AUTHOR SPOTLIGHT: An Interview with Danna Smith in Celebration of THE HAWK OF THE CASTLE

HAWK_HJ_USToday I’m delighted to be interviewing picture book author Danna Smith in celebration of her newest picture book THE HAWK OF THE CASTLE. Published by Candlewick Press and beautifully illustrated by Bagram Ibatoulline, THE HAWK OF THE CASTLE is a non-fiction tale told in verse about a young girl and her father, the falconer at a medieval castle, as they experience the joys of taking a goshawk out for a training flight. It has received glowing reviews, including starred reviews from Publishers Weekly and School Library Journal and is a Junior Library Guild Selection.  Kirkus Reviews calls it a “rhapsodic tribute to the craft of falconry” and School Library Journal hails it as “An imaginative and unique title to introduce elementary schoolers to hawks and falconry in a medieval setting—an ideal read-aloud selection, too.”  I couldn’t agree more!  Treat yourself to the book trailer below and then join me for the interview with my questions in green to match the books lovely landscape.

Thanks so much for joining us today, Danna. Can you tell us a little bit about yourself? How did you become a writer?

Thank you for having me, Laura. For as long as I can remember I’ve enjoyed writing poetry and stories. In my childhood, I would often turn my creations into handmade paper books, stapled at the spine. I’d give them to my mother who saved them in a keepsake box like precious treasures (she has always been my biggest fan). I wrote my first poem when I was 8 years old, my first short story when I was 10 and my first picture book when I was 17. As I grew older, I didn’t have a clue about how to follow my dream of becoming an author so I went to college, got married and started my family. I kept writing in my spare time. It wasn’t until I found the organization, SCBWI, in 1996 and went to my first conference in 1999 that I got serious and gave it a real go. My first book was published in 2004 by Disney-Hyperion and many books followed such as Mother Goose’s Pajama Party, Arctic White, and Swallow the Leader. Today, writing is my full-time job and I feel so very blessed to be doing what I love.

A lovely journey, for sure.  I’m glad you discovered SCBWI back in 1996 – and for any aspiring writers, exploring the SCBWI website and attending a conference is a great way to get started!

What inspired you to write a book about falconry in medieval times?

Growing up, I was exposed to all sorts of creatures through my father who trained, bred, and rehabilitated animals. My father was also a falconer and I enjoyed going out to train and hunt with birds of prey with him. I didn’t know it at the time, but falconry is an unusual art and sport, and not something many children are exposed to. As I look back, I’m happy to have had these experiences, especially since I am a writer because I now have an opportunity to share this fascinating sport with others in a whole new way.

I chose to set the story in medieval times because I am fascinated with a time where falconry was a part of daily life. Also, as a writer who understands the need for layers in a picture book, I thought the setting would add extra appeal, what child doesn’t like castles?

I’d love it if I had a picture of my father and me with the hawks but if there is one in existence I haven’t been able to locate it. Instead, I’ll share a picture of my cousin, sister and myself holding one of the hundreds of snakes my father bred (I’m the monkey in the middle). And another of my dad at around age 23 with a couple of his birds. My dad was a falconer for 50 years and as far back as I can remember, if he wasn’t at work, he had a bird of prey on his fist.

What an amazing childhood! Your dad must be so proud of all your accomplishments and honored to be such a source of  inspiration!

 I was immediately drawn to your lovely verse – reminiscent of “The House That Jack Built” but without the cumulative element. How was your gift for verse developed? What made you decide to tell this story in half-rhyme?

Thank you, Laura. My gift for verse comes naturally, my grandmother was a poet and my sister is a songwriter. I also had an uncle who taught me the meaning of rhythm and cadence (and always had me giggling) with his off-the-cuff limericks and other forms of poetry while we clapped our hands to the beat.

I wrote The Hawk of the Castle in several formats (rhyme and prose) to see which worked best. There were many, many drafts but when I hit upon the current hybrid format which had the feel of an old-fashioned poem, I knew I had found the perfect way to tell this story.

That’s the sign of a true writer – ie. writing “many, many drafts” and in “several formats”!  

