Be a Changemaker cover

Be a Changemaker coverI’ve been sur­prised and hon­ored to be includ­ed on a pletho­ra of fan­tas­tic blogs as part of a blog tour to help launch Be a Change­mak­er into the world. There are guest posts writ­ten by me on a vari­ety of top­ics relat­ed to the book, as well as inter­views, reviews, quotes, and, yes–book give­aways! Be sure to check out all of the tour stops, and please give these love­ly blog­gers some love, won’t you?
Here’s what has already been posted:

Review, author inter­view, giveaway
Review, guest post, giveaway
Reviews, teach­ing tools, guest post, giveaway
Review, resources lists
Guest post
Review, give­away

And here’s what is still to come:

Review, give­away
Review, give­away
Author inter­view, giveaway
Guest post, giveaway
Author inter­view, giveaway
Guest post, giveaway

Blue Slip Media logo
This incred­i­ble line­up has been assem­bled and man­aged by the love­ly ladies at Blue Slip Media. Thank you, Sarah and Barbara!

Interview with Mary Cronk Farrell, author of PURE GRIT

PURE GRIT book cover

I have a con­fes­sion to make. Nor­mal­ly I read every book before I post about it here, but–just this once–I was going to cheat. As much as I’ve been dying to read PURE GRIT by Mary Cronk Far­rell, my to-do list is huge right now: writ­ing new books (I’m cur­rent­ly work­ing on EIGHT sep­a­rate man­u­scripts and/or pro­pos­als!), pro­mot­ing BE A CHANGEMAKER, vol­un­teer projects (SCBWI West­ern Wash­ing­ton con­fer­ence any­one? There are still a few spaces!), cri­tiques (three full-length nov­els await!), fam­i­ly, pets, home… and let’s not for­get, TAXES! To top it off, I was still recov­er­ing from the flu when I came down with this most recent cold. I’m months behind on a few things, with many oth­er dead­lines loom­ing dead ahead. So, I sat down plan­ning to just skim it for the time being, write the post, and come back lat­er when I had time to set­tle in, read it in more detail, and take it all in.

PURE GRIT book cover
PURE GRIT book cover

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Interview with author Deborah Hopkinson

Today I’m thrilled to wel­come back author Deb­o­rah Hop­kin­son. I inter­viewed Deb­o­rah here pre­vi­ous­ly in a more gen­er­al sense, but this time I’d like to talk specifics about her lat­est book, KNIT YOUR BIT, com­ing from Put­nam Juve­nile on Feb­ru­ary 21, 2013.

KNIT YOUR BIT is a fic­tion­al­ized account of the real “Knit-In” event at Cen­tral Park in 1918. Despite being fic­tion, it was heav­i­ly researched to get the his­tor­i­cal details right, and read­ers can learn a lot about the time, World War I, and the peo­ple who lived then.

Please help me wel­come back Deborah!


LT: Hi, Deb­o­rah. It’s great to have you back. I love KNIT YOUR BIT and how it melds a fic­tion­al sto­ry with a non­fic­tion event. How did you first become inter­est­ed in writ­ing about this top­ic? Where did the seed of the sto­ry come from?
DH: The seed of this sto­ry actu­al­ly dates back some years, to my first pro­fes­sion­al job.  After grad­u­ate school I stum­bled into a career in fundrais­ing, which I have pur­sued ever since, in addi­tion to being a writer.  My first posi­tion was Staff Writer for the Amer­i­can Red Cross in Honolulu.
DH: As part of a his­to­ry cel­e­bra­tion, I wrote some arti­cles for the organization’s newslet­ter and stum­bled upon one of fire­men knit­ting in World War I.  I loved that image.  As a writer inter­est­ed in his­to­ry, I col­lect books on a wide vari­ety of top­ics.  At some point, think­ing about the upcom­ing anniver­sary of WWI, I remem­bered that pho­to and began read­ing about the his­to­ry of knit­ting.  Even­tu­al­ly, in Anne L. Macdonald’s NO IDLE HANDS, THE SOCIAL HISTORY OF AMERICAN KNITTING, I found a ref­er­ence to the 1918 Cen­tral Park Knit­ting Bee, and that’s where the sto­ry began.
LT: What kind of read­er do you think this book will appeal to?
DH: I think that my edi­tor, Shau­na Rossano, and the illus­tra­tor, Steven Gua­nac­cia, have done won­ders to make this sto­ry appeal­ing to young read­ers. I hope peo­ple who love crafts and knit­ting will be inter­est­ed.  I know that I often sign copies of my pic­ture book, SWEET CLARA AND THE FREEDOM QUILT, which are being giv­en as gifts to adults.  I hope folks will give KNIT YOUR BIT to friends (women and men, as well as boys and girls) who knit.
LT: What was your research process like for this book?
DH: Like many of my pic­ture books, KNIT YOUR BIT is his­tor­i­cal fic­tion inspired by real peo­ple or events, and includes an author’s note about knit­ting for sol­diers dur­ing World War I.
DH: The New York Times pub­lished an arti­cle on the knit­ting bee back in 1918, and some of the details of the prizes award­ed are pulled direct­ly from that piece.  I also researched and got per­mis­sion for the his­toric pho­tos on the end­pa­pers, which include one of sheep graz­ing dur­ing World War I on the White House lawn.  Unfor­tu­nate­ly, I wasn’t able to track down per­mis­sions for the Maki­ki fire sta­tion pho­to­graph, but I have added to my Pin­ter­est Board for KNIT YOUR BIT:

