Fond holiday season memories: from our authors

It didn’t seem like Christmas. The sun was shining. The flowers were blooming. I had just mowed the lawn, for crying out loud. This was nutty, even by California standards. Yvonne and I had recently married, and Christmas hadn’t yet changed from his and hers into ours. It was December 20, and we hadn’t even bought a tree. That was when Yvonne decided we needed a dog. We found an ad for puppies that were in a little mountain town. When we drove there, an amazing thing happened. It started to snow. We found the house, where we were attacked by twelve bundles of fur. The one called “Fuzz Face” kept nibbling Yvonne’s hand. Twenty minutes later the puppy was ours.

And, for the first time then and joyfully ever since, so was Christmas.

Ronald Kidd, author of Night on Fire


Family wedding
Amy’s sister’s wedding

With seven kids in our family, my mom didn’t have much one-on-one time with us. But Christmas brought the best day of the year: Wrapping Day. Santa doesn’t bring presents for kids over ten. Parents buy presents for those kids themselves, and those presents need to be wrapped. So on Wrapping Day, Mom kicked all the big kids out of the house and I got to help her wrap their presents. I was about four on my first Wrapping Day. I tore the paper, ate ribbon, taped myself to the carpet. I was a disaster, but I was a disaster with my mom. And that was pretty cool.

Amy Allgeyer, author of Dig Too Deep


Storytime was my favorite part of my job as a school librarian. I have fond memories of reading aloud The Christmas Menorahs: How a Town Fought Hate; it inspired important discussions with my students.

christmas menorahs

The book is based on a true story that took place in 1993 in Billings, Montana. When a prejudiced group threw a rock through the window of a home displaying a Hanukkah menorah, the townspeople rallied to decorate their homes with menorahs, too. This group effort made a bold statement that hate would not be tolerated. It is a message we need to hear just as urgently today. I look forward to reading it one day with my grandchildren.

Jacqueline Jules, author of the Zapato Power series


Growing up in a big Italian family, Christmas was always about family and homemade food and gifts! We still carry on the Italian Christmas Eve dinner tradition of the “The Feast of the Seven Fishes.” (Yes- we count them!). This year, as I do every year, I carefully unwrapped the homemade ornaments and place them on our tree. This simple act was what sparked the idea for my book,” A Homemade Together Christmas.

homemade together christmas

The book is dedicated to my mother, Rose, who taught us that being together is the best gift of all. Though she won’t be sitting at our dinner table this Christmas Eve, she’ll be there, in our hearts as we celebrate togetherness.

Maryann Cocca-Leffler, author and illustrator of A Homemade Together Christmas

Fond holiday season memories: from our authors

Creating Holiday memories: from our Authors

One of my earliest Christmas memories is peering through the tiny windows of a ceramic gingerbread house. The fragile house, decorated with candy cangingerbread housees and gumdrops, looked good enough to eat, but what really captivated me was its glow: With the flick of a switch, the whole house lit up, so I truly believed that a little cookie family lived inside. And why not? Christmas is a time of wonder and belief, and children, with their infinite capacity for wonder, remind us how to believe. Now that I’m grown, I find joy watching my own children peek through those same windows, whispering  “Merry Christmas!” to the cookie family. After all, just because we can’t see them, doesn’t mean they aren’t there.

Megan E. Bryant, author of Dump Truck Duck


A hilariously cheri©JaneSmith_holidayblogphotoshed part of our annual holiday celebrations is a White Elephant Gift Exchange. The rules are simple: 1) Your wrapped gift must be something you already have that you no longer want. 2) You must take whatever gift you receive home. My whole
family piles up the white elephant presents and sits in a circle around them every Christmas Eve. Over the years there have been big belly laughs when receiving such gems as a box of old keys, a Christmas tree ornament that wouldn’t stop singing, a hideous wizard wind chime (that has shown up more than once!), and much more. I both laugh and cringe to wonder what I’ll get this year.

Jane Smith, author and illustrator of the Chloe Zoe series.


