A Room Full of Love

My article from the Children’s Literature Council of Southern California newsletter, The Sampler. To learn more about the CLCSC, visit the website.

The 53rd Fall Gala of the Children’s Literature Council of Southern California took place on October 11’s beautiful morning in La Canada- Flintridge’s Descanso Gardens. Librarians, educators, authors, illustrators, and book lovers met in the lovely environs for the annual Awards for Authors and Illustrators of Southern California.

CLCSC First Vice President, Dr. Marjorie Arnett, introduced keynote speaker Bryan Collier. Mr. Collier has won numerous awards, including the Coretta Scott King Award for Illustration and the 2002 Caldecott Honor Award. Dr. Arnett described Mr. Collier’s interest in art—shapes, colors, textures—as having derived partly from his grandmother’s quilts.

Credit: CLCSC

Bryan Collier; Photo Credit: CLCSC

Mr. Collier explained how his love of books started at a young age with the influence of his mother, a Head Start teacher. Two books from his childhood stand out especially: Ezra Jack Keat’s The Snowy Day and Crockett Johnson’s Harold and the Purple Crayon. Mr. Collier described that the character in Snowy Day “looked back at me. I had the same pajamas,” and how reading that particular book and seeing that character “said something to me beyond any other book. I couldn’t articulate what it was, but I felt it.” Harold prompted thoughts on pies and on journeying home.

In what can be characterized as an incredible demonstration of perseverance, Mr. Collier haunted the publishing houses of New York City once a week for seven years. In addressing whether he became discouraged during that lengthy job search period, Mr. Collier replied, “It’s always been bigger than about just a book. It’s about being connected.” As if to confirm this belief, a young girl told Mr. Collier, “You need purpose” when, during a school visit, he asked students what is needed in order to make a book. This young girl’s words resonated with Mr. Collier, as did the directive from Henry Holt Publishing, who hired him, to “tell me what you know.”

In that continual process of expanding what he knows, Mr. Collier believes that research helps find truths to bring to light. It is a process of “talking and looking at history up close” and is a part of the work ethic that goes into making a book. Mr. Collier explained that “history is a chain and it’s connected. Picture books are the perfect vehicles to celebrate history.”

As part of his research for the picture book Rosa, Mr. Collier met with Mrs. Johnnie Carr, a friend of Rosa Parks. She told him the stories behind the story, such as the threats leveled against Ms. Parks’ church members, friends, and family. For authenticity’s sake, Mr. Collier tried the process of getting on and off the bus from the back, to try to understand what that must have felt like.

For Dave the Potter: Artist, Poet, Slave, Mr. Collier visited the plantation in South Carolina where David Drake, a slave, added short poems on the approximately 40,000 clay storage pots he made. This plantation was in Edgefield, Strom Thurmond’s hometown, where Mr. Collier described meeting some “good ol’ boys” who helped with his research and shared what they knew.

Research and connection with the books’ subjects have influenced Mr. Collier’s artistic style, helping him to add details in his art. The School Library Journal notes that “alert readers [of Dave the Potter] will find hidden messages in some of the collages, but what stands out in these pictures are Dave’s hands and eyes, and the strength of his body, reflected in the shape and size of his legendary jars and pots.” The Kirkus Review of Rosa states “the art complements and extends the text, with visual references to Emmett Till, the Edmund Pettus Bridge and Martin Luther King, Jr. The yellowish hue of the illustrations represents the Alabama heat, the light emanating from Rosa Parks’s face a shining beacon to all who would stand up for what’s right.”

Mr. Collier’s love of art and books is fully evident in his speech, and the audience was lucky to share in it with him. It was, as Mr. Collier noted, “a room full of love” that morning.

Andrew Smith was not present to accept the Peggy Miller Award for Young Adult Literature. He sent word that he is “deeply honored” by this recognition of Winger, especially as he had been told that “Winger wasn’t the right thing” for his career.

Holly Goldberg Sloan, a second-time honoree, stated just how very much being recognized by librarians and educators means to her. The Excellence in Juvenile Fiction awardee, Ms. Goldberg Sloan wrote Counting by 7s about a girl who likes math and science because she feels that girls are discouraged in pursuing these fields and wants that to change.

