Honoring Katherine Johnson — from Celebrate Picture Books

If you’ve read the book, “Hidden Figures,” by Margot Lee Shetterly, or have seen the movie, Katherine Johnson is one of the featured “human computers!” In addition to the children’s book about her below, a picture book of “Hidden Figures” is also available. Such amazing women!       ~Becky

Katherine Johnson passed away on February 24 at the age of 101. Recognized from an early age for her brilliance, Katherine went on to become a pivotal mathematician for NASA as the space race led to the first manned missions and lunar landings. She continued working for NASA on the space shuttle and other […]

via February 25 – Honoring Katherine Johnson —

Boo Boo’s 15 Minutes of Fame

National Walking the Dog Day – Who knew there was a special day on the calendar to celebrate walking the dog?! When I saw this announcement,  I thought back to a newspaper picture from 2012 I had saved in an old, decorated picnic basket. On the day captured above, I took my dog, Boo Boo, for a walk near what was then my home in Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan. I remember that autumn afternoon in mid October was beautiful…sunny and mild with plenty of colors remaining on the trees and ground cover. I can still smell that musty scent of fallen leaves.

A gentleman from The Evening News drove by and stopped to ask if he could take our picture. I agreed, thinking this would somehow immortalize my aging Shih Tzu. I spelled our names for the man, and he went on his way after clicking this photo. As you might notice, when this was published in the newspaper, my name is misspelled, but Boo Boo’s is not. Seems only right, since it was my faithful friend’s 15 minutes of fame.

I loved taking this sweet dog for walks, even in cold and snowy weather. We both benefited from the exercise and fresh air. It gave us time to be alone. I often talked with him about the things on my mind, and he was a wonderful listener. We had some adventures on our strolls, as well, such as near misses with skunks and snow plows. Over the years, we met many cute kids and sometimes scary stray dogs, who always wanted to come close and say hello. I was lucky to share many hours with such an affectionate and determined little guy and miss him more than I thought possible! I still walk, but it’s just not the same.

Younger Days with a Shorter, North Carolina Haircut

Children’s author, Elizabeth Stevens Omlor, and illustrator, Neesha Hudson, have captured the joys of walking our furry friends in their adorable book, Walk Your Dog. Important themes of teamwork, cooperation, and patience are beautifully addressed. You might want to look for it at your local library or bookstore!

Talking with Kids about Honesty

Children learn a great deal about honesty through observation of examples set by their family members, friends, and various adults in positions of authority, such as church leaders, teachers, and political leaders. Unfortunately, many in that latter category don’t seem to be setting a very good example for our youngsters, these days. It appears that power and greed have taken over and kicked the value of honesty aside. Some political leaders have even taken to handing out punishments to those who are brave and noble enough to stand up and tell the truth!

Young children don’t understand all the details they overhear or see in the media. They are, however, familiar with the word “lie,” which currently appears a great deal in the news. This must be confusing for children. We used to, with a fairly clear conscience, teach them to admire and show respect for adults, which generally included our local, state, and national political leaders. That no longer seems possible.

Kids might not come to you with their questions, but they certainly must be wondering what to think about the importance of honesty. Once again, let’s turn to some great children’s book selections as a way to bring up the topic. Maybe you can get an important conversation started!

 

Scholastic: 5 Children’s Books That Encourage Honesty

Teach your child the importance of truthfulness with these five picture books.

 

CHILDREN’S BOOKS ABOUT HONESTY

At “Growing Book by Book”  Includes book list and descriptions, along with discussion guides.

 

The Lying King” at Children’s Books Heal

 

And it’s not too early to prepare for National Honesty Day at Celebrate Picture Books!

 

Fantastic Find at the Bookstore #7: Chosen

Snowbound Books in Marquette, Michigan

When I scan the shelves in a bookshop, sometimes a volume chooses me! Irresistible qualities include eye-catching titles, outstanding cover art, smells that spark memories, or an author’s name that rings a bell.

For about two years, I had the pleasure of living in Marquette, Michigan, situated in the Upper Peninsula and perched on the shores of Lake Superior. A variety of bookstores graced that town, but my absolute favorite was Snowbound Books, within walking distance from my home and pictured above. At that time, the store’s vintage paperbacks huddled together in one section, and I always checked them, on the hunt for Dell Map Backs or other interesting finds.

During one of my frequent visits, a 1950 Pocket Book Mystery entitled Beyond a Reasonable Doubt chose me to be its owner. I had nothing to say about it. The book wasn’t a Map Back, but I had to have it, all the same. The title wasn’t what grabbed me; it was the author’s name…C.W. Grafton. Could they be related? One of my favorite mystery authors is Sue Grafton, author of the Kinsey Millhone Alphabet Mystery series, beginning with A is for Alibi. Hundreds of mystery authors could have the last name Grafton, I supposed.