Knit Your Bit cover
KNIT YOUR BIT by Deb­o­rah Hopkinson

LT: What was your favorite part of the book to research and/or write?   What was the hard­est part of the research and/or writ­ing for you? How did you deal with that?
DH: I actu­al­ly love doing research of any kind.  The hard­est part is not hav­ing enough time, or not being able to trav­el to do research on-site.  For KNIT YOUR BIT, the fact that I couldn’t actu­al­ly find any first-per­son accounts of chil­dren who par­tic­i­pat­ed in the knit­ting bee meant that I felt the sto­ry, although based on real events, need­ed to be his­tor­i­cal fic­tion to be appeal­ing to read­ers. I always tell kids that when authors put words in character’s mouths the sto­ry becomes fiction.
LT: How have your research and writ­ing process­es evolved over the course of your career?
DH: I think my process­es have improved over the years.  I’m writ­ing a non­fic­tion book now on World War II, and I’m being care­ful to cite each source metic­u­lous­ly as I go along.
DH: This is some­thing I learned the hard way, espe­cial­ly with longer non­fic­tion.  The vet­ting and research process for my 2012 book, TITANIC, VOICES FROM THE DISASTER (a YALSA Non­fic­tion Award final­ist) was incred­i­bly detailed and time-con­sum­ing, because of the wealth of infor­ma­tion and the sheer com­plex­i­ty of the sto­ry.  So even though it might be tedious, I have learned to take my time and care­ful­ly track infor­ma­tion and sources. It def­i­nite­ly saves time later!
LT: I think every book teach­es us some­thing new, about the world, about our­selves, or about the craft of writ­ing. What have you learned as a result of writ­ing this book?
DH: I tend to write for old­er read­ers, espe­cial­ly since both my kids are now in their twen­ties.  I like to do author vis­its and talk with first and sec­ond graders and imag­ine how the book will sound if I’m shar­ing it with them.  That was espe­cial­ly help­ful in par­ing down this sto­ry to be as kid-friend­ly as possible.
LT: Besides pro­mot­ing your new book, what are you work­ing on now?
DH: Right now, I’m fin­ish­ing the proof­read­ing for my fall mid­dle grade nov­el, THE GREAT TROUBLE, A MYSTERY OF LONDON, THE BLUE DEATH, AND A BOY CALLED EEL.  I’m very excit­ed about it because 2013 is the bicen­ten­ni­al of the birth of Dr. John Snow, whose work in the 1854 cholera epi­dem­ic changed med­ical his­to­ry.  With the recent out­breaks of cholera in Haiti, this top­ic is espe­cial­ly rel­e­vant today.
LT: Is there any­thing else you’d like to tell us about?
DH: I have sev­er­al knit­ter friends who helped with this book, includ­ing Robin Smith, who knits hats for pre­ma­ture babies with her sec­ond graders.
DH: I, on the oth­er hand, am an extreme­ly poor knit­ter and I’m not very good at hats – or socks.   I knit scarves for relax­ation only, and only dare give my hand­i­work to peo­ple who don’t knit at all. I am lucky enough to live near Port­land, Ore­gon, where there are many won­der­ful yarn stores and enthu­si­as­tic knitters.
DH: I’m also delight­ed that the tra­di­tion of knit­ting for sol­diers con­tin­ues today. I hope that KNIT YOUR BIT inspires read­ers to learn a new skill or share one with others.
LT: Thanks so much for shar­ing with us, Deb­o­rah. And best of luck with KNIT YOUR BIT!

Introducing Loralee Leavitt and CANDY EXPERIMENTS

Facts First! Nonfiction Monday

Today I’m thrilled to intro­duce a long­time friend of mine and fel­low non­fic­tion writer,  Loralee Leav­itt.  I first met Loralee many years ago through an online cri­tique group put togeth­er by SCBWI West­ern Wash­ing­ton. We were an assort­ed mix of begin­ning writ­ers, writ­ing every­thing from pic­ture books to nov­els, both fic­tion and non­fic­tion. The group even­tu­al­ly dis­solved, but Loralee and I still run into one anoth­er from time to time at in-per­son SCBWI events, and we always enjoy keep­ing up with one anoth­er’s careers. Now, I could­n’t be more excit­ed to help Loralee launch her excit­ing new book, CANDY EXPERIMENTS!

Can­dy Exper­i­ments by Loralee Leavitt
Andrews McMeel Publishing
Jan­u­ary 1, 2013
160 pages

LT: Wel­come, Loralee, and con­grat­u­la­tions! How did you get start­ed with sci­ence exper­i­ments using can­dy? What was your inspiration?
LL: It actu­al­ly start­ed with my four-year-old daugh­ter, who one day after Hal­loween asked to put her Nerds in water. The next time she asked, I real­ized it was a chance to get rid of all the Hal­loween can­dy I hadn’t want­ed my chil­dren to eat. We cov­ered the table in bowls of water and start­ed throw­ing in can­dy to see what would hap­pen. Soon we dis­cov­ered crazy things, like the float­ing M&M m’s or lol­lipop sticks that unrolled when they were wet.
LT: How did you get from that ini­tial inspi­ra­tion to devel­op­ing the actu­al exper­i­ments in the book?
LL: When we start­ed doing can­dy exper­i­ments, I saw that we could teach real sci­ence with them, and drew from my own sci­ence back­ground to cre­ate exper­i­ments. I also asked oth­er experts for ideas, and read books like The Sci­ence of Sug­ar Con­fec­tionery, in which I learned things that led to new exper­i­ments. Oth­er exper­i­ments came straight from what my chil­dren were try­ing: for instance, my son’s attempts to sink a marsh­mal­low by jam­ming M&Ms into it became one of my den­si­ty lessons.
LT: How much time did you spend research­ing over­all, and how long did it take to write the book?
LL: I spent about two years devel­op­ing and research­ing exper­i­ments and writ­ing rough drafts. (This was an on-and-off process, since I was also very busy rais­ing chil­dren.) After I found my pub­lish­er, I had about five more months to fin­ish writ­ing and research­ing, check my sci­ence, and take photos.
LT: The design of the book, the pho­tos and lay­out, is gor­geous. Did you sup­ply the pho­tos, too? Can you tell us about that process?
LL: After the pub­lish­er saw the pho­tos I’d tak­en for my web­site and mag­a­zine arti­cles, they decid­ed I’d be able to pro­vide pho­tos for the book. Luck­i­ly my hus­band is an excel­lent pho­tog­ra­ph­er, and was able both to take some pho­tos and teach me what I need­ed to know. I’m also grate­ful to a friend of mine who brought a pro­fes­sion­al pho­tog­ra­ph­er to my home to give me some tips, such as using a roll of white paper to cre­ate a smooth background.
LL: To take most of the pho­tos, I set every­thing up on my kitchen table by a north-fac­ing win­dow, and set the cam­era on a tri­pod so I could take long expo­sures for good light­ing. Oth­er pho­tos were more chal­leng­ing, like microwav­ing a marsh­mal­low on a paper back­ground and open­ing the microwave fast enough to snap a pho­to before the marsh­mal­low col­lapsed. I assigned one of the hard­est pho­tos to my par­ents: a series of pic­tures of a Mentos/Diet Coke geyser, which they took in a flood­it back­yard one dark sum­mer night.
LT: Fun! Dur­ing your research, did any­thing sur­prise you, catch you off guard, or make you change your planned course for the book?
LL: The book is full of exper­i­ments that sur­prised us, many of them com­ing from things we tried that had crazy results. I had no idea when I put gum­mi worms in water that they’d absorb enough water to dou­ble in length, or that opaque Smar­ties would melt into clear pud­dles, or that con­ver­sa­tion hearts would bob up and down in soda.
LT: What was the hard­est part of the research and/or writ­ing for you? How did you deal with that?
LL: One of the hard­est parts was find­ing answers to real­ly weird ques­tions. For instance, I asked sev­er­al experts why, when I dropped M&M’s into water and they dis­solved, the result­ing pools of col­or didn’t mix togeth­er on their own. At last I found a sim­i­lar exper­i­ment on the ACS web­site and con­tact­ed them to see if they could pro­vide me with a good expla­na­tion. And they did.
LT: What kind of read­er do you think CANDY EXPERIMENTS will appeal to?
LL: I tar­get­ed the book at 7- to 10-year-olds, but old­er and younger peo­ple should enjoy it as well. Even adults love learn­ing that the m’s from M&Ms float in water.
LT: I think every book teach­es us some­thing new: about the world, about our­selves, or about the craft of writ­ing. What have you learned as a result of writ­ing this book? What sur­prised you the most dur­ing the process?
LL: I loved learn­ing about the ingre­di­ents and sci­ence of can­dy. For instance, I learned that taffy pulling is what makes taffy soft by incor­po­rat­ing air bubbles–without the air bub­bles, the taffy would be as hard as lollipops.
LL: I also had to think hard about what made these exper­i­ments so inter­est­ing to me, and try to share my amaze­ment with my readers.
LT: I love that answer! I’ve found that focus­ing on what makes the sub­ject so inter­est­ing to me is the key to my suc­cess­ful non­fic­tion writ­ing as well. And it’s not near­ly as easy to do as it sounds! Are there any oth­er tips you would like to share with aspir­ing children’s book writ­ers, espe­cial­ly those writ­ing non­fic­tion for kids?
LL: Write about what you love. For me, writ­ing about the sci­ence of can­dy cap­tured my sense of child­like discovery/explored things I’d loved since I was a child: sci­ence, writ­ing, can­dy, and fam­i­ly. I was excit­ed to share my dis­cov­er­ies with oth­ers. Also, I spent so much time on this book that I couldn’t have stuck with it if I wasn’t real­ly interested.
LT: That’s def­i­nite­ly good advice. What are you work­ing on now?
LL: Right now, I’m most­ly work­ing on pub­lic­i­ty for my book, arrang­ing reviews, guest blog posts, and book sign­ings. I’m fin­ish­ing up an ebook about car trips for, since every­body always asks me how we man­age our kids on long dri­ving trips. I’m col­lect­ing more can­dy ideas in case I get the oppor­tu­ni­ty to do anoth­er book, and I have a his­tor­i­cal nov­el that I’d like to pol­ish up and submit.
LT: Good luck with those! What would you most like peo­ple to know about you?
LL: When I became a moth­er, I wor­ried that I’d have to put my writ­ing aside. Lit­tle did I know that my kids would lead me to my big break! I’m so thank­ful for the way that my fam­i­ly, my love for sci­ence, and my love of writ­ing have com­bined to make this project a success.
LT: It is a great sto­ry, and a good reminder to just go with the flow some­times. Thanks so much for stop­ping by, Loralee, and much suc­cess with your fan­tas­tic new book!
Loralee Leav­itt destroys can­dy for the sake of sci­ence at Her new book, CANDY EXPERIMENTS, con­tains dozens of amaz­ing exper­i­ments includ­ing cre­at­ing giant gum­mi worms, turn­ing M&Ms into comets, and grow­ing can­dy crystals. 
Facts First! Nonfiction Monday

