Five 2017 Picture Book Biographies About Inspirational Women

The year 2017 was a great year for picture book biographies about inspirational women. Their stories are inspirational, because despite the odds being against these women they still succeeded.

Here are five that my ten-year-old daughter and I enjoyed:

“Grace Hopper: Queen of Computer Code”, Written by Laurie Hallmark and Illustrated by Katy Wu
Grace Hopper broke many barriers and accomplished many firsts in the world of computer science. For example, she was assigned to work on one of the first computers, the Mark 1. Very few people had ever programmed before, so she had to teach herself how to do it. Grace Hopper was also the first to create a program that used English words instead of computer language.
In the book, you will find out where the name computer “bug” came from.
Bonus: Grace Hopper’s inspirational quotes are peppered throughout the book.
To see a Google Doodle honouring her, watch the following video.

“Margaret and the Moon: How Margaret Hamilton Saved The First Lunar Landing”, By Dean Robbins and Illustrated by Lucy Knisley
Margaret Hamilton’s curiosity led her into the world of computers and a job with NASA, eventually leading her into the role of director of software programming at a time when there were limited opportunities for women. She thought of everything that could go wrong with a spacecraft and so the scenarios were written into the code of Apollo 8-Apollo 11’s journeys. When Apollo 11 was trying to land on the moon, the computer started to overload as it was trying to do too many tasks, but it was Margaret Hamilton’s code that allowed it to focus on the landing.
You may have seen the picture of Margaret Hamilton standing next to the code that she used for the Apollo 11 moon landing. It is as tall as she is. If you haven’t seen it, it’s in the following video.

“Pocket Full of Colors: The Magical World of Mary Blair, Disney Artist Extraordinaire”, by Amy Guglielmo and Jacqueline Tourville and Illustrated by Bridgette Barrager
Mary Blair was one of the first women to land a job at Walt Disney Studios. However, her sense of colour just didn’t fit into their world of black and white. Though she did manage to get teal, aquamarine, and lime green into some of the Disney movies, eventually she left to pursue more freedom in her art, until one day Walt Disney asked her to design the “It’s a Small World” ride. Mary Blair agreed with one condition: she would be the one in charge. The ride is still one of the most beloved today.
You can check out some of Mary Blair’s creations in the following video.

“Party Gowns: The Story of Fashion Designer Ann Cole Lowe”, by Deborah Blumenthal and illustrated by Laura Freeman
Ann Cole Lowe is most famous for designing the wedding dress of Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy. However, Ann Cole Lowe was an African American, and that made her designing journey particularly difficult. For example, when she went to drop off the wedding and bridesmaid dresses, she was told that she would need to use the black entrance meant for workers. She refused, saying that if she had to do that the bridal party would not be wearing her dresses, winning the right to go through the front door.

“The Girl Who Thought in Pictures: The Story of Dr. Temple Grandin”, Written by Julia Finley Mosca and Illustrated by Daniel Rieley
My daughter told me that she studied Dr. Temple Grandin in her veterinary courses, because she is famous for inventing ways to make transportation more comfortable for livestock. Dr. Grandin is also famous for speaking about autism. She says that autism makes her “different, not less”.
The book chronicles her journey from childhood until present through all her ups and downs. The message is that everybody’s brains are unique and that the world needs everybody’s ideas.
Bonus: The book is written in entirely in rhyme.
Watch the trailer for the book in the following video.

There were lots more picture book biographies about inspirational women published in 2017, such as “Lighter than Air: Sophie Blanchard, the First Woman Pilot” by Matthew Clark Smith and illustrated by Matt Tavares and “Long-Armed Ludy and the First Women’s Olympics” by Jean L.S. Patrick and illustrated by Adam Gustavson. The trend is continuing. I am excited to see that there is a new picture book called “Hidden Figures” coming out in 2018. The book is about the four black women who helped NASA get men into space despite their limitations of the time. I recently watched the movie of the same name, and it is fabulous!

Ask your local librarian for some recommendations. Leave a comment below for me letting me know which related books you have enjoyed.
By the way, have you signed up for Storystorm 2018? It’s not too late. Registration is open until January 9.

