Fantastic news–my first book sale!

Okay, so this post is a lit­tle late in com­ing. I’ve been care­ful­ly think­ing about relat­ed revi­sion notes as well as enjoy­ing just a lit­tle bit of bask­ing and cel­e­brat­ing (okay, a lot of bask­ing and cel­e­brat­ing!). Now that my feet are back on the ground, please allow me to share the offi­cial announcement…
I’ve sold my first book!

I can’t yet reveal all of the details (there’s a top-secret Awe­some Illus­tra­tor involved!), but I  can say that in my wildest dreams, I could­n’t have imag­ined any­thing bet­ter. My pic­ture-book biog­ra­phy about Emmanuel Oso­fu Yeboah (see pre­vi­ous post) will be edit­ed by the love­ly Anne Schwartz at Schwartz & Wade (Ran­dom House). Here’s a bit of a blurb about the book, cour­tesy of my amaz­ing agent, Ammi-Joan Paque­tte:

“When Emmanuel Ofo­su Yeboah was born, his right leg was short and twisted—completely use­less. It was 1977, and peo­ple with dis­abil­i­ties in Ghana, West Africa, were con­sid­ered cursed, and left their homes only to beg for food or mon­ey. Emmanuel chal­lenged the norm from his youngest days. Then, in 2001, he decid­ed to prove that peo­ple with phys­i­cal chal­lenges could do amaz­ing things, so he bicy­cled across Ghana—almost 400 miles—with one leg. His ten-day ride helped make him a vir­tu­al celebri­ty, but also a nation­al hero. As a direct result of Emmanuel’s efforts, Ghana even­tu­al­ly enact­ed pro­gres­sive dis­abil­i­ty laws.”

Her full announce­ment is on the Erin Mur­phy Lit­er­ary Agency web­site, here.
Part of what makes this the ulti­mate dream come true for is that this is the sto­ry I could nev­er let go of. It’s the first book I ever tried to write and has been through at least 30 MAJOR rewrites, chang­ing gen­res and tar­get age groups sev­er­al times along the way, and vary­ing in length from 200 words to 1500 words and every­where in between. I’ve put it away, stud­ied and learned, pon­dered and thought, writ­ten oth­er things, and been pulled back to this one again count­less times, over and over, for almost 7 years. This project has been my own per­son­al 400-mile bike ride, one that I don’t know if I could have com­plet­ed with­out the inspi­ra­tion I’ve derived from the sto­ry itself. To have it be the first book of mine to sell AND to have it land in such a per­fect, won­der­ful home at S&W is tru­ly unbe­liev­able. But please don’t pinch me, because this is one dream I don’t want to end.

SCBWI-WWA Nonfiction Intensive highlights

On Fri­day, Andrew Karre from Lerner/Car­ol­rho­da gift­ed a group of our region’s non­fic­tion writ­ers with over five hours of his undi­vid­ed atten­tion. And, wow, was it an after­noon to remem­ber! He brain­stormed with the group and helped us hone our ideas into some­thing mar­ketable. He gave feed­back on our short pro­pos­als and/or first pages. And he gave insight into Lern­er, the broad­er indus­try, and what makes for great non­fic­tion for kids. Here are a few of the gems from my notes:

  • Ask your­self, would it still be a good book if it was fic­tion? It shouldn’t mat­ter where it ends up get­ting shelved—a good sto­ry is a good story.
  • “Be writ­ers, not com­pil­ers of thin­ly-veiled lists.”
  • Straight biogra­phies aren’t real­ly need­ed any­more dead due to Inter­net and online data­bas­es. They need to be MORE than just a biog­ra­phy to be pub­lished as books today.
  • It’s hard­er for non­fic­tion authors to “brand” them­selves, because there is so much less inter­ac­tion with readers.
  • As school librar­i­ans dis­ap­pear, it gets hard­er for kids to get to great non­fic­tion and vice ver­sa. Kids will still man­age to find a copy of Diary of a Wimpy Kid, for exam­ple, but they might not dis­cov­er The Many Faces of George Washington.
  • Reviews are espe­cial­ly impor­tant for nonfiction.
  • One impor­tant facet of a non­fic­tion author’s job is to decide what to exclude.
  • Non­fic­tion pro­pos­al should first and fore­most com­mu­ni­cate your pas­sion for the sto­ry, not fol­low a spe­cif­ic form.
  • Above all, you must CONNECT to kids!

