On Saturday, October 7, 2017, I attended my 4th Collingswood Book Festival as an author and this one was finally held outdoors thanks to the beautiful, sun-filled day. And, as one of the featured authors at this year’s event, I was privileged and thrilled to talk about WHEELS OF CHANGE with many 4th and 5th graders from the local schools, as well as to reconnect with fellow authors and friends.
Here are a few photo highlights:
I met Author/Illustrator Barbara DiLorenzo at a NJSCBWI Fall Craft weekend in Princeton, NJ. I was immediately captivated by the watercolor illustration she shared – in postcard form – from an upcoming PB. (The postcard hangs on the wall above my desk, like beautiful art should).
As we talked, we discovered a shared interest in research and making stories as authentic as possible. Hearing about her journey toward that goal blew me away. Here’s Barbara with that story:
After a decade of hard work, I sold my first picture book in September of 2014. Viking Children’s Books bought RENATO AND THE LION (Viking Children’s Books) I was elated, but I knew there was still so much work ahead. My editor acquired a wordless dummy, but the story needed text to clarify the time period and the events connecting Renato to his lion. The editor asked me to wait while her team ushered the next round of books to publication. There was no timeline given, and it ended up being many months. I could have worked on other projects until she was ready for me. But I knew that although I had my plot and characters, there was so much of the actual history I was unsure of. Since the lion statue comes to life in the story, the rules of pure historical fiction didn’t seem to apply. Nevertheless, I felt a duty to paint a believable world that children could learn from and historians would accept as accurate.
I began this unstructured time by sketching the characters, trying to get to know them better so I could maintain consistency throughout the illustrations. At the same time, I attended a local SCBWI event in Princeton, NJ, known as the Fall Craft Weekend. This annual event includes intensive workshops for writers and illustrators, as well as panels and workshops led by industry professionals and established book makers. One of the workshops I attended was by Darlene Beck-Jacobson, author of WHEELS OF CHANGE. The theme of the workshop was the research process for historical fiction projects. I dutifully took notes, but as I listened to Darlene, I couldn’t believe how thoroughly she researched her book’s world. She mentioned calling a museum to ask about which streets were dirt and which were cobble-stoned in the time period of her piece. That blew me away, as her book about a horse-carriage maker would need to know something like that. It occurred to me that the research process was fun for Darlene. I was only accustomed to research projects for school–something I had never enjoyed. But her eyes were bright as she talked about verifying facts and details for her book. That workshop changed the trajectory of RENATO AND THE LION.
Like a sweater with a loose thread, tugging at the facts of the time period unraveled an entire world for me. I started with one request from my editor–to make sure that Renato and his family could have taken a boat from Italy to New York during the height of World War II. I started searching online, then pulling books from the local library. It only took a few days to learn that there was just ONE boat that carried passengers from Naples to New York in 1944. President Roosevelt had authorized a military ship, the U.S.A.T. Henry Gibbins to bring 1000 Jewish refugees to our coast. At first I wondered if this meant Renato had to be Jewish. I wasn’t opposed to this, but I wanted the story line to be true for either a Jewish family fleeing persecution, or a Catholic family that was perhaps anti-fascist. As it turns out, the boat carried 100 non-Jewish refugees. And there were two Renatas and two Renates on board! Research was indeed fun, and I was hooked!
The next big topic I wanted to figure out was whether or not the lion was ever covered. This took a lot longer, with trips to the Princeton University libraries and the help of their researchers. All I had to do was ask, and I was granted permission to see the Pennoyer Collection–where I sketched from photos taken from the 1940’s. I requested books off site, through their art history library, the Marquand–which was incredible. I felt like a detective, racing to find out if the story I had imagined could actually have existed. My stomach was in knots more than once when I thought I had discovered contradictory information, or a lead fell through. I don’t know how it is if someone starts with research before building a story. But for me, researching after the story was assembled, was nerve-wracking.
