Friday, February 28, 2014

PPBF: Thomas Jefferson, Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Everything

Today's Perfect Picture Book Friday pick

Thomas Jefferson, Life Liberty, and the Pursuit of Everything,
by Maira Kalman, released Jan. 7, 2014.
Thomas Jefferson
Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Everything
Written and illustrated by Maira Kalman
Penguin Young Readers, 2014
Non-Fiction, ages 4-10,
40 pages

Biography, History, Curiosity

     "Thomas Jefferson had red hair and some freckles (about 20 I think), he grew to be very tall and oh, yes, he was the third president of the United States.
     "He was born in 1743 on a plantation (a very large farm) in Virginia.
     "What was he interested in? EVERYTHING. I mean it. EVERYTHING"

This newly released picture book biography chronicles the life of Thomas Jefferson, centering on his interests at Monticello in a completely kid-friendly format. It gives the standard facts about his birth, death, and major accomplishments. But the author doesn't shy away from Jefferson's contradictory nature. Specifically, the book examines his official stance on slavery vs. his practice. She includes details about his relationship with Sally Hemings in a tasteful, thought-provoking manner appropriate for any age.

What I Love:
The Pursuit of Everything is a fabulously modern example of a non-fiction picture book. It will make a great mentor text worthy of analysis. Kalman uses a variety of fonts, vivid gouache paintings, and conversational text to bring the character of our third president alive. She sneaks sidebars into the layout, grabbing readers unawares, with contemporary information which relates to Jefferson's day. She integrates current topics, challenging vocabulary, and even a bit of rhyming copy. She caught my attention with the outstandingly clever title, but she held it with skillful writing. Plus, I'm a sucker for creative endpapers. These feature the text of the Declaration of Independence.

Thomas Jefferson Builds a Library,
written by Barb Rosenstock,
illustrated by John O'Brien
1. You may still have time to visit with the author at Monticello. Take the tour of this historical home. The book launch set for February 15 was delayed because of the continued inclement weather. But Maira's original illustrations are on display. The rescheduled  book signing is TBA.
2. You can read Kristen Larson's PPBF review of Thomas Jefferson Builds a Library by Barb Rosenstock. It makes a great companion book.
3. To see a detailed account of this book's contents, view the thorough video summary by Liz's Book Snuggery.
4. AllRecipes provides a tempting fig cake recipe, which Jefferson was reportedly fond of eating.
5. According to the book, Jefferson had a passion for growing vegetables, especially peas. Grow your own pea plants with this amazingly fun, kid-tested, photographic tutorial from igardendaily.
6. Thomas Jefferson was full of new ideas. Inventivekids is a great website for the creative kids in your life.
7. SocialStudiesForKids lists links to most facets of Thomas Jefferson's life and career.

Check out all the recommended titles for Perfect Picture Book Friday
for February 28, 2014, available on Susanna Leonard Hill's excellent blog.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

IF: Space

The week has been filled with revisions, critiques, and grant writing. Time to pull an old drawing from the archives for the Illustration Friday theme, SPACE. Enjoy.

Galactic Hug sketch by Joanne Roberts

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Reading Recap: Overdue

Most Deserving of  the Hype
Aaron Becker's Journey
Every successful writer is also a reader. But I am a reader by addiction, not because of duty.

In addition to my annual 50-book goal, I attempted to read 300 picture books as part of the 300 Picture Book Challenge. I missed my goals last year, but not by much. I totaled 225 picture books and 48 Chapter and above. You can see the entire list of picture books on my Pinterest board.

Every year there are books which live up to my expectations, some which disappoint, a few fabulous random finds from the library shelves, and each year there are books which astonish me in their perfection.

I'd like to share some of my favorites:

Favorite Book , 2013
Uma Krishnaswami's
The Grand Plan
to Fix Everything
Best Series
Marie Rutkoski's
The Cabinet of Wonders
Kronos Chronicles: Book 1
Best Random Pick
Rebecca Stead's
Liar & Spy

Best Bargain Table Find
Michelle Ivy Davis's
Evangeline Brown
and the Cadillac Motel
Best Illustrations
Lenore Look's
Alvin Ho
is Allergic to Camping
and other Natural Disasters
Illustrated by LeUyen Pham
Longest Overdue
Dodie Smith's
I Capture the Castle

This year's goals are 250 picture books, 50 chapter and above, reread the Prydain Chronicles, and 2 books on the crafts of writing or illustration from beginning to end.