On Kindness and Making the World a Better Place

Last Thursday I had the honour of seeing Leon Logothetis of “The Kindness Diaries” speak. He was speaking at a fundraiser for Mom2Mom Africa, a local Cambridge group. Mom2Mom’s vision is “to empower students in Tanzania, and supporters worldwide, through education”.
My dad came from Tanzania (although when he lived there it was called Tanganyika), and I am always looking for ways to support the nation. So I was there due to the Tanzanian connection. Quite frankly, I did not even know who Leon Logothetis was. It’s true! I don’t have Netflix, and, in fact, I have no cable connection at all. I can hear the gasp from some of you. But, to be honest, as a writer, I would far prefer spending my time reading.
So for those of you who are like me and who have never seen “The Kindness Diaries”, here is a trailer for it.

It looks pretty impressive, and I do hope that I can see it someday. I am already reading the book.
Despite not knowing who he is, I was impressed with Logothetis’ message. He believes that one of the biggest problems in western society is that we lack community. We no longer need each other. He also believes that a solution to this is kindness. Kindness is free. It also allows people to be seen, and we all want to be seen. Kindness says that we are not alone.
One of Logothetis’ projects is a postcard one. He gave members of the audience postcards. Our homework was to write to him on the postcard we received with an act of kindness we had done. For every postcard he receives, he will donate a book to a child, up to 10,000 books. What a fantastic idea! If you are a teacher and wish to receive postcards for your class, you can contact him on Facebook with your request.

Another thing that Logothetis talked about is the media’s fascination with the negative in the world. They put a microscope to everything that is bad. If that is the case, he asked, why could they not put a microscope to the good? To be honest, this is another reason why I stopped watching TV, especially the news, a long time ago.
This leads me to my book review, which addresses a similar issue. In “Come with me” by Holly M. McGhee, a little girl is frightened by the anger and hatred she sees on the news all over the world. So she asks how she could make the world a better place. First her papa and then her mama take her out into their community and show how her what to do. When she asks to go by herself, the parents hesitate but then decide that “They would not live in fear” and so allow her to go. She invites her neighbour, the boy across the hall, to go out into the community with her in order to make the world a better place.

This is a brilliant book and one that is appropriate for all ages. I challenge you to turn off the TV, read the book, and then go out into your community. Because, as the back cover says, “Because as small as it may seem, your part matters to the world.”
I have already sent out my postcard to Leon Logothetis telling him that my daughter and I made rocks and bookmarks with inspirational words on them for people to find. Maybe you think this is a small act, but if everyone lifted up each other with positive messages, imagine what kind of world we would live in.

What random act of kindness have you done lately? I love to read your comments.

Telling Tales Festival 2017

I wrote in my blog last week that I had submitted a micro fiction story to 50 Words Stories. Well guess what? I received word on Sunday that I was going to have my piece published on Monday! Yay! Click here to read my submission, which is called “Lost”. It’s been a while since I have been published, so this was certainly a confidence booster.
My next target is Commuter Lit. I am planning on revising and then submitting the story that I submitted to the WOW contest. For Commuter Lit’s submission guidelines, click here.
Now I know I wrote in my last blog post that this week’s subject would be books on creativity. However, I forgot that it was the Telling Tales Festival in Rockton last week, so I will push the books on creativity blog post to another week.

Melanie Fishbane introduces "Anne of Green Gables" and "Anne of Avonlea"

Melanie Fishbane introduces “Anne of Green Gables” and “Anne of Avonlea”

My daughter and I arrived just in time at the festival to hear Melanie Fishbane talk about her novel “Maud”. “Maud” is a historical fiction about writer L.M. Montgomery, who is most famous for her book “Anne of Green Gables”. “Anne of Green Gables” is one of my favourite books of all time, so I can’t wait to read this novel about Montgomery’s life, although it is to a certain extent fictionalized. However, Fishbane certainly did her homework when she researched Montgomery for the story. It took Fishbane 4.5 years to write the book, and she used many primary sources including Montgomery’s journals. I was surprised to hear that Montgomery was actually very funny and satirical. That was never my impression of her. Was it yours?

Elizabeth MacLeod

Elizabeth MacLeod

Next we listened to a talk by Elizabeth MacLeod, who wrote “Canada Year by Year” to celebrate Canada’s 150th birthday. I was surprised at how much knowledge MacLeod imparts in her book. In her presentation, she talked about people from a wide range of history starting with Alexander Graham Bell and ending with Craig Kielburger. How was she able to research it all? MacLeod was very engaging and got the audience involved with her questions and props.