I got as far as I could get stateside, when I decided to use my book advance for a solo trip to Florence. For ten days in 2015, I wandered around Florence, frantically sketching, taking tours, and trying to learn from people who had lived through the war. I met a bookseller, Enrico Rossi, who was 7-years old in 1944. I hired a local guide to translate while I interviewed him. I learned enough to make a few more books out of his information! Where to stop!? It was dizzyingly exciting. I also found a rare book at the Florence Library that the Marquand had, which I desperately wanted to own. I asked the library where I could find the book to buy, and one person said I could check the book out and go around the corner to make copies. I appreciated the thought, but I didn’t want to do that. Unbelievably, they gave me a library card, and I checked the book out. In the front of the book, I saw that it was published through the Pitti Palace, only a short walk across the Arno River.
Excitedly, I ran over to the Pitti Palace. I waited in line with other tourists, who had passes for the gardens. But for some reason, the attendant kept telling them their pass was incorrect, and they would have to go to the office. Having no pass, and speaking terrible Italian, I just showed him the book and the words “Pitti Palace” and gestured towards the gift shop. To my surprise, he waved me in! I took a look in the shop, but realized there were no books like mine there.
I slowly walked back to the gate, passing offices along the way. My bravery got the better of me, and I knocked on a random office door. Again, with atrocious Italian, I showed the book and my sketches, and tried to explain I wanted to find a copy. They understood, and asked me to wait. A gentleman made a phone call, then disappeared for awhile. When he came back, he brought two books to me. The one I wanted, and a new one–its companion! I was so excited, and pulled out my wallet to pay. He looked at his co-workers, and waved me away saying not to worry. My eyes got misty at his generosity.
When I left Italy, I only had one carry on bag–filled to the brim with 15 books and loads of sketches and paintings. On the last day, when I checked out of the nunnery where I was staying, I had one last surprise that only a research trip could have brought me. When I tried to pay with my credit card, the nuns explained it was cash only. The bill was about 570Euro. I only had 30 on me. I had put a deposit on my credit card at home, but the nuns explained this was done by a different company. For them, it was cash only. I panicked. They let me leave to see what I could withdraw from the ATM. Thankfully my bank card and my savings card allowed 250Euro to be withdrawn each. But I was still short–plus the added taxes. I was so upset. But then I remembered all my paintings. I gave them the cash, then asked if I could pay the remainder with a painting. The nuns agreed, and I parted with the first night painting I did during my trip. This experience brought home the feeling that I had when making the book–Italians revere art in a way that our culture may or may not. I was embarrassed to leave without paying in full, but in retrospect, I’m happy to tell this story.
Once I was home, and the work with my editor began in earnest, I shared all my research. I collected everything on a webpage, so she could spend time looking at it and referencing outside links. I cleaned up some of the research, and put it up on www.renatoandthelion.com. There you can find Easter eggs of hidden portraits and street names, of war time heroes and real artwork that was covered and protected during the war. And the storyline works whether the reader envisions Renato as a Jewish boy, a Catholic boy, or a boy of mixed descent. For in meeting Enrico Rossi, I learned that his Jewish grandmother lived on the same street as his Catholic family members, and no one cared.
The only mystery I never solved was whether or not the lion was ever covered, even for a day. The great flood in 1966 damaged nearby buildings and destroyed tons of paper documents about what happened to artwork during the war. In the spirit of the book, I choose to believe that although he probably wasn’t covered for long, a little boy could have done his part to keep his beloved lion safe.
I am forever grateful to Darlene for turning me on to the power of research. She may not have intended to influence me as much as she did–since my travels had shades of an Indiana Jones adventure. But without her, I wouldn’t have had this much fun making my first picture book, RENATO AND THE LION. Grazie, Darlene!