Bagram Ibatoulline’s magnificent illustrations beautifully complement text, for they truly do transport the reader to a different time and place. What was it like to work together?  

Unfortunately, I have not met Bagram Ibatoulline but working with him through my amazing editor, Andrea Tompa, was a wonderfully positive experience. Because this book is non-fiction, the falconry details and medieval elements had to be spot-on. Bagram Ibatoulline rose to the challenge and surprised me at every turn with his detailed life-like illustrations. It is truly an honor to have been able to collaborate with Mr. Ibatoulline.

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Illustrations copyright ©2017 by Bagram Ibatoulline

An honor indeed.  (And thanks for sharing this delightful spread with us today!). It’s truly magnificent. 

Finally, can you give us the inside scoop on some of your current projects?  What’s a typical writing day like for you?

Unlike many writers, I do not write creatively every day. But that doesn’t mean I am not pondering, scheming, and dreaming up rhymes and stories in my head daily (in fact, I do this so often that my family accuses me of being in Lalaland much of the time LOL!). I sit down at my computer only when an idea is worked out in my head (I need to have a beginning and an end before I start). When I’m not writing a new story, I am revising, critiquing the work of others, reviewing picture books on my blog, connecting with editors and my agent on various projects, and promoting my books.

My agent is currently submitting several of my manuscripts (crosses fingers), and at the moment I have several manuscripts in various stages of completion.

I have five Little Golden Books under contract so I’ve been revising the text and enjoying sneak peeks of covers and interior art. Getting to see the art for the first time is a thrilling part of the process! Watch for Springtime Babies (available for pre-order now) and The Colors of Winter in 2018 then Rocket-Bye Baby, Wake Up, Freight Train! and The Colors of Summer in 2019.

So many wonderful books on the horizon!  I look forward to checking them out. Thank you so much for joining us today, Danna. 

I was my pleasure, Laura! Again, thank you for having me.

Danna birds nest 2017ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Danna Smith is a SCBWI member and award-winning author of over a dozen picture books including ARCTIC WHITE, SWALLOW THE LEADER, and Little Golden Book, SPRINGTIME BABIES. Her most recent picture book, THE HAWK OF THE CASTLE: A Story of Medieval Falconry, received two starred reviews and is a Junior Library Guild Selection. Danna is currently living in northern California with her husband and two grown children where she is hard at work on her next book.  You can learn more about Danna and her books at www.dannasmithbooks.com

To learn more about Danna and her books, please visit the following:

Website: www.dannasmithbooks.com

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/authordannasmith/

Blog: www.picturebookplaylist.com

Twitter: https://twitter.com/dannasmith8?lang=en

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And the Winner is…

BigSister_LittleMonster_Cover_HiRes (1)I’m delighted to announce that the winner of last week’s special giveaway, a brand new copy of Andria Warmflash Rosenbaum’s humorous new picture book BIG SISTER, LITTLE MONSTER, published by Scholastic Press and illustrated by Edwin Fotheringham, is…

Tzippora!!!!!

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

Thanks again, Andria, for taking time to chat in this preview interview, and for offering to send one lucky winner a copy of your new book.. I’d also like to thank everyone who took the time to comment on this week’s post and to my daughter, once again, for lending me her snazzy hat for the drawing.

AUTHOR SPOTLIGHT: A Chat with Nancy Churnin in Celebration of the Release of MANJHI MOVES A MOUNTAIN

 

