Barbara DiLorenzo Presents: RENATO AND THE LION + Enter to Win a Free Copy

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).

 

Illustration by Barbara DiLorenzo

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. 🙂     

www.barbaradilorenzo.com

Represented by Rachel Orr of the Prospect Agency.
Co-President of the Children’s Book Illustrators Group (CBIG).
Instructor & Outreach Program Coordinator for the Arts Council of Princeton.

 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.

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Kathleen Burkinshaw, MG Author Interview: The Last Cherry Blossom.

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.

Darlene,

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.

twitter  @klburkinshaw1

Blog     https://www.katheenburkinshaw.wordpress.com

Facebook  author page:   @authorkathleenburkinshaw

Rodney Whittenberg Presents Live Interviews With Civil Rights Leaders.

For today’s post it is my joy and pleasure to bring an interview with Emmy Award Winning Composer RODNEY WHITTENBERG, whose new CD WE STOOD UP, explores the experiences of civil rights leaders through interviews and songs.  Sit back and enjoy this amazing project.

Nancy Rogers (NR): Lincoln Financial Foundation

First, a little background for context…Our company’s association with our namesake, Abraham Lincoln, goes back to our founding. In 1905, our founders asked permission of President Lincoln’s son, Robert Todd Lincoln, to use his father’s name for their new company – to reflect the ideals with which they intended to operate. 

Fast-forward to 2016…We Stood Up actually grew out of a 3-year initiative – which we called “Lincoln’s Legacy” – to celebrate the 150th anniversaries of the Emancipation Proclamation (2013) and the 13th Amendment (2015).  As part of the Lincoln’s Legacy initiative, we recorded oral history interviews with a wide range of people who spoke about how the ideals of freedom, opportunity and equality have evolved during their lifetimes. It was our intent from the beginning to produce an anthology of a selection of the interviews. We began with the premise that children would be most influenced – and perhaps most inspired – by other children. In many cases, the interview questions were posed by grandchildren, relatives or mentees of the interviewees – and you can sense the personal nature of some of the questions and answers.  We provided some suggested questions, but the kids were also encouraged to ask about what interested them. In several cases, these recording sessions were the first time that the children had asked questions about how their grandparents or mentors had felt about the things that happened when they were young. That realization helped shape the tone and spirit of We Stood Up. The addition of songs and poems seemed like a natural way to complement the stories being shared – and another vehicle for communicating complex ideas and feelings.     we-stood-up-cd-cover

The creative process was amazing on so many levels. First, there were the oral histories. Our own employees videotaped the interviews. They went to locations the interviewees had chosen, where they were surrounded by people and things that were important to them.

For Julian Bond, it was Florida during a family vacation; for Franklin McCain, it was the Woolworth lunch counter exhibit at the International Civil Rights Center and Museum in Greensboro; for Andrew Young, it was the Andrew & Walter Young Family YMCA in Atlanta; for Shirley Franklin, it was the Center for Civil and Human Rights, the museum she oversees as board chair; for several others it was their own homes. The locations themselves informed the creative process. And of course, the stories and reflections shared during the interviews.

Our video team members were in awe, and so honored to be playing a part in something so meaningful. They worked countless hours to get the edits just right, and to do justice to the content. Our Lincoln staff has continued to work on the project, and they remain committed advocates today.

But it became clear to us as we moved forward that we needed a dedicated professional, with experience in producing both films and records, and we were introduced to Rodney Whittenberg of Melodyvision – who has been our partner in this project for over 2 years.  His creativity and guidance have been invaluable, and he has brought talent and passion in equal measure to the production of We Stood Up. Then there was the music. The music evolved the most significantly over the course of the project.

At first, we thought we would produce a spoken word album. As the album took shape, we realized that we needed a narrator to provide context and connect the interviews. Then, we began to realize that music would raise it to a different level – from an artistic standpoint, an entertainment standpoint, and an emotional standpoint.

 All of the songs are original, and are tailored to the interview content, and Rodney wrote and performed in all of the songs.  One of the truly gratifying things about this whole experience was the willingness of professional musicians and singers to donate their time and talent because they believed in the project. We had contributing performers who specialize in children’s music, but we also had R&B legend Sarah Dash – who couldn’t have been more supportive of the album. On the track, “Someone Thinks,” Sarah sings with her niece, and another niece runs the school where the kids’ chorus comes from.  The music was written for kids, but with adults in mind, too – so that it’s enjoyable during a long car ride with the family!  We also wanted it to feel new and old at the same time…to pay homage to the civil rights era, bus still sound current and relevant today.     

Rodney Whittenberg: Emmy Award Winning Composer.  Songwriter Composer Producer – We Stood Up:  l_r_whittenberg_001

For me this was a passion project. From the moment I first spoke with Nancy and learned about the Lincoln Legacy project I was hooked. I have been working on educational and art projects for the longest time and this made me think we could create something really special. The process started with listening to the interviews they had  created, then traveling around and doing interviews. The high point for me was The John Lewis interview. He was so inspiring, his commitment and courage seams superhuman.

