Friday, February 16, 2018

Author & Illustrator Interview: Leslie Bulion and Robert Meganck

Zooming through the thin layer of decaying leaves, plant parts, and soil beneath our feet, nineteen poems in a variety of verse forms with accompanying science notes take readers on a decomposer safari through the “brown food web,” from bacteria to tardigrades and on to rove beetle predators. Award-winning author Leslie Bulion and illustrator Robert Meganck provide more insight into the inspiration behind and the creation of Leaf Litter Critters.



Q: Leslie, You were trained in oceanography and social work before becoming a writer. When and how did you decide to write children’s books? Does your background influence your writing?

LB: Ah yes, you caught me—I’m a professional career-changer! But my life-long fascination with science, work as a school social worker, and experiences as a kid and parent all inform my process as a children’s writer. A childhood friend (who is a writer and former magazine editor) had a tremendous influence on my decision to write—in fact, it was her idea!




Q: Robert, did you always know you wanted to be an artist? How did you get into the world of children’s illustration? 

RM: Basically yes. From the time I was very young. Drawing is something every child loves to do. I stuck with it not because I was good at it, but because I was bad at everything else. I suppose I got into children’s book the same way most children’s illustrator do—I read countless children’s book to my three children (now grown), now I read them to my grandson, and with each I imagine what I would do if given the chance. 

Q: Leslie, You’ve written multiple other nonfiction books in verse. Why do you choose a verse-and-poetry format when presenting scientific information instead of the more traditional format of nonfiction? 

LB: Well, that line of work—science poetry—all started when I took a week-long entomology field camp for adults at Cornell’s Adult University. I was learning so many amazing science stories about insect adaptations, and it struck me that insects are brilliant, small packets of evolutionary information, and poems are small packets of a different kind of information—ideas, emotions, moments; I wondered what would happen if I tried to put the two packets together. My fourth-grade teacher, Mrs. Brownworth had long ago set me on a poet’s path, so I set out again with science and nature in mind. 

Q: Why did you choose to examine the bugs that live in the leaf litter instead of other ecosystems where bugs live? 

LB: My first science poetry collection, Hey There, Stink Bug, was a more general survey of insect adaptations. But in that entomology field camp I mentioned, we spent a couple of days playing with a Berlese funnel—a contraption to sift out litter critters for examination. I have a field notebook full of microscope-view drawings of critters many folks haven’t heard of, so I wanted to revisit those. I love the idea of an ecosystems view, and I’ll be doing more of that. 

Q: You dedicate Leaf Litter Critters to kids who “can’t resist turning over a rock.” Were you an adventurous and curious child?

LB: I think all kids can be adventurous and curious in many different ways. I had endless opportunities to explore outside when I was young—hours of free play, family camping and lots of time at the seashore. I was always digging, sifting and fishing for critters.

Q: Robert, what part of Leaf Litter Critters did you most respond to when working on the illustrations?

RM: As an editorial illustrator for many years, I’ve always loved the process of visually interpreting text material. Leslie’s poems are wonderful and really lend themselves to illustrations. Additionally I think the Peachtree team is great. They gave me a free hand to work through each piece the way I felt best. No one on the team ever made a single comment or correction that did not result in an improvement.

Q: Leslie, what is your writing process like? What is the editing process like for poetry?

LB: Process is a long question, so I’ll go for an overview: I begin with lots of background research. I read widely (the inimitable Melissa Stewart taught me that helpful process description), then I get more specific as I zoom in on the collection’s themes and select individual subjects for the poems. I put myself through a poetry self-study before the first collection and I’m still always learning. I use hands-on learning to immerse myself in the sensory experience. So fun! And essential to my writing. I also ask scientists I meet in the field to read my manuscript to be sure I’m spot-on with the science. By the time I pry the manuscript out of my own hands, I’ve shared it with my writers group and reworked the poems and science notes so many times. There’s always room to edit the notes, but the poems are trickier—you might ask my editor Vicky about that! Her editor’s eye is invaluable in every instance, and in science poetry she catches me if I’ve assumed an understanding readers won’t have. Otherwise, we end up talking about commas a lot!

