AUTHOR SPOTLIGHT: An Interview with Lindsey McDivitt, Author of NATURE’S FRIEND: THE GWEN FROSTIC STORY

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Today I’m delighted to be interviewing picture book author Lindsey McDivitt in celebration of her debut picture book NATURE’S FRIEND: THE GWEN FROSTIC STORY. Published by Sleeping Bear Press and beautifully illustrated by Eileen Ryan Ewe, NATURE’S FRIEND: THE GWEN FROSTIC STORY is an engaging picture book biography of the life of Gwen Frostic. Told with perfect pacing, it’s a celebration not only of the beauty and importance of respecting nature, but also of the strength of living with and overcoming disabilities. This is a must-have book and would make a great addition to any collection.  It’s a charming, thoughtful read and I loved it! Now, without further ado, please join me for this special interview with Lindsey with my questions in green to fit the nature theme.

Thanks so much for joining us today, Lindsey and congratulations on your delightful picture book debut. What inspired you to write Nature’s Friend: The Gwen Frostic Story?

I so appreciate this opportunity, Laura! It’s pretty exciting to see my first picture book in print!

I grew up in Minnesota and my friends and I adored Gwen’s nature inspired greeting cards in high school in the 70’s. They matched our budding interest in the environmental movement so new back then.

When I moved to Michigan about 9 years ago I learned Gwen was from Michigan. When I later learned her printing shop was still open up north I began searching for information about her. The shop looked so fascinating in the brochure I spotted.

I love that you’ve been interested in the environmental movement since your teens and how that early love led you to choose Gwen as the focus of this book. What a great example of following your passion!

Once you decided that you wanted to tell Gwen’s story in picture book form, what was your research process like? Were there any amazing moments where you discovered something completely new to you? 

Very quickly I learned that Gwen had surmounted many challenges in her long life and I realized what an amazing role model she could be for both kids and adults. After working with stroke survivors for years in my earlier career, I knew the tenacity and perseverance required to surmount physical disability and Gwen never let it hold her back from her goals. 

I was really excited when I learned Gwen Frostic had been recognized in so many ways in her home state of Michigan, especially in an era when women were not encouraged to be business women. Gwen made millions of dollars as an artist! And at the same time she did what she could for our natural world when it was threatened. That was astonishing!

And you have continued that recognition and celebration of Gwen’s amazing life contributions through your book and now it and Gwen are being celebrated  yet again- as this amazing billboard you shared on social media attests. It’s the first billboard for a picture book that I’ve ever seen and I love it!

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Most of your text is written in creative nonfiction, but on many spreads you also have special text that is set apart in large and colorful fonts. Can you share with us why you chose this distinction? 

The special text you mention is mainly direct quotes from Gwen Frostic. The 22 books she wrote and illustrated herself were a gold mine of information. They really gave me a window into her feelings. It was the art director at Sleeping Bear Press that set the quotes apart in such a distinctive style I believe.

Eileen Ryan Ewen’s art invites the reader to step into nature through Gwen’s eyes in such a warm and charming way.  What was it like to work with Eileen?

Many people don’t realize that the illustrator is given lots of freedom to interpret the text. Author and illustrator rarely collaborate directly. In fact it’s not encouraged by the publisher. So it was fascinating to finally see first Eileen’s sketches, and then the art in color! I feel so fortunate! They are just magical—really drawing the reader into Gwen’s world.

Yes, Lindsey, that has been my experience as well.  And, Eileen did a wonderful job! She was the perfect pick for your story.

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?

There is a nature art activity in the back of the book that I hope kids will try. Also, some beautiful activity sheets are available both at my website and the publisher’s—Sleeping Bear Press.

These are WONDERFUL resources.  Be sure to check them out, dear readers!

Finally, what’s next? Are there more picture books and projects in the pipeline?  Also, where can interested readers find your books?

I do have another picture book biography under contract and I’m working on revisions with that editor. It will hopefully come out in a year or so. And many manuscripts in various states! Some I’m beginning to submit with fingers crossed—both fiction and non-fiction.

Nature’s Friend: The Gwen Frostic Story is available in all the usual venues. I’d encourage readers to please consider ordering it from their local independent bookstore if it’s not on their shelves.

Oh, yes, I do think it’s important to support our wonderful local indies whenever possible and ordering books through them is a wonderful way to do just that!

