SHADOW GRAVE: An Interview With MG Horror Author Marina Cohen + A chance to win a copy

There are many of us out there who love the spine-tingly feeling we get from reading a good horror story.  I’m not talking about the grisly, slasher fare that leaves little to the imagination. I’m referring to the well-written story that takes us to a scary place with a setting too irresistible to pass up, and keeps us turning pages even when we fear what might be around the corner.

Marina Cohen (THE INN BETWEEN, A DOLL’S EYES) has written that kind of story for the middle grade audience with her new book SHADOW GRAVE.

shadow grave picHere’s the blurb:

Tuck Everlasting meets The Village in this delightfully eerie middle grade novel about a boy trapped in a strange town where secrets turn deadly and the unnatural lurks in the night.

Twelve-year-old Arlo is afraid of fire, creepy TV shows, and even his own shadow―but most of all, he’s afraid of losing his mother to the disease that nearly claimed her life a year ago.

During a Thanksgiving road trip, a sudden collision with a strange beast in the middle of the road totals the family’s car, and Arlo, his mom, and his sister end up stranded in a small town.

There’s something off about Livermore. No one has a phone or a car, and the townspeople aren’t exactly friendly. Without phone service to make a call for help, the family stays at the Samuels’ mansion, but inexplicable sightings at night set Arlo on edge. When he stumbles upon a dark secret that the town’s inhabitants will kill to keep, getting out of Livermore becomes a matter of life or death.

I asked Marina how the story came about.

  1.  I was hooked on this story from page one. Tell us where you got the idea for Shadow Graves.

Being an author yourself you know that ideas come from everywhere—snippets of conversations overheard, strange facts randomly uncovered, interesting people and places one might chance upon. In fact, everything we experience goes into the compost of our imaginations and after time breaks down and eventually comes out as something (hopefully!) fresh and new and engaging. Several things went into the compost of my imagination over the years, including Natalie Babbitt’s brilliant and memorable novel, Tuck Everlasting, Frost’s poem The Road Not Taken, an amazing tiny creature called the tardigrade, and the real-life ghost town, Livermore. All of these contributed in varying degrees to what would become the backbone of my story, Shadow Grave.

  1. The setting feels like a character in the story. How did you decide to set the story in New Hampshire?

Settings play such an important role in all novels, but in particular, horror novels. You are correct in that they almost take on the role of a character—in some novels, the setting is the antagonist! In my free time I enjoy researching real ghost towns, their histories, and what led to their demise. When I came across Livermore—especially one particularly gruesome fact that may or may not be true—I knew this was my setting. Even its name plays an important role in my plot. I’d driven through New Hampshire some time ago and had wanted to return and visit the remains of the town in the summer of 2020 before my novel went to edit, however, it seemed the world had other plans. Despite it being a real place, and though I did borrow pieces of its history, the Livermore in my novel is a fictional—almost mythical place.

3. You definitely achieved a creepy, yet realistic setting. It really drew me in from the first page. What are three things readers should know about the main character and his sister?

Arlo has had a rough year leading up to the start of this novel. His mother was diagnosed with cancer and though the outcome was positive the experience left him changed—a more muted and anxious individual. Though he follows the series Zombie Army of Darkness because all his friends do, he much prefers the Nature Channel. He’s both fearful and fierce, but his strength lies in his calm and thoughtful manner, while his sister, Lola, can be brash and bold. Arlo follows rules while Lola likes to break them.

4. They are the perfect foils for such a story. Your choice of words and metaphors paint such vivid pictures and really set the tone for this creepy story. Tell us a bit about your writing process and how you chose to tell the story.

Since the plots of my novels tend to be quite creepy it’s important for me to establish a creepy tone. Like music which uses dissonance and irregular rhythms to create an unsettled feeling, I like to paint pictures that are slightly askew, tilting the world and keeping my readers off-balance and unsure. I write as though I’m seeing my story unfold as a film before my eyes so I lean—perhaps too heavily at times—on the visual.

5. I fell in love with your language and word choices. One of my favorite passages…

“The moon hung like a silver pendant against the velvety black dress of night”

There are so many lovely descriptions like that.  What else would you like us to know about this story?

Though this novel is primarily intended to do what horror novels should—entertain while delivering chills and spine-tingling thrills—I hope this story will leave readers with some very important life questions to ponder.

6. What is next for you?

Currently I’m working on another creepy middle-grade—this one with sci-fi undertones.

Marina is giving away one signed copy of this book to a reader chosen at random. Leave a comment if you’d like to enter. If you share the post on social media, let me know so I can give you a second chance to win.

marina pic

Marina Cohen is an elementary school teacher and author of several middle grade books including The Inn Between, The Doll’s Eye, A Box of Bones, and Shadow Grave. Her novels have been nominated for several awards in both the US and Canada.