Interview: Darcy Pattison on Writing WISDOM

Last week I post­ed this review of Dar­cy Pat­ti­son’s mov­ing new pic­ture book, WISDOM, THE MIDWAY ALBATROSS. Today, Dar­cy stops by to dis­cuss it!

LT: Hi, Dar­cy! I’m so excit­ed to have you vis­it. Can you tell me how you first become inter­est­ed in writ­ing about Wisdom?
DP: I have been inter­est­ed in writ­ing more nature/science relat­ed books, so a cou­ple times a month, I read the Fish and Wildlife Ser­vice blog at, just trolling for top­ics. After the earth­quake and tsuna­mi last year, I saw infor­ma­tion on the old­est wild bird in the world, who sur­vived the tsuna­mi and had to learn more.
LT: Although you’re tra­di­tion­al­ly pub­lished many times over, this book is pub­lished by your own inde­pen­dent pub­lish­ing com­pa­ny. Con­grat­u­la­tions on what must have been a huge effort to pull every­thing togeth­er! Can you talk about your deci­sion to go that route with this book?
DP: I cre­at­ed the Mims House pub­lish­er to address time­ly sto­ries like that of Wis­dom. Tra­di­tion­al pub­lish­ers work on a very long lead time, often tak­ing two or three or four years to bring a pic­ture book to the mar­ket­place. With print-on-demand tech­nol­o­gy, I can do it much quick­er. For mar­ket­ing, I can shout very loud online, ‘Read all about it.’ Tra­di­tion­al pub­lish­ers will always hold the lion’s share of the mar­ket­place, but there’s also room for niche pub­lish­ers, sup­port­ed by new technologies.
LT: Can you tell us about Kit­ty Harvill’s illus­tra­tion process? How did she cap­ture Wis­dom in her art?
DP: The Fish and Wildlife ser­vice makes pho­tos avail­able as pub­lic domain mate­r­i­al at, so it was very easy to find images for Kit­ty to use as pho­to ref­er­ences as she did her watercolors.
LT: I think every book teach­es us some­thing new, about the world, about our­selves, or about the craft of writ­ing. What have you learned as a result of writ­ing this book? What sur­prised you the most dur­ing the process?
DP: I was total­ly sur­prised that birds could still be lay­ing eggs at the age of 61. But Wis­dom just laid a new egg in Decem­ber, 2011.
LT: Are there any tips you would like to share with aspir­ing children’s book writ­ers, espe­cial­ly those writ­ing non­fic­tion for kids?
DP: Talk to the source. When I real­ized I want­ed to write about Wis­dom, I went direct­ly to the biol­o­gist who lives and works on Mid­way Atoll, Pete Leary. He was invalu­able in giv­ing me infor­ma­tion and vet­ting the man­u­script. The oth­er tip is to dig deep­er. This sto­ry is excit­ing part­ly because of Wis­dom’s longevi­ty. I did a time­line of her life and times to under­stand what she has lived through. If I had only told the sto­ry of the tsuna­mi, it would­n’t have been as pow­er­ful as the sto­ry of over 60 years of survival.
LT: I’ve always said that I will know I’ve made it when I receive one let­ter from one child say­ing that some­thing I wrote made a pos­i­tive dif­fer­ence in his or her life. How do you define suc­cess? Do you feel
like you’ve achieved it? If not, what’s left on your to-do list?
DP: I have loved every part of Wis­dom’s sto­ry and chron­i­cling it for chil­dren. I take it one project at a time, and if I can say that I did the best job pos­si­ble, then I am hap­py. On my to-do list? Find­ing more equal­ly stir­ring tales about nature.
LT: What are you work­ing on now?
DP: My new book, DESERT BATHS (Syl­van Dell) comes out in August 2012. It’s a sto­ry about how desert ani­mals take a bath–lots of fun!
LT: What would you most like peo­ple to know about you?
DP: I love to write.
LT: And it shows! It’s always inspir­ing and help­ful to get a “peak behind the cur­tain” of the writ­ers I admire. Thanks again, Darcy!
And, if you’d like to read an inter­view with the illus­tra­tor of WISDOM, Kit­ty Harvill, please click on over to this post at Archimedes Notebook.

Interview with author Cynthia Levinson

A few weeks ago I post­ed this review of Cyn­thia Levin­son’s amaz­ing mid­dle-grade non­fic­tion book, WE’VE GOT A JOB. Now, I’m thrilled to wel­come Cyn­thia her­self  here to talk about it!

LT: Hi Cyn­thia! One of the first things I noticed about WE’VE GOT A JOB was how thor­ough­ly researched it is. What was the hard­est part of the research and/or writ­ing for you? 
CL: The hard­est part, one which his­to­ri­ans and researchers on many mat­ters face, was fig­ur­ing out what to do about con­tra­dic­to­ry infor­ma­tion. One per­son remem­bered that the events of the Children’s March in Birm­ing­ham, Alaba­ma start­ed on one day; anoth­er was sure it was a dif­fer­ent day. One per­son knew that Dr. King spoke to him at the church; oth­ers said King was else­where. A third per­son was def­i­nite that she was arrest­ed for pick­et­ing on a par­tic­u­lar day when oth­er sources indi­cat­ed that no arrests occurred that day.
LT: How did you deal with that?
CL: I don’t at all blame my respon­dents! The events I was ask­ing them about took place near­ly 50 years ago at a time when they were both young and fright­ened. Deter­min­ing the facts required so much effort that I wrote an entire Author’s Note about it.
LT: How com­plete was the book when you sent it out?
CL: Because this was my first book, I went over­board what I sub­mit­ted to my agent! At the same time, because this was a work of non­fic­tion, which, unlike fic­tion, doesn’t need to be com­plete, I sub­mit­ted a pro­pos­al, rather than a full man­u­script. But, what a proposal!
CL: It con­sist­ed of five com­plete draft chap­ters, a nar­ra­tive out­line with almost half a page of text for each unwrit­ten chap­ter, a four-page bib­li­og­ra­phy, many pages of foot­notes, sources and costs of pho­tographs, and, prob­a­bly, a par­tridge in a pear tree. I’ve since learned that this much prep is not nec­es­sary. But, I wasn’t sor­ry that I had done so much work in advance of sub­mis­sion. The out­line was sol­id enough that it struc­tured the final book, even after many tex­tu­al edits. And, the pro­pos­al sold the book—eventually.
LT: What else have you learned as a result of writ­ing this book? 
CL: As a sea­soned writer for qual­i­ty non­fic­tion children’s mag­a­zines, I was used to doing mam­moth amounts of research that nev­er make it into the final prod­uct, orga­niz­ing reams of mate­r­i­al, writ­ing suc­cinct­ly, etc. What turned out to be new with this book is the human element.
CL: Not that I hadn’t writ­ten about peo­ple before. I had—William Kamk­wam­ba, for instance, who brought elec­tric­i­ty to his vil­lage in Malawi; Mar­ti­na Zurschmiede, the youngest mem­ber of the Swiss Lace Mak­ing Asso­ci­a­tion; Nathan Wolfe, who is search­ing for and try­ing to pre­vent the next pan­dem­ic. But, with short pieces of 500–800 words, you’re look­ing at the facts of what peo­ple are doing. With a book, I dis­cov­ered that I also need­ed to delve into people’s moti­va­tions, into the pas­sions or fears that pro­pel them to do what they do.
CL: Fer­ret­ing out these fac­tors entailed ask­ing prob­ing, inti­mate ques­tions. “How did your moth­er beat you?” “Why did you lie to your par­ents?” Invari­ably, I learned, when my respon­dents low­ered their voic­es, when they whis­pered to me, even though we were the only ones talk­ing, they were reach­ing deep inside themselves.
LT: What sur­prised you the most dur­ing the process?
CL: Because I had nev­er writ­ten a non­fic­tion book for chil­dren before—or, any book—the entire process sur­prised me. The time that I was most tak­en aback occurred when one of my inter­vie­wees, James, ques­tioned me! He want­ed to know why I was inter­est­ed in writ­ing this book, what I would do with the infor­ma­tion he shared, would I pay him. These are per­fect­ly rea­son­able and under­stand­able ques­tions. But, I thought I was the question-asker!
LT: I’ve always said that I will know I’ve made it when I receive one let­ter from one child say­ing that some­thing I wrote made a pos­i­tive dif­fer­ence in his or her life. How do you define success?
CL: I love this def­i­n­i­tion, Lau­rie. I hope this hap­pens to me—because, like you, I hope it hap­pens to a child who reads our work. My def­i­n­i­tion of suc­cess is very par­tic­u­lar to this book.

CL: When peo­ple who have even pass­ing knowl­edge of the civ­il rights move­ment hear “Birm­ing­ham,” they gen­er­al­ly and imme­di­ate­ly think of the church bomb­ing in which four girls were mur­dered. I hope that We’ve Got a Job: The 1963 Birm­ing­ham Children’s March will change their per­cep­tion. I would like for read­ers to asso­ciate “Birm­ing­ham” not just with the tragedy of vic­tim­ized chil­dren but also with chil­dren who took a stand, chang­ing Amer­i­ca with their deter­mi­na­tion and fortitude.
LT: And I’m sure they will! It’s impos­si­ble to read WE’VE GOT A JOB and not be touched both by what those chil­dren went through and what they accom­plished. Thank you for writ­ing such an impor­tant, pow­er­ful book, Cyn­thia, and thanks so much for shar­ing this behind-the-scenes view of it with me! 

Today’s Non­fic­tion Mon­day Round-up is being host­ed at The Chil­dren’s War.