Most-Distinguished Juvenile Non-Fiction Book Award recipient, Kadir Nelson thanked the CLCSC for acknowledging his work Nelson Mandela, the namesake of which is one of Mr. Nelson’s heroes. Mr. Nelson went on to describe how distilling Nelson Mandela’s autobiography into a picture book was a difficult process. With it, he strived to amplify beauty and harmony, which is what Nelson Mandela worked toward.

Dan Santat; Photo Credit: CLCSC

Dan Santat; Photo Credit: CLCSC

Dan Santat was influenced by Smurfs cartoons and a librarian who surreptitiously gave him a copy of How to Draw Comics the Marvel Way because she knew that although his parents wanted him to become a doctor, he loved art. Mr. Santat has passed it along to his children. When this Excellence in Picture Book Illustration winner gave a speech at his alma mater, UCSD, he spoke about doing what he loves as a career instead of what he was expected to do.

Winner of the Best Narrative Voice in a Picture Book Award, Drew Daywalt discussed his process of writing and publishing The Day the Crayons Quit. He acknowledged the team effort needed over an eleven-year period from writing the manuscript to getting the book on shelves. His humorously described revelation that the manuscript took six years to sell is a rallying cry for aspiring authors to persevere. The much-anticipated sequel, The Day the Crayons Came Home, is in the works.

Recipient of the Dorothy C. McKenzie Award, Dr. Claudette S. McLinn is an inspiration. This busy “retiree” described how “retirement is a continuation of your life’s passion” and that the “enticement of the literary world became even stronger” after her retirement. Currently the Executive Director of the Center for the Study of Multicultural Children’s Literature, Dr. McLinn has been a passionate advocate for multicultural children’s literature throughout her distinguished career.

There Is Good in This World

Today is remembered for terrible, awful, tragic events. It’s also a day that people everywhere felt the loss and sent out messages of hope, support, love, and sympathy.

To honor 9/11 and to remind ourselves, and especially children, that good is still the predominant force in this world, here is a book that focuses on good people.Good People Everywhere

Taken from my review at Good Reads with Ronna, where you can find reviews on great children’s literature.

Within reading three pages of Good People Everywhere, I’d fallen in love with it. Written by Lynea Gillen and illustrated by Kristine Swarner, this beautiful, touching book is inspiring and empowering. Its message is simple: there are good people doing good things everywhere, every day and in many ways. In a world where we too often hear of the destructive, unethical and terrible acts that people commit, Good People Everywhere offers a powerful juxtaposition to the idea that there are bad people everywhere. It presents the notion that people, including young children, can and do good in the world.

The prose is written in plain language and provides examples that children will find familiar. Numerous examples show children of various ages engaging in good deeds, the kinds that are readily managed by youngsters.

Teachers are teaching math, spelling and reading skills,/Today, people are planning seeds, picking fruits and vegetables, and driving them to grocery stores all around the world, so you can have a ripe, juicy orange in your lunch./Today, a first grade boy is helping a friend who has a skinned knee, and a big sister is holding her baby brother.

The illustrations are warm and engaging, and depict the text in a childlike fashion. They are a perfect complement to the heartfelt message. The bonus activities help children recognize and celebrate the good people around them.

As a mother, I have shared this book with my daughters and discussed how people we know do good things and how they, even at their young ages, can bring good into the world. As an educator, I plan on sharing this uplifting book with my students as our school continues with its theme for the year of giving back. Good People Everywhere provides examples, inspiration and comfort not only to young children

PitMad Is Coming!

Alright, all you aspiring, pre-published, agent-seeking writers, get ready for tomorrow’s #pitmad. 

If you’re not familiar with this event, here’s a brief explanation. 

You have a book you want to pitch. You write your pitch in a tweet and use the hashtag #pitmad and the hashtag for whatever genre your manuscript is. Agents cruise Twitter and look for genres and manuscripts they might be interested in. If an agent favorites your tweet, then that’s an invitation to send in the manuscript.

Check out the facts (and the rules!) from the lady who started it all, Brenda Drake. Go to her explanation page, and see if you want to play. 

Good luck!

If I Had a Raptor

Taken from my review on www.goodreadswithronna.com, where you can find the latest and greatest in children’s literature and educational products.

If I Had a Raptor

Let’s face it, kids love pets: dogs, cats, rabbits, hamsters, even snakes and lizards. But raptors? You’d better believe it! In If I Had a Raptor by George O’Connor, (Candlewick Press, 2014 $15.99; Ages 3-7), a young girl brings home a “teensy and tiny and funny and fluffy” dinosaur. Never mind that the little fluff ball, named Dinah, could grow into a carnivorous beast. Her plucky caregiver showers her with lots of love and attention, and in that oh-so-special kid rationale explains why owning a raptor would be “the best thing ever!”