The songs were inspired by the interviews and the stories. Working with legendary singer Sarah Dash was a high point of the process. She really helped and connected me with Sprout performing arts school in Trenton NJ.

My favorite moment on the CD is “John Lewis on Non – Violence” in to the song “Love”.

The best part of the CD is that it’s free for teachers, schools, libraries, and it is available on iTunes.  All of the proceeds go to Boys and Girls club of Phila. 

a-3820397-1399737314-6298Rodney Whittenberg is founder of Melodyvision where he works as a Creative Consultant by using his skills as a composer / song writer/ multi instrumentalist, producer / engineer / filmmaker and educator. He brings a fresh and unique perspective to each client and project adding value that results in creative solutions to often complex problems. Rodney has composed music for over 34 films and TV shows, and countless dance performances. Projects include: Anthony Bourdain’s show a Cooks Tour; PBS POV Documentary The Camden 28; horror cult classics Infested and Return to Sleep Away Camp. He’s received a regional Emmy for his score for the TV Documentary Mother Dot’s Philadelphia and Best Sound Design at the Terror Film Festival for Toll Taker.  

Rodney’s work as a filmmaker centers around his passion for telling a story from start to finish in a creative way. Projects include: HBO Family segments 30X30: Kid Flicks; WHYY Wider Horizon educational spots; and numerous music videos and short-form documentaries. His most recent passion project is as co-producer of the feature-length documentary Caregivers: Their Passion, Their Pain, which was recently featured on Radio Times and written up in The Guardian.  More info at www.melodyvision.com

We Stood UP

https://www.lfg.com/public/aboutus/lincolnfinancialfoundation/lincolnslegacy/anthology

We Stood Up iTunes link

https://itunes.apple.com/us/album/we-stood-up/id1157789980

Itunes

Sound-cloud Link

https://soundcloud.com/user-774801037/sets/we-stood-up-final-master/s-BgaIn

Carol Simon Levin Celebrates Women’s History + Win a Free Book!

In honor of an historical moment in our US history, this post is brought to you by CAROL SIMON LEVIN  – just in time for the 2016 Presidential Election. Here’s Carol:

I was working on a coloring and activity book for “Bridge Builder in Petticoats” then realized we were at a historic moment in our country — 240 years after Abigail Adams wrote her husband John to “remember the ladies” when the founding fathers drafted the laws for a new nation and warning that “If particular care and attention is not paid to the ladies, we are determined to foment a rebellion and will not hold ourselves bound by any Laws in which we have no voice or Representation,” 168 years after the Seneca Falls Convention calling for women to get the right to vote, 96 years after the passage of the 19th Amendment actually granting women that right, we finally have a woman presidential candidate from a major party.  

I got the idea on June 8, 2016 (my birthday and the day Hillary got enough electoral votes to become the nominee), postponed working on “Bridge Builder” and have been burning the midnight oil (and then some!) working with 35 talented illustrators who created images for the 64 women I eventually profiled. The whole project was completed in just under 4 months so it would be out well in time for the 2016 election! 

carol-bookMy motivation is to help girls and women (and sympathetic guys) recognize that the vote is precious and we shouldn’t take it for granted.  I chose to do it by creating a unique coloring book with the hope that coloring might spur curiosity, and that reading the facts, fascinating factoids, and quotes from these amazing women would motivate the people to exercise their voices and their votes alongside their colored pencils!  As Carrie Chapman Catt wrote when the 19th Amendment finally passed, “The vote has been costly. Prize it.”  

Carol Simon Levin is a Youth Services Librarian, author, storyteller and program presenter based in Bridgewater, New Jersey. Whether she is impersonating the woman who helped to build the Brooklyn Bridge, telling the amazing stories of early women in aviation, engaging families in a rousing Halloween Hootenanny of songs and stories, expanding on the mathematical and artistic possibilities of a simple square, or sharing the story of a dolphin who learned to swim with an artificial tail (along with activities to help children understand what it is like to live with a disability), she always strives to create exciting programs that engage her audience’s interests and expand their horizons. 

imageShe is happy to bring her presentations to libraries, senior centers, historical societies, schools, camps and other venues. She has always been particularly fascinated by the history of technology and women’s history. Visit tellingherstories.com or facebook.com/TellingHerStories for more information on her books and presentations. 

Additional programs and resources for children and teachers can be found at: carolsimonlevin.blogspot.com.

Carol Simon Levin is a member of the New Jersey Library Association, the New Jersey Storytelling Guild, and the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators.     carol-red-jacket-library

TELL US YOUR FAVORITE HEROINE FROM HISTORY AND BE ENTERED IN A DRAWING TO WIN A FREE COPY OF CAROL’S BOOK!