I feel so lucky to have spent this time with Andrew and some of our region’s non­fic­tion authors. I have a slew of excit­ing ideas and a boat­load of new inspi­ra­tion and enthu­si­asm and for the work that we do. And I can’t wait to see the drafts that come out of it (my own as well as every­one else’s!). Hap­py [non­fic­tion] writing!

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!).

Review: We’ve Got a Job

We’ve Got a Job
by Cyn­thia Levinson
Peachtree Pub­lish­ers, Feb­ru­ary 1, 2012
176 pages
Ages: 10 and up
Oscar Wilde sup­pos­ed­ly said, “Any fool can make his­to­ry, but it takes genius to write it.” While I don’t nec­es­sar­i­ly agree with the first part, the sec­ond part absolute­ly rings true. After all, how do you make a sto­ry com­pelling when every­one already knows how it ends? Cyn­thia Levin­son has proven her genius here, because she accom­plish­es that and so much more in WE’VE GOT A JOB.
By anchor­ing the events sur­round­ing the 1963 Birm­ing­ham Children’s March in the per­son­al nar­ra­tives of four of its direct par­tic­i­pants, Levin­son puts read­ers on the ground in Birm­ing­ham. We may know the final out­come, but we have no idea how we’re ever going to get there, and this day-by-day account of the incre­men­tal progress—and setbacks—will keep read­ers turn­ing the pages to find out what hap­pened next. This is a non­fic­tion book with as much dra­ma and pac­ing as THE HUNGER GAMES. I lit­er­al­ly couldn’t put it down, except for when I became too teary-eyed to con­tin­ue read­ing, which hap­pened often.
There is so much to love about this book, but I think my favorite thing about it is how Levin­son human­izes every­one involved. It’s not as much a move­ment or an event as it is indi­vid­u­als, each with his or her own moti­va­tions, work­ing with or against each oth­er. I loved read­ing that even the revered lead­ers (for both sides of the issue) were hard­ly ever in agree­ment. Every­one involved was tak­ing a chance, a risk, a guess as to what was going to work—or not. They were all fight­ing for what they believed in, each in his or her own unique way. Noth­ing was sim­ple. Noth­ing was clear.
I whole­heart­ed­ly think this book should be in every library, in every class­room, and in every home in Amer­i­ca for its his­to­ry as well as for its mes­sage for the future. Buy it, read it, rec­om­mend it, share it.
The book also includes a table of con­tents, author’s note, time­line, map, acknowl­edge­ments, exten­sive source notes, bib­li­og­ra­phy (rec­om­mend­ed resources), pho­to cred­its, and a detailed index. Levin­son also has addi­tion­al info, les­son plans, dis­cus­sion ques­tions, cur­ricu­lum guides, and more on her web­site.

To check out the rest of today’s roundup of non­fic­tion books for kids, head on over to this week’s Non­fic­tion Mon­day host, Wendie’s Wan­der­ings!
(Dis­claimer: I received an advance read­er copy (ARC) of this book from Peachtree Pub­lish­ers in exchange for my hon­est review, and it was so good I pre-ordered my own pub­lished hard­cov­er. I received no mon­e­tary com­pen­sa­tion. All opin­ions expressed here are mine and mine alone.)

Review: Bring On the Birds

Bring On the Birds cover

Bring On the Birds
writ­ten and illus­trat­ed by Susan Stock­dale
Peachtree Pub­lish­ers (Feb­ru­ary 1, 2011)
32 pages, ages 4 and up

This is one of my favorite books of all the nom­i­na­tions in the Cybils Non­fic­tion Pic­ture Book cat­e­go­ry this year, and I just can’t get over how absolute­ly per­fect it is. The poet­ic text is a sim­ple but ele­gant rhyme with spot on rhythm and meter:

“Swoop­ing birds,
whoop­ing birds,
birds with puffy chests.
Danc­ing birds,
div­ing birds,
birds with fluffy crests.”

The illus­tra­tions are bright, clean, and not only depict the var­i­ous birds, but also place them in their appro­pri­ate habitats.
The 21 birds fea­tured run the gamut from the com­mon robin to the more exot­ic blue-foot­ed boo­by, from the great blue heron to the blue bird-of-par­adise. This book cov­ers an enor­mous diver­si­ty of life, then ends just right with what they all have in common:

“All of them have feathers,
and all are hatched from eggs.”

This is a won­der­ful intro­duc­tion to birds for the youngest read­ers. It could also be used to talk about diver­si­ty, habi­tats, and classification.
At the end of the book, Stock­dale includes a per­fect­ly brief and spot-on para­graph with infor­ma­tion about each bird pro­filed in the book. The book also includes a bibliography.
STEM Friday logo

To check out the rest of today’s roundup of books for kids about top­ics in sci­ence, tech­nol­o­gy, engi­neer­ing, and math­e­mat­ics, head on over to this week’s STEM Fri­day roundup over at Anas­ta­sia Suen’s Book­talk­ing.