Please welcome children’s author Nancy Churnin as we chat about the release of her newest book, MANJHI MOVES A MOUNTAIN.  Illustrated by Danny Popovici and published by Creston Books, MANJHI MOVES A MOUNTAIN is the true story of Dashrath Manjhi who, using only a hammer and chisel and twenty years’ worth of perseverance, carved a path through a mountain to connect his poor village to the more prosperous village nearby. Kirkus Reviews praises Churnin’s prose as having “an elegance appropriate for her inspiring tale” and hails the tale as “heartening”.  Churnin’s inspiring story also has the honor of being selected for the Junior Library Guild Fall 2017 list.
Congratulations, Nancy, on this exceptional new release and thanks so much for joining us today. Let’s get started – with my questions in burnt umber to match the book’s magnificent cover.
What inspired you to write MANJHI MOVES A MOUNTAIN?
I had such a joyful journey with writing my debut book, The William Hoy Story, How a Deaf Baseball Player Changed the Game, I was inspired to find more stories of hidden heroes and heroines from diverse backgrounds. When I came across an article about Manjhi, he grabbed my heart and wouldn’t let go. Manjhi is the story of how having a vision and determination can transform any one of us from being ordinary to extraordinary. I felt driven, like Manjhi, to find a way of telling his story in a way that would resonate with kids and inspire them to make a positive difference in their schools and communities. 
And I think you succeeded!  His story his inspiring and such a good example for kids to know and follow. 
Did you always want to be a writer? Tell us a little bit about your writing journey?
 I cannot remember a time that I didn’t love books and long to add to the wondrous world of words. My parents, who came of age during the Great Depression, used the first pennies they had to buy a book — Tomorrow Will Be Better. I grew up in a world of books, with a library of shelves my father built from floor to ceiling. I also remember having my own blank notebook where I was writing ideas and fragments of stories and poems. As I grew up, I was drawn to studying literature and I fell in love with journalism, which allowed me to interview, learn and write stories on a daily basis. This turned out to be a terrific preparation for researching and writing children’s picture books.
In addition to writing picture books, you are also the Theater Critic for The Dallas Morning News. How has your interest in theater shaped your writing?
 
WilliamHoyStory_CVR-1I thank my job for the inspiration for my first book, The William Hoy Story. I wrote a story about a fascinating play, The Signal Season of Dummy Hoy, being presented by a high school in Garland, Texas. I received a thank you note from Steve Sandy, a man in Ohio. I emailed back my appreciation but asked why a man in Ohio was interested in a play in a high school in Garland, Texas. Steve told me he is Deaf and a friend of the Hoy family. We got to be email friends. Steve told me it made him sad that Deaf and hearing kids didnt know the story of this Deaf hero. He also told me of his dream that William Hoy would someday be inducted in the National Baseball Hall of Fame, where he would be the first Deaf player honored there.
Thats when I got the idea that if I wrote a book for kids, the kids would help by writing letters to the National Baseball Hall of Fame on Hoys behalf. So far, they kids have sent more than 800 letters. We are encouraging them to keep them coming in advance of the next vote in 2020. We include the address for the National Baseball Hall of Fame in the free William Hoy teachers guide. Thank you, Laura, for giving me an opportunity to talk about this and encourage the kids to participate!

 

