Nancy Churnin Presents: Two New Picture Books That Celebrate Speaking Up and Righting Wrongs + Enter to Win a Copy of One.

Today it is my pleasure to feature one of my favorite non-fiction picture book authors Nancy Churnin, who has two new books out. I asked Nancy to tell us about these stories and the connecting themes between them. Here’s Nancy:

Thank you so much, Darlene, for the opportunity to share my journey with A Queen to the Rescue, the Story of Henrietta Szold, Founder of Hadassah, illustrated by Yevgenia Nayberg (Creston Books) and Dear Mr. Dickens, illustrated by Bethany Stancliffe (Albert Whitman & Company)


As a lifetime member of Hadassah, the Jewish women’s charitable organization, I was familiar with the name, Henrietta Szold, as the founder, but my knowledge didn’t go much beyond that. When I was accepted to the PJ Library’s TENT program at the Yiddish Book Center in Amherst, Massachusetts in 2019, I looked forward to fulfilling a commitment to working on a book about a Jewish subject. I researched Henrietta Szold and the more I learned about her, the more amazed I was and the more determined I was to tell her story in the book that became A QUEEN TO THE RESCUE.


Here Henrietta was, a woman growing up in Baltimore in the 1800s, a child during the Civil War, a young woman without the right to vote, limited in opportunities, and yet, when she saw a need, nothing could stop her from pouring her formidable energy and organizational skills into solving that problem. Immigrants having trouble finding jobs or supporting their families because they didn’t how to speak English or what the customs of their new country? She created the first night school in America so they can work during the day and learn what they need to know to succeed at night. People in need of medical care in Palestine? She founded Hadassah, the first charitable organization established run by women. Children at risk in Nazi Germany? She expanded an existing program, Youth Aliyah, and raised money with the help of the women of Hadassah, to save, relocate and educate 11,000 children.

When asked the secret to her success, she said, in an interview cited by the Jewish Women’s Archive, “a strong constitution, a devotion to duty and a big conscience,” together with “a flair for organization” and “a pretty big capacity for righteous indignation.”

I hope her story shows and inspires a new generation that you don’t have to be rich or famous to make a difference. If you care about doing the right thing, if you’re willing to work hard and team up with others who share your goals, you can help heal the world. That’s why I created a project to do with this book, Heal the World, in the hope that it would encourage kids to team up to help others.

I discovered Eliza Davis, the heroine of DEAR MR. DICKENS by accident, but the minute I found her, I became obsessed with telling her story.


I have been a fan of Charles Dickens as long as I remember. But, I also had been troubled and hurt by the way he wrote about Jewish people – my people – particularly in Oliver Twist when he referred to the wicked Fagin over and over again as “the Jew.” How could someone as noble and great-hearted as Charles Dickens have no heart for the Jewish people, I wondered. I had gone to the library to do research on another topic, when my mind drifted to Dickens and I started browsing articles about him. That’s when I found two lines that leapt out at me – lines about a Jewish woman, Eliza Davis, who had written him a letter about the very thing that had upset me – his portrayal of Fagin!

I read with wonder as the article went on to say that following their correspondence he had created the kindly Mr. Riah, his first sympathetic Jewish character in Our Mutual Friend, because of her letters. What? I had to find those letters! With the help of my wonderful librarians at my local library in Plano, Texas, I was able to locate a book in the rare book collection of the University of North Texas library in Denton, Texas, donated by Professor Don Vann (to whom the book is dedicated along with his late, lovely wife, Dolores Vann), that contained the full correspondence.


I learned from careful reading and rereading how persistent Eliza Davis had been. Charles Dickens’s response to her first letter had been dismissive, but Eliza didn’t give up. She wrote again, trying to explain her feelings in a more persuasive way.

What I learned from my research and journey with this story was that an ordinary person like Eliza Davis – or you and me – can have an impact on people who are powerful and famous – like Charles Dickens – simply by speaking up.

Before I told her story, many people may not have known that this ordinary person whose name few people outside her family and community knew was the reason his heart changed and he became more inclusive in his world view – a change that would affect how England, going forward, would treat her Jewish population. In the same way, we may not know the long term good any of us do by speaking up. But we have to trust, like Eliza Davis, that speaking up matters and may help bend the arc of the moral universe toward justice more than we realize. That’s why I created a project to do with this book, Dear…, in the hope that it will encourage kids to write letters to people in positions of influence, asking them to do better.

Nancy has generously agreed to give away a copy of one of these wonderful books…winner gets to choose! To be in the running, leave a comment telling us about a time when speaking up made a difference in your life or someone you know. One winner will be randomly drawn from all entered. If you share this post on social media, I will give you a second chance to win.



Monsters and Villains in Literature.

Thinking about the season of Halloween  took me on a trip to my childhood and the scary books I read. The books that have stayed with me because of the hero of the quest, but also because of the villain the hero had to encounter. In the days before Harry Potter and Voldemort, there were still plenty of scary characters in the pages of books.

My favorite monster was, and still is, Frankenstein.  Not only because he was scary to look at, but also because he was so much less a monster than the man who created him and the people who misunderstood him.  A classic tale that makes us consider the monster hidden in all of us.

As far a villains go, there are a few that sent delicious shivers down my spine as a kid. The Queen of Hearts in Alice in Wonderland with her gleeful willingness to chop the heads off little girls.



Another memorable rogue was Fagin from Oliver Twist.  An opportunist who found a way to exploit children under the guise of caring for them. He housed and fed them while society ignored them. If they had to pick pockets and become thieves, oh well, it was all part of life in Victorian London.

o t While frightening to my childhood soul, these villains paled in comparison to the quintessential villain of all time: The Wicked Witch of the West in L Frank Baum’s The Wizard of Oz. Scary enough to shake the slippers off of any young girl, this character came to life in all her green-faced glory in the form of Margaret Hamilton in the classic movie.  Scary to look at, to listen to, and to be in the same room with.  

There’s a villain to remember!     

Who are your favorite monsters and villains from children’s literature?


The Wonder of Wonderful Books: by Katya Scewczuk

Books, books, books. Ever since I was a young girl books have been a huge part of my life. I didn’t have many friends when I was young, so the characters in books became my friends and took me on all kinds of adventures. That’s also one of my goals as an aspiring author, to be able to create characters that children of all ages can relate to.

Reading became an even bigger part of my life when I was thirteen years old and home schooled. Today when I talk with some of my old elementary school teachers they even tell me that my mother made the right decision to home school me. My greatest of teachers have always been my mother, my grandparents, my church and, of course, books.

I could go on and on about my home school journey and how I found my niche of being a writer, but today I would like to talk about the books that helped me grow over the years when I was being home schooled.

The Bible:  As a Catholic I grew up with the teachings of the Bible, but as I grew older I started to study it on a whole different level of understanding. When I was first home schooled I had gone through many different stages in my life. I remember when my grandfather, a talented artist and devoted Catholic, told me to read the Book of Job and began to explain the meaning behind the powerful teaching. From then on I started to study the Bible, got involved with my Ukrainian Catholic church and became who I am today.

I’m also a huge fan of the epic 10-hour television series ‘The Bible’ and ‘A.D. The Bible Continues’ produced by Roma Downey (Touched By an Angel) and Mark Burnett (The Voice, Survivor, Shark Tank, Celebrity Apprentice).

Books by Eiko Kadono: Where can I begin? Eiko Kadono author of ‘Kiki’s Delivery Service’ is the greatest influence on my writing.     Kiki's_Delivery_Service_Majo_no_Takkyubin_(Book_Cover)

My mentor Dr. Manna knows this book has helped me form a plot for my latest manuscript. Reading Miss Kadono’s novel and, of course watching Studio Ghibli’s film, really lit a flame to my writing. She is my true inspiration and I hope to meet her some day in the future.

The Borrowers (by Mary Norton):

                 borrowers‘The Borrowers’, also known as ‘The Secret World of Arriety’ by Studio Ghibli fans became an all time favorite book of mine as I was growing up. I’m a fan of simple, but at the same time beautifully descriptive works, so reading Mary Norton’s book was indeed a pleasure. This book took me on all kinds of adventures and made me get outside! I recommend this book to any parent or teacher who has kids who love the outdoors.

Howl’s Moving Castle (by Diana Wynne Jones)

My goodness, here’s another Studio Ghibli film many people are familiar with. Like Eiko Kadono, Diana Wynne Jones is my inspiration. If you read ‘Howl’s Moving Castle’ you’ll understand why simplicity is golden. It has a mix of adventure and fantasy and was a great teacher to me when I started writing.                    castle

Five Little Peppers (Margaret Sidney)

I’m surprised that not many people are familiar with Margaret Sidney’s series ‘Five Little Peppers’. This series taught me about family, hardships and how to lend a helping hand. My mother bought me the entire series for my birthday last year and I started jumping up and down like I was a kid on Christmas morning.

Lord of the Flies:  From the first time I was given William Golding’s ‘Lord of the Flies’ to read, I was fascinated by the central theme of disputing the human instincts toward civilization and the will of power, and how young boys could represent such savagery and stifle to a primitive state, something so influential and debatable.

If you follow me on Twitter, Facebook or WordPress you’ll realize how most of my short stories relate to survival of the fittest and being abandoned in the wilderness. All three stories were based on a writing prompt I was given in a workshop to define the true nature of the Japanese proverb “weak meat, strong eat”, in other words “survival of the fittest”.

Madeline Series (Ludwig Bemelmans): Madeline has been a part of my life since I was three years old. She became my best friend and my idol.  I remember when I was six years old and said I had a crush on Pepito, Madeline’s next-door neighbor. He was a rude, spunky boy who picked on the girls, but as the story progressed he became friendly after the girls saved him from a pack of dogs.  Ludwig Bemelmans will always be on my top author list and was the author who inspired me to write short stories.

Stories by Hans Christian Andersen:   I grew up with Hans Christian Andersen’s stories and if anyone studies his work and then watches Disney’s rendition of the story you’ll notice a huge gap and difference between the two.  A few of my favorites are:

• The Travelling Companion (1835)   Hans anderson tales
• Thumbelina (1835)
• The Daisy (1838)
• The Little Mermaid (1836),
• The Wild Swans (1838)
• The Ugly Duckling (1844)
• God Can Never Die (1836),
• The Philosopher’s Stone (1859),
• Ole the Tower-Keeper (1859),
• The Old Church Bell (1861),
• The Toad (1866)
• The Leaf from Heaven (1855)

All of Ernest Hemingway’s books:  When I was getting mentored from NYU’s Professor John Doorley he recommended that I read Ernest Hemingway books. He even compared my dialogue to Ernest Hemingway techniques! Of course his statement made me feel honored, so ever since then I started studying all of Hemingway books. A favorite of mine would have to be ‘The Old Man and the Sea’.

Charles Dickens’ books: ‘A Christmas Carol’ and ‘The Old Curiosity Shop’ will forever be my favorite Dickens books. The writing style, the dialogue, the description, everything about his work is beyond perfection. Reading ‘A Christmas Carol’ when I was young and watching ‘The Muppet Christmas Carol’ was always a joy around the holiday season.

Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell: I first watched the three-hour movie version of Gone with the Wind before I read the book. Why? Every day when my grandparents were with us I used to go over their house, help out with the chores, bake some tasty treats, play games, read and watch movies. A favorite movie of mine would have to be ‘Arsenic and Old Lace’ with Cary Grant. I watched that movie and many more Cary Grant films when Hurricane Sandy hit New Jersey.

Spending time with my grandparents was one of the joys of being home schooled. Well one day my grandma took out the ‘Gone with the Wind’ box set, made a few snacks and watched the entire film with me. After that I read the book and was just as disappointed with the cliffhanger ending as I was with the film. I’ve always hated cliffhangers when I was young, but after re-reading and re-watching ‘Gone with the Wind’ I’ve come to understand the beauty and magic behind cliffhangers.

I’d like to thank Darlene Beck-Jacobson for having me as a guest on her blog. If you haven’t checked out her book ‘Wheels of Change’ now’s the time.     Katya pic

If you have a question about home schooling or if you’d like to know more about my writing journey please, by all means, connect with me on Facebook or Twitter and visit KidLit.TV for topics about, kidlit, tech savvy advice and original content. Thank you all for your time.

Twitter: @katyaszew