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!

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Sunday Brunch with Alison Hart

For Sunday brunch today we are chatting author Alison Hart about the research behind and perspectives in the latest installment in her Dog Chronicles series Leo, Dog of the Sea. 

Q: The Dog Chronicles series portrays history through the unique perspective of dogs. What inspired this approach?

A: When I first thought about a ‘dogs in history’ type series, I began reading everything I could about how dogs and humans have worked together throughout time. I felt showing history through the perspectives of dogs was a great way to dive into gritty historical moments—such as a horrific WWI battle and a mine fire—and make them interesting for kids.

Dogs have been used in so many ways in history that I wanted to show a variety in the series. Darling, Mercy Dog of WWI, the first book, is about the different jobs dogs were used for during wartime and trench warfare. The second book, Murphy, Gold Rush Dog, is set in Alaska during the 1900 gold rush; dogs were necessary as pack animals, sled dogs, guards, and companions. Finder, Coal Mine Dog, the third in the series, is about dogs that worked with coal miners in the early 1900s.

Illustrations by Michael G. Montgomery
Q: What sort of research goes into telling a story through a dog’s-eye view?

A: Historical fiction requires incredible amounts of research whether the hero is a dog or a human. To write historical fiction, I have to know enough to “sort of” be an expert. Then I look for exciting moments in time and then add in great characters and rich sensory details. If the facts don’t enhance and move the story, they are left out.

Q: The Dog Chronicles often deals with serious, even brutal, situations that occurred in history. How do you decide to approach these events when writing for children?

A: I try to be very sensory in my writing, so sometimes there are graphic details about explosions or deaths. But since my heroes are usually dogs or children, I tell the story through their eyes, so it adds an immediacy and innocence.

Q: In Leo, Dog of the Sea, Leo is a dog who chases and catches rats on the ship. What kind of dog is Leo and how did you come up with his character?

Illustrations by Michael G. Montgomery
A: Since early times, the Spanish had “ratters,” a small dog that kept the vermin at bay in inns and homes. There is no mention of a rat dog on any of Magellan’s ships, but history does mention plenty of rats. And since this is fiction, I simply decided that Magellan needed a ratter!

Q: A lot of the characters in Leo are real historical figures. How did you go about characterizing these people from hundreds of years ago?

A: Luckily, fiction is on my side. There are many books about Magellan, and Pigafetta’s journal gave some insights into the captain general as well as the journalist himself. Some of the dialogue came from historical quotes, but mostly I gleaned information about the officers and crew from research and then turned them into “real” people. There was a page who made the entire journey around the world, but Marco the character is fictional.

Q: What do you hope children will take away from reading this book?

A: I hope young readers become hooked on history when it is told as a story and not a list of facts. Each time I research an event, I am fascinated by the inventiveness, perseverance, and strength of humans—and dogs!

Leo, Dog of the Sea will be at your local libraryindie bookstore, or Barnes & Noble on April 1st!

Friday, March 17, 2017

A Season of Peaches: Behind the Scenes of a Publicity & Marketing Internship

When I think about what I learned as a Marketing and Publicity intern at Peachtree Publishers, the first thing that comes to mind is this: “I can now re-jacket 75 books an hour, 90 if the covers are pre-creased.”  Don’t be too impressed, my record is 120.

I know what you’re thinking: “A marketing intern replacing book jackets? That doesn’t sound like something you’d be doing in most publishing houses.”  And you’d be right, because Peachtree isn’t most publishing houses.  Unlike many internships with larger companies, those offered by Peachtree are thoughtfully designed to help interns learn as much about the industry as possible through hands-on experience—whether it’s re-jacketing books in their onsite warehouse or pitching a manuscript’s publicity plan to the senior editors.  It’s the perfect inside look for those interested in the industry, and the perfect first step for those who want to find their place within it.  So let’s take a look at what your responsibilities might be if you’re lucky enough to land a place on Peachtree’s marketing team.

Market Trend Reports

One of the most consistent assignments that you will receive as a marketing intern will be creating trend reports from Publisher’s Weekly, School Library Journal, and Kirkus Reviews.  A trend report is essentially a summary of the articles, market reports, and book reviews from these industry magazines.  It will be sent to the entire office, allowing each department to keep an eye on the market and adapt accordingly.  It’s also an opportunity for you glean advice from those who have spent years in the industry and get an idea of what the public is looking for in upcoming titles.

