It’s been a week. Abby made this video today. It’s not a book review, but a look at books from a different perspective. A sampling, if you will, of some of the books she’s been reading these past few days.
Be well. Stay safe.
It’s been a week. Abby made this video today. It’s not a book review, but a look at books from a different perspective. A sampling, if you will, of some of the books she’s been reading these past few days.
Be well. Stay safe.
Mother Earth needs our help. Easier said than done, right? The challenges are enormous and it’s tempting to simply buy a reusable grocery bag and call it a day. But every little bit–including that reusable grocery bag–helps, and plenty of options exist to make the world a cleaner place. But where to start? According to Jen Gale in The Sustaninable(ish) Living Guide: Everything you need to know to make small changes that make a big difference (Green Tree, 296 $16), taking Draconian measures to “go green” aren’t necessary to make significant change. Gale knows, because she went to those extremes by undertaking an entire year without buying a single new item for her and her family, which she chronicled on her website. That experience, though difficult, revealed that she and her family (which included two young children) were capable of becoming more thoughtful consumers. But going whole hog isn’t for everyone, and this book grew out of a desire to permanently change her behavior without having to pull up stakes and move to Amish country.
Sustainable(ish) provides easy, achievable ideas on how to reduce consumption and help save the planet. Topics run to the usual suspects, like reducing food and plastic waste, as well as the more unexpected and thought-provoking, from an examination of the astounding amount of waste that goes into producing our clothes to how the most mundane of items, like markers and baby wipes, can be toxic for the planet. Each chapter follows a similar pattern of laying out the statistics, providing Gale’s experience with the problem, and a series of suggestions for the reader to implement that become progressively more involved.
Engagingly optimistic, there is much here to help readers find their way to a cleaner, greener future, but financial stats provided in pounds and UK-based resources will leave many American readers wondering where to turn for further guidance, but that is easily remedied via a quick online search. Our choices matter, and Gale helps us take realistic action that will benefit the health of our planet and the next generation–in other words, this is the earth-friendly guidebook for all of us.
The men who brought you the Ordinary People Change the World book series have created a TV show! Xavier Riddle and the Secret Museum premiered November 11, 2019. I spoke with author Brad Meltzer and illustrator Chris Eliopoulos about how they paired up, why they like writing and drawing, and what they hope kids will learn from the new series.
Chris and Brad share a love of comic books, and got closer with the power of Twitter. Brad proposed they write a series, and Chris was happy to help. They’ve written dozens of books in the Ordinary People series since 2014.
You might be a bit curious about the name of the new TV series: Xavier Riddle and the Secret Museum isn’t something you hear too often. As a kid, Brad always liked names with the letter X in them. Xavier is one of these rare few. He also loved riddles. Puzzling things out was a favorite activity of his. Hence the name, Xavier Riddle.
Brad was inspired to become a writer thanks to his ninth grade English teacher, Mrs. Spicer. She told him he could write. Brad was dubious — he didn’t expect to be a writer. However, when he wrote his first book, he visited his teacher’s classroom, thirty years later, and said to her, “My name is Brad Meltzer, and I wrote this book for you.” The teacher started crying. When he asked her why, she explained that she was planning on retiring that year, because she didn’t think she influenced anyone. Clearly, she was wrong.
Brad picks his subjects with a particular characteristic in mind: “I always chose a hero, not because they’re famous, but because their life provides a lesson that I can give my own kids, and, truthfully, that I need myself.” The hero’s childhood is what strikes Brad as the most interesting for young readers. When talking about his biography of Amelia Earhart, Brad said that, “I loved the idea that there was this little girl, and everyone said to her, ‘You’re never going to be successful. You’re never going to be able to do what you want to do.’ And she just didn’t care. She just kept plowing forward. She wouldn’t let anything stop her. That’s the lesson I want for my sons, it’s a lesson I want with my daughter.”
Now let’s talk about the illustrator. Chris always knew he was talented at art, especially as a kid. “If you’d asked me back then, ‘Would you rather go to Disneyland or would you rather sit and draw pictures?’ I’d rather draw,” he said. He grew up a shy child, and Chris drew pictures to tell other people what he was feeling. “I would give these drawings to my parents, and they would read these stories and go, ‘Oh, okay, now we know what’s going on in Chris’s life.’” As an adult, he decided that he wanted to be a children’s book illustrator.
Brad and Chris work closely when it comes to the book or television creating process, as Chris explained: “Brad writes a script, and then sends it to me, and we talk about it a little bit, and then I go off and I draw the whole book out in pencil, so that everybody can see it. We decide if something works or doesn’t work. He’ll suggest things, or I’ll throw things in. Once everybody’s in agreement, I go back and I fix the things that need fixing, and I ink it up in ink, and then I send it back again. And then they all decide what looks good, what looks bad, what needs to be fixed. And then I go back and fix it, and then I color the whole book and I send it back.”
Sometimes, the people in the books have a say in how the book will look. During the creation of I Am Caring: A Little Book About Jane Goodall, for example, Jane read the book and made Chris go back and re-draw over ten pages because she was holding hands with wild animals in the pictures, and she didn’t find that appropriate for children. Chris told me that it was tiring to go back and redraw so many pages, but, in the end, the book did turn out to be better!
When I told Chris that his work seemed to resemble the Peanuts cartoons, he replied, “They’re my favorite thing in the whole wide world!” he explained why he adored them: “Peanuts was the biggest influence in my life. When I was a little kid, my uncle owned a remaindered book shop — basically where all the leftover books went. I used to take all of the Peanuts books–I still have them here in my studio–and I would just read them, cover to cover, all the time.” As he got older, Chris discovered Calvin and Hobbes, a popular cartoon by Bill Watterson about a boy and his tiger. Look at Chris’s drawings: big heads, tiny bodies, strange squished faces. The Peanuts cartoons look quite similar.
Xavier Riddle aims to teach kids the same message that the books do: that kids, no matter what, can be extraordinary. Brad said that making sure these stories are exciting is important to keep kids interested: “If you remind kids that these aren’t the stories of famous people, this is what we’re all capable of on our very best days, suddenly kids will look and go, ‘tell me more about that.’”
Abigail C. Richter is a fifth grader and lives with her parents and two basset hounds in New York.
Special collections libraries, rare booksellers and collectors have embraced Instagram as an ideal platform to virtually share their treasures with the world. Fellow FB&C writer Nate Pedersen wrote the inaugural “rare Books on Instagram” post back in 2016, profiling institutional accounts like those of the British Library (@britishlibrary), the American Antiquarian Society (@americanantiquarian), and others. Follow-up posts looked at librarian accounts and collector feeds. Keeping with that theme, below, in no particular order, are ten noteworthy institutional Instagram accounts that excel at showcasing rare books, manuscripts, and other works on paper.
Don’t have an Instagram account? No problem: All of these accounts are freely accessible to anyone with an internet connection.
La Bibliothèque nationale France (@labnf)
The Barr Smith Library at the University of Adelaide (@uofaspecialcollections)
The New York Public Library (@nypl)
Musée de Cluny (@museecluny)
The Harry Ransom Center (@ransomcenter)
The Emily Dickinson Museum (@emilydickinson.museum)
The Printing Museum (@theprintingmuseum)
The HuntingtonLibrary (@thehuntingtonlibrary)
The Johns Hopkins University (@jhuspecialcollections)
The Alaska Digital Newspaper Project (@alaskahistoricalnewspapers)
To one generation, the name Henry Winkler is a reminder of the 1970s hit sitcom “Happy Days,” where he portrayed the fast-talking Fonz. To a much younger generation, he is the author of a series of early-reader chapter books starring a goofy yet lovable boy named Hank Zipzer. Along with writing partner and co-founder of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators Lin Oliver, Winkler has written dozens of stories in the Here’s Hank series. The critically acclaimed books appear regularly on bestseller lists and even inspired a television series on the BBC. Children gravitate to Winkler’s Hank, an endearing boy with learning difficulties but whose determination and spirit provide inspiration and courage to face any obstacle.
