Welcome Back to School

It’s always tough to say goodbye to lazy summer days, but by the time the end of August rolls around we often find ourselves excited for the start of school. This time of year is full of dreams and promise, new and old friendships, fun classes and activities. What do you want to accomplish this year? Who will you become? What will you learn?

 

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To welcome you back to a fun, rewarding, and educational school year we wanted to share a few fun activities for kids based on our titles—and discussion guides for their dedicated teachers and librarians.

 

For Kids

Keep the back to school fun going with fun downloadable activities starring Chloe Zoe, the adorable yellow elephant. There are activities like word searches, mazes, and spot the difference to go along with both preschool- and kindergarten-aged titles.

 

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Take out the new boxes of crayons and markers! Have fun coloring dogs from The Buddy Files series, dinosaurs (plus many other craft projects!) from One More Dino on the Floor, kids from Janine and the My Emotions and Me series, or plants from First Peas to the Table, and In the Garden with Dr. Carver.

For older students learning to read independently, there is no better series than The Boxcar Children series, a classic that is celebrating its 75th anniversary this year. Read about the adventures of the Alden children—and once you’ve finished a book, you can take a quiz to see which kid you’re most like or even get in touch with them to ask a question!

Our website also has a slew of activities that keeps the fun going from classroom to home to backyard. Try your skill at word puzzles, your hand at crafts, or even bake up a delicious treat inspired by the books!

For Teachers and Librarians

Teachers get to have fun going back to school, too: meeting new students, sharing favorite books, and opening up a world of possibilities.

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General Info:

Did you know all of Albert Whitman’s books are leveled with Accelerated Reader, Guided Reading, Scholastic Reading Counts, and Reading Recovery? We also provide Common Core Curriculum Connections for our most recent titles. All this information can be downloaded on our School and Libraries page.

Picture Books:

Bring history alive with books about notable historical figures. Start with guides on Dorothea Lange, Swimming with Sharks, and The William Hoy Story.

Plus, continue discussions about the natural world, science, and math with creative classroom activities based on the Wells of Knowledge or These Things Count series or the books Dig Those Dinosaurs, First Peas to the Table, and In the Garden with Dr. Carver.

For harder-to-discuss topics like bullying, abuse, and learning disabilities we’ve created a guide to go along with Nobody Knew What to DoNot in Room 204, and The Alphabet War, all titles soon to be available paperback for the first time.

Early Readers and Chapter Books:

Start classroom discussions for titles included in The Buddy Files series, Lulu series, and Zapato Power series with these engaging guides.

The Boxcar Children series:

The Boxcar Children have been a teacher-favorite since the very first book, which Gertrude Chandler Warner wrote for her students. She knew the vocabulary and content were appropriate for young readers—and that they would relish the Boxcar Children’s independence and opportunities for adventure. Today, teachers and librarians love the series for the message of teamwork and empathy, because even when the Boxcar Children uncover the villain of the mystery they’re solving, it’s more than just that: they care about the person and situation, and they work hard to set things right again. It’s easy to tie The Boxcar Children into your classroom with a Common Core-aligned guide. Plus, the same Boxcar activities mentioned above for kids are also available in easy-to-download themed packets.

AW Teen:

Bolster dialogues about young adult titles including Being Henry David, Down From the Mountain, Guantanamo Boy, Promise Me Something, and This Is How I Find Her.

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As the months of the year fly by, don’t forget to check our site frequently for more fun activities and helpful guides.

Happy school year from the Albert Whitman & Company team!

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Welcome Back to School

Q&A with Lori Haskins Houran

Warts and All: A Book of Unconditional Love celebrates love in all shapes and sizes! Love isn’t just for the cute, the sweet, and the cuddly. Whether you’re awkward as a baby ostrich, prickly as a tiny hedgehog, or drool like a puppy pug, someone loves you no matter what! This new story from the team that created Next To You features an irresistible array of adorably stinky, grouchy, burpy, and warty animals to drive the point home.

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We were lucky enough to sit down with author Lori Haskins Houran to chat about a parent’s love, second books, and Warts and All.

Q: What was the inspiration for your title?

A: My younger son, Michael, will be appalled that I’m sharing this, but a few years ago he got a big, gnarly patch of warts on his elbow. I assured him that I loved him, warts and all, and as I did, I chuckled to myself at using the expression so literally. Then I thought—Hey, that would make a good book title! I could picture a homely little toad on the cover. And I knew just what the book would be about: the unconditional love that parents have for our children. We really do love them no matter what. Even if they get warts and cradle cap and funky rashes. Even if they keep us up all night and pee straight into our faces when we’re changing their diapers. (That last one was my older son, Jameson. Now both kids get to be embarrassed!)

