PICTURE BOOKS and END PAPERS: Thoughts and a GAME!

There’s something magical about picture books. For starters, their size is just right for reading snuggled together your child or grandchild. And, when done well, the intentional intermingling of image and text to tell a story is sure to captivate both child and caregiver. Indeed, a good picture book can be enjoyed again and again – with new discoveries unfolding with each reading.  

For example, it wasn’t until our seventh or eighth reading of GOODNIGHT, ARK, that my daughter discovered the toothbrush sitting on the window sill and then we laughed and laughed at the idea of Noah brushing the animals’ teeth. Similarly, it was with great joy after several readings that she later noticed that Chipmunk’s Chocolate Shoppe in LOVE IS KIND sells organic chocolate which made Little Owl’s gift seem just that much more special.

And among the many extra little details I hope readers will notice in my newest release, LITTLE EWE, are the many opportunities for counting things like frogs on logs and spider webs!

Perhaps you and your little ones have also noticed extra little details and wonders as you read and re-read your favorite books.

Well, today, I’d like to share another little extra that I never paid much attention to as a child or even during my many years reading bedtime stories with my kids. I’m talking about the end papers. For those of you who aren’t as book geeky as I am, those are the papers at the very front and end of the book. One of half of these end-spreads are pasted to the front and back covers of the book and help to secure the interior pages which have been bound together and set in the spine of the cover.  

Now that I’m aware of them, I’m smitten! I mention them at school visits and I always begin the reading of a new book by investigating them. Sometimes they are plain, but more often than not, they have illustrations or designs. And when they do, those illustrations or designs connect to the story in some fashion. 

For example, the end papers of the popular KARATE KID (Running Press Kids, 2019), written by Rosanne L. Kurstedt and illustrated by Mark Chambers provide a charming clue that the book might just be about different karate poses! And the end papers of the delightful TEA PARTY RULES (Viking, 2013), written by Ame Dyckman and illustrated by K. G. Campbell provide wonderful opportunity to predict with children just where this story will take place and what it might be about. 

Now, here’s a fun game to play your kids.  Have them find their favorite picture books and – before reading the book again – open up to the end papers and see if you they can figure out how the end paper illustrations connect to the story. To get you started, I’ve included a collage below with the end papers for four of my books. Can you guess which end paper goes with which book?  If so, what’s the connection?  Have fun! (Answers below.)

And the answers (but you still have to figure out the connection).

Have fun investigating the end papers of your favorite books and don’t forget that to make a game of figuring out the connections!

SPECIAL OFFER: Pre-Order Your SIGNED Copy of LITTLE EWE!

Will you help my new book LITTLE EWE make a BIG SPLASH when it releases next month by pre-ordering your copy today?  I didn’t realize with my first two books just how important pre-orders can be in capturing the attention of readers, booksellers, reviewers and more. As I have now learned, pre-orders are important because those sales get included in the sales numbers for the first week of the book’s release. High numbers can influence how many runs a book has, whether it makes a best-selling list and more. All good and fun stuff!

So, if you are thinking of purchasing copies of my newest book, LITTLE EWE, I would be delighted if you would consider pre-ordering it from your favorite book store.  Or…. if you want SIGNED copies,  my favorite indie has a special deal for you!

If you PRE-ORDER my new book from The Town Book Store, in Westfield, NJ, any time between NOW and February 23rd (the book’s release day), owner Anne Laird is offering a 10% discount off the retail price.  Simply mention that you want the “LITTLE EWE DISCOUNT”.

If this interests you, please call the store to order LITTLE EWE. Be sure to explain that you would like to have the book signed by the author and pass along the names you’d like included. They will take the order and do the transaction. I will then come in and sign the book or books.  Depending on where you live, you can either pick them up in-store at no extra charge, or have them mailed. There will be a shipping fee to cover the cost of mailing, but they can give you those details.

I thought this was a nice way to make signed copies available, support a wonderful independent book store, and encourage pre-orders!

You can reach The Town Book Store at (908) 233-3535. You can also email the owner, Anne, at anne@townbookstore.com.  Either way, remember to ask for the “LITTLE EWE DISCOUNT”.

Thank you, The Town Book Store, for making this possible and thank you, readers, for supporting my books!