Wow!  I just love how your interest in theater led you to write Hoy’s story and I think your campaign to have children write letters on Hoy’s behalf to the Baseball Hall of Fame is brilliant!  
MANJHI MOVES A MOUNTAIN is also based on a true story. What was your process for first researching and then writing the book?
 I read every article I could find on Manjhi. I hit gold when I discovered YouTube videos of interviews with him and interviews of people in his community. The videos also showed his village, which is such an important part of the story. I was fortunate, too, to get help from Rachel Ball-Phillips, a lecturer in South Asian studies at Southern Methodist University. She knows the story, the culture and the terrain. She made sure that my story was correct and gave notes to make sure that Danny Popovic’s exquisite watercolor illustrations accurately reflected the architecture, clothes, hairstyles and food in Manjhi’s village.
Teachers and parents are always looking for ways to tie picture books into the curriculum or extend the enjoyment with post-reading activities. Do you have any extension activities your readers might enjoy?
 Yes! I am so proud of our curriculum guide, which not only talks about themes and culture, but teaches kids simple words in Hindi and includes a recipe for roti, a flat bread that Manjhi enjoys in the book. Plus, in the back of the book itself, I talk about our Move Your Own Mountain project. We are asking kids to send us photos of something they have done, in the spirit of Manjhi, to make a positive difference in their schools and communities, so that we can celebrate what they’ve done and encourage good deeds to spread. The photos and descriptions of what they’ve done will be posted on the Move Your Own Mountain page on nancychurnin.com. Here’s a link to the curriculum guide.
 I just LOVE how, for each of your books, you offer kids concrete ways to follow through and grow. Are there more picture books in the pipeline? (I hope so!)
 I have three more picture books biographies coming out after Manjhi Moves a Mountain, for a total of five. Charlie Takes His Shot, How Charlie Sifford Broke the Color Barrier in Golf is the true story of Charlie Sifford, who waged a long, lonely fight for his right to play golf. With the help of friends like Jackie Robinson and Stanley Mosk, Charlie became the first black player in the Professional Golfers’ Association of America, opening the door for so many others. Charlie Takes HIs Shot comes out Jan. 1, 2018. Also coming out in 2018: Irving Berlin, The Immigrant Boy Who Taught America to Sing and The Princess and the First Christmas Tree, the story of the princess who introduced the annual tradition of the Christmas tree to Windsor Castle.
Readers are in for a real treat. All these titles sound great. Thank you for sharing your writing gift with the world – and for stopping by today! To learn more about Nancy and her books, visit her blog. She is also on Facebook and Twitter at @nchurnin.  
IMG_4807About the Author:    Nancy Churnin is the theater critic for The Dallas Morning News and author of THE WILLIAM HOY STORY, HOW A DEAF BASEBALL PLAYER CHANGED THE GAME (Albert Whitman & Company), on the 2016 New York Public Library Best Books for Kids list, the 2017 Texas Library Association’s 2X2 and Topaz lists and the 2018 Illinois School Library Media Association’s Monarch Award Master List. MANJHI MOVES A MOUNTAIN (Creston Books), a 2017 Junior Library Guild fall selection, came out Sept. 1, 2017. Coming out in 2018: CHARLIE MAKES HIS SHOT: HOW CHARLIE SIFFORD BROKE THE COLOR BARRIER IN GOLF (Albert Whitman) in January; IRVING BERLIN, THE IMMIGRANT BOY WHO MADE AMERICA SING (Creston Books) in spring and THE PRINCESS AND THE FIRST CHRISTMAS TREE (Albert Whitman) in September. A native New Yorker, she’s a graduate of Harvard University, with a master’s from Columbia University School of Journalism, who lives in Dallas with her husband, sons and two cats.

PONDERING SNAILS with EMALINE: Four Tips to Help the WRITER in You SLOW DOWN (and See the World Anew)

FullSizeRender (1)A special part of my recent trip to England was spending time with a friend who recently moved to London with her husband and three adorable daughters. My day with Charise began with a reading of “Goodnight Ark” to her girls’ classes at their lovely school in Hampstead, a village of London.  That was a wonderful treat in and of itself and I especially enjoyed answering the children’s questions after each reading, asked in charming British accents.

 

 

The readings ended at 10:30 and I think Charise’s youngest, who is just three, was a little sad not to get to spend the rest of the day at school with her sisters. It all turned out okay, though, because in the end, since Emaline was with us, it was she who got to show me the snails.

This is how it happened. First, Emaline and her mom gave us a walking tour of Hampstead. As we walked Charise pointed several spots that will be featured in the upcoming film Hampstead starring Diane Keaton, which I now can’t wait to see.  After our walk, it was still too early for lunch so we stopped in at their home for a few minutes.

Once home, Emaline took great pleasure in showing us her garden – and that’s where I met the snails. This particular morning there were only two. “Do you think this one’s the other one’s mum?” Emaline asked as we watched them move slowly across a patio stone. “Perhaps,” I answered. “Or maybe they’re friends. Maybe they play together. What do you think?”

Then, in quiet whispers, Emaline and I watched them for the loveliest long time. And, as we crouched there, I thought how good it felt to pause from the busyness of the day to ponder snails – how they might be related, where they might be going and what they might be doing etc.

This adorable interaction got me thinking about life as a writer. I’ve discovered over time that my most satisfying days are those in which, like Emaline, I pause from the hectic pace of it all to ponder snails (or whatever) – in other words, to allow myself to slow down enough to see the world anew.