In those hazy years before the Internet, facts and details weren’t available instantaneously at our fingertips like they are today. Months passed before I knew the answer to my question. Yes, they were related! C.W. Grafton was Sue Grafton’s father, who practiced as a lawyer and published three mystery novels. My new collection search had been born!

Becky’s Collection

I don’t need much of an excuse to stop at a used bookstore or collectibles shop that might feature books. This new quest was one more reason to pull over when I saw a promising business sign. Decades went by, but I found all three! Which is my favorite? The paperback on the left is important, since it was the first. My purchase of The Rope Began to Hang the Butcher, on the right, was exciting because it was the last and completed this collection. The book shown in the middle, The Rat Began to Gnaw the Rope, is my favorite, for two reasons. First, this copy still proudly wears its jacket, however tattered. Second, the book is dedicated to C.W.’s youngest child, Sue, his other daughter, Ann, and wife, Viv. The family is shown below with the book in a 1944 photo, with Sue on the right.

The Grafton Family in 1944

Over the years, I’ve read interviews in which Sue Grafton explains she was the survivor of a difficult childhood, due to both of her parents suffering from alcoholism. In her semi-autobiographical book, Kinsey and Me (2013), she credits her father with her own passion for the mystery genre, which served her well. Sue Grafton died in 2017, at age 77, just one book shy of the entire alphabet. I’ve read all her alphabet mysteries except the last one, Y is for Yesterday. Guess I don’t want them to end…

Sue Grafton

 

 

Ready for Storystorm?

Inspirational and free, with a possibility of prizes! Join me by taking part in Storystorm. All you have to do is register (through the first week of January) in comments at taralazar.com Then come up with one new story idea for 30 of the days in January. Visit the blog each day, if you wish, for inspiration from authors and illustrators and also to earn chances at winning prizes. That’s it! You don’t even have to share your list of ideas. Those are for you to keep and get started on an awesome new year of writing!                  ~Becky

Fantastic Find at the Bookstore #6: Rose Franken’s “Claudia” Series

I should be packing for my upcoming move, down one floor to my new, balconied apartment. Fellow book lovers know exactly what happens when you start going through your shelves. I’m lingering and looking each book over before placing it in a box! While paging through my “Claudia” books by Rose Franken, I decided to stop and write this post.

When I was in high school, a friend loaned me a book that had originally belonged to her mother. It was already decades old, but named after the couple, Claudia and David, the blue and gold cover appealed to me. At that time, I wasn’t an avid reader and probably didn’t start it right away. That might be why I hung onto it, taking the book with me when I moved after graduation. (Please note, I’m much better about returning books these days. Marilyn, if you’re out there, email me your address and I’ll send this treasure back to you:)

As a young mother, I did finally read the book and loved the world of Claudia and David Naughton, as they moved from New York City to suburban Connecticut. One afternoon, while my baby napped and I dusted furniture, I switched the television on to encounter those very same characters! I realized the movie, Claudia, must have been based on the first in a series. The search was on for more books!

Over the years, I’ve been lucky to find several more titles from the series, like those above, in used bookstores. The one on the left is an omnibus, containing the first title, Claudia, and the second, Claudia and David. Come to find out, both of those were made into movies with Dorothy McGuire and Robert Young, pictured on the red dust jacket. I also love my paperback versions, shown below.

Knowing of the collection, my sister found and surprised me with the “Armed Services Edition” of Another Claudia. During WWII, many complete books were printed in a special size and shape to fit into the pockets of those in the Armed Forces. The book has water damage, and I always wonder if that’s from the conditions where it was taken during the war. Other books in the series are more challenging to find, but I’ve borrowed many from libraries in order to read and enjoy the complete series of eight.

Research tells me the saga of Claudia, her architect husband and their children began as stories by Rose Franken that appeared in Redbook and Good Housekeeping magazines, from about the late Thirties to late Fifties. In addition to the movies, “Claudia” was a hit play on Broadway and also appeared serialized on radio and for a short time on television.

By today’s standards, I suppose the stories are rather sentimental and melodramatic. They do address many important and timeless themes, such as marital temptation, gender issues, serious illness, war, financial woes, racism, and grief related to death and dying. There is always an underlying lightness, however, and a certain sense of redemption. Claudia grows up and comes into her own throughout the course of the series, and David evolves, as well. Both husband and wife are examples of strong individuals who aren’t afraid to lean on someone else when that’s what life requires.

