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An Interview with The Stars Beckoned Author Candy Wellins

 

 

AN INTERVIEW WITH AUTHOR CANDY WELLINS

ABOUT HER PICTURE BOOK

THE STARS BECKONED:
EDWARD WHITE’S AMAZING WALK IN SPACE

(Philomel; $17.99, Ages 4-8)

 

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                    ★                      ★                     ★   

 

SHORT SUMMARY:

The Stars Beckoned: Edward White’s Amazing Walk In Space, written by Candy Wellins and illustrated by Courtney Dawson, is a lyrical picture book biography of Edward White, the first American to walk in space, and an ode to the beauty and wonder of the stars that brought him there.

 

INTERVIEW:

Colleen Paeff: Hi Candy! Congratulations on the release of your second picture book, The Stars Beckoned: Edward White’s Amazing Walk In Space (illustrated by Courtney Dawson)! You’ve said that when you started writing this book you weren’t really a space buff. Do you think that helped or hindered you during the research process?

 

Candy Wellins: I hope it helped!  Most of what I knew about the history of NASA came from THE RIGHT STUFF, which does a good job of covering Project Mercury and I think everyone has a basic understanding of Apollo, but the Gemini missions are kind of like the forgotten middle children of the NASA missions. Not the first ones and not the flashy ones, but certainly important ones. I read the transcript of the entire Gemini IV mission–pages and pages of technical jargon—but once you get to the heart of the mission and “hearing” the astronauts speak, it’s pretty riveting.  

 

CP: Would you consider yourself a space buff now?

 

CW: No, not a space buff by any means. Maybe an above-average space enthusiast at best!  

 

 

CP: I’m always impressed by authors who can tell a story in rhyme, but I’m especially impressed by authors who can tell a nonfiction story in rhyme! Was rhyming something that was a part of The Stars Beckoned from the beginning or did it come later in the revision process?

 

CW: I knew I wanted to tell Edward’s story for a while and I didn’t have a plan whatsoever. I only wrote in prose at that point and I tried a few things, but didn’t like them at all. A writer in my critique group shared a biography written in verse that I thought was just lovely. It made me want to do something biographical in verse just to try it.  Edward came to mind immediately. I had done a lot of the preliminary research and, honestly, if you’re going to get your feet wet in rhyme, might as well do it with someone who has a very rhymable last name like White. The opening lines came to me pretty quickly and I just let the story take me where it needed to go.  

 

CP: Edward White’s children gave you feedback as you worked on the story, right? How did you get in touch with them and were they immediately open to you writing about their dad?

 

CW: During one of my many Google searches of Edward’s name, I found a post his granddaughter made celebrating the fiftieth anniversary of his spacewalk. She is a realtor so I was able to find contact information easily and reached out to her. She put me in touch with her dad and aunt and I shared the manuscript with them. It was important to me that the book be as historically accurate as possible. They were especially helpful as we moved into the illustration phase–getting hair colors, clothing choices and airplane models exactly as they were was important to all of us. Most Americans know the names of other “first” astronauts like Alan Shepard, Neil Armstrong and Sally Ride, but I feeland I think his children would agreeEdward has been somewhat forgotten by history. I hope my book can change that just a bit because he really was amazing and did important work.  

 

 

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Interior spread from The Stars Beckoned written by Candy Wellins and illustrated by Courtney Dawson, Philomel Books ©2021.

 

CP: You’ve said you always wanted to be a writer but you didn’t get serious about it until about 2016. What happened in 2016 that sparked the desire to get serious about writing? And why did you choose to write for kids? 

 

CW: Writing children’s books always felt like my fantasy joblike some people dream about being an NFL quarterback or rock starit never felt like something I could actually do. In 2016, I met a neighbor who revealed she wrote children’s books for a living. I was inspired by her journey and decided to pursue it for real. I was lucky because I live near Austin, Texas, home to the Writing Barn, which is a fabulous haven for aspiring (and continuing) writers. I took some introductory classes on picture books and the rest is history.  

 

CP: Your background in journalism and in teaching elementary school, seems like the ideal combination for a children’s book writerespecially nonfiction. What extra skills have you developed that didn’t necessarily come from journalism or teaching?

 

CW:  I don’t know if it’s a skill necessarily, but I’d say I’ve developed some thick skin being a writer. This is truly a business of perseverance. It’s a highly competitive fieldthere are only so many opportunities for publication and tons of great manuscripts. Therefore, there are certainly more rejections than acceptances. Resilience is important.  You have to write because you love it and success will find you if you are patient.  

 

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Interior art from The Stars Beckoned written by Candy Wellins and illustrated by Courtney Dawson, Philomel Books ©2021.

 

 

CP: Yes! I totally agree. I know you have a trusted critique group of your peers, but I hear you read your work to your three kids for their feedback, too. Are they tough critics or do they love everything you write?

 

CW: Yes, my kids are 10, 8 and 2 and I do read things to them to get a child’s take on my stories. My oldest gives pretty good, constructive feedback and has a good ear for meter, too. My middle loves humor and will push me to really find the kid appeal. My youngest is just figuring out what I do. We read The Stars Beckoned together and she was pleasantly surprised to find her “mommy’s picture” on the back jacket.  