★“This love letter to Florence should spur diverse conversations, from art to history to the plight of refugees.”—Booklist, starred review
Barbara DiLorenzo is the author/illustrator of RENATO AND THE LION (Viking, June 20, 2017) and QUINCY (Little Bee Books, February 8, 2018). She received her BFA in illustration at the Rhode Island School of Design and studied painting at the Art Students League of New York under Mary Beth McKenzie. In 2014 she received the Dorothy Markinko Scholarship Award from the Rutgers University Council on Children’s Literature. She is a signature member in the New England Watercolor Society as well as the Society of Illustrators. Currently she teaches at the Arts Council of Princeton, and is co-president of the Children’s Book Illustrators Group of New York. Barbara is represented by Rachel Orr of the Prospect Agency.
Outside of art and writing, Barbara has gone skydiving, hang gliding, and whitewater rafting. She loves to surf, and has driven across the U.S. with her son so he could earn Junior Ranger badges from various National Parks. She has traveled to Italy several times, and lived in Bolivia for six months during college in order to work in a school for the deaf. Currently, Barbara lives in Hopewell, New Jersey with her wonderful family–who constantly inspire new stories. Her amazing 14-year-old son is the inspiration for many of her book ideas, including RENATO AND THE LION. More inspiration is on the way, as Barbara welcomed her second child–a daughter–in March 2017. She already seems to have a sense of humor–like her big brother. 🙂
Barbara is giving one random viewer of this post an opportunity to win a signed copy of her gorgeous book. To enter, leave a comment for one entry. Post it on FB for a second entry. Tweet it or reblog it for a third entry. I will draw a name out of my writing “hat” and announce the winner here on Wednesday, 10-11-2017.
On a recent trip to Manchester Vermont, I stopped into the local Indie bookstore. Boy am I glad I did! NORTHSHIRE BOOKSTORE is located in what once was an inn – with three stories of goodies. In addition to what I expected to find – BOOKS – there is so much more in this wonderful store. Plenty of gift items, toys, games, clothing, and a cafe that serves local and homemade sandwiches, soups and baked goods. (I highly recommend the cream of asparagus soup).
The store is over 10,000 square feet with one entire floor devoted to children. It is a world dedicated to and celebrating all things kids. So many books thoughtfully displayed to show off as many authors as possible. They’re in alphabetical order, overlapping, but with enough peeking out to find your favorite title.
It made me curious as to why more bookstores don’t display their picture books like this. At least an unknown author has a chance of “showing off” a title to the world.
The store also had a separate room for kids looking to interact with books and games. Rocking chairs, bean bag chairs, and stuffed animals graced the floor. Books, games and activities were displayed on shelves and tables begging kids to TOUCH and PLAY.
Who wouldn’t want to hang out in a room like this? It looks like a playroom in your best friend’s house.
Anyone who loves books should plan on a stop to this great store.
Falling into FREEFALL: By Joshua David Bellin
FREEFALL started out as a love story, plain and simple. But it became something more.
Back in 2013, I participated in National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) for the first time. I’d read some YA space operas beforehand, and I had an idea for one of my own. As is typical for me, I plunged into the writing without much of a plan; all I knew was that I wanted to write a deep-space romance involving a teenage boy named Cam and a teenage girl named Sofie. I didn’t think much about who they were, how they met, or anything else. I just wrote.
But within days, it became apparent that my romantic leads were taking me in a direction I hadn’t foreseen. For a variety of reasons—the need to ramp up the tension between them, the desire on my part to delve into lives beyond the one I myself had lived as a teen—the two were diverging radically from each other, Cam becoming a pampered child of the elite, Sofie a revolutionary leader of the oppressed. Once that happened, the rest of the book took shape: Earth in the twenty-second century stratified into two societies, the Upperworld and the Lowerworld, with the planned colonization of outer space a battleground between the two. The romance between Cam and Sofie was still central, but the book was no longer purely a love story; it was also a science fiction satire about a world where corporations rule, space exploration has become privatized, and the struggle for justice extends from Earth into the deepest reaches of the galaxy.
