Monday, November 20, 2017

2017 Holiday Gift Guide for the Animal Aficianado

The holiday season is moving quickly and the time for gift giving is just around the corner! Books make great presents for young readers, and this year we’ll be sharing several round-ups highlighting ideas for every kind of reader on your gift list. To avoid the ever-dreaded holiday rush, stock up on books that the children in your life will enjoy exploring again and again.

2017 Holiday Gift Guide

To: The Animal Aficionado

Is the little one in your life asking for a pet this holiday? Give your animal enthusiast the next best thing—a book featuring animals! These books will surely make it easier to check one more person off of your holiday gift list this year.

Captured in beautifully soft illustrations and well-crafted words, Jo Weaver’s Little One, invites you on a journey with a mother bear and her new cub, discovering the seasons side by side. Together they eat, swim, fish, and play, until winter arrives and it is time to head home to hibernate.

Perfect as a bedtime read aloud, the gentle text and stunning black and white illustrations reveal the wonder of nature, the first steps of independence, and the strength of parental love. Give this special book to the little one in your life this holiday and enjoy it together through every season.

Read an excerpt here.

Written and illustrated by dynamic duo Cathryn and John Sill, About Birds is a nonfiction beginner’s guide for any young readers who love nature and birds. The simple text, paired with the beautifully detailed illustrations, introduces young readers to the diverse and natural world of birds and their basic characteristics. 

Also available with bilingual text, give this book to the budding naturalist in your life, and you’ll find them inspired to look skyward. 

Read an excerpt here

Madeline Finn does not like reading. But to get a gold star from her teacher, Madeline Finn has to understand the words she reads and be able to read them out loud. That’s where Bonnie comes in! Bonnie is a library dog that helps Madeline Finn take her time shows her that reading can be fun. When she fumbles on words, Bonnie listens patiently.

Snuggle up this holiday season with your child and the family pet (or favorite stuffed animal), and relish in the magic of this sweet friendship.

Read an excerpt here

Cat-lovers rejoice: Carmen Agra Deedy and Randall Wright’s collaborative work brings to life a story of an unlikely friendship between an alley cat and an inn-keeping mouse. Skilley and Pip strike a deal that will have Skilley, the cat, off the streets and provide Pip, the mouse, with protection from bigger prey. What will happen to their friendship when a big challenge has been thrown their way?

This playful homage to Charles Dickens, with masterful illustrations by Barry Moser, will delight any animal-obsessed child with a fondness in historical settings. Give the gift of adventure in a book that will transport your children to a new time and place, while they explore the meaning of friendship and loyalty—all with animals!

Read an excerpt here.

Find these titles and more at your local libraryindie bookstore, or Barnes & Noble. Still looking for more great ideas? Our 2017 Holiday Gift Guide has even more gift recommendations for your little readers this holiday season!

Monday, November 13, 2017

2017 Holiday Gift Guide for the Budding Activist

The holiday season is moving quickly and the time for gift giving is upon us! Books make great presents for young readers, and this year we’ll be sharing several round-ups highlighting ideas for every kind of reader on your gift list. To avoid the ever-dreaded holiday rush, stock up on books that the children in your life will enjoy exploring again and again.

2017 Holiday Gift Guide

To: The Budding Activist

Books inspire so many different things in young readers: creativity, kindness, curiosity. Foster your child's passion for community, the environment, and making a difference in the world! Give a special gift to the “budding activist” in your life and alleviate the shopping stress by checking off one of these titles on that holiday list! From offering kindness and lending a helping hand to protecting wildlife, these stories are sure to encourage the incredible power of activism in young readers.

Drasko is happy to help his father with his flower stand in the Sarajevo marketplace. But war is encroaching, and Drasko must run the stand alone. One morning, a nearby bakery is bombed and twenty-two people are killed. The next day Drasko witnesses a cellist walk to the bombsite and play the most heartbreaking music anyone can imagine. The cellist returns for twenty-two days, one day for each victim of the bombing. Inspired by the cellist's actions, Drasko also seeks a way to help restore beauty in his city in the face of violence.

Based on true events of the Bosnian War, John McCutcheon delivers a powerful and uplifting tale of a young boy who acts to affect change. There is always a way to be a hero, no matter how big or small! In addition, enjoy the included CD in which cellist Vedran Smailovic accompanies McCutcheon and performs the song he played in 1992 to honor those who died in the Sarajevo mortar blast. This hopeful story will surely inspire the  social activist on your gift list this holiday season. 

Read an excerpt here and listen to a sample clip of John McCutcheon's original song "Streets of Sarajevo."