 

CP: Your debut picture book Saturdays are for Stella came out smack in the middle of the pandemic and now your second book is coming out at what is (hopefully!) the tail end of it. I imagine that’s been tough. Did you learn any lessons from your first pandemic launch that you expect you’ll continue to use for this next book and maybe even beyond?

 

CW: I don’t know what a non-COVID launch looks like so I have nothing to compare it to. I will say it’s been nice because I’ve been able to visit bookstores and libraries which I probably would have not been able to visit in person. I did World Read Aloud Day this year and presented at schools in something like eight different states in less than six hours. I could never travel that much in a day! Recently I saw that STELLA was read as story time at the Met Museum in New York City. I was able to watch the YouTube video of it and would have totally missed it had we not been living in such a virtual-friendly world.  

 

CP: Saturdays with Stella was such a beautiful tribute to grandmothers. I know you lost both of your grandmothers when you were pregnant with your first child. Given that so many of us have lost loved ones this past year, can you talk a bit about some of the things you do to connect your kids with the memories of your grandmothers, even though they never had the chance to meet them?

 

CW: The timing on that book was so serendipitous. I’ve had so many people reach out and tell me how much they appreciated the book, especially given the times we are living in. 

Everyone is experiencing loss right now, even if it isn’t death and I’m glad the book can help with that.  

I’m also a big memory keeper. We have photos of family, alive and gone, throughout the house and in accessible photo albums.  And we talk a lot about family. We share memories and connectionsplay the same games and bake the same recipesI have from my grandmas.  

 

CP: What’s next for you? 

 

CW: You’ve probably been wondering when someone is FINALLY going to write a picture book about the world’s largest species of burrowing clams.  I can tell you the long wait is nearly over. My next book is a young graphic novel about a geoducklook up a photo, you won’t be disappointed. It’ll be out in 2023 or 24.  

 

 

Author Candy Wellins photo credit Shannon Orosco 
Candy Wellins author photo credit: Shannon Orosco

BRIEF BIO:

Candy Wellins is a lifelong writer and book lover.  A former elementary school teacher, Candy has a BA in journalism and an M.Ed. in literacy education.  She’s now a full-time mom to three wonderful children who keep her up-to-date and immersed in kid’s literature.  When she’s not reading, writing or mothering, Candy loves running, traveling and naps! Her debut picture book Saturdays Are For Stella (Illustrated by Charlie Eve Ryan, PAGE STREET KIDS) was named a Kirkus Best Picture Book of 2020.  Her debut picture book biography The Stars Beckoned: Edward White’s Amazing Walk in Space (Illustrated by Courtney Dawson, PHILOMEL) comes out April 20, 2021.  Candy and her family make their home in Central Texas.   

Order your copy today!

The Stars Beckoned – Please click here for signed copies 

Amazon link

 

SOCIAL MEDIA:

Author Website: www.candywellins.com

Twitter: @candy_wellins

Instagram: @candywellins

 

READ MORE ABOUT CANDY:

The Stars Beckoned Cover Reveal with Mr. Schu

Saturday with Stella Book Birthday & Interview

Critter Lit interview with Candy

Research & Nesting: Bringing Books and Babies into the World by Candy Wellins

Writing Barn: Success Story Spotlight

 

ABOUT INTERVIEWER COLLEEN PAEFF:

Colleen Paeff is the author of The Great Stink: How Joseph Bazalgette Solved London’s Poop Pollution Problem, illustrated by Nancy Carpenter (available August 31, 2021 from Margaret K. McElderry Books) and Rainbow Truck, co-authored with Hina Abidi and illustrated by Saffa Khan (available in the spring of 2023 from Chronicle Books).  Click here for more info.

 

Read another interview by Colleen here.

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An Interview with Clarinet and Trumpet Author Melanie Ellsworth

 

AN INTERVIEW WITH AUTHOR MELANIE ELLSWORTH

ABOUT HER PICTURE BOOK

CLARINET & TRUMPET

(HMH Books for Young Readers; $14.99, Ages 4-7)

 

Clarinet and Trumpet cover An Interview with Melanie Ellsworth

 

 

SUMMARIES OF MELANIE’S TWO PICTURE BOOKS:

Hip, Hip … Beret!HipHipBeret cover withFlocking Interview with Melanie Ellsworth
Written by Melanie Ellsworth
Illustrated by Morena Forza
(HMH BYR; $14.99, Ages 4-7)   

Bella’s beret blows away on a windy day, taking a ride through the seasons and landing in many places along the way. When the beret lands in a chef’s pan – hip, hip, soufflé! When it lands on the head of a dancer – hip, hip, ballet! As Bella searches for her missing beret, young readers can enjoy their own search for a few touchable felt berets inside the book.

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Clarinet and Trumpet
Written by Melanie Ellsworth
Illustrated by John Herzog
(HMH BYR; $14.99, Ages 4-7)
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Starred Review – School Library Journal
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Clarinet and Trumpet have a pitch-perfect friendship. But when Oboe convinces Clarinet that woodwinds should stick together, Clarinet and Trumpet’s harmonious relationship falls flat. Woodwinds and Brass face off – until music brings them back together. With pun-filled text and emotive illustrations, CLARINET & TRUMPET honors the important role music plays in creating community. 