Q: How was the process of writing this book different than writing Next to You?

A: Next to You was all about baby animals at their most adorable and irresistible. It was fun thinking up the cutest possible critters to include. This book celebrates baby animals at their most awkward, and I have to say, it was even more fun coming up with clumsy, quirky candidates!

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Q: Do you have a regular routine while creating a book?

A: Not necessarily. If I have an idea percolating, I’ll think about it on and off all day. Those are the days that I burn the toast in the morning and let the pasta boil over at night! I do most of the actual writing while my kids are at school. I tell myself that I’ll write more after they go to bed, but it rarely happens, because I end up falling asleep, too!

Q: What are the hardest and easiest parts of writing a book?

A: I have a tough time with first drafts. It’s hard not to lose faith in my ideas as I’m trying to get them down on paper. Each time I hit a point where I think, “This is a terrible idea. And it’s probably been done a million times before!” If I push through that stage and get the basic story structure in place, then I can relax. I enjoy revising. It’s a treat to play with words.

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Q: What books did you like to read as a kid? What type of books do you like to read now?

A: As a kid, I was the reading equivalent of a hungry omnivore. I read all the time, and I read everything. Fiction. Nonfiction. The back of the cereal box. (Seriously. I loved to read while I ate, and if I was out of books, I’d resort to perusing the packages on the table.) Some of my favorites were Frog and Toad Together, The Trumpet of the Swan, Harriet the Spy, Eight Cousins, and the Trixie Belden mysteries. I was also obsessed with a musty old biographical series called The Childhood of Famous Americans. I’m still open to lots of different genres. My top fiction pick of the past few years is Jess Walter’s Beautiful Ruins, and for nonfiction, I don’t think you can beat Erik Larson.

Q: Are you working on any other projects?

A: I have a couple of picture books in the works, and an easy-to-read biography of Thomas Edison. My sons, who are now in middle school, have been encouraging me to try middle-grade fiction. I just might give it a whirl!

 

Thanks so much, Lori! Find out more about Warts and All on our website and both of Lori’s adorable titles in this video.

Q&A with Lori Haskins Houran

Q&A With Paul Paolilli and Dan Brewer

Nightlights, a lyrical picture book about all the lights at night, is written by a fun collaborating team: uncle and nephew Paul Paolilli and Dan Brewer! The rhyming text is pared playfully with bright artwork by Alice Brereton.

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We were lucky enough to sit down with Paul and Dan to chat about collaboration, a love of poetry, and Nightlights.

Q: How did you come up with Nightlights?

A: Paul: Years ago, my dad (Dan’s grandfather) planted and pruned his garden according to the phases of the moon. When he passed away we started writing a series of moon poems in his honor. Ultimately that series turned into the poems that make up Nightlights.

Q: Do you have a regular routine while creating a book?

A: Dan: Chewing on a pencil, staring into space, calling a friend, wondering what I’m going to have for dinner…but then eventually the words come and it’s off to the races.

Paul: Writing for me is sort of like a road trip with a destination in mind but no map. I get lost, there are detours and stopovers, joys, frustrations and surprises. When I do arrive I feel happy and proud.

Q: What is your process for collaborating?

A: Dan and Paul: Well, first of all, we are an uncle and nephew team, so luckily any disagreements we have are all kept in the family. Usually one of us comes up with an idea and together we push and pull and massage that idea into something larger. We also live some distance from each other so we spend a lot of time discussing ideas on the phone, and emailing and texting. If those fail us, skywriting is always an option too.

Q: What was the process of working with your editor like?

A: Dan and Paul: It was wonderful. When we wrote our first book [Silver Seeds: A Book of Nature], we had a fantastic illustration team, and the book turned out wonderfully, but we didn’t have any real hand in the final process. Here at [Albert] Whitman, Wendy [McClure], our editor, and Jordan [Kost], the art director, really involved us in the process and the look of Nightlights from beginning to end. I guess you could say we were not kept in the dark at all!

Q: What makes your book stand out?

A: Dan and Paul: We really love what Alice [Brereton], our illustrator, has done with our words. The combination of her style, which is unique, quirky and really out-of-the-box and the soothing rhythm of our poems is a perfect match. For an illustrator it must be difficult to try and get into an author’s head and bring their vision to the page. So kudos to Alice!

Q: Why write children’s books?