Melanie Florence

Melanie Florence

The final speaker was Melanie Florence. I loved Florence’s first picture book called “Missing Nimama”. At this talk, Florence was introducing her second picture book called “Stolen Words” . This story is based on a conversation she wished she could have had with her Cree grandfather. Her grandfather attended residential school and erased all records of his life before attending residential school. They don’t even know what his name used to be. Can you imagine? I admire Florence for her ability to make difficult topics accessible to younger readers. Both books are well worth a read. I look forward to reading her soon to be published third picture book called “My Blue Suitcase”, also about residential school.
What I most like about the Telling Tales Festival is that it is still small enough that many of the author talks feel like intimate gatherings. I really enjoyed my time there, and I am already looking forward to next year’s event.
Have you been to any recent book events? Are there any new books that you have read recently that you recommend? Leave me a comment below.

Two Picture Book Biographies about Inspirational Women

Every March I discover so many fabulous new (to me) picture books through ReFoReMo!
I love picture book biographies. My daughter and I often learn about someone we have never heard about, and, if we are really interested, we can do some study on our own to learn more.
This year I will share with you two picture book biographies I was introduced to through ReFoReMo about inspiring women.

1. “Ada Byron Lovelace and the Thinking Machine” by Laurie Wallmark, Illustrated by April Chu
This book was mentioned in this blog post about comparison titles.
I was curious to find out more about one of the main characters in “The Wollstonecraft Detective Agency” series by Jordan Stratford, one of my daughter’s favourite middle grade series. (For more on that click here.)
The book does not disappoint. The illustrations are equally as remarkable as the words.
Ada Lovelace was always fascinated by numbers. As a young woman she met Charles Babbage, a famous inventor, who showed her his “Difference engine”, a mechanical calculator. If you want to see a “Difference engine” and how different it is from today’s calculators, you can check out this video.

Imagine having to take this to school!
Charles Babbage also told Ada Lovelace about his “Analytical Engine”, a mechanical computer. But this device had never been built. The “Analytical Engine” was the inspiration for the world’s first computer program, written by Ada Lovelace.
I look forward to Laurie Wallmark’s next picture book, which is called “Grace Hopper: Queen of Computer Code”.

2. “Cloth Lullaby: The Woven Life of Louise Bourgeois” (Words by Amy Novesky, Pictures by Isabelle Arsenault)
This book was introduced to me in this blog post of mentor texts for books that are layered in both art and writing. The luscious language combined with the gorgeous illustrations do indeed make this a fabulous read.
Louise Bourgeois grew up surrounded by tapestries as her mother ran a tapestry workshop. She studied math in university but after her mother died she turned to art, eventually becoming a world famous artist. She is most know for her spider sculptures. Many people find spiders scary, but Louise Bourgeois did not. Spiders are weavers, like her mother was, spinning and repairing webs.



I realized after I read the book that I had seen one of her famous spider sculptures (Maman) and even posed in front of it for a picture when I was in Ottawa.
Here is a video explaining more about the Ottawa installation.

Amy Novesky has also written about Georgia O’Keeffe, Frida Kahlo, and Imogen Cunningham.

Both of these books are also mentioned in this ReFoReMo blog post by Vivian Kirkfield for having great first lines.

Have you been following ReFoReMo? If not and you are looking for some mentor texts for picture books, I highly recommend it.

Have you found some new favourite picture books?

Book Review: “Meditation is an Open Sky”

“You know when you’re having a bad day and nothing seems to go right?” This is the first line of the children’s book “Meditation is an Open Sky” by Whitney Stewart.
I first heard of Whitney Stewart through a 12X12 webinar. I was very impressed by her, especially by how thoroughly she researches her material, travelling to places to research, and meeting people such as Sir Edmund Hillary. In fact, on her website, she bills herself as “a writer who travels the world”. Not everyone can do this, so it’s great that there are people like her with the ability to do so. It really does make her books come alive.
This book is no exception. It is based on her experiences in Tibet, Nepal, and India and with many meditation masters, including the Dalai Lama.
On Monday, my daughter came home in a cranky mood, so I decided that this was the perfect time to try the book. There are nine different meditations. I let her pick which one she wanted to try, and she decided to start with “jigsaw puzzle for wisdom”, for when you are “feeling all mixed up”. She decided that she wanted to try another one after this one, so the next choice was “bursting emotion for control”. After two more meditations, she was finished experimenting.
I asked her how she felt afterwards. She said that three of them helped, although interestingly enough the “bursting emotion for control” did not. How ironic! Perhaps more practice is needed? Her favourite was “jigsaw puzzle for wisdom”.
I did the meditations along with her. I found that the one I liked the best was “protection circle for security”, but that’s perhaps because of the current chaos in the world.
I recommend the book. It is more important than ever for our children to learn how to calm themselves. And many adults can use a lesson or two too!
If you want to learn a bit more about Whitney Stewart’s interest in Tibet, as well as her interview with the Dalai Lama, you can watch the following video.

To learn more about Whitney Stewart’s research process on one of her latest books, “Feldpost: The War Letters of Friedrich Reiner Niemann”, which is on my “to read” list, click here.
What authors are inspiring you these days? How are you keep calm and centred in the chaos of the world?

Writing Update, March and April 2016

So what have you been working on lately?

This is a wrap up of the writing projects I have just finished, as well as the writing projects that I am working on:


1. ReFoReMo
ReFoReMo is wrapping up this week. I am a winner! I analyzed and logged 87 picture books with some more to still come. I concentrated mainly on books with sparse text, and I think I have found some tricks of the trade. I am going to try them out anyway and see what people say.
Click here for a good post by Laura Purdie Salas on minimal word counts.
By the way, there is a new site for ReFoReMo. You can go to the site by clicking here and register for the newsletter.

2. Chapter Book Challenge
This is also the last week for the Chapter Book Challenge. This year I wrote two emergent reader manuscripts. One I love and one I hate. I am thinking about changing the format of the one I hate to a similar format that I used for the one I love. Can’t hurt to play around with it!
My favourite post was a very comprehensive one by C. Hope Clark about character building. To read it, click here.

3. Word by Word Book Club
We have finished reading “Save the Cat” in this Facebook group and will be starting to read “Second Sight” by Cheryl B. Klein starting the first week of April.

4. Debut Picture Book Group
The current picture book that we are studying in this Facebook Group is “One Plastic Bag” by Miranda Paul, which is excellent. I definitely hope we have an author chat with the author!
We will study “Snappsy the Alligator” by Julie Falatko in April.

5. RhyPiBoMo
RhyPiBoMo starts at the end of the week. Registration is until April 8, so you still have time.
If you want some basic tips about writing verse for children, editor Audrey Owen has a free course, which I am currently taking. Click here for more details.

By the way, if you haven’t read the stories of the winners of the 50 precious words contest, go on over and do so. You’re in for a real treat. Click here to read my entry, but I admit that my quality is not near as high. Ah, something to shoot for next year!

So what writing projects are you up to?

Alzheimer’s and Dementia Picture Books

This week’s post is a little late, because the day before yesterday was the day we put my father in a senior citizen’s home. It was a heartbreaking decision, but he could no longer be safe at home.

Because of this, I am not getting much writing accomplished this week. But one thing I am doing is keeping up with the ReFoReMo posts. So far my favourite post is this one by Tammi Sauer about structure. It gave me some ideas about a “how to” manuscript I have been working on. If you have not signed up, it’s too late to register for prizes but not too late to follow the blog posts.

I am also doing some picture book research for a personal project that I am working on. My dad has Alzheimer’s, and it is rapidly progressing, which is the reason we had to put him in a home. So I decided that I would use the time during ReFoReMo to study how Alzheimer’s and dementia is explained via picture books. I want to find out if and how I can tell my father’s story and more specifically my 8-year-old daughter’s experience of her grandpa with Alzheimer’s.

There are two books that I read that I want to recommend. The first one is called “Grandma” by Jessica Shepherd. I like this book, because it concentrates on the transition of the grandma to the senior citizen’s home and what life is like for her there. I think that’s an important topic that needs to be written about more. In many books, it is just touched upon.

My husband and I were the ones who dropped my father off the day before yesterday, so my daughter has yet to see his new place. But already she was asking questions, questions that I know came from reading “Grandma”. Can we have a tour when we get there? Who lives next to him? How big is his room? I appreciate that the book is helping her understand the transition.

I also liked that “Grandma” talked about the anger that many seniors with dementia have including my dad. There is also a back matter section if the parent wants to go into more detail with the child. The book won the Oppenheim Toy Portfolio Gold Seal Best Book Award.

