Children’s literature – HistoricalTails

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Book Review: “Between Shades of Gray,” by Ruta Sepetys

“Between Shades of Gray,” by Ruta Sepetys has absolutely NOTHING to do with the 50 Shades of Grey series. As a matter of fact, the book is being turned into a movie and they changed the name to “Ashes in the Snow,” so there's no confusion!

This riveting book tells the story of Lina, a 15 year old girl living in Lithuania during World War II. Her life is uneventful until there's a knock on the door and three Soviet officers (NKVD) storm into the apartment. We follow Lina and her family through their trek in Siberia, moving constantly on the whim of the Soviet officers from one camp to another.

Lina learns some powerful lessons all the while trying to stay sane and survive with her mother and brother. She uses her intellect on a number of occasions to help save her family.

Ruta Sepetys spoke at the recent SCBWI (Society of Children Book Writers and Illustrators) conference. This story is one that Ms. Sepetys heard growing up as it happened to a family member. She does a masterful job writing emotions and turmoil in a story that's very close to her heart. I congratulate her in her efforts and on the movie deal. I'll be sure to see it in the theater!

 

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Book Review: “The Truth about Twinkie Pie,” by Kat Yeh

I saw “The Truth about Twinkie Pie” on the table in the bookstore at the SCBWI conference, but I wasn’t going to buy it. I read the back cover and it really didn’t “speak to me.” But, then I heard the author, Kat Yeh speak. The book was already sold out at the conference so I bought it on Amazon. And, boy I am so glad I did.

“The Truth about Twinkie Pie,” by Kat Yeh is a wonderfully written book about 2 sisters, Gigi and DiDi who try to make it on their own. Their mother died shortly after Gigi was born and they lived with a neighbor friend until they won a million dollars in a cooking contest Then they move to a new town where Didi becomes a hair stylist. She is 9 years older than Gigi and does everything she can to give her smart sister a good education.

Because Gigi was starting a new school, she figured she’d create her own “recipe for success” and the first thing she did was change her name. She also wanted to make friends (she didn’t have any in her old school) and she took some risks in order to do that. The story is told in 1st person from Gigi’s precocious perspective which makes the book all that more intimate. We know what Gigi is feeling and thinking in every step, which I loved.

I also loved Yeh’s recipe theme throughout the book. At the end of almost every chapter, she includs a recipe for the very thing that was described in that chapter. For example, chapter 2 describes Didi and Gigi making Twinkie Pie. The actual recipe for Twinkie Pie is at the end of that chapter. Some of the other recipes included in the book are “The Perfect Kiss,” “The Ol'Switcheroo,” and my favorite, “Recipe to lose 10 pounds.” I didn’t make any of the recipes, but they sure looked good.

Because Gigi is growing up without a mother, she questions who she is and fantasizes about finding her mother and what she would say to her if she did. She comes upon a mystery and starts uncovering the truth about herself.

This is a delightful middle grade novel and leaves you with a good feeling.

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I love doing School Readings

School readingsI've hesitated to blog about my school readings because of the children's identities on the web. But, I've been very careful that ALL photos either don't show any kids or show their backs, never their faces. I'd also LOVE to do more school readings and hope this post will reach schools that may be interested in an author coming to their school for FREE to read to their Kindergarten through 2nd grades.

In celebration of Thomas Jefferson's 275th birthday, I did a school reading to 1st graders in Calabasas. It was the first time I wasn't in the classroom itself. Instead, I did the school reading in their assembly hall with the large screen behind me so all the kids could see the illustrations.

School reading assemblyAs always, I introduce myself and ask the kids who have pets? Most hands shoot in the air but I then qualify my question with, “Who has a pet snake?” or “Who has a pet squirrel?” There can be a few who actually have a pet snake and typically the name is “slinky” or “slimey.” That always gets a big laugh.

Then, I talk about the difference between fiction and nonfiction and introduce historical fiction. At this age, the kids are learning about fiction and nonfiction, but when I explain what historical fiction is, their eyes get big with curiosity.

Kids learn about Jefferson with a school readingI ask them if they've ever heard of Thomas Jefferson. Some of the 2nd graders have heard of him, but most of the younger kids haven't. They know who George Washington and Abraham Lincoln are, but have never heard of Jefferson. I tell them that all the characters in my story once lived, albeit 200 years ago, and that I made up a story about real people, places and things. Now, I've got them!

Because the book is in a 6×9″ format, reading to a group is hard without the use of a smart board or projector screen. The kids sit in front of me, my back is to the screen, so they can see the board and view each page of the book enlarged to almost life size. It also gives me a chance to see the kids, watch what they're reacting to, laughing or concerned.

I've received thank you notes from the kids and teachers a like. If your school is interested in having me come for a FREE reading, please use the contact me form.

