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.

"Maman"

“Maman”

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?

Five Fabulous Middle Grade Series

One thing I love about summer is the summer reading program that our local library has. It always motivates my 9-year-old daughter to read more.

One of the games at the library program

One of the games at the library program

This summer during the program we discovered several great series.

1. “The Strange Case of Origami Yoda” series by Tom Angleberger
My daughter is a big fan of “Star Wars”, so I thought she would enjoy reading this series. In fact, this turned out to be her favourite series, and one I really enjoyed too. Actually, it is the only one of the series where I read all of the books.
In the first book, which was the favourite book of both of us, the story centres around a group of sixth grade kids trying to figure out whether or not the origami finger puppet “Origami Yoda” that Dwight, a loser, brings to school is real or not. “Origami Yoda” supposedly can predict the future. But can he really?
After finishing the series, my daughter was totally into making “Star Wars” origami characters. She even spent an hour making an elaborate 6 origami character birthday card for her cousin’s birthday.
The following video will teach you how to make “Origami Yoda”.

Go to the website for more “Star Wars” origami tips.

2. “The Wollstonecraft Detective Agency” series by Jordan Stratford
I wanted my daughter to learn more about some famous females in history, so that’s why I picked this series for her. I love the fact that there is back matter telling the real life stories of the main characters, as well as the stories of the characters that they meet during their adventures.
In an alternate universe, 14-year-old Mary Shelley (author of “Frankenstein”) and 11-year-old Ada Lovelace (the world’s first computer programmer) meet and form a detective agency. It’s fabulous that they use math, science, and critical thinking to help them solve their crimes.

3. “The Imaginary Veterinary” series by Suzanne Selfors
I picked these books for my daughter, because she wants to be a vet.
Dr. Woo’s Hospital for Imaginary Creatures arrives in small town Buttonville one day. 10-year-old Ben, a visitor to the town, has befriended Petal, and both of them become apprentices to the vet, leading to a series of mysterious adventures.
To read an excerpt from the first book, “The Sasquatch Escape”, click here.

4. “The Ninja Detective” series by Octavia Spencer
My daughter is learning karate and aspires to be a black belt, and so she loved the main character.
Twelve-year-old black belt Randi Rhodes is the world’s first ninja detective. Randi solves crimes with the help of fellow ninja detectives D.C. and Pudge.

5. “The Jedi Academy” series by Jeffrey Brown
Like #1, I thought my daughter would like the series, because it is related to “Star Wars”.
Middle school aged Roan has always wanted to be a pilot, but he fails to be accepted into pilot school, and instead he finds himself in Jedi Academy. The series is an imaginative mix of text, drawings, and doodles.
My daughter is writing her own version with the main character as Tegan.

Bonus: “The Anne of Green Gables” series by L.M. Montgomery
This was one of my favourite childhood books, and I was so excited when I was finally able to read it to my daughter. I was worried that she would find it a bit old fashioned, but she loves it, although at times she finds some things weird. For example, she asked me to stop saying “bosom friend” and instead use “best friend”. We often talk about how different things were 100+ years ago.
The book is about a spirited, imaginative, talkative 11-year-old orphan called Anne, who is adopted by Marilla and Matthew Cuthbert of P.E.I., changing their lives forever.
I sometimes find that reading the book aloud is a challenge, due to Anne’s long speeches and her use of big words, so you may want to get your child to read it to herself or himself.

These books are great for both girls and boys. And if the main character is a girl, don’t discourage your boy from reading it, as you may inadvertently be doing, as explained in this article.
I am always looking for new books for us to read. One series that I have just discovered is called “The Mysterious Benedict Society” by Trenton Lee Stewart, and I am looking forward to delving into it.
What middle grade series do you recommend?

Book Review: “Our Canadian Girl”

One of my favourite times of the day is reading to my daughter, age 9, before she goes to bed.
Recently we have become captivated by the “Our Canadian Girl” chapter book series. This is a series of books geared towards children ages 8-12. Every series of four books stars a girl set in different places and times in Canadian history. Though the girls may be bound by the conventions of their time, they are free spirits who don’t like following the rules, making them easier for today’s youth to relate to them.
I love these series for introducing ways of living and ideas that are unfamiliar to children in a way that they can understand them.
These are the series that we have been reading so far:

1. The Angelique series

The series starts in 1865. In book 1, “Buffalo Hunt”, Angelique is a 10-year-old Metis girl living in the Red River Valley, who is participating for the first time in a buffalo hunt. Angelique is allowed to do the job of looking for the beaded gloves that mark her father’s buffalo kills, traditionally a boy’s job.

My daughter loved this book, and asked if we could recreate the buffalo hunt this summer. So we have started to make the bags that carry the buffalo meat in them, although using scraps of material instead of the buffalo hide.

Book 2, “The Long Way Home”, in which Angelique saves their family’s buffalo runner, Michif, the skilled horse used in buffalo hunts, was also very popular with my daughter.

2. The Ellen series
The first book is set in the “dirty thirties” of the depression, and the series continues into the time of WWII.

In “Hobo Jungle”, book 1, set in Vancouver, Ellen and her family have been forced to move in with her grandpa, and Ellen is wishing for a whole lot of things that are no longer available to her: ice cream cones, a new dress, even her own bedroom. But when she meets Will, one of the out of work men who rides the rails in order to find odd jobs, she begins to see the world in a different light.

My daughter could not understand why Ellen would be afraid of using a wringer washer. I don’t think that she has ever seen a wringer washer being used, so I introduced her to the machine.

The most thoughtful and thought provoking discussion came when we were reading book 2, “The Wishing Time”. World War II has started, and one of their new classmates, Marjorie, has had to flee Shanghai, China due to the Japanese invading. Things come to a head during Hallowe’en when Ellen’s best friend Amy, a Japanese Canadian, wears her kimono, and bad memories return for Marjorie.

3. The Millie series

My daughter proclaimed this the least favourite of the series we have read so far, but I still like it, because it is set originally in Toronto and then the Kawarthas, areas more familiar to me. It allowed me to introduce, for example, something I think all Canadians should experience, the haunting cry of the loon. Check out the following video.

Though these books aren’t new–some books are already over ten years old–they will hopefully continue to captivate generations to come.

My daughter has learned so many things about Canadian and world history, geography, and social conventions through the “Our Canadian Girl” books. I have too!

We voted–yes it was very democratic–to next read the Rachel series, set in Nova Scotia in 1793 about a girl who has escaped slavery in South Carolina. Then we want to read the Penelope series, which is set in Halifax in 1917 during the Halifax explosion. Eventually we hope to read them all.
And I hope that you will check them out and enjoy them as much as we have. Let me know in the comments below if you plan to or if you already have, and what you thought.

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:

ReFoReMo

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.

Two Special Days Celebrating Books

Normally I do my posts on Wednesday, but today is a special day in both Canada and America.
In Canada, it is “Family Literacy Day”. Click here for some suggestions how you can promote literacy in your home.
In America, it is “Multicultural Children’s Book Day”. Click here for some suggestions of multicultural books you can read.

One of my most recent favourite children’s book is called “Goldy Luck and the Three Pandas” by Natasha Yim.
“Goldy Luck and the Three Pandas” is a hilarious mashup of Goldilocks and Chinese new year traditions. Watch the video trailer below for a preview.

Click here for an interview with the author Natasha Yim, posted to celebrate “Multicultural Children’s Book Day”.

The GROG blog has posted reviews of three books written by Icy Smith about Asian history, also to celebrate “Multicultural Children’s Book Day”.

Enjoy celebrating either “Family Literacy Day” or “Multicultural Children’s Book Day” or even both!

Summer Reading Program

If you live in Canada, the TD summer reading program is a great way to keep your child reading this summer. This year’s theme is Eureka.

photo(1)

My daughter loves this program. She has signed up for the fourth year in a row.

What’s the appeal? Her favourite part is playing the games that are offered after you check in with what books you have read. But she also likes entering into the draws for some terrific weekly prizes (how many draw tickets you get depends upon how many books (or pages of books) you have read.) There’s also the excitement of entering the draw for the chance to win one of three grand prizes.

And it’s all free!

While you are there, you can check out the other free programs your library has to offer. For example, my daughter went to her first drop in drama camp on Monday.
Click here if you want to find out if your library is participating.

How do you keep your child reading over the summer?