Heaven knows, the publishing world moves at a snail’s pace, so what’s the rush, really? Especially, when there’s so much pleasure and inspiration to be gained from crouching down and seeing the world – snails and all – from the perspective of a child!

Now, in celebration of three-year-olds, snails and slowing down, I offer you:

 FOUR Tips to Help the WRITER in You SLOW DOWN (and See the World Anew)

  1. SPEND TIME with a CHILD.  There’s nothing quite as perspective changing as spending time with a little one.  Play a game together. Ask questions. Talk. See the world through their eyes.
  2. CLEAR the CALENDAR for a morning. Then find a spot, preferably outside, and be still. Listen to the sound of the wind rustling the leaves or the peals of children’s laughter. Quietly follow the trail of a chipmunk. What is he doing? Where is he going? You will be amazed at how alive and fresh everything (and you) will feel!  And, if you are anything like me, you will come away with at least a dozen new writing ideas.
  3. DEDICATE an AFTERNOON to READING PICTURE BOOKS.  Settle yourself down in the children’s department of your local library or at your favorite bookstore and READ!  Pick old favorites as well as newer titles.  Before long, those stories will transport you to the magical world of child-like wonder. Have a notebook handy because you never know what long-forgotten memory your reading will stir.
  4. Investigate AUTHENTIC CHILDHOOD WRITINGS.  These can be your own childhood writings or, if you’re like me, you’ve also saved your children’s writings.  I always ask my kids permission to read through their old school journals and story folders, and they always grant it.  I’m so happy they do, because those journals, as well as my own childhood scribblings, are precious sources of authentic kid-talk and they always inspire me.

Happy Monday all! And may we each find time to stop and ponder the snails this week.

A SPECIAL TREAT: Meeting JANE CHAPMAN!

IMG_5983 I’ve been on holiday in England (as the British say) this past week and have enjoyed every moment, from touring several London museums, to exploring the narrow streets of Salisbury and listening to a choral festival in the glorious Salisbury cathedral. Today and tomorrow we will explore Bath with its stunning Roman ruins.

But the jewel of the visit was getting to meet Jane Chapman yesterday.  Jane has illustrated over 100 picture books including all of Karma Wilson’s BEAR SNORES ON books, and, to my delight, both GOODNIGHT, ARK and GOODNIGHT, MANGER.

It was a great honor and pleasure to meet her and her husband Tim Warnes, also a talented illustrator. Thank you for having us! And now a few pictures to celebrate the day.

First, it was quite the adventure getting to her lovely house in the heart of Dorset on roads, some of which were barely one lane wide with gorgeously thick brambles, grasses, high hedges and sometimes stone walls on either side.

As soon as we arrived, we were greeted by Jane and Tim and quickly settled in with some lovely conversation on their patio. They fixed a delicious homemade lunch including a chocolate pear cake that Miss A insists I ask Jane the recipe for.

After lunch, Jane showed me their studios and then we spent a lovely long while in her studio.  She pulled out her files of sketches and finals for both books. I found it very interesting to listen as she shared her process with me. It got me thinking about process too, so you can look forward to another post on when I return.

Finally, my dad snapped that nice picture of Jane, Tim and me at the top of the post. Then it was time to go. It was a wonderful way to spend the day and I hope that our paths cross again. I’d also love to do more books with Jane!

Happy Wednesday, all!

READ. DISCUSS. DO! New Social Media Campaign Celebrates READING and BEYOND!

RDDMooseThis week my author friend Rebecca J. Gomez (WHAT ABOUT MOOSE? (Atheneum, 2015) and HENSEL AND GRETEL: NINJA CHICKS (G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 2016)) shared with me a  wonderful new reading campaign she and her co-author Corey Rosen Schwartz are working on called Read. Discuss. Do!

Read. Discuss. Do! (hashtag #ReadDiscussDo) celebrates reading beyond the book by creating sharable images that give simple ideas for book related discussions and activities. Rebecca got the the idea after creating an image specifically for their co-authored book WHAT ABOUT MOOSE? (pictured above) in the hopes that it would encourage people to think beyond the story when reading with kids. However, when Corey saw the original image, she and Rebecca decided it would be fun to take the idea further and include other authors and their books!