Have you ever heard your favorite author do a reading? Let me know in the comments.

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Book Review: “Wonder,” by R.J. Palacio

"Wonder," by R.J. PalacioWOW! I absolutely love “Wonder,” by R.J. Palacio!! I read it in 3 days, thinking about the main character and wondering what will happen to him. R.J. Palacio (R.J.) writes beautifully and ties up everything in the end.

“Wonder” is about a 10 year old boy, August or Auggie who suffers from a genetic disorder that causes facial deformities. He's been homeschooled his entire life and his parents decide he needs to start school. He's afraid to start school, with new people who will stare at him. He only wants to be viewed as an “ordinary kid.”

R.J. writes the book in 1st person which gives the reader an intimate view of what Auggie is thinking and how he's feeling. I loved watching his personality develop, how he handles people's reactions to his face and growing as a person. The chapters are short and there are eight parts to the book, each part is written in the 1st person by another character. I loved how R.J. provides insight into the characters by structuring her book in this manner.

R.J. weaves a powerful story about courage, strength and kindness. She writes about one of Auggie's teacher's homework assignment, “precepts,” which are monthly quotes to live by. As homework, each student is expected to write what the month's precept means to them. This carries her theme beautifully and adds a lot depth into the story.

As a writer, I learned a lot from R.J. She had an idea for the story, did a lot of research into the abnormality and mutation, connected herself with various nonprofits and offers a solid lessons for all to live by.

I recommend this book to EVERYONE! I know most adults don't read middle grade novels, but this book is a MUST. Congrats to R.J. for setting the bar high for fellow writers.

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What I learned at the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators Annual Summer Conference

I'm a member of SCBWI, the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators and they held their annual Summer conference at the beginning of July. I was ready to learn at SCBWI conference! Driving to downtown Los Angeles early Friday morning is definitely not an easy go, but it gave me time to think about my goals for the conference. At last year’s conference my goal was to meet as many people I could and learn about publishing and marketing a book. They didn't have many workshops on self publishing but it was still a fun experience and I met some nice people. I also bought some great kids books in their on-site bookstore, which I devoured.

This year, my goal was to hone my craft. I had 3 variations of my 2nd manuscript on my computer and was procrastinating. I felt like I needed a little help. One of the workshops I attended was called, “Meet your character: How motivation drives the story,” taught by Kendra Levin. Now, my main character is a dog named Dash, but this dog belonged to Queen Victoria. He didn't like it when Prince Albert came along.

I was stuck in my story so I leaned into my chair, closed my eyes and did the meditation exercise Kendra led us through. Imagine you're in an elevator. The door closes and the elevator starts going down. Down, down down. Finally the door opens and you see your character walking towards you. What does your character say? What does your character want? He comes across some obstacles, so how does he solve them? So I wrote down what I envisioned Dash saying to me and came up with my big idea!

After the elevator doors opened, Dash came running with a swish swish of his fur. He looked like a mop cleaning the floor. He greeted me with a sloppy lick on my face as I kneeled down and scooped him up.

“I want to be love,” he said.

“You are loved, very much,” I replied.

“But Victoria loves Albert now. How can she love me as well?”

“We are capable of loving more than one at the same time,” I said, ” Victoria can love you and Albert because her heart is big enough for both!”

“I don't know how that's possible,” he said, “But I can try to figure it out.”

It was time for me to go, so I put Dash down and waved goodbye. I saw him walk away, mopping the floor clean as he walked. He turned around.

“I love you too,” he cried, “I guess it is possible to love more than one because I have a big heart!”

Dash loves Victoria and feels threatened by Victoria’s love for Albert. but he doesn’t know that a heart is big enough to love more than one person/thing. So Dash is jealous but slowly starts to realize that not only can Victoria love both he and Albert, he can love both Victoria and Albert. Voila! Now I just need to write it!

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Book Review: “All Four Stars,” by Tara Dairman

I love writing book reviews. I also love cooking and raised a son who loves cooking, so much in fact that he became a chef! So when a friend of mine recommended a children's fiction chapter book about a girl and cooking, I ordered it from Amazon right there amidst my appetizer at dinner!

“All Four Stars,” by Tara Dairman is the first in a series about Gladys Gatsby, an 11-year old who loves cooking and writing and wants to become a food critic. The problem is her parents don't understand food, cooking or healthy eating and have banned her from cooking in the kitchen. Gladys is distraught but soon finds herself on a culinary adventure that brings her new friendships, tastes and fun in her fictional home town on Long Island, NY.

Ms. Dairman uses Gladys' voice to tell the story and boy, did she get an 11-year olds voice right down to the “fudge.” Her descriptive writing makes your mouth water while reading about the sites, smells and tastes in Gladys' life. I cared about Gladys and her dilemma, and wanted to keep reading to find out what happens.