Marissa Moss Presents: THE WOMAN WHO SPLIT THE ATOM: THE LIFE OF LISE MEITNER + A Chance to Win a Copy

I recently had the pleasure of reading the newest non-fiction book written by best-selling author MARISSA MOSS. THE WOMAN WHO SPLIT THE ATOM: THE LIFE OF LISE MEITNER is a detailed, and comprehensive account of an unknown female physicist who discovered nuclear fission but received little credit for her discovery.

TheWomanWhoSplitTheAtom(1)

Bestselling author-illustrator Marissa Moss tells the gripping story of Lise Meitner, the physicist who discovered nuclear fission. Here is the blurb:

As a female Jewish physicist in Berlin during the early 20th century, Lise Meitner had to fight for an education, a job, and equal treatment in her field, like having her name listed on her own research papers.

Meitner made groundbreaking strides in the study of radiation, but when Hitler came to power in Germany, she suddenly had to face not only sexism, but also life-threatening anti-Semitism as well. Nevertheless, she persevered and one day made a discovery that rocked the world: the splitting of the atom. While her male lab partner was awarded a Nobel Prize for the achievement, the committee refused to give her any credit.

Suddenly, the race to build the atomic bomb was on—although Meitner was horrified to be associated with such a weapon. “A physicist who never lost her humanity,” Meitner wanted only to figure out how the world works, and advocated for pacifism while others called for war.

The book includes an afterword, author’s note, timeline, select terms of physics, glossary of scientists mentioned, end notes, select bibliography, index, and Marissa Moss’s celebrated drawings throughout. The Woman Who Split the Atom is a fascinating look at Meitner’s fierce passion, integrity, and her lifelong struggle to have her contributions to physics recognized.  Recommended for ages 9-up

I recently interviewed Marissa and asked her how this amazing story came about.

  1. How did you discover Lise Meitner and what led you to tell her story?

My youngest son is a grad student in physics and he told me about Lise Meitner. He knows how interested I am in people (often women) who deserve to be better known but haven’t gotten the credit they deserve. He warned me Meitner could be tricky since her discover led directly to the atomic bomb, but she herself refused to work on it (though she was asked) and the more I learned about her, the more compelling I found her. 

2. How did you set up your research for such a complicated and technical project? What was the most difficult part?

I started by reading the two adult biographies written about her and followed up by going through her amazing archive of letters in documents, now in Cambridge, England where she spent the last years of her life. She not only had letters that were sent to her but copies of the letters she sent, so I could see both sides of the conversation. Most of the letters are in German, so I had to dust off my German language skills. It got easier the more letters I read as I became familiar with her writing style.

Two things were especially difficult — the first was to explain the physics involved clearly so a middle-grade student could understand it all. The second was not to sound too angry or outraged about Otto Hahn, her long-time partner who stole the credit for her discovery. I wanted to let the readers draw their own conclusions by simply describing what he said or did, but it was hard to keep calm whenever I wrote about him. Meitner herself was so generous and patient with him in all their many letters, even carefully explaining to him the momentous discovery which he didn’t understand at all, yet had no trouble taking full credit for. 

3. What important ideas do you want readers to remember about Lise and her life’s work?

I want them to know that she was a scientist who faced incredible obstacles, first as a woman, then as a Jew, but she was determined to do what she loved. And she did it with absolute integrity, pure science for knowledge’s sake, never as a tool of politicians or the military. 

4. Why this story and why now?

This was actually delayed due to covid (as so many things in publishing were). When I wrote most of it, Trump was president and the echoes of him and some of Hitler’s actions were positively eerie — the preference, for example, of relying not on experts for information, but on a trusted close circle. So when Hitler’s personal photographer dismissed the potential of atomic energy/weapons, Hitler agreed, rather than listening to the scientists in his government.

Now, with the Russian war on Ukraine, it seems even more timely, as the blanket German support of Hitler seems disturbingly parallel to the blanket Russian support of Putin. The German people thought Hitler was making their country stronger and that’s what mattered most. The average Russian seems to think the same of Putin. 

5. What else should we know about the WOMAN WHO SPLIT THE ATOM?

Meitner’s integrity is an incredible example for all of us to follow. She always did what was right, not what was easy.

**STARRED REVIEW** 
“Moss’ approach to this biography is notable in several ways, from the organization of facts into a very readable narrative to surprisingly clear explanations of Meitner’s scientific work and its significance. Even the back matter is uncommonly useful.”―Booklist

**STARRED REVIEW**
“A scorching profile of a brilliant physicist whose proper re cognition was long delayed thanks to sexism, antisemitism, and personal betrayal. . .A bright tale of a life dedicated to science, well stocked with dramatic moments and discoveries.” –   Kirkus Reviews

I am giving away a copy of this amazing book to one commenter chosen at random. Leave a comment below for one entry. Share this post on social media for a second chance to win.

 

marissa

Marissa Moss has written than seventy children’s books, from picture books to middle-grade and young adult novels. Best known for the Amelia’s Notebook series, her books are popular with teachers and children alike, using graphic formats to introduce history in an accessible, appealing way. Barbed Wire Baseball won the California Book Award, Gold medal and the California Young Reader Medal.

In 2013, Moss founded Creston Books. The small press has earned starred reviews from Publishers Weekly, School Library Journal, Kirkus, and Booklist, as well as awards. Each list balances picture book and older readers, debut authors and established names, showcasing the best in children’s books.

Book Review: AFRICAN TOWN by Irene Latham and Charles Waters

Every now and then I come across a book that leaves me breathless and awed by its storytelling and power. AFRICAN TOWN african townby Irene Latham and Charles Waters is just such a book. Here is the blurb from the publisher:

Chronicling the story of the last Africans brought illegally to America in 1860, African Town is a powerful and stunning novel-in-verse.

In 1860, long after the United States outlawed the importation of enslaved laborers, 110 men, women and children from Benin and Nigeria were captured and brought to Mobile, Alabama aboard a ship called Clotilda. Their journey includes the savage Middle Passage and being hidden in the swamp lands along the Alabama River before being secretly parceled out to various plantations, where they made desperate attempts to maintain both their culture and also fit into the place of captivity to which they’d been delivered. At the end of the Civil War, the survivors created a community for themselves they called African Town, which still exists to this day. Told in 14 distinct voices, including that of the ship that brought them to the American shores and the founder of African Town, this powerfully affecting historical novel-in-verse recreates a pivotal moment in US and world history, the impacts of which we still feel today.

Here’s my review:

This YA novel-in-verse, inspired by the true story of the last African slave ship Clotilda, is not to be missed. Stunning in scope and breathtaking in detail, readers become part of the group of survivors who endure captivity aboard the ship, suffer brutality and deprivation as slaves in an unfamiliar country, and never forget their African roots. Told in alternating points-of-view, by characters named for the actual people who were kidnapped and brought to Alabama before the start of the Civil War, even though slavery was then illegal…on paper. At times heart-wrenching and uplifting, the spirit of survival and freedom resonates and endures in the hearts and minds of these courageous souls who create a new home away from home in a place they never chose to be. Beautifully written and respectfully told, this story will stay with you long after the reading is done.

If you haven’t read this book yet, I encourage you to do so and to pass it along to your friends and family.

Cover Reveal: Cabby Potts, Duchess of Dirt by Kathleen Wilford

Today it is my pleasure to be among the first to see the fabulous cover reveal for a debut MG historical. Those who follow me know my love of historical fiction, so I was  excited when debut author KATHLEEN WILFORD contacted me about a blog post cover reveal.

So…without further ado, here is the gorgeous cover of CABBY POTTS, DUCHESS OF DIRT  and a short interview with Kathleen about her book.

Cabby Potts cover (no wrap)

Describe your book in 10 words or less.

Thanks so much, Darlene! How about this:

A sod house, a grand manor. A mystery, a match-making scheme. (That’s 11 . . .)

Tell us about your debut historical MG novel, Cabby Potts, Duchess of Dirt. When is it coming out?

Cabby Potts, Duchess of Dirt will be released September 1, 2022 with Little Press/Blue Bronco Books.

The book is set in Kansas in 1875, the year after the grasshoppers devastated the state. My main character, Cabby Potts, is inspired by some of my own favorite literary heroines, Laura Ingalls and the pioneer women in the novels of Willa Cather. Like them, Cabby is “outdoor kind of girl,” more interested in farming than fashion. Cabby’s struggling homestead is her first real home, and she’s desperate not to lose it, even if that means accepting a housemaiding job at stuffy, high-class Ashford manor. She’s also a bit naïve and has what her mother calls an intemperate tongue, qualities that get her in trouble after she hatches an improbable matchmaking scheme between her romantic older sister and the young lord of Ashford Manor. When her rash plot backfires, Cabby must use her voice to stand up for herself, a Native American friend, and her entire community.

How did you get the idea for this story?

I ran across a book called Prairie Fever, by Peter Pagnamenta, and I was intrigued to learn about the British aristocracy’s fascination with the American West. Cabby Potts, Duchess of Dirt is based on the true story of Victoria, Kansas, an enclave of British aristocrats in the 1870’s. Victoria was designed as a “community of culture and refinement” where “the arts and graces of life” could be imported straight from London. I couldn’t imagine a bigger culture clash than between the English nobility and the hardscrabble American homesteaders who might have worked for them.

At the same time, I didn’t want to portray Americans as somehow free from the race and class prejudices of the wealthy English. One of the things Cabby wakes up to as she befriends a Kiowa boy is the pigheadedness, as she puts it, of her own community, beloved as it is.

The cover for this book is beautiful. Tell us about it.

 Thanks, I love it! The cover was created by Katie Kear of the Bright Agency. I think she captured Cabby’s character: curious, determined, a bit headstrong, and not very girly! That’s Ashford Manor at the bottom, a grand English manor plunked down on the windswept plains of Kansas. You’ll also notice a brooch and a mysterious document on the cover—there’s a mystery in this book that readers will enjoy helping Cabby puzzle out.

Here is the artist’s website to see more of her amazing work. Her name is Katie Kear, and the website is:

 Was your road to publication long and winding, short and sweet, or something in between?

 I would describe my speed along the road to publication as . . . glacial. My first novel manuscript, which I still hope to revise one day, suffered from rookie mistakes like not considering marketability! I gained from experience, and I think that Cabby is a stronger book. Still, after a few close calls with editors and agents, I stopped submitting for over a year. I was still in that stage where a rejection seemed like a verdict. You know, “lousy book.”  

I will be forever grateful to Michele McAvoy of The Little Press for seeing the potential of the book based on a #PitMad tweet in the summer of 2021. After acquiring Cabby, Michele and her team have guided me through an editing process that has made the story as polished and strong as possible.

What are some of your favorite classic MGs? How about recent ones?

 I grew up with immersive fantasies like the Narnia books and The Chronicles of Prydain by Lloyd Alexander. Anything English seemed magical to me, but I also loved Beverly Cleary and The Witch of Blackbird Pond and The Wolves of Willoughby Chase. 

There are so many recent MG’s I admire, so I’ll just name some historical ones I think are amazing: Moon Over Manifest, The War that Saved my Life, Esperanza Rising, Front Desk, and anything by Linda Sue Park.

war

 What projects are you working on now?

I’m having a great time reading some super-recent MG’s like Cuba in my Pocket, A Place to Hang the Moon (more English magic) and Frankie and Bug. manifestAnd my fellow #22Debuts authors have some great things coming out!   

What advice would you give to your younger self? Is this the same as you’d give to aspiring authors?

 My biggest advice to my younger self would be to start writing earlier, ha ha!

For aspiring authors, my first piece of advice would be to join a critique group. For a thousand reasons.

Also, read, read, read! Study the market and read in your genre. When you come across a book you love, study its structure, themes, characters, etc.

And be willing to learn. Don’t fall in love with your first draft. When agents or editors are “critical” of your work, try to understand why. Writing for publication is a skill not learned overnight!

Tell us about yourself and how you came to write for children.

 No surprise, I was a READER as a kid. In fact, my memories of childhood are often pegged to books. Snuggling with my mother as she read out loud: Heidi (I cried.) Summer camp rest time: Rascal. Favorite Christmas present: my now worn-out boxed set of the Narnia books. There was never any question what I’d study in college and grad school: English literature. I taught middle-school and high school English, and I now teach writing at Rutgers University.

Several years ago, I started pursuing what had always been a background dream: writing my own books. I’m grateful to a friend who encouraged me to get started, to SCBWI for opportunities to learn from industry insiders, and most of all to my dedicated, professional critique group who help me conquer my self-doubt. It’s been quite a journey, and we’ve been on it together.

What is one thing most people don’t know about you?  Kathleen Wilford head and shoulders

I was born in a place that no longer exists: The Panama Canal Zone, Panama. (The Canal Zone was once a U.S. territory but was formally returned to Panama in 1999.) I also lived in Costa Rica and Colombia. I can speak some Spanish, but I’m rusty.

Where can people find you online?

People can find me on Twitter by following @kathwilford. I also have a website at kathleenwilford.com.  

Congratulations on your first book Kathleen. Can’t wait to see it out in the world!

Author Christine Van Zandt Presents: A Brief History of Underpants + A Giveaway…of a Signed Copy, Not Underpants!

Today it is my pleasure to feature a fascinating picture book by author CHRISTINE VAN ZANDT (Illustrator Harry Briggs) about something we all use, and rarely think much about until we run out…underpants!

How did you decide to write about “unmentionables”?

While volunteering at our elementary school’s annual Book Fair, kids told me they thought nonfiction picture books were boring. Set out to prove them wrong, I brainstormed for a topic. Our (then) third grader came up with underwear.

After researching what had been published, there seemed to be room in the marketplace, so I wrote the funny nonfiction picture book, A Brief History of Underpants, then connected with a publisher via the Twitter event, #PitMad.

Cover, A Brief History of Underpants by Christine Van Zandt

What was the research process like?

Researching was crazy because the pandemic had closed down libraries and bookstores right when I most needed them. I ended up buying a lot of reference books online and using reputable e-sources to uncover underwear info from all of the continents back to the beginning of time.

Finding underpants facts in general is harder than you’d think—I guess there’s a reason they’re called “unmentionables”!

What is the funniest thing that happened since the book’s been out?

Since my book’s about all the things we’ve historically worn “down under,” I think it’s funny that my book’s quite popular Down Under with high sales numbers in Australia to bookstores, libraries, and readers.

kangaroo and joey

The illustrations are so much fun and add another layer of laughs to the book. Did you have any input into the illustrations?

