TeachingBooks.net

Guest Blogger: Kathi Appelt

TeachingBooks.net is delighted to welcome award-winning author Kathi Appelt as our featured guest blogger.

Each month, we ask one distinguished author or illustrator to write an original post that reveals insights about their process and craft. Enjoy!

Kathi Appelt

 

Mostly Wonderful: The Story Behind

When Otis Courted Mama

Kathi’s father Bill Cowgill, with her son Jacob (1982).

Not long after my dad died, just after Christmas in 1999, I found myself in the throes of intense grief. I had experienced loss before. Grandparents had passed away. Friends had left me, too. But I had never felt the kind of profound sadness that engulfed me when my father died. It caused my knees to buckle and for months I felt like I was slogging through quicksand, each step muddier than the one before it.

It wasn’t that my father was a perfect dad. He wasn’t. Regardless of all of his imperfections, he always loved me. When you lose a parent, you lose someone who loves you no matter what you have done or who you are or how mucked-up your relationship might have been. Most parents love their kids unconditionally, and it’s the loss of that unconditional love that is most deeply felt. This is my theory at least, and I’m sticking to it.

The cover photo is of Bill Cowgill in 1954, not long before Kathi was born.

For me, the best way to deal with any issue is to write about it. So I turned to the page, and as I wrote, the memories flooded back. Writing about my father helped me make some sense of our history as daughter and dad. It wasn’t easy; when I was only nine he left my mother and me and my sisters and started a new life, a life that included steps. Stepmother, stepbrothers. Step grandparents. Step aunts and uncles. Step cousins. Lots of steps.

There was lots of craziness, too, including the night my stepmother shot my dad in the backyard of their home in northwest Houston. He lived through it. It was a scene I hadn’t thought of in years, and if my father were still alive, I might not have thought about it again, ever. Nevertheless, all those memories eventually became a memoir, written in small snapshots and called My Father’s Summers (Holt, 2004). The scenes aren’t written in chronological order; they’re set down in the way that memories are recalled, somewhat randomly.

In the process of writing that book, other players naturally showed up. One person who arrived, almost unannounced, was my stepfather George. He was a sweet man, a lifelong bachelor, who married my mother when I was sixteen and my sisters were fifteen and fourteen. Wasn’t he brave to marry a single mom and her three teenaged daughters? I think so.

Kathi’s stepfather George Childress, with Kathi and Jacob on Jacob’s first birthday (1983).

What I remember most about George was what a good storyteller he was. He loved to tell us about his childhood in tiny Cameron, Texas. And for each and every dog he had ever owned, he had a dozen wild yarns. Our favorites were the stories he told about Clyde, possibly the ugliest dog to ever set paws on the planet.

When I finished my memoir, it seemed that I had more to say about George. Moreover, I realized that in children’s books, stepparents often get the short shrift. Fairy tales and folktales are rife with evil stepmothers and wicked stepfathers. My own stepmother had a whole litany of issues. (She did shoot my father, after all.) But even she had her kindnesses that sometimes emerged beneath the blanket of what I now understand was serious mental illness.

Like my father, George wasn’t perfect, but he did his best and his stories served as embraces. They lightened the mood when the mood was dark. They lessened the tension when the tension was high. They wrapped us all in what can only be called a family circle, even though that circle wasn’t necessarily round.

George didn’t replace my father. He took some getting used to, but he filled a space in my life. Thus, When Otis Courted Mama (HMH, 2015)—my story about Cardell, a little coyote who suddenly has a George in his life—is my attempt to offer up a stepparent in children’s books who will never shove the kids in the oven or banish them to the wolfy woods. Otis cares deeply about his place in Cardell’s life. In fact, it’s what I suspect most stepparents do: care deeply for their charges, no matter the circumstances.

Why coyotes? Unlike bunnies and lambs and even bears, coyotes are scruffy and tough and they manage to survive in pretty much every habitat. Families aren’t necessarily cute and fluffy—sweet wasn’t what I was going for. Coyotes, with their wiles and their tendency to make the best of hard situations, seemed perfect. And heck, if they can’t solve a problem, then a good howl can save the day. Jill McElmurry, with her innate knowledge of the southwestern setting, brought it all together with her whimsical art.

I was lucky to have a terrific stepfather, just as millions of other kids have great stepparents. There are a lot of Otises out there, thank goodness. May they have a million funny stories to share, so that life—sand fleas and sticker burrs aside—can be mostly wonderful.

Text, images, and media may not be reproduced without the express written consent of Kathi Appelt.

See all available resources about When Otis Courted Mama.

See all available resources about Kathi Appelt.

Listen to Kathi Appelt introduce and pronounce her name.  

 

 


TeachingBooks.net

Contests & Giveaways | January 2015

Each month we feature free and enjoyable book contests and giveaways!

We hope you will enjoy the following opportunities as well as the author and book resources available via TeachingBooks.net.

 

Win a free copy of LET’S CELEBRATE PRESIDENTS’ DAY (Elementary)

The stories of George Washington and Abraham Lincoln are told in a single book not only to celebrate the important February holiday but to compare and contrast the lives of these two towering Americans. Though they lived at different times, they shared similar problems, triumphs, and traits of leadership. LET’S CELEBRATE PRESIDENTS’ DAY is one of six titles in the Holidays & Heroes series with more titles to come.

Kane Press is giving away 10 paperback copies of LET’S CELEBRATE PRESIDENTS’ DAY. To enter to win, send an email to info@kanepress.com with the subject line “TeachingBooks Presidents’ Day” and please include your mailing address.

Deadline: January 20, 2015 (Open to U.S. and Canadian addresses)

Keep an eye on the series website for activities.

 

Win a SICK SIMON Care Package (Elementary)

Enter to win a free SICK SIMON Care Package, which includes a copy of the book, hand sanitizer, tissues, and a poster! In this clever and prescriptive picture book from Dan Krall, the author-illustrator of THE GREAT LOLLIPOP CAPER, Sick Simon learns that having a cold isn’t nearly as much fun as he thought! It’s the perfect addition to any classroom or library, especially during cold and flu season.

Simon & Schuster is giving away 10 SICK SIMON Care Packages. To enter to win, send an email to Education.Library@simonandschuster.com with the subject line “Sick Simon Giveaway” and please include your mailing address.

Deadline: January 30, 2015 (Open to U.S. addresses)

Learn tips to stay healthy with this activity kit.

 
BartonApp

Win a promo code for the Byron Barton Collection book app (Pre School)

Byron Barton books are famous for their cute, chunky illustrations and easy to read text. Interact with 4 special vehicles and learn all about the different types of trains, planes, boats, and trucks that we see all around us every day.

Oceanhouse Media is giving away 5 promo codes for their Byron Barton Collection digital book app for iOS! The collection contains 4 animated books that toddlers and vehicle-minded preschoolers will love: TRAINS, PLANES, BOATS, and TRUCKS. To enter to win,  send an email to press@oceanhousemedia.com with the subject line “Byron Barton Giveaway.” No need to send physical addresses; the prize is digital only.

