Tag Archives: nonfiction

Cricket in the Thicket – Perfect Picture Book Friday

19 May

This week’s addition to Susanna Leonard Hill’s Perfect Picture Book Fridays comes to us from the heart of bug country, the Great Plains. What do you think of when you think of Kansas?

You’re not in Kansas, anymore, Toto….

Well, that’s what I used to think until I spent the week with Carol Murray at Highlights Summer Camp last July. When not writing/revising and attending workshop sessions, we rambled through the bug-filled countryside of Pennsylvania, discussing all things kidlit. And that’s how I found out she’s from Kansas. Now, whenever the Sunflower State (and wind) comes up in casual conversation (it happens daily, trust me), I immediately think of Carol. 

Seriously, though, I’ve been eagerly anticipating her book for nearly a year, and I’m sure that she has been waiting far longer than that while Melissa Sweet finished those luscious illustrations. So here it is!

The cover immediately lets readers know they’re in good, buggy company. And the whimsical dedication page 

also sets the tone with playful humor. The first poem I read wasn’t the first in the book. I just opened it to a random page and was treated to the following:

 

Spinning Spiny-Back

I spin,

and spin, 

and when I need

a peppy picker-upper,

I spin a little more,

and then

I eat my web for supper. 

In the text box in the lower right hand corner of the page we learn: “Spiny-backs are orb weavers. When they build a new web, they take down the old one and eat the discarded silk, which is a great source of protein. Spiny-backs are champion recyclers.”

I flipped to another page to find one of the more unsavory-named critters, the dung beetle:

 

Let’s Hear It for Dung Beetle!

I don’t get much respect, and I suspect you didn’t know

that I was very popular in Egypt long ago.

A sacred bug. Oh yes, indeed! A charm with magic power.

Too bad you didn’t know me in my former, finest hour.

 

Don’t you just love the internal rhyme in the first line? And the hard “c” and “ch” sounds in the third line. (Can’t you just hear that crusty scarab scrabbling through the dung?) And the alliterative “efs” that lead softly into the lingering “hour”? This poet has chops!

Each poem is beautifully rendered via mixed media illustrations and accompanied by fascinating tidbits about the featured bug. I can imagine any number of children who will delight in memorizing these poems and reciting them whenever they find a ladybug, damsel fly, dung beetle, jumping spider, walking stick, preying mantis, or even the lowly common fly. The book features 27 bugs in all and includes three pages of back matter that provide even more cool facts about each one. 

Want to know something amazing about the Monarch caterpillar and butterfly? Well, I’m not going to spill the bugs. You’ll have to read the book to find out! Happy reading!

TITLE: Cricket in the Thicket

AUTHOR: Carol Murray

ILLUSTRATOR: Melissa Sweet 

PUBLISHER: Henry Holt, May 2017

TARGET AGE: Preschool-Adult (yes, adults will love them, too)

 

 

Harlem: A Poem by Walter Dean Myers

14 Apr

In honor of National Poetry Month and Perfect Picture Book Friday, I’m shining the spotlight on a brilliant Caldecott and Coretta Scott King Award Winner from 1997:

“They took to the road in Waycross, Georgia

Skipped over the tracks in East St. Louis

Took the bus from Holly Springs

Hitched a ride from Gee’s Bend

Took the long way through Memphis

The third deck down from Trinidad

A wrench of heart from Gorree Island 

A wrench of heart from Gorree Island

To a place called Harlem

Harlem was a promise

Of a better life, of a place where a man didn’t

Have to know his place

Simply because he was Black.”

 

Thus begins a tactile and rhythmic journey through Harlem. This book may have been written twenty years ago, but it feels quite contemporary. Current nonfiction writers are increasingly telling the stories of people, events, or places with similar atmospheric details and poetic language. Walter Dean Myers was far ahead of his time.  

The only thing missing is back matter. The names of people and places are sprinkled throughout, but if you want to know more, you must do the research. If this book were being published in 2017, you can bet the back matter would be rich with details, including a timeline with key events and people as well as author/illustrator notes. 