That’s when Rebecca contacted me to see if I’d like to create a short #ReadDiscussDo activity for GOODNIGHT, ARK.  I replied, yes, of course. And so Rebecca created an image for my book as well. Thank you, Rebecca.  The format is similar to her original except she’s replaced her website address with the hashtag #ReadDiscussDo.

RDD Goodnight ArkRebecca hopes this fun reading initiative and social media campaign will really take off, reaching parents, caregivers, teachers, librarians and more.

How can authors, parents, teachers, or librarians get involved?  By tweeting and retweeting and sharing on Facebook, Pinterest etc. using the hashtag #ReadDiscussDo. We can also post story time tips using that same hashtag.  Rebecca will also be creating more sharable images for other books. If you’d like to learn more, contact Rebecca via the “School Visits” tab of her website.

Finally, I’ll end with a little hashtag hunt.  Head on over to Twitter or Facebook, type in #ReadDiscussDo and see what you find.  Have fun!

STONE STORIES: What We Write and Why

Do you have favorite stories? Ones that have profoundly changed the way you look at the world?  My childhood favorites include Madeleine L’Engle’s A WRINKLE IN TIME and Kate Seredy’s THE CHESTRY OAK. But the story that’s had the biggest influence on how I view the world as a writer comes from the Old Testament. It’s found in the book of Joshua, chapters three and four. Here’s the gist of the story.

After wandering for forty years in the desert where God repeatedly provided for His people in amazing ways, yet repeatedly, they forgot His blessings, it was finally time to cross the Jordan River into the Promised Land. As God had done before when He parted the Red Sea so the Israelites could safely flee Egypt, He again parted the raging waters of the Jordan River so all of Israel could safely cross into the Promised Land. This time, in hopes they’d never forget His great provision, God instructed Joshua to have twelve men hoist twelve boulders from the center of the still-parted river and place them in a pile on the shore of Promised Land.  “In the future,” Joshua explained, “when your children ask why these rocks are sitting here, tell them the amazing story of how God helped us cross the Jordan River.”

The stories and poems that we write are like those stones. When read, they have the potential to leave a deep imprint in a child’s memory, serving not only as a reminder of experiences past, but offering glimpses into ways that are good, offering hope for the future, and joy in the present moment. It is my deepest wish is that the words I write, whether religious or secular, point kids towards goodness, hope, joy, and God.

What about you?  Have you ever thought about why you write?  If stories are rocks, what kinds of rocks are you writing?

(Note: This post first appeared on my blog in November 2102, but I’ve been thinking a lot lately about our mission as writers and thought it worth revisiting.)

Interview with Laura Sassi: Author of Goodnight, Ark and Goodnight, Manger

Today I’m delighted to be interviewed by Rosie on her blog Life, Army Wife Style! Thanks so much for having me, Rosie. Please pop over, dear readers, for this fun interview! Happy reading, all!

HOLIDAY GIFT IDEA: Signed (and personalized) Copies of GOODNIGHT, MANGER or GOODNIGHT, ARK!

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Can’t make it to a book signing? No problem!

I am excited to announce that this year once again, in response to requests from readers for signed copies, my local indie book store, The Town Book Store in Westfield, New Jersey, will now offer signed, personalized copies of my books for sale!

If this interests you, please call them to order the book or books you want. Be sure to explain that you would like to have them 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. Readers 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 and support a wonderful independent book store.  Their number is: The Town Book Store (908) 233-3535.

Happy Reading, all!

GOODNIGHT, MANGER Review (and a little writing advice)! Plus a GIVEAWAY!

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In celebration of the release of the board book edition of GOODNIGHT, MANGER, children’s author Lynne Marie had me on her blog yesterday sharing a little picture book wisdom that I gleaned in the process of preparing GOODNIGHT, MANGER for publication. And today she’s reviewing the book! Oh, and there’s ALSO a  GIVEAWAY! THREE good reasons to grab a cup of tea and head on over to Lynne Marie’s!  I’ll make it easy for you.  Press here. Thanks again for having me, Lynne Marie!