Deadline: January 31, 2015 (Open to anyone)

Preview the digital book app.

 

Win a free copy of CLAUDE ON THE SLOPES (Elementary)

Claude and Sir Bobblysock go to the Snowy Mountains to swish down the powdery slopes. They throw snowballs, learn to ski, and enter a snow-sculpture contest. But when an avalanche threatens their winter wonderland, Claude must come to the rescue.

Peachtree Publishers is giving away 10 copies of this delightfully absurd early chapter book!

To enter to win, send an email to niki@peachtree-online.com with the subject line “Claude & Sir B Giveaway” and please include your mailing address (no PO Boxes please).

Deadline: January 31, 2015 (Open to U.S. addresses)

Learn more about the Claude series on the author’s blog.

 

Win a free copy of GOING HOME: THE MYSTERY OF ANIMAL MIGRATION (Elementary)

This book is like a whole unit on migration wrapped in a winning combination of easy verse, factual language, and beautiful illustrations. For animals, migration is a powerful compulsion to travel, sometimes over long distances, often skipping many meals. The ten featured species offer a broad representation of migration – loaded with additional tips for teachers.

Dawn Publications is giving away 10 copies of GOING HOME: THE MYSTERY OF ANIMAL MIGRATION. To enter to win, send an email to sandy@dawnpub.com with the subject line “Going Home contest” and please include your mailing address.

Deadline: January 31, 2015 (Open to U.S. addresses)

Bring the story to life with a Reader’s Theatre Script

 

Win a free copy of INFANDOUS (High School)

Sephora Golding lives in the shadow of her beautiful mother. They scrape by in Venice Beach, but Sephora has always felt lucky. Then she meets Felix, and the fairy tale takes an unimaginable turn.

Lerner Publishing Group is giving away 5 copies of INFANDOUS by Elana K. Arnold. To enter to win, send an email to lstille@lernerbooks.com with the subject line “Infandous Giveaway” and please include your mailing address.

Deadline: January 31, 2015 (Open to U.S. addresses)

Check out twenty topics for classroom discussion.

 

Win a free copy of PILLS AND STARSHIPS (High School)

Win a free copy of PILLS AND STARSHIPS by Pulitzer Prize finalist Lydia Millet. Millet’s not-too-distant dystopia future deals directly with the consequences of global warming and our changing climate.

Akashic Books/Black Sheep is giving away 5 copies of PILLS AND STARSHIPS. To enter to win, send an email to susannah@akashicbooks.com with the subject line “TeachingBooks: Pills and Starships” and please include your mailing address.

Deadline: January 31, 2015 (Open to U.S. addresses)

Engage students with prepared discussion questions

 

Win a free copy of A PENGUIN NAMED PATIENCE: A HURRICANE KATRINA STORY (Elementary)

Ten years after Hurricane Katrina devastated the city of New Orleans and the surrounding areas, the story of the survival of Patience and 18 other African Penguins from the Audubon Aquarium of the Americas is cause to celebrate!

Sleeping Bear Press is giving away 5 copies of A PENGUIN NAMED PATIENCE: A HURRICANE KATRINA STORY (2015 release). To enter to win, send an email to intern@sleepingbearpress.com with the subject line “Patience,” tell us what your favorite Sleeping Bear Press title is and why, and please include your mailing address (no PO Boxes please).

Deadline: February 1, 2015 (Open to U.S. addresses)

Incorporate the book into your curriculum with ready-to-use activity pages.

 


TeachingBooks.net

Announcing Our Inaugural Book Discussion!

 

TeachingBooks.net is excited to announce that on January 23rd, we will be launching our Virtual Book Discussion series. We are happy to have this opportunity to be in conversation with you as we mix work and play.

Use this link to register: TeachingBooks.net Book Discussion.

The theme of our first discussion is Immigration, a hot topic for a cold January day. We have paired the following fiction and non-fiction titles: Inside Out and Back Again (HarperCollins 2011) by Thanhha Lai; Denied, Detained, and Deported (National Geographic 2009) by Ann Bausum; and Brothers in Hope: The Lost Boys of Sudan (Lee & Low 2005) by Mary Williams. 

Please join us for a lively conversation as we explore the topic of immigration via the paired texts that highlight opportunities for reading across the curriculum. There will be three opportunities to participate on Friday, January 23rd. Discussions will be held at 8am, 12pm and 4pm CST. Get in on the fun by registering here: TeachingBooks.net Book Discussion and we will send you a reminder!

 

 


TeachingBooks.net

Guest Blogger: Lisa Charleyboy

TeachingBooks.net is delighted to welcome storyteller and social entrepreneur Lisa Charleyboy as our featured guest blogger.

Each month, we ask one distinguished author or illustrator to write an original post that reveals insights about their process and craft. Enjoy!

 

Lisa Charleyboy
Photo credit: Nadya Kwandibens

Collaborating to Create Dreaming in Indian:

Contemporary Native American Voices

By Lisa Charleyboy

 

DreamingInIndian_AnnickPressFor seven years, I’ve been sharing the stories of the many incredibly talented Native artists, writers, fashion designers, and entrepreneurs across North America on my blog “Urban Native Girl” and the online magazine I co-founded, Urban Native Magazine. So when Mary Beth Leatherdale came to me with the idea to create an anthology for youth featuring contemporary Native writers, artists, and teens talking about their experiences growing up Indigenous, I was thrilled. It was a chance to give a fresh perspective on what it means to be Native in North America and to share the stories that are so often overlooked by the mainstream media and Hollywood.

Mary Beth showed me a copy of Rookie Yearbook One (Razorbill, 2012), the book that inspired her idea. I loved how that volume mixed discussions of sensitive issues and pop culture in a dynamic, visual package. It was exactly the kind of book that I would have treasured as a teen.

Mary Beth and I started the process for Dreaming in Indian (Annick Press, 2014) by brainstorming themes. We knew we wanted to explore the serious issues that affect Native youths’ lives like racism, the intergenerational impact of residential schools, poverty, suicide, and addiction. But we also wanted to celebrate all the wonderful things about Native culture—the gifts garnered from traditional culture, the strong bonds of family and community, and the universal joys and trials of being a teenager.

A portrait of Lisa Charleyboy as part of Nadya Kwandibens’ series Concrete Indians, which appears in Dreaming in Indian

We came up with four themes for the book: “Roots,” “Battles,” “Medicines,” and “Dreamcatchers” to support the range of topics we wanted to explore. We brainstormed artists who we thought might work well within each theme and asked if they would contribute. Our goal was to showcase the distinct voices and diverse experiences of Natives across Turtle Island, dispelling the idea that there is one monolithic Native culture. We were very careful to make sure we represented—as much as possible—the voices of the Tribes and Nations from the Southwest and the Northwest coast, Inuit from the North, Métis and other First Nations across North America. 

We called out to youth on Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, and through Urban Native Magazine asking them to submit their poetry, artwork, photographs, and other writing. We received so much terrific material about IdleNoMore, revealing the enormous impact this movement had on Indigenous youth, their voice, and their Indigenous pride. 

A Louie Gong spread from Dreaming in Indian

Everyone we reached out to was incredibly supportive of the project. Like us, they thought a book like this was needed. We’re truly honored by how they shared their talents and their inspiring stories. The anthology showcases the voices of scientists, athletes, hip-hop dancers, graphic novelists, photographers, chefs, musicians, makeup artists, and artists.

Mary Beth Leatherdale (left) and Lisa Charleyboy (right)

So much of the power of Dreaming in Indian comes from the work of our incredible designer Inti Ameratsu. Mary Beth and I wanted to make sure that visual content and text were given equal weight in the book and that all the stories—whether they were by high school students, emerging artists, or internationally renowned artists such as Louie Gong and Joseph Boyden—would be treated with the same respect. Working with a shoestring budget, Inti managed to powerfully present each contributor’s story.

Putting Dreaming in Indian together was a fun, creative process. Mary Beth and I are thrilled with what a dynamic collection it is. Throughout my life I’ve confronted stereotypical and racist portrayals of Indigenous people. I’m so excited that the Native youth who read this book will be inspired to go out and strive and thrive, and that non-Native youth might be able to gain a greater understanding of the Native experience in North America. I’m truly thankful for this opportunity.

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See all available resources for Lisa Charleyboy.

See all available resources for Dreaming in Indian.

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Text and images may not be reproduced without the express

written consent of Lisa Charleyboy.

 


TeachingBooks.net

Contests & Giveaways | December 2014

Each month we feature free and enjoyable book contests and giveaways!

We hope you will enjoy the following opportunities as well as the author and book resources available via TeachingBooks.net.

 

Win a free copy of Fiesta!: A Celebration of Latino Festivals (Elementary)

Using the months of the year in Spanish and English, the award-winning team of Sherry Shahan and Paula Barragán (Spicy Hot Colors and Cool Cats Counting) join forces to create this vibrant picture book celebrating Latin American holidays. Each month of the year features a spirited poetic interpretation of a Latino holiday tradition, along with an explanation of the custom supported by colorful illustrations.

August House is giving away 5 free copies of Fiesta! to celebrate the holidays. To win, send an email to steve@augusthouse.com with the subject line “Fiesta!” and write two sentences about how you plan to use this classic picture book in your school. Please include your mailing address.

Deadline: December 15, 2014 (Open to U.S. and Canadian addresses)

Listen to Sherry Shahan’s author name pronunciation recording.

 

Win a free set of The Wolf Chronicles books (High School)

Dorothy Hearst’s engaging Wolf Chronicles novels, Promise of the Wolves, Secrets of the Wolves, and Spirit of the Wolves, are set 14,000 years ago and explore the bond between wolves and humans. Weaving in elements of mythology from many cultures, the novels are told from the perspective of Kaala, an outcast young female wolf who has been charged with watching over humans.

Simon & Schuster is giving away 3 sets of the three novels in The Wolf Chronicles. To enter to win, send an email to WolfGiveaway@gmail.com with the subject line of “Wolf Chronicles” and please include your mailing address.

Deadline: December 15, 2014 (Open to U.S. addresses)

Enjoy the reading group guide for Promise of the Wolves.

 

Win a free copy of The Code Busters Club, Case #4, The Mummy’s Curse (Elementary)

Cody, Quinn, Luke, and M.E. love playing around with codes. In fact, they love codes so much they have their own club, with a secret hideout and passwords that change every day.

Egmont USA is giving away 5 copies of The Code Busters Club, Case #4, The Mummy’s Curse by Penny Warner. To enter to win, send an email to michellebayuk@egmont.com with the subject line of “Code Busters Club on TeachingBooks.net” and please include your mailing address.

Deadline: December 16, 2014 (Open to U.S. and Canadian addresses)

Check out character profiles on the series website.

 

Win a free copy of The Time Fetch (Middle Grade)

A fantasy adventure in the vein of A Wrinkle in Time and When You Reach Me, Amy Herrick’s story begins when Edward picks up what he thinks is a rock—but is really a Time Fetch that causes a dangerous time rip. Only Edward and a band of three mismatched classmates who have touched the Fetch can see what is happening, so it’s up to them to repair the entire fabric of space and time. Now in paperback.

Algonquin Young Readers is giving away 5 copies of The Time Fetch. To enter to win, send an email to algonquinyr@algonquin.com with the subject line of “Time Fetch giveaway” and please include your mailing address.

Deadline: December 16, 2014 (Open to U.S. addresses)

Get ideas on how to incorporate The Time Fetch into your curriculum with this educator guide.

 

Win a free copy of Let’s Celebrate Martin Luther King Jr. Day (Elementary)

The familiar story of this American hero is told for children. From Dr. King’s birth to the end of his short life, the values that he stood for so powerfully and the changes that he helped to bring about are presented here in terms that children can understand and personally relate to. Let’s Celebrate Martin Luther King Jr. Day is one of five titles in the Holidays & Heroes series with more titles to come.

Kane Press is giving away 10 paperback copies of Let’s Celebrate Martin Luther King Jr. Day. To enter to win, send an email to info@kanepress.com with the subject line: “TeachingBooks Martin Luther King Jr. Day”  and please include your mailing address.

Deadline: December 20, 2014 (Open to U.S. and Canadian addresses)

Use Barbara deRubertis’ author name pronunciation to help introduce the book in your classroom. 

 

GrinchAppWin a free copy of How the Grinch Stole Christmas! digital book app (Elementary)

The Grinch, whose heart is two sizes too small, hates Who-ville’s holiday celebrations, and plans to steal all the presents to prevent Christmas from coming. To his amazement, Christmas comes anyway, and the Grinch discovers the true meaning of the holiday.

In honor of Grinchmas, Oceanhouse Media is giving away 5 promo codes for Dr. Seuss’s How the Grinch Stole Christmas! digital book app for iOS. To enter for a chance to win this classic holiday tale, please send an email to press@oceanhousemedia.com with the subject line of “Grinch Giveaway.” No need to send physical addresses; the prize is digital only.

Deadline: December 21, 2014 (Open To: Anyone)

Preview the How the Grinch Stole Christmas! book app and listen to an audio sample.

 

Win a free copy of The Cat’s Pajamas (Elementary)

Inkshares is giving away one copy of The Cat’s Pajamas by New York Times bestselling author of Big Fish, Daniel Wallace. This illustrated children’s book introduces us to Louis Fellini, a kitten who dares to dress differently in a world full of copycats.

To enter to win, send an email to angela@inkshares.com with the subject line of “The Cat’s Pajamas Contest” and please include your mailing address.

Deadline: December 22, 2014 (Open to U.S. addresses)

Explore individuality and idioms in The Cat’s Pajamas with this discussion guide.

