Shower Power: Give a Book!

Kathryn Madeline Allen is the author of A Kiss Means I Love You (2012) and Show Me Happy (2015). She lives in Michigan, where she teaches and writes.

A Kiss Means I Love YouShow Me Happy

 

 

 

 

 

 

I love baby showers! The gifts are precious: itsy-bitsy booties, teeny-tiny jammies, onesies, blankies, bottles . . . and books.

As a children’s author and college professor, I’m happy to give books as gifts and to see them being given. Some shower invitations these days suggest, “One request that isn’t too hard, please give a book instead of a card.”

So here’s a baby shower gift book idea: Mem Fox’s Reading Magic: Why Reading Aloud to Our Children Will Change Their Lives Forever. I had the pleasure of hearing Fox discuss Reading Magic in person a while back and have recommended it to my children’s literature students ever since.

This week, I’ve reread it from a different perspective. Not as author. Not as professor, but as Grandma to two grandsons: a toddler and a newborn.

Reading Magic“The best time to start reading aloud to a baby is the day it is born,” Fox recommends. I quickly called my son after rereading this advice. Have you read to the baby yet? I asked (after all he’s almost two weeks old). It’s really important!

As Fox puts it, reading aloud “positively affects children’s brains, hearts, words, and futures.” In Reading Magic, she expands on each of these, telling why, when, how and what to read aloud. The book is divided into bite-size sections so busy parents (or grandparents, teachers and others) can easily read it and use the tips right away.

Which books do you like to give at baby showers?

Shower Power: Give a Book!

Wonder: Humorous children’s book about acceptance, kindness

Author Sarah Lynn Scheerger talks about the book Wonder in this week’s Friday reads. Scheerger is the author of The Opposite of Love (hardcover 2014; paperback Fall 2015), and Are You Still There? (Fall 2015).

TheOppositeofLoveAreYouStillThere

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Why is R.J. Palacio’s Wonder so wonderful?

“Born with a terrible facial abnormality, Auggie has been home-schooled by his parents his whole life, in an attempt to protect him from the cruelty of the outside world. Now, for the first time, he’s being sent to a real school – and he’s dreading it. All he wants is to be accepted – but can he convince his new classmates that he’s just like them, underneath it all?” –Goodreads.com

I know why I think so. The heartbreakingly real characters, true to life. The careful introduction of issues that make us think and feel. The quick moving plot. Boy appeal. Humor that makes me smile while reading. The beginning hooks the readers right away. The authentic character voices that speak in real and meaningful ways.

Pg. 3 “I won’t describe what I look like. Whatever you’re thinking, it’s probably worse.”

Her succinct and accurate portrayal of character.

Page 34 “…so is he the kind of kid who’s one way in front of grown-ups and another way in front of kids?”

I think the sense of humor intertwined with real issues is part of what makes this so enjoyable. Consider these sections:

Page 64

“Are you always going to look this way, August? I mean, can’t you get plastic surgery or something?”

I smiled and pointed to my face. “Hello? This is after plastic surgery!”

Jack clapped his hand over his forehead and started laughing hysterically.

“Dude, you should sue your doctor!” he answered between giggles.

The cover is tasteful, appealing, and intriguing. Palacio changes POV, so that we hear multiple perspectives in ways that slightly overlap but still push the story forward. We have empathy for the ways people act, and we understand their motivations.

Wonder

Of course there’s a clear hook for upper elementary and middle school teachers. What a great way to spark discussion about friendship, acceptance, differences, school culture, bullying and kindness.

As a school social worker, I have the pleasure of visiting many elementary and middle school classes. It’s a breath of fresh air when I walk into a classroom and see that each student has created their own one-eyed “wonder-esque” face to post around the room. Think of the classroom discussions that can ensue after reading aloud Mr. Tushman’s end of the year speech about being “kinder than necessary.” Mr. Browne’s precepts are another great source of discussion material.

But what do kids think? Why do they love it? I’ll confess that my eleven-year-old has read and re-read this book five times. He’s a kid who typically gravitates to fantasy, action, or sci-fi. Realistic fiction isn’t his cup of tea, unless it’s historically based. But the characters in Wonder grabbed hold of his heart and head, wouldn’t let go.

I asked him this question—“Why is Wonder worth reading?”

All of his comments referenced the feelings invoked within himself as he connected with these masterful characters. He said,“I felt sympathetic for Auggie. I could imagine how Jack Will felt when he accidentally hurt his friend’s feelings. I felt a proud feeling when the kids from his school protected Auggie during the movie.”