Jane's heart always ached for those who are less fortunate and knew she wanted to help somehow. “So Jane promised herselfwhen she grew up, she would buy a big house to share with people in need.” And she did! In Chicago, Jane established the Hull House, where people could come and receive schooling, childcare, work, friendship, and hope. But with the threat of World War I in Europe looming, what could Jane do to stop a war?

Read all about Jane Addams's inspiring actions in Suzanne Slade's energetic and heartening picture book biography. While Jane's world efforts for peace won her the title "Most Dangerous Woman in America" by the FBI, she eventually became the first American woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize. This read will truly change the way the young reader in your life thinks about the impact of generosity and kindness!

Read an excerpt here and download a free poster!

When his father takes a new job in Massachusetts, Ben must leave behind his best friend Tony, a western banded gecko named Lenny, and worst of all, the Arizona desert home he has loved and explored. Having trouble finding his place in a new school, Ben enters into an unlikely friendship with his eccentric fifth grade teacher, Mrs. Tibbets, who owns land that is home to the rare and elusive Eastern spadefoot toads. When Ben learns developers have bought the property, he realizes he must do something to save the toads. Even the smallest efforts can make a difference. 

This environmentally minded middle grade novel, a recipient of the Green Earth Book Award, comes from renowned storyteller and two-time Grammy Award winner Bill Harley. Harley’s delightful story explores the powerful impact of our actions on the world around us. What a wonderful way to satisfy and motivate the aspiring environmentalist on your holiday list!

Read an excerpt here.

This thorough and thought-provoking book tells the little-known story of the 4,000 black elementary, middle, and high school students who voluntarily went to jail between May 2 and May 11, 1963 as part of the 1963 Birmingham Children's March. These children had succeeded—where adults had failedin desegregating one the most violent cities in America. Though it seemed all odds were against them, these children were able to cause major change!

Author Cynthia Levinson's extensive research and in-depth one-on-one interviews come together to offer a personal perspective of the Birmingham Children’s March. Levinson skillfully recreates the inspirational tale of four young people by shedding light on an lesser-known view of one of the most powerful moments during the civil rights movement. This book is perfect for budding activists looking for inspiration from actions of real children who made a difference in history.

Read an excerpt here and download a free poster!

Find these titles and more at your local library, indie bookstore, or Barnes & Noble. Still looking for more great ideas? Our 2017 Holiday Gift Guide has even more gift recommendations for your little readers this holiday season!

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Educators and Students: Meet Fault Lines in the Constitution

Fault Lines in the Constitution has been a big hit this season! With 4 starred reviews, and inclusion in Publishers Weekly's Best Books of 2017 list, it's clear that readers are enjoying this "timely and thought-provoking" look at the Constitution. After her various presentations to educators and their students, author Cynthia Levinson agreed to provide more insight into how these readers were using this book in the classroom.

Since it was published in September 2017, Fault Lines in the Constitution: The Framers, Their Fights, and the Flaws that Affect Us Today has gotten quite a lot of attention from teachers, librarians, and even students. My favorite question-from-a-kid was lobbed at us (“us” consists of my co-author/husband Sandy Levinson and me) at a bookstore event. Even before we spoke, she asked, “How do you know enough about the Constitution to write a book?” In other words, “Why should I believe you?”

I love that she was questioning authority from the outset. Her teachers have probably taught her to check her sources and make sure they’re credible. Great! Fortunately, she was convinced we’re legit when I told her that Sandy teaches Constitutional Law at the University of Texas and Harvard Law Schools and has written multiple books on the subject.

Amy Shine Jones, a high school Civics and History teacher in Haverhill, Massachusetts, pointed out that many teens have a facility for spotting deception and that Chapter 5 of Fault Lines would especially appeal to them. Not because it’s fake! Rather, this chapter, titled “How to Cherry-pick Voters,” shows how politicians “gerrymander” the shapes, sizes, and constituents of Congressional districts so their party will win as many seats in the House of Representatives as possible.

“It’s good for discussing fairness,” Jones said, adding that teens love to debate. “The book has lots of areas that are hotly contested.”

We witnessed just such a disagreement among teachers while they talked about the book at a gathering for law students and community members. Dan Carpenter, a professor at Harvard, supported the idea of national-level referendums—the ability of citizens to adopt or veto laws without going through Congress—which is discussed in Chapter 7. If the State of Ohio allows it, he asked, why not the federal government?

Shep Melnick, on the other hand, a professor at Boston College, argued that the Constitution should not allow for referendums. Direct democracy “takes power away from elected politicians, who are supposed to balance” the views of their constituents, he said.