Once this new conception was in place, the personalities of Cam and Sofie developed naturally and dramatically. Cam is a guy who has no reason to care about anyone else—he comes from one of the richest families on Earth, he’s been sheltered from the world’s problems all his life, and he’s about to leave the planet anyway. But he chooses to care. At considerable risk to his own status (and life), he involves himself in the lives of others who lack the freedom to make the choices he can make. With Cam, I wanted to be sure he had no super-powers like so many YA heroes have, that he couldn’t do anything beyond what a normal person could do. It’s his choices, not his abilities, that define him.
With Sofie, the development of her character was even more striking. I love characters who change as I write them, who seem to be pushing against whatever limits I might unconsciously be imposing on them, because those characters seem the most real to me. Sofie was that kind of character; no sooner did I start writing than she took control and insisted on becoming a passionate spokeswoman for the voiceless. There’s a lot of talk in YA fiction about “kick-butt heroines,” and I think Sofie fits that description—except she fights not with her fists but with her mind, her words, and her faith. For her and Cam to trust one another, walls had to come down; for their love to survive, it had to face not only external opposition but their own fears and doubts. At last, I had a world worth fighting for, and a duo worth rooting for.
I sometimes ask myself whether I should plan out my novels more thoroughly before I start writing them. How, I wonder, would FREEFALL have developed if I’d done that? But I trust the creative process. I believe that when it comes to fiction, my intuition knows more than my intellect. And with FREEFALL, I’m convinced that readers will enjoy discovering this story as much as I did.
In the Upperworld, the privileged 1% are getting ready to abandon a devastated planet Earth. And Cam can’t wait to leave. After sleeping through a 1,000-year journey, he and his friends will have a pristine new planet to colonize. And no more worries about the Lowerworld and its 99% of rejects.
Then Cam sees a banned video feed of protesters in the Lowerworld who also want a chance at a new life. And he sees a girl with golden eyes who seems to be gazing straight through the feed at him. A girl he has to find. Sofie.
When Cam finds Sofie, she opens his eyes to the unfairness of what’s happening in their world, and Cam joins her cause for Lowerworld rights. He also falls hard for Sofie. But Sofie has her own battles to fight, and when it’s time to board the spaceships, Cam is alone.
Waking up 1,000 years in the future, Cam discovers that he and his shipmates are far off-course, trapped on an unknown and hostile planet. Who has sabotaged their ship? And does it have anything to do with Sofie, and the choices—and the enemies—he made in the past?
Joshua David Bellin has been writing novels since he was eight years old (though the first few were admittedly very short). A college teacher by day, he is the author of three science fiction novels for teens and adults: the two-part Survival Colony series (Survival Colony 9 and Scavenger of Souls) and the deep-space adventure Freefall. Josh loves to read, watch movies, and spend time in Nature with his kids. Oh, yeah, and he likes monsters. Really scary monsters.
Freefall (Amazon): https://www.amazon.com/Freefall-Joshua-David-Bellin/dp/1481491652
Freefall (Barnes & Noble): https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/freefall-joshua-david-bellin/1125685808
Freefall (Simon & Schuster): http://www.simonandschuster.com/books/Freefall/Joshua-David-Bellin/9781481491655
Freefall (IndieBound): https://www.indiebound.org/book/9781481491655
Survival Colony 9 (Simon & Schuster): http://www.simonandschuster.com/books/Survival-Colony-9/Joshua-David-Bellin/9781481403559
Scavenger of Souls (Simon & Schuster): http://www.simonandschuster.com/books/Scavenger-of-Souls/Joshua-David-Bellin/9781481462440
As we approach the 72nd anniversary of the dropping of an atomic bomb on Hiroshima during the last days of WWII (August 6), I am honored to share a wonderful middle grade book that features a Japanese family living in Hiroshima during that time. THE LAST CHERRY BLOSSOM by Kathleen Burkinshaw should be read in every middle school classroom to open the conversation on why we should always try to settle disputes peacefully and never, ever again resort to nuclear weapons.