Q: What are some of the challenges of presenting scientific information through poetry? 

LB: Poems are short! I try not to have each poem be a mini-encyclopedia, so I tap into what I refer to as “cool science stories”—some aspect of behavior, appearance, life-history that POPs! Science vocabulary can have wonderful rhythm, and I find that inspiring. I explain a bit more in the narrative notes, but those are also concise. 



Q: How did you discover all of these creatures? What sort of research did you do? Did you ever see these critters in in real life during the writing process? 

LB: So much hands-on! I set up a laboratory in my basement and experimented with different collecting strategies and photography. I have lots of photos and videos of the critters I found. These observational experiences truly inform my writing—the collecting environment the colors, the backgrounds, the motion—and I hope readers will have some of these experiences, too.

Q: Do you have a favorite leaf litter critter?

LB: I’ll answer the same way I answer students during school or skype visits: favorites are HARD. I mean, what’s not to love about an inch-worming rotifer? Or a claw-waving tardigrade? Or a bendy rove beetle? Or a bacter—ok, maybe not some bacteria! I’ll admit, I’m pretty partial to the globular springtail I caught on film.

Q: What about you, Robert? What critters were the most fun to create? Did you discover a favorite?

RM: They are all fun. But if I was forced to pick my favorite it would probably be the pot worm. I had to add some visual reference so that the readers would get a sense of scale, so I add a Lego man with a fishing rod holding a goldfish cracker (both known scale references) and then add the pot worm on the Lego fishing hook. The fun thing, that few people will know, is that the fisherman is a self-portrait. 


Q: How did you work to make your illustrations fit with the poetry form of the book? 

RM: My complete portfolio varies a bit depending on the assignment and the audience. I chose to do these illustration ask black line drawing with a background color fill. This is a very traditional aesthetic for children’s books (Maurice Sendak, Beatrix Potter, etc.), I just do it digitally.

Q:
What do you think readers can learn from the illustrations that they might not learn from the text?

RM: Although I took some liberties with the scientific accuracy, I think the readers still get a sense of what the critters look like. They will also get a pretty good idea of scale when they look at the relative size spread.

Q: The backmatter features lots of extra science and poetry information, as well as resources and activities. Leslie, how do you decide what to include in your back matter?

LB: I always include resources for further reading, a science glossary, and a poetry glossary. Each reader is a unique learner who might be interested in one section or another. I love hands-on field study so much that I include suggestions for readers to enjoy those types of experiences, too. At NCTE in 2016 I met library media specialist Terry Young, who looked through a mock-up of Leaf Litter Critters and pointed out that readers would want a better idea of the relative sizes of the critters. Thank you, Terry—brilliant! That’s where Robert Meganck’s relative sizes spread was born. 


Q: How do you see educators using Leaf Litter Critters?

LB: My HUGEST hope is that educators can find time to take students outside, collect a bit of soil or leaf litter, and take a close look at what’s there. We walk across this hidden world every day and it’s so cool and amazing. And it’s a great introduction to the ecosystem concept in miniature—all of these tiny critters with a specific job to do. And microscopy (or any kind of magnification) is so much fun!

Q: What do you want readers to take away from your book?

LB: I’m regularly bowled over by what readers find in my books—in everyone’s books, really! They teach me. But with each book, I hope readers will be inspired to spend time outside, take a closer look at the diversity in our beautiful world, and understand our responsibility to preserve and protect it.

Q: What do you want readers to take away from your illustrations?

RM: To simply enjoy them.



Look for Leaf Litter Critters at your local libraryindie bookstore, or Barnes & Noble March 1! 

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Leaf Litter Critters: the Perfect Blend of Science and Poetry

written by Leslie Bulion
illustrated by Robert Meganck

Nineteen poems in a variety of verse forms with accompanying science notes take readers on a decomposer safari through the “brown food web,” from bacteria through tardigrades and on to rove beetle predators. Glossary, hands-on investigations, and resources are included in the back matter.