If you have an aspiring chef in the house, boy or girl, between the ages 8 and 11, this book is one not to be missed!

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School Visit – My first reading to Elementary school students

School Visit

My First School Visit!

I took the plunge today! I had my very first school visit and reading! It's so important to connect with the kids that are the readers of my book so I needed to schedule some school visits and readings. It happened to be at the elementary school my children attended many many years ago. I couldn't believe was there and that my kids have been long gone. Most of their teachers have left or retired so I didn't know as many educators as I thought I would. The school had gone through major changes as they built new buildings for classrooms, administration and parking. They expanded the library too!

I could hear the students coming…

I was nervous as 50 first graders came into the library. They grabbed their mats and sat on the floor in front of me. On the screen was the first illustration in the book, Thomas Jefferson petting Buzzy on the grass. A couple of the students said they had read my book. Although I doubted that was true, it still made me feel good! Their innocent faces looked at me waiting for me to begin.

school visit and readingI introduced myself and told them that my own kids had gone to their school. I told them that my son just graduated college and my daughter is about to graduate from law school. “What's law school?” one of the students asked. Then I asked them if they knew the difference between fiction and non-fiction. Most of them did. I asked, “Who likes History?” All hands shot up so I continued to explain how this book is “historical fiction.” I can take real people, places and times and make up a story about them. As long as I stick to some facts.

I asked who had a pet and, again, all hands shot up. One student had a frog, one had some fish, and one even had a shrimp! Hmmm. As I read the book, I noticed all eyes on the screen and me. They were entranced and engaged in the story. My worst fear went out the window!

After the 1st graders left, the Kindergarten class came in. This was 1 class with about 15 students. They were just as inquisitive and attentive as the first group.

I'm trying to set up more readings throughout Southern California. In March, I'm visiting the Chicago area and will be doing some readings there.

Stay tuned for a contest I'll be running in March!

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3 Days to the Buzzy Launch!


buzzy launch
I decided to take a walk with the dogs this morning. I've got a lot to think about with the Buzzy launch happening on Friday. It was a crisp December morning in Los Angeles and my dog, Georgia wasn't being very cooperative in the photo. So, here's Ricky and I with our limited fall foliage.Buzzy launch

Back to the book. The Amazon Kindle version is available now and the print version will be available on Amazon on Friday. The print version is also available for book stores and libraries to purchase through Ingram Spark, a print on demand service that most traditional publishers use for their print material.

And now onto the HARD part, marketing! My next step is to get reviews written by qualified children's book reviewers. If you know someone, please pass on my information to them. But I'm ordering about 100 copies of the book so give to reviewers and donate to schools and libraries around my home.

Watch for my next update soon!

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Buzzy and Thomas book Video Trailer

We know you're going to LOVE Buzzy and Thomas as they move into the President's House.

If you would like to download Buzzy and Dickie coloring pages, please join our mailing list.

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Book Review: “Ben and Me,” by Robert Lawson

While doing research for possible historical fiction stories involving animals, I came across this great book, “Ben and Me,” written and illustrated by Robert Lawson. This 114 page chapter book was originally published in 1939. Robert Lawson was born in 1892 and was the recipient of both the prestigious Caldecott and Newberry awards. As well as writing and illustrating his own books, he also illustrated books for a number of different authors, including Richard and Florence Atwater, authors of “Mr. Popper's Penguins.”

“Ben and Me” is about Benjamin Franklin as told by his mouse, Amos. He starts the book explaining that Amos's manuscript came to him by an “architect friend.” The friend had been working on an old home in Philadelphia and discovered a tiny room “beneath a bedroom hearthstone.” The room contained “small articles of furniture, all of the Colonial Period,” and in the desk was a”manuscript book, the leaves of which, about the size of postage stamps, were covered with minute writing.” Such a cute idea for telling the story of a famous person through the eyes of an animal!

Lawson details the story of the mouse, Amos, his childhood, parents and many siblings and how Amos found his way to Benjamin Franklin's home. Of course the mouse could talk and would freely give Ben advice every day. Mr Franklin was very accomplished and Lawson describes these accomplishments in separate chapters. Amos claimed many of Ben's inventions as his own idea and made fun of the fact that Ben thought that he had discovered them!

Benjamin wouldn't travel without Amos, so he joined him in France. He hid in a special cozy “nest” in Ben's hat, making it very easy to whisper in his ear! Amos met a “royal” mouse who had been exiled from the castle. She implored him to help her return to her family and Amos couldn't resist. A revolution amongst the French mouse population was born!

This book is perfect for children aged 6-9 who can read by themselves or with help from an adult. To buy the book, click on the Amazon link.

I am giving away my hardback copy of the book. If you would like to be entered into the contest, please leave me a comment describing your favorite childhood book.

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