Thus far in 2014, I've read 6 novels, 2 books on writing, and 22 picture books.

So what were some of the fabulous books you read in 2013? What goals have you set for this year? How are you keeping on track?

Monday, February 24, 2014

Devoted to Books

“The greatest books are those we want to spend our lives with because they never cease to reward our devotion.” 

Courtesy Philipe Masson Collection

* From Book by Book: Notes on Reading and Life

Friday, February 21, 2014

PPBF: The Market Bowl

Today's Perfect Picture Book Friday pick

Jim Averbeck's The Market Bowl
The Market Bowl
Written and illustrated by Jim Averbeck
Charlesbridge, 2013
Fiction, grades 3-5,
Lexile 600L, word count 1034

Folk Tale, Bravery, Magic, Cooking

     Mama Cecile sang to Yoyo, teaching her to make bitterleaf stew.
     "Slice the bitterleaf thin as a whisper. Wash it in water, cleaning it well. Grind the egusi. Add a knuckle of njanga. Simmer some time for a fine stew to sell."
     "Mama, please," Yoyo said. "I can make my own stew. I am not a baby."

Yoyo is not patient enough to learn Mama Cecile's song or to cook the bitterleaf stew just so. She is in a hurry to get the stew to market. When her overestimation of her talents lead to a loss of income, Yoyo must find Brother Coin and convince him to return the blessing to her family's market bowl. It will take all Yoyo's cunning, charm, and cooking know-how to outwit Brother Coin in this Cameroonian folk tale.

What I Love:
I love a story with food in it. Jim Averbeck weaves plenty of cultural details into this clever trickster tale. His quirky collage paintings add a homemade charm, just like his main character's homemade stew. And what foodie can resist the included recipe for Americanized bitterleaf stew?

Collage pet portraits from Trudy K. Taylor's blog.
1. Here is a companion recipe for Guinea corn fufu from
2. Cameroon is famous for its beautiful handicrafts. ChildrenInspireDesign offers some masks that can be adapted for a more traditional look.
3. Try this tutorial if the illustrations in this book have inspired you to create a collage of your own.
4. While you're at the library, why not pick up another Cameroonian tale, The Fortune-Tellers, by Lloyd Alexander and Trina Schart Hyman.

The Fortune-Tellers

Check out all the recommended titles for Perfect Picture Book Friday
for February 21, 2014, available on Susanna Leonard Hill's excellent blog.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Mountains of Research

Participating in the Mini Non-Fiction WOW this weekend forced me to face some questions I'd been avoiding. The most important question being, "Where do I start my research?"

Sarah Gives Thanks,
written by Mike Allegra
and Illustrated by David Gardner
Here are three good places to start researching your next non-fiction picture book.

1. From Mike Allegra, author of Sarah Gives Thanks, via Susanna Leonard Hill, Find a source for unique information, like diaries and letters.

I did do a lot of research on Sarah. The first thing I did was buy books about her, including an excellent (out of print) book from the 1930s titled The Lady of Godey’s by Ruth Finely. The bulk of my research, however, was done at The Library Company, an archive in Philadelphia that had an incredible collection of Sarah’s writings. I found tons of information there that ended up in my story – information that no other author had used before.

2. From Nancy I. Sanders, who is currently posting a guide to writing NF, Buy lots of books.

Personally, I love to read children’s books on my topic because of a number of fantastic reasons:
1) These books are written in the language kids need to read . . .
2) These books often include highlights of my topic . . .
3) These books help me quickly get a good feel for my topic . . .
4) These books help round out my research . . .
5) These books make great resources to list at the back of MY picture book . . .

So go ahead and look for a whole bunch of children’s books on your topic.

[Then] gather MORE research books for your nonfiction picture book that you’re writing . . . This time, look for current nonfiction reliable books for adults on your topic. 

3. From Kristen McGill Fulton's article for The Children's Book Academy, Google it. Search news archives, historical societies, and ancestral records.

here is how to begin your research process.