A baby raptor is so teensy and tiny that she would be easy to lose. I’d give her a little bell so I could always find her. If I had a raptor, she would like to sit on my lap, and I would let her. I might even have to trim her claws a little bit now and then.

The illustrations are fun, and the facial expressions are priceless. Check out Dinah’s face when she’s caught clawing the comfy chair. When our well-meaning pet owner awakens the sleeping dinosaur to play, Dinah’s half-closed eyes and pinched nostrils look incredibly similar to those of an annoyed cat. In fact, this raptor might just be part cat as she likes to “bask on a sunny windowsill or snuggle on clean laundry. She would sleep all day long. She will run around like crazy all night long…she would stalk the little things that catch her eye, like birds, or bugs, or even a dust bunny.”

My young daughter loved seeing Dinah grow from a lap-dinosaur to a full-sized raptor. And she howled with laughter when finicky eater Dinah sniffs at her dino-bowl and puts her snout in the air when she disapproves of the meal.

Whether your child already has a pet or not, he/she will be convinced that a raptor is a great addition to the household.

Ziggy’s Big Idea

Taken from my review at http://www.goodreadswithronna.com, where you can find the latest and greatest in children’s books and educational products.

I like bagels, especially mixed orange and cranberry, but I don’t know anything about them really.

ziggysbigidea.jpg

Ziggy’s Big Idea by Ilana Long presents one interpretation of the bagel’s origin. Ziggy is an inventive young boy, full of ideas, such as a square ball that doesn’t roll into the street. However, his ideas don’t always work out quite as Ziggy hopes. Just read about Rabbi Levi and the “shulstilts” that Ziggy made so that the Rabbi can “see the congregation over the bimah.” Ziggy’s father works in the bakery. So when the baker’s customers complain that “the buns are undercooked at the center,” Ziggy is determined to help! Will he be of use or just get in the way?

This informative read has additional resources, including a bagel recipe and theories on the bagel’s humble beginnings. It also presents life in a shtetl and uses Yiddish words and phrases. The artwork is full of interesting details, such as storks nesting on chimneys and era décor. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go get a bagel at my local handy drive-thru bagel shop.

A Dance Like Starlight

20140328-065923.jpg

From my review on http://www.goodreadswithronna.com, where you can find the latest and greatest in children’s books and educational products. Check it out!

A Dance Like Starlight: One Ballerina’s Dream (Philomel Books, 2014; $16.99 Ages 5-8), by Kristy Dempsey and illustrated by Floyd Cooper, is reviewed today by Rita Zobayan.

Inspired by the story of Janet Collins, the first African-American ballerina at the Metropolitan Opera Ballet, A Dance Like Starlight: One Ballerina’s Dream is a story of high hopes and grand dreams. Told from the point of view of a young African-American girl in 1950s Harlem, the story encompasses her wish to become a ballerina set against the realities of racial prejudice and poverty. Even though our young heroine has practically grown up at the ballet school and has accomplished the movements, she is concerned that she will be held back by societal barriers. Could a colored girl like me ever become a prima ballerina? Mama says hoping is hard work. Mama unpins the extra wash she’s taken on to make ends meet…If there’s one thing Mama knows, it’s hard work. Mama works all day long every day, and most times on into the night, for the ballet school.

Hopes are raised when Janet Collins’ performance is featured in the newspaper. The young girl and her mother go to the opera and watch as Ms. Collins takes the stage, and suddenly the girl’s heart jumps up from where I’m sitting, soaring, dancing, opening wide with the swell of music. In my heart I’m the one leaping across that stage, raising myself high on those shoulders. When she and her mother head home, the girl knows that there is no need to waste my wishes. I’ve got dreams coming true.

The art work is a perfect match for the story, seeming almost ethereal, as if the viewer is watching from beyond, back in time. The muted colors give a feel for the setting, with the factories spilling out pillars of smoke.

To be completely honest, this book brought tears to my eyes. It is a wonderful tale of courage, perseverance, and determination. Children, regardless of ethnicity, will be able to identify with having a dream, the fear that it might not come true, and the inspiration to see it through. My girls certainly did.