Interview with author Kelly Milner Halls

photo of Kelly Milner Halls with her iguana

A few weeks ago, I post­ed this review of Kel­ly Mil­ner Halls’ most recent book, IN SEARCH OF SASQUATCH. Kel­ly was kind enough to fol­low up that review with an incred­i­ble inter­view about the book and her writ­ing career. Please help me wel­come author Kel­ly Mil­ner Halls!
photo of Kelly Milner Halls with her iguana
LT:  Hi Kel­ly, and thank for com­ing! I guess I have to start with the obvi­ous, though I’m fair­ly con­fi­dent I know the answer from read­ing the book: Do you believe in Sasquatch?
KMH:  I do not believe, 100%, that Sasquatch is real. I tend to be skep­ti­cal by nature—the jour­nal­ist in me. But I believe there are some very con­vinc­ing bits of evi­dence that sug­gest SOMETHING is out there—an ani­mal we haven’t yet defined and don’t real­ly under­stand. Too many reli­able peo­ple have wit­nessed too many amaz­ing things to ignore them.
LT:  What was/were the hard­est things about research­ing and/or writ­ing this book? How did you deal with that?
KMH:  I want­ed to be sure my wit­ness­es and experts were seri­ous peo­ple, not peo­ple who want­ed fame or glo­ry. There is noth­ing wrong with fame or glo­ry, but I want­ed peo­ple who were fact-cen­tered, so that required some hard work. I think I found good inter­view sub­jects to meet that stan­dard. Hope so.
LT:  Dur­ing your research, did any­thing sur­prise you, catch you off guard, or make you change your planned course for the book?
KMH:  The fact that Scott Nel­son believes Sasquatch may have its own lan­guage absolute­ly blew my socks off. His rea­son­ing is so clear and log­i­cal, it almost make my head explode. If that’s true, that’s a rea­son to pro­tect the “maybe” primate.
LT:  Did you do all the pho­to research for the book too? Can you tell us about that process?
KMH:  I took a num­ber of the pho­tos, but a won­der­ful Sasquatch inves­ti­ga­tor named Paul Graves from Yaki­ma, WA, was extreme­ly gen­er­ous about shar­ing his field pho­tographs for the book. He is also a musi­cian who writes Sasquatch songs, and he’s fea­tured in the book. But he was very gen­er­ous, and I’m grateful.
LT: How do you man­age all of your research for a book like this? What’s your orga­ni­za­tion­al sys­tem? Does it evolve over the course of a project?
KMH:  I keep elab­o­rate, well-backed up com­put­er files about each sub­ject, each top­ic, each chap­ter, so I can find my notes with ease. And there are so many notes. I read a dozen books, did more than two dozen inter­views and col­lect­ed dozens of images for this book. It was hard but amaz­ing work. It’s what I love to do.
LT:  How have your research and writ­ing process­es evolved over the course of your career?
KMH:  As my chil­dren have grown into adult­hood, I have been able to trav­el more to get my infor­ma­tion first-hand, rather than on the tele­phone. Hav­ing both field and phone time real­ly adds rich­ness to the books I write and the pre­sen­ta­tions I give.
LT: How much time did you spend research­ing this par­tic­u­lar book over­all, and how long did it take to write the book? Is that typical?
KMH:  Most of my books take between three and five years to research, then anoth­er year to write. I don’t like to rehash mate­r­i­al that already exists. I like to present new infor­ma­tion when­ev­er pos­si­ble and that takes time and effort.
LT: How do you know when a book is “done” and ready to send to your agent or editor?
KMH:  The book isn’t even close to done when I send it to my edi­tors or agent. It’s a pro­pos­al. It maps out how I see the book once it’s com­plete and gives us all a place to start. But the book evolves con­sid­er­ably as we work togeth­er as a time. I’m sell­ing a con­cept that will change and improve as we all work on it, and that’s the mag­ic of the edi­to­r­i­al process.
LT:  Are there any oth­er tips you would like to share with aspir­ing children’s book writ­ers, espe­cial­ly those writ­ing non­fic­tion for kids?
KMH:  Watch for the top­ics that YOU find most engag­ing and con­sid­er offer­ing them up to young read­ers. Your excite­ment, your sense of won­der will show through every word you write and the kids will feel the human con­nec­tion. If you are not excit­ed about your top­ic, that lack of enthu­si­asm will be just as clear to the young read­ers. So write about things the excite you. You’ll give the kids a rea­son to be excit­ed, too.
LT:  I think every book teach­es us some­thing new, about the world, about our­selves, or about the craft of writ­ing. What have you learned as a result of writ­ing this book? What sur­prised you the most dur­ing the process?
KMH:  I have learned that we for­get our human­i­ty when it comes to ani­mals at times. But we can also renew it. The more you know about even an unknown crea­ture, the hard­er it is to sim­ply dis­re­gard or dis­re­spect it. It’s like my pet chick­ens. I can eat grilled chick­en with­out a blink of an eye. I love chick­en din­ner. But I could nev­er even con­sid­er eat­ing my pet chick­ens. You work hard­er not to hurt the things you under­stand well. Knowl­edge, explo­ration, is the key to more love, less hate. That is con­firmed every time I write a book and share it with kids.
LT:  I’ve always said that I will know I’ve made it when I receive one let­ter from one child say­ing that some­thing I wrote made a pos­i­tive dif­fer­ence in his or her life. How do you define suc­cess? Do you feel like you’ve achieved it? If not, what’s left on your to-do list?
KMH:  I used to yearn for the day when I’d win a major non­fic­tion book award. Years went by, and it did­n’t hap­pen. Then I start­ed meet­ing kids—many of them boys, but girls too—who loved my books, kids who said I was their favorite author. I start­ed hear­ing sto­ries about kids who clung to my books like life jackets—kids who drew com­fort from MY books, award-win­ning or not. After that starts to hap­pen reg­u­lar­ly, you real­ize awards are love­ly, but the real mea­sure of suc­cess are those read­ers and their abil­i­ty to feel a lit­tle less alone because of some­thing you’ve giv­en them. That’s how I mea­sure suc­cess. If I have made your child’s life a lit­tle kinder, a lit­tle safer, I am the luck­i­est writer on earth.
LT:  What do you like to do when you’re not research­ing and/or writing?
KMH:  I am always writ­ing, so that’s a hard ques­tion. I do a LOT of school vis­its, which I love. I paint, I meet with friends, I work for my friend Chris Crutch­er, I walk my dog and take care of my lizard. I sleep now and then, when time per­mits. : ) Life is crazy busy, but good.
LT:  What are you work­ing on now?
KMH:  I’m fin­ish­ing a book on ani­mal res­cues for Nation­al Geo­graph­ic called TIGER IN TROUBLE. I’m putting togeth­er anoth­er YA anthol­o­gy for Chron­i­cle Books—just got that news yes­ter­day. I am research­ing the his­to­ry of video games for a new book project. And I’m going to write a book on ghosts for Mill­brook. I have two oth­er pro­pos­als under con­sid­er­a­tion at Houghton Mif­flin Har­court, too, but they aren’t firm yet, so I bet­ter not talk about them.
LT:  What would you most like peo­ple to know about you?
KMH:  That I don’t have a mean bone in my body, that I live to make life a lit­tle eas­i­er and kinder for the peo­ple I meet. I’d like them to know that I am exact­ly who I say I am, with no need for deceit or ani­mus. Life is too short for cru­el­ty and anger. Like the Bea­t­les said, all we REALLY need is love. I hope my human­i­ty shows, even in my quirky works of non­fic­tion for kids. Kids need love, most of all.
LT: Well, Kel­ly, I have LOVED inter­view­ing you! Thank you so much for so gen­er­ous­ly shar­ing your exper­tise and heart with us, in your books as well as on this blog. 
Stay tuned for an upcom­ing review of Kelly’s new book, ALIEN INVESTIGATION, com­ing from Lern­er Pub­lish­ing on April 1, 2012 (no fooling!).

Interview with author Audrey Vernick

I’m still pinch­ing myself about sign­ing with Ammi-Joan Paque­tte at Erin Mur­phy Lit­er­ary Agency. I’ve always known Joan and Erin are amaz­ing, but I was­n’t expect­ing the close-knit, ultra-sup­port­ive group of EMLA clients who total­ly sweet­en the pot. I set about try­ing to read all of their books and was thrilled to dis­cov­er fel­low non­fic­tion (and fic­tion!) author Audrey Ver­nick. I knew I want­ed to get to know her bet­ter as well as  pick her brain a lit­tle, so I’m excit­ed to be the 3rd stop on her sum­mer 2011 blog tour!