A: Dan: We both come from the education field. I’m currently a high school English teacher and Paul is a retired school psychologist and family therapist. Our goal has always been to inspire kids to read and write poetry.

Q: Are you working on any other projects?

A: Dan: Paul and I love to write poetry books for children. Recently we have been working on some narrative ideas and a book of non-fiction on the origins of the names for the days of the week. But all writing, if it’s done well, is poetry.

Q: What books did you like to read as a kid?

A: Paul: My very first books were comic books: Donald Duck and Scrooge McDuck were my early favorites. Later of course, the super heroes took over: Superman, Batman and Robin. As a teen it was science fiction by the volume: Issac Asimov, Theodore Sturgeon, A. E. Van Vogt and on and on.

Dan:  The Hardy Boys A to Z and then back again!

Thanks so much, Paul and Dan! To find out more about Nightlights on our website. And to hear from the illustrator, Alice, check out her blog post.

Q&A With Paul Paolilli and Dan Brewer

Q&A with Lisa Amstutz

Join author Lisa Amstutz and illustrator Talitha Shipman for Applesauce Day! Maria and her family visit an apple orchard and pick apples. Then it’s time to turn the apples into applesauce! Every year they use the special pot that has been in the family for generations to make applesauce. First they wash the apples. Then Grandma cuts them into quarters. Follow each step in the process as everyone helps to make delicious applesauce!

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We were lucky enough to sit down with Lisa to chat about family traditions, kid lit, and Applesauce Day.

Q: What was the inspiration for your title?

A: Applesauce Day is based on my family’s applesauce-making tradition. As a child, I loved helping my mother make applesauce each year. It was an exciting day, filled with the scent of apples cooking, the taste of fresh, warm sauce, and the fun of working together. Now my children look forward to making applesauce at Grandma’s house each year. I hope someday they will pass on this tradition to the next generation!

Q: Do you make applesauce using the recipe in the back matter?

A: Yes! We make enough to last all year, which takes about three bushels of apples. The past few years, we’ve been able to harvest our own apple trees. One was just an old stump when we moved here. It kept sprouting, so we let one of the sprouts grow and cut off the rest. Our house is quite old (it was once a log cabin), so I like to think that maybe Johnny Appleseed planted that tree—who knows! We also have two Yellow Transparent trees—my favorite sauce variety. The pig and chickens are happy to eat any apples that are left over, as well as any wormy ones.

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Q:  What books did you like to read as a kid? What type of books do you like to read now?

A: As a kid, I read everything I could get my hands on—novels, Reader’s Digest, cereal boxes…. Some favorites were Chronicles of Narnia series, Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys mysteries, and the Lord of the Rings series.

I don’t have as much free time now, but I still read a lot. I like nonfiction books on writing craft, nature, agriculture, and psychology. I also have a particular fondness for mysteries. And of course I read a lot of children’s books…both for research and just for fun.

Q: Why write children’s books?

A: I love the challenge of distilling a story down to its essence—picture books are a lot like poetry in that regard. And they’re just fun! I hope my books inspire kids to appreciate and learn more about the world around them. Kids are smart and funny and optimistic. They give us hope for the future—kids can change the world!

Q: What’s the easiest and hardest part of creating a book?

A: In general, the hardest parts for me are deciding which story ideas are worth pursuing and figuring out the best way to tell them. Once the story is on paper, the editing begins. I revise each story around 20–30 times and run it by my critique partners several times before sending it to my agent. She usually wants a few more revisions, and if the book sells, the editor will ask for more revisions as well. It’s a slow process, but it’s amazing to see it all come together!

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Q:  Are you working on any other projects?

A: Yes, I have quite a few manuscripts either out on submission or at various stages of completion. My editor and I are also working on another picture book to be released in 2018, titled Today We Go Birding. It’s about the Christmas Bird Count, a citizen science project sponsored by the National Audubon Society. I can’t wait to see it in print!

For announcements about Today We Go Birding and other upcoming projects, you can follow me on Facebook  or Twitter , or sign up for my newsletter on my website.

Thanks, Lisa! For even more about Applesauce Day check out our website.

Q&A with Lisa Amstutz

Q&A with Joanne Oppenheim

Benny’s family owns a knishery and sells delicious round dumplings. Then the Tisch family opens a store across the street—selling square knishes—and Benny’s papa worries. So he lowers his prices! But Mr. Tisch does too. As each knishery tries to outdo the other, Benny helps his papa realize there’s room on Rivington Street for more than one knishery.