Then I asked, “Why is Wonder worth re-reading?”

He smiled, and said, “Just… the book is so… amazing.”

Or shall I say Wonder-ful?

Wonder: Humorous children’s book about acceptance, kindness

Natural Materials Make Welcoming Homes for Fairies, Pixies, Elves, and Gnomes

Rebecca O’Connell, a librarian, is the author of Baby Party (2015) and Baby Parade (2013).

Baby ParadeBaby Party

She lives in Pittsburgh, PA with her husband, son, two cats, and a big dog. O’Connell talks about fairy tales in this week’s edition of Friday reads!

 

I like walking with my dog, Bear, in a little wooded area near my house; there’s green space within the city. Bear is looking for woodchucks and squirrels. I am looking for sticks, catkins, pine cones, acorns, pebbles, or other building materials—construction supplies for fairy houses.

rebecca bear

Fairy houses are tiny houses (or schools or castles or libraries…) for the hidden folk.

The Hidden Folk

The structures are made of natural materials. We leave them outside (or, sometimes, in a window) in the hope that someone will find this welcoming shelter and move in.

I love to pore over the photos of fairy houses in the books by Barry and Tracy Kane:

Fairy Houses...Everywhere!Fairy Houses and Beyond!

 

Fairy Houses … Everywhere! (left)

Fairy Houses and Beyond! (right)

 

 

Fairy Houses...Unbelievable!Fairy Homes & Gardens

and Fairy Houses…Unbelievable! (left)

And this new one by Barbara Purchia and E. Ashley Rooney, Fairy Homes and Gardens (right), which includes the poem “The Fairy Dew Drop” by Laura Ingalls Wilder.

I page through the photo books for inspiration. Seeing what can be made from petals and shells and seed pods and bark makes me want to construct something. The possibilities are endless, as can be seen in page after page in the books or on Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh’s Facebook page, for example.

The wee people for whom we build can be tricky or friendly. They can be shy or sociable. Usually, they will respond to kindness with kindness. I keep that in mind as I gather materials for their cozy nooks or luxurious mansions. I think about The Tomten and the Fox by Astrid Lindgren. That is where I learned about the tradition of leaving a bowl of milk out for the Tomten. (Putting up a little house is like leaving out a bowl of milk, right?)

The Tomten and the Fox

When I picture the soon-to-move-in wee little neighbors, I picture the flower fairies of Cicely Mary Barker. Aren’t they beautiful? Wouldn’t you set your mind to making the most comfortable home possible for them to enjoy?

My Garden of Flower Fairies 1The Complete Book of the Flower FairiesA Treasury of Flower Fairies 3

 

 

 

I like to learn about who the wee people are, their habits, their preferences – all the better to recognize and welcome them. The poems in Fairies, Trolls & Goblins Galore, complied by Dilys Evans, illustrated by Jacqueline Rogers are a fine introduction to (or reminder of) our hidden neighbors.

 

Natural Materials Make Welcoming Homes for Fairies, Pixies, Elves, and Gnomes

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

Fall 2015 preview: Picture books!

In anticipation of Children’s Book Week (next week!), we’re giving you a sneak peak into some of our Fall 2015 picture books!

9780807549070_MadameMartine2

In Sarah S. Brannen’s second installment of the Madame Martine series, Max sneaks into the Louvre and sends Madame Martine and her friend on a chase around some of the world’s most beautiful works of art!

It’s Día de los Muertos (Day of the Dead), and children throughout the pueblo, or town, are getting ready to celebrate! They decorate with colored streamers, calaveras, or sugar skulls, and pan de muertos, or bread of the dead. Join the fun and festivities, and learn about a different cultural tradition!

Felicia Sanzari Chernesky is back with another season-themed picture book, which is a realistic account of how apple cider is pressed, flavored with the charm and vigor of a harvest celebration. Every apple does its part,, whether juicy sweet or tart.

Rudy's Windy Christmas

While Santa and Mrs. Claus eat their dinner, Santa sneakily feeds his sprouts to one of the reindeer rather than eat them himself. The result is, uh, smelly, to say the least. Now, Rudy can’t seem to stop releasing windy pops from his backside as he and the other reindeer help Santa deliver presents on Christmas Eve.

Which one are you most looking forward to?

Fall 2015 preview: Picture books!