Recently my daughter brought back “Mile-High Apple Pie” by Laura Langston and Lindsey Gardiner from her school library. Now this is an older book, but it won several accolades including being nominated for the Blue Spruce award, and it is still very relevant today.

I liked this book for several reasons. One is that it is set in the present time from the beginning. Many other picture books I read did a lot of reminiscing–some for far too long. The fact that it is set in the present immediately drew me into the story. Perhaps that is because I am living it. Another thing is that the grandma lives with the family, which is the situation we were in. My dad lived with us. I know that’s an unusual arrangement, so most books show the grandparent living in their own house. Therefore, “Mile-High Apple Pie” shows the necessity of having respite care from the situation. (Our recent respite care was our trip to China.)

My daughter noted that the child cried in this book. That was a complaint she had about other books. “Why does nobody ever cry,” she asked me. It is a heartbreaking situation, and there are certainly going to be tears.

Certainly these picture books are more reflective of our experience of Alzheimer’s. If you have others that you would like to recommend, please leave a comment for me.

3 Things I Learned from Elizabeth Gilbert’s “Big Magic”

Wow, my life has been a wee bit chaotic lately. I was away in Hainan, China to celebrate Chinese New Year. That was an awesome week! I even got to go to the beach.

The Beach

While I was there, I managed to post my entry for Susanna Leonard Hill’s Valentiny contest. That was an adventure: posting my story on my cell phone in a restaurant with an incredibly slow internet connection. But I got it done! If you did not get to read my entry, you can click here. And click here to read all the finalists in the contest. (Update: I’ve been awarded honourable mention. Yay!)

This week I decided that I was going to post about a recent favorite book that I recommend all creatives read, “Big Magic” by Elizabeth Gilbert.

Here are three things that I learned from the book:

1. Stop complaining about being a creative. Sure being a creative is tough. But not only is complaining about it annoying, but it also scares away inspiration. Instead start affirming “I enjoy my creativity.”
2. You are only in charge of what you create. You are not in charge of how others interpret it. And if people absolutely hate what you create, then you can politely suggest that they go and create their own art.
3. If you ever worry about your store of ideas drying up, then go watch some children for inspiration. They never stress about where ideas come from and whether or not they will have new ideas.

If you like these examples, there are plenty more like them in her book. Have you read it? Feel free to comment below about one of your favorite nuggets from her book.

Book Review: “The Story of Diva and Flea”

Are you a Diva or a Flea? I am a Flea. Why? Because Flea is a flâneur.

What, you might ask, is a flâneur? According to the book “The Story of Diva and Flea”, “ A flâneur is someone (or somecat) who wanders the streets and bridges and alleys of the city just to see what there is to see. A great flâneur has seen everything, but still looks for more, because there is always more to discover.”

Sounds about right. And as author Mo Willems points out in the video below, being a flâneur is not unlike being an author or illustrator: you never know where your road is going to take you.

However, even flâneurs have their fears. And Flea fears the inside world, most particularly brooms. Enter Diva. Diva is about to change Flea’s world and help him overcome his fears. However, Diva has fears of her own. Her fears are of the outside world, especially feet. And Flea is able to help Diva overcome her fears.

This book is recommended for ages 6-8. My 8-year-old loved it, especially because the characters helped each other overcome their fears.

Watch the video about how Mo Willems found the story, the collaboration between author and illustrator Tony DiTerlizzi, and how the illustrator added his own touch:

Is there a children’s book that you have read recently that you can recommend? Leave a comment below.

And if you have read this book, let me know if you are a Diva or a Flea.

Happy reading!
***Contest alert***
Susanna Leonard Hill has another great contest in the works! Click here to read more.

Subversive Picture Books

I want to write subversive picture books.

Huh? What does that mean, you ask?

According to Julie Danielson of “Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast”, subversive picture books are thought provoking, mind blowing or life changing. They can defy social law or make children think critically about the status quo.

One example Julie Danielson gave in her recent 12X12 webinar (one of the fabulous perks on being a 12X12 member is their awesome webinars) is one of my all time favourite books:

In “The Paper Bag Princess” Princess Elizabeth is going to marry Prince Ronald, but one day a dragon comes and smashes her castle and carries her prince off. She is left with only a paper bag to wear, but that does not deter her from setting out to save her prince. But when Elizabeth defeats the dragon, the reaction of Ronald leads her to make a new choice in her life.

What’s your favourite subversive picture book?