Winner will be announced here on 11-9-16.

Janet Fox Talks About Her New MG Historical.

Children’s book author JANET FOX has always been one of my favorite authors.  Her YA historical novels are part of my collection and when I heard she was writing an MG, I knew I wanted to read it.  THE CHARMED CHILDREN OF ROOKSKILL CASTLE did not disappoint.  Here is MY review of this wonderful novel:  CharmedChildrencover (1)

“This creepy, scary, spine-tingly middle grade novel takes place in Scotland in 1940.  Kat and her younger siblings Rob and Amelie, are sent by their parents to Rookskill Castle Boarding School in Scotland to escape Hitler’s blitz bombing of London at the start of WWII.  Rookskill is no ordinary boarding school.  And the Lady Eleanor who runs it, is no ordinary headmistress.  As soon as they enter its doors, Kat feels off balance and at odds with the place.  Teachers behave strangely.  Ghostly figures roam the grounds.  Children seem to disappear.  Secret passages, hidden doors, ghosts, strange noises and even stranger nightmares fill Kat’s days and nights.

Kat suspects the castle – and its occupants – are under some kind of spell.  But for what purpose?  Are there German spies about?  And, what does it all have to do with the mysterious chatelaine Lady Eleanor keeps fastened to her waist?  Is it good magic or a more sinister dark magic? 

     This is a splendid page turner for anyone who enjoys mystery, fantasy, or historical fiction.  Rich in details and grounded in time and place, it will keep you up at night and make you contemplate the very nature of good and evil.”

Now here is the interview:

How did you come to write for children?

I began writing for children when my son was little and it was clear he has dyslexia. I tried making stories for him that would help him learn – they were terrible! But it got me hooked on writing for children. I joined SCBWI, became friends with Kathi Appelt, who became a mentor to me, and then found my agent and Vermont College of Fine Arts, where I earned my MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults.

You’ve had a successful career writing for YA with FORGIVEN, FAITHFUL, and SIRENS. What made you decide to write a book for the middle grade crowd?

I was actually trying to write new and different material, through my MFA program. I was trying to stretch and grow outside my comfort zone. When I had the idea for THE CHARMED CHILDREN OF ROOKSKILL CASTLE, I began writing and right away knew that the book had a middle grade voice and a middle grade sensibility. It reminded me of the books I read when I was that middle grade age. Plus Kat was a middle grade character. The novel couldn’t have been written any other way.

Where did the idea for THE CHARMED CHILDREN OF ROOKSKILL CASTLE come about? 

I’d just finished drafting SIRENS, and lazily perusing the internet, when a friend of mine posted a picture of a piece of jewelry called a chatelaine. I’d heard of chatelaines, and seen a few (check out the chatelaine worn by Mrs. Hughes on Downton Abbey), but this one was weird. So weird that I pulled the image off the internet and put it on my desktop. So weird that I couldn’t stop staring at it. So weird that it made a story in my mind, and it wouldn’t leave me alone until I’d put that story down on paper.

You can see that chatelaine as a drawing in the opening pages of the novel. It served as a guide for the concept of this story.

 The Cover of the book is amazing!  Care to comment on it?

I love my cover art!! Greg Ruth is the artist. He perfectly captured several things about the story: the dark, foreboding, mysterious, huge castle; the rooks, my antagonist’s familiars; the moonlight and the wavery sun; the odd Lady; the four children who stand in the circle of light, not really sure they should enter. One of the themes of the novel is that “the power is within you” – to solve problems, to grow – and so the suggestion of crossing a threshold and how that holds both fear and hope is perfect and resonant.

blurb:  “Keep calm and carry on.”

  That’s what Katherine Bateson’s father told her, and that’s what she’s trying to do: when her father goes off to the war, when her mother sends Kat and her brother and sister away from London to escape the incessant bombing, even when the children arrive at Rookskill Castle, an ancient, crumbling manor on the misty Scottish highlands.

            But it’s hard to keep calm in the strange castle that seems haunted by ghosts or worse. What’s making those terrifying screeches and groans at night? Why do the castle’s walls seem to have a mind of their own? And why do people seem to mysteriously appear and disappear?

Kat believes she knows the answer: Lady Eleanor, who rules Rookskill Castle, is harboring a Nazi spy. But when her classmates begin to vanish, one by one, Kat must uncover the truth about what the castle actually harbors—and who Lady Eleanor really is—before it’s too late.

Tell us THREE things about the main character in the story.

Kat – Katherine Bateson – worships her father, who works for MI5 and is a spy abroad during World War 2. Kat has a knack for puzzle-solving and a facility for math and science, and is very practical-minded. And Kat must learn that the power of magic, and the power to rescue her friends and family, lies within her.