This story has special significance for me as well. My father – Raymond Beck – was a POW interred in Japan during the war. He worked as a slave laborer in the coal mines of Hiroshima. Had he not been underground when the bomb hit, I would most likely not be telling this story.
Here’s Kathleen with her story.
Thank you so much for interviewing me on your blog today! 😊
How did the book come about?
The writing journey of The Last Cherry Blossom began about 8 years ago with one question. My daughter was in 7th grade at the time and was upset about something that happened in her history class. She said they would be covering the end of WWII and overheard some kids talking about how they couldn’t wait to see the “cool mushroom cloud picture”. She asked if I would speak to her class about the people under the mushroom cloud that day, people like her grandmother.
I called and asked my mother if it was okay to talk about her experience in Hiroshima that horrific day. My mom was a very private person, and never spoke about it in public. When I was a young child, she told me she came from Tokyo. Once she confided in me that she was born in Hiroshima and lost her home, family and friends on August 6th, she asked that I never speak of it either. It was too painful and she didn’t want to draw attention to herself.
But this day she gave me her blessing to discuss what she experienced on August 6th. She felt that since the students would be about the same age she was (12-years-old), maybe they would relate to her story. As future voters, she hoped they would remember that nuclear weapons should never be used again.
I spoke to my daughter’s class a week after the phone call. The following year I received requests from other local schools. I had been writing about my mom’s survival of the atomic bomb for my own and my daughter’s benefit. But soon teachers inquired if I had a book that could complement their curriculum. Then the real work began!
Most amazing moment since writing the book?
It’s hard to choose but I have 3 firsts at different stages after writing the book. The first most amazing moment was when I showed my mom the publishing contract and to see her face and tell me how proud she was that I would do this for her. Perhaps I do treasure this most of all because she passed away 2 months later.
The second moment was when I held the printed copy in my hands, seeing my name on it, smelling the new pages. I still get that same rush whenever I see it on a book shelf.
The third was when received my first fan mail. One was a letter from a student who didn’t like reading, but after reading my book wanted to read more books!
ENTER TO WIN A SIGNED COPY OF THE LAST CHERRY BLOSSOM by clicking on this link: http://www.rafflecopter.com/rafl/display/cd590dfc4/?
Kathleen Burkinshaw is a Japanese American author residing in Charlotte, NC. She’s a wife, mom to a daughter in college, and owns a dog who is a kitchen ninja. Kathleen enjoyed a 10+ year career in HealthCare Management unfortunately cut short by the onset of Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy (RSD).Writing gives her an outlet for her daily struggle with chronic pain. She has presented her mother’s experience in Hiroshima to schools and at conferences for the past 8 years. The Last Cherry Blossom, is a SCBWI Crystal Kite Award Finalist (southeast region) and 2016 Scholastic WNDB Reading Club selection.
Facebook author page: @authorkathleenburkinshaw
I spent this past weekend attending the Annual Conference for the New Jersey Chapter of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (NJSCBWI) and came away inspired, enlightened and filled with a new desire to write stories for children. So many wonderful workshops and a chance to see some amazing writers and illustrators. Here are the workshops I attended:
- Biographies: Finding Subject and Focus: by Laurie Wallmark
- How to Market Non-Fiction Books: by Jennifer Swanson
- Using Subtext to Add Depth to Stories: by Laurie Calkhoven
- 7 Steps to Stronger MG and YA Novels: by Gabriela Pereira
- Breaking Down Barriers – How to Write and Critique Across Racial Lines: by Kelly Calabrese and Tami Charles
There was also first page and round table critiques, and catching up with old friends while making new ones.
Browsing the Book Fair and enjoying a fabulous Keynote address by author/illustrator Stephen Savage on Saturday morning:
Here are some photo highlights: