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)


“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.


©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.


©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.


©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.


©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/.


©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.


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.


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.


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.)



Thanks, Ellen!  And HAPPY BIRTHDAY! 

Explore a world of dinosaurs this #FridayReads!

#Fridayreads: Middle-grade audio books

Editorial Director Kelly Barrales-Saylor shares her thought on a couple audio books for this week’s edition of #FridayReads!

A couple weeks ago Wendy wrote in her #FridayReads that she recently discovered audiobooks. There must be something in the water at AW&Co, because I recently made the same discovery. I have a fairly long commute to and from work, so I have plenty of time to listen to books on tape (when I’m not singing along to my iPod or listening to Howard Stern). So I borrowed a couple audiobooks from my local library and here are the results: sometimes audiobooks are awesome and sometimes they are not.

I’ll admit, I’m a little behind on my middle grade reading list… Er, maybe I’m a lot behind since I’m still working my way through the 2013 and 2014 Newbery lists. I picked up Flora and Ulysses by Kate DiCamillo (read by Tara Sands) and The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate (read by Adam Grupper). Both of these books, as beautiful and imaginative literature, are awesome. But one worked perfectly as an audiobook and the other, not so much. Can you guess which is which?


For those of you as behind on middle grade books as me, Flora and Ulysses is the story of a young girl (Flora) with divorced parents who witnesses her neighbor accidentally vacuum up a squirrel (Ulysses) in her backyard. She runs to rescue the squirrel and realizes the squirrel can communicate with her—and might be some sort of super hero! This book is also full of really awesome illustrations by K. G. Campbell. You know what you can’t see when you’re listening to an audiobook? The really awesome illustrations by K. G. Campbell. Womp womp. They did an ok job of conveying through the audio what was happening in the comic book sequences, but the whole time I was listening to the book, I felt something was missing. I might need to reread this book as a book because I think my inner-10-year-old would’ve loved this story (and wished to discover a poetry-writing super hero squirrel). I can tell you one good thing: I do look at the squirrels in my neighborhood with a little more compassion now.


Ok, let me move on to The One and Only Ivan. This audiobook was amazing. It was a little slow to start because I struggled with the sad premise: A gorilla has been in captivity almost his entire life as the main attraction of a circus inside of a shopping mall. He lives in a glass enclosure and his friends include a stray dog and an elephant. It’s quite melancholy. But there was something so intriguing about the story. And each word Katherine Applegate chose was somehow so perfect I couldn’t stop listening. I’d stay in the car a few extra moments after I pulled into the driveway just so I could finish up a scene. There were quite a few times I had to finish crying in the parking lot before I walked up to our office building. Somewhere along the way, I found such joy and pain and love in this story. Adam Grupper’s reading and the voice he gave Ivan was so perfect. Just thinking about it now is making me tear up. As a book lover, I’m going to buy this one in hardcover just so I can have it in my collection.

I’m off to the library this weekend to pick a new audiobook. Any suggestions?

#Fridayreads: Middle-grade audio books

#FridayReads with Wendy McClure

It’s #FridayReads with Albert Whitman Staffers!  Today Senior Editor Wendy McClure talks about her current reads:

Remember back in October when I told you I wasn’t sure I was going to hit my Goodreads Challenge Goal for 2014?  It turns out—whew!—I did. Those lazy days around Christmas and New Years really helped, and so did audiobooks. I’m pretty new to the audiobook thing. I’d never listened to them on a regular basis before this past fall. In fact, I resisted them: my editor brain is so used to thinking in terms of print that I thought that was the only way I could truly experience a book. But when I was facing a long solo car trip in November I decided to listen to Amy Poehler’s audio book; after that experience, I figured out how to download audiobooks from the public library onto my phone so I could listen to them while driving home from work. (Or folding laundry, or working in the kitchen, or working out at the gym.) I hit my reading goal, and I discovered that audiobooks are good for my editor brain as well: I find I pick up things about story pacing, shifts in tone, and narrative and character voice.

So audiobooks are now A Thing with me, and my favorite audio genre right now is middle-grade fiction. At the moment I’m halfway through The True Meaning of Smekday by Adam Rex. I’ve wanted to read this book ever since I read a New York Times review a few years back, and then it won the 2011 Odyssey Award, which is the ALA award for kids’ audiobooks. So I had a feeling it would be good.


You guys. It is hilarious. Part of it is the writing and the premise, which is: aliens attack and take over Earth; the protagonist, a girl named Gratuity Tucci (her nickname is TIP) and her cat, Pig, embark on a road trip to Florida (she can drive; she has cans nailed to her church shoes so she can reach the pedals) where all the humans have been relocated. Along the way she encounters an outcast alien whose Earth name is “J.Lo,” and they become unlikely friends. And he takes apart her car and combines it with a slushie machine to make a hovercraft. Add to that a deeply funny performance from the reader, Bahni Turpin, and the result is an incredibly entertaining audio experience that I highly recommend.

I had no idea when I first got the audiobook, but apparently The True Meaning of Smekday has been adapted by Dreamworks as an animated feature and is coming out under the title Home in March!  Looks fun, except the alien is no longer named J. Lo. Okay, so the movie features J. Lo as one of the voiceover actors, so I suppose a compromise had to be made. But for me, Alien J. Lo has become the true J.Lo. You’ll have to check out The True Meaning of Smekday to understand.

#FridayReads with Wendy McClure