 

INTERVIEW WITH AUTHOR MELANIE ELLSWORTH:

Colleen Paeff: Congratulations on the release of your second picture book, Clarinet & Trumpet (illustrated by John Herzog). I love all the wordplay in both this book and in your debut, Hip, Hip … Beret! (illustrated by Morena Forza). How did you get so punny?

Melanie Ellsworth:  Thanks, Colleen! It’s so nice to chat with you on Good Reads With Ronna. I think punny might be in my DNA. I grew up with a father who slips puns into conversations whenever possible. He also composes limericks for any and every occasion. So I can’t help myself. Wordplay makes the creative process more joyful!

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Clarinet and Trumpet interior spread2 Interview with Melanie Ellsworth
Interior spread from Clarinet & Trumpet written by Melanie Ellsworth and illustrated by John Herzog, HMH BYR ©2021.

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CP: The cover of Clarinet & Trumpet says “Shake this Book.” What happens when you shake the book and how did that idea come about?

ME: When I submitted the manuscript, I offered to include back matter on musical instruments. But my editor had a more innovative idea; she wanted a tactile element, so she suggested embedding a shaker/rattle so readers can join in the musical fun. When I received my author copies, I discovered that the sound-maker is cleverly embedded in the book’s spine. When you tip the book, it sounds (and works) a lot like a rainstick. It’s quite soothing!

Another neat musical feature about the book is that the “and” in the title is a G clef! I had never really noticed how similar the ampersand and the G clef were until I saw that switch. The art department was very clever!

CP: Do you play any instruments yourself or did writing a book about musical instruments require research? Or both?!

ME: Both! I did some googling of instrument terminology, sound words, and musical puns. But mostly, this book came from my own experience playing in bands, orchestras, district bands, and pit bands. I started piano lessons around age 7 and clarinet lessons around age 10. In high school, I took a few saxophone lessons just because saxophones are cool. Clarinet was always my favorite, though. I was hooked from the first time I heard its sound in an elementary school instrument “petting zoo.” I love the versatility of the clarinet – for classical, jazz, klezmer, big band, new age, you name it! I played clarinet through college and a bit afterward. Someday, I will whip my embouchure back into shape and join a local community band.

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Clarinet and Trumpet interior spread3 Interview with Melanie Ellsworth
Interior spread from Clarinet & Trumpet written by Melanie Ellsworth and illustrated by John Herzog, HMH BYR ©2021.

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CP: You said in a previous interview that you’ve always loved picture books. Why do you think they’ve had such a long-standing appeal for you?

ME: The quality cuddling time with my mom as we read picture books together started my love for the genre. My local library also fueled that love. The combination of lyrical text and gorgeous pictures is pretty magical at any age. Now that I write picture books as well as reading them, I still appreciate many of the same things I always have: the quiet cuddle time they inspire, the rich vocabulary and themes, the introduction for our youngest readers to other types of families and communities, the way picture books kindle empathy, the stunning art, and the way the art often tells another story – like getting a two-for-one deal! And I love a good challenge – trying to write a humorous, heartfelt story with themes relatable to both children and adults, with an arc and interesting characters, with text that sings, leaving plenty of room for the illustrator, and in less than 500 words.

CP: You spent time backpacking around Southeast Asia, the Middle East, and Africa. What’s one of your favorite memories from that time?

ME:  Hmmm, so many! One is staying with a family in Bomet, Kenya and helping with a community water-tank build. Now you’ve got me thinking about the delicious ground nut sauce I ate there. Another favorite memory is making it up to Annapurna Base Camp in the Himalayas and eating the Snickers I had saved for that moment. Best Snickers ever. (Seems like I may have to write a travel/food-themed picture book!)

CP: Did you learn any lessons as a world traveler that you apply to your writing life?

ME: I’ve actually been thinking about this question for years, looking for the intersections between my travels and the life I live now. I’m hoping to find a way to write about it. Travel presents an opportunity to see other people more deeply and to think about the way my choices, and all of our choices, ripple out to affect a global community. I think you have to travel with a sense of humor, keep an eye out for the funny, absurd, and unusual, recognize that what strikes you as absurd may not be universal, and be open to many ways of seeing. These are all things that apply to writing as well.

CP: If I asked you to curate a perfect day, guaranteed to get the creative juices flowing, what would it look like? 

ME: It sounds a bit dull, but starting the day with coffee at my desk up in my barn office works best for me. A perfect day might start with me writing a haiku to warm up my creative senses. Ideally, I’d start every day with writing or revising, but I almost always start by checking email. Usually, I set a timer so I don’t get completely off track with that. A perfect day would definitely involve a walk down to the river with my dog. I get to do that most days, and sometimes I pay close attention to nature – like crocuses unfurling or a pair of hooded mergansers on the river. Other days, I look inwards on walks and end up with new story ideas that I text to myself so I won’t forget them.

CP: Is there anything else I should have asked?