 

christmas memory
Illustration by Luke Flowers

To celebrate the birth of Christ in a humble manger, our family would sleep in the hay loft of our barn on Christmas Eve. The smells and sounds of barn life all through the night truly made for an authentic experience. And though we didn’t have a crying newborn baby, there was plenty of crying about the cold, which kept us close as ever until Christmas morning. The first year my own children were old enough to participate was truly a special Christmas memory. The smell of the barn would linger in our clothes as we celebrated, but the memory of that unique tradition will remain all my life.

Luke Flowers, illustrator of One More Dino on the Floor


The year was 1976, and my parents had just built a brand new house. New, except for everything in it was made to look like it was 1776: three huge brick fireplaces, teeny-tiny kitchen, pine plank floors, beamed ceilings. (They took that bicentennial year to extremes.) But the best thing about living that way was that, at Christmas, the 1700s also applied to our transportation. My fondest Christmas memory was hitching up our shaggy horses to an antique sleigh, pimping the mares out in jingling sleigh bells, the family cuddling up under a bearskin rug, and driving the team three miles to my cousins’ house for Christmas Eve. I’m sure it was freezing. (It was Minnesota, after all). But my memories of that night are nothing but warm.

Anne Greenwood Brown, co-author of Girl Last Seen


I was in my early teens when I stumbled across this book about N. CReidNCWyethCover. Wyeth. My head nearly exploded at the realization that this artist whose work I loved from books was a real person who made his living as an illustrator. It was very expensive, so I read as much of it as I could in the bookstore. On Christmas morning my head nearly exploded a second time when the book appeared under the tree. That was it: I decided to become a book illustrator. Thanks mum and dad!

Barbara Reid, illustrator of The Night Before Christmas


My Grandpa Sam loved Christmas movies. I used to sit with him for hours on the weekends as he watched reruns of The Bells of Saint Mary’s, The Bishop’s Wife and Boys Town on his old black and white television in our two-family home in the Bronx.

Nancy Churnin grandpa

“Why do you like Christmas movies so much?” I asked. My unspoken question was, why would a Jewish man who’d fled anti-Semitism in Russia enjoy sentimental stories about priests and nuns? “Everybody is so nice to each other in these movies,” he said blissfully. That’s when I realized that what my grandfather believed in more than anything else was kindness. I squeezed his hand and we enjoyed the movies together.

Nancy Churnin, author of The William Hoy Story

Creating Holiday memories: from our Authors

We are all one family: Julia Alvarez

Zapato PowerAlbert Whitman author Jacqueline Jules
Duck for Turkey Dayis a former teacher and school librarian. Her early chapter book series, Zapato Power, and Thanksgiving Day picture book, Duck for Turkey Day, were inspired by her students in a Title I elementary school.

 

Before We Were Free

Return to SenderThe first book I read by Julia Alvarez was Before We Were Free. I am still haunted by this moving tale of a young girl living under a Latin American dictatorship. Since then I have enjoyed other titles by this gifted writer, including Return to Sender and the Tía Lola stories.

 

 

Finding MiraclesMost recently, I came across Finding Miracles. It is the story of a girl adopted in Latin America as a baby by two Americans serving in the Peace Corps. During the course of the book, Milly Kaufman searches for her Hispanic roots and comes to a new understanding of family ties. This isn’t just a book for a particular reader seeking to see himself or herself represented. Its main value doesn’t lie in its ability to open a window into a world the reader may not have experienced. Finding Miracles beautifully explores the themes of adoption and cultural identity in a universal narrative. Milly’s Hispanic heritage is an integral part of who she is, but her emotional responses should resonant with all readers. Alvarez deals with larger issues within the context of a multicultural family, creating stories about the human experience, that rise above specifics and touch our cores.

Julia AlvarezMy paperback copy of Finding Miracles includes an interview with Julia Alvarez at the end. In this section, Alvarez explains why she did not identify Milly’s birth country, a land ravaged by war. Alvarez writes, “By not specifying the country, I thought I would make it harder for readers to dismiss how pervasive this situation was. (‘Oh, that only happened in Gautemala or Chile or El Salvador.’)” For me, this was a brilliant decision. The victims of political unrest in this book were not characters from one period of history, long past. They were suffering individuals from contemporary times—people I should care about now. Alvarez makes us understand that we are all one family. The details of our lives may be different, but we travel the same emotional terrain.