Winkler was diagnosed with dyslexia at age thirty and understands firsthand the difficulties children face with learning. The Here’s Hank series grew out of Winkler’s desire to encourage kids to embrace their differences and realize that there’s more than one way to achieve success. On January 31st, Penguin released the latest Hank adventure: Always Watch Out For Flying Potato Salad. Winkler and Oliver kindly answered a few questions about the origins of the Here’s Hank series, best practices for building self-confidence, and the influence of good storytelling on reluctant readers.
The questions below were edited from an e-mail conversation on February 6, 2017.
Winkler: The idea of writing a children’s book about my learning challenge was suggested to me by my agent. I was incredulous at the thought. It took a few months for my courage and the idea of my writing anything to merge in my brain, and very simply, I wrote what I knew. The emotion of Hank Zipzer is very true. The humor Lin and I create is exaggerated.
Winkler: Lin and I meet every morning and we write in her office. One of us brings up a story idea and either spark to it right away or we throw the idea out. If the idea really hits us, we come up with a hundred possibilities in a matter of minutes, and then we know we’re on to something. I talk, Lin types. Lin has an idea, and she types, I wait, and then we argue over every word.
The font was brought to us by our publisher who thought it would be an excellent addition to Here’s Hank, which is our younger series for second and third graders. [The Hank Zipzer series follows the protagonist through elementary school.] And yes, when I read the books out loud in classrooms and bookstores, I find the font helps my eyes and the words on the page become friends.
Oliver: The story started with the sentence, ‘Take your child to Work day.’ The deli seemed to be the perfect cauldron of situations to highlight Hank’s challenges.
Winkler: Not being able to spell, to take orders, to play sports, to write a report, to use a dictionary, to figure out how a robot works, to reading cold from a page of a script, to organize, just to name a few.
Winkler: Actually, Mr. Rock, my music teacher in the 11th grade, who appears throughout the Hank Zipzer series. I am so proud that I got to play him in the BBC television series for the last four years.
Winkler: When Hank Zipzer gets to the fourth grade, he has Ms. Adolf as his primary teacher. She is the worst teacher on the planet AND she was mine.
Winkler: Writing this series of 34 novels with Lin Oliver makes me so proud, so happy, so amazed, so triumphant, and so aware of my learning challenges that never disappear.
Winkler: Children have written to Lin and I all the time since 2003. The same two comments find themselves into so many of those letters: 1) How did you know me so well? 2) I laughed so hard my funny bone fell out of my body. Parents always write how much they appreciate that their children enjoy reading now because of Hank.
Winker: Lin and I, together and separately, love speaking to students. I have spoken in schools all over our country and in Canada, England, and Italy.
Winkler: A learning challenge can make a child’s self image plummet like a stone to the bottom of the ocean, so it is vital for every adult in a child’s life to help them hold on to the concept that no matter how difficult learning is, it has NOTHING to do with how BRILLIANT they are.
Winkler: I hope kids read about Hank and realize that their cup is half full, too; that there is greatness in every reader and the child’s job is to figure out what that greatness is, and give it to the world as a gift.
Oliver: I think good storytelling starts with a deeply felt truth, which is then dramatized and amplified by the story teller. In Hank’s case, we feel that this child has to deal with the frustration and low self-esteem that learning challenges can bring. That is the deeply felt truth. Then, we add drama and high stakes to that truth to make a story. In our most recent Always Watch Out for Flying Potato Salad, Hank wants more than anything to be successful during Take Your Child to Work Day; he wants his mother to be proud of him. When he can’t help but mess up, the story emerges that is full of both laughter and emotion.
