Guest Blogger: Sarah, Age 10

My name is Sarah, and I am 10 years old.  I am a fifth grader in Mount Prospect, Illinois.  I recently read Small Steps:  The Year I Got Polio by Peg Kehret.  I was assigned this novel in my reading class at school.  At first I thought the story would be sad and depressing.  However, I was curious about this being a true story and I wanted to learn more about the author’s disease and how she battled it.  I actually enjoyed reading Small Steps and I’m glad my teacher assigned it to my reading group.

I was very impressed by Ms. Kehret’s bravery and strength in fighting polio when she was a girl, not much older than I am now.  She worked very hard and stayed focused to accomplish her goal.  I think of Ms. Kehret when I believe I cannot reach one of my goals, and she inspires me.  The book also left me feeling very thankful that we now have a polio vaccine so no one has to suffer any more like Peg Kehret did.  I’m sure she was extremely happy when her children received their first polio vaccination.

Posted in Book News

Enter the 2012 First Peas to the Table Contest

Albert Whitman & Company, publishers of First Peas to the Table: How Thomas Jefferson Inspired a School Garden (written by Susan Grigsby, illustrated by Nicole Tadgell), invite your classroom to participate in a national pea growing contest.

Thomas Jefferson, our third President, held a pea growing contest with his neighbors every spring. The first person to have a bowl of peas ready to bring to the table was declared the winner and would invite his neighbors over for a dinner that included the dish of peas.

2012 Contest Guidelines and Rules

Goal: To be the first student team in your USDA Hardiness Zone to harvest at least two cups of peas without using a hot house. The contest is open to students in grades one through four. An entering team may consist of one or more students. Each team may use no more than twenty pea seeds. These should be garden shelling peas (often called English Peas), not snow peas or snap peas.

You may not begin the contest until the official start date of 03-1-12. In other words, your pea seeds must not be placed in soil, other growing mediums, or water before 03-1-12. (Depending on the USDA Hardiness Zone you’re in, you may not wish to start until well after this date. The contest closing dates have been set to accommodate for climate differences between zones.) You may not use a hot house.

Winners will be the first team to harvest 2 cups or more of shelled garden peas in each of these USDA Hardiness Zones: 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, and 10. To identify your zone, enter your zip code into the National Gardening Association’s zone finder.

In the event of a tie within the same time zone, one winner will be randomly selected from those that tied. The date of harvest must be noted on the harvest form. All Saturday-Sunday harvests will be bumped up to the following Monday.

One entry form should be completed for each team.

Entrants must also submit a photo of their pea growing log and a photo of their shelled pea harvest being measured. They are also invited to send in a group photo of the winning team members for posting on the Albert Whitman blog and other promotional materials with express permission for such usage.

Entries must be submitted via email to mailto: no later than 5 days after the date that your peas are harvested, measured and recorded. This way the winners may be acknowledged in a timely manner.

The contest will close when a winner is announced or, at the latest, on the following dates:

Zones 7, 8, 9 and 10 May 22, 2012

Zones 5 and 6: June 15, 2012

Zones 3 and 4: July 15, 2012

Certificates of Participation are available in the Teachers’ Contest Resource Guide.

The winning team from each of the eight designated zones will receive four books with gardening themes from Albert Whitman & Company and will be featured on the publisher’s blog. The books are First Peas to the Table: How Thomas Jefferson Inspired a School Garden, In the Garden with Dr. Carver; These Bees Count, and Flicka, Ricka, Dicka Go to Market.


Posted in Book News

Anderson’s Bookshops’ Children’s Literature Breakfast

By Kristin in Editorial

This past Saturday, I had the pleasure of attending the tenth annual Anderson’s Bookshops’ Children’s Literature Breakfast in Glen Ellyn, Illinois. Anderson’s is an independent bookstore with locations in Napervile and Downers Grove, two Chicago suburbs; Publisher’s Weekly named it Book Store of the Year in 2011. It’s a fabulous institution run by the even more fabulous Becky Anderson—a bookselling legend in the publishing community who, in addition to running an incredible book store, also acts as an advocate for authors through Anderson’s school visits program and through this breakfast.

The event was attended by hundreds of people, primarily teachers and librarians, all seated at round tables in a large meeting hall. Each table was manned by an author, and the authors (many of whom are Illinois locals) rotated tables throughout the event. The authors that sat at my table included Bob Raczka, an Albert Whitman illustrator, author/illustrator Robin Luebs, middle grade author Marianne Malone, Fancy Nancy author Jane O’Connor, and Caldecott-medalist David Small. Each was lovely and gracious.