What’s next?      IMG_8226b

I’m working on a sequel, although nothing is sure yet that Viking will want one – but I have such a fun idea that I’m going to run with it. I’m also working on another middle grade fantasy. My agent is shopping a YA science fiction and a non-fiction picture book, and I’ve got a solid draft of a YA contemporary novel set in Montana. I’ve got lots on my desktop!

Three Cheers For Birches School: A Fantastic Welcome From Some Great Students.

This morning I had the absolute pleasure of visiting the fifth grade classes at the Birches Elementary School in Washington Township, Gloucester Co.  NJ for an Author Visit.  Their Social Studies teacher, Mary Byatt, had read WHEELS OF CHANGE and thought it was a great segway into her unit on the Civil War, reconstruction and the Industrial Revolution.  We had some great discussions about gender roles, civil rights, technology, and fun and games.

What an amazing group of students!  They were attentive, engaging, and really interested in what life was like in 1908.   Here are the photo highlights of  one of the best author visits so far.  THANK YOU MRS. BYATT AND THE FIFTH GRADERS AT BIRCHES!  YOU ROCK!

birches 4

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Women Who Changed the World: New Book by Laurie Calkhoven + Free Copy Give-away

Laurie Calkhoven has always been one of my favorite writers of historical fiction.  When I heard about her new book, WOMEN WHO CHANGED THE WORLD, I had to ask her about it.  Here’s Laurie:

WOMEN WHO CHANGED THE WORLD grew out of my desire for a woman president! I had written a book called I GREW UP TO BE PRESIDENT.  On my school visits, kids loved hearing about the presidents’ childhoods. I made a point of telling them that presidents had all started out as ordinary boys who grew up to be extraordinary, and that they had the same opportunity.  Every time I talked about the book, I mentioned that it was one day going to include a girl.

I got tired of waiting. Why not write a book about ordinary girls who grew up to be extraordinary?  I put together a proposal and sent it to my editor at Scholastic, and happily she and her colleagues liked the idea as much as I did. Beginning with Pocahontas and taking us all the way through Misty Copeland, WOMEN WHO CHANGED THE WORLD is about 50 influential and inspiring American girls who grew up to change the world.

Women Who Changed coverThe research was both interesting and a challenge, especially for women like Pocahontas and Sacagawea. What’s real and what’s myth? Sometimes it’s hard to tell. Even modern women can be a challenge.  Every biography, encyclopedia entry, and magazine article I read about Julia Child listed a slightly different height!

Thank goodness for the New York Public Library and its extensive databases. I couldn’t tell you how many books, magazine and newspaper articles, and database entries I read in total. There were at least 10 and sometimes 20-30 for each woman.  But along the way I learned wonderful, sometimes maddening, and always inspiring things.

Nellie Bly, for instance, got her start as a journalist after reading a newspaper article that called working women a “monstrosity.” She wrote an angry letter to the editor, who promptly hired her.

Babe Didrikson Zaharias, the greatest female athlete of the twentieth century, earned her nickname because she hit five homeruns in one neighborhood baseball game—just like Babe Ruth.

Patsy Mink, the first congresswoman of color and the driving force behind Title Nine, became a lawyer because she couldn’t find a medical school that would admit a woman.  Then she discovered that law firms wouldn’t hire her for the same reason. So, she started her own.

The first woman to reach both the North and South Poles, Ann Bancroft, said her dyslexia was the perfect training for joining a polar expedition. On an expedition you have to focus on putting one foot in front of the other—just like you have to do every single day with a learning disability.

Nobel-prize winning geneticist Barbara McClintock’s favorite microscope is on view at the Smithsonian. Don’t you just love that she had a favorite microscope?

I could go on and on. Harriet Tubman was forced to turn back on her first attempt to escape slavery. At 15, Lucille Ball traveled to New York City to study acting. Her teacher sent her back home with the news that she didn’t have any talent. Julia Child was a disaster in her first cooking class.

Those stories especially, about women who looked failure in the face and kept going, are my favorites.  Those are the stories I most want kids to read.  I want them to know that when someone tries to diminish them or their dreams, they can go on—and succeed.

    Author PhotoLaurie Calkhoven spent 20 years working in book publishing helping other people bring their books into the world and planning to be a writer “one day.” Finally, with 40 looming, she realized she had to make one day happen. Since then she’s written a broad range of fiction and nonfiction for young readers including six novels for American Girl and a series of historical action/adventure novels called Boys of Wartime. She lives in New York City.

One lucky reader of this post will have an opportunity to win a signed copy of Laurie’s amazing book: WOMEN WHO CHANGED THE WORLD.  To enter, leave a comment at the end of this post.  For a second entry, tweet about it or share it on your FB page.  You have until April 6, 2016, when the winner will be announced on this blog.