ME: Thanks for your super interesting questions! If I asked myself questions like these every day, my creative juices would always be flowing. Here’s another question that might be useful for readers: What are some tips to stay focused on writing when so much else is going on?

A friend once told me to do a “brain dump” each day. It involves setting a timer for 5 minutes and writing down everything on your mind (grocery lists, errands, worries, etc.) so you can free yourself from those distractions before starting creative work. Something similar that helps me is to make a list of all writing and non-writing tasks I hope to do that day in my bullet journal. (I also have a weekly goals list.) And if you’re having one of those days or weeks when you’re feeling frustrated because you are not crossing much off your to-do list, try this tip from one of my critique partners, Anna Crowley Redding. As you work, keep a separate list of everything you actually do that day. There’s always so much that crops up that you weren’t expecting, so this is a good reminder that you actually WERE productive, even when you’re not feeling it. Try it when you need a little boost.

CP: What’s next for you?

ME: Several of my picture books are on submission through my agent, and I’m always writing/revising a few new ones. I hope to try some other genres this year, including an early reader graphic novel and a middle-grade novel (which would involve finishing a book I started writing years ago).

 

BRIEF BIO:

Melanie Ellsworth Author Photo
Melanie Ellsworth Photo Courtesy ©Amy Wilton

Melanie Ellsworth is the author of HIP, HIP… BERET! and CLARINET & TRUMPET. Over the years, Melanie has played a variety of instruments, including the piano, the saxophone, and the clarinet. She has yet to try out the trumpet! Melanie has worked as an ESOL teacher and a literacy specialist and now writes in an old house in Maine where she lives with her family.  

Website: www.MelanieEllsworth.com

Twitter: @melanieells

Instagram: @melaniebellsworth

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/MelanieEllsworthAuthor

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READ MORE ABOUT MELANIE HERE:

KidLit411 Author Spotlight

Critter Lit Interview

 

ABOUT INTERVIEWER COLLEEN PAEFF:

Colleen Paeff is the author of The Great Stink: How Joseph Bazalgette Solved London’s Poop Pollution Problem, illustrated by Nancy Carpenter (available August 31, 2021 from Margaret K. McElderry Books) and Rainbow Truck, co-authored with Hina Abidi and illustrated by Saffa Khan (available in the spring of 2023 from Chronicle Books).  Click here for more info.

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Read another interview by Colleen here.

 

 

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An Interview with The Passover Guest Author Susan Kusel

AN INTERVIEW WITH AUTHOR SUSAN KUSEL

ABOUT HER DEBUT PICTURE BOOK

THE PASSOVER GUEST

(Neal Porter Books; $18.99, Ages 4-8)

 

The Passover Guest cover

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SHORT SUMMARY:

In The Passover Guest, written by Susan Kusel and illustrated by Sean Rubin, Muriel assumes her family is too poor to hold a Passover Seder this year, but an act of kindness and a mysterious magician change everything.

 

INTERVIEW:

GoodReadsWithRonna: Welcome, Susan! Congratulations on your debut picture book, The Passover Guest!

Susan Kusel: Thank you so much for having me here! I am honored to be on this blog

GRWR:  How does it feel as a synagogue librarian and indie bookstore book buyer to know your new book,
The Passover Guest, has landed on shelves? 

SK: It’s an absolutely surreal feeling to know that my book has a spot in some of my favorite libraries and bookstores. I am humbled by the idea of a child pulling it off the shelf and reading it.

GRWR: When did the seed to become a storyteller first plant itself in your soul? Can you recall the first books that sparked your imagination? 

SK: I’ve wanted to be a writer for so long, it’s hard to remember the exact moment I started. I do remember the first time I ever wrote a complete book though. It was for a 5th grade English assignment and was about a Russian Jewish girl named Rachel. I remember being very proud of the special folder I put the book into.

My mom used to read to me every night when I was a child and some of my favorite books then were Cars and Trucks and Things That Go by Richard Scarry, Walter the Baker by Eric Carle, Mr. Popper’s Penguins by Richard and Florence Atwater, Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel by Virginia Lee Burton and of course, The Magician by I.L. Peretz, adapted by Uri Shulevitz.

 

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Interior spread from The Passover Guest, A Neal Porter Book/Holiday House © 2021. Text copyright © 2021 by Susan Kusel Illustrations copyright © 2021 by Sean Rubin

 

GRWR: What inspired you to write The Passover Guest as a retelling of the classic I. L. Peretz’s story adapted by Uri Shulevitz in 1973 rather than create a new tale? 

SK: As I mentioned above, The Magician was in regular reading rotation by my mother when I was younger and so it’s a story I’ve been in love with for a long time. When I rediscovered the book in a library as an adult, I still thought it was an amazing story, but I noticed some plot elements that I wished were different. That started me down the path of doing an adaptation of Peretz’s story, a process that took about ten years.

GRWR: Aside from setting the story in 1933 Depression-era D.C. are there any other notable changes you wanted to make for 21st-century young readers? 

SK: The most significant change I made was adding the character of Muriel. In the Peretz version, the story is about a couple but I thought that it was very important to add a child character. There are also a number of subtle changes I added, such as Muriel putting a penny in the Magician’s hat, the rabbi coming to Muriel’s seder, the whole community filling the house, the matzah breaking itself in two, and several smaller plot points. My goal was to stay true to Peretz’s message while making the story my own.

GRWR: What were your go-to Jewish holiday books growing up and right now? Do you have a collection? 

SK: Jewish stories have always been very important to me, but when I was growing up, we owned very few. Our whole book collection, which took up half a shelf in my brother’s closet, was primarily obtained from library book sales. We supplemented these with library books. I only had a few Jewish books including The Power of Light by Isaac Bashevis Singer and Potato Pancakes All Around by Marilyn Hirsh (which we used then, and I still use now for the latke recipe).

As for now, I am typing this while sitting in my home library surrounded by picture books, including several shelves just for Jewish books. Current favorites include Hershel and the Hanukkah Goblins by Eric Kimmel (no holiday list is complete without it!), I Know an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Dreidel by Caryn Yacowitz, The Matzah Papa Brought Home by Fran Manushkin (sadly out of print but still extraordinary), and Here is the World by Lesléa Newman. That’s really just a small sample though because there are so many Jewish holiday books I love.

GRWR: Has your experience on the Caldecott Medal selection committee or as chair of the Sydney Taylor Book Award Committee influenced your writing in any way? 

SK: One of the most common pieces of advice given to writers is to read extensively in your field. I think those committees, as well as others I’ve been on, have certainly helped me with that. When you are reading hundreds and hundreds of books in a genre, it does give you a better sense of what is currently published. Being on so many committees has helped me see what the conventions are, and how they can be broken and how I can be a better writer.

GRWR: Sean Rubin’s art is as magical as your prose and the mysterious guest himself. Do you have a particular favorite spread from the book you can tell us about? 

SK: I think Sean did a truly extraordinary job on the illustrations and picking just one of them is like trying to pick a favorite child. I think his work adds so much to the book and makes it complete.

I could easily go on at length about every individual spread and how much I love it, but if I can only pick one, it would be when Muriel goes to the synagogue to consult the rabbi. Over the course of one continuous spread, Sean shows us four completely separate and distinct scenes and the cause and effect of each one of them. And all of this against the astonishingly beautiful and majestic background of the Sixth and I Synagogue, a D.C. Jewish landmark. 

GRWR: Early on in The Passover Guest Muriel meets an unusual street performer to whom she gives her last penny. Can you speak to the story idea of magic and how, especially in tough times, this kind of belief can help people? 

SK: I think it’s always a good time to believe in the possibility of magic, especially during difficult times. You never know who that bedraggled stranger might turn out to be. Faith and hope are so important.

 

The Passover Guest int2
Interior spread from The Passover Guest, A Neal Porter Book/Holiday House © 2021. Text copyright © 2021 by Susan Kusel Illustrations copyright © 2021 by Sean Rubin

 

GRWR: Where do you find the time to write with all your other commitments? Do you have a daily routine? 

SK: I’d love to be able to say that I sit down in the same place at the same time every day and write for the same amount of time. But the truth, as you alluded to in this question, is that I have multiple jobs, commitments, and children, and I do my best to write as much as I can when I can.

GRWR: You mentioned in your author’s note that Passover has always been your favorite holiday, can you tell us why? 

SK: I love so many things about Passover: the coming of spring, getting the seder plate ready, singing songs, finding the afikomen, eating too much charoset, being with family, and much more. It’s always been a magical holiday for me and I’m delighted that this book lets me share some of that magic.

GRWR: Are you working on your next book? Will it have a Jewish theme? 

SK: I’m working on several next books, all with Jewish themes. I have a real commitment to telling Jewish stories.

GRWR: It’s been wonderful having you as a guest here today, Susan! I really appreciate your thoughtful replies and am looking forward to sharing a review of your book when we get closer to Passover.

Author Susan KuselBRIEF BIO:

Susan Kusel has turned a life as a book lover into many careers as an author, librarian, and buyer for a bookstore. She has served on many book award committees including the Caldecott Medal and the Sydney Taylor Book Award. She loves biking, cross-stitching, and of course, reading. Learn more about Susan on her website and by following her on social media.

Twitter: @susankusel
Instagram: @susanhkusel
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A Q+A with Author Alexis O’Neill about Melvil Dewey

AN INTERVIEW WITH ALEXIS O’NEILL

Author of

The Efficient, Inventive (Often Annoying)

Melvil Dewey

 

EFFICIENT MELVIL DEWEY cvr

 

 

I’m thrilled to have Alexis back on GRWR to talk about her latest picture book biography and the quirky visionary she chose to write about.

BOOK SUMMARY:

Melvil Dewey’s love of organization and words drove him to develop and implement his Dewey Decimal system, leaving a significant and lasting impact in libraries across the country.

When Melvil Dewey realized every library organized their books differently, he wondered if he could invent a system all libraries could use to organize them efficiently. A rat-a-tat speaker, Melvil was a persistent (and noisy) advocate for free public libraries. And while he made enemies along the way as he pushed for changes–like his battle to establish the first library school with women as students, through it all he was EFFICIENT, INVENTIVE, and often ANNOYING as he made big changes in the world of public libraries–changes still found in the libraries of today!

Buy the book from your local independent bookseller.

The Efficient, Inventive (Often Annoying) Melvil Dewey
Written by Alexis O’Neill
Illustrated by Edwin Fotheringham
(
Calkins Creek; $18.99, Ages 7-10)

 

INTERVIEW:

Good Reads With Ronna: It’s like the history of Melvil Dewey has been hiding in plain sight all these years. I never gave much thought to his decimal system of book organization for libraries, and definitely never figured it out. What sparked your curiosity into the man and his contributions? 

Alexis O’Neill: I hadn’t given him much thought either, Ronna, until a librarian friend sent me a funny video she used to help teach kids the Dewey Decimal System. That made me realize I didn’t know a thing about the inventor of this seemingly ubiquitous system.

 

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Interior spread from The Efficient, Inventive (Often Annoying) Melvil Dewey, written by Alexis O’Neill and illustrated by Edwin Fotheringham, Calkins Creek ©2020.

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GRWR: Apart from what Melvil Dewey is most famous for, what other ideas did you discover during your research phase that he championed which have impacted our lives? 

AON: Dewey really championed education for all. He was concerned about rural Americans as well as the waves of new immigrants having easier access to information. He also was a proponent of the Simplified Spelling movement, a precursor to today’s texting – getting rid of vowels and extra letters in words that hindered or were unnecessary to pronunciation – like “tho” for “though.” He chopped “Melville” down to “Melvil” but when there was an outcry, was convinced not to change “Dewey” to “Dui.”

 

GRWR: Let’s talk about Dewey’s dream of a librarian school at Columbia College where he was the chief librarian. Trustees did “not want women on their campus.” So how did he succeed?

AON: He got around them by following the spirit of the law and not the letter of the law. When Columbia College Trustees refused to have women on campus, Dewey bent rules to his needs: he opened his School of Library Economy in a storeroom over the chapel across the street. The entering class had seventeen women and three men.

 

GRWR: Dewey is referred to in the jacket flap as “EFFICIENT, INVENTIVE, and often annoying.“ Can you describe some of his quirky character traits?

AON: Even if Dewey had no fatal flaws (and he indeed had them), I still don’t think I’d be able to stand being in the same room with him for very long. He talked incessantly and rapidly. While the average American speaks at about 100-130 words per minute, one of Dewey’s students clocked him at a rate of 180 words per minute. When he tried to convince others about one of his ideas, he was like a dog on a bone. From a very young age and throughout his life, he obsessively kept lists of things such as his height, weight, assets, and more. And he fixated on the number 10, thus decimals. He wrote, “I am so loyal to decimals as our great labor saver that I even like to sleep decimally” (in other words, 10 hours a night.)

 

MELVIL DEWEY int2
Interior spread from The Efficient, Inventive (Often Annoying) Melvil Dewey, written by Alexis O’Neill and illustrated by Edwin Fotheringham, Calkins Creek ©2020.

e

GRWR: Melvil approached every endeavor and encounter in his life at 100 mph. The train visuals speeding through the pages of your story perfectly convey this energy. Do you think he moved at this pace because he had so much to accomplish in his lifetime that was predicted to be short after he inhaled smoke during a fire in his youth? 

AON: Dewey grew up in a deeply religious, restrictive household. He was always concerned with wastefulness and a desire “to leave the world a better place than when I found it.”  But when he was recuperating from a fire at his school as a teen, this desire became an obsession as did his preoccupation with efficiency.

 

GRWR: There are a lot of words printed in bold throughout the book. You also ask young readers several questions throughout it as well. Can you explain why? 

AON: I wanted readers to come along with the book’s narrator on a breathless ride in “real-time” as Dewey’s driving energy rushes through the years. I used present tense, direct questions, and bolded words to make the narrative voice break the fourth wall and emphasize the surprise the narrator feels while making observations about Dewey.

 

GRWR: What made Dewey fall out of favor in the public’s eye?

AON: A couple of decades into his career, Dewey was exposed as a racist, anti-Semite, and serial sexual harasser. He had created the Lake Placid Club that specifically excluded people of color, Jews, and other religious groups. And there had been justified complaints for years in the American Library Association, a group he helped found, about Dewey’s serial harassment of women. For his actions, he was censured by the NYS Board of Regents for his discriminatory practices, forced to resign from his positions as State Librarian and director of the library school, and ostracized by the ALA.

 

GRWR: How do you reconcile Dewey’s love of books and reading driving his initial motivation to help immigrants and those who cannot afford books with his bigoted views of Jews and others? 

AON: I really can’t reconcile or explain this.

 

MELVIL DEWEY int3
Interior spread from The Efficient, Inventive (Often Annoying) Melvil Dewey, written by Alexis O’Neill and illustrated by Edwin Fotheringham, Calkins Creek ©2020.

 

GRWR: Is it hard to write about someone whose personal views you may not necessarily like or agree with? 

AON: Dewey’s goal was to make the world a better place. So the question is, did his classification system make the world a better place? I believe it did. It expanded educational opportunities for the general public by making access to information more efficient. There are countless examples of artists, scientists, and others whose negative personal behaviors are hard to reconcile with their contributions, but their contributions have made significant, positive differences in so many lives.

 

GRWR: You used to write fiction and of late have switched to nonfiction kidlit, primarily biographies. What about writing fact-based stories appeals to you? And what do you think kids like about them? 

AON: I still write fiction, but I love American history! Early in my writing career, I wrote many articles for Cobblestone Magazine, and doing the research was a kick. Like me, I think kids are excited to know when something is real. Some facts–especially in history or science–just take my breath away.

 

GRWR: Where do you turn to for story inspiration? 

AON: Footnotes in books, articles, videos – lots of things spark ideas for stories. I never know where the next spark comes from or if it will flame into a book.

 

GRWR: If you’re able to divulge this info, what is on your radar for your next picture book? 

AON: Right now, I have a couple of fiction picture books circulating, and I’m working on a middle-grade nonfiction project. After so many years of writing “tight,” doing long-form work is challenging. I keep wanting to cut words!

Thanks for this opportunity, Ronna!

GRWR: What a treat it’s been to have you back here to share your insights about Melvil Dewey, Alexis. I will never look at those numbers in the library the same way again!

 

AON Headshot by SonyaSones
Author Alexis O’Neill photo courtesy of ©Sonya Sones.

BIO:

Alexis O’Neill is the author of several picture books including The Recess Queen, the winner of several children’s choice awards, and The Kite That Bridged Two Nations, a California Young Reader Medal Nominee. Her new picture book biographies are Jacob Riis’s Camera; Bringing Light to Tenement Children and The Efficient, Inventive (Often Annoying) Melvil Dewey. Alexis received the California Reading Association’s award for making significant and outstanding contributions to reading throughout California and is an instructor for the UCLA Extension Writers’ Program.

 

 

Website: www.alexisoneill.com

Facebook: www.facebook.com/alexis.oneill.9

Twitter: @AlexisInCA

Instagram: @Alexis2017

 

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Hey, Kiddo – A Review and Interview with Jarrett J. Krosoczka

 HEY, KIDDO BY JARRETT J. KROSOCZKA
(Scholastic; $14.99, Ages 12-18)

A REVIEW & BRIEF INTERVIEW
COURTESY OF HILARY TABER

 

Hey Kiddo book cover art by Jarrett J. Krosoczka

 

 

REVIEW:

“It must be hard to write a graphic novel about one’s own childhood,” I thought to myself as I opened the book Hey, Kiddo. I remembered meeting the author, Jarrett Krosocszka, years ago in California. He was a bright, sweet man with an open demeanor and ready smile. He reminded me so much of my own brother. I had put that memory right next to his Lunch Lady books in my mind, and they sat on the shelf of memory happily together, side by side. I remember hearing about his forthcoming book, Hey Kiddo, and I knew both the writing about a troubled youth and the reading about it would be a challenge.

 

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Interior illustration from Hey, Kiddo written and illustrated by Jarrett J. Krosoczka, Scholastic Books ©2018.

 

As it turns out, Jarrett has written so beautifully about that time that I could not be prouder of him if he had been my own family. Jarrett’s mother, Leslie, suffered from a heroine addiction. She was in and out of jail, and in and out of Jarrett’s young life. He never knew who his father was until he was older. His amazing and often exasperating grandparents stepped in as true parents. This book feels close to home in my heart because it’s about family. It’s Jarrett’s grandparents that I wanted to hug for all the sweet things they did for him. And at times I wanted to sit them down for a good talk! Still, how wonderful they were to him. Wonderful because they loved him deeply and it showed. For all that they smoked, drank, and quarreled all the while they loved Jarrett with a heart and a hat.

middle school int art from Hey Kiddo by Jarrett J. Kroscka
Interior illustration from Hey, Kiddo written and illustrated by Jarrett J. Krosoczka, Scholastic Books ©2018.

Hey, Kiddo sometimes reads as though Jarrett has written it from the perspective of a loving investigator of his own childhood. The author includes small and intimate touches like an image of the actual wallpaper pattern from his grandparent’s home. As we read we step into his childhood world. Also included are photographs of the family along with letters from his mother, Leslie, originating from her time in prison. There are drawings by Leslie just for Jarrett. It’s those letters that show how much she loved him and missed him. I read the book in one sitting, and when I put it down, I thought of Jarrett’s grandparents, Joe and Shirl. I thought that for all that Jarrett had been through, Joe and Shirl were always there for him. Actually, they still are in the way that love can never pass from us completely when it is given with such readiness and generosity. That kind of love death cannot touch. So, now on that same shelf of memory I have about Jarrett are his endearing personality, his ready smile, the Lunch Lady books, a difficult childhood and right beside that childhood is a place for Joe, Shirl, and their Love for him. That was, and is, a love with a capital “l” for sure.

Hey, Kiddo was a finalist for the National Book Award and is a highly recommended graphic novel for teens and grownups.

 

INTERVIEW:

HT: This is perhaps less of a question and more of an opportunity to tell us why author/illustrator visits to schools are so important. Clearly, a school visit from an illustrator changed your life. What would you say to a debut author or illustrator about what that school visit meant to you?

high_school_int_art_from_Hey_Kiddo_JJK_Studio
Interior illustration from Hey, Kiddo written and illustrated by Jarrett J. Krosoczka, Scholastic Books ©2018.

JJK: Yes, I vividly remember being a third-grader and sitting on the creaky, wooden floor of my school’s auditorium and listening to Jack Gantos talk about writing. While he said, “Nice cat,” to me that day, I have since had so many opportunities to say, “Nice Lunch Lady,” to many young artists. When I was in college, working towards a BFA in Illustration, none of my professors taught me about school visits. From a business perspective, it is a great way to promote your book, but it runs so much deeper than that. To newly published authors I would say:

  • Work on an engaging presentation to keep the students’ attention.
  • Enjoy the quiet moments where you can connect on a more one-on-one with the students.
  • Make sure you bring hand sanitizer. There’s always that one kid whose finger is up their nose throughout the entire presentation. That kid is going to want a high five. Just sayin’…

HT:  I think what I learned from reading your book, and reading in general, is that when we feel alone in a painful situation we seldom are. I think this book will resonate with so many readers. Thank you for it. It’s beautiful. To a kiddo who identifies with you while reading your book, who struggles with a parent who suffers from addiction, what would you tell them?

JJK: For those readers, I left a little something for you in the Author’s Note at the end of the book. I hope that you take solace in those words.

Writing transparently is cathartic but self-care is paramount—so write within your comfort zone but push yourself when you are ready.

 

 

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An Interview With Author Sara Louise Kras

Today Good Reads With Ronna is delighted to share an interview with L.A. resident, Sara Louise Kras, author of
The Hunted: Polar Prey, a new fiction early chapter book.

Sara Louise Kras
Sara Louis Kras, author of The Hunted: Polar Prey, from Speeding Star, 2014.

If you didn’t get to read our review of The Hunted: Polar Prey, please click here for the link.

Sara, welcome to Good Reads With Ronna, and thank you for agreeing to give us a glimpse into your writing life!

Interview with Sara Louise Kras:

GRWR: When did you make up your mind to be a writer?

SLK: When I was around 30 years old. I got my feet wet by enrolling in a mail order course called “The Institute of Children’s Literature.”

GRWR: You’ve written over 30 nonfiction books for children. What made you decide to try your hand at fiction?

SLK: I have been trying to get published in fiction since I began writing children’s books. I started with picture books with no success. Then I tried middle grade with no success. After 21 years, I finally got a contract for my fiction early chapter book, The Hunted: Polar Prey. For some reason, writing non-fiction was easier for me. It only took me seven years to get published with my first non-fiction, Giant Lizards.

GRWR: On average, how long does it take you to write a non-fiction book vs. a chapter book?

SLK: The time frame is about the same, one year. However, the edits for fiction books can go on for years.

GRWR: The Hunted: Polar Prey takes place in the Arctic. Please tell us some of the other exotic and/or remote locales you’ve visited? Which one is your favorite and why?

SLK: I’ve visited many countries in Africa, Europe, Central America, South America, and Asia. I can’t pick just one. I loved Italy, Japan, China, Maldives, Botswana, South Africa, Peru. I have fond memories of the majority of countries I’ve visited. However, I rarely return to a county. There are so many more to see! Unless, I have to go back to a country for research, of course.

GRWR: Please tell our readers how The Hunted: Polar Prey came to be written.

SLK: I read a newspaper article about scientists who became shipwrecked in the Arctic. While there, polar bears began to close in on them. I also read a book titled Ice Drift by Theodore Taylor. I put the two ideas together to come up with [the story of] a boy who has to save his mother while she is floating on an iceberg and being hunted by a polar bear.

GRWR: The book is told via several voices: the main character, Jeremy, his mom, Jeremy’s Inuit friend, Felix and the bear. Why did you decide to write the story this way?

SLK: Because I become disinterested with one character. It gave me the chance to bring in all my interests into the story. It was fun to be a polar bear, a twelve year old boy, a mother, and an Inuit all at the same time. I love nature and animals. I love action and adventure. And I love spirituality. It was also fun to piece the story together through all the different viewpoints. It was like putting together a puzzle.

GRWR: Did you base the human characters on people you know or are they completely made up?

SLK: They are completely made up. I tried to put myself in the characters’ shoes. It was fun to shift gears.

GRWR: I love how you weave in facts so seamlessly into your story – for example Inuit language and traditions and how a helicopter is maneuvered. How long does it take to do this research?

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The Hunted: Polar Prey by Sara Louise Kras, Speeding Star, 2014.

SLK: I was able to ask at the Eskimo museum in Churchill about Inuit traditions. The Inuit words were gotten from the book Ice Drift mentioned above. In regards to the helicopter, my husband loves helicopters. So we’ve ridden them many times including while visiting Churchill, Canada.

GRWR: Do you typically make research trips?

SLK: Yes. I’ve made many during my years as a children’s writer. My first research trips were to several of the national parks in the United States as I did a national park series. My other research trips included: Cambodia, Honduras, Botswana, Antigua/Barbuda and Galapagos Islands.

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