Audrey Ver­nick

Lau­rie: Wel­come, Audrey! Thanks for stop­ping by. Your first book, IS YOUR BUFFALO READY FOR KINDERGARTEN, was a light-heart­ed, hilar­i­ous­ly fun­ny book for the preschool set. Your sec­ond, SHE LOVED BASEBALL: THE EFFA MANLEY STORY, was a seri­ous, pas­sion­ate pic­ture book biog­ra­phy. Now, here we are cel­e­brat­ing your return to young fic­tion with the release of TEACH YOUR BUFFALO TO PLAY DRUMS. (Con­grat­u­la­tions!)

Lau­rie: One of the things that jumps out at me about all of your books is what a strong and unique voice they have, yet they’re total­ly dif­fer­ent! As authors, we’re told, and often strug­gle, to find our own one true voice… but you’ve found two! How did you devel­op them? How do you switch back and forth between your BUFFALO voice and your non­fic­tion voice? 

Audrey: I strug­gled with this ques­tion, because before I was pub­lished, I found it mad­den­ing the way peo­ple, espe­cial­ly edi­tors, talked about voice. “It’s hard to define, but I know it when I see it.” THAT IS NOT HELPFUL! I want to give an infor­ma­tive answer, but the truth is that voice is the one part of the writ­ing process that’s just there for me. I’m not at all con­scious of devel­op­ing voice or switch­ing between voic­es. I write and it’s there.
Audrey: But as I think more about it, my brain keeps me pulling me back to the tru­ly dread­ful pic­ture books I used to write, which had no voice at all. Before writ­ing for kids, I wrote lit­er­ary short fic­tion for adults (which makes writ­ing for kids seem like a lucra­tive busi­ness deci­sion). My voice was always in the short sto­ries, but it did take me some time to get it into my chil­dren’s writ­ing. A lot of time, actu­al­ly. Some­thing clicked into place with the buf­fa­lo books, and the best expla­na­tion I can give is that I learned to get out of my own way. I used to waste a lot of my nar­ra­tive space explain­ing the world I cre­at­ed and why char­ac­ters act­ed as they did. Now I state it and move on. And that, some­how, cleared out the room my voice had been wait­ing for.

Audrey: Late­ly I’ve been think­ing a lot about voice in non­fic­tion. I real­ly admire some voice-heavy non­fic­tion books, and I’m play­ing around with that, at least in my head, for the non­fic­tion project I’ve been work­ing on for years. The exam­ples that come to mind are both base­ball books–Kadir Nel­son’s WE ARE THE SHIP, about as per­fect as a book could be (though maybe more for adult read­ers of chil­dren’s books than for chil­dren), and the won­der­ful YOU NEVER HEARD OF SANDY KOUFAX? by Jon­ah Win­ter (illus­trat­ed by Andre Car­ril­ho). Those books deliv­er on three fronts, where I was only expect­ing two–information about a sub­ject in which I was inter­est­ed, gor­geous art, and the bonus: a real­ly inter­est­ing voice to tell the story.
Lau­rie: You also have a nov­el com­ing out this fall. How did you find that voice, and how is it like or unlike the two we’ve already seen? 

Audrey: The voice in WATER BALLOON is truest to… me. To who I am. Not nec­es­sar­i­ly who I was at thir­teen, the age of the book’s narrator/protagonist, but who I am now, dis­tilled back to a younger age. 
Audrey: I start­ed this book sev­en years ago and the voice was the exact same in the first sen­tence of the first draft as it was when I com­plet­ed the final revi­sion. But man alive, did I need to work on plot. If my char­ac­ters had their way, they would lounge and emote for 300 pages. 
Lau­rie: Anoth­er mul­ti-tal­ent­ed author of both fic­tion and non­fic­tion (and fel­low EMLA client) Chris Bar­ton wrote in a guest post on Ras­co from RIF, “I slide back and forth between fic­tion and non­fic­tion with­out real­ly think­ing much about it, my expe­ri­ences with one build­ing on the oth­er. I sus­pect the youngest read­ers approach the two gen­res pret­ty much the same way—when you’ve explored only a smidge of the world, all books are about explor­ing more of it. It’s as we get old­er, as both read­ers and writ­ers, that our tastes divide.
Lau­rie: I guess, for some of us, our tastes nev­er did divide. (Per­haps because we nev­er grew up?) Do you have a pref­er­ence? Which cre­ative process do you enjoy more: fic­tion or nonfiction?
Audrey: I think writ­ing fun­ny comes more nat­u­ral­ly and is more fun. Writ­ing non­fic­tion is hard­er. But some­times there’s a greater sat­is­fac­tion in suc­cess­ful­ly com­plet­ing a dif­fi­cult task. And I feel some­thing that’s found at the cross­roads of pride and delight at shar­ing some­one else’s sto­ry with a wide audience. 
Audrey: I would­n’t say I’m drawn to non­fic­tion as a whole, though. Some indi­vid­ual sto­ries just call me. And while it’s obvi­ous that some of them are baseball–in the case of my first book, BARK & TIM, it was a paint­ing. I have likened see­ing Tim Brown’s paint­ing to the human-inter­est sto­ry I once read about a woman who saw a news sto­ry about an orphan in anoth­er coun­try and had this imme­di­ate, strong knowl­edge: That’s my son. It was that strong when I saw “Feed­ing Bark.” That’s MY paint­ing. My art. My sto­ry. For the play­ful, fic­tion books, I’m sim­ply drawn in by the strong pull/desire to write some­thing funny.
Lau­rie: Chris also wrote, “based on my own expe­ri­ences slip­ping back and forth between gen­res, I believe they might even find inspi­ra­tion for their next fic­tion project.
Lau­rie: Do you also find that one informs the oth­er? Do you need to do both to stay bal­anced? Where do you pull such dif­fer­ent ideas from? Do you think they come from the same place somehow? 
Audrey: Both kinds of stories—fiction and nonfiction—call to me. I don’t go seek­ing sto­ry ideas. I find myself won­der­ing about some­thing or some­one (non­fic­tion) and want­i­ng to explore to find out more. Usu­al­ly in the case of fic­tion pic­ture books, I say some­thing, though some­times I just think it, and it echoes until I start look­ing at it for sto­ry poten­tial. The clos­est I’ve come to one inform­ing the oth­er was when read­ing a par­tic­u­lar kind of non­fic­tion pic­ture book—the spate of inter-species friend­ship books—led to writ­ing a fic­tion spoof of the genre, the upcom­ing BOGART & VINNIE.
Lau­rie: Do you tend to work on fic­tion projects and non­fic­tion projects at the same time? Or do you keep them com­plete­ly separate? 
Audrey: I work on them simul­ta­ne­ous­ly. I don’t have any trou­ble switch­ing gears, for the most part.
Lau­rie: How is your process dif­fer­ent for some­thing like TEACH YOUR BUFFALO TO PLAY DRUMS and SHE LOVED BASEBALL? 
Audrey: I just need an idea to start writ­ing fic­tion pic­ture books. A title, a premise, a character–those have all been my start­ing points for dif­fer­ent fic­tion pic­ture books. For non­fic­tion, I need a lot of infor­ma­tion. I need inter­views, back­ground infor­ma­tion, etc. And I need time for the sto­ry to boil down enough that I can envi­sion an open­ing scene, where an open­ing scene almost always nat­u­ral­ly emerges for me when writ­ing fic­tion pic­ture books.
Audrey: When I get stuck writ­ing non­fic­tion, it’s usu­al­ly a good hint that I need to do more research. When I’m stuck writ­ing fic­tion, it’s kind of my own prob­lem to fix. After wait­ing a few days to see if an answer comes to me, I’ll some­times try to sit down and write five pos­si­ble ways out. This usu­al­ly works. One thing I’ve done when stuck writ­ing both fic­tion and non­fic­tion, with suc­cess, is talk it through with smart people. 
Audrey: The edit­ing process is sim­i­lar in that both are almost always about strip­ping away to find the essen­tial sto­ry. With non­fic­tion, it’s wrench­ing, because you’re cut­ting away parts of a life. I still mourn for a scene in SHE LOVED BASEBALL. I find it more sat­is­fy­ing with fic­tion, because for me, my humor usu­al­ly comes through best when it’s in a stark, brief form. But that’s not how I write it–that hap­pens in revision. 

