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Two New Joyful Picture Books – Stardust and The Whole Wide World and Me

A flower in a field. 🌸
A star in the sky. 
Simple things seen and sensed
through the eyes of a child
help them find and define their place in the universe
in two beautiful new picture books
from Candlewick Press and Nosy Crow.

 

 

Stardust book cover art

STARDUST
Written by Jeanne Willis
Illustrated by Briony May Smith
(Nosy Crow; $16.99, Ages 2-5)

STARDUST features a thoughtful young girl who tries and tries to shine as brightly as her talented older sister. She cannot knit as well, find a missing ring first, or design the best outfit for the costume competition. When she seeks solace under the starry night sky, her grandfather joins her for a quiet chat. Once there was nothing, he tells her, but after a BANG and a series of twinkles, stars were born. Willis sends the duo off on an imaginary journey to explore the subsequent creation of planets, moons, seas, trees and even, sisters!

interior spread from Stardust by Jeanne Willis with art by Briony May Smith

STARDUST. Text copyright © 2018 by Jeanne Willis. Illustrations copyright © 2018 by Briony May Smith. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Candlewick Press, Somerville, MA.

 

Smith’s richly colored illustrations will carry young readers into the fantastical realm to introduce the Big Bang and how all is created from stardust. The tender relationship between the girl and her grandfather is light and sweet but never heavy-handed, leading to a delightful conclusion that reaches decades into the girl’s future.

 

Stardust by Jeanne Willis with art by Briony May Smith int illustration

STARDUST. Text copyright © 2018 by Jeanne Willis. Illustrations copyright © 2018 by Briony May Smith. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Candlewick Press, Somerville, MA.

 

The book jacket is generously speckled with silver stars and a shiny title, a bright and cheerful exterior feature that highlights and compliments this book’s encouraging message about being true to yourself.

 

book cover illustration from The Whole Wide World and Me by Toni YulyTHE WHOLE WIDE WORLD AND ME
Written and illustrated by Toni Yuly
(Candlewick; $15.99, Ages 2-5)

A tiny red ladybug has captured a girl’s attention on the cover of Toni Yuly’s THE WHOLE WIDE WORLD AND ME. Open the book, and the ladybug creeps up a single blade of green grass. Suddenly a bright yellow flower dominates the page, as if from the bug’s perspective. Two boots arrive on scene, signaling the girl’s arrival and her tender exploration of the natural wonders that surround her.

 

interior illustration from The Whole Wide World and Me by Toni Yuly

THE WHOLD WIDE WORLD AND ME. Copyright © 2019 by Toni Yuly. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Candlewick Press, Somerville, MA.

 

The simple lyrical text is placed sparingly on the page, pacing the story with a gentle, slow unfurling from land to sea, sky and mountain.

 

the Whole Wide World and Me by Toni Yuly interior illustration

THE WHOLD WIDE WORLD AND ME. Copyright © 2019 by Toni Yuly. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Candlewick Press, Somerville, MA.

 

Yuly’s captivating illustrations are a combination of ink, charcoal pencil, torn tissue, cut paper and digital collage. The colors are bold and textured, beautifully conveying the gritty beach, crisp blades of grass, and fuzzy cotton dandelion seeds. “I am a small part of it all,” proclaims the young naturalist, joyously exploring and connecting with the world around her. Readers will be duly inspired to get outdoors and join the fun.

Starred Review – Kirkus Reviews

 

  • Reviewed by Cathy Ballou Mealey

Where obtained:  I reviewed either an advanced reader’s copy from the publisher or a library edition and received no other compensation. The opinions expressed here are my own.

 

Picture Books Giveaway Celebration

WIN WONDERFUL PICTURE BOOKS!

*We’re so thankful to you, our readers. You care about sharing the best books with your children and we do, too. So as promised, after reaching 2000 Twitter followers, we are now celebrating with a “We’re Grateful for You Gargantuan Giveaway” worth over $200 just in time for the holidays. Click the links to read our reviews of the books because you’ll see we’ve included lots of our faves.

To enter the Rafflecopter please scroll down, read the instructions, remember to subscribe to our site, and leave a comment on this post below about what you’d do with this bevy of beautiful books should you have the good fortune to win. We’d also love it if you LIKED the blog on Facebook, though it’s not mandatory to enter. Good luck!

Gargantuan-Book-Giveaway.jpg

*We = Ronna, Hilary, Rita, MaryAnne, Cathy, Dornel, Mary, Rina & Krista

The 13 books you can win are:

Bad Bye, Good Bye by Deborah Underwood with illustrations by Jonathan Bean – Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Elizabeth, Queen of the Seas by Lynne Cox with illustrations by Brian Floca – Published by Schwartz & Wade Books
Elsa and the Night by Jöns Mellgren -Published by Little Gestalten
Frank! by Connah Brecon – Published by Running Press
Goatilocks and the Three Bears by Erica S. Perl with illustrations by Arthur Howard – Published by Beach Lane Books
Have You Seen My Dragon? by Steve Light – Published by Candlewick Press
Lowriders in Space by Cathy Camper with illustrations by Raúl The Third – Published by Chronicle Books
Me First by Max Kornell – Published by Nancy Paulsen Books
Mix It Up! by Hervé Tullet – Published by Chronicle Books
Penguin and Pumpkin by Salina Yoon – Published by Bloomsbury
Robots, Robots Everywhere! by Sue Fliess with illustrations by Bob Staake – Published by Golden Books
Tippy and the Night Parade by Lilli Carré – Published by Toon Books
We’re Going on a Bear Hunt Jigsaw Puzzle Book by Michael Rosen with illustrations by Helen Oxenbury – Published by Candlewick Press

It’s easy to enter our “We’re Grateful for You Gargantuan Giveaway.” Just follow the Rafflecopter instructions in the widget below. There’s one mandatory entry and a few optional entries. Feel free to enter more than once to increase your chances of winning!

Remember to enter by December 15th. Rafflecopter widget will randomly select a winner whose name will be announced on the Good Reads With Ronna Facebook page, on Twitter, and on the Rafflecopter widget right here. – make sure you’re following us so you don’t miss a thing!

Good luck – We hope you win!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

HAPPY BIRTHDAY, GEORGE!

 George: George Washington, Our Founding Father

Dear Readers,

This review first posted in in 2012 (hence the different date of Presidents Day), but I felt it was worth reposting again today.

Tomorrow, February 22nd, is our founding father’s birthday.  Since I probably learned about America’s first president over 40 years ago, I decided to revisit some children’s books and found George: George Washington, Our Founding Father by Frank Keating with paintings by Mike Wimmer ($16.99, Simon & Schuster/Paula Wiseman Books, ages 6 and up), to be one worth noting.

George-Washington-jpg

George: George Washington, Our Founding Father by Frank Keating with illustrations by Mike Wimmer, Simon & Schuster/Paula Wiseman Books, 2012.

The author, former Oklahoma governor Frank Keating, shares this story, part of the Mount Rushmore series, in first person so readers will feel an immediate connection to Washington’s life in Virginia.  The fifth of ten children, Washington was expected to leave school at 15 years old to assist his widowed mother; his father having died four years earlier. From an early age young Washington displayed strong moral fiber, writing a list called The Rules of Civility originally taught to him by teachers, the principles of which would guide him throughout his life.  I had not remembered that Martha, whom he married at age 27 was already a widow with two children although it’s not surprising considering the average life span then was around 37 years old. I liked that the author chose to include various rules from Washington’s list helping me to learn more about what shaped this influential man even prior to becoming commander in chief of the armies or our nation’s first leader.

The award-winning artist, Mike Wimmer, has brought Washington to life through his use of oils painted on canvas in this wonderful picture book. To capture the president in the 18th century so accurately, Wimmer used models, period costumes and a lot of research. He has succeeded in portraying Washington’s life in an engaging, almost photographic-like way and  his paintings truly complement Keating’s succinct narrative . This book would make a great addition to any school or local library’s American History section as its message is timeless.

Rule 1: Every action done in company ought to be with some sign of respect to those that are present.

Rule 73: Think before you speak. Pronounce not imperfectly nor bring out your words too hastily, but orderly and distinctly.

Now these are great rules to live by!

Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

A New Look For Good Reads With Ronna


WE’VE CHANGED OUR LOOK!
KEEP CHECKING US OUT DURING CONSTRUCTION BECAUSE
THERE’S LOTS GOING ON.

Under Construction, but still blogging!

Under Construction, but still blogging!

We’re almost done cleaning up our site. It was truly a case of out with the old and in with the new, and long overdue! Thanks so much for your patience during our blog remodel. Please let us know what you think about our updated look.

The current blog tour is for Super Schnoz and the Gates of Smell along with an author signed book giveaway. Enter by clicking here now for your chance to win because that great opportunity ends this weekend.

Our next blog tour in conjunction with Peachtree Publishers begins on Friday, October 4th, so watch this space for more details about the surprise book review and giveaway. But in case you can’t wait, here’s a little preview:

Some other stops on the Peachtree Publishers Blog Tour & a chance to win a copy of the book!

Visit Blue Owl Reviews today to get a taste of what’s to come.

On Tuesday, check out Gidgets Bookworms and Maestra Amanda’s Bookshelf

Wednesday stop by the Peachtree blog for the giveaway contest!

Thursday’s the blog tour is on Kid Lit Reviews

and Friday it’s here at last: Good Reads with Ronna.

Simply, Superbly Staake

I’d heard the buzz about Bluebird by Bob Staake, but deliberately steered clear of reading anything before I laid eyes on my own copy. I didn’t want a single word to influence my opinion of a book that was 10 years in the making. Then my review copy arrived and I dove in. Certain to be an award-winner, Bluebird (Schwartz & Wade, $17.99, ages 4-8) is everything I hoped it would be and more.

cover

This emotion-packed picture book touched me the same way the 1956 film The Red Balloon did. I felt my eyes well with tears just like when I first watched the French classic as an elementary school girl in the late 60s. I’ve carried that movie with me over four decades and am confident Bluebird will have that kind of effect on children. Its moving message will stay with readers. Plus, reading this book feels so much more intimate and individual than watching a film and the artwork simply soars. Yes, it’s a book that has wings because as you read it and watch colors and tones change with the illustrations, your spirit lifts along with Bluebird and the boy he befriends. And though I said “read it,” it’s actually a wordless picture book with a most wonderful voice, one that shouts love and understanding. Great art can do that. Here are some of Staake’s Bluebird character studies:

bluebirdcharacterstudies

Friends come in all shapes and sizes and so do bullies. There are several bullies who torment a young boy at the beginning of the school year. He feels alone and ostracized until Bluebird appears and makes it hard not to notice his friendly gestures. Set in Manhattan, the different frames of the story depict the nameless boy and his new pal spending a great afternoon together playing and then sailing a boat in Central Park as new friendships are forged.

BLUEBIRE Interior Art

The huge smiles on the kids’ faces and the light airy feeling of grays and blues on the pages convey a newfound happiness and joy. Then the grays darken as the boy runs into the bullies.

(A Staake sketch of the bullies in Central Park)

Sketch from Bluebird

What happens next as Bluebird tries to help his friend may temporarily derail little ones, but that’s really the point. Bluebird is a conversation starter about friendship, loyalty and bullying. It’s also about loss and the healing power of community. I’m glad we waited 10 years for this powerful tale to take flight.

For more information and a behind-the-scenes look at the creation of the book, visit FlyBluebird.com.

-Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

Dare to Doodle

Debbie Glade gets doodly with today’s review.

The Pirates vs. Ancient Egyptians in a Haunted Museum ($6.99, Nosy Crow, Ages 7 and up) is the fourth book in the Mega Mash-Up series by Nikalas Catlow and Tim Wesson with more due out December. Basically the reader draws his way through the comic-style book to put his own mark on the story. There are a handful of pirate and Egyptian characters living separately. But both groups run into some financial distress, and they each have maps to the city’s abandoned museum where a valuable statue of a Golden Howler Monkey is housed. The real fun starts when the two groups of robbers both search desperately for the treasure and collide inside the museum. Kids can read the book and doodle their way to the end to find out who gets the treasure and what happens after that.

Due to the nature of the subject, this story may appeal to boys more than girls. What works so well in Pirates vs. Ancient Egyptians is that the story is silly, fun and easy to read and stirs the imagination of the reader. Plus readers get to draw and participate in the story. They can create original art and also add to what’s there already. (There are some drawing tips and a picture glossary.) Reluctant readers will have so much fun with this book, they won’t even realize it is helping to hone their reading skills. Another bonus? This humorous book is really affordable and would make a great gift for a themed birthday party.

Pachyderms Aplenty

Rita Zobayan reviews 2 new elephantastic books.

When you think of animals playing hide-and-seek, which ones come to mind? A chameleon, certainly. A monkey, leopard or tiger, perhaps. But a large, hulking elephant? Not so much. Summoning strong imaginations, two authors have placed playful pachyderms in a favorite children’s game.

Salina Yoon has written and illustrated a darling board book, Where’s Ellie?: A Hide-and-Seek Book  ($6.99, Robin Corey Books) for little ones aged 0-3. Ellie and her friends—caterpillar, ladybug, rabbit, lizard and squirrel—are playing a game of hide-and-seek. Young readers will search for Ellie and her peek-a-boo trunk in familiar settings, only to be surprised at what they find instead. The simple but colorful illustrations are fun to view. At 16 pages, the book is long enough to hold a youngster’s attention and short enough for parents to read over and over again, which they probably will have to do if their kids are anything like mine.

Hide & Seek  ($15.99, Alfred A. Knopf Books, ages 2-5) by Il Sung Na is a counting book that also features an elephant playing hide and seek, but this time Elephant is the seeker. The other animals must find places to hide; where will they go?! Flamingo wants to make sure that Elephant isn’t cheating. Gorilla thinks carefully about his hiding spot. “10! Ready or not, here I come!” cries Elephant, and the search is on! Na uses rich, bright colors and various art techniques to create a visually spectacular picture book. The animals’ expressions are adorable, and children will enjoy counting the butterflies that accompany Elephant on the search. Like elephants, children will not forget—to read Hide & Seek that is.

Colorful Counting Courtesy of Basher

When it comes to numbers, there are plenty of counting books out there to choose from, and while many counting books for infants go
only to 10,  Basher: 1, 2, 3  ($16.99, Kingfisher, ages 3 and up), written and illustrated by Simon Basher, takes children into the realm of the double-digits — all the way up to 20. Each two-page spread of the book with its bold red cover features a solid color background with a bold black number and playful illustrations which often depict an alliterative description of the number. The large bold black 19 on a solid yellow page is matched with a picture of the “Nineteen naughty sheep [who] splash and jump in puddles” on the opposite page.  Along the bottom of each page is a list of the numbers, with the current number underlined (so you don’t lose track of your counting).

Besides just helping a child to learn numbers, Basher: 1, 2, 3 offers numerous opportunities for learning new colors, animals, insects, objects, and vocabulary, as well as the ability to teach your child how to spell the numbers, which are written out in each description. I like books like this that give me an abundance of tools on each page with which I can teach my child. It is not just having my child help me count the “Seven tiny rabbits jump around in cowboy hats.” It’s being able to ask him “What color hat is that rabbit wearing?” and saying “Show me how you jump like a rabbit!” Going all the way up to 20 simply extends the fun to be had with this unique counting book. Each page offers new ways to interact with your child while learning numbers at the same time. Basher: 1, 2, 3 is a charming, creative, and innovative counting book perfect for helping your child learn the first 20 numbers!

-Karen B. Estrada is today’s reviewer.

Relatively Speaking

“You’re a very clever boy, Einstein, an extremely clever boy. But you have one great fault: you’ll never let yourself be told anything.”

 -Heinrich Weber, Einstein’s professor at Zurich Polytech Institute

By now, those who follow our book reviews know we are big fans of the Chicago Review Press for Kids series, as Debbie Glade has reviewed quite a few of these. Find out why Debbie feels this book about Einstein is one of the most informative and fascinating titles in the series.

I picked up my review copy of Albert Einstein and Relativity for Kids: His Life and Ideas with 21 Activities and Thought Experiments, and could not put it down. It wasn’t at the top of my gigantic review pile, but I was too eager to wait to read it and happily plucked it from the middle of the stack. Lucky for me, I found distraction-free time to read it on a three-hour flight. This made it easy to savor every word of the book’s 126 pages and study the historic black and white photographs.

I’ll start by disclosing that my daughter is a college junior studying geology, requiring that she take several advanced physics classes. She has accelerated my interest in science by patiently sharing with me, in layman’s terms, some of what she has learned through her own studies. I am well aware that not all readers share my thirst for knowledge on the subject of science, but that thirst is not a requirement for thoroughly enjoying this book. Albert Einstein’s scientific contributions to the world were so great that any person, age 9 and older can greatly benefit from reading this book.

As I  finished the last page of Albert Einstein and Relativity for Kids, I thought about how the general public has come to believe Einstein, a scientist with unkempt hair, who never wore socks, was a brilliant man– so brilliant that we cannot possibly understand the basics of what his scientific theories mean. Author and science teacher, Jerome Pohlen proves that all wrong. Through his clear and clever explanations, Pohlen will help children (and adults!) understand the primary elements of the equation E=mc2 and the basic principals of Special Relativity and General Relativity, as well as all of Einstein’s other scientific discoveries. Surely, explaining complicated theories on physics to children is an imposing task, so I must highly commend the author on his success.

E=mc2

“Mass and energy, different forms of the same thing.”

What your child will learn in this book is way too great for summarizing, but here is a list of some highlights:

  • Scientists all benefit from the theories, proven or not, of the scientists who were here before them and who work alongside them.
  • No matter how brilliant a man may be, success may be long coming.
  • Einstein was an independent thinker, and although he was not a good student in college, he had an unmatched ability to process mathematical and scientific information into provable theories.
  • Einstein’s personal life was not as successful as his professional life.
  • Einstein was a kind and generous man.
  • Einstein was a broad-minded thinker who was outspoken about his views.
  • Einstein’s findings were credited for the development of the atomic bomb, quite an irony to his views opposing war.

In addition to enjoying the eight excellent chapters in the book and sidebars with fascinating facts about other scientists and important figures in Einstein’s life, readers will delight in the 21 suggested activities in the book. From using a microwave and marshmallow Peeps to learn about the speed of light to driving in a car with your parents to learn about relative motion, these activities add an additional element of hands-on learning for readers.

What I love about this book is …everything! It’s fascinating, informative and essential, plus curious kids will love and understand it. Our country is greatly lacking in the number of scientists, and books like these are the best way to get children interested from an early age. If you have always wondered about Einstein’s life and his Theories of Relativity, you too will love reading this book.

Einstein changed the world of science forever, and surely there’s a child out there somewhere who will have a similar impact on the world some day. Perhaps that child is yours.

Killer Poems

Take a midnight stroll through Amen Creature Corners and glimpse what’s carved on the animals’ headstones.

Ronna Mandel wants to get your youngsters hyped up for Halloween with her  review of Last Laughs: Animal Epitaphs ($16.95, Charlesbridge, ages 7-10) by J. Patrick Lewis and Jane Yolen with ilustrations by Jeffrey Stewart Timmins. 

I know what you’re thinking. Bizarre, morbid. Maybe. But I love this kind of offbeat picture book that is often ever so subtly humorous and other times outright in your face. Either way, the variety of the verses are clever and catchy and the gray-toned artwork is moody and evocative with the occasional smidgen of scarlet. Look closely, too, or you might miss some very funny touches Timmins has tossed in to keep you on your toes as you walk amongst the tombstones. Whether the creatures have been crushed, fallen ill or been struck while crossing the street (see page 6 Chicken Crosses Over), the myriad methods of demise are as hysterical as the epitaphs!

I have a feeling this kind of original and whacky poetry book might just tickle a few funny bones and get more than a few kids eager to try their hand at a few epitaphs this fall. With a chill in the autumn air, it’s really the right time of year to nurture all those budding Edgar Allan Poes. 

Here’s a brief sample of a few of my faves:

Good-bye to a Rowdy Rooster

Too cocky by far,
he head-butted a car. 

Flickering Moth

Here lies a moth
without a name,
who lived by the fire
and died by the flame. 

Rooting for the Underdogs

Start Cheering Now Sports Fans!

Boys and girls alike will enjoy page after page of New York Times bestselling author Len Berman’s The Greatest Moments in Sports: Upsets and Underdogs ($19.99, Sourcebooks, ages 9-12), and maybe even identify with a few of the figures covered in this new book and audio CD. Berman begins by reflecting back on perhaps history’s oldest “Cinderella Story,” David vs. Goliath. Certainly nothing plays out better than when the unexpected happens. This kind of excitement is captured for kids by Berman’s retelling of well known and lesser known success stories. Readers will find themselves, as I did, rooting for athletes that they previously never even heard of including Greco-Roman wrestler Rulon Gardner.

At the Sydney Olympics in 2000, the Russian Bear Alexander Karelin was the Gold Medal favorite having never lost a major wrestling competition. Hailing from Wyoming, Rulon Gardner was the classic underdog. However, despite odds against him, Rulon remained determined as he faced the final with Karelin that he was going to get gold for the USA. If that meant breaking the Bear’s winning streak, so be it. Early on in the competition Rulon scored an unexpected point against the Bear, but then neither athlete scored the required three points to win so the game went into overtime. Within seconds to the match’s end, Karelin could not keep up with his competitor and conceded. From that day on Rulon became known as The Miracle on the Mat. Listen to that miraculous moment on the CD track.

There are so many other amazing stories recounted such as the Miracle on Ice when the longshots, U.S. Olympic hockey team, (which according to rules in 1980 could not consist of NHL players since they were professionals. Those rules have since changed.) came out of nowhere, made it to the finals and then beat the powerhouse Soviets 4-3  in what Berman describes as “one of the most famous play-by-plays calls ever made, as befits one of the greatest upsets in the history of sports.”

It’s dark horse stories like these that make The Greatest Moments in Sports: Upsets and Underdogs such an engrossing, gratifying read. I know it’s what kept me glued to my  TV during the London Olympics this summer and what will get me watching the World Series beginning October 24, 2012.  Gear up now by getting this book!

The Essence of Being an American Citizen

I am ashamed to admit that reading The U.S. Constitution and You ($6.99, Barron’s Educational Books) by Syl Sobel, JD, made me realize there was a lot I did not know about this very important document. This compact paperback book for children really makes it easy to understand the basic principles of one of our nation’s greatest documents.

Readers will get an introduction into America’s earliest history, how the three branches of government work, the peoples’ Bill of Rights, Amendments, the Rights of the States and more.  In the back of the book is an essential glossary, resource guide and index. What a great way to introduce young readers to what it really means to be an American citizen.

Did you know that our founding fathers are known as the Framers and that there is no limit to the number of terms for members of Congress? Read the book to find out more interesting facts about the U.S. Constitution. This book should be in every elementary and middle school classroom as well as in the home libraries of young American citizens everywhere. As our Independence Day approaches, I cannot think of a better time to pick up a copy of this enlightening book and celebrate what makes our country so special.

-Reviewed by Debbie Glade

Absurdly Entertaining, Creatively Fun

Author, Dan Gutman, who penned the 21-book series, My Weird School and Baseball Card Adventures, among other titles, has sold millions of books. Now he’s at it again with The Genius Files series. Let’s read what reviewer, Debbie Glade, has to say about the newest title in the series.

In a word, The Genius Files: Never Say Genius, ($16.99, Harper Collins, ages 8-12) is absurd. And I mean that in the most complimentary way.  It’s also hilarious, fascinating and extraordinarily entertaining.  Who wouldn’t want to read about a set of boy/girl twin protagonists named Coke and Pepsi McDonald? These two 13-year-old geniuses find themselves in the most compromising predicaments (such as being lowered into a vat of boiling oil) as they travel across the country in an RV with their parents on a quest to get to a family wedding.  In a previous book in the series, the twins discover they are part of a secret government program, and they seem to be thrown into unavoidable life threatening situations time and time again. It’s their genius, and a few convenient props (such as cheddar cheese head) that help them get through it all.

The parents take the twins to the most atypical attractions during their RV trip, such at the National Mustard Museum and to see The World’s Largest Egg. As a geography advocate, I love the fact that this series incorporates maps, directions and distances in the story. There are twists and turns to the plot and non-stop action and adventure. You’ll absolutely love the creativity of this book.

If your child has yet to read the earlier book in The Genius Files Series – Mission Unstoppable – the author familiarizes readers with the most important facts about the story using cheeky prose and witty humor. Even reluctant middle grade readers will find The Genius Files: Never Say Genius to be totally fascinating and a great read.

Heaven, Right Here on Earth

If you’re searching for a children’s picture book with a unique subject matter, read A Bus Called Heaven by award-winning author/illustrator, Bob Graham ($16.99, Candlewick Press, ages 3 and up).  The story features a young girl named, Stella, who brings a town of people together in an effort to restore an old, rickety bus known as Heaven. The people clean up and decorate the bus and start using it as a gathering place. But one day when the bus gets towed away for blocking traffic, it seems as though the neighborhood hangout is gone forever. You have to read the book yourself to find out what happens next. You didn’t think I’d spoil the story for you, did you?

What I love about A Bus Called Heaven is that the story teaches readers about creativity, cooperation, appreciation and a bit of nostalgia.  It’s wonderful to read about a neighborhood of people who get together in an effort to accomplish a wholesome goal they all feel equally passionate about. I also adore the cute illustrations, and the fact that some of the pages have numerous illustrations much like a comic book.  This is a charming new picture book you won’t get tired of reading with your children.

Today’s review is by Debbie Glade.

Passion + Hard Work = Great Success: An Interview with Science Writer Beverly McMillan

We are thrilled to share with you Debbie Glade’s interview with science writer and children’s book author, Beverly McMillan.

Beverly McMillan

Beverly McMillan is a powerhouse of a science writer with numerous impressive journal and book titles to her name. From textbooks and ocean science journals to her extraordinary new children’s title I reviewed, A Day in the Life of Your Body, Beverly is educating the world in the most wonderful way with her work. In this interview with the author, we get a rare and inspiring perspective of the life and work of a dedicated science writer.

You have an undergraduate degree in Linguistics. What made you decide to focus on science writing in grad school?

I’d started a linguistics PhD program when I realized that what I really wanted to do was write. I’d always been interested in science, and even thought about medical school, but I wasn’t sure I could handle the required math courses for that, and I was also a single mom with a special needs four-year-old. The Graduate School of Journalism at UC-Berkeley offered a journalism Master’s degree that required students to specialize, and one of the specialties was science writing. That seemed like a way to pursue both my interests, so I applied and was admitted.

Does a Master’s in Science Writing require an equal amount of science classes as writing classes, and how long did it take you to earn the degree?

My degree is a professional Master’s of Journalism (MJ) with an emphasis in science writing. In grad school I took more writing classes than science classes, though I’d already done some undergraduate science coursework in chemistry and biology. It took me two years, which is pretty typical. Today, the programs in science writing that I know about—and there are several really good ones—generally require students to have a double major in a science and the writing curriculum, or a prior degree in a science. Some science writers have Masters or PhD degrees in the area of science they want to write about. Of course, we also see MDs taking up science writing and broadcast journalism.

The author with her grandsons

When and what was your very first paid science writing assignment?

The Berkeley G-School required students to have a publishable Master’s thesis, which could be either a longer piece of writing or a broadcast journalism project. I researched and wrote an in-depth magazine piece on wind-powered cargo ships, which was a technology some entrepreneurs in the San Francisco area were pursuing at the time. My piece was published in Science 81, a popular science magazine that had been launched (no pun intended) by the AAAS, the American Association for the Advancement of Science. Today, of course, the AAAS still publishes Science, one of the top scientific journals in the world, as well as a suite of other print and online products.

Can you share with us a brief explanation of how the process works when writing a human biology textbook, from research to publication?

Usually, an educational publisher recruits authors for books it wants to publish, in part because textbook writing is fairly specialized. The author or authors work with editorial staff to develop a detailed plan for the book, and they write or work with experts in different content areas to develop the initial manuscript and art plan. For my human bio text,which is for non-science majors, I do all my writing using the publishing software InDesign, which lets you work on an electronic version of the actual book pages. Professional artists and technical illustrators create the necessary line art, and we license photographs from stock houses or other professionals. Once the text and art are reviewed by experts and revised accordingly, the publisher manages the production end of things—copyediting, art development, photo research, putting it all into final electronic files, and printing.  There are many review and revision steps right up until the book goes to press, because it is so crucial that a textbook be accurate and up-to-date.

Do you work with medical doctors and other scientists?

I insist that scientists with expertise in the topic I’m writing about review everything for accuracy. Before I sit down to write I also do considerable research in the peer-reviewed scientific and medical literature. I sometimes visit reputable Web-based medical or health sites to get ideas on in-the-news health topics. There’s a lot of good information on the National Institutes of Health websites, and sites of organizations like the Mayo Clinic and the American Cancer Society.

How did you come to write A Day in the Life of Your Body for kids? It is unquestionably an extraordinary book.

I love this book! A British publisher I’d worked with on the Sharks and Oceans Insiders books and some other projects contacted me and said they had this idea to do a book on what happens in a young person’s body over a 24-hour period—showing kids how all the body’s parts and systems work “behind the scenes.” I thought that was a super idea, because the kids in my life are all so curious about their “innards,” and they also have normal worries about small injuries and minor illnesses. They want to know what makes them yawn or throw up, and why their ears pop sometimes. It is so important to answer kids’ questions in an age-appropriate way, and to nourish that natural curiosity. I had free rein to develop the plan for every single spread, and the publisher brought in expert artists to work with me and the editorial staff in developing the amazing artwork.

I imagine writing a science book like that is quite challenging. How did you write such technical information in such understandable terms for a younger audience?

Writing about technical stuff for any lay audience is challenging, and doing it for kids is the hardest of all. Not only do the facts need to be right, but the writing has to be bright and interesting, and the vocabulary has to work. Sentences have to be short, and the flow of ideas has to be crystal clear. When writing for children you have to be always thinking: which details are important, and which ones aren’t? I do a ton of tinkering to try to get all those things right, and I also try to use analogies that kids will get—relating some body process to something kids know about from their daily experience. For example, it’s pretty easy to visualize the blood cells moving through your arteries being like cars on a freeway. I like to make the titles of chapters and subtopics work hard, too. So instead of having a title say “the respiratory system” or even “breathing,” in A Day in the Life I have “Air In, Air Out.” Those four words are easy to read and they convey exactly with the spread is about. Finally, I think it’s vital to respect kids’ intelligence. While I know I have to make the material fun and interesting and easy to understand, I believe an author should never, ever talk down to kids.

Well said! I review so many children’s book and am instantly turned off by patronizing prose. It is indeed difficult to write in the right tone for kids without talking down to them, and you certainly mastered that in your book.

Who illustrated A Day In The Life of Your Body?

The book’s line art is by very talented and knowledgeable artists at Argosy Publishing in Boston. I’ve worked with them on a couple of other projects, and they’re top notch.

This book and the others you have written must take a great deal of time to complete.

Well, I’ve been doing this kind of work for a long time, so it goes faster now that it used to. A Day in the Life of Your Body probably took three or four months, not counting production. When I revise Human Biology, we’re talking six months at hard labor. A book like The Shark Chronicles took more than a year, and I do mean 365-plus consecutive days writing. But I’m a workaholic. I do some kind of writing at least six days a week.

It’s so important for writer wannabes to know just how much research, writing and rewriting work goes into drafting superior quality prose. You have shown us that it requires non-stop dedication and discipline.

Do you have any thoughts on health education, which seems to be greatly lacking in the US?

The U.S. public education system seems to be in disarray, especially in these difficult times of deep budget cuts. I have a stepdaughter who is an elementary school science teacher, so I know what hurdles and challenges she faces on a daily basis. As you know, many, if not most, school districts have felt they must curtail health education because it’s an “extra.” That puts the burden on parents to be knowledgeable about so many key health issues. If I were Queen of the World, I’d want young people to get at least some solid health education, especially in middle school and high school, in courses offered by teachers who’ve had some training in the field, just so kids and youth can have a better understanding of how things like regular exercise and proper diet and getting enough sleep are so important to their lifelong well-being. I’d want the classes to talk about illicit drug use and tobacco and sun exposure, too.

I am fascinated by the books you wrote about sharks. Can you tell us about your journey writing The Shark Chronicles, which you coauthored with John Musick?

My husband John (Jack) Musick is a college professor and a Harvard PhD in marine science. He is an internationally recognized expert on sharks and marine ecology. We’ve collaborated on several books for kids that deal with sharks and life in the oceans, including Insiders:Sharks! and Insiders:Oceans! published by Simon & Schuster. We also coauthored The Shark Chronicles, a book for adults on how Jack and other researchers around the globe have learned about all the different kinds of shark, how their body systems work, how they find prey, their amazing sensory systems, and so forth. Jack and I got the idea to do a book that takes readers to the actual places where shark researchers do their fieldwork, and then to use that to set the scene for describing shark biology and ecology. Our agent sold the project to Times Books/Henry Holt, and they gave us enough of an advance that we were able to travel all over the world—places like Japan and Bimini, Key West and Mexican fossil deposits—to see the research in action and interview the scientists. It was wonderful. The only bad part was that for the chapter Shark Worlds I had to interview Jack about his work on shark ecology, sitting at our dining room table for days and days, which was not so appealing! And at the end the schedule was so tight that I had to write for 120 days straight, including Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s.

Your travel experience sounds fascinating, worthy of an interview on its own perhaps! What is your next writing project?

I’m working on a novel in between revising my human biology text and another textbook I work on. Who knows where that will go, though! I’m also talking with a publisher about possibly doing another children’s book project.

Snowshoeing in Mt. Lassen Volcanic National Park

I’d love to read your next children’s book! What advice do you have for someone who is considering a career in science writing?

Educate yourself and be ready to work very hard. Research the graduate science writing programs that are available, and if you want to go that route, plan on getting at least an undergraduate science degree, if not an advanced degree, first. Look for ways to begin publishing your work, whether it’s in your local newspapers, magazines, or online. You’ll need clips or samples of your published work to get almost any kind of science writing job. Be dedicated to accuracy, because in science writing, over time your reputation will be your calling card. Read every kind of science writing you can get your hands on, and learn from what others are doing. Network with other writers. From a pragmatic perspective, until you’re more established you’ll probably need some other way to make a living. I worked as an assistant project manager arranging signage for shopping centers and did freelance editing on the side. But if you are passionate about science writing and you put in the work, you can have a very rewarding and satisfying career.

When you are not researching or writing, what do you enjoy doing most?

Beverly and her fishing guide celebrate catching this 35-lb. King Salmon on Alaska’s Kenai River summer 2011

I love to power walk and try to put in at least 15 or 20 miles a week. It keeps the brain lubricated, somehow. Jack and I enjoy spending time with our kids and G-babies. Both of us do sort-of gourmet cooking, and I bake all our bread. We have a simple cottage in a part of northern California where we go trout fishing and snowshoeing and hang out in the old hot tub under a redwood tree. I’m so grateful for all the good things in my life.

And we are so grateful to you, Beverly, for taking the time to give us such thoughtful and meaningful answers to our questions. Your passion for science writing shows, and your work is so important to the future of science.

To our readers, I highly recommend you purchase a copy of Beverly’s book A Day in the Life of Your Body for your children. It is an essential addition to your home library that can be used for reference over and over again. Your children will understand the basics of how the body works and how important it is to eat healthy foods and exercise – something they will not likely learn in school. Click here to check Beverly McMillan’s other books.

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