Who are your favorite authors? Tell us in the comments below!

 

We are all one family: Julia Alvarez

Mother’s Day: Authors Tell All

It’s already Mother’s Day weekend! A few of our authors sent a special photo of themselves with their moms. Our authors noted how each of their moms have impacted and influenced their lives.

Ana Crespo family photoSock Thief

(Pictured: Author Ana Crespo)

In this picture you see not one, but three moms (and possibly a 4th one in the future) – my mom Sandra, my grandma Carmen, me, and my daughter. The picture was taken here in the U.S. in Indiana, at Appleworks Farm. There’s nothing more special than having a supportive family.  I am thankful to be so close to my mom and my grandma, despite the physical distance (both live in Brazil). Happy Mothers’ Day!


Kathryn AllenShow Me Happy

(Pictured: Author Kathryn Madeline Allen)

In many ways, my mother and I are alike. We both love tea, anything tea: pots, cups, Earl Grey. We both love our family, floral patterns, and Lake Michigan. We love to create: she paints, I write. Her house is neater than mine, but I try! She taught me the importance of manners and love, two topics I’ve written about. A Kiss Means I Love You is dedicated to her and my dad. People often say I’m just like my mother. Thank you very much, I say.


 

WhitneyStewartRaftingMom[1]Meditation is an Open Sky

(Pictured: Author Whitney Stewart)

Mom has a book addiction. I can’t remember a day when she didn’t lose herself in prose. She reads at home and on adventure. She reads by head lamp or candle, at dawn and dusk. She reads to know herself and the world. And she gave this gift to me. We have traveled together across continents, up mountains, and down rapids, forever lugging books in our packs. What better end to a journey, Mom thinks, than finding HOME in a book?


Laura Hurwitz and mom9780807524688_DisappearHome

(Pictured: Author Laura Hurwitz)

Frances Somerville Krick, a.k.a. my mom, died in 2009. She was an English teacher. Whenever I showed her my writing she would read it carefully, then point out any grammatical errors. “But what did you think of the story?” I would ask, exasperated, after hearing that the third sentence in the first paragraph contained two independent clauses which should be linked by a semi-colon instead of a comma. “It was wonderful, Lolly,” she would say, unruffled, as if this were a given. While my mother considered her role limited to proofreading, the truth is she shaped my life relative to words. In the days before tech she was a faithful snail mail correspondent; when I was living on one side of the country and she on the other, she penned lengthy letters several times a week. She was a dedicated reader. In fact, I cannot recall a day (apart from her very last) that she didn’t spend some period of time with a book in her hand. As a grandmother she made it a loving daily practice to read aloud to her grandchildren. And, despite her characteristic humility in casting herself as proofreader, I know the truth: she was not an editor but an exemplar. The dedication in my debut novel reads simply For my mother. It is an independent clause linked to her shining spirit.


 

heather and momOriginal Cowgirl

My mom embodies generosity. I can’t remember her ever saying “no” to anyone who asked for help, and she has a sixth sense when friends need support. More than anything, I admire her generosity of spirit. She is a true listener—genuinely

(Pictured: Author Heather Lang)

interested and empathic. Whether listening to a mundane anecdote or a serious problem, my mom is never distracted and never thinking of a witty reply or what she wants to contribute to the conversation. She listens to understand. I work hard to emulate her, and it turns out, good listening has helped my writing tremendously.


Sarah and NancyOpposite of Love

My mother taught me that anything was possible if I put my mind to it. I learned that hard work was more important than raw skill, and that being kind was more important that being smart or being pretty or being talented. She introduced me to the love affair that is reading. I knew that spending a summer

(Pictured above: Author Sarah Lynn Scheerger)

lounging with book after book after book was a “good use of time.” I learned to think for myself…and that what I had to say mattered.  She showed me how to appreciate life’s gifts, no matter how big or small. And you’re one of those gifts, Mom. Thank you! (I learned to say “thank you” too!)