In the midst of the rotations, we were also treated to talks by headlining authors and illustrators. Jane O’Connor talked to us about Fancy Nancy and her new chapter book series, Fancy Nancy: Nancy Clancy, Super Sleuth. David Small read us his new picture book, One Cool Friend. Katherine Applegate spoke about the real-life inspiration for her middle grade novel, The One and Only Ivan. Augusta Scattergood spoke about Glory Be. And Gordon Korman spoke about his writing process as well as about his new middle grade novel, Showoff. We were also treated to a list of favorite new titles from Anderson’s booksellers Kathleen March and Jan Dundon—many of which I can’t wait to get my hands on. All in all, the talks were funny, enlightening, and inspiring.

There’s really nothing like being in a room stuffed with people who are truly passionate about kids’ books. It was also wonderful to realize just how many great authors and illustrators there are in Illinois and the greater Midwest; the sheer amount of talent is pretty incredible. I hope to come back and meet more of them in future years.

Posted in Book News

Books for President’s Day

It’s President’s Day weekend.  Celebrate with some great books about presidents!

Abe Lincoln Loved Animals by Ellen Jackson, illustrated by Doris Ettlinger

Climbing Lincoln’s Steps: The African American Experience by Suzanne Slade, illustrated by Colin Bootman

Finding Lincoln by Ann Malaspina, illustrated by Colin Bootman

First Peas to the Table: How Thomas Jefferson Inspired a School Garden by Susan Grigsby, illustrated by Nicole Tadgell

If I Ran for President by Catherine Stier, illustrated by Lynne Avril

If I Were President by Catherine Stier, illustrated by DyAnne DiSalvo-Ryan

Phillis Sings Out Freedom: The Story of George Washington and Phillis Wheatley by Ann Malaspina, illustrated by Susan Keeter

Posted in Book News

The Year of the Dragon: Happy Lunar New Year!

Today Chinese and others around the world will celebrate the lunar new year and welcome in the Year of the Dragon. Coincidentally, we have two dragon books available…

The Boy from the Dragon Palace by Margaret Read MacDonald, illustrated by Sachiko Yoshikawa was published in Fall 2011 to great acclaim. It was named a 2011 NYPL 100 Books for Reading and Sharing and received a starred review from Kirkus: “MacDonald’s lively retelling of this folktale is bound to fascinate kids; after all, who can resist a tale with a snot-nosed boy?”

Brand new this season is How to Be Friends with a Dragon by Valeri Gorbachev. Reviews are just coming in on this book and Kirkus said “A sweet and gentle picture book with friendship, etiquette and a hint of dragon breath….Bedtime approved thanks to its soft palette and reassuring tone, and clever enough to land in many a read-again pile.”

Happy New Year!

Posted in Book News

What’s in a Title?: The Editorial Perspective!


Yesterday Michelle spoke about choosing a book title from the marketing department’s perspective, and about the “running argument” she has with us folks in Editorial.

Hmm, is it really an argument? Well, I will admit to thinking that if Marketing truly had their way, the title for every book would be an artless string of words broadcasting its selling appeal. The Hunger Games would be called ACTION PACKED DYSTOPIAN LOVE TRIANGLE and When You Reach Me would be FRIENDS ARE IMPORTANT, PLUS TIME TRAVEL.  It would be like that Better Book Titles site, except worse, because it would be for real! And mostly not funny!

But I also get why it’s often necessary for book titles to be unsubtle. Since Whitman specializes in “issues books” I understand that a well-chosen title can broadcast its usefulness to those in need. If a child is diagnosed with asthma, chances are her mom would rather not scan endless titles looking for artful metaphors for “hard to breathe.”

If anything, I think my place in the running argument titles is somewhere in between Marketing and the author. In fact, I’m often the actual go-between: sometimes I’ll have to explain to Marketing that the author-illustrator I’m working with would rather not have “A Story About the Importance of Oral Hygiene” as a subtitle for her picture book about a wacky tooth fairy; other times I might have to persuade a writer to let us come up with something better than “Tommy the Turtle” or “Reflections.”

(Note: these are all hypothetical examples.)

And I’ve been there right in the middle myself. A few years back I wrote a picture book about a girl with a peanut allergy. I called it “The Princess and the Peanut,” which I thought was totally the cleverest title in the world for a book about peanut allergy. Except that it didn’t have the word “allergy” in it. Somehow it sounded a lot less witty with that “A” word.  But Marketing began to insist, and while it took a while, I finally realized that while “The Princess and the Peanut” was a clever title, The Princess and the Peanut Allergy was a SMART one.

And then we all lived happily ever after, and with continued royalties, too! THE END.

Posted in Editorializing is what editors do! | 1 Comment

What’s in a Title?: Marketing Perspective

Editorial and I have a running argument about titles, especially titles for nonfiction, informational, and issue books. As I much as I love a funny, quirky book title, the title has to tell the consumer what the book is…really, it just does. Trust me.

There are two main concerns: 1) will a search engine bring the book to the top? and 2) will the consumer in the store/library know the book is for them by looking at the cover?

Search engines (Google, Yahoo!, Bing, etc.) and online retailers (name your favorite) respond to searches by looking at the title field first, then the subtitle, then description and key words. Ideally, you would have your topic or key selling point in all of these fields.

For example, if a consumer wants a book about dragons and your title doesn’t have “Dragon” in it, she may never to see your book on the list. This seems even more true if the book is about peanut allergies or diabetes or bullying.

Editorial and I sometimes compromise with a catchy title and what they call a boring subtitle. But the truth is, when you don’t name your book well, it can get lost — especially once it’s in the backlist.

We have a number of issue books that have been in print for a decade or more. I believe they continue to sell well — despite newer competition — because when a parent types in “kids diabetes book” they get Even Little Kids Get Diabetes (published in 1994) in the top few items.

Using the same example, if the title for this book were Johnny and the Sugar Monster, a parent couldn’t tell from the cover (or the spine for that matter) that the book directly address diabetes in young children.

A recent example of the subtitle compromise worked. Out next month is The Wooden Sword: A Jewish Folktale from Afghanistan. Without the subtitle, you need to read the book description to even know it’s a folktale, let alone Jewish and Afghani.

Thanks to the subtitle, in the first month or so when only the data was available — not the book or even the catalog — I received requests for review copies from several major Jewish organizations. They have search engine alerts looking for Jewish children’s books — they don’t want to miss any. We had buzz even before the marketing began — because of a subtitle in the data feed. (Note: Part of the compromise was to have the subtitle on the title page but not the cover.)

Of course, this is not as much an issue with novels, but it’s still true that the title and what’s on the cover communicates information to the consumer. Perhaps we can talk more about that another time.

Editorial will express their opinions tomorrow on the blog. In the meantime, authors — I encourage you to suggest titles that are both fun and informative. Those are always the best!

Posted in Book News | 1 Comment

Getting Fit with Miss Fox

by Kristin in Editorial

There’s no crazier time at the gym than the month of January, when everyone’s over their December sugar highs and onto their New Year’s resolutions.

Not that I would know this year, having not made a single visit so far in 2012.

But perhaps I should take a cue from Miss Fox and her class, who, in Miss Fox’s Class Shapes Up, make a group effort to eat healthily and exercise more. Miss Fox notices one student sleeping in class, another whose tummy is a-rumbling, and others who get out of breath way too easily, and decides to help them get a bit more fit.

This book, with its light touch and humorous illustrations, reminds us of key ways we can all be healthier with easy-to-tackle activities. Eating healthy can be a joy when you cook with family, and there are lots of fun ways to exercise, from jumping rope to hula hooping to going on bike rides and swims with your family. The best part is, this stuff works! Miss Fox and her students see firsthand how being healthier and more fit makes life easier and more enjoyable—particularly when the class wins at Field Day!

Miss Fox and her class have even inspired little old me to get up off the cozy couch, cook myself a healthy meal, and then brave the January weather to head to the gym. If Miss Fox’s class can get fit, then I can, too!

Posted in Book News

Celebrate Poetry Break Day

Today is Poetry Break Day!  (It’s also Rubber Ducky Day, but we don’t have any rubber ducky books.)

Across the country, poets and poetry fans are taking poetry breaks — and this year is a double dose, since it’s also time for the regular Poetry Friday activities.

So here’s a start for you — a poem from our most recent book of poems for kids, A Funeral in the Bathroom and Other School Bathroom Poems by Kalli Dakos, illustrated by Mark Beech.


Posted in Book News

Today is the 10th anniversary of the opening of the Guantanamo Bay detention center. It is also the National Day of Action to Close Guantanamo — organized by Amnesty International. There are rallies all across the country from DC to Chicago to San Francisco…and more.

Visit the Amnesty International website for information about events near you.

If you do attend an event, we’d love for you to post comments and pictures on the Guantanamo Boy Facebook page.

Also, author Anna Perera will be appearing (via Skype) on “Politics Tonight” on CLTV here in Chicago. You can visit the website later in the week for video.

Posted in Book News