 

Win a free copy of Escape from Tibet: A True Story (High School)

Two young brothers leave their Tibetan village to escape from the brutal and repressive Chinese regime. With India as their ultimate destination, they miraculously make their way across the treacherous Himalayas only to face the cruelty of border police and an unfeeling bureaucracy that threatens to destroy their dreams of freedom.

Annick Press is giving away 3 copies of Escape from Tibet: A True Story. To enter to win, send an email to brigittew@annickpress.com with the subject line of “Escape from Tibet Giveaway” and please include your mailing address.

Deadline: December 23, 2014 (Open to U.S. and Canadian addresses)

Share the story behind Escape from Tibet: A True Story, watch the author interview.

 

Win a free set of the Animal Helpers Series (Elementary)

Do you want to be an Animal Helper? This non-fiction series goes behind the scenes with animal caretakers to show the rewarding careers that are perfect for any animal lover! Learn how rehabilitators help a squirrel with a broken leg, or raptor centers prepare injured birds to fly again. Go into the zoo with keepers and learn about animal enrichment or research being done in aquariums on some of the world’s craziest creatures. Author Jennifer Keats Curtis worked with rehabilitation facilities, zoos, aquariums, and sanctuaries around the country to get a glimpse into their world.

Arbordale Publishing is giving away two sets of the popular series by Jennifer Keats Curtis. To enter to win, send an email to Heather@Arbordalepublishing.com with the subject line of “Animal Helpers giveaway.”

Deadline: December 31, 2014 (Open to U.S. and Canadian addresses)

Inspire animal helpers in your classroom with this teaching guide.

 

Win a free copy of Game World (Middle School)

Enter to win a copy of Game World, an adventure novel in a video game turned reality, with giant spiders, malevolent hummingbirds, a not-quite-yellow-brick road, and preteen children learning how to be heroes!

Akashic Books/Black Sheep is giving away 5 copies of Game World by C.J. Farley. To enter to win, please send an email to susannah@akashicbooks.com with the subject line “TeachingBooks.net: Game World” and please include your mailing address.

Deadline: December 31, 2014 (Open to U.S. addresses)

Learn more about C.J. Farley and Game World with audio and video author interviews.

 

Win a free copy of Gracefully Grayson (Middle school)

Debut author Ami Polonsky’s moving, beautifully-written novel about identity, self-esteem, and friendship shines with the strength of a young person’s spirit and the enduring power of acceptance.

Disney Publishing Worldwide is giving away 10 copies of Gracefully Grayson. To enter to win, send an email to childrens.marketing@disney.com with the subject line of “Gracefully Grayson/TeachingBooks” and please include your mailing address.

Deadline: December 31, 2014 (Open to U.S. addresses)

Engages students in discussion about Gracefully Grayson with this Common Core guide.

 

Win a free copy of The Last Polar Bears (Elementary)

Author-illustrator Harry Horse tells this hilarious, original story through a series of letters written by Grandfather to his grandchild back home. Horse’s winsome pen-and-ink illustrations capture the charmingly eccentric personalities of Grandfather and his dog Roo and the amusing calamities that befall them.

Peachtree Publishers is giving away 10 copies of this fanciful tale!

To enter to win, send an email to niki@peachtree-online.com with the subject line “Last Polar Bears Giveaway” and please include your mailing address. No P.O. Boxes, please.

Deadline: December 31, 2014 (Open to U.S. addresses)

Want to learn more about Harry Horse? Visit the author’s personal website.

 

Win a free copy of World Without Fish (High School)

As featured in the New York State Education Department’s Expeditionary Learning ELA curriculum, in support of the Common Core, “A wonderfully fast-paced and engaging primer on the key questions surrounding fish and the sea. Great for a classroom,” Paul Greenberg, author of Four Fish.

Workman Publishing Company is giving away 35 copies of World Without Fish. To enter to win, send an email to mrockliff@workman.com with the subject line of “World Without Fish” and please include your mailing address.

Deadline: December 31, 2014 (Open to U.S. addresses)

Add multimedia elements to your lesson using this Meet-the-Author Book Reading with Mark Kurlansky.

 

7sequelsAUDIO

Win a free set of The Seven Sequels Audiobooks (Middle School)

7 Grandsons
7 New Missions
7 Bestselling Authors
7 Extraordinary Sequels
Now hear the adventures on CD!

Orca Book Publishers is giving away 1 set of The Seven Sequels Audiobooks with the value of $199.95. To enter to win, send an email to orca@orcabook.com with the subject line “Seven Sequels Audio” and please include your mailing address. Added bonus: anyone can order online at www.orcabook.com and receive a 50% discount using the promo code: SSA2015

Deadline: January 31, 2015 (Open to Canadian and U.S. addresses)

Visit The Seven Sequels series website for book trailers, book descriptions, and author bios.

 


TeachingBooks.net

Guest Blogger: Christopher Paul Curtis

TeachingBooks.net is delighted to welcome award-winning author Christopher Paul Curtis as our featured guest blogger.

Each month, we ask one distinguished author or illustrator to write an original post that reveals insights about their process and craft. Enjoy!

Christopher Paul Curtis

Conversations with Characters

by Christopher Paul Curtis

School (Buxton, Ontario circa 1912)

I enjoy writing in the first person. I feel it gives readers immediate insight into a novel’s protagonist; from the beginning of the story they’re inside the head that person—with all the confusion and clarity that it entails. So, when I begin to write a book, I simply sit in a not-too-quiet place (usually the library) and have an internal conversation with whomever it is that’s narrating the work, and I start taking dictation. (Old-timer’s term, look it up.) It’s a fascinating process because so often I learn from this character that the tale I’m set on telling is all wrong.

For that reason, it’s always difficult for me to say when exactly a particular story began. It never ends up being what it started as—rather, it evolves. But just as a paleontologist can use fossil records to glean the roots of a particular species, I can look back at my notes and drafts and if I’m lucky, surmise how I arrived at my final story.

In the case of The Madman of Piney Woods (Scholastic, 2014), its origin can be found in the pages of Elijah of Buxton (Scholastic, 2007) and in the research I did while I explored Buxton, Ontario. As I visited that town and walked through its fields, it occurred to me that so many dramatic, heartbreaking, and uplifting stories had taken place in this small patch of Canada. I couldn’t believe there hadn’t been more written about it. My second thought was, “I’d better hurry up and get this book done before someone else beats me to the punch!” After I finished writing Elijah, I knew I would be coming back to Buxton. I wanted to learn more about the characters that inhabited that place and those pages.

Train station (Buxton, ON)

I’m aware that sequels can be tricky. An author who revives characters that readers have grown to love does so at his or her own peril. And more often than not, a sequel can actually damage the original. I didn’t want to write about Elijah again, so I advanced the story 40 years with another young narrator. Benji Alston came to me easily and soon I was listening to him about his desire to be a newspaperman.