★ “The poems are expertly crafted in a variety of forms (identified in the backmatter). The language is lively and the imagery appropriate. With alliteration, internal rhymes, and careful rhythm, these will be a delight to read aloud and learn…. Meganck’s engaging digital drawings give each creature pop-eyes and attitude…. A delightful, memorable introduction to an unsung ecosystem.”

“Bulion stuffs her poems with scientific detail and puts even more into accompanying “science notes.” Meganck’s cartoons strike sillier notes…balancing all of the information Bulion provides with hefty doses of fun.” —Publishers Weekly


If you want to learn more about the hidden ecosystem right at our feet, don't miss author Leslie Bulion's poetry prompts for educator poets and their students! Wax poetic about some of the creatures that just couldn't fit into Leaf Litter Critters, and learn all about them along the way.


Look for Leaf Litter Critters at your local libraryindie bookstore, or Barnes & Noble March 1!

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

15 Children's Books that Celebrate Friendship

For children who are just starting to make friends with classmates and others around them, seeing different examples of friendships and relationships come to life in books is both important and enjoyable. We're sharing a list of children's books that highlight the trials and triumphs of friendships in all forms, and what it means to be a good friend.

For young children being exposed to books for the first time, Stanley and the cast of adorable characters in their little community provide a great example of how friends help each other. Whether Myrtle needs help fixing her car in Stanley's Garage, or Stanley needs Little Woo's help to prepare a picnic party in Stanley's Numbers, you can't go wrong with any book in the Stanley series.

When an accidental encounter throws Mole and Wolf together, they learn one is afraid of the light, and the other is afraid of the dark. With each other's help, they both learn that friends are all they need to conquer their fears.

A newly hatched duck immediately attaches itself to the first thing it sees—a warmhearted young boy. Soon the two are inseparable, but the duckling is growing up and the boy realizes with a great pang of sorrow that his friend will have to return to live among its own kind. This deceptively simple story poignantly and humorously dramatizes the special tale of friendship and demonstrates the importance of learning to let go of something you love.

Izzy Gizmo loves to invent things, but they don't always work. When she finds a crow with a broken wing, she just has to help! She tries to build him a new pair of wings, but nothing is working! Can Izzy overcome her failure to help her crow friend fly again? This feisty tale of determination, ingenuity, and friendship is sure to capture the imaginations of young inventors.

When Edgar and his family move to a new town, everything seems so different and scary. But as Edgar soon learns, sometimes you have to rise above your fears to make a new friend, and sometimes that friend may be the last person—or alien—you’d expect.

Kalinka is a showy little bird with an eye for neatness, but her grumpy neighbor Grakkle doesn’t care one bit about cleaning. Can an unfortunate accident plus a little humor and empathy help an odd couple like this see eye to eye? Highlighting themes of friendship and compromise, this fun and whimsical picture book shows readers that even the most paradoxical of pairs can overcome their problems and still be friends.

Babba Zarrah loves telling imaginative stories to the children who visit her as they settle down on her big story blanket. When she finds the children need socks to keep warm, Babba Zarrah unravels her blanket and uses the yard to knit them gifts, until the story blanket gets so small that the children no longer have anything to sit on for storytime. When the villagers finally discover Babba Zarrah’s secret, they decide to give her a surprise of her own. This heartwarming story of generosity makes for a wonderful read aloud experience.


This quirky and modern twist on the classic fairy tale proves that real friendship surpasses appearances and titles. As Prince Henrik starts on a mission to find the perfect princess for his camping and hockey adventures, he learns that sometimes the best person for you is your friend.

Crocodile has a big imagination. But he has a big problem too. He’s always thinking up fun, new things to do, but no matter what he does, all the other crocs follow him and copy him—every time! When Crocodile finally manages to escape his fellow crocs, he learns being by himself is not nearly as much fun as being with his friends.

Bessie and Ninny are the best of friends who love to dance and sing together. Most nights, they visit the grave of Ninny’s grandfather, Oppa, who taught them three things that they will never forget: to dance, to sing, and to tell stories. Oppa’s wisdom ultimately inspires a pact between the two young friends—a pact that binds them together through love and marriage, war and separation, birth and death. A simple but extraordinary story, The Last Dance speaks to each reader about the value of promises and the limitless power of love.

Pig and Bug just want to be friends, but their size is a BIG problem. This enchanting tale of friendship despite differences—and sizes—reminds us about the importance of compromise, patience and respect. Because, at the end of the day, we ALL want to join in on the fun! 

http://peachtree-online.com/portfolio-items/raymond-and-nelda/
Raymond and Nelda are the best of friends, but one day when Nelda twirls for Raymond and falls down, Raymond laughs at her. Now the two aren’t speaking, but life isn’t nearly as much fun without a best friend. What will it take for these two to make up and be best friends again? This quirky story negotiates the highs and lows of relationships.

King is a happy and adorable golden retriever who loves just about everything, including his human Kayla. As a new mystery presents itself in each book in this early reader series, King tries to help Kayla figure out what they know, what they don't know, and how to solve the case. If only Kayla could understand his barks!


http://peachtree-online.com/books/series/claude/
Claude and his best friend Sir Bobblysock love to go exploring, but they always seem to get themselves into trouble. Join this endearing duo as they go on fun adventures at the beach, in the country, on the big screen, and more in this delightfully odd series perfect for transitioning readers looking for a laugh-out-loud story.

Basanta longs for the beautiful ring worn by her young mistress, but when it is finally hers, she becomes increasingly aware of the struggles of her less privileged friends and looks for ways to improve their lives and entertain their community. Set in a 1960s Indian village, this engaging middle grade novel provides an insightful look at relative privilege and opportunity and what it means to be a compassionate local citizen.

When African-American Jemmie moves in next door to white Cassie, both of their parents don’t want them socializing with each other. As they find they share more similarities than differences and begin to build a friendship, the two girls must learn how to address their parents' deeply held prejudices. With unforgettable characters, author Adrian Fogelin addresses the complex issues of bigotry and tolerance with sensitivity and intelligence, poignantly reminding readers of fences that too often separate us from one another.

In this playful homage to Charles Dickens, unlikely allies learn the lessons of a great friendship. Skilley, an alley cat with an embarrassing secret, hope to trade his street-cat life in London's damp alleyways for the warmth of ye olde Cheshire Cheese Inn. Striking a bargain with Pip, an erudite mouse, Skilley agrees to protect the mice who live at the inn, and in turn, the mice will provide Skilley with the thing he desires most. But when Skilley and Pip are drawn into a crisis of monumental proportions, their new friendship is pushed to its limits. 

Sophia, a former child prodigy and seventeen-year-old mastermind, is feeling a lot of pressure about figuring out her future, so she doesn’t have the patience for games right now, and especially doesn’t have the patience to figure out why all these mysterious playing cards keep turning up inside her textbooks. Meanwhile Joshua, a cheerfully unambitious amateur magician, has admired Sophia from afar for as long as he can remember, and has finally mustered up the courage to tell her how he really feels. He just doesn't know how off his timing really is... This heartwarming tale of unconventional romance and finding your own magic is perfect for anyone who believes in making friends with the freaks.

Find these books and more at your local libraryindie bookstore, or Barnes & Noble

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

King & Kayla Wins a 2018 Geisel Award Honor

Monday morning, our office was buzzing more than usual as our staff gathered around various computer screens to watch the awards announcements at the ALA Midwinter Conference. And when the cover for King & Kayla and the Case of the Missing Dog Treats flashed on the projector screen with "Geisel Honor Book" as the header, we cheered in Atlanta along with the rest of the enthusiastic attendees in Denver and the hundreds of others watching remotely.

“It is wonderfully satisfying for all of us at Peachtree to receive our first Geisel honor,” said Peachtree President and Publisher Margaret Quinlin. “We are most grateful to the committee for recognizing the work of Dori Butler and Nancy Meyers.”

The Geisel Award, named after famous cartoonist and world-renowned author Theodor Geisel, a.k.a. Dr. Seuss, "is given annually to the author(s) and illustrator(s) of the most distinguished American book for beginning readers published in English in the United States during the preceding year." Through his imaginative, memorable, and unique picture books, Dr. Seuss charmed his way into the hearts of many young children and made them lasting readers; it goes without saying, being recognized for providing the same kind of reading experiences as Dr. Seuss had provided and still continues to provide for children today is beyond gratifying.
While talking with author Dori Hillestad Butler after the awards announcement, she recalled why she became a writer: "My mission statement is all about turning non-readers into readers! There is nothing more satisfying to me than to get an e-mail or letter from a child who says, 'I didn't like to read until I read your Do You Know the Monkey Man.' or 'Your King and Kayla and the Case of the Missing Dog Treats is the first book I read all by myself!' The Geisel Honor award plays right into that mission statement."
King & Kayla and the Case of the Missing Dog Treats follows lovable golden retriever King and his human Kayla as they search for the missing peanut butter treats Kayla made for their friend Jillian’s new puppy Thor. The first book in the King & Kayla seriesKing & Kayla and the Case of the Missing Dog Treats offers transitioning and newly independent readers a chance to practice their sleuthing abilities through gathering facts, thinking analytically, and practicing their reasoning and deductive skills, all while building on vocabulary and visual perception. The fact that these engaging stories are told from King's perspective with fun and humorous full-color illustrations throughout only adds to the enjoyment.

Kathy Landwehr with the 2018 Geisel
Award committee at ALA Midwinter
"The King & Kayla series has been one of those delightful experiences that has been fun and energizing at every stage,” said Kathy Landwehr, Peachtree Publishers vice president and associate publisher. “Dori Butler and Nancy Meyers have created endearing characters that inspire us to think carefully, pay attention, and experience joy in everything we do. We look forward to more adventures!”

With three titles in the King & Kayla series already out, the fourth available March 2018, and more on the way, readers can continue to experience and enjoy this endearing series for years to come.


Thursday, February 8, 2018

The Countdown Is On: Cover Reveal for the New Book by Suzanne Slade and Thomas Gonzalez


Tuesday afternoon, millions of people (including many of us here at Peachtree) were glued to their screens witnessing the launch of Elon Musk's SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket. The rocket launch reminded us of the excitement most of us have felt about our country’s history of space exploration and the enthusiasm that's been building within our own walls for a gorgeous new book about the Apollo Moon mission. 

In 1961 President John F. Kennedy announced that the United States would try to land a man on the Moon by the end of the decade. During the two thousand, nine hundred and seventy-nine days that followed his speech, eight rockets soared into space, and four hundred thousand people—engineers, technicians, scientists, mathematicians, and machinists—joined Project Apollo in hopes of making the dream a reality.

Today we are thrilled to share a special launch of our own and reveal the cover of Countdown: 2979 Days to the Moon. This book is the result of an epic collaboration between award-winning author Suzanne Slade (Dangerous Jane)—who is also a mechanical engineer who worked on Delta rockets, Titan rockets, and the Delta-Star spacecraft—and New York Times best-selling illustrator Thomas Gonzalez (14 Cows for America, Seven and a Half Tons of Steel). This stunning illustrated middle grade nonfiction book in verse teems with timely messages of STEAM, space exploration, trial and error, and collaboration. We can't wait until you see the whole book.

Coming Fall 2018

THE COUNTDOWN IS ON

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Izzy Gizmo: Maker Spaces, Inventions, and a Sweepstakes

written by Pip Jones
illustrated by Sara Ogilvie

For all the little makers itching to invent, Izzy Gizmo is your gal. Izzy Gizmo’s inventions are marvelous, magnificent—and they often malfunction. But when she finds a crow with a broken wing, she just has to help! Izzy tries again and again to build a new pair of wings, but nothing is working. And that makes Izzy really cross! Can Izzy overcome her failures? Or is her friend destined to live as a crow who can’t fly?

“This story of a girl engineer is sorely needed and has potential to develop and nourish readers' interest in STEAM subjects. Additionally, themes of creativity and tenacity, together with the portrayal of a girl who's allowed to show anger and frustration, make this a worthwhile read. Fun, with depth.” —Kirkus Reviews

“The text is full of challenging new words for young readers and the text rhymes, which allows the story to flow in a fun, inventive way. The theme of not giving up after a first, second, and third failure will resonate with readers of all ages. This book will inspire kids to get out there and to try new things.” —School Library Journal

With valuable STEAM components, as well as themes of failure, learning from your mistakes, and not giving up, Izzy Gizmo is already being hailed as a process-oriented, determined, and creative engineer for young readers to emulate. We can't wait to get this book into the hands of other little inventors, but first, we thought we'd sneak a peek at the very places where those inventors are at work!

The Izzy Gizmo Sweepstakes

How to enter:

1. Follow us on Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram
2. Comment on any of our Izzy Gizmo sweepstakes-related social media posts
OR
3. Share a picture of your educator- or librarian-run makerspace program on social media (Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram) and tag us!

*Enter multiple times! Each comment and picture will count as an entry.

What you'll win:

1. A copy of Izzy Gizmo
2. An Izzy-approved measuring tape key chain with level

When to enter:

The sweepstakes end on February 23rd!


*No purchase necessary to enter or win. Open only to legal residents of the 50 United States and Washington, D.C. who are 18 years of age or older as of date of entry. Sweepstakes will begin February 6th, 2018 and end February 23rd, 2018 at 11:59 pm EST. One winner will be selected randomly to receive the prize. Winners will be notified by February 27th, 2018. Void where prohibited.

Friday, February 2, 2018

King & Kayla and the Case of the Lost Tooth: for Mystery-Loving Early Readers

Illustrated by Nancy Meyers

Kayla lost a tooth, but now it’s missing! What does Kayla know? —Her tooth is not inside the tooth fairy pillow. It’s not inside her backpack. It’s not inside the car. What does King know? —Mason’s hand smells like the tooth fairy pillow. How will they solve the mystery?

"This funny, endearing addition to the series will delight early readers, especially dog lovers." 

King & Kayla and the Case of the Lost Tooth is the fourth addition to the King & Kayla series from Dori Hillestad Butler about a lovable dog who helps his human girl solve mysteries, told from the dog’s point of view. With the perfect touch of humor and a new easy-to-follow mystery to solve in every book, this dynamic duo is sure to engage and amuse emerging independent readers. Find out more about the whole series (and find some fun activities!) on the King & Kayla series page.

Also, learn more from Peachtree's Vice President Kathy Landwehr, editor of the King & Kayla series, about the world of early readers, and the gap in book selection that King & Kayla fills, in this post.

And don't miss the first two books in the series coming out in paperback March 1!


Look for King & Kayla and the Case of the Lost Tooth at your local libraryindie bookstore, or Barnes & Noble March 1!

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Great Read Aloud Books for Storytime, Bedtime, and More

Reading aloud is a great way to engage young children with stories while expanding their vocabulary, developing their comprehension, and instilling a love of reading and learning.

Find some recommendations on great read alouds, for every age and occasion!

"The book is destined to be a high-
volume read-aloud, and much fun can 
be had trying to guess what the girl
 will choose" ―Kirkus Reviews
Fun Storytime Read Alouds

Ages 26
Bark Park
What's the Time, Grandma Wolf?
No Bows! 
Flying!




"The repeated phrases will be sure to 
have sleepy children chiming in and 
Argent’s strong, rich watercolors offer 
beguiling parents and offspring." 
Kirkus Reviews
Read Alouds for Further Discussion




 “Stockdale’s rhyming couplets are 
perfectly crafted. They’re as delightful
 to read aloud as her clean, bright 
acrylic paintings are to look at.” 
School Library Journal
Nonfiction Read Alouds





Transitional and Chapter Book Read Alouds

The Cheshire Cheese Cat






Find these books and more at your local libraryindie bookstore, or Barnes & Noble
What's your favorite read aloud? Comment below!

Friday, January 26, 2018

New Picture Book from Bethan Woollvin Coming Fall 2018

We are thrilled to announce that Bethan Woollvin's newest fractured fairy tale will be coming to the U.S. in October 2018! The upcoming picture book is a deliciously wicked take on "Hansel & Gretel" that is sure to delight fans of Woollvin's Little Red and Rapunzel.


Woollvin's feisty heroines have refreshed readers, as her traditional characters always insist on saving themselves. Woollvin said in a guest post on fairy tales and gender stereotypes, "I simply wanted to create stories and characters that I would have enjoyed to read about when I was a child, instead of the damsels in distress we so often read about in classic tales."


Still including the unique twist that Woollvin's fairy tale retellings provide, this Hansel &Gretel flips the classic story completely on its head: "While Little Red and Rapunzel are certainly rebellious, Bethan’s take on 'Hansel & Gretel' isshall we saybiting. You’ll never forget these siblings…or this witch," says Vice President and Associate Publisher Kathy Landwehr.

Taking the subversive nature of Little Red and Rapunzel to the next level, Hansel & Gretel stars a witch named Willow, a good witch who only uses good magic. That is, until she meets Hansel and Gretel, two very naughty and rude children who try Willow’s patience. A clever twist redefines the meaning of a villain.


Be sure to follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram for more news about Hansel & Gretel!

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Blacksmith's Song: Blacksmithing, Slavery in America, and Underground Railroad Folklore

Written by Elizabeth Van Steenwyk
Illustrated by Anna Rich

Pa works hard as a blacksmith. But he’s got another important job to do as well: using his anvil to pound out the traveling rhythm—a message to travelers on the Underground Railroad. His son wants to help, but Pa keeps putting him off. Then one day, Pa falls ill and the boy has to take over.

Inspired by tales of communication on the Underground Railroad, author Elizabeth Van Steenwyk presents a powerful story of rhythm and craft in nineteenth century America—with beautiful oil paintings by illustrator Anna Rich and back matter that includes more information about the Underground Railroad. Blacksmith's Song offers a unique angle on the folklore of the secret communication channels between slaves as they traveled towards freedom.

“An intriguing new angle on an important story.” —Kirkus Reviews

“A plausible, powerful vision of ingenuity and daring in action.” —Publishers Weekly

“A shadowy color palette situates the narrative in the twilight and moonlit hours, perfectly complementing the suspense of the plot…. Ending on a hopeful note, the book brings this piece of hidden history to life.” —Booklist

“Inspired by tales of the Underground Railroad and its innovative methods of communication, a perilous story of courage and cunning unfolds” —Foreword Reviews

“The design of every spread lends itself well to an oral reading or presentation, which would serve as a stimulus for more in-depth information or discussion on the topics of slavery and the Civil War….a welcome addition to an introduction of the Underground Railroad.” —School Library Connection


Blacksmiths are craftsmen who create objects from iron or steel and produce items like tools, weapons, furniture, railings, and gates. Blacksmithing has been around since humans have been using metals to create. And if you have ever watched a blacksmith at work, or heard the sound of hammer hitting anvil in a repeated pattern, you will notice the musicality of the sound as well as the art behind the craft. Some of the tools are very heavy, and it requires a lot of skill and muscle to shape hot metal.



Although Blacksmith's Song is a historical fiction story, many slaves did work as blacksmiths. One such example is James W. C. Pennington, who was enslaved on a Maryland plantation, but eventually escaped and made his way north alone. Living as a free man, he became the first African American to take classes at Yale University, became a minister, and dedicated his life to the abolition of slavery. Pennington wrote and published The Origin and History of the Colored People, which is considered the first history of African Americans in the United States. His memoir The Fugitive Blacksmith was published in 1849. (You can read it in its entirety here, or the summary here.)

While there is no hard evidence that enslaved people used blacksmithing as a method of communicating for travelers on the Underground Railroad, Blacksmith's Song is just one example of the many different stories surrounding  communication on the Underground Railroad. For some great book pairings, as well as more resources and information about communication on the Underground Railroad and the significance of this folklore, check out the links below.


Blacksmith's Song Book Pairings