Talking with Kids about Severe Weather and other Disasters

After a long night of weather warnings and a tornado ripping through nearby Dallas, I’m reminded that some children (and adults!) have an overwhelming fear of extreme weather and other types of disasters. Although many aspects of these scary occurrences are out of our control, as adults, we can stay well-informed and plan ahead as much as possible to help alleviate part of the worry. Kids have the additional challenges of not fully understanding the various situations and not knowing how to prepare for or deal with these events. Maybe you’d like a great book written with children in mind to get an open and informative discussion started!

The ALSC (Association for Library Service to Children), a division of the  American Library Association (ALA), has compiled the Get Ready Get Safe Book List, with titles about preparing for emergencies, monitoring weather or other types of disasters, and overcoming fears in general. A short description of each book is provided, along with the recommended ages. Many topics are addressed, including blizzard, fire, hurricane, tornado, tsunami, earthquake, hailstorm, flood, and blackout. Parents, teachers, and grandparents can surely find a book here that could help.

On a bit of a lighter note, I love sharing the book, Thunder Cake, by Patricia Polacco, with kids. It’s set in my home state of Michigan and tells how a very smart grandmother keeps her worried granddaughter’s mind off an impending thunderstorm. The book includes themes of empowerment and personal strength.

I hope you find something here to share with your favorite youngsters!

 

Nancy Drew Re-Do?

Nancy Drew has certainly evolved over the years. Here’s an interesting article in The New York Times about the character’s history and a new television program. Seriously, though, why has no one come up with a Trixie Belden screen rendition?  Although I collect vintage editions of both series, Trixie will always be my favorite!                                             Becky

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.

Talking with Kids about Gun Violence

 

arm me with books

In a perfect world, talking with children about gun violence wouldn’t be necessary. Our world is now further from perfect than I can ever remember, but I’m still hopeful for better days to come. If you’re looking for suggestions of books for kids that can help them cope, please keep reading.                       ~Becky

From Publishers Weekly :

Literary Safari—the New York City-based studio that produces print and digital children’s media with an emphasis on diversity and inclusion—has launched the #ArmMeWithBooks campaign, which seeks to address issues of gun violence in the U.S. 

The campaign, which takes its name from teachers’ responses on social media to the Trump administration’s suggestion of arming educators with guns, is centered on the #ArmMeWithBooks Booklist, a free, downloadable collection of recommended titles—picture books, middle grade, and YA—selected by more than 50 children’s authors. Participants responded to the following question, “What is a must-read for children growing up in these challenging times of mass school shootings and lockdown drills?” The list also includes an original poem by 2018 Arnold Adoff Poetry Award-winner Nikki Grimes.

Sandhya Nankani, founder and publisher of Literary Safari, told PW, “The impetus was to create a toolkit for parents and children to come together and have meaningful conversations around the things happening in the news and in schools.” The parent of a nine-year-old girl, Nankani said, “It has been really interesting to see my daughter’s responses to lockdown drills. We send our children to school to feel safe, to grow and learn. What is the impact of this fear over time? How is that changing generations of children? What do they need more of?” Though she receives emergency protocol information from her daughter’s school, she said, “I wasn’t finding something that spoke to me—something I could use to engage my child.” The book list was created in hopes of filling that gap, by offering stories that highlight social and emotional themes such as empathy and resilience.

December 18, 2018

Visit PW for the rest of this informative article!

 

 

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