Log cabin originally built in 1852, before restoration (Buxton, ON)

I’m unable to uncover how Alvin “Red” Stockard became an integral part of the book, but while researching Canadian life in the early 20th century I came across information on the Irish Coffin Ships. As I read the descriptions of the conditions on these vessels of death, I couldn’t help thinking about the similarities between them and the slave ships of the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries. Next thing I knew, I heard the voice of a boy with red hair, the grandson of an Irish immigrant to Canada, who insisted on being part of the story. 

As I listened to these boys, I was struck by how similar they were. There were physical and family differences, but they were both 12-year-olds on the verge of discovering their place in the world—and a lasting friendship. It’s clear to me that this is where Piney Woods began.

Students outside of the school in Buxton (Buxton, ON circa 1913)

That is, of course, an oversimplification of the creative and writing process. But as complex as it is, I find it is easiest to understand in its simplest terms. All I know is that when I’m writing a book, my characters set me straight many, many times—and before you know it I have another novel.

If you have half the fun reading it that I did writing it, all is well.

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Photos courtesy of Spencer Alexander, curator of the Buxton Museum.

Text and images may not be reproduced without the express written consent of Christopher Paul Curtis.

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Learn why Christopher Paul Curtis includes Paul in his name.

Use this Meet-the-Author Book Reading featuring Christopher Paul Curtis to introduce The Madman of Piney Woods to students.

See all available teaching resources about Christopher Paul Curtis and his books.

 

 


TeachingBooks.net

Contests & Giveaways | November 2014

Each month we feature free and enjoyable book contests and giveaways!

We hope you will enjoy the following opportunities as well as the author and book resources available via TeachingBooks.net.

 

Win a free copy of TRY THIS! 50 FUN EXPERIMENTS FOR THE MAD SCIENTIST IN YOU (Middle School)

Discover what makes science fun in this engaging book filled with weird, wacky science facts, basic principles, and 50 creative science projects that take interactivity to a whole new level. Dynamic photos and art highlight projects step by step so kids can conduct experiments with confidence and accuracy.

National Geographic Kids Books is giving away 5 copies of TRY THIS! 50 FUN EXPERIMENTS FOR THE MAD SCIENTIST IN YOU. To enter to win, send an email to eeverhart@ngs.org with the subject line of “I want to win Try This!” and please include your mailing address.

Deadline: November 14, 2014 (Open to U.S. addresses)

Use this educator guide from National Geographic for ideas about how to use the book in your classroom!

 

Win a free copy of HOLY MOLÉ!: A FOLKTALE FROM MEXICO! (Elementary)

This charming story, inspired by the Mexican folk tradition features chaos in the kitchen as the Spanish Viceroy is on his way for a surprise visit. The story of how Carlos saves the day explains the origins of molé, the popular national dish that combines chocolate with turkey, spices, and nuts.

August House is giving away 5 free copies of HOLY MOLÉ! to celebrate Thanksgiving. To win, send an email to steve@augusthouse.com with the subject line “Holy Molé!” and write two sentences about how you plan to use this classic picture book in your school. Please include your mailing address.

Deadline: November 14, 2014 (Open to U.S. and Canadian addresses)

Strengthen student comprehension with this lesson plan from August House!

 

Win a free copy of GET HAPPY (High School)

In this poignant, realistic, contemporary YA, a young songwriter builds a substitute family with her friends in place of the broken family she grew up with.

Egmont USA is giving away 5 copies of GET HAPPY by Mary Amato. To enter to win, send an email to michellebayuk@egmont.com with the subject line of “Get Happy on TeachingBooks.net” and please include your mailing address.

Deadline: November 18, 2014 (Open to U.S. and Canadian addresses)

Learn more about author Mary Amato and her books, visit her personal website!

 

Win a free copy of NIGHTMARES! (Elementary)

Jason Segel, multitalented actor, writer, and musician, teams up with New York Times bestselling author Kirsten Miller for the hilariously frightening, middle-grade novel NIGHTMARES!, the first book in a trilogy about a boy named Charlie and a group of kids who must face their fears to save their town.

Charlie Laird has several problems. 1. His dad married a woman he is sure moonlights as a witch. 2. He had to move into her purple mansion, which is NOT a place you want to find yourself after dark. 3. He can’t remember the last time sleeping wasn’t a nightmarish prospect. Like even a nap. What Charlie doesn’t know is that his problems are about to get a whole lot more real. Nightmares can ruin a good night’s sleep, but when they start slipping out of your dreams and into the waking world—that’s a line that should never be crossed. And when your worst nightmares start to come true . . . well, that’s something only Charlie can face. And he’s going to need all the help he can get, or it might just be lights-out for Charlie Laird. For good.

Random House Children’s Books is giving away 200 copies of NIGHTMARES! and a NIGHTMARES! classroom kit. All you need to do is read it and if you like it, send us a review quote that we can use. To enter to win, send an email to Schoolandlibrarymarketing@randomhouse.com with the subject line of “Nightmares! on TeachingBooks” and please include your mailing address.

Deadline: November 28, 2014 or while supplies last (Open to U.S. addresses)

For more information about the book, the authors and for activities and videos check out the book website!

 

blackiceWin a free copy of BLACK ICE and a free copy of AFTERWORLDS (High School)

Win two of the hottest teen titles from best-selling authors Becca Fitzpatrick and Scott Westerfeld!

BLACK ICE takes readers on a heart-pounding journey through the beautiful snowy mountains of Wyoming…where danger lurks behind every corner.

AFTERWORLDS is a thought-provoking and suspenseful contemporary romantic novel-within-a-novel that you won’t want to put down.

Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing is giving away 10 copies each of Becca Fitzpatrick’s BLACK ICE and Scott Westerfeld’s AFTERWORLDS. To enter, e-mail Education.Library@SimonandSchuster.com with the subject line “Two Teen Titles” and please include your mailing address.

Deadline: November 30, 2014 (Open to U.S. addresses)

Watch videos related to AFTERWORLDS, and videos related to BLACK ICE created by Simon & Schuster!

 

Win a free copy of THE SANTA TRAP (Elementary)

Bradley Bartleby is bad. Very bad. All the adults in Bradley’s life are running scared – except for Santa Claus, who refuses to give him anything but socks. Outraged, Bradley hatches a dastardly plan that could ruin Christmas!

Peachtree Publishers is giving away 10 copies of this Christmas story with a twist!

Enter to win your copy by sending an email to niki@peachtree-online.com with the subject line “Santa Trap Giveaway” and please include your mailing address. No PO Boxes, please.

Deadline: November 30, 2014 (Open to U.S. addresses.)

Have you ever wanted to catch Santa? So has author Jonathan Emmett! Check out his video!

 

Win a free signed copy of FRANK EINSTEIN AND THE ANTIMATTER MOTOR! (Middle School)

Science fact meets science fiction in FRANK EINSTEIN AND THE ANTIMATTER MOTOR, the first book in a new middle-grade series from New York Times bestselling team Jon Scieszka and Brian Biggs. Combining real science (and robots) with adventure and humor, this series encourages children to question the way things work, and discover how they, too, can experiment with science.