Although Walter Dean Myers has passed, I would love to see a new edition of this book published, complete with back matter and an illustrator’s note from Christopher Myers, Walter’s son. 

The collage illustrations add so much texture to the poem that I would recommend reading the picture book. However, if you just want to immerse yourself in Myers’ poem, here’s a link to the text of “Harlem” online. 

Title: Harlem

Author: Walter Dean Myers

Illustrator: Christopher Myers

Publisher: Scholastic Press, 1997

Target Audience: Everyone

This Is the Rope – Perfect Picture Book Friday

22 Jan

I loved Jacqueline Woodson’s MG/YA book, “Brown Girl Dreaming.” It was the first book I’d ever read by this fabulous writer. So I went in search of some of her picture books. And I’m happy to say that I love “This Is the Rope” just as much. So here’s my book for Susanna Leonard Hill’s Perfect Picture Book Friday:

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Why I Like It: Lyrical language. Gorgeous and evocative illustrations (oil on paper) by James Ransome. A fictional story that tells a larger truth, it’s a book I could read over and over again. 

Theme: The Great Migration of African Americans from the South to the North in the United States. A short foreword to the book explains how from the 1900s until the mid 1970s, more than six million African Americans moved from the rural South to several northern cities, including Chicago, Los Angeles, and New York City, seeking better lives. (It’s also a story of how families and individuals within them create their personal narratives.)

At the end of the foreword Woodson states: “‘This Is the Rope’ is a work of fiction. The rope we brought to this ‘new country’ was Hope. It remains with us.”

Story: The narrative traces the journey of a rope from South Carolina to New York City, a journey that takes it from the hands of a girl (the grandmother) skipping rope under “sweet-smelling pine” in South Carolina, ties it around the luggage strapped on top of car headed toward NYC, hangs it in an apartment to dry flowers, strings it out as a line to dry laundry for freshly washed diapers for the grandmother’s first baby(the author’s mother), uses it as a cord for a pull-toy as the baby gets older, entices neighbors to play jump rope with the growing girl, gets used to tie luggage onto the car as the teenage girl goes to college, and ties up a family reunion banner as the third generation takes its place in history.

The ending circles back to the grandmother, now holding that “threadbare and greying” rope, watching her granddaughter use a new rope for jump rope games. She holds onto that rope “and her long-ago memory of sweet-smelling pine.”

One of my favorite quotes:

“This is the rope my daddy used

when he showed me the way

to tie a sailor’s knot—

‘Two times around and pull it real tight.

You want whatever you make or do

in your life,’ my daddy said, ‘to last…”

 

Title: This Is the Rope

Author: Jacqueline Woodson

Illustrator: James Ransome

Publisher: Penguin Book Group: Nancy Paulsen Books

Pub Date: 2013

Ages: K-3rd grade 

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Jacqueline Woodson

Biography

Jacqueline Woodson’s awards include 3 Newbery Honors, a Coretta Scott King Award and 3 Coretta Scott King Honors, 2 National Book Awards, a Margaret A. Edwards Award and an ALAN Award — both for Lifetime Achievement in YA Literature. She is the author of more than 2 dozen books for children and young adults and lives with her family in Brooklyn, New York

LitQuake – The Bridge Between Fiction and Nonfiction

13 Oct

The conversation last night, between two Pulitzer prize winners—Adam Johnson


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and TJ Stiles Screen Shot 2015-10-12 at 4.28.49 PM

kept me scribbling notes while I tended bar. Yes, I volunteered to work the event.

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Adam Johnson and TJ Stiles

Johnson recounted how his journalism professor would identify all of the false quotes he had created while reporting on community meetings, quotes that Johnson thought told the truth about what wasn’t being said. His professor wisely steered him toward fiction, clearly the best fit since Johnson believes that the facts don’t always get you to the truth, whereas in fiction, the narrative becomes the “meaning-making machine.”

Stiles explained how writing biographies about individuals allows him the scope to talk about the world, something that his biographies are known for—societal perspective. He has a new book about General George Armstrong Custer, Custer’s Trials, coming out Oct. 27, and it’s already generating buzz. Look for it! 