Rose Franken 1895-1988

In addition to her writings about “Claudia,” Rose Franken was a well-known playwright and director who also wrote and successfully published many other novels. She was born in Texas but grew up in New York. A single parent, her first husband died of tuberculosis, and she drew upon that experience when she wrote about fictional David suffering from TB. She eventually remarried a lawyer, with whom she moved to Connecticut and collaborated on successful serial fiction and many movies. I found her autobiography, When All is Said and Done, to be as enjoyable as her novels.

I don’t really need more books, unless I plan on investing in some new bookshelves. However, while revisiting online sources today, I was reminded that map backs aren’t just for mysteries. I see that a paperback version of Young Claudia was published with a map on the back, so I may need to keep looking…

Fantastic Find at the Bookstore #5: Prolific Garis Family

One of my favorite activities is visiting used bookshops or resale stores that feature books. Often attracted to vintage publications, I’m typically drawn to those reminding me of something from my youth. I enjoy sharing these “fantastic finds,” hoping to spark a memory for blog readers, as well, or to create a new curiosity that leads down an intriguing avenue. Since I write for both children and adults, I have a vested interest in understanding what pulls people toward certain types of books.

Uncle Wiggily” was a popular board game when I was a young child. I remember having mixed feelings about playing with my family or friends and sometimes felt a bit of nerves during the game. Not sure if those related to some of the unsavory characters along the path of play, like the bad “Skeezicks” and “Pipsisewah,” or maybe I just didn’t want to lose! At the time, I was only vaguely aware of stories written about this rabbit, “Uncle Wiggily Longears.”

Hop forward almost forty years to the middle-aged version of me scanning the shelves at one of my favorite used bookstores in Michigan. There it was…a childhood memory in full color, also in rather tattered shape. It was still quite a steal at $8.00. The book, Uncle Wiggily Goes Camping, was mine! Written by Howard R. Garis, I decided to pursue details about the author.

                                            

Further research revealed that Howard Garis wrote thousands of Uncle Wiggily stories, which appeared in the Newark News for many years and in books; I also learned he wasn’t the only published author in his family. During the early to mid-1900s, he and his wife, Lilian, wrote hundreds of juvenile series chapter books. Some sported their actual names, while others were written under various pseudonyms for the Stratemeyer Syndicate, including Tom Swift books as “Victor Appleton” and the Bobbsey Twins series as “Laura Lee Hope.” As you can imagine, I needed more (books and information)!

                                    

 I purchased the treasure above, from the Melody Lane series by Lilian Garis, in a bookstore while living in North Carolina. It’s a former library edition and found its way south from a county in Pennsylvania. I was thrilled to come across it and love the art deco appeal of the cover. The frontispiece illustration and end papers with the dated library pocket (1946) are amazing.

Lilian and Howard had two children, a son, Roger, and younger daughter, Cleo. As a young man, Roger also wrote series books, such as The Outboard Boys. Cleo penned the Arden Blake Mysteries during that same period. The front of Missing at the Marshlands, shown below, isn’t very interesting without a dust cover, but the end papers are beautiful, and the overall condition is very good. This one was bought in a Minnesota bookshop that housed a wonderful vintage section.

                            

In middle age, Roger wrote a biography entitled, My Father Was Uncle Wiggily. I owned a copy, at one point, but gave it away as a gift, so that’s a stock photo, below. The book was a joy to read and has just the right combination of nostalgic family stories and other interesting tidbits, such as tales about Howard Garis being close friends with their neighbor, the poet, Robert Frost! I remember a few hints at some competition between the Garis elders and children, especially as time passes and incomes fluctuate. Roger also tells about his mother’s disappointment in her unsuccessful quest to move from writing for children to more serious works. Overall, the book is a very positive and enjoyable biography, and I didn’t question or care, particularly, whether every bit is true or written through “rose-colored” glasses. Enter the granddaughter, Leslie.Because of my interest in the Garis writing family, I occasionally do a quick internet search to see what I’ve missed. Around 2007, Roger’s daughter, Leslie, wrote House of Happy Endings: A Memoir, which was reviewed as being the story behind the fairy-tale. She recounts a difficult childhood watching her father’s struggle for success, independent of his parents, while he fought depression and addiction. In later years, Howard and Lilian had come to live with Roger, his wife, and three children. Leslie writes candidly about secretly observing much of the goings-on in the large house while hiding in the dumbwaiter.