These two profs spontaneously demonstrated that Fault Lines promotes what Melnick called “civil political discourse,” which is not common these days. Carpenter said the book is filled with such “teachable moments.” 

Jones predicted that students would get into meaningful arguments about the Preamble—how well do we “establish justice,” for example?—if they were asked to grade the Constitution both before they read Fault Lines and then again afterward. We give the Constitution a grade at the end of the book, based on how well we think it meets the goals set out in the Preamble. Teachers often give pre-tests and post-tests. What do you think: Would the Constitution get a better or worse grade after it’s taught?

Leezia Dhalla
Jones also appreciated the stories that open each chapter. Pointing to the one about a Dreamer—an undocumented young woman named Leezia Dhalla who desperately wishes to become a legal resident—she said they “give teens someone to identify with.” The problems aren’t abstract; they affect real people, like the students themselves.

Above all, Jones said, kids want to make a difference. In Fault Lines, they can see, she said, that “average citizens have helped shape the Constitution and the government. It shows that teens can become agents of change.” That is our highest hope for this book.

Teachers can use these and other ideas by looking at Peachtree’s Discussion Guide.

Teachers, librarians, and students can join the conversation right now by registering for our blog at One of our posts focuses on three teenagers who are running for governor in Kansas and a thirteen-year-old who is running for the same office in Vermont.

They can also enter our Blog-a-Fault-Line Contest
Here’s how:

First, students should read Fault Lines in the Constitution (Peachtree Publishers/Listening Library) and the authors’ blog ( Then, they write a blog post relating a current event or issue to a topic in the book or to a flaw they see in the US Constitution.

Entries can take a stand, propose alternatives, or raise questions for discussion. They should not be politically partisan.

Two winning blog posts will be featured on, and each winner’s school will receive a free 20-minute Skype visit with co-authors Cynthia and Sanford Levinson!

How to enter

  • Contest is open to students ages 10-18.
  • Each blog post should be a maximum of 550 words.
  • Winning entries may be edited by Cynthia and Sanford Levinson and by Peachtree Publishers, with edits approved by the student, before publication.

  • Two sets of prizes will be awarded—one for students ages 10-13 and one for students ages 14-18.
  • Each winner’s school will receive a free 20-minute Skype visit with the book’s co-authors.
  • The winners’ blogs will be posted on
And, when they’re done, they can proudly wear a sticker that says, “I Am Constitutionally Literate.”

Get your copy of Fault Lines in the Constitution at your local library, indie bookstore, or Barnes & Noble! And check out our website for great resources, including an excerpt, a discussion guide, a Q&A with authors Cynthia and Sanford Levinson, and more!

Monday, November 6, 2017

2017 Holiday Gift Guide for the Fairytale Fanatic

The holiday season is moving quickly and the time for gift giving is upon us! Books make great presents for young readers, and this year we’ll be sharing several round-ups highlighting ideas for every kind of reader on your gift list. To avoid the ever-dreaded holiday rush, stock up on books that the children in your life will enjoy exploring again and again.

To: The Fairytale Fanatic
We’re kicking off our gift guide round-ups with some of our “fractured fairytale” titles that any young fairytale fanatic will love. Regardless if your reader knows the classics, these picture books are sure to delight even the biggest fairytale fan. Quirky characters, enchanted tales, and wickedly good fun await!

A fun new spin on the traditional tale of “The Boy Who Cried Wolf,” author-illustrator Alex Latimer brings us this fun and quirky twist. Tim is the only one who sees the strange things going on in the house. And no one believes him! To prove his parents wrong—and lighten his chore load—Tim plans to uncover the stealthy perpetrator.

This picture book will have your children giggling at the zany fun. There are even time-traveling monkeys involved! Share the gift of this outrageous tale and inspire your kids to concoct their own adventure this holiday season.

Read an excerpt here.

Fairy tales are just stories—or so Princess Martha believes. But when her sisters meet a talking frog, they’re convinced that giving him the royal treatment will turn him into Prince Charming. Smart and spunky Martha sets out to expose the talking amphibian for what he really is—a cunning, but ordinary, frog. As Martha tries to convince her sisters that “just because it’s in a book doesn’t mean it’s true,” she might end up learning that lesson for herself! Charming good fun, Johnathan Emmett’s story of uncovering the truth is beautifully crafted with bright, quirky illustrations by Poly Bernatene. 

Kids will love learning what it means to double check the facts and trust others in this fantastical spin on the classic “The Frog Prince!” 

Check out the activity sheets to continue the fun!