1. Get an account with, it's free.
2. Google everything about the subject and print off each document.
3. Visit and search for basic marks about my subject.
4.  membership with
5. Buy every book that you can get your hands on about the subject.
6. Call local historical societies in the town/state/country where the event happened, person lived or person is buried. 
7. Get a membership with
8. begin reading.
9. Go back to the internet and search what life, weather and other historical events were happening during this time.
10. Visit the site. 


     In other words, there is no secret formula, no place to start but at the top of the pile. Dig in, and don't come up for air until you find the nuggets you can build your story around. Then dive in again, this time with more purpose. Non-fiction research is not for the faint of heart.

'Scuse me, I've got some more reading to do.

Have you been working on a non-fiction writing project? Have an organized system for documentation? A web-site you swear by? A how-to book you can't live without? Please share it with us as we persevere toward our NF goals.

Monday, February 17, 2014

The Seeds of Learning

"A well-stocked, well-staffed library is like a gardener who plants books, knowledge, and dreams and grows readers, learners, and do-ers."

Bookplate of Anna Ray Chatman,
by Frederick Garrison Hall

Friday, February 14, 2014

PPBF: Oh! What a Surprise

Today's Perfect Picture Book Friday pick

Fourth in the series, Oh! What a Surprise!,
by Suzanne Bloom
Oh! What A Surprise!
Written and illustrated by Suzanne Bloom
Boyds Mills Press, 2012
Fiction, ages 2-6, 160 words

Friendship, Giving, Behavior

"What are you doing? Are you making something?"
"It's a surprise."

Fox loves surprises! When she discovers Goose and Bear making gifts, she hopes that one of the presents is for her. But what if it isn't? Even though hope may turn to disappointment, nothing can stop Fox from making her own spectacular surprise for Goose and Bear. In the end, Fox is overjoyed to find she hasn't been forgotten after all. (from the publisher's website.)

What I Love:
In this fourth installment of the Fox, Goose, and Bear series, Suzanne Bloom gently teaches about friendship and a generous heart. With only 160 words, this story is just perfect for very little ones. The bright pastel illustrations will appeal to the youngest readers. The simple storyline will resonate with all ages.

Bloom’s text is perfectly age-appropriate both in terms of mechanics (straightforward storytelling, simple vocabulary, short sentence structure) and content...The playful back- and-forth between the characters is read aloud gold... There are numerous uses for this satisfying book: as an easy reader, as a read-aloud selection for a holiday-themed storytime, as an inspirational springboard to a session of homemade gift-making, or as a holiday gift itself (perhaps packaged with paper-heart confetti). Readers who latch onto this adorable animal trio via this title may want to also seek out Bloom’s previous books about Bear, Goose, and Fox.
Jeannette Hulick, Reviewer The Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books

Valentine's Day is the perfect excuse to make a hand-made gift.

birdseed hearts,
 courtesy NoTimeForFlashcards
Lollipop butterflies
from Skip To My Lou
More confetti fun from NoTimeFor FlashCards
Squirrel and heart paper chains,
from Brimful Curiosities

Print out these gorgeous valentines
 from illustrator Julie Olson

Check out all the recommended titles for Perfect Picture Book Friday
for February 14, 2014, available on Susanna Leonard Hill's excellent blog.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

ReviMo Revived

Fabulous news!

Meg Miller has cooked up a continuing scheme to ReviseMore. Who doesn't need to add a little revision to their monthly writing goals?

My experience with ReviMo was very profitable, so I look forward to the monthly camaraderie.

Join Meg for ReviMo part 2, February 15 & 16. No sign-ups, just hop to her blog to read her motivating posts, then pull out a manuscript and get down to business. Subscribe to Meg's mailing list so you don't miss future announcements.

Here's a useful list of tips to get your stalled manuscript moving in the right direction.

Find the original here.

Be honest. Don't you have a couple of gems collecting dust? What are you waiting for? This weekend is the perfect time to polish them for submission. See you there!

Monday, February 10, 2014

The Transformative Power of Words

"Books can truly change our lives: the lives of those who read them, the lives of those who write them."

Bookplate by Jack Butler Yates,
presumably for collector John Quinn

Monday, February 3, 2014

New Books

"The worst thing about new books is that they keep us from reading old ones."
-Joseph Joubert (1754-1824)*

Available from Stephanie Fizer Coleman

*Page Turner, newsletter of the Friends of the Whitefish Bay Library (WI)