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We were lucky enough to sit down with author Joanne Oppenheim and talk about finding inspiration, celebrating shared history, and The Knish War on Rivington Street.

Q. What was your inspiration for The Knish War on Rivington Street?

A. There really was a Knish War on Rivington Street, an event I heard about quite by accident. I was looking up information about the Brooklyn Historical Society and noticed a program by Laura Silver, who called herself the Knish Lady, which struck me funny. The program notes mentioned an article from 1916 in the New York Times about a price war between two knisheries. When I read that article, I knew it was a picture book just waiting to happen.

Q. Does that happen often—finding a ready-made story in the news?

A. You never know where an idea will pop up. You just need to keep your antennae up. But finding a story, even a true story, is not the same as turning it into a book. My first attempt at telling this story was done in verse. I had fun doing that, but one editor who liked the story did not want the story told in rhyme. I did a total rewrite.

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Q. Was that hard? Changing it to prose?

A. Well, I insisted on holding on to Tisch’s Knishes, and kept some of the rhymes for the signs—oops, I do find rhymes all the time. The harder part was giving the story more dimension. The real knish war was strictly a price war. But the war in my book needed more of a conflict. So, I added the age-old fight over the virtues of baked vs fried and round vs square. That wasn’t part of the original story, although today, most knish lovers do have a preference.

Q. What kind of knishes do you prefer?

A. No contest—I like mine round, baked, and filled with potato. By the way, you’ll find a recipe for making them (and the fried ones, too) in the back of the book.

Q. How did you find the voices for Benny and Solly’s fathers?

A. I’m sure I was channeling my grandfather, Nathan Fleischer. I have a photo of him in his bakery, which was probably a lot like Max’s knishery. I can still hear the way he and others of his generation of immigrants spoke and how hard they worked to make a better life in their new country. His English was punctuated with Yiddish, but he rarely spoke of the old country—only of leaving it and how he “ran all the way to America.” His favorite song was God Bless America.   

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Q. How did you bring this time-period and setting to life?

A. My mother was born on the Lower East Side in a tenement and sometimes spoke of the crowded, dark, damp tenement where they lived on Orchard Street. Like many immigrant families they left for the Bronx as soon as they could and rarely looked back. Years later, I still like walking on the same streets where her Zaydee, her grandfather, had a pushcart. I’ve seen photos from that time and although the peddlers and their pushcarts are mostly gone now, the narrow streets with little storefronts and buildings are still there. Today they’re art galleries and fancy stores, but it’s not hard to imagine how it must have been when the streets bustled with people that look those in Jon Davis’ drawings. You can still go downtown and even have a knish!

Q. What books did you like to read as a kid? What type of books do you like to read now?

A. As a kid I was a devoted fan of Nancy Drew. But as a teenager I liked reading history—especially biographies and autobiographies. I still enjoy reading mysteries for entertainment but for my work as a writer, I love digging in history books and archives for good stories to share, like the Knish War on Rivington Street.

Thanks, Joanne! Find out more about The Knish War on Rivington Street on our website.

Q&A with Joanne Oppenheim

Summer Fun with the Boxcar Children

We’re celebrating the 75th Anniversary of the Boxcar Children all year long! As you may know, there are over 140 Boxcar Children books. We’re sharing a list of our favorite mysteries centered on baseball, vacations, camping, and other summertime activities. Plus, be sure to check out the Boxcar Children website for more fun activities to do this summer!

 

The Boxcar Mysteries #2: Surprise Island

In the second Boxcar Children book the Aldens are on summer vacation. They take a trip to an almost private island, but what happens when they are faced with a challenge? Find out more by clicking here. And be sure to keep an eye out this fall for the newest Boxcar movie based on this book!

 

The Boxcar Children Special #4: The Mystery at the Ballpark

Join in this summertime sport with a mystery from the Boxcar Children! Jessie and Violet are selected to play on the local baseball team, Henry gets a job assisting the coach, and even Benny gets a role as a bat boy! When a special bat is stolen and Jessie’s favorite glove goes missing, the Aldens know there is a mystery to be solved. Can they save the team and the baseball season? Click here for more.

 

The Boxcar Mysteries #16: Mystery in the Sand

While living in a seaside mobile home, the Aldens discover the secret of two secluded women. Will their discovery lead them to treasure, or will they find themselves in danger? Follow this link for more about this beachy mystery!