Oliver: In the Here’s Hank books, we plan to follow Hank throughout his school year. We hope that this series of what will likely be twelve books will sustain our chapter books readers until they are ready to move on to the Hank Zipzer novels, which follow upon the chapter book series. We want Hank to become a friend and trusted companion to our readers throughout their grade school careers.
Hello, World! series author Ashley Evanson is back with This Book is Magic! (Grosset & Dunlap, $14.99 32 pages, ages 0-4) an interactive picture book-board book hybrid for emerging readers. Evanson’s clearly got a knack for getting kids interested in reading and she kindly answered a few of our questions about her craft and the magic of childhood.
Below is an edited transcript of our question and answer session from January 17, 2017.
A couple of years ago my little brother called to ask a few questions about the first Harry Potter book, which I happily answered since I’m a huge fan of the series. The phone calls continued and I decided to read the books along with him so we could call each other every night to chat. Over the next year we read all seven Harry Potter books, Lord of the Rings, and the entire Sherlock Holmes series. I looked forward to our “book club” with great much excitement. These nightly discussions had me constantly thinking about magic, which is why I dedicated my book to my little brother.
I think childhood is its own element of magic, and everything in this book is something I imagined as a child or see my own children imagining.
I would love to create more Hello, World books! But first I’m publishing a companion book for This Book Is Magic.
Everything I do is on Adobe Illustrator.
My approach is pretty primitive. I mean, my rough drafts contain stick figures! The concept always comes first and the art follows, but I only include concepts of things I know I would love to draw. I have inspiration boards of my favorite artists, color palettes, and photographs of the images I’m drawing.
I feel like if I tried to illustrate anything else it would still end up looking like a children’s book illustration. It’s just who I am.
I feel like the most unqualified person to be publishing books so I tell people if I can do it, seriously, anybody can do it!
I’m in the brainstorming phase for the companion book to This Book Is Magic, but it feels a little more like the writer’s block phase! I’ll get there!
My occupation may be an author-illustrator, but my number one job is being a mother. There is nothing more magical or important than childhood and raising your little ones.
In part one of my Q&A with children’s book author Jim Arnosky, we explored how he got his start in picture books as well as how he became a naturalist. Today, he shares his transition from cartooning to illustrating,
the importance of great editors, and how his books take shape.
Basbanes: What made you decide to go the children’s book route?
Arnosky: Well,on the first day of each month, Deanna and I mailed out drawings to see if I could get some freelance work, and the first publications that responded were Ranger Rick and Jack and Jill. These seemed to be where people responded to my work most. When I saw an advertisement for Cricket magazine I thought, ‘Whoa! that’s beautiful! I love that cover!’ It was [Caldecott Medal winner] Trina Schart Hyman who had done the cover.
It turned out she was the art director at the time, and I sent her some drawings. She didn’t like them at all. She said, ‘This is not what we want. In fact, it’s the exact opposite of what we’re looking for. It’s all too Madison Avenue.’ My drawings were indeed very ‘Madison Avenue,’ because they were advertisements, but I wrote her back and said, ‘We live in a one-room cabin, we take a bath in a small galvanized tub. I catch our food, we grow our food and I heat the house with the wood that I cut on our property. I’m as far away from Madison Avenue as you can get.’ She responded by sending me a another letter, asking me to send something that better represented me. So I sent her my journal drawings, and she responded by giving me a Farley Mowat story to illustrate. After that I became kind of a regular at Cricket.
B: How wonderful when an editor sees talent and reaches out and says this isn’t what they want, but encourages you nonetheless.