“Martina the beautiful cockroach doesn’t know coffee beans about love and marriage.”

When Martina the cockroach is ready to choose a husband, her grandmother gives her some shocking and unexpected advice. After watching potential suitors fail her abuela’s Coffee Test, Martina wonders if she will ever find true love. But what happens when she offers the last suitor some café Cubano? Illustrator Michael Austin captures this fantastic Cuban folktale in gorgeous fashion, making the pictures as enjoyable as the words on the page. 

Get lost in the richness of Carmen Agra Deedy’s take on the classic Cuban tale during the holidays with a copy of this unique rendition, available in English, Spanish, and audio. You may look at cockroaches differently when you’re done!

Read an excerpt here.

Rapunzel isn’t like the others. She’s may be small but she’s curious, exceptionally clever, and definitely not easily frightened. Join daring Rapunzel on her quest to outsmart the witch and free herself (no males rescuers needed here)! Bethan Woollvin’s captivating twist on a classic fairytale, with eye-popping and fun illustrations, is perfect for any fearless reader. 

Make the holiday season memorable by fueling their love of strong, spunky, and independent characters. Treat your kids to this wickedly good story! Read an excerpt here.

If you love the empowering twist in Rapunzel, be sure to check out Woollvin’s equally feisty Little Red, a 2016 New York Times best-illustrated children's book! Read an excerpt here.

Find these titles and more at your local libraryindie bookstore, or Barnes & NobleStill looking for more great ideas? Our 2017 Holiday Gift Guide has even more gift recommendations for your little readers this holiday season!

Thursday, October 26, 2017

National Cat Day Round-up: Best Children's Books for Cat Lovers

October 29 marks National Cat Day and gives you the purr-fect excuse to curl up with a furry friend and a new book. Nap-loving felines are ideal reading companions, can be attentive listeners as you read aloud, or just stay in your lap while you finish one more chapter. We have a wide range of cat books, from pictures books about cats in trees, to middle readers about cats in England. So, find a cat, grab a book, and celebrate National Cat Day! (P.S. we tried to keep the puns to a minimum, but we can't make any paw­­-misses.)

If You See a Kitten
by John Butler
An ideal read-aloud for very young children, this book cues a variety of reactions after the discovery of each new animal. Opening with the question of what you say “If you see a cuddly kitten…” kids will quickly become engaged with the gentle illustrations and interactive format of this picture book.

My G-r-r-r-reat Uncle Tiger
by James Riordan
illustrated by Alex Ayliffe
Once Marmaduke the tabby cat sees a picture of a tiger, he decides they must be related. Accompanied by his other feline friends, Marmaduke travels to the zoo to find meet many of his relatives, including his “Grrreat Uncle Tiger.” This book puts a purr-sonal twist on adventure, prompting readers to think about who our families are.

Where is Catkin?
by Janet Lord
illustrated by Julie Paschkis
Join mischievous Catkin as he explores the great outdoors and follows animal sounds, until he gets stuck in a tree and needs someone to hear him! The story’s seek-and-and element complements the vivid illustrations created from patterns and shapes found in nature. This a-mew­­-sing story about a curious cat will entertain readers of all ages.

Three Scoops and a Fig
by Sara Laux Akin
illustrated by Sara Kathleen Hartung
When all of Sophia’s family tells her she is too little to help prepare food for dinner, she finds comfort sitting in the fig tree and snuggling with her kitty, Figaro (named after the author’s parent’s cat). A gust of wind comes by and sparks Sophia’s inspiration, helping her create the perfect dessert to share with her grandparents! Sophia’s determination to help and the friendship of her trusty Figaro make a seemingly im-paw-ssible situation fun again.

I Am Tama, Lucky Cat
by Wendy Henrichs
illustrated by Yoshiko Jaeggi
A gentle monk takes in a stray cat and names him Tama, Lucky Cat. While Tama watches as his owner teaches Buddha’s way and show great generosity, he learns his own kindness. When a thunderstorm comes, Tama’s kindness and luck combine to save the life of a passing warlord. Beautiful water colors help retell this Japanese legend for today’s audiences, highlighting the regality and compassionate nature of cats. Enjoy with the furry (or hairless) feline companions in your life. Author Wendy Henrichs even has two cats of her own!

Old Tom's Holiday
by Leigh Hobbs
After winning an all-expense paid vacation, Angela leaves her pet cat, Old Tom, at home, but she can’t help but think of him at every moment. When the two friends are suddenly reunited, they are able to fully enjoy the trip, together. This book’s humorous description of a furry friendship is great choice for pet owners of all ages to share with their four-legged friends (even though the author is actually allergic to cats!), revealing the excitements and difficulties of owning a cat.