NOTE: If you are long-distance and choose to order from the vendor of your choice, I’m also happy to make arrangements for a signed book plate to be sent to you. Just let me know.

And the WINNER of FROM HERE TO THERE: Inventions That Changed the Way the World Moves is…

I’m delighted to announce that the winner of last week’s special giveaway,  a brand new copy of Vivian’s newest book OR a picture book critique (winner’s choice!) is…

Tina!!!

Congratulations!  I will be in touch with you today so we can get the book to you.

Happy reading and writing, all! 

NOW BOOKING: Author Visits and Speaking Engagements

As part of getting reading for the release of LITTLE EWE next month, I’ve been spiffing up my blog. Part of that has included adding a new tab devoted to author visits and speaking engagements. You can access the tab using the menu option (if you are on your phone) or by simply looking at the tabs above if you are on your computer or laptop. I’m also sharing the information in today’s blog post. Looking forward to set up some great events in 2021! Here’s the info:

I would be delighted to visit your preschool, daycare, elementary school, community organization, church, MOPS or women’s group for a story time, author talk, workshop, or other creative program.

SCHOOL VISITS: For school/library visits, I can do any/all of the following (or something different that we work out together):

  • Read the story of your choice, using puppets to help with the story telling.
  • Celebrate the special ability of picture books to tell a story using both pictures and words! Demonstrate that neither is complete without the other.
  • Take the children on the engaging journey a book takes from inspiration to publication (and get them excited about their own writing too!)
  • Share interesting “artifacts” related to the book including early drafts and sketches, proofs, folded galleys and more.
  • Participate in a Q&A session 

AUTHOR TALKS: I love speaking with church groups, MOPS groups, community groups etc. Topics I’ve spoken on include (but are not limited to):

  • The power of story to connect us with others in meaningful ways
  • Behind the scenes: one author’s journey into books
  • The Gift: an inspirational message and testimony plus tips for sparking meaningful faith conversations with our children

WRITING TALKS:  I also love connecting with children’s book writers. My topics include:

  • Writing in rhyme
  • Making the most of the picture book format
  • Using feedback to improve your craft
  • Examining and employing different story structures in picture books
  • Exploring the ins and outs of the submission process 
  • and more…

For information on fees and scheduling, or any other questions you might have, contact me.

Happy Monday, all!

AUTHOR SPOTLIGHT: A Chat with Vivian Kirkfield in Celebration of her Latest Release – From Here to There: Inventions That Changed the Way the World Moves

Today I am delighted to have the talented Vivian Kirkfield as my guest in celebration of her newest release From Here to There: Inventions That Changed the Way the World Moves, written by Vivian, illustrated by Gilbert Ford and published by HMH Books for Young Readers. At 96-pages, it’s not your typical picture book, but it is a remarkable one that curious readers will gobble up. Interested in learning more? Then enjoy this interview with my questions in bold. Afterwards, be sure to check out Vivian’s generous giveaway offer.

Welcome, Vivian. Before we dig in, tell us a little bit about your journey into writing for kids.

I’ve had a love affair with picture books from the first moment my mother sat me on her lap to read me a story – The Little House by Virginia Lee Burton is the first story I remember hearing. As a kid, I loved scribbling little poems. And in school, English was probably my favorite subject because I enjoyed reading and writing so much. But I never seriously considered writing as a career until 2010 when I self-published a parent-teacher guide, Show Me How! Build Your Child’s Self-Esteem Through Reading, Crafting and Cooking. Filled with 100 picture book summaries, craft projects, and cooking activities, that book got me blogging because I wanted to spread the word and let people know about it. Blogging about picture books put me in contact with Susanna Hill and her Perfect Picture Book Friday. It was just about that time when my son gave me a very unusual present for my 64th birthday – he took me skydiving! And when my feet touched the ground, I knew that if I could do that, I could do anything. I’d already been contemplating writing my own picture books…and at the end of that year, when Julie Hedlund announced she was starting a new challenge: 12×12 in 2012, I jumped on board and never looked back.