The book is raw and difficult to read but feels very honest. It certainly dispels any ideas of a Garis utopian life. Not a happy book, but it does contain a certain feeling of hopefulness in the author’s attempts to understand the dynamics between her grandparents and parents, and to come to terms with some issues that follow her into adulthood and even affect her own child. I’ve never come across this memoir at a bookstore but couldn’t resist taking this post full circle. At the time of reading, I borrowed it through the interlibrary loan system. I’m not sorry to have read it, but the story is quite sad. I hope the author, Leslie Garis, has found a bit of her own happy ending.

THE BRAVE CYCLIST: The True Story of a Holocaust Hero — from Writing and Illustrating

Author/illustrator Amalia Hoffman has written a new picture book titled, THE BRAVE CYCLIST: The True Story of a Holocaust Hero, illustrated by Chiara Fedele is hitting bookstores on August 1st. Today would be a great day to celebrate this gorgeous book and the life of Gino Barteali, since July 18th actually is the day Gino […]

via Book Giveaway: THE BRAVE CYCLIST: The True Story of a Holocaust Hero — Writing and Illustrating

Author, Amalia Hoffman, says, “We have the right and the ability to make the world a better place. The Brave Cyclist is a testament to the fact that one individual can make a difference and fight against discrimination, prejudice, antisemitism and racism.” 

Check out this inspirational book!     ~Becky

Critique Speak

critique group 4

Another year, another critique group? I’m pleased to say that I’ve joined a third, forming a wonderful triad. How is this one different? In this case, writers gather twice a month, which doubles the motivation to produce. Situated in a smaller room, our number is capped at six. That means we all share something for feedback most times. Attendees don’t read their works aloud but do send pieces in advance through email. Instead of evenings, this half-dozen meets in the cool of the library while the Texas sun is still high in the sky.

Although several other members also belong to multiple groups, each combination develops its own personality. One gathering is specifically aimed at writers and illustrators of children’s literature, and the other two attract those who write for various levels. We critique novel chapters, stories, poetry, songs, memoir, and other types of non-fiction. Want to know more about queries, summaries, or elevator pitches? These are also presented and analyzed. Most importantly, not only do we assess possible improvements, but point out the positives of what’s working in each piece.

Beyond the share/feedback cycle, all three configurations circulate information about upcoming events of interest, in addition to facts about submissions for agents and publishers. We celebrate, praise, and console, since this calling involves both highs and lows. I find the camaraderie among people with different backgrounds who all share a love of writing to be so exhilarating, interesting AND comforting. When I first started my journey, I had no idea how important this activity would become. If you’re a writer or illustrator and haven’t yet found just the right spot, I hope that you’ll continue your quest!

Feel free to share in comments what you like best about your critique group or what you would look for in your search!       ~Becky

book fest
FRISCO BOOK FEST: Fergal O’Donnell and Gary Thornberry (current and former presidents of Write Club); Becky Michael (founding member of Write 4 Kids)

Unexpected Poetry

 

elevators

Doors closed, and I pressed the button for my floor, setting down heavy shopping bags that bit into my hand. Out of habit, my eyes turned to the plastic sleeve on the wall with announcements for upcoming tenant activities or events in the local Square.

Nothing colorful, this time, but just a plain typed page with no images. Black on white in an everyday font, it appeared to be a poem. I began to read and was captivated by the words. As I drank in emotions conveyed through the poetry, I rode the elevator for several extra floors. Before exiting, I committed the title and writer’s name to memory.

Further inquiry revealed that the author, Jane Kenyon, had lived an existence of beauty, love, and longing. A life ended much too early, her story captured my imagination. Born and educated in my home state of Michigan, Ms. Kenyon met and married the poet, Donald Hall, later moving to New Hampshire. She worked as both a translator and poet, often writing about nature and the struggle of dealing with depression. She was serving as New Hampshire’s poet laureate when leukemia took her at the young age of 47.

jane kenyon

I have since enjoyed reading many other offerings by Jane Kenyon, but that first poem, “Otherwise,” resonates with me more than any. The words serve as a stark reminder to appreciate the special gifts of each day. Take notice, it says, “one day…it will be otherwise,” and you will no longer have this.

Since that time, no other poetry has appeared in the elevators of my building. Maybe it was never there at all?

Otherwise

I got out of bed

on two strong legs.

It might have been

otherwise. I ate

cereal, sweet

milk, ripe, flawless

peach. It might

have been otherwise.

I took the dog uphill

to the birch wood.

All morning I did

the work I love.

 

At noon I lay down

with my mate. It might

have been otherwise.

We ate dinner together

at a table with silver

candlesticks. It might

have been otherwise.

I slept in a bed

in a room with paintings

on the walls, and

planned another day

just like this day.

But one day, I know,

it will be otherwise.

—Jane Kenyon  1947-1995