Suzanne Slade with momWith Books and Bricks

(Pictured left: Author Suzanne Slade)

About twenty years ago I (the Mechanical Engineer who didn’t take any writing classes in college) told my mother I wanted to try writing children’s books. What did my practical, realistic, two-feet-on-the-ground mother do? She read story after story, kindly pointing out typos, grammar mistakes, and paragraphs that were just plain confusing. She encouraged, even when rejection letters piled up. She applauded, even when the “successes” were incredibly small (like a rejection letter with my name on it.) And when I finally got published, she bought books for most everyone she knew. Thank goodness for mothers!

Mother’s Day: Authors Tell All

Children’s Book Week Author quotes

Childrens Book Week

We asked a few authors (and our Boxcar Children movie voice actors) what they view as their favorite childhood book. Here’s what they said:

Author Suzanne Enoch Willard Price Safari Adventure“My favorite books when I was a kid were the Adventure series of books by Willard Price (1887-1993). They were all about the zoological around-the-world adventures of teenage brothers Hal and Roger Hunt. Probably not typical books for a pre-teen girl to be reading, but at the time I was going to be the next Joy Adamson or Jane Goodall.” –New York Times Best-Selling Author Suzanne Enoch. Her current book is Mad, Bad, and Dangerous in Plaid.

(Above Image Source: Facebook)


Author Roland Smith imageTreasure Island“My favorite book when I was a kid was Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island. After I finished the book’s seventy-seven word opening sentence I was hooked on reading forever.” –Author Roland Smith. His latest novel, Beneath, is available now.

(Right Image Source: 1859 Mag)


Mary CasanovaCharlotte's Web“As a can’t-sit-still reader who preferred to to spend every minute outdoors, my life changed in 4th or 5th grade when I picked up Charlotte’s Web. Not only was I drawn in by the opening line, promising something was going to happen (“Where’s Papa going with that axe?”), but from the first page I was transported outdoors and to the barn, with all the accompanying sensory details from fresh-cut hay to the hum of honeybees. I entered a world I wanted to return to, and page by page, chapter by chapter, I fell in love with Wilbur, Charlotte, and the other barn-mates, including Templeton. Thank you, E.B. White, for writing a book that turned me into a reader, and eventually, an author who aspires to write with a fraction of as much heart and skill.” –Mary Casanova, author of Grace and Grace Stirs it Up.

(Above Image Source: Facebook)


JK_OscarRascal

“It’s hard to pick one favorite, but a book that has a place in my heart is Rascal: A Memoir Of A Better Era by Sterling North. It’s a beautifully simple, eloquent, heartfelt story, and it was the last book that I borrowed from my parents bookshelf to read to my daughter.” -J.K. Simmons, who voices Dr. Moore in The Boxcar Children movie.

(Image Source: KM/FameFlynet)


Jadon SandHarry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone“My favorite children’s book is Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. If you’ve ever opened it, you know the real magic isn’t in the spells Harry and his friends are learning, but in the words J.K. Rowling writes.” -Jadon Sand, who voiced Benny in The Boxcar Children movie.

(Right Image Source: IMDB)


Children’s Book Week Author quotes

#Fridayreads: A photographer found

Happy Friday everyone! Our lovely publicity coordinator, Tracie Schneider, talks about a fascinating book she recently read entitled Vivian Maier: A Photographer Found.

vivian maier book cover

Vivian Maier lived a relatively quiet life working as nanny for several affluent families on the North Shore. In her spare time, she would wander the streets of Chicago and shoot on her Rolleiflex camera capturing the extraordinary in the everyday ordinary. Nearly all of the 150,000 images captured were left undeveloped and packed away in boxes collecting dust for years at a local storage locker until they were auctioned off and landed in the hands of historical preservationist, John Maloof, for under $400.

vivian1

©Vivian Maier

At first, he had absolutely no idea what to do with them. He had originally purchased the negatives for his upcoming Portage Park historical book, but nothing seemed to fit, so, her boxes remained in a closet. Vivian’s work began to soon take life years later after John revisited the boxes and began scanning her images and revealing them to photo enthusiasts on Flickr.

vivian2

©Vivian Maier

The art community finally got a glimpse into the world of Vivian Maier—the eccentric mystery woman that always hid behind the camera.