I enjoy Harry Briggs’s art; his iconic comic-style worked well with this book. His illustrations for A Brief History of Underpants had to be somewhat realistic so I communicated links with images of historical underwear for his reference. H took it from there. I good example of this is the Ötzi the Iceman spread. The clothing scraps echo the real items Ötzi was found wearing; everything else is just Harry’s fabulous imagination!

Otzi

What is your favorite fact from the book?

There are so many, it’s hard to choose. While I’m fascinated that King Tut was buried with 145 loincloths (and wish I knew why!), I have to vote for the Medieval fact that ashes mixed with pee help remove stains, brighten colors, and degrease spots. That’s kind of gross to our modern sensibilities, yet I appreciate how it’s practical and natural to reuse things that would otherwise be thrown out. I’m not saying we should do this exactly, but finding another use for garbage seems like a great idea.

What’s next for your writing?

I have a number of completed picture books. One I would like to see take wings is a lyrical narrative nonfiction picture book about the challenges faced by monarch butterflies, from egg through metamorphosis. This manuscript has won a few prestigious awards, such as through SCBWI. I hope the story connects with a publisher so I can share this amazing creature’s struggle to survive and how actions such as growing pesticide-free flowers and milkweed can make a difference in this butterfly’s survival.

Here’s my review of this delightful and entertaining book: “A humorous and entertaining walk through the history of underpants. Ever wonder what astronauts in space or explorers in Antarctica do with dirty undies? Want to dress like a samurai? Ever wonder who invented underwear to begin with? All these questions and many more are answered in an informative, pun-filled way. The playful and funny illustrations add another layer of enjoyment to a subject kids will be drawn to. Everyone needs underwear…and you will need this book for the classroom and beyond.”

Christine Van Zandt with her book, A BRIEF HISTORY OF UNDERPANTS

 

Christine Van Zandt hasn’t found fossilized underwear (yet!), but loves digging up ideas that make great books for kids. She’s a literary editor and lives in Los Angeles, California, with her family and a monarch butterfly sanctuary.

Visit her online at  christinevanzandt.com.

Author photo by Marlena Van Zandt             Book images courtesy of becker&mayer! kids

GIVEAWAY:   Christine has agreed to mail a signed copy of the book to a US address randomly chosen from those who leave a comment below. If you share this post on social media, I will give you a second chance to win.

Perfect Pairing:Ice Cream and Summer by Marilyn Ostermiller

Want a good reason to indulge in ice cream? Here it is: Today, August 19 is Soft Ice Cream Day.  1 Vanilla

Soft and hard ice cream are made with the same ingredients, but soft ice cream has less milk fat and more air, making it more delicate and smoother.

Ice cream magnate Tom Carvel discovered soft ice cream by accident. Carvel was driving his ice cream truck on Memorial Day weekend in 1934, when a flat tire stranded him by the side of a road. He knew his product — and profits —were melting, so as vacationers drove by, he sold them the softened ice cream. They loved it.

Within two years, in the midst of the Great Depression, he had patented a super low-temperature ice cream machine, created a secret formula ice cream and opened an ice cream store on the site where his truck broke down.

Ice cream was especially popular during the Depression. Money was tight, but ice cream cones cost only a nickel.  Then, as now, vanilla, strawberry and chocolate were popular ice cream flavors.

About that time, a candy maker, Joseph Edy, and ice cream maker, William Dreyer, collaborated to add marshmallow bits and walnuts to chocolate ice cream, and named it Rocky Road, a reference to the difficult times.

Also in the 1930s in Sicily, rum-soaked raisins were added to gelato to create another enduring flavor, Rum Raisin. Gelato is similar to soft ice cream, in that it has less milk fat than traditional ice cream.     gelato

Making ice cream is a time-honored family tradition.These books offer instruction and and ideas:

The Homemade Ice Cream Recipe Book: Old-Fashioned All-American Treats for Your Ice Cream Maker, by food writer Robin Donovan. Published by RockRidge Press.

The Homemade Ice Cream Recipe Book: Old-Fashioned All-American Treats for Your Ice Cream Maker

The Perfect Scoop, Revised and Updated: 200 Recipes for Ice Creams, Sorbets, Gelatos, Granitas, and Sweet Accompaniments by David Leibovitz. Published by Ten Speed Press, a division of Penguin Random House.  

Jeni’s Splendid Ice Cream Desserts by Jeni Britton Bauer. Published by Artisan, a division of Workman Publishing     

America’s Favorite Ice Cream Flavors

    • Vanilla
    • Chocolate
    • Cookies N’ Cream
    • Mint Chocolate Chip
    • Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough
    • Buttered Pecan
    • Cookie Dough
    • Strawberry
    • Moose Tracks
    • Neapolitan

What is your favorite flavor?

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Marilyn Ostermiller is a long-time journalist who delights in cooking, baking and trying unusual flavors of ice cream.

Like MG Historical Fiction? Here are Two Winners by Author Tamara Bundy.

It has been my joy to recently read two books of historical fiction for middle grade readers. Author TAMARA BUNDY, who I had the pleasure of meeting at the #nerdcampPA virtual event earlier this month, is the author of both books which I highlight and review here.

The first one, her debut, is WALKING WITH MISS MILLIE.

Walking with Miss Millie by [Tamara Bundy]

“A memorable and lovely debut.”Kirkus Reviews
 
Walking with Miss Millie is full of subtle wisdom. Its ending is satisfying though sobering and there are elements of this story that stay with you long after the last page has been read.”–Karen English, Coretta Scott King Honor Award Author

My review:

Great historical fiction debut set in Georgia in the 1960’s. My favorite quote sums up the theme and message of the story: “What makes us different isn’t nearly as important as what makes us the same.” 

The second one is PIXIE PUSHES ON.

Pixie’s defenses are up, and it’s no wonder. She’s been uprooted, the chickens seem to have it in for her, and now her beloved sister, Charlotte, has been stricken with polio and whisked away into quarantine. So it’s not surprising Pixie lashes out. But her habit of making snap judgements–and giving her classmates nicknames like “Rotten Ricky” and “Big-Mouth Berta”–hasn’t won her any friends. At least life on the farm is getting better with the delivery of its newest resident–a runt baby lamb. Raising Buster takes patience and understanding–and this slowing down helps Pixie put things in better perspective. So too does paying attention to her neighbors, and finding that with the war on she’s not the only one missing someone. As Pixie pushes past her own pain to become a bigger person, she’s finally able to make friends; and to laugh about the fact that it is in places where she least expected it.

My review:

“Set in the 1940’s during the last months of WWII. Ten year-old Pixie is grieving the loss of her mom. And now her beloved older sister Charlotte is in a hospital far away recovering from polio. Pixie has to learn to navigate a new life with Dad on her grandparents farm.

Period details put readers right into the era as we walk beside Pixie, going to school, doing her farm chores, and navigating the uncertain days. A story sad, hopeful, and glorious in the telling. Historical fiction at it’s best. ‘

Tamara Bundy

Tamara Bundy is a former columnist for the Cincinnati Post. Her regular column on being a mom also appeared on EWTN global Catholic radio. She is an adjunct instructor at Miami University-Hamilton and a mom of four. Bundy is the author of 5 non-fiction books and the middle grade novels Walking with Miss Millie and Pixie Pushes On. Her debut picture book, Lullaby Prayer releases November 2020. She lives in Cincinnati, Ohio with her husband.

Want Great KidLit Books For Summer reading and Beyond? Check Out #NerdcampPA2021

For teachers, librarians, and anyone looking for great books for kids of all ages, you might want to check out the second virtual #NerdCampPA which goes live this Thursday, July 15, 2021 beginning a 9AM EST.

I have the pleasure and honor of being on two panels to talk about my books.

The first panel at 10 AM is:

Historical Fiction for a Middle Grade Audience: Empowering Students to Create Fictional Stories Using Pieces of History with authors Dianne Salerni, Jennifer Robin Barr, and Tamara Bundy.

The second one at 11AM is:

NerdCampPA_11am slide

There will be give-aways of books, curriculum materials, and lots of information to use in the classroom and beyond. Hope you’ll join me and check out this exciting FREE event. Feel free to share.

https://www.facebook.com/groups/1057567451116277/

Book Review: Orange For The Sunsets: MG novel by Tina Athaide

I have been reading quite a few middle grade books recently and here is one that drew me in because of the historical fiction genre. What kept me reading was the  quality of the writing and characters that were very relatable and fully drawn.

sunset photo

ORANGE FOR THE SUNSETS by Tina Athaide takes place in the 1970’s in Uganda during the reign of Idi Amin. Here is the blurb from the book:

Asha and her best friend, Yesofu, never cared about the differences between them: Indian. African. Girl. Boy. Short. Tall. But when Idi Amin announces that Indians have ninety days to leave the country, suddenly those differences are the only things that people in Entebbe can see—not the shared after-school samosas or Asha cheering for Yesofu at every cricket game.

Determined for her life to stay the same, Asha clings to her world tighter than ever before. But Yesofu is torn, pulled between his friends, his family, and a promise of a better future. Now as neighbors leave and soldiers line the streets, the two friends find that nothing seems sure—not even their friendship.Tensions between Indians and Africans intensify and the deadline to leave is fast approaching. Could the bravest thing of all be to let each other go?

My review of this amazing book:

An honest, heart-rending, and sometimes brutal account of what divides us, what unites us, and what really matters. Through alternating POV’s of an Indian girl ASHA, and her best friend an African boy YESUFU, the author relays a realistic historical and personal accounting of a turbulent time in Uganda’s history. A moving and thought-provoking story that will lead to many class discussions.  

Tina Athaide was born in Entebbe. After leaving Uganda she immigrated with her family to Canada from England. She has been a teacher for thirty years. Believing that books can present different experiences to children in an organic, natural way, she started publishing early literacy readers for the educational market before her debut book, Orange For The Sunsets. The MG book is a Junior Library Guild Selection and is nominated for a Silver Birch award by the Forest of Reading program in Canada.

Photo on 10-2-20 at 3#3

Author Vivian Kirkfield Takes Us From Here to There With Her New Picture Book + Zoom Visit Give-away.

Today it is my pleasure to post an interview with picture book author VIVIAN KIRKFIELD who will talk about her newest book FROM HERE TO THERE: INVENTIONS THAT CHANGED THE WAY THE WORLD MOVES.

from-here-to-there-inventions-coverHere’s Vivian:

What led you to write a book on transportation pioneers?

I never started out thinking I would write a compilation book about transportation pioneers, Darlene. But my sister told me a story about a Swedish immigrant who came here in 1905 at the age of 17 with only a few dollars in his pocket. He worked as a logger and as a miner and even tried his hand as a car salesman, but he couldn’t even sell the one floor model. Eric Wickman refused to give up. He bought the floor model with the money he had saved and began offering shuttle rides to the miners in Hibbing, MN. His shuttle was so popular, he had to buy more cars and hire more drivers. Everyone wanted rides…to a shop, to visit family…and finally, he even built a bus so he could help out more passengers. And the lovely thing about Eric was that he always wanted to partner with his rivals, not put them out of business. And eventually, Eric’s little shuttle company became Greyhound. I knew that was a story kids would love. I wrote it and Essie, my amazing agent, sent it to Ann Rider at HMH. Ann loved the story – and she had an innovative idea…she asked if I could write several more similar stories about things that move.

Of course, I said YES! She asked for a list…I created a list of the first gas-powered auto, the first bike, the first intercity passenger steam train, and more. She loved all of them. I think I had 6. But she wanted 9…I added the folding wheelchair, the first robotic, and the rocket. The inventions span over 200 years…and many countries. I love that it shows kids that inventions came from all over the world and from all types of people.

But they all had one thing in common. They never gave up! No matter how many times they failed. And I think this is really important for kids to understand…that failure is an important part of success.

What was your research process like? How long did that take since there are so many people you had to learn about?

Darlene, when I look back, I do wonder how I managed to research and write so many stories. I only had about 7 or 8 months…the bus story was ready. And I did have a story about the hot air balloon that only needed to be tweaked and trimmed. But the other seven manuscript were written from scratch. Thank goodness for critique buddies who were always there to read a manuscript and give me feedback.

My process? I’d decide what I was going to write about. First, I checked the internet and online sources. Then I used the library. Not only did I have to find an inventor of something that moved, I also had to find information about that inventor – childhood, the AHA moment, and how the invention impacted our world today. I used census records if there were any (not for the hot-air balloon inventors, of course 😊). I contacted local libraries and historical societies in the towns where the inventor lived or worked. And sometimes I was able to speak with someone who knew the person…Eric Wickman’s granddaughter and I became email friends. And I got to speak with Raye Montague’s son.

It took about one month for each manuscript – that’s probably a record since most of my other nonfiction pb manuscripts took a lot longer. But I was on a deadline – and sometimes, when you have a deadline, that helps you focus on what really needs to be done.

What 3 facts were your favorite discoveries while writing this?

Three favorite facts? I have so many! I truly learned so much as I researched these amazing visionaries. But here are three:

I discovered that Benjamin Franklin was in France in 1783, on the day that the Montgolfier’s manned hot air balloon ascended. He’d been negotiating the Treaty of Paris between the United States and England after the Revolutionary War. Many of us think the war ended in 1776 with the Declaration of Independence – but that was only the beginning. And in his diary, Franklin wrote: “We observed it lift off in the most majestic manner.”

I discovered that the very first gas-powered automobile had NO gas tank, NO cooling system, NO steering wheel, NO lights, NO brake pads, and only three wheels. But the most fascinating discovery was that the inventor’s wife had contributed all the money for his experiments and prototype. And when he was afraid to take it on a road trip, she did. Her actions convinced the public that cars must be safe and easy to drive if EVEN a WOMAN could do it! On her 65-mile trip, her courage and ingenuity never failed and when she returned home, she instructed her husband as to what he needed to add to make the car better. And I’m happy to say that in 2016, 125 years after she tiptoed out of the house to take the kids to their grandmother’s house, Bertha Benz was inducted into the Automotive Hall of Fame in Dearborn MI – for her invaluable contribution to development and design of the modern automobile.

I discovered that all of these visionaries believed that nothing is impossible if you can imagine it. When Raye Montague was seven-years-old, she took a tour of a submarine. She asked the tour guide what she’d need to know in order to operate something like that. It was 1942. It was the deep South. And Raye was African American. The tour guide told her that she’d need to be an engineer, but that SHE didn’t EVER have to worry about THAT. And do you know what Raye did? She ran home and told her mother that she was going to become an engineer. And even though she wasn’t allowed to take engineering classes in college, Raye went on to become the FIRST WOMAN and FIRST AFRICAN AMERICAN project manager for the Navy, leading a team of engineers to create the first computer-generated ship design.

I LOVE stories like this! And I know that they are so inspiring to young people. I just got some thank you notes from a school visit – and it validates my belief that kids need books like this!

What are some ways teachers can use this book in their classroom?

I think each chapter lends itself to classroom discussion and extension activities in various curriculum areas – science, math, geography, reading, writing, art, SEL…here’s an example for how a teacher might use Chapter Four: Black Forest or Bust:

Bertha Benz lived in a time when most people thought women were delicate and weak. But in order to test drive the car, she took a 65-mile road trip with her sons through Germany’s Black Forest. Bertha used her ingenuity…as well as her hat pin and garters to keep the car going. Bertha’s trip garnered lots of publicity – newspapers spoke of how safe a car must be if even a woman could drive it.

Chapter 4 Black Forest or Bust Automobile Bertha Benz

Ask your students:

  1. You’ve been asked to cover a big news story! It’s 1888 and a woman is driving a new-fangled automobile through your town. Write an article for the newspaper.
  2. The first gas-powered auto had only three wheels and a hand-brake. What would the first gas-powered auto have looked like if you had designed it? Draw a picture of it.
  3. Bertha drove from her home in Mannheim, Germany to her mother’s house in Pforzheim. Get a map of Germany and trace her journey through the Black Forest.

I hope you all get a chance to read the book…and if you do, I would much appreciate a review on Amazon. Those Amazon reviews are so very important – they help other customers – they help with Amazon’s marketing of the book. It only takes a minute or two…I know some of you write amazing lengthy reviews, but that’s not necessary. A couple of sentences would be perfect!

The other thing I want to mention is that #50PreciousWords is just around the corner! Last year we had 392 entries and almost 6000 amazing comments on that blog post. And the prizes this year are PHENOMENAL! Editor and agent and author critiques, seats in picture book writing classes, signed picture books, even an illustrator portfolio consultation. The contest runs from March 2 to 7…and the winners will be announced on March 20, the first day of spring! A new beginning for all of us…and hopefully an end to this health crisis. It was an unbelievable difficult 2020 and I believe 2021 will continue to be challenging – but there is hope in sight – and I believe the contest and the amazing prizes will be a shot in the arm, even if you haven’t had your Covid vaccine yet. 😊 Here is the link for the sharpen-your-pencils and a sneak peek at #50PreciousWords post: https://viviankirkfield.com/2021/02/11/happy-national-inventors-day-and-a-sneak-peek-at-50preciouswords/

Thank you so much for having me on your blog, Darlene! You are such a wonderful cheerleader and supporter of all things kid-lit!

It is always my pleasure to host you Vivian!

Vivian is giving away a 30-minute Zoom chat – with a writer or teacher/class or parent/children. To enter, please leave a comment telling us about your favorite mode of transportation. One name will be drawn at random from those entered and announced on this blog at a later date.

Here is my review of Vivian’s entertaining and informative book:

From Here to There: Inventions That Changed the Way the World Moves by Vivian Kirkfield -Illustrated by Gilbert Ford

From hot air balloons and horse drawn carriages, to bicycles, trains, buses, and rockets, inventors around the world have looked for ways to go faster and farther more efficiently. This collection of the pioneers of transportation is an informative and entertaining introduction to the science of how people travel and the innovations that get us from one place to another. Engaging illustrations and fascinating facts bring to life the visions of the people who invented better and faster ways to move on land, sea, and in the air.

                Readers get to learn a bit about each of the people behind the invention and the perseverance they all shared in getting their inventions out into the world. The underlying message of believing in yourself and never giving up is a good one for students. This is a perfect addition to the elementary school classroom nonfiction collections. 5 stars

 

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 Writer for children—reader forever…that’s Vivian Kirkfield in five words. Her bucket list contains many more words – but she’s already checked off skydiving, parasailing, and visiting kidlit friends all around the world. When she isn’t looking for ways to fall from the sky or sink under the water, she can be found writing picture books in the picturesque town of Bedford, New Hampshire. A retired kindergarten teacher with a masters in Early Childhood Education, Vivian inspires budding writers during classroom visits and shares insights with aspiring authors at conferences and on her blog where she hosts the #50PreciousWords International Writing Contest and the #50PreciousWordsforKids Challenge. Her nonfiction narratives bring history alive for young readers and her picture books have garnered starred reviews and accolades including the Silver Eureka, Social Studies Notable Trade Book, and Junior Library Guild Selection.

To connect with Vivian and learn more about her books:

Website: http://www.viviankirkfield.com 

Vivian’s books are available at Barnes & Noble and indie bookstores, as well as Bookshop.org and Amazon. If you order from her indie bookstore, you can get a signed copy. If you order from anywhere else and would like a signed bookplate, please email her at: viviankirkfield@gmail.com.

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#50PreciousWords International Writing Contest

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