A: Well, back in that time—and I’m sure that it still happens somewhere today, but not with me because I’m so old and I’ve been at it so long—people would say they recognize raw talent and if you were willing to hear some criticism and accept guidance, they would mentor you along. They would help you. and they would help you. Trina would write and say that I couldn’t draw hands very well and that I should work on that. That was enormous for someone like me who never had a single formal art lesson. I always drew from my natural ability and for Trina to – as such a skilled artist as she was—to show that interest in me was a godsend. I loved her. It turns out we lived pretty close to one another I visited her at her home here in Lyme, all the way up until she passed away [in 2014]. I used to bring her trout, so she could have fresh fish to eat.
B: What a powerful relationship.
J: Yes. Our daughters were friends, and we ended up living fairly close here—I was in Vermont, she was in New Hampshire.
B: Your work speaks to children and to adults. While they’re realistic, they’re obviously not photographs. They show this love and appreciation of the natural world. It was wonderful that Trina saw that you had such talent. You said writing wasn’t something you ever thought you would do, but now you do a lot of it. What is your work process now? How do you start a new book?
J: Ideas come to me in bits and pieces and over the course of many years. It took me seven years to write Pirates of Crocodile Swamp, and almost eighteen years to write Frozen Wild, which is out now making the rounds. These things are always based on true events, things I’ve seen and things that I know about. Still, they are fictionalized stories. Whereas with the nonfiction books, I normally become fascinated with something, or fall in love with a place, or an environment, like the Florida Keys, for instance, or the Everglades, and then after four to five years of visiting the place, photographing, sketching, and writing in my journal, usually I get some idea of what I might be able to do in a book. The pictures always come to me first. As the drawings take shape on my board I’m always fascinated by them being there, because, like I said, have no training in this, and I believe it’s some sort of gift that I am able to make a picture. Sometimes I’ll walk by my drawing board during the course of that day, and I just stare at it wondering where it comes from. Then the picture itself inspires me to write the words, and that’s when the words come.
B: Could you talk about Manatee Morning?
J: I tell this story in schools a lot. We went to Florida because I wanted to see manatees in a
wild environment. Deanna and I searched and searched, and we couldn’t
find any. We kept going further
south into Florida and finally we found manatees down in Chokoloskee in
the Everglades. I had seen them at Sea
World, and the state park where you can go under the river in a tunnel and see them in the wild, but you’re sort of in a zoo-like
environment. I wanted to see them in the true wild. When
that occurred, it was very happy experience for me, and I came home and I
first wrote a song about them because I had always written songs
long before I wrote books. I wrote a song called “The Manatee Morning,” which inspired the book. This was the first time I ever left rhymes in my text for a
book. (A number of books were written first as songs, but I took
the rhyme out in order to qualify it in my mind as picture book
text.) I did the book
exactly the way the song was written—to the words of the song. And it
captures the animals beautifully because the music is very gentle, and
the wording is very careful and gentle, and it captures what I think
manatees represent when you see them in the wild.
B: Since that book
has been published, [in 2000] have you noticed the book being used to promote manatee awareness? Do you find your books being used to educate children on the
importance of these and other animals in the wild?
A: I’ve done two more
books on manatees in that regard. I did one called All About
Manatees (2008) for Scholastic which was more of a science book, which gets
into their needs and how they what they eat and how they live. Then
there was a picture book called Slow Down for Manatees (2010) about a
particular rescue effort where a manatee gets hit
by a boat. It goes to a sea park in Miami where they take the animal in and they bring it back to health. In this case, the scientists discovered the manatee was pregnant after they
had rescued this wounded manatee. I wondered whether they would keep the calf as a money maker once it was born, because
everybody wants to go to the zoo and see a baby manatee. Or would they
do the right thing, and that would be to let it go with its mother. Happily they were both released. I wrote this
little story that reflected that event.
get interested in an animal, it’s never
scientific at first, it’s just a pure love, fascination,
and joy that an animal brings me. Once I get to know the animal and
see it and watch it and study it, then it becomes more of a subject of curiosity. That’s when the science and animal
welfare comes into it. That’s how the story usually builds
in my mind.
Next time, we talk about Arnosky’s favorite animals, climate change, and what’s on his drawing board now.