Old Tom, Man of Mystery
by Leigh Hobbs
Angela and Old Tom are back! When Angela starts to get overworked, she decides her pet cat Old Tom should start helping clean up around the house. But instead of sweeping and washing, Old Tom—with all his cat-itude—disguises himself as the Man of Mystery, starting an adventure that even Angela can’t ignore. Readers will love following Old Tom on his adventures and being reminded of all the fun cats add to our lives.

Tiger in My Soup
by Kashmira Sheth
illustrated by Jeffrey Ebbeler
While their mom is away, a younger brother pleads for his older sister to read to him. She refuses and keeps her nose in her own book. But when he conjures up a sinister tiger in his soup and still can’t get his sister’s attention, he must fight it alone. Leaping into the wilder and bigger side of the cat family with bright images and fun perspectives on each page, this book is sure to excite!

Cats Vanish Slowly
by Ruth Tiller
illustrated by Laura Seeley
There are many different types of cats on Grandma’s farm. Discover each of their purr-sonalities through these twelve concise yet engaging poems. Watch the cats nap and meow and vanish into the shadows around them. Using poetry, Tiller provides a gentler, more artful glance at the cats we may see every day. The book’s description of the many dif-fur-ent types and manners of cats make this a great choice when you’re looking for a true feline-fix.

The Cheshire Cheese Cat
by Carmen Agra Deedy & Randall Wright
illustrated by Barry Moser
“It was the best of toms. It was the worst of toms.”

Skilley, an alley cat, strikes up a deal to protect Pip, a mouse, in return for a job at the Cheshire Cheese Inn. But, when cat and mouse are drawn into a crisis that could end in cat-astrophe, the Inn, the British monarchy, and their friendship is at stake. Set in Victorian England, The Cheshire Cheese Cat pays homage to Charles Dickens, who was once quoted saying, “What greater gift than the love of a cat.” This middle reader chapter book’s themes of felines and friendship make it a great reader for any animal lover.

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Guest Post: Cathryn Sill on the 10th Anniversary of About Habitats

Cathryn and John Sill's About Habitats series is celebrating its 10th anniversary this year! To learn a little more about the creation of this award-winning nonfiction series for young readers, Cathryn Sill provides insight into the different excursions that inspire their books about the beautiful and varied habitats around the world and the emphasizes importance of encouraging younger generations to appreciate and protect the natural world.

I have always loved nature and was fortunate to grow up with parents who encouraged me to experience the many wonders of creation. We had family adventures in various habitats including camping trips to mountains, deserts, forests, and seashores. Sunday afternoons in spring and summer were often spent in the woods looking for wildflowers and birds.

When I was a teacher, I wanted nonfiction books to use in a classroom setting. Using lessons about different animal groups was a good way to integrate learning reading and science for children. That’s how the About series on animals was started (with About Birds in 1991), and the About Habitats series naturally evolved from that. 

John and I are birders, so most of our travel involves looking for birds. While we don’t often travel specifically to research the books we create, many of our opportunities for travel research have been coincidental. We crossed the prairie on a trip to an event to display John’s paintings. We just happened to be working on About Habitats: Grasslands so he was able to observe and photograph ideas to use in his illustrations.

As we were working on About Habitats: Oceans, we were able to take a sailing trip with friends.

An earlier trip to Panama during the rainy season was helpful when we were working on the book About Habitats: Forests.

A trip to Santa Catalina Island was helpful in writing About Habitats: Seashores as well giving us experience with marine mammals (for About Marine Mammals).

Unfortunately, we aren’t able to travel to every habitat and every region in the world, but we gather information, memories, and photos from our trips to use as needed and where appropriate. Often John and I choose subjects we are more familiar with to use to illustrate the books. When we are not able to travel to gather information, we research our subject using reliable books and websites.

The About Habitats series has been around for 10 years, and in that time, concern of the many negative impacts on earth’s habitats has caused me to think of ways I might make a difference. I feel strongly that the younger generations are a definite hope for the future protection of the environment. The earlier they can develop an appreciation for the world around them, the better they can prepare to help preserve it. We are hopeful that these books will instill a love for this fragile planet that is our home and give young readers incentive to be good stewards.

Cathryn and John Sill are the dynamic team who created the About... series as well as the About Habitats series. Their books have garnered praise from educators and have won a variety of awards, including Bank Street Best Books, CCBC Choices, NSTA/CBC Outstanding Science Trade Books for Students K–12, Orbis Pictus Recommended, and Science Books and Films Best Books of the Year. Cathryn, a graduate of Western Carolina State University, taugh early elementary school classes for thirty years. John holds a BS in wildlife biology from North Carolina State University. Combining his knowledge of wildlife and artistic skill, he has achieved an impressive reputation as a wildlife artist. The Sills live in Franklin, North Carolina.

Books in the About Habitats series are at your local libraryindie bookstore, or Barnes & Noble. The most recent book About Habitats: Seashores came out this August 2017.

Sunday, October 8, 2017

Guest Post: Margarita Engle on Don Quixote and Miguel's Brave Knight

Why did I write a picture book verse biography about the author of Don Quixote, and why now, when so many modern problems seem overwhelming? I’m going to answer these questions as if I am interviewing myself, because the responses form a dialogue between my younger and older selves.

Why is Don Quixote important to you?

As a child, I grew up surrounded by images of Don Quixote. In Cuba, he is a beloved figure, with statuettes and re-told stories as common as comic book superheroes in the US. In Los Angeles, my father painted Don Quixote and Sancho Panza repeatedly. Sometimes the knight was attacking a windmill, but there were quiet moments too, riding off into the sunset, reflecting on the day’s rebellions against looming threats. Both the Cuban and American sides of my family accepted the importance of tales about an idealistic, misunderstood knight who longs to defend poor people against powerful monsters, and right all the wrongs of the world.

Is the life of Cervantes relevant in the twenty-first century?

As a child, I never thought about Cervantes. Don Quixote seemed like folklore, a story passed on by ordinary people. Quixote’s legendary heroism is so ingrained in the daily life of Spaniards, Latin Americans, and US Latinos, that we tend to think of him as a historical figure, rather than a fictional character.

As an adult, the idealistic knight is still a hero to me, but I also admire his author: Cervantes was the real hero. He defiantly wrote a fantasy novel at a time when imaginative works were prohibited by the Inquisition. He wrote about book burning, and an ordinary man so determined to read freely that he absorbs the idealism of knightly characters.

Don Quixote can be read on so many different levels that it’s easy to overlook the true story of Cervantes’ childhood. Born into the family of an impoverished minor nobleman, he knew the pain of a father in debtor’s prison, and a mother struggling to keep food on the table. These are experiences familiar to many children today. Homelessness, fleeing, plagues, wars, all of this resonates. Throughout it all, young Miguel found comfort in the power of his own imagination. Centuries have passed, but Cervantes is still a good role model for young readers who have their own daydreams.

Perseverance—that is the real lesson of Don Quixote. This is what my adult self would want my child self to know and believe. No matter how crazy the world around us seems, we can remain hopeful by imagining, and then working toward, a better future.

I can pinpoint the exact moment when I became fascinated by the life of Miguel de Cervantes. It was after 9/11, when the US invaded both Afghanistan and Iraq. I remembered reading that Cervantes had been kidnapped and sold into slavery in Algeria. After he was finally ransomed, he advised his family and the Spanish military not to seek revenge, and said that despite everything he’d suffered in North Africa, he still admired Muslim culture. I can’t think of a more relevant biography, now that the modern wars of revenge show no sign of ever ending.

What was really unique about Don Quixote?

Imagine the lives of ordinary people in Spain and Spanish colonies at that time! Books were precious, but not everyone could read, so one person would read out loud, while groups sat around and listened. People must have loved the accessibility of such a long, entertaining story that could go on and on, chapter after chapter, offering so many fascinating and satisfying adventures. Children must have listened to the same stories as adults. To them, perhaps the idealistic knight did not seem like a fantasy. Maybe they assumed he was real. Even though there weren’t enough books for every child to own—or even hold—one, at least they could get to know Don Quixote simply by letting their daydreams join his.

Don Quixote was written in a time when the printing press was new, and for the first time, large numbers of copies could be distributed. Don Quixote reached the Caribbean and other parts of the Spanish-speaking Americas on ships that delivered goods from Spain. The oppressed of Spanish colonies could relate to an idealist who wanted to help the needy, but they also enjoyed the humor, the magic realism, the fantasy! Rules made by the Inquisition didn’t stand a chance, when pitted against the population’s desire for good storytelling. The book thrived, and still thrives today. Just as Shakespeare—a contemporary of Cervantes—is viewed as unique in English literature, Cervantes is now seen as the inspiration for all the wonderful literature of Spain and the Spanish-speaking Americas.

Perseverance and the comforting power of the imagination are two themes in Miguel’s Brave Knight. How can young readers be inspired by those themes?

Young Cervantes found refuge in daydreams, which are the starting point for every poem and every story that I write. Daydreams are like seeds that can grow into an immense forest, but only if the author keeps working to transform those dreams from a private experience into communication with readers. I think Miguel’s Brave Knight can be used to teach about creativity, and also to teach about the persistence of creative people. Just like dancers and athletes who rehearse and practice, writers need to keep trying. We can’t give up when our first drafts are still scribbled daydreams. We have to keep revising until readers can understand and share our dreams.

Margarita Engle is the Cuban-American author of many verse books, including a Newbery Honor winner,
The Surrender Tree; a PEN USA Award winner, The Lightning Dreamer; and a verse memoir, Enchanted Air, winner of many awards, including an inaugural Walter Dean Myers Award Honor and the Lee Bennett Hopkins Poetry Award. Her books have also received three Pura Belpré Awards and four Américas Awards, as well as a Jane Addams Award, International Reading Association Award, Claudia Lewis Poetry Award, and the Charlotte Zolotow Award. In 2017, the Poetry Foundation named her the Young People’s Poet Laureate. She grew up in Los Angeles, but developed a deep attachment to her mother’s homeland during summers with her extended family in Cuba. She was trained as a botanist and agronomist before becoming a full-time poet and novelist. You can visit her website here.

Look for Miguel's Brave Knight at your local libraryindie bookstore, or Barnes & Noble.

Thursday, October 5, 2017

That Fall Feeling: Books for Autumn Months

Summer came and went in a hurry, and you know what that means! The leaves are changing, the weather is cooler, and soon, pumpkins will be on parade. It’s that time of year again! Fall is a time for walks in the great outdoors, playing in the leaves, apple-picking, and getting ready for the holidays. It’s also a wonderful time for discovering new things and snuggling up with loved ones. While  cuddling up on the couch to escape those cooler days, why not share the joy of exploring and learning with the whole family?

In our fall round up, we invite you to answer your child’s excitement and curiosity with adventures and new discoveries in some of our seasonal picture books. Add some new titles to your fall collection and celebrate the season!

By playing, fishing, toasting, and listening to music by the firelight, one boy and his father enjoy the great outdoors. It’s a well-crafted introduction to the fun of being in the woods, exploring the many things to do outside, and enjoying nature’s beauty. Soft colors and beautiful scenery will excite the explorer in every child!

In the Woods is a charming board book about a boy and his father camping together. Each page brings a new rhyme and a new sight for any child to enjoy. A perfect addition to your family’s reading experience!

This wonderful story captures the love between Big Bear and Little One. Beginning with the first buds of spring, Big Bear teaches Little One all about life in the forest. The two enjoy eating, playing, and swimming as the seasons change from one to another. As winter returns, Big Bear and Little One also return home, where they can wait for the next spring.

Young readers will love exploring alongside Little One and connecting their own experiences with one who is also seeing the world for the first time. Cuddle up and enjoy reading such a heartwarming picture book with your little one!

Chicken likes Scarecrow’s hat and Scarecrow will glad hand it over, but for a walking stick in return. Clever as Chicken is, she embarks on a quest to find a walking stick amongst her farm animal friends. Presented with a fun problem, one chicken seeks a solution that will have children fully engaged!

With bright watercolor pictures and a beautiful setting, children will love joining Chicken in search of a walking stick to swap for Scarecrow’s straw hat! A delightful page-turner that’s sure to be a favorite!

In the vast expanse of Utah, Mary Ann lives with her family and her special friend: a wheat-filled doll named Betty. Mary Ann knows that Betty watches over her while she does her daily tasks; she even listens to all of Mary Ann's secrets. One day, a storm rolls in and Mary Ann is unable to save Betty from the winds and rain. Determined to find her lost friend, Mary Ann continues to search for Betty even when it seems that Betty is truly gone. Time passes, winter melts into spring, and Mary Ann spots a familiar face growing in the grass!

Set in the 1800s, this classic tale of childhood friendship and devotion shares a beautiful lesson of never giving up. It’s the perfect book to read alongside your child and their favorite toy!

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

Friday, September 29, 2017

Author & Illustrator Interview: Margarita Engle and Raúl Colón

The stunning new picture book Miguel's Brave Knight introduces the life of young Miguel de Cervantes and his inspiration for creating one of the greatest works of modern literature, Don Quixote. To celebrate and honor Miguel de Cervantes's 470th birthday today, we asked author and Young People's Poet Laureate Margarita Engle and award-winning artist and illustrator Raúl Colón some questions about their celebrated careers and what inspired them to create Miguel's Brave Knight.

Q: Margarita, what inspired you to write Miguel’s Brave Knight as a collection of poems?

M: The first draft was one simple poem for younger children, similar to Drum Dream Girl. All I wanted to do was honor the comforting power of imagination found in the life and work of Cervantes. Margaret Quinlin, the editor, suggested including more information, to make the book suitable for older children. So I began to experiment, and decided on the format of separate poems for various stages in the childhood and youth of Cervantes. I’m thrilled with the end result. Combined with the incredible artwork of Raúl Colón, I think that in its final form, Miguel’s Brave Knight can be read on many levels, depending on the age of the child or teen.

Q: Raúl, what part of Miguel’s Brave Knight did you most respond to?

R: The parts of the story I most responded to was whenever young Miguel was imagining Don Quixote’s character. There are two pieces where both Miguel as a boy and Don Quixote appear together. I really enjoyed working on those.

Q: Who is Miguel de Cervantes to you?

R: Miguel de Cervantes is a hero to me. I had heard about him since I was quite young, but I really came to know him while working on this book. I decided to read his masterpiece Don Quixote in its original language (Spanish) and realized that Cervantes could have been a best-selling contemporary writer today, chock full of wit and stinging satire—maybe even been an HBO limited series writer.

Q: Margarita, you were trained as a botanist and agronomist before becoming a writer. What made you make the switch? How do you still use your scientific skills today?

M: It was a gradual transition. As a child, I wrote poetry. As an adult, I alternated between poetry, fiction, opinion columns for Hispanic Link News Service, and scientific nonfiction articles for agricultural and landscape magazines. My first feeble efforts to write novels occurred while I was taking a graduate creative writing seminar from Tomás Rivera, the first Latino Chancellor of a University of California campus. Eventually, beginning in 1991 when I was finally able to start returning to Cuba, I decided to focus on fiction. Some of the reviews said my novels were “too poetic,” so a light bulb went off in my mind, and I returned to poetry. Nevertheless, several of my picture books are about scientists, and forests and farms often appear in my verse novels for older children. In some of my verse novels, such as Forest World, The Surrender Tree, Mountain Dog, and Silver People, wilderness actually feels like one of the characters in the story. In my verse memoir, Enchanted Air, I showed how I became both a writer and a scientist, by falling in love with tropical nature during childhood summers spent with relatives in Cuba.

Q: As the national Young People’s Poet Laureate, you have the opportunity to inspire a new generation of poets. What poets have inspired you?

M: Most of my favorite poets are from Spain and Latin America: José Martí; Rubén Darío; Juan Ramón Jiménez; Antonio Machado; Miguel Hernández; Gabriela Mistral; Octavio Paz; Dulce María Loynaz. I also love nature poets, especially Wendell Berry and Mary Oliver.

Q: Raúl, what other illustrators inspire you?

R: Well, when I was very young comic book illustrators such as Steve Ditko (Spiderman-Marvel Comics), Joe Kubert (Sgt. Rock- DC Comics), and others really got me started drawing my own characters.

A bit later I learned who Norman Rockwell was, and that's when I knew that I might try to do what he did. Finally when I grew up, illustrators like Brad Holland, Mark English, and Matt Mahurin were an inspiration to me.

Q: How is your work with children’s illustrating different from your “grown-up” murals and covers?

R: Illustrating for children is not necessarily much different than illustrating for adults, except for the mature themes you may create for an adult audience. There is a good deal of fantasy involved in all art. Children tend to remember this much better than adults do.

Q: What do you hope readers take away from your art in Miguel’s Brave Knight?

R: My wish is that young readers can enhance their own mental images of Miguel's world by reading Margarita's words and looking at the visuals I put together. I hope that at some point in their lives they're inspired to learn more about this Don Quixote character and decide to read Cervantes's novel.

Q: How do you hope Miguel’s Brave Knight will be used in the classroom and elsewhere?

M: Cervantes is just as famous in Latin America as Shakespeare is in the US. I hope teachers will help children see that they can learn about the whole world, that they are not limited by borders. Stories travel, and they time-travel. Poetry is like a magic carpet that can take us anywhere.

With respect to the power of imagination, maybe teachers could talk about the importance of daydreaming in the writing process. Daydreaming is at the heart of creativity, and from early childhood, Cervantes was a master of this essential skill.

Q: What do you hope young children will learn from this book?

M: I hope they’ll see that the human imagination is more powerful than any monster, including the Spanish Inquisition, which tried to prohibit imaginative literature. 

Miguel's Brave Knight will be at your local library, indie bookstore, or Barnes & Noble on October 1st! To learn more, check out our New Book News post.