Abrams Amulet is giving away 3 signed copies of FRANK EINSTEIN AND THE ANTIMATTER MOTOR. To enter to win, send an email to lmihalick@abramsbooks.com with the subject line “Frank Einstein signed book giveaway” and please include your mailing address.

Deadline: November 30, 2014 (Open to U.S. addresses)

Have fun across the curriculum with this lesson plan from Abrams!

 

DidIEverTellYouWin a free copy of DID I EVER TELL YOU HOW LUCKY YOU ARE? book app! (Elementary)

This classic book provides the perfect antidote for readers of all ages who are feeling a bit down in the dumps. Thanks to Dr. Seuss’s trademark rhymes and signature illustrations, readers will, without a doubt, realize just how lucky they truly are. It’s a great way to bring laughter and gratitude to your entire family.

In honor of Thanksgiving, Oceanhouse Media is giving away 5 promo codes for Dr. Seuss’s DID I EVER TELL YOU HOW LUCKY YOU ARE? digital book app for iOS! To enter to win, please send an email to press@oceanhousemedia.com with the subject line of “Lucky Giveaway.” No need to send mailing addresses; the prize is digital only.

Deadline: November 30, 2014 (Open to everyone)

Preview the book app from Oceanhouse Media!

 

MySELF Bookshelf SetWin a free complete set of the MySELF Bookshelf Series (Elementary)

MySELF Bookshelf (12 titles) is a delightful collection of illustrated stories that encourage social awareness, self-worth, and strong relationships with family and friends. These have been found to be key components in developing social and emotional learning skills at a young age.

Norwood House Press is giving away the complete series of MySELF Bookshelf (12 titles). To enter to win, send an email to info@norwoodhousepress.com with the subject line “MySELF Bookshelf” and please include your mailing address.

Deadline: December 1, 2014 (Open to U.S. and Canadian addresses)

Each book contains a Reader’s Theater script and correlations to the Common Core!

 

Win a free copy of RAIN REIGN (Middle School)

In her most powerful novel yet, Newbery Honor author Ann M. Martin tells the story of a girl with mental/emotional challenges and the dog she loves.

Macmillan Children’s Publishing Group is giving away 10 copies of RAIN REIGN by Ann M. Martin. To enter to win, send an email to katie.halata@macmillan.com with the subject line of “TeachingBooks.net Rain Reign Giveaway” and please include your mailing address.

Deadline: December 1, 2014 (Open to U.S and Canadian addresses)

Facilitate conversations about the book with these discussion questions from Macmillan!

 

Win a free copy of THE MAYFLOWER (Elementary)

THE MAYFLOWER is a beautifully illustrated picture book that narrates the historic journey of the 102 passengers aboard the Mayflower and their settlement at Plymouth Harbor. Dramatic gouache paintings fill this story with warm color and detail. A timeline lists the sequence of events and elaborates on the evolution of the Thanksgiving holiday.

Holiday House is giving away 5 copies of THE MAYFLOWER. To enter to win, send an email to achurchward@holidayhouse.com with the subject line of “Mayflower giveaway” and please include your mailing address.

Deadline: December 5, 2014 (Open to U.S. addresses)

Improve student engagement with these classroom activities from Holiday House!

 

 


TeachingBooks.net

Guest Bloggers: Jen Bryant and Melissa Sweet

TeachingBooks.net is delighted to welcome award-winning author, Jen Bryant, and award-winning illustrator, Melissa Sweet as our featured guest bloggers.

Each month, we ask distinguished authors or illustrators to write an original post that reveals insights about their process and craft. Enjoy!

 

Jen Bryant (left, photo by Amy Dragoo) and Melissa Sweet (right)

 

Creating The Right Word: Roget and His Thesaurus

Jen Bryant and Melissa Sweet, the awarding winning author-illustrator team that brought readers A Splash of Red: The Life and Art of Horace Pippin (Knopf, 2013) and A River of Words: The Story of William Carlos Williams (Eerdmans, 2008), respond to questions about their latest splendid collaboration, a picture book biography titled The Right Word: Roget and His Thesaurus (Eerdmans, 2014).

———————————

  • What was the most surprising thing you discovered about Peter Mark Roget in the course of your research on the book?

Jen Bryant (author): For me, it was the sheer number of fields in which Roget developed a working knowledge, and in which he also had significant influence. Roget was interested in just about everything and wrote papers, articles, and books on subjects ranging from botany to mathematics and optics to public health. Today, when most people super-specialize in a field or a skill set, this may seem unfocused. But in Roget’s time, when there was no such thing as a professional scientist, this broad intellectual life was encouraged and admired.

Melissa Sweet (illustrator): There were many surprises. The first one was discovering how delicate Peter Roget’s original wordbook is. It’s diminutive and the pages are of very thin paper. I expected a big clunky ledger-sized book filled with lovely cursive lettering, but Roget’s handwriting was hard to read. In all my research, this is the most thrilling primary source I ever held in my hands.

Another surprising moment was when I got a copy of the original Thesaurus and saw how Roget classified his words. For a logophile, seeing his taxonomy is as good as it gets.

 

  • What was the most difficult part of creating The Right Word?

JB: There were many tough decisions to be made all along the way, but most books require those. With this one, there were also a few fun anecdotes that ultimately I didn’t have room to include. For example, Roget became very nervous before a particular social event, where he knew there would be lots of small talk, strangers to meet, and (gulp!) dancing. He was not good at the first two, and he had never tried the third. He paced and counted his steps and changed his clothes a few times before forcing himself to go to the party where, as it turns out, he discovers he loves to dance and is also very good at it.

MS: Deciding on which words to use in my collages was the most difficult for me. The word lists in the art had to make sense for whatever age he was in the art. So putting myself in Roget’s shoes, I walked through a local park taking notes—what might he see and what would that list look like?

Using the 1852 Thesaurus exclusively for inspiration, it was still hard to narrow down which words to choose—I would get lost in the book for countless hours. My copy is completely falling apart!

 

  • What was the most enjoyable aspect of creating The Right Word?

MS: For years I’ve saved ephemera for “some day” and this was that day. It was fun and liberating. I prefer just to use the images as they are—the colors and texture of the old paper become part of the art. If I had made color copies of those images, it would not have been the same.

But on a larger scale, this had to have been one of the most collaborative books I’ve ever worked on. There was more than one conference call with my comrades: Jen, art director Gayle Brown, managing editor Kathleen Merz, and publisher Anita Eerdmans. Everyone contributed to the zillion details that went into this biography. It was one of those once-in-a-lifetime projects.

JB: I have to agree with Melissa about collaboration. Having a small group of people who knew each other well and who also cared deeply about the book, made the whole process much more enjoyable. We each had our individual, solitary roles to play, of course, but as we funneled those together, the project absolutely became a team effort. I used to do a lot of distance running, and our process for this book reminded me more of a cross-country relay than a lonely marathon.