(Dis­claimer: I received a copy of this book from my local library. I received no mon­e­tary com­pen­sa­tion for this review. All opin­ions expressed here are mine and mine alone.)

Review: Only the Mountains Do Not Move

Only the Mountains Do Not Move cover

Only the Mountains Do Not Move cover
Only the Moun­tains Do Not Move: A Maa­sai Sto­ry of Cul­ture and Conservation
by Jan Reynolds
Lee & Low Books, Sep­tem­ber 01, 2011
40 pages
Grades 3–4
I’ve always been fas­ci­nat­ed by the Maa­sai, so I was pleased to see this book about their cul­ture writ­ten for chil­dren, and this book did­n’t dis­ap­point. Straight­for­ward text is com­bined with Maa­sai proverbs and beau­ti­ful pho­tog­ra­phy to give us a detailed glimpse at mod­ern-day Maa­sai life. This is a bal­anced rep­re­sen­ta­tion: Reynolds isn’t afraid to show the less pleas­ant (bit­ing bugs!) or shock­ing (drink­ing cow blood!) aspects of Maa­sai life, but she also reveals the peace and togeth­er­ness it brings. Espe­cial­ly rel­e­vant to her young read­ers is how she focus­es on what the Maa­sai boys and girls do at dif­fer­ent ages.
One pleas­ant sur­prise was how Reynolds shares with read­ers not only the his­tor­i­cal Maa­sai cul­ture, but also how the Maa­sai way of life is chang­ing due to out­side pres­sures and how they are adapt­ing to this new world, giv­ing the sto­ry con­text in the broad­er world.
I’d be remiss, how­ev­er, if I did­n’t men­tion that there were a few minor draw­backs for me. First, it both­ered me not to have pro­nun­ci­a­tion guides for the Maa words embed­ded in the text (but there is one at the end). Sec­ond, although the Maa­sai proverbs were love­ly, I want­ed more of them and to have them appear more reg­u­lar­ly through­out the text. As it is, with 10–14 pages between proverbs, they sort of sur­prised me each time and felt more like inter­rup­tions than the embell­ish­ments they should have been. Final­ly, I would have liked to get a lit­tle clos­er to the main fam­i­ly through­out the whole book. Some­times the text seems to move way out to the Maa­sai in gen­er­al for a long time, then it zooms in briefly to the main char­ac­ters, then goes right back out again. I would’ve liked more con­nec­tions to have been made between the gen­er­al way of life and the spe­cif­ic family.
On the plus side, the back mat­ter includes an author’s note, a glos­sary and pro­nun­ci­a­tion guide, a web site for more infor­ma­tion, and source notes and acknowl­edge­ments. There’s also a very inter­est­ing inter­view and book talk with the author avail­able here, which should make it ever more appeal­ing for teach­ers hop­ing to use it in the classroom.
This is a won­der­ful book for intro­duc­ing a unique and fas­ci­nat­ing African cul­ture to upper ele­men­tary students.

Humor in nonfiction books for kids

Some peo­ple think non­fic­tion is dry and bor­ing. How can facts be fun, right? WRONG! Humor in non­fic­tion not only gets and keeps read­ers engaged, it can also help them retain the infor­ma­tion longer. My fel­low writ­ers of non­fic­tion for kids (on the NFforKids Yahoo group and on Twit­ter) and I have put togeth­er a list of our favorite FUNNY non­fic­tion titles for kids. Here’s what we came up with, in no par­tic­u­lar order:

This is just a sam­pling of our favorites. Do you have any to add? Please let us know in the comments!
I found it inter­est­ing that often the humor is pri­mar­i­ly in the illus­tra­tions, with the text play­ing it fair­ly straight. In fact, in many cas­es it’s only the jux­ta­po­si­tion of the two that tick­les your fun­ny bone. In oth­ers, the humor is mild (a smile rather than a bel­ly laugh) or is just hint­ed at rather than being an explic­it joke. Some­times, the top­ic itself is pret­ty fun­ny, but the text is fair­ly seri­ous. Giv­en how much kids love to read humor, I won­der if that’s all just coin­ci­dence, or if humor just isn’t as tol­er­at­ed in non­fic­tion texts, or maybe non­fic­tion writ­ers just don’t have a sense of humor (I’m sure not buy­ing that last one!). Thoughts? 

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: