s author, CJ Atkinson, told The Guardian that Kit’s transition includes wearing boys’ clothes, using male pronouns, and changing the birth certificate to read Christopher instead of Kit.

This is a brave book that is helping change minds and hearts about transgender children.  It is my hope that you will support this book and its message.