But what I really, really, really, really want to talk about is this: Both Pulitzer winners explained how they seek to find the humanity in those who may be considered tyrants, murderers, or even monsters.

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Finding the humanity in their subjects allows them to construct believable characters, whether it is Cornelius Vanderbilt or Kim Jong Il. 

This attitude is sorely lacking in our current public discourse where we end up demonizing politicians, people who are pro or anti abortion, pro gun or anti gun, etc…..I could go on ad nauseam. I’m thinking that listening and recognizing an individual’s humanity might take some of the wind out of HATE’s sails. And that would benefit us all. 

I’m scarce this week and the next month or so for two reasons:

1) We just bought a house! EEk! Double EEEK! in San Francisco!! Triple EEEEk! I think it was the 7th? house we put an offer on since May. And as I’ve said: Buying a house in San Francisco is like winning the lottery in a parallel universe. When you finally win the bidding war, you are no longer certain that you have won. In any case, we are swamped with moving “to dos.”

2) LITQUAKE!!!! Hundreds of authors, a packed schedule of events, culminating in Litcrawl on Oct. 17. 

Soooo, please be patient with me…..

Oh, and here’s a link to the New York Review of Books Interview between President Obama and Marilyn Robinson. It speaks to this topic quite nicely.

Black Diamond Wisdom – Writers Take Note

24 Apr

Yesterday, at 10:59am PST, I despaired. Piles of research lay scattered about my desk, in my backpack, across the kitchen table. Papers I’d been shuttling around since last fall.

I was trying to finish a revision of a nonfiction picture book I’ve been writing since last September, but I felt scattered. And I couldn’t figure out how to end the story. The answer must be lying somewhere in those papers, but I had been avoiding organizing them for days, weeks. Dare I say—longer?

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My testy ADD self thought it would take too much time to organize all that stuff, so I kept shuffling through papers, finding and losing and finding and losing and getting confused and starting over and losing and losing and forgetting what I was looking for because I’d gotten distracted with some other tidbit of info that may or may not have been important. And did I remember to mention I was in despair?

At 11:17am, I pressed the panic button:

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and let my despair pour out on a FaceBook nonfiction PB group page. Suggestions and encouragement began to flow downhill, because as you know—I was in the DEPTHS of DESPAIR.

WOW Nonfiction Archeologists pulled me from the mire and slapped me up one side and down the other. Gently. I was to stop fretting and start doing. Thank you for the tough love!

I made the historic decision to get organized. Three hours later, with folders labeled, quotes unearthed and highlighted, and background info reviewed, I had a revelation:

Brain Working at Lightning Speed

Brain Working at Lightning Speed

“Gee, that wasn’t so bad.”

Someone please kick me the next time I avoid organizing myself and my materials.

Not only did I find all the missing quotes, plus ones I hadn’t remembered to mark, I also went deeper into the sea of my story.

I had been fiddling with facts and had forgotten why I had started writing about my subjects in the first place. I reached the heart,

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and I knew what needed to be done. Thank you WOW-ers!

But that’s not where the story ends.

Last night, my 11-yr-old son spent two hours moaning, flopping about, and moping while trying to avoid writing answers to homework essay questions. Oh, the hairy eyeballs, the pouting lips, the grumbling and growling that I endured.

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No, this isn’t my son. Just his attitude.

 

“I can’t do it! It will take too long! It’s too hard!” (The genes don’t fall far from the tree, eh?)

Once he focused on his work, it only took him an hour. Problem is, he started his homework at 8pm. I insisted he stay up until 11pm to finish. Am I evil?

When I tucked him into bed, I asked him why he couldn’t just skip the moaning and growling and get on with it. His response:

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“Mom, it’s the difference between standing on the upslope of a black diamond ski run and the downslope. When you’re standing up there looking down, you think there’s no way you’ll ever be able to do it. But when you’re at the bottom, you can look up and say it wasn’t so bad.”

Oh, be still my beating heart!

What are the odds we’ll both remember this tidbit of wisdom when we need to?

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