 

  • What is your favorite entry in Roget’s original Thesaurus?

JB: Having lived with Roget for the duration of this project, I believe he relied a great deal on personal courage. And even though he lived at a different time, in a different place, and under very different social and economic circumstances than our previous biographical subject, Horace Pippin, I do think they share this trait. Roget’s entry in the Thesaurus for 861. COURAGE. [absence of fear] includes a plethora of words and phrases, and when I read them, I feel as if he must have evoked them himself on many occasions. My favorite (when used as a verb, to be courageous): “march up to the cannon’s mouth.”

MS: Roget’s entries begin with 1. EXISTENCE and end with 1000. TEMPLE. That alone is food for thought. To my mind, his entries and synonyms read like poetry, but I’m partial to the phrases he included, especially the one for 845. BEAUTY, which reads: “To snatch a grace beyond the rules of art.” It’s so evocative. I’m still thinking about that one.

A preliminary sketch of Roget and his Latin list

Final illustration of Roget and his Latin list

 

  • Any thoughts now that the book is in your hands?

MS: I like imagining Roget getting together with his polymath pals, Erasmus Darwin, William Wordsworth, and other scientists after a night of lectures at the Royal Society. What did they talk about? (What did they not talk about?) I would’ve given anything to be there.

JB: I’d love to bring Roget forward to see how he’d react to our modern world. Would he become more of a specialist? (I hope not!) Would he join a scientific or linguistic think tank? Perhaps he would install himself at a liberal arts college and teach Physiology, French, Public Health, Botany and Math. It’s fun to imagine how he’d interact with Google. I do believe he’d be incredulous (dazed, stunned, flabbergasted, overcome) at the profound and lasting impact of his Thesaurus. Melissa and I would be the first two in line to thank him!

 

 Listen to Jen Bryant introduce and pronounce her name. 

See all available resources about Jen Byrant.

 

 

Listen to Melissa Sweet Introduce and pronounce her name.

See all available resources about Melissa Sweet.

 

 

This text may not be reproduced without the expressed written consent of Jen Bryant and Melissa Sweet. 


TeachingBooks.net

Contests & Giveaways | October 2014

Each month we feature free and enjoyable book contests and giveaways!

We hope you will enjoy the following opportunities as well as the author and book resources available via TeachingBooks.net.

 

Win a free copy of Arto’s Big Move (Elementary)

Arto has lived in the snowy, cold North his whole life – and seven years is a long time. When his family moves down South, he has a hard time accepting it, until a new friend coaxes him out of his shell and shows him change doesn’t have to be so bad.

Owlkids Books is giving away 10 copies of Arto’s Big Move. To enter to win, send an email to marketingintern@owlkids.com with the subject line of “Arto’s Big Move giveaway” and please include your mailing address.

Deadline: October 19, 2014 (Open to U.S. and Canadian addresses)

 To learn more about author Monica Arnaldo, visit her blog!

 

Win a free copy of Of Monsters and Madness (High School)

A romantic, historical retelling of classic Gothic horror featuring Edgar Allan Poe and his character Annabel Lee, from a New York Times best-selling author.

Egmont USA is giving away 5 copies of Of Monsters and Madness by Jessica Verday. To enter to win, send an email to michellebayuk@egmont.com with the subject line of “Of Monsters and Madness on TeachingBooks.net” and please include your mailing address.

Deadline: October 21, 2014 (Open to U.S. and Canadian addresses)

To learn more about author Jessica Verday, visit her personal website!

 

Win a free copy of Spooky Season from the Bramble and Maggie Series (Elementary)

Maggie and her beloved horse, Bramble, find autumn and Halloween a little spooky! All of the books in Jessie Haas’s adorable Bramble and Maggie Series are perfect for grades K-3.

Candlewick Press is giving away 5 copies of Spooky Season. To enter to win, send an email to SpookySeasonGiveaway@gmail.com with the subject line of “Spooky Season” and please include your mailing address.

Deadline: October 21, 2014 (Open to U.S. addresses)

This curriculum guide has discussion questions and activity ideas for each book in the Bramble and Maggie Series!

 

Win a free copy of Be a Changemaker: How To Start Something that Matters (High School)

Be a Changemaker is a how-to guide for kids on taking action to make a positive difference in their communities and the world. It’s hands-on, practical, and has numerous examples of real teens who’ve created projects and organizations that make a real difference.

Simon Pulse/Beyond Words is giving away 3 copies of Be a Changemaker. To enter to win, send an email to ChangemakerGiveaway@gmail.com with the subject line of “Changemaker” and please include your mailing address.

Deadline: October 22, 2014 (Open to U.S. addresses)

To learn more about author Laurie Ann Thompson, visit her personal website!

 

Win a free copy of Friendship Over (The Top-Secret Diary of Celie Valentine) (Elementary)

Ten-year old Celie has quite a few things on her mind: fights with her sister Jo, secrets at school, an increasingly forgetful grandmother, and worst of all, a best friend who won’t speak to her. How can a girl who hates change survive when everything in her life is changing? Your students will love Celie’s heartfelt, realistic diary – the first in a fun new series for grades 3-5!

Boyds Mills Press is giving away 5 copies of Friendship Over (The Top-Secret Diary of Celie Valentine). To enter to win, send an email to CelieGiveaway@gmail.com with the subject line of “Celie” and please include your mailing address.

Deadline: October 23, 2014 (Open to U.S. addresses)

Need ideas on how to incorporate Friendship Over in your classroom? Use this educator guide!

 

Win a free copy of Miles is the Boss of His Body (Elementary)

On his 6th birthday, Miles finds himself being pinched, noogied, hugged too tight and tickled by his well-intentioned family and decides he’s had enough! When Miles decrees that he is the “boss of his body,” his whole family expresses support and respect for his personal boundaries. In a colorful, comic-book style, young kids will laugh while learning this potentially life-saving concept that can benefit them for years to come.

The Mother Company is giving away 5 copies of Miles is the Boss of His Body. To enter to win, send an email to taylor@themotherco.com with the subject line of “Miles Giveaway” and please include your mailing address. Everyone who enters will be awarded 20% off the cover price and free shipping.

Deadline: October 24, 2014 (Open to U.S. and Canadian addresses)

Find Common Core related activities in this teaching guide!

 

Win a free copy of The Legend of Spookley the Square Pumpkin book app (Elementary)

Join Spookley the Square Pumpkin in this special tale of diversity and self-acceptance that’s just right for Halloween… or any time of the year! Jump inside to find out how Spookley and the other pumpkins discover that being different can save the day!

In honor of Halloween and National Bullying Prevention Month, Oceanhouse Media is giving away 3 copies of The Legend of Spookley the Square Pumpkin digital book app for iOS devices! To enter to win, send an email to press@oceanhousemedia.com with the subject line of “Spookley Giveaway.”