Lau­rie: What are you work­ing on now? 

Audrey: I am revis­ing a recent­ly acquired pic­ture book enti­tled BOGART & VINNIE, A COMPLETELY MADE-UP STORY OF TRUE FRIENDSHIP. I find myself in the new-to-me sit­u­a­tion of turn­ing a char­ac­ter from a pot­bel­lied pig into a rhinoceros. 
Audrey: I’m also plan­ning to start a new upper mid­dle-grade nov­el this sum­mer, which scares me more than any oth­er kind of writ­ing. Nov­els are so con­sum­ing and, for me, real­ly hard! I know a lot about my main char­ac­ter and her sit­u­a­tion, about where she starts and where she’ll end up, but get­ting her to move and do things has proven to be a challenge. 
Audrey: Mixed in there are a cou­ple of oth­er pic­ture book projects–mostly fic­tion, with one nonfiction–that I return to every now and then. And one new one that’s just start­ing to scratch its way to the surface. 
Lau­rie: What do you most want peo­ple to know about you as an author and as a person? 
Audrey: That is a big question.
Audrey: I’m a big read­er. The moments I love best as a read­er are the ones that make me laugh, or the ones I HAVE to read aloud or paste into an email for some­one else whom I know will get it exact­ly as I do, or stum­bling upon phras­ing that pleas­es me to my core. Most recent­ly, it was this sen­tence in Ann Patch­et­t’s STATE OF WONDER, when a char­ac­ter receives bad news: “There was inside of her a very mod­est phys­i­cal col­lapse, not a faint but a sort of fold­ing, as if she were an exten­sion ruler and her ankles and knees and hips were all being brought togeth­er at clos­er angles.” It’s not an espe­cial­ly impor­tant moment in the book, but those words evoked some­thing in me. I reread them sev­er­al times, with great sat­is­fac­tion and pleasure. 
Audrey: As a writer, I don’t think there’s any way to con­scious­ly strive for such moments in our own writ­ing. But I think that’s why I write–in the hope that I might pro­vide that kind of moment for a reader. 
Audrey: As a per­son, boy that’s hard. When my sis­ters and I describe peo­ple, we always find our­selves falling upon the same rubric of fun­ny, smart, and nice. They claim they haven’t, but I believe they have, more than once, sub­tly sug­gest­ed that I might want to work a bit on the nice part. I am a strange com­bi­na­tion of mis­an­thrope and some­one exceed­ing­ly fond of and loy­al to the core of peo­ple I adore.
Lau­rie: Thanks so much, Audrey! I can’t wait to see TEACH YOUR BUFFALO TO PLAY DRUMS and all of your oth­er upcom­ing projects.
Read on about Audrey, the buf­fa­lo, and more on the rest of her sum­mer 2011 blog tour:

Meet young social entrepreneur Riley Carney!

Riley Carney

I first met Riley Car­ney on Twit­ter. As you can see in her pro­file, she’s 18, has pub­lished 3 books (so far), and found­ed a non­prof­it orga­ni­za­tion for children’s lit­er­a­cy. Pret­ty amaz­ing, huh? I knew right away she was some­body I want­ed to fol­low! Loads of oth­er peo­ple do, too, so today we’re get­ting togeth­er to throw a SURPRISE Twit­ter grad­u­a­tion par­ty for her! Every­body say,

“Hap­py Grad­u­a­tion, Riley!”