 

The Boxcar Children Special #14: The Home Run Mystery

On a visit to Pikesville, New York, the Boxcar Children watch the last few games of the season. The games are played at a strange ballpark behind an abandoned factory. The Aldens notice that the opposing team, the Eagles, seem to be hitting too many home runs and one night Violent sees strange lights coming from the factory. Could the two be related? The Boxcar Children on are on the case! Find out more about this baseball mystery by following this link.

 

The Boxcar Mysteries #25: The Amusement Park Mystery

While visiting the amusement park that’s come to town the Aldens enjoy fun rides and games. But what happens when they begin to investigate antique wooden horses on the merry-go-round near Cousin Joe’s house? Click here for more.

 

The Boxcar Mysteries #27: The Camp-Out Mystery

Henry, Jessie, Violet and Benny set out on a camping trip, but it’s almost spoiled by loud music and the disappearance of a lantern. Things become even more complicated when Grandfather disappears too. How will the Aldens solve this mystery? Find out by following this link.

 

The Boxcar Mysteries #82: The Summer Camp Mystery

When the Boxcar Children head off to summer camp, they’re excited about making new friends, participating in activities, and, most of all, competing in the annual camp Olympics. However, things go wrong right away—they lose their luggage, the camp flag disappears, and campers from the other team steal one of Jessie’s ideas to score points! What will the Aldens do when they realize some campers are willing to lie and cheat to win? Find out more by clicking here.

 

The Boxcar Mysteries #94: The Ice Cream Mystery

The Aldens, especially Benny, all love ice cream, so when they find out that someone is trying to shut down the Greenfield Ice Cream Barn, they know they must help before it’s too late. They discover that the owner has two new partners. Could they be behind the plot to shut down the business? Click here for more.

 

The Boxcar Mysteries #122: The Spy in the Bleachers

Henry, Jessie, Violet, and Benny are all excited to help out at the ballpark when the Clayton Cogs are playing for the pennant! While watching the game, they notice that the other team’s batters seem to know the pitches a little too well. It becomes clear that someone in the stadium is stealing the Cog’s pitcher’s signals. Can the Boxcar Children find out who is spying for the other team? Find out by following this link.

Have a great summer adventure with The Boxcar Children!

Summer Fun with the Boxcar Children

Illustrator Insight with Alice Brereton

Enter the gentle night with Nightlights by Paul Paolinlli and Dan Brewer. This lyrical picture book explores all the types of light that brighten the evening.

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We were lucky enough to chat with the book’s illustrator, Alice Brereton, about being a children’s book illustrator, staying real, and Nightlights.

Q: How did you become a children’s book illustrator?

A: I don’t know. It’s a mixture of many things: working hard, making good choices, pestering your art teachers, problem solving, having a supportive mom, eating burritos and being okay with sitting on your butt for hours on end doodling, etc…I can’t say what sets me apart from other people who want to be a children’s book illustrator? It’s not a closely guarded secret or even a moment of luck, it’s just me being myself professionally… and drawing a lot.

Q: What is your favorite medium to work with?

A: I really enjoy using Photoshop. I love that I never run out of paint or paper. I also like all my art contained in one safe area so my cats can’t walk all over it.

Q: What were your first thoughts when you saw the text for Nightlights?

A: “Ooooooooo!” I was so excited I didn’t have thoughts, just stupid excited noises. I couldn’t believe that this book was being entrusted to me. It was exactly what I wanted to draw.

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Q: Do you have a regular routine while creating a book?

A: Sadly no, my routine/process is to write self-deprecating post-it notes that remind me when things are due and to also do a healthy amount of panicking.

Q: What’s the easiest and hardest part of creating a book?

A: The easiest part of the book is following my detailed thumbnails sketches. The hardest part is making the detailed thumbnail sketches.

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Q: Why illustrate children’s books?

A: Because working in retail sounds like too much fun!

Q: What makes your book stand out?

A: I think the use of black and straight lines will make it pop on the book stand.

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Q: Are you working on any other projects?

A: I am working on two books right now, one is about a little girl scientist and the other is about a tormented bunny.

Q: What books did you like to read as a kid? What type of books do you like to read now?

A: My favorite thing to read as a kid was poetry, I loved the book SunFlakes, which is a collection of short poems ranging from cheerful to depressing. Right now I am really enjoying the Fairyland series by Catherine M. Valente.

Q: What is your favorite night light and why?

A: As an adult I like to sleep in complete darkness, as a child I liked to leave my window shades open so the moon could light up my room.

Thanks so much, Alice. Find out more about Nightlights on our website and come back to the blog on August 14 to get to know authors Paul and Dan.

Illustrator Insight with Alice Brereton