Happy Book Birthday: THE STARING CONTEST Plus Critique and Bookmark Giveaway

Happy Book Birthday to you! Happy Book Birthday to you!

Happy Book Birthday to THE STARING CONTEST

Happy Birthday to you!

THE STARING CONTEST

Written and illustrated by Nicolas Solis

Published by Peter Pauper Press (2020)

A bit about the book from Amazon:

Here is one of the most universally loved children’s games in a book — the staring contest!

  • These self-proclaimed ”staring-master eyes” dare readers to enter into a staring contest with them.
  • And you’d better watch out . . . because they can stare ALL DAY LONG.
  • Go ahead — try it!
  • This fun book will encourage kids to jump right into the pages of an irresistible challenge!

Don’t you love to find out the story behind the story? Author/illustrator Nick Solis stopped by to share some insights about how the book came to be.

ME: Hi Nick! Thanks for making the time to stop by on this busy launch day!

 NICK: Glad to be here, Vivian. I have always been a huge fan of The Book with No Pictures by BJ Novak. The idea of interacting with a book in such a fun way was always so intriguing to me. I started trying to think of book ideas where the reader could engage with the book as if it was another person. Then the old school game we used to play as kids wormed its way into my brain. So during a writing session at The Writing Barn in Austin, TX, I wrote ‘v was the beginning of The Staring Contest. It was short and sloppy, but I thought it was fun! Little did I know it would be my debut book! And also, I would never have thought that I would be the illustrator! I drew up a dummy so editors would get a better idea of what I was thinking, but Mara Conlon at Peter Pauper Press liked my drawings and we were off! 

ME: That’s so awesome! I guess the take-away is that you never know where an idea for a story will come from…and follow your muse and believe in yourself! It’s a really sweet story…and I know you have something else sweet to share with us.

NICK: I created some special cookies to celebrate the launch of THE STARING CONTEST. You can find all the details of how to make them here:
https://lilluna.com/sugar-cookies/
 

Oh my gosh…how adorable! Thanks so much, Nick! And thank you for providing these awesome bookmarks for the kiddos.

And don’t forget, everyone, Nick is also generously offering a PICTURE BOOK CRITIQUE as a giveaway…so please make sure you leave a comment – maybe share your favorite childhood game. Also, share the post and Nick’s book on social media and you’ll earn extra tickets in the giveaway hat.

Remember that the best way we can let authors know that we love their books is to buy them if we can, review them, tell friends about them, and ask our local library to purchase copies for their collection.

More kidlit goodness coming this week…Perfect Picture Book Friday with THE WEED THAT WOKE CHRISTMAS by Alayne Kay Christian…and a Will Write for Cookies Q&A with Joana Pastro, author of Lillybelle: A Damsel NOT in Distress.

FIVE THINGS WE LEARNED ABOUT PUBLISHING A NONFICTION PICTURE BOOK DURING THE PANDEMIC: THE TEACHERS MARCH Plus Giveaway

Many of you may know that my first dream was to be a teacher. What a happy moment that was when I walked into my first kindergarten class at P.S. 29 in Brooklyn, New York. Of course, we can have more than one dream – and I’m now living another one – the dream of writing for children. Another thing I love to do is turn the spotlight on new picture books that are launching – so, you can imagine how thrilled I am to sing Happy Book Birthday to a picture book about teachers!

THE TEACHERS MARCH! How Selma’s Teachers Changed History

Written by Sandra Neil Wallace and Rich Wallace

Illustrated by Charly Palmer

Published by Boyds Mills and Kane (2020)

And here is what everyone is saying about the book – THREE STARRED REVIEWS!!!!

“This stunningly powerful book by a team of award-winning creators should be part of every classroom library and teacher-preparation program. It’s the true story of the Reverend F. D. Reese, who taught high school science—but also freedom and equality. The narrative provides an unvarnished view of the deep levels of racism and violence that permeated society and aimed to thwart civil rights activism in the 1960s. The Wallaces pack their account with well-researched details so that readers get to know Reverend Reese and others as people as well as activists, and Palmer’s vibrant acrylic paintings intensify the urgency of the moment. A timely testament to the power of collectivism and the continued need for widespread civic engagement.” —Booklist, starred review

“This little-known march during the civil rights era is considered the catalyst for the other marches that shortly followed. This book does a masterful job of detailing the impetus for the teachers march. It is clearly communicated that the march was not spontaneous but carