Thursday, April 27, 2017

Saying Good-bye with Mrs. McBee

Gretchen Brandenburg McLellan, author of Mrs. McBee Leaves Room 3, knows the bittersweet of saying good-bye to a lot of people and places, which was part of her inspiration for writing Mrs. McBee Leaves Room 3. In the book, the students of Room 3 find out Mrs. McBee will not be returning to the school for the next year. As each student helps their teacher prepare the classroom for next year's students, the children each find their own way of saying good-bye by celebrating their beloved teacher and remembering the wonderful memories they have together of that year.

Along with her debut picture book that encourages readers to acknowledge and celebrate transitions like the end of school, McLellan prepared an activity guide for anyone who is preparing to say good-bye. With the end of the school year looming, and Teacher Appreciation Day just around the corner, these activities can help make saying good-bye to your favorite teacher more sweet than bitter.

Make a Memory Box with everyone who helped make a certain place special. Each person can contribute their favorite memory, and then the best of a classroom or building or house is preserved in the box.

Pictures are one of the best and easiest ways to preserve good memories. By creating a place or people-specific book, the story or narrative of time spent together will be easy to see and easy to enjoy all over again.

Every person has their own way of helping to say goodbye! Make everyone an "expert" certificate to designate jobs and responsibilities in cleaning and preparing to leave a classroom or building.

Get the full activity guide on Pinterest or download it here! Get to know the author and creator of the activity guide and Mrs. McBee Leaves Room 3 in this Q&A.

You can find Mrs. McBee Leaves Room 3 at your local libraryindie bookstore, or Barnes & Noble.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

King & Kayla's World

When we first saw this brand-new beginning chapter book mystery series from Dori Hillestad Butler (author of The Buddy Files), we knew we had a winner. And the King & Kayla fan club has only grown from there. If you haven't yet met this endearing duoand even if you havefind out more from the series editor Kathy Landwehr, get some free King & Kayla-themed activities, and enter King & Kayla's world!


Q: When you first saw Dori's proposal for the King & Kayla series, what made you say, "I LOVE this! It's my favorite thing!"?

A: It’s very hard to write simply—and to do so while also telling a well-constructed mystery story and introducing two endearing characters is a real accomplishment. Dori Butler is a natural at telling these simple stories and making them fun and engaging.

Q: There are countless easy readers on the market todaywhat does King & Kayla bring to the table that's missing from current offerings?

A: Each King & Kayla story is a delightfully constructed and satisfying little mystery. King and Kayla each contribute to the solution, using their distinctive personalities and skills. And their process also offers a terrific model of deductive reasoning.

Q: So much research went into each detail of these books. What was your approach on the following and how did you determine which direction to take?

King & Kayla and the Case of the Missing Dog Treats
By Dori Hillestad Butler, illustrated by Nancy Meyers
A: I started by reviewing all of the Geisel Award-winning early readers for the past several years, as well as other popular and well-received books in this category. That helped us develop a model for layout and design.

The text was in excellent shape editorially, but the author and I made sure that each story unfolded in a somewhat predictable manner; the mystery was solved in a consistent pattern, and the key elements occurred at roughly the same point in each story. We also made sure that certain elements, such as Kayla’s lists and King’s exclamations, were consistent in style.

Once we moved to design and layout, we focused on font selection initially, so that we could determine how much space the text would take up on each page; that gave the illustrator some sense the room she had to work with. 

After we’d settled on the font, the size, and the leading, we moved onto the next level of typography decisions. Would we indent paragraphs? Use page numbers? Allow styles like bold or italic? Involve punctuation like ellipses?

Q: King is loyal, but a little distracted. What makes him the perfect partner for Kayla's adventures?

A: King may have a short-attention span—as so many of us do—but he also notices details that Kayla misses, including things like smells and clues that are on a dog’s eye level. Plus, he can be single-minded when something bothers him; in some cases, his actions force Kayla to take notice of things she might otherwise overlook.

Q: What's next for this dynamic duo?

A: King & Kayla and the Case of the Mysterious Mouse will be out in fall 2017. When King’s ball goes missing, Cat with No Name tells him that a mouse took it. But how could a tiny mouse take a dog toy? Then in spring 2018, we’ll have King & Kayla and the Case of the Lost Tooth. Kayla puts her tooth in the Tooth Fairy pillow, but then it disappears. If the Tooth Fairy doesn’t have it, then where is it?

Get the King & Kayla Decoder and Dog Treats Recipe on Pinterest or download them. 

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Frogs, Princesses, and Critical Thinking

Critical thinking and information literacy are vital skills for children in today’s society. Educators have always been seeking to help students look at information critically, and discerning fact from fiction has now become especially important. For young readers, look no further than Prince Ribbit by Jonathan Emmett and Poly Bernatene to begin that conversation.

Most people may be familiar with the classic fairy tale “The Frog Prince” by the Grimm brothers, where a young princess makes a deal with a frog that helps her, and she in turn agrees to invite him into her castle and share her food, drink, and bed with him. In the story, he ultimately turns into a handsome prince, and they agree to marry and move to his kingdom. (Learn more about the magical tale here.)

But in Jonathan Emmett and Poly Bernetene’s clever, thought-provoking spin, when three princesses meet a conniving talking frog who suggests that if they pamper him to his heart’s content, he will turn into a handsome prince (just like in their story books), nonfiction-loving Princess Martha suspects otherwise. Armed with frog-filled facts from her science volumes,  she sets out to expose Prince Ribbit and prove that he is just an ordinary amphibian fooling her two sisters. But “just because it’s in a book doesn’t mean it’s true.”

Children can enjoy this book for pure entertainment’s sake, but Prince Ribbit can also be a fun exercise in metacognitive reading skills. The phrase “just because it’s in a book doesn’t mean it’s true” is used by multiple characters throughout the story to support their own beliefs—Princess Martha uses it to persuade her sisters to look past their fairy tale stories.  Her sisters in turn use that phrase against Princess Martha and her science books. And when a surprise twist repeats the phrase on the very last page, the reader must think about whether that phrase applies to everything he/she just read.

The reader has been seeing (or hearing) the words “just because it’s in a book doesn’t mean it’s true” for 30 pages, but have they actually learned that lesson? This ending forces—even if it’s only for a brief moment—readers to think critically about everything they’ve just read.

They must consider character: Based on what they know of Martha’s character, is she the type of person to marry for looks after he becomes a prince (despite hating the man’s personality when he was a frog)?

They must consider tone: Based on what they’ve read so far, does this feel like a smooth and realistic ending to the story?

They must consider textual evidence: Didn’t the narrator tell us repeatedly that the frog is cunning and sly, that he’d “come up with a plan” to make his dream of being wealthy and well-fed come true? And didn’t the frog devise this plan immediately after hearing the story of The Frog Prince?

The reader is either rewarded for their critical reading at the conclusion of the story OR is reminded in “gotcha!” fashion of the book’s lesson: be critical; you can’t trust everything you read.

A Fuse 8 Production’s Betsy Bird said it best: “With a steady hand and a working brain, a parent, teacher, or librarian could easily spin this book into a lesson that would ultimately do child readers a world of good. Read carefully. Read critically. Read everything and then form your own opinion from the facts, as best as you can gather them. Or, if you just prefer, read this cute book because it has princesses and talking frogs in it. As far as I can tell, that’s a win-win situation.”

You can find Prince Ribbit at your local libraryindie bookstore, or Barnes & Noble.

Sunday, April 2, 2017

Reading Around the World

Today is International Children's Book Day! Since 1967, we have used Hans Christian Andersen's birthday to celebrate children's books and inspire a love of reading throughout the world. And because tomorrow kicks off this year's Bologna Children's Book Fair, we wanted to take the opportunity to celebrate some Peachtree books that are read in other countries. With strong universal themes and experiences that children can relate to, regardless of country or culture, these books can be enjoyed not only in English, but in languages from around the world.

Madeline Finn and the Library Dog
Themes: Dogs, Friendship, Libraries, Reading
Age Range: 48

"It's fun to read when you're not afraid of making mistakes. Bonnie teaches me that it's okay to go slow, and to keep trying."

Bonnie and Madeline Finn have reached more countries in more languages (about 19 so far) than any of the other books on our list. Not only have the adorable illustrations pulled at heartstrings around the world, we believe every reader that comes to this story who has experienced the joy books can bring wants to spread that experience, that feeling, to anyone reluctant or worried about reading. Everyone needs to be reminded to keep trying.

The Yellow Star
Themes: Courage, Responsibility, WWII
Age Range: 812

"What if the good and strong people of the world stood shoulder to shoulder, crowding the streets and filling the squares, saying, 'You cannot do this injustice to our sisters and brothers, or you must do it to us as well.'"

Carmen Agra Deedy, author of The Yellow Star, asks a question in her author's note that is, without a doubt, the driving reason that her beautiful story of unity and hope in the face of hatred has reached hearts and minds around the world. It also helps that Yellow Star won the Bologna Ragazzi Award for Children’s Non-Fiction, which honors the best graphic and editorial production in children's literature internationally.

The Cheshire Cheese Cat
Themes: Charles Dickens, Friendship, Loyalty
Age Range: 8–12

"He was the best of toms. He was the worst of toms."

Skilley, an alley cat with a terrible secret, and Pip, the resident mouse at a popular public house, have romped around the world in this Dickens of a tale. The engaging, page-turning action of this story gives it the feel of a classic novel, aside from its references to Charles Dickens's classic works, and its strong themes of loyalty and friendship make it universally appealing to anyone looking for a good read.

Star Gazer
Themes: Hard Work, Horses, Patience
Age Range: 812

New in town but ready to dive headlong into the more rural culture of Southern Michigan, Jordan is a character to whom, as the theme is here, many around the world have been able to relate. Chris Platt, author of Star Gazer and multiple other middle grade novels, focuses on friendship, horses, and the impact of both on young people. These themes cross borders and languages despite the American setting.

Do You Know the Monkey Man?
Themes: Divorce, Family, Mystery, Siblings
Age Range: 1014

When Samantha discovers a family secret, her fateful decisions set into motion a chain of events and confrontations that will change her family's lives forever. Dori Butler's suspenseful and sensitive story of a broken family and everything it takes for a young girl to face the truth has been translated for young readers from cultures around the world.

Friday, March 31, 2017

Free Book Friday: Flowers for Sarajevo

The free book of the hour (or week in this case) is the beautiful and inspiring Flowers for Sarajevo by the multi-talented author John McCutcheon and illustrator Kristy Caldwell.

Based on real events of the Bosnian War, Flowers for Sarajevo tells the uplifting story of young Drasko who is inspired by the cellist of Sarajevo to take action in his own way against the violence in his hometown. Beauty overcomes suffering in this powerful picture book.

Enter for your chance to win a copy in our GoodReads Giveaway! The giveaway will last one week, so make sure you enter soon!

Goodreads Book Giveaway

Flowers for Sarajevo by John McCutcheon

Flowers for Sarajevo

by John McCutcheon

Giveaway ends April 08, 2017.
See the giveaway details at Goodreads.
Enter Giveaway

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

New Book Wednesday: Flowers for Sarajevo

★ “Beauty will always find a way to rise from violence, but this is a reminder all readers need.” —Kirkus Reviews, STARRED review

A young boy left to run the family flower stall alone.  A symphony cellist, whose chosen means of resistance is his music.  Together, in their own unique ways, they demonstrate the power of beauty in the face of violence and suffering. Based on real events of the Bosnian War, award-winning songwriter and storyteller John McCutcheon, author of Christmas in the Trenches, joins with debut illustrator Kristy Caldwell to share the uplifting story Flowers for Sarajevo.

When twenty-two people are killed by a mortar at the local bakery, Drasko isn’t sure that his beloved town will ever be the same.  But the next day a symphony cellist walks to the bombsite and plays a piece of heartbreaking music. The cellist returns for twenty-two days to play, one day for each victim of the bombing. Inspired by the musician’s response, Drasko finds a way to help make Sarajevo beautiful again.

Not only does the book contain stunning graphic artwork and extensive back matter—an author’s note, sheet music, and background history of the region—but also a CD featuring a recording of the “Cellist of Sarajevo” himself: Vedran Smailovic.  He accompanies McCutcheon on “Streets of Sarajevo,” and also performs the melody that he played in 1992 to honor those who died in the Sarajevo mortar blast.  A conversation with McCutcheon about the project and folk music is also included.
“[A] powerful story of a musical performance that defied the horror of combat.” — Publishers Weekly

“Moving… A bittersweet account of the power of art in dark times.” ―Booklist

Here more about making Flowers for Sarajevo from the author and illustrator themselves!

Look for this title on April 1st at your local libraryindie bookstore, or Barnes & Noble.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Sunday Brunch with John McCutcheon

For Sunday brunch this week, President and Publisher Margaret Quinlin talks with  multi-talented John McCutcheon, whose newest picture book Flowers for Sarajevo tells the uplifting story of the power of beauty in the face of violence and suffering.

MQ: John, in the story, inspired by Vedran Smailovic vigils in 1992, you chose to focus not on Smailovic, but on a small boy who sold flowers with his father. Tell us more about this unique perspective you have taken.

JM: Well, I chose this perspective for two reasons. One, because this is a book aimed at young readers, at children and their families, and I wanted to give them an opportunity to invest in the story, to imagine that they’re there. But more importantly, children today grow up learning about the heroes of our cultures. They hear about Jackie Robinson, and they hear about Nelson Mandela, and they hear about Rosa Parks and Gandhi and Martin Luther King, and these people become so iconic that they almost immobilize us. We can’t imagine being that person, having that kind of courage to stand up and act when it seems no one else might. But each of us have an opportunity to respond to that kind of action, and that’s really the perspective I wanted to take with this book.

MQ: This event happened 25 years ago halfway around the world. How do you feel it is relevant today? Why is it important for families, parents, and children to learn about this particular episode in history?

JM: Well, this is not the lone incident in which someone did something extraordinary that we all have an opportunity to respond to. Today, as we speak, in this period in time, we have a civil war going on in Syria. We have things that require our response as citizens of a global community, whether it be technology, free trade, whatever, we are connected in ways that we’ve never been connected before, and we find ourselves moved by these things. We have lots to learn, and this story is one of the ways in which we learn how to respond in a world in which we read about terror every day, and the goal of terror is to terrorize, we can choose to reward acts of terror with our fear. Or, we can learn from the example of Vedran Smailovic, who braved snipers and bombings in a war-torn street to overcome that fear and respond with an act of beauty and solidarity.

MQ: You met with Vedran Smailovic in Ireland to record your joint musical effort. You are both accomplished artists. What was it like to meet Vedran? Was it easy to fall into a friendship and musical collaboration with him?

JM: We met at a hotel, in the pub there, and he roared up in his great motorcycle. He’s a great rider, all hair and mustache and leather, and came in, and it was as though we had known one another forever. We have had and have a lot of common ground, both as musicians and composers, but also as people who think that music is more than cotton candy for the ears, that it is something that, in our own lives, has moved us and changed us and directed us.

MQ: You’ve written and published hundreds of songs, and you’ve also published poetry. The text of songs and picture books is not unlike poetry, in that it relies on an economy of words, a rhythmic intensity of language. Your three picture books have all derived from original songs. How does your approach to writing songs differ from your poetry or you picture book texts?

JM: Well the obvious difference is that there are more moving parts in a song than there are in a piece of poetry or in the text for a picture book. There’s the music, there’s the instrumental accompaniment, there’s how you use your voice, but they all rely on the distillation of language, of saying a lot with a little.

MQ: What is it about music, John that makes it a language that we all understand?

JM: Well in this case, of course, it was instrumental. It was not confined by any language or dialect or obvious tradition. The piece he played, Albinoni’s Adagio in G Minor, is a very interesting piece of music. It had survived the fire-bombing of Dresden in the Saxon State Library after World War II, and what we know today, if you went and heard a concert of Albinoni’s Adagio in G Minor it would not actually be what Vedran played, because it was an incomplete piece of music. But Vedran justwisely, brilliantlychose to play this unfinished version of it. And, I think the fact that it had the invitation for people to imprint on it their own meaning, and it’s a heartbreaking piece of music, but I think the unfinished quality of it, the question it asked by the fact that it just stops at one point, it is important because it does ask that question. It doesn’t tie everything up in a nice neat bow, and that was what I thought was part of the brilliance of choosing this particular piece in this version.

**edited for length. Full interview is available on the audio CD accompanying the hardcover book.  

Flowers for Sarajevo will be at your local libraryindie bookstore, or Barnes & Noble on April 1st!

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Saturday Afternoon Picnic with Kristy Caldwell

We're taking a Saturday afternoon picnic with illustrator Kristy Caldwell today! Her latest picture book with John McCutcheon, Flowers for Sarajevo, is an uplifting story about the power of beauty in the face of violence and suffering. 

Q: What part of this story did you most respond to?

A: Drasko’s personal situation is what struck me the most. He doesn’t have the luxury of ignoring the tension of the adult world. He has to navigate his own way through it.

Q: What sort of research did you do?

A: I wasn’t able to visit Sarajevo in person, but it was important to me that people who lived through the events of the story could recognize their city in the illustrations. The urban details, but also the atmosphere. I tried to immerse myself in different ways: reading first-hand accounts, listening to music, looking through photography books like Sarajevo by Tom Stoddart and Sarajevo Self-portrait: The View from Inside by Leslie Fratkin. It was easy to find references of the destruction and rebuilding of Sarajevo. It was much harder to find images of the city as it was before the destruction. I searched through hundreds and hundreds of photos online, comparing details against what I had read in articles and marking the locations of “Sarajevo Roses.” At this point, I think if you dropped me from a helicopter onto Ferhadija Street I could direct you to most of the major landmarks.

Q: Milo’s floppy hat appears in many of your illustrations.  Can you tell us about it?

A: The first line of the story is “See that man in the floppy hat? That’s Milo. He’s my father.” With those words John immediately set up a recognizable trademark for Milo. The next line is “He can sniff out the best roses in all of Sarajevo.” Milo and Drasko only get to spend a couple of pages together, but their relationship is the heart of the book, and the hat symbolizes that relationship. I knew I wanted to see Milo hand the hat to Drasko when he leaves for the battlefield, and I knew I wanted Drasko to put it on his own head for the first time after hearing Vedran Smailovic play his cello in the rubble of the breadline massacre. The music inspires Drasko toward his own selfless act, which also echoes the generous spirit of his father.

Q: Many graphic novels address difficult topics but are geared toward adults. Flowers for Sarajevo is for children. How did your consideration of this younger audience influence your artistic approach to this event?

A: I tried to keep my focus on Drasko and his immediate experience. I also made a conscious decision at some point to show the effects of the conflict—the market crumbling, plants wilting, and people scattering—instead of resorting to guns, tanks, and soldiers.

Q: You’ve said in the past that your style is influenced by theater and comic books, artistic avenues which present a “heightened reality.” What decisions did you make to create the “heightened reality” in Flowers for Sarajevo?

A: Incorporating panels of spot art allowed me to isolate key moments in a more intense way, without the background noise. There are also moments when elements break out of the border of the illustration. For instance, Milo’s “floppy hat” breaks out of the border of a spot illustration three times.

For the most part, I wanted the background elements to be flowing around Drasko, and every background character has to be on their own journey, with their own immediate task to focus on. That’s something I learned from theatre.

Q: What do you hope readers take away from your art?

A: I want readers to feel like they are experiencing a story in progress. Even though the real events took place at a specific time and in a specific location, the broader story is about a community stepping across lines of religion and race to support each other during a crisis. We can keep that story going.

Flowers for Sarajevo will be at your local libraryindie bookstore, or Barnes & Noble on April 1st!

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

New Book Wednesday: Leo, Dog of the Sea

 “Frank history, attention to factual detail, and vivid adventures make this a standout.” 
Kirkus Reviews, STARRED REVIEW

In the fourth book of their Dog Chronicles series, Alison Hart and Michael G. Montgomery bring readers an exciting tale of friendship and loyalty. Leo, Dog of the Sea, is an action-packed and heartwarming story of a hardened old sea dog who learns that life can be much more than survival.

After three ocean voyages, Leo knows not to trust anyone but himself. But when he sets sail with Captain General Ferdinand Magellan on a journey to find a westward route to the Spice Islands, he develops new friendships with Magellan’s scribe, Pigafetta, and Marco, his page. Together, the three of them experience hunger and thirst, storms and doldrums, and mutinies and hostile, violent encounters. Will they ever find a safe passage and reach their destination?

This captivating historical fiction chapter book will satisfy any history- or dog-loving reader. Through a dog’s-eye view, children will learn fascinating details about life aboard a ship at a time when much of the ocean had not yet been navigated.  Extensive back matter includes information about the historical period and the role of dogs, as well as a bibliography and references for further reading.

Learn more about Leo, Dog of the Sea in the Discussion Guide and the Author Q&A!

Be sure to follow Leo on the blog tour! Dates and locations as follows:

Leo, Dog of the Sea is set to dock at most literary ports April 1, so keep a weathered eye open at your local libraryindie bookstore, or Barnes & Noble

Monday, March 20, 2017

The Science Behind Fantastic Flowers

A lot goes into creating a nonfiction picture book—just ask Susan Stockdale. As she was writing and illustrating Fantastic Flowers, she not only did her own research, she relied on the expertise of multiple botanists and scientists to proof her work and provide any additional information or suggestions to ensure scientific accuracy, particularly in the back matter and throughout her illustrations. Hear from Susan herself as she explains a little more about the science behind Fantastic Flowers. 

In addition to my research to create Fantastic Flowers, I consulted closely with three botanists on the book: Dr. Ari Novy of the U.S. Botanic Garden; Dr. Peter Zale of Longwood Gardens; and Dr. Gary Krupnick of the National Museum of Natural History. They vetted my manuscript and illustrations for scientific accuracy and provided valuable feedback (and enthusiasm!) as I crafted the book.

These scientists were particularly helpful as I designed my approach to the back matter. Initially, I wanted to provide “shape” categories in which to place my 17 flowers and their pollinators. For example: “Flowers shaped like a long tube attract hummingbirds and insects that have long tongues to reach deep into the flower for nectar. Trumpet creeper.” However, my consultants advised against this. They said it was impossible to place the flowers’ pollinators in such neat categories, calling it “leaky science.”

Ultimately, I decided to explain what a flower is and how it is pollinated, and provided a photo of each flower along with its common and scientific name, native range, and pollinators. I leaned heavily on my consultants to ensure the accuracy of this very specific information. I probably emailed the pollination expert 10 times with questions.

I also submitted my flower drawings to the botanists to ensure that they were anatomically correct before I began painting them. After seeing my initial drawing of this spider flower,  

Dr. Zale responded, “Your painting could use some modifications. The ends of the flowers should look more like stigmas than anthers. The styles should also be coming out of each flower. The flowers themselves should not be pointy but should curl open.”

Based on his comments, I revised my final illustration: 

I am indebted to these scientists and others with whom I’ve worked on previous books for helping me convey accurate information to my young readers! 

Read more about Susan Stockdale and Fantastic Flowers on our Sunday Brunch post. Find Fantastic Flowers at your local libraryindie bookstore, or Barnes & Noble!