Admirers demanded more. Who was this woman? And why did she conceal her talent from the world? This book explores the oddities and quirky behavior that consumed the painfully private, Vivian Maier, that hindered her ability to become a successful street photographer while alive.

vivian3

©Vivian Maier

Even after extensive research, very little is known about her. She had no family, or close friends. She often would use fake names, and it appears she may have even pulled a Madonna by rocking a fake accent even though records indicate that she was born and raised in NYC. What we do know is that she was incredibly tall and lanky. She liked wearing men’s shoes and big, oversized coats. She enjoyed getting lost in large cities and always had a camera strapped around her neck.

vivian4

©Vivian Maier

Grown-ups didn’t quite understand her, but kids adored her for her sense of adventure and zest for life. She was the Mary Poppins of the North Shore, and she had the natural ability to freeze moments that would normally be overlooked by busy city dwellers. Here’s a link to a documentary about her: http://www.vivianmaier.com/film-finding-vivian-maier/.

vivian5

©Vivian Maier

I really enjoyed this book! Not only did it feature some of Vivian’s most praised work, but it also reminded me to slow down a bit and stop ordering grilled cheese for lunch three days a week. When life gets a little hectic, it’s so easy to get lost in our daily routine that “moments” are often overlooked. Vivian’s work encourages you to break away from autopilot mode, and wake up to the beauty surrounding us.

What “moments” have you stopped to cherish today? Let us know in the comments!

 

#Fridayreads: A photographer found

Explore a world of dinosaurs this #FridayReads!

Happy Friday, everyone.  TGIF!  Am I right? For today’s #FridayReads, Ellen Kokontis shares some of her favorite books from childhood.

It’s my birthday tomorrow, and that’s gotten me thinking about some of the best presents I ever got as a kid. My mom told me recently that for every holiday, birthday, etc., growing up, she and my dad would always get me a book. Now, I’ll be honest, I don’t actually remember what I got for Christmas in 1990 or for my fourth birthday. But it doesn’t really matter when Blueberries for Sal (Robert McCloskey), George and Martha (James Marshall), Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel (Virginia Lee Burton), or Millions of Cats (Wanda Gag) came into my life. All that matters is how they influenced me when I was still just a tiny person.

dinotopiacovers

The best book I ever got came for Christmas in 1994. InscriptionDinotopia gave me a world where dinosaurs and people coexist. I spent hours poring over these pages as a child. The story engrossing—Arthur Denison and his son, Will, find themselves shipwrecked on the island and have to start their lives over in this new, strange place.

dinotopiaspread1

But what really grabbed me is the format. It follows very much in the footsteps of Rien Poortvliet’s Gnomes. Every aspect of island life is explained in detail with cutaways and labels. So while you read the story, you’re also exploring an entire world.

dinotopiaspread2dinotopiaspread3I attribute a lot of the way I am to this series of books. I love to look at small details, and I have a special zeal for complex and intricate illustrations. I love going to museums because they give me the same thrill of discovery and exploration that I got when I read these books. I also carry a fairly embarrassing obsession with dinosaurs to this day, and I get a little sad whenever I see a kid who isn’t also completely obsessed with them.

dinotopiaspread4

This year, when my mom asked me what I wanted for my birthday, I said I didn’t really know. And that’s not because there aren’t little things that I want or need, but because I don’t think there’s anything out there that can change me as much or mean as much to me as these books. So thanks, mom and dad, for giving me everything that made me who I am. (Even if that includes obnoxiously correcting people’s pronunciation of quetzalcoatlus.)

dinotopiaspread5

 

Thanks, Ellen!  And HAPPY BIRTHDAY! 

Explore a world of dinosaurs this #FridayReads!