 Thanks so much for this lovely interview, Lindsey. I wish you the very best and look forward to reading more of your books.

lindsey_thumbnailLearn more about Lindsey by connecting on the web:

FINALLY…. a VERY SPECIAL OPPORTUNITY to VISIT WITH LINDSEY!
If you are an educator, scout leader, etc. and are interested a free 20 minute Skype visit for your classroom or group with Lindsey, please indicate so in the comments below.  One lucky name will be drawn from the interested parties on Sunday, 8/5/2018 at 10 pm EST so be sure to comment before then.  (Must be at least 18 to enter.) Winner will be announced the following week and then I will put you in contact with Lindsey to work out the timing.

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

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.

INTERVIEW: Author Jody Jensen Shaffer Chats about Work-for-Hire

Jody Jensen Shaffer writes children’s poetry, fiction, and non-fiction. Her poems and stories have appeared in numerous magazines including Highlights for Children, High Five, Babybug, Humpty-Dumpty, and Turtle. Recently she published two books: BLUE JEANS BEFORE THE STORE and BREAD BEFORE THE STORE (The Child’s World, 2012).  Today we’ll be chatting about her new books and her experience doing “work-for-hire”.

Laura: Welcome, Jody.

Jody: Hi, Laura. Thanks for having me!

Laura: First of all, congratulations on the publication of BLUE JEANS BEFORE THE STORE and BREAD BEFORE THE STORE. Can you tell us a little bit about them?

Jody: Sure. They’re part of a series of books that follows a common product from its beginning all the way to the consumer. They’re written for 3-5th graders and tie in nicely to curriculum that discusses consumers, producers, and natural, human, and material resources. They’re also great for studying the elements of nonfiction texts, like headings, glossaries, and tables of contents. The Child’s World did an excellent job with the books. They’re really gorgeous and accessible.

Laura: Both of these books were published by The Child’s World as “work-for-hire” projects. Can you tell us a little bit about “work-for-hire” and how it differs from other types of publishing?

Jody: With a work-for-hire book, the publisher provides the topic and finds an author to write about it. They also own the copyright. With non-work-for-hire books, the writer uses her own ideas for the subject matter of the book and then tries to find a publisher for it. In this case, the author owns the copyright.

Laura: How much did you know about your subjects ahead of time? Can you describe your writing process from research stage to final copy?

Jody: I didn’t know any more than most people about how bread and blue jeans are made, so I did a lot of research! I consulted books and reliable internet sites. Then I wrote several drafts  When I was happy with my work, I sent it to my editor. She made suggestions; I revised. We did this a couple of times. When we were both happy, a content expert reviewed my manuscript. (A content expert is someone who knows the topic inside and out and can verify that the details are accurate.) Finally, I was ready to turn over my manuscript to the publisher for layout, design, copyediting, and printing.

Laura: Do you have any more “work-for-hire” projects in the works?

Jody: Yes, I do! I have four biographies of today’s celebrities coming out this fall, and three more work for hire titles coming out in 2013.

Laura: How does a writer go about finding “work-for-hire” opportunities?

Jody: A really great source is Evelyn Christensen’s website, http://evelynchristensen.com/. Go to the “Writers” tab, then click on “List of Markets” under the “Educational Markets for Children’s Writers” heading. Click on the links she provides to learn about each publisher and what they want. It’s also a good idea to check out the publishers’ books from your library. After you’ve done your research about the publishers, send them what they ask for in their guidelines, usually a resume, cover letter, and a writing sample or two.

Laura: You also write picture books, poetry, and magazine stories and articles. Can you tell us a little bit about this aspect of your writing? Any exciting news on this horizon?

Jody: When I began writing for children in 2006, I focused all my attention on fiction picture books and poetry. I was lucky to have several poems published in reputable kids’ magazines.  And a few of my picture book manuscripts went to acquisitions (that is, were almost picked up by publishers). I started writing nonfiction for kids in 2011 and have really enjoyed it. I write both now and am very happy.

As to exciting new news, I’ve got some! tiger tales will publish my first fiction picture book, US TIME! It’s tentatively scheduled for release in 2014.

Laura:  Congratulations, Jody! I can’t wait to read US TIME! Thanks, again for stopping by.

Readers who want to learn more might enjoy checking out these related links:

http://jodyjensenshaffer.blogspot.com

http://childsworld.com/shop/new_arrivals

http://www.tigertalesbooks.com/home