Deadline: October 30, 2014 (Open to all addresses)

Preview the book app!

 

Win a free copy of The Dandelion Seed’s Big Dream (Elementary)

Consider the dandelion, it lives life fully, flies with beauty, survives storms, endures darkness, and never gives up. It is one of nature’s greatest success stories. Like dandelions, each of us can make the world a brighter place. The trick is to bloom right where we are.

Dawn Publications is giving away 10 copies of The Dandelion Seed’s Big Dream. To enter to win, send an email to sandy@dawnpub.com with the subject line of “Dream contest” and please include your mailing address.

Deadline: October 31, 2014 (Open to U.S. addresses)

Find activities based on The Dandelion Seed’s Big Dream in this lesson plan!

 

Win a free copy of Double Reverse (Middle School)

The Franklin High Panthers need a new quarterback. Freshman Jesse Wagner knows the plays, but he feels he’s too small to lead the team. Blending exhilarating plays and poignant life lessons, Double Reverse chronicles one team’s inspiring journey in conquering expectations and seeing themselves, not for how they look, but for what they can achieve.

Peachtree Publishers is giving away 10 copies of this middle-reader chapter book—perfect for football season and reluctant readers! Enter to win by sending an email to niki@peachtree-online.com with the subject line of “Double Reverse Giveaway” and please include your mailing address. No P.O. boxes, please.

Deadline: October 31, 2014 (Open to U.S. addresses)

Listen to author Fred Bowen, pronounce and share the story of his name.

 

Win a free copy of Spooky House from the Billie B. Mystery Series (Elementary)

Billie B. Brown is back, using her smarts and common sense in a new mystery series. Like the original early reader Billie B. Brown series, the Billie B. Mysteries showcase teamwork and co-operation and demonstrate reasoning and problem-solving skills in appealing stories featuring true-to-life, engaging characters.

Kane Miller Books is giving away 10 copies of Sally Rippin’s Spooky House, a Billie B. Mystery. To enter to win, please send an email to lynn@kanemiller.com with the subject line of “Billie giveaway” and please include your mailing address.

Deadline: November 11, 2014 (Open to U.S. addresses)

Learn more about author Sally Rippin’s books at the Billie B. Brown Series website!

 


TeachingBooks.net

Guest Blogger: Robie Harris

TeachingBooks.net is delighted to welcome award-winning author Robie Harris as our featured guest blogger.

Each month, we ask one distinguished author or illustrator to write an original post that reveals insights about their process and craft. Enjoy!

 

Robie Harris

Twenty Years Later: 

Still Challenging—Still Engaging—Still Relevant

 

For the past twenty years, people have been asking me how I came to write It’s Perfectly Normal: A Book about Changing Bodies, Growing Up, Sex, and Sexual Health (Candlewick, 1994). It all began when an editor asked if I would be interested in writing a book for preteens and teens about AIDS. At the time, I didn’t know enough about AIDS to write a responsible book about the disease. But I surprised myself when I answered that what I would write was a comprehensive book that would answer almost every question this audience had about sexual health.

It would include the most up-to-date, scientifically accurate, and psychologically and age-appropriate information kids needed to know and/or wanted to know about sex to make healthy decisions, including information on HIV/AIDS. I also said that “writing honest” would matter, and that this meant not leaving out anything—in text or art.

What I didn’t know on the subject, I learned. Over the next few months I surveyed dozens of experts in the fields of child development, pediatrics, puberty and adolescence, reproduction, biology, gender, sexual orientation, and genetics. I also spoke to parents, librarians, teachers, healthcare professionals, and clergy. I asked them all the same question: “When it comes to sexual health, what information do kids and teens need to know to stay healthy and safe?” I also questioned my family and friends, which resulted in several anecdotes that I wove into the text. And it’s the same question I asked when I began books for younger children, including It’s So Amazing! A Book about Eggs, Sperm, Birth, Babies, and Families (Candlewick, 1999).

IT'S PERFECTLY NORMAL. Text Copyright © 1994, 2004, 2009 and 2014 by Bee Productions, Inc. Illustrations copyright © 1994, 2004, 2009 and 2014 by Bird Productions, Inc. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Candlewick Press, Somerville, MA.

Once I had the information I needed, I began to write It’s Perfectly Normal. But presenting the facts in my voice, while it mattered, wasn’t enough. The voices of children needed to be heard. One day, the idea of two cartoon characters, BIRD and BEE, popped into my head. I saw the BIRD as the child who wants to know the answer to almost every question about sexuality and puberty—and the BEE as the kid who thinks that all of “this stuff about sex” is gross, but becomes fascinated by the science. My hope was that readers would identify with the duo and be drawn into the text. Once my draft and Michael Emberley’s art were finished, experts vetted both for accuracy. (The moment I saw Emberly’s pitch-perfect drawings I knew we were a team.)

Each time It’s Perfectly Normal and It’s So Amazing! have been reprinted, I’ve spent a chunk of time going back to find out what needed to be updated and asked the same question I did years ago. Fast forward to September 9th, 2014, the publication date of the 20th anniversary edition of It’s Perfectly Normal and the 15th anniversary edition of It’s So Amazing!  I spent nearly a year writing, rewriting, and talking with experts, while Michael Emberley was busy creating new and updated art where it was needed. It’s been challenging and fascinating.

Recently I’ve been asked what’s it’s like to work on a book that I began decades ago. The answer: for me, all books are works in progress. And since kids and teens are still reading It’s Perfectly Normal and It’s So Amazing!, I continue to believe—as does Michael Emberley and our wonderful editor, designer, and art director—that this audience deserves nothing less than the latest and best information on the subject.

I’ve also been asked about the changes made to the new editions. There’s more on how to find responsible information about sexuality online and the safe and responsible use of cell phones, tablets, and computers. There’s also new information on the dangers inaccurate or dated Internet sources can pose, including how they might lead to risky or unhealthy behaviors and/or outcomes. A broader definition of the term “gender” and the inclusion of transgender youth have been added.

These are only some of the many changes; if, in the future, additional information comes along that kids and teens need to know, we’re committed to making sure it’s available. And we’ll do that even if those new editions prompt the BIRD to say, “Whoopee! More information!” and the BEE to say, “Oh-hhh, no-ooo… Too-ooo much information….”

 

 

Listen to Robie Harris introduce and pronounce her name.

See all available resources for Robie Harris.

 

This text may not be reproduced without the expressed written consent of Robie Harris.

IT’S PERFECTLY NORMAL. Text Copyright © 1994, 2004, 2009 and 2014 by Bee Productions, Inc. Illustrations copyright © 1994, 2004, 2009 and 2014 by Bird Productions, Inc. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Candlewick Press, Somerville, MA.

IT’S SO AMAZING. Text Copyright © 1999, 2004 and 2014 by Bee Productions, Inc.  Illustrations copyright  © 1999, 2004 and 2014 by Bird Productions, Inc. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Candlewick Press, Somerville, MA.