Riley Carney
In just four years, Riley’s non­prof­it has raised over $100,000 and built three schools and water purifi­ca­tion sys­tems for vil­lages in Africa along with a children’s lit­er­a­cy cen­ter in a woman’s shel­ter in Col­orado. Cur­rent­ly, they are focus­ing on their Bookin’It pro­gram, which is putting books into class­rooms in low-lit­er­a­cy/un­der­fund­ed schools in the Unit­ed States. Riley donates some of the pro­ceeds from her own books to the orga­ni­za­tion, also.
A true hero, Riley has won a num­ber of  nation­al and local awards, includ­ing T.A. Bar­ron’s Young Heroes Award Dis­tin­guished Final­ist, Pru­den­tial Spir­it of Com­mu­ni­ty Nation­al Award for Col­orado, NBC Col­orado Affil­i­ate 9News Kids Who Care, and Skip­ping Stones Mul­ti­cul­tur­al Mag­a­zine Top Youth Writer Award, to name a few.
Despite being a pub­lished author, founder and CEO of Break­ing the Chain, in-demand speak­er, not to men­tion busy high-school senior, Riley was kind enough to answer some inter­view ques­tions to tell us a lit­tle more about her­self and her lit­er­a­cy orga­ni­za­tion, which fights right in with the youth empow­er­ment theme of this blog!
Lau­rie: Hi Riley! Thanks so much for play­ing along and shar­ing your wis­dom and vision with us. First, how old were you when you launched your non­prof­it? And how did you decide what prob­lem or issue to address?
Riley: When I was four­teen years old, I learned some star­tling sta­tis­tics about children’s lit­er­a­cy: over 120 mil­lion chil­dren around the world are denied access to a basic edu­ca­tion; 1.3 mil­lion chil­dren drop out of school each year in the U.S.; and 1 in every 2 chil­dren lives in pover­ty. I real­ized that there was a direct cor­re­la­tion between illit­er­a­cy and pover­ty. I want­ed to do some­thing to change those sta­tis­tics, so I decid­ed to start my own non­prof­it orga­ni­za­tion, Break­ing the Chain, to break the chains of illit­er­a­cy and pover­ty through education.
Lau­rie: Who or what helped you fig­ure out how to do it?
Riley: When I first start­ed Break­ing the Chain, my ini­tial goal was to build a school in Kenya. I part­nered with an orga­ni­za­tion called Free the Chil­dren so that I could raise the mon­ey and they would build the school. They had many help­ful fundrais­ing tips that gave me ideas of how to raise mon­ey. My fam­i­ly and friends were very sup­port­ive from the very begin­ning, and I used my school as a way to raise aware­ness and funds.
Lau­rie: What was the eas­i­est aspect of launch­ing and/or main­tain­ing it?
Riley: The eas­i­est aspect was stay­ing pas­sion­ate about the cause. I deliv­er books to many class­rooms in high-need mid­dle and ele­men­tary schools and I often have the oppor­tu­ni­ty to speak with the stu­dents who receive the books. It is impos­si­ble to ade­quate­ly con­vey the joy and excite­ment expressed by the chil­dren when they see the books. As soon as their teacher allows them to, they run to the box­es and grab as many books as they can to take back to their desks. They smile, they laugh, they dance around. It’s bet­ter than a birth­day par­ty. Often, they’ll ask if they can take a book home to keep. Many have nev­er owned a book of their own. The need and the impact are so tan­gi­ble, and the expe­ri­ence only dri­ves me to do as much as I can to help.
Lau­rie: What was the most chal­leng­ing aspect of launch­ing and/or main­tain­ing it?
Riley: Fundrais­ing can be dif­fi­cult and frus­trat­ing, espe­cial­ly dur­ing a reces­sion. It’s dif­fi­cult to secure a con­stant source of funds and it’s often chal­leng­ing to find new ways of fundrais­ing after oth­er meth­ods fall short.
Lau­rie: What keeps you going when things get tough?
Riley: I just remind myself of the chil­dren who we are help­ing and the impact that our efforts have on their lives. There is noth­ing more valu­able that teach­ing a child how to read and the gift of edu­ca­tion is a right that should be afford­ed to every­one. The abil­i­ty to read pro­found­ly affects every minute of our lives; lit­er­a­cy is the sin­gle-most impor­tant com­po­nent of becom­ing a func­tion­ing adult. That knowl­edge pro­pels me forward.
Lau­rie: What do you feel like you, per­son­al­ly, have gained from being involved with it? What have you learned that you’ll take with you to your next phase of your life?
Riley: Cre­at­ing Break­ing the Chain, main­tain­ing our pro­grams, and inter­act­ing with the kids has been an amaz­ing and for­ma­tive expe­ri­ence. I have learned so much about myself and I have been awed by the incred­i­ble opti­mism and enthu­si­asm of chil­dren in even the most dif­fi­cult of sit­u­a­tions. I am so grate­ful that I have had this expe­ri­ence and had the hon­or of meet­ing so many fan­tas­tic kids.
Lau­rie: What would you say to oth­er teens con­sid­er­ing launch­ing their own non­prof­it? What do you wish some­one had said to you when you were just start­ing out?
Riley: You’re nev­er too young to make a dif­fer­ence. When I first start­ed my non­prof­it, I was ter­ri­fied that I would fail, that I would embar­rass myself in front of my peers, but I real­ized that the only way I could make a dif­fer­ence in my own life or in some­one else’s life is if I faced that fear of failure.
Lau­rie: Thank you, Riley! I think your answers remind us all, youth and adults alike, to face that fear of fail­ure and make a dif­fer­ence in what­ev­er areas we feel pas­sion­ate about. I know we’ll be hear­ing much more from you in the years to come, and I’m so look­ing for­ward to it. Con­grat­u­la­tions on your grad­u­a­tion, Riley, and best wish­es for a stel­lar future!

If you’d like to sup­port Break­ing the Chain (a 501(c)(3) orga­ni­za­tion), you can sends funds via Pay­Pal to,
or mail dona­tions to:

Break­ing the Chain
P.O. Box 100644
Den­ver, CO  80250–0644

I did!

Author Interview with George Sullivan

You may remem­ber back in Feb­ru­ary when I reviewed TOM THUMB: THE REMARKABLE TRUE STORY OF A MAN IN MINIATURE by George Sullivan.
Sul­li­van has writ­ten more than 100 non­fic­tion books for chil­dren and young adults, and he was kind enough to email me direct­ly after the review! Isn’t that sweet? I was so tick­led, I decid­ed to take advan­tage of the sit­u­a­tion to ask him a few ques­tions and get to know him a lit­tle bet­ter. And he agreed to let me share his answers with you, so you can get to know him bet­ter, too!
LT: At this point in your career, what does a typ­i­cal work­day look like ? 
GS: I’ve always done my writ­ing ear­ly in the morn­ing, begin­ning at least by 5:30 am, and con­tin­u­ing until my wife and I have break­fast around 8:30 or so. After break­fast, I put what I’ve writ­ten on my com­put­er. The next morn­ing, I begin by care­ful­ly edit­ing the pre­vi­ous day’s work.
LT: What kinds of things do you like to do when you’re not writing?
GS: I like to play ten­nis in New York’s Cen­tral Park and to ride my bicy­cle into the dif­fer­ent city neighborhoods—Soho, Tribeca, Noli­ta, etc. I like to shop for food in local mar­kets. I like to cook. I also like to dine at nice restau­rants. I like to vis­it the Met­ro­pol­i­tan Muse­um and art gal­leries that fea­ture pho­tographs. There’s always some­thing to do.
LT: How did you first become inter­est­ed in writ­ing about Tom Thumb?
GS: I’ve been very much inter­est­ed in 19th cen­tu­ry pho­tographs for many years, the work of Math­ew Brady, the pre­em­i­nent Civ­il War pho­tog­ra­ph­er in par­tic­u­lar. (My book, MATHEW BRADY, HIS LIFE AND PHOTOGRAPHS, was pub­lished by Dutton/Cobblehill in 1994.) I col­lect these pho­tographs; I buy and sell them. Sev­er­al years ago, I began to notice that small Brady card pho­tographs tak­en in con­nec­tion with the wed­ding of Tom Thumb and Lavinia War­ren were always avail­able for pur­chase on eBay, and for mod­est amounts of mon­ey. After doing some research, I learned that Tom’s wed­ding, which took place in New York City in Octo­ber 1863, was an absolute­ly spec­tac­u­lar event, and vied with the Civ­il War for atten­tion in news­pa­pers of the day. The lit­tle card pho­tographs of Tom, Lavinia, and oth­er mem­bers of the wed­ding par­ty were sold by the tens of thou­sands. No won­der they’re still easy to obtain. I began to think that Tom, as America’s first celebri­ty, would make a good sub­ject for a biography—and he was.
LT: Did you do all the pho­to research for the book too? Can you tell us about that process?
GS: I did do the pho­to research for the book. I was aid­ed enor­mous­ly by the pho­to­graph cura­tors at the Bridge­port Pub­lic Library and the Bar­num Muse­um, also in Bridge­port (where Tom was born and brought up). Besides pho­tographs, these insti­tu­tions had large col­lec­tions of illustrations–engravings from Harper’s Week­ly and oth­er pub­li­ca­tions of the time—that I was able to draw upon.
LT: Thank you so much, George. It was won­der­ful to hear some of the sto­ry behind this great book and “meet” the author!
If you haven’t checked out George’s TOM THUMB book yet, do! You can read more about it here.