Publicity Mailings

While many of the internship duties can overlap (editorial interns write trend reports, too) you will have many assignments that are specific to your department and tap into your love of all things creative.  Mailings of all shapes and sizes are one of the biggest responsibilities you are given as a marketing intern.  When new titles come out each season, your job is to stuff envelopes with F&Gs (folded and gathered preliminary copies of the new titles) and their press releases to be sent to reviewers and other media outlets.  Sometimes Peachtree has a promotional book giveaway, so you will be gathering the necessary titles, and any mailing-specific merchandise, packing them into boxes and labeling them appropriately.

But my personal favorites are “Big Mouth” mailings.  If you have a new title that Peachtree is particularly excited about, they may ask you to put together a “Big Mouth” mailing for it.  This not only includes F&Gs of the new title with their appropriate press releases, but also charming activities and creative quirks to pique the recipients’ interest.  For King & Kayla, our new children’s mystery series, our “Big Mouth” mailing included a cipher wheel, a message in code for them to crack, and a magnifying glass so the recipients could read the teeny-tiny hint we provided.  And guess who helped write that code and cut out those wheels? That’s right, the marketing intern! Usually these kinds of mailings are reserved for lead titles, but they’re sometimes used to kick off a new series—as was the case for King & Kayla.

Copy Writing/Content Marketing

Now, if being crafty isn't exactly your cup of tea, never fear, because as a Publicity and Marketing intern, the main bulk of your work will be producing loads of written copy.  Some of the smaller assignments include writing a brief update for Peachtree’s Facebook wall, sending out a promotional tweet, or providing a caption for Instagram photos.  If your writing is effective and skillful in this role, you might be asked to write a round-up for the company blog.  In these pieces you will gather Peachtree titles which relate to the round-up’s chosen theme, whether it be Women’s History Month, Election Day, or March Madness, and write a brief synopsis of each title.  This blog will be published on Peachtree’s official site and posted on all of its social media platforms, so be sure to dot your “i’s,” cross your “t’s,” and double-check your “their/they’re/and there’s.”

When you aren’t helping write for social media, you could be poring over new titles to compose compelling interview questions for authors about their work, writing discussion guides for teachers, or crafting riveting reader’s reports full of great promotional ideas to help the team plan for the season.  This brings me to another unique aspect of Peachtree’s Marketing and Publicity internships: mock acquisitions.

Mock Acquisition Meetings

Mock Acquisition meetings happen twice a semester, and are a chance for the editorial department to bring new titles to the table for discussion and debate.  Your job, as a marketing intern, is to evaluate these titles pre-acquisition to see if they are marketable or not.  This includes running the manuscript through a fine-tooth comb of critical questions such as “Is this author marketable?”; “Does his or her message match with Peachtree’s voice?”; “Is there an interesting and pitch-able back story to the manuscript’s content?”  If the answer is no, then the manuscript might not be a fruitful investment for Peachtree, and the acquiring editor might consider rejecting it.

But if a title makes its way through the first round of acquisitions, it’s now your job to write a publicity plan for the title which will be presented at the second meeting later in the semester.  Publicity plans are how you would market the book long term, and contain a set of goals for the book and lists of overall marketing, publicity, and advertising strategies.  And don’t worry if you’ve never written one before.  Your supervisors are always open to answer questions and coach you through any difficulties you might have with your plans, or even other tasks they assign you to.  All you have to do is ask!

Lunch and Learns

Peachtree's willingness to educate publishing newcomers is quite evident in their monthly “Lunch-and-Learn” meetings which are open to both editorial and marketing interns.  This is an opportunity for you to listen to senior staff members from production, editorial, sales, marketing, and design detail the responsibilities of their position, the inner workings of their department, and how their department works with the rest of the company.  Not only that, but they are also open to audience participation, so be sure to brainstorm some job-specific questions beforehand.  You never know when you’ll get this kind of opportunity again. Take advantage of it!

Looking back on my time at Peachtree, I’m surprised by just how much this internship has given me.  I’ve learned the language of publishing and just how much pre-planning goes into each season.  I’ve gained a deeper understanding of market trends and forged relationships with those who are plunged neck-deep in the world of books.  

For you, dear reader, peach season could be just around the corner.  Why not apply and see?  Obviously, I’ve enjoyed the experience more than I can tell and am proud to have been a part of this plucky indie publisher.  And I’m sure you will too.

Interested in hearing more? Read "Behind the Scenes of an Editorial Internship"

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

New Book Wednesday: Zebra on the Go
Zebra on the Go
by Jill Nogales
Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, children of all ages…the circus is beginning! Fierce Lion and speedy Zebra are stepping into the ring to perform their act—but wait! Things aren’t going quite according to plan! Zebra is on the go—with Lion in hot pursuit!

Jill Nogales’s rollicking debut keeps readers on their hooves— er, toes—while Lorraine Rocha’s vibrant illustrations bring the whole circus to life. An energetic read-aloud about the circus running away…with itself, Zebra on the Go hums with energetic rhyming text and is the perfect read aloud for all ages. Debut illustrator Lorraine Rocha adds densely-packed, colorful artwork and an engaging seek-and-find element (keep an eye on those monkeys!) for a book that young readers will want to read again and again.

“Nogales' story will unquestionably stand as a solid read-aloud that is equally entertaining for both adults and children…. Readers will surely revisit this book closely.”
Kirkus Reviews, STARRED REVIEW

Don’t worry if you haven’t got your tickets yet, because this colorful cavalcade is careening into town on April 1st to set up the Big Top at your local libraryindie bookstore, or Barnes & Noble!

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Sunday Brunch with Gretchen Brandenburg McLellan

For Sunday brunch today we are chatting with debut author Gretchen Brandenburg McLellan about her picture book Mrs. McBee Leaves Room 3and her experiences that led to her new career in writing.

Q: What inspired you to write Mrs. McBee Leaves Room 3?

A few years ago when my school district started making plans to open a new elementary school in the fall, every elementary teacher was interviewed to staff the new school. This created excitement and anxiety—a bittersweet mix of feelings that affected us all, staff and students alike. No one knew where s/he would end up. For many students, their sense of security is rooted in the geography of the school—knowing this teacher’s room is there and that teacher’s room is across the hall. I’ve had 5th grade students who were heading off to middle-school ask me through tears if I would still be in my room the next year. They needed to know that this part of their lives was stable as the tectonic plates of their lives shifted. This connection to the geography of the school inspired me to write Mrs. McBee Leaves Room 3. Teachers leave for so many reasons: to have babies, to return to the university, to move to a new school or away from the area, to change careers, to care for themselves or family members who are ill, or finally to retire. All of these moves are bittersweet.

At the same time as the upheaval in my own school district, a dear friend and former co-worker was dying of breast cancer. She had to say good-bye to her own elementary classroom and her students to her. I was able to dedicate Mrs. McBee Leaves Room 3 to her. It brought us both a bittersweet joy, knowing she wouldn’t live to see the art or the book in print. A memorial library has been established in her honor at Hathaway Elementary in Washougal, Washington where we taught together. I look forward to adding Mrs. McBee Leaves Room 3 to her shelves. I am sure she would love it!

Q: Have you known any Williams and Jamaikas in your teaching life? What would you like readers to take away from their experience?

There are usually Williams and Jamaikas in every classroom, the sensitive observer who has his own way of processing feelings and change, and the bossy organizer who has a master plan for everything and wants everyone to toe her line. There are students who take a long time to test the water and others who plunge right in. What I’d like them both to learn from each other is respect and compassion and to honor each other’s contribution to the whole. In an increasingly complex and multi-cultural world, we need to understand the limits of our own points of view and be open to expanding them. 

Q: In your experience as a teacher, how do you help students make challenging transitions?

Children’s literature is always a guide! Reading aloud a picture book that depicts children encountering the same challenges is my first go-to. I hope that Mrs. McBee Leaves Room 3 will be a go-to book for teachers, too, when it is time to say good-bye. It will help children understand and name their feelings, and learn that to be human is often to have conflicting emotions.

Mrs. McBee Leaves Room 3 will be especially helpful if a teacher is leaving his/her class for any reason. It’s important that teachers tell their students that they will be leaving, because most elementary school children visit their former teacher/s as soon as school doors open in the fall. Some visit the day after school gets out for the summer! If children come to call and their teacher is not there, the geography of their lives trembles. Teachers look forward to this fall visiting ritual, too. In her new classroom Mrs. McBee would find the fall experience bittersweet, wishing she could see her kiddos again, to see how much they grew and to hear about all their summertime adventures both inside and outside of books.

Q: Do you have any favorite memories from teaching?

There are too many to name. Every day with children has moments that are special. For a reading specialist, seeing students engrossed in a book by themselves or enjoying sharing a book with a reading buddy, and hearing laughter or the words “I love this book! I love reading!” is always great. When children say they don’t like reading, they haven’t yet found the transformational book that settles into their hearts and feels as if it were written just for them—the book they will hug tight and read again and again. Connecting kids with this experience is fantastic!

Another kind of pivotal experience in becoming life-long readers is hearing that special book read aloud. I love feeling the magic of a perfectly selected read-aloud book transform a group of children. A delicious alert silence wraps around the group and children listen, transfixed. After one such reading, a little girl looked up at me in awe and whispered, “You are magic!” The moment was magic and only possible through the amazing books I had in my classroom library. My shelves were like an instrument panel in my cockpit. I loved hopping up and pulling a book from my shelf, knowing that YES, NOW! was the moment for this book. Through books we took off and soared!

Q: What is your writing process like?

When I am really lucky, I get an idea and the words come easily in a first draft. Sometimes ideas come in gestalts, and I know the beginning, middle and end of the story immediately. Other times I get a phrase that launches me into writing, and I’m what Anne Lamont calls “the designated typist.”

Revision is a different process entirely, much more intentional and rational, although it involves a lot of letting go and being ready to recognize ideas when they come, un-beckoned.

Q: How has your experience as a reading specialist influenced your writing?

When I’m writing picture books, I relish in language, employing poetic devices and paying attention to the sounds of words flowing one after another. I never underestimate my readers/listeners, knowing that for most, the experience of a picture book is an interactive one, shared with an adult who is an accomplished reader and who can make the text come alive and answer any questions that arise.

Knowing how difficult it is for some children to “break the code” of reading, writing easy-to-read books is an exercise in giving a child easy access to the story, using words that are easy to decode and simple sentence structure. No matter what I write, I take into consideration children’s background experience to avoid overwhelming them with “concept overload.” 

Mostly, I write from the heart about experiences that matter to children. These are the kinds of books that will create readers.

Q: Your book is about the bittersweet celebration and acknowledgement of transitions. What is bittersweet to you?

As a reading specialist, I am privileged to help students struggling with reading. My success always means that I no longer will be their teacher. It is always sad to say goodbye—but such a celebration too!

My decision to leave teaching and focus on my writing has been a bittersweet decision as well. I am lucky that my books will take me back to schools as a visiting author, keeping me close to children and their world.

Q: What is next for you?

You’ll find me reading aloud and signing my books in bookstores, visiting schools and libraries, teaching writers and presenting at library conferences. And I will forever be a student of writing and literature myself, attending writing conferences and workshops, learning from others in the field and reading, writing and reading some more.

I am also looking forward to the release of three more of my picture books. When Your Daddy’s a Soldier, illustrated by E. B. Lewis is on Beach Lanes Fall 2017 list. I’m Done! will be released by Holiday House Spring 2018 and Button and Bundles by Knopf Fall 2018 (TBA).

Mrs. McBee Leaves Room 3 will be at your local library, indie bookstore, or Barnes & Noble on April 1st!

Friday, March 10, 2017

Free Book Friday: Mrs. McBee Leaves Room 3

Friday = Free books! This Free Book Friday we are giving away Mrs. McBee Leaves Room 3 written by Gretchen Brandenburg McLellan and illustrated by Grace Zong.

This amusing and touching story brings readers into Mrs. McBee's classroom where preparations are beginning for the end of the school year. Everyone has a special way of saying good-bye, highlighting the importance of celebrating transitions.

Enter for your chance to win a copy in our GoodReads giveaway! The giveaway starts today and ends this time next week!

Read more about Mrs. McBee Leaves Room 3 on our New Book Wednesday here.

Goodreads Book Giveaway

Mrs. McBee Leaves Room 3 by Gretchen Brandenburg McLellan

Mrs. McBee Leaves Room 3

by Gretchen Brandenburg McLellan

Giveaway ends March 18, 2017.
See the giveaway details at Goodreads.
Enter Giveaway

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

New Book Wednesday: Mrs. McBee Leaves Room 3

Mrs. McBee Leaves Room 3
by Gretchen Brandenburg McLellan

Some children (and teachers) celebrate the end of the school year with lots of fanfare, but in Room 3, the experience is bittersweet. Gretchen Brandenburg McLellan’s debut picture book, Mrs. McBee Leaves Room 3, shows readers that everyone has a special way of saying good-bye.

It’s the end of the school year at Mayflower Elementary, and the students aren’t the only ones leaving Room 3—Mrs. McBee will not be returning to school after summer break. In addition to cleaning up the classroom for the end of the year, Jamaika, William, and the other students of Room 3 want to find a special way to celebrate their beloved teacher. But how will they arrive at an agreement when they all have different ideas?

Children are continuously experiencing transitionswhether it's new grades, new teachers, or just new everyday experiences. With a distinct cast of lively and diverse characters, brought to life by Grace Zong’s charming illustrations, Gretchen Brandenburg McLellan’s amusing and touching story highlights the mixed emotions surrounding those transitions, and the importance of recognizing, observing, and celebrating them.  

 “A thoroughly satisfying solution to the issue of saying goodbye.”—Kirkus Reviews

“An earnest, unflashy story that has all the earmarks for becoming a staple for schools and students facing similar transitions.” —Publishers Weekly

So be a class act and pick up your own copy of Mrs. McBee Leaves Room 3 on April 1st at your local libraryindie bookstore, or Barnes & Noble!