I LOVE that sky-diving spirit! And you certainly have soared in your picture book writing career. On to my second question…

The former teacher in me is excited about the upcoming (January 19th!) release of your newest picture book From Here to There: Inventions That Changed the Way the World Moves.  At 96 pages, it’s not your typical picture book format.  Can you tell us what makes this format different and special?

That’s a great question, Laura. I’ve just received my box of author copies – and the first thing that struck me was the size of the book. Unlike the usual picture books that average around 9×12 or larger, this book is 7×10 – the perfect size to tuck in a backpack. And inside, it’s very much like the chapter books that middle grade readers enjoy – but different because it’s fully illustrated. Perhaps you might say it’s a cross between a chapter book and a graphic novel because it has the illustrations of a graphic novel, but the text of a chapter book! The best of both worlds, we hope. I love that each chapter opens with a glorious illustration on the left side and the short opening lines of the chapter on the right. This format really invites the reader in.

It certainly invites THIS reader in! Just take a look at this interior spread:

What inspired you to tackle the topic “inventions that changed the way the world moves”?

A phone conversation inspired me to write the story of Eric Wickman, a Swedish immigrant who came to the United States in 1905 with only $60 in his pocket. He spoke no English, changed jobs several times, and failed in his car dealership venture. But he loved America and had experienced the difficulty of getting around such a big country. When the opportunity arose, he bought the showroom model that no one wanted, turned it into a shuttle service, and founded the Greyhound Bus Company. I LOVE stories about how the underdog overcomes obstacles and succeeds…especially when they are true stories. After writing the story, my agent sent it out on submission and Ann Rider, an editor at Houghton Mifflin Harcourt fell in love with it and asked if I would be willing to write several more similar stories about other visionaries whose inventions changed the way the world moves. To which I replied: YES!

Wow! I’m glad she had such creative vision and clearly loves your work.

Moving on (pun intended), I think readers of all ages will be interested in your process for first researching and then writing the book. Were there any amazing moments where you discovered something completely new to you? 

One of the things I love best about writing nonfiction picture books is that I learn so much! I knew nothing about the back story/inside story of any of these inventions. And discovering the collateral tidbits were amazing. Did you know that Benjamin Franklin was in France at the very moment the first manned hot-air balloon flight took place? Yup…he was negotiating the Treaty of Paris between the United States and England and he wrote in his diary, “We observed it lift off in the most majestic manner.” 

And, have you ever wondered who built the first bike…and why? It was all because of a volcanic eruption in 1815 which spewed so much ash into the atmosphere, the climate of 1816 changed and it was called the year without a summer. That’s the summer that Mary Godwin went on holiday in Switzerland with Lord Byron and Percy Bysshe Shelley. A week of unseasonably cold rainy weather kept them indoors and Byron challenged his companions to write the scariest story. And Mary rose to the challenge and penned Frankenstein. In Germany, the oat crops failed and horses died. Since cars, buses, and trains had not been invented yet, the only way to get around was to walk. Karl Drais thought he could to find a way to move more quickly using his own two feet.

I absolutely love stories like that – finding out the why behind commonplace things…and I think kids enjoy that type of discovery as well.

Finally, teachers and parents are always looking for ways to tie picture books into the curriculum, and I think that’s especially true for a STEM rich book like this. Do you have any extension activities your readers might enjoy? 

Honestly, Laura, I think a teacher or parent could use this book for an entire semester. With nine individual picture book stories, there is a lot to choose from! Each chapter is brimming with opportunities for activities that integrate math, science, geography, art, and language – extending the learning experience. Here are just a couple:

Extension Challenge #1: Bertha Benz lived in a time when most people thought women were delicate and weak. But when her husband refused to take his gas-powered automobile for a test drive, she did! On the 65-mile road trip with her sons through Germany’s Black Forest, Bertha used her ingenuity…as well as her hat pin and garters to keep the car going. When she returned home, she gave Karl a to-do list of improvements he needed to create for the car. Bertha’s trip garnered lots of publicity – and newspapers spoke of how safe a car must be if even a woman could drive it. Business boomed as people read the reports and bought cars – Bertha’s plan had succeeded.

Ask your children:

  • Get your notebook and pencil. You’ve been asked to cover a big news story! It’s 1888 and a woman is driving a new-fangled automobile through your town. Write your article for the newspaper.
  • The first gas-powered auto had only three wheels and a hand-brake. What would the first gas-powered auto have looked like if you had designed it? Draw a picture of it.
  • Look at a map of Germany. Find the town Bertha lived in. Then find the town her mother lived in. Trace her journey on the map.

Extension Challenge #2: When Eric Wickman arrived in the United States at the age of 17, he had very little money and he spoke no English. Over the next decade, he tried logging, mining, and even opened a car dealership, but he couldn’t even sell one car. Then he started a shuttle service – driving miners from the town to the mine – 15 cents for a one-way ride and 25 cents for a round trip – it was so popular, he needed to buy another car.

Ask your children:

  • Eric is saving money to buy the new car. He can fit 10 passengers at a time in his old car. If the new car costs $100, how many round-trips (at 25 cents for each passenger) does he have to make in order to save up enough to buy the car?
  • Eric built his first bus using a truck chassis as the base. What materials would you need for a bus of your own design? Make a list and draw a picture.
  • Eric immigrated from Sweden, arrived in New York City, traveled to Arizona and then Minnesota to work. Find those places on a globe or world map and trace Eric’s journey.

Extension Challenge #3: Robert Goddard loved science fiction and dreamed of going to Mars. Climbing a cherry tree on his aunt’s farm, young Robert looked up at the sky and decided he was going to build a vehicle that would fly to the moon. He kept diaries and journals to record all of the observations he made and all of the experiments he did.

Ask your children:

  • If you built your own space vehicle, what planet would you visit and why? Which planets would be your next-door neighbors?
  • Draw a picture of your space vehicle and the clothes you would wear and what you would take.
  • You’ve arrived at your destination. Write a letter to your family. Write a letter to your best friend.

Thank you so much for having me on your blog, Laura!

The pleasure is all mine! Congratulations on this new book and I’m sure teachers and parents everywhere will want to add this to their collections.  

NOW FOR THE GIVEAWAY!!! Vivian is thrilled to offer a giveaway of either a picture book critique (rhyming or prose/fiction or nonfiction – under 1000 words) OR a FREE copy of From Here to There: Inventions That Changed the Way the World Moves. To enter, simply post a comment below letting me know that you’d like to enter. (NOTE: For the book prize, you must be U.S. resident.) The giveaway ends Wednesday, 1/13/2021, at 11:59 pm EST. THIS GIVEAWAY IS NOW OVER. Winner named here.

About Vivian: Writer for children—reader forever…that’s Vivian Kirkfield in five words. Her bucket list contains many more words – but she’s already checked off skydiving, parasailing, and visiting kidlit friends all around the world. When she isn’t looking for ways to fall from the sky or sink under the water, she can be found writing picture books in the picturesque town of Bedford, New Hampshire. A retired kindergarten teacher with a masters in Early Childhood Education, Vivian inspires budding writers during classroom visits and shares insights with aspiring authors at conferences and on her blog where she hosts the #50PreciousWords International Writing Contest and the #50PreciousWordsforKids Challenge. Her nonfiction narratives bring history alive for young readers and her picture books have garnered starred reviews and accolades including the Silver Eureka, Social Studies Notable Trade Book, and Junior Library Guild Selection.

To connect with Vivian and learn more about her books:

Website: www.viviankirkfield.com
Facebook www.facebook.com/viviankirkfield
Twitter: www.twitter.com/viviankirkfield
Linkedin: www.linkedin.com/in/viviankirkfield
Instagram: www.instagram.com/viviankirkfield

GOODNIGHT, MANGER Virtual Visit with Jane Chapman!

It began with a simple email to Jane Chapman, illustrator of GOODNIGHT, ARK and GOODNIGHT, MANGER. In my note I wished her a Merry Christmas and mentioned how blessed I felt to have several Christmas storytime events in place for December, despite the pandemic. I said how sharing our book, GOODNIGHT, MANGER, about putting a fussy, overtired baby Jesus to sleep in a very busy stable, has become one of my favorite parts of the Christmas season. I mean, really, I can think of nothing better than sharing the good news of Jesus through story! It’s how I came to know Jesus – through someone telling me the story!

Her answer was simple: “Just a thought, but if you ever want me to turn up at a virtual GM Christmas story time and the time zones aren’t too far apart, I’d love to come! xo, Jane”

My response? “Oh, my goodness, that would be so special!!! I’d love that!”

New Providence Children’s Ministry Director, Christine Voegeli, was delighted with the idea of expanding the virtual story time we had already arranged to include a visit with Jane. All the children from church were invited, as well the kids from the church affiliated preschool and kindergarten- and even a few friends and family from far away. We had a great turn out!

Here are a few pictures of the event, just for fun. Merry Christmas everyone!

Christine opened us in prayer, then I introduced the story with my puppet companion Rooster. I also had several figures from our nativity set by my side so I could share the inspiration behind the story. If you’re curious, here’s a post about that.

Next, Jane read the story to us with perfect pacing and heart. What a blessing! And we all loved her British accent, of course.

Then it was time for the drawing lesson. I’m omitting their sweet faces for privacy, but please just imagine how entranced and sweetly intense the children were, each in their own little box, as Jane instructed us step by step how to draw our mice And after each step, she asked the children to hold up their mice and they did. It was virtual engagement at its best!

And here are some finished drawings by the kids (and one by me.)

After the drawing lesson, I shared how to make the Wide Awake Baby Jesus crafts that each child had picked up at the church ahead of time. Here’s the link, if you want to make one.

We closed with a short prayer. Then, no one wanted to get off, so we all lingered a bit, enjoying each other’s company. A lovely way to spend an afternoon. Thank you to all who came, and especially to Jane, who made her special appearance all the way from England.

FUN NEWS: New Board Book Deal!

I’d like to take momentary break from all things December, to share some fun Easter-themed news. I’ve been keeping this to myself for a little while, but the announcement ran in Publishers Marketplace so I think I can finally let out exuberant, “Hip-hop-hooray!” 

Here’s the official announcement:

Thank you, Charlotte Wenger, for representing me so skillfully and kindly in the process of making this a reality.

And, thank you, Zonderkidz for saying “yes!” to this new board book that is rooted in my love of Easter traditions, but always with a heart towards pointing kids to the real meaning of Easter.

I can’t wait for you to meet Bunny as she hops through her day searching for what Easter is all about. You won’t have to wait long. The tentative publication date is February 2022! 

P.S. The bunny pictured at the top is a little wooden bunny my mother painted for me, and which was part of my Easter basket in, gulp, 1980. Both at Easter and Christmas, she always did a great job of blending fun with meaning. I’d like to think I am following in her foot steps. I now keep that Bunny in an antique printer’s tray that hangs in our downstairs powder room. It’s full of all sorts of tiny treasures from my childhood. Remind me to share more about it in another post. =)

Thanks for helping me celebrate! Now back to December. =)

THE SNOWY DAY: A Stamp-themed Extension Activity

I was delighted to discover on the USPS website that one my all-time favorite stamp designs featuring illustrations from Ezra Keats’ classic THE SNOWY DAY is still available! Later this morning (perhaps as it flurries) I will scurry down town to our local post office to see if I can get some for my Christmas cards.

When they first released in 2017 I likewise hurried down to the post office and purchased my first stamp booklet inspired by this beloved children’s book. I remember that afternoon spending the LOVELIEST little while searching for the spot in my childhood copy of THE SNOWY DAY where each little stamp scene originated.

Afterwards, I thought what a great activity this would be for kids – one that engages young readers with the story, builds visual matching skills, and is just plain fun.

So now, on this wintry December morning, I’m once again sharing a step-by-step plan for a fun stamp-themed activity inspired by THE SNOWY DAY. Enjoy!

  • Gather your supplies. Purchase a set of THE SNOWY DAY stamps from your nearest post office (or on their website) and check out a copy of Ezra Keats’ THE SNOWY DAY from your local library (or purchase a copy).
  • Explore the stamps. Spend a few minutes with your child, examining the images in the stamp collection (there are eight, that then repeat.)  Have your child describe what Peter, the boy in each stamp, is doing. This might also be a good time to explain what a stamp is. What is it used for? What does the “Forever USA” mean?  Have they ever used one? (Maybe later on they can help you affix one of the stamps to an envelope with a note or picture enclosed, and send it to someone they love.)
  • Go on a SNOWY DAY picture hunt. Now get cozy with the book and stamps close by and READ!!! As you read, see if your children can find the spots where each stamp image appears.  (It’s fun! Enjoy!)
  • Make your own SNOWY DAY stamps.  After reading, extend the experience even further, by letting your children pick their own favorite snowy day moment and make their own pretend stamps (on small paper).

Happy SNOWY DAY all!

Note: I first posted a variation of this oldie-but-goodie in December 2017. It was a favorite post then and I hope it will be enjoyed this time too.

LITTLE EWE: The Countdown is ON!!

It’s hard to believe that after all the waiting and preparation LITTLE EWE: THE STORY OF ONE LOST SHEEP will be out in the world in just over two months! With that in mind, there are three things I wanted to share with you today.

First, I wanted to let you know that I’ve seen the ARC (that’s advance reading copy) and Tommy Doyle’s illustrations are darling. Thank you, Tommy and thank you, Beaming Books, for pairing us together for this project.

Here’s a sneak peek at one of the pages:

Second, based on feedback from teachers and parents, I decided to create an activity guide to go with the book. I brainstormed and drafted ideas for what to include and sent them to the amazing team at Beaming Books. They worked their magic and I’m delighted to share that it’s now available as a free download on their website. It includes ideas for discussion, crafts, games, coloring pages and a maze! You can find that here:

https://ms.beamingbooks.com/downloads/LittleEwe_ActivityKit_web.pdf

Third, I’m hoping you can help LITTLE EWE make a big splash when it releases by pre-ordering your copy today. Here’s the Beaming Books page for LITTLE EWE which includes links to several major vendors including indie bound. Thank you. =)

Blessings, all!

ADVENT CALENDARS: A Special Christmas Memory

In the fall of 1981, a shy girl, still very homesick for her friends and life in France, moved with her family to a suburban community just outside of Minneapolis, Minnesota. She didn’t know many people and to say it was a shock to her quiet self to be suddenly plunked into a huge junior high with 300 or so kids in the seventh grade alone, is an understatement.  There had only been 15 or so kids in the whole 6th grade at her previous school!

That fall this shy girl comforted herself by reading lots of books and writing and drawing.  But good things were at work for within days of starting school that girl (who was me if you haven’t guessed) met a sweet, kind, soul who immediately made her (me) feel welcome.

This girl, whose name was Elizabeth, was shy like me and also liked to read and write.  We quickly became “kindred spirits” for, yes, we had both, of course, read and loved Anne of Green Gables.  Elizabeth made that first fall in Minnesota not just bearable but delightful!  

This brings me to my special Christmas memory that was triggered by watching this Youtube video that this special friend, who grew up to be a Lutheran pastor, posted on her social media this week. In it, she shares a special life-long collection of hers:  advent calendars!  Enjoy the video and then read about my special memory below:

Pastor Elizabeth may not remember this, but that first December of my junior high life in Minnesota, she invited me over to her house.  I don’t remember all the details of that afternoon, but I do remember the highlight!  

“Do you want to make advent calendars?” she asked. I had never heard of such a thing so she showed me one and explained how it was a special way to look forward to Christmas day by opening little windows each day.  

Then she showed me how we could make our own by using two pieces of sturdy paper. First we drew our cover sheets with festive Christmas scenes. Next, using scissors we cut out 24 flaps for windows and numbered each one. Then we attached the undersheet and put a special Christmas message or symbol or verse in each window. It was so much fun!

I’m pretty certain that my own family’s love of advent calendars can be traced back to Elizabeth. Indeed, since they were little, my kids have looked forward to their advent calendars (and the chocolate inside) each and every year.  Need proof? Here’s a tasty close up of Miss A’s 2020 advent calendar.  

Now, in a spirit of gratitude and awareness of God’s blessings, I’d like to take a moment to honor Elizabeth, who’s been such a good friend over the years – doing kind things like cheering me on in my writing journey and even sharing my books with her congregation.

Here’s my closing thought for you. Is there some special holiday or family tradition that can be traced back to a special person in your life? If so, maybe today or this week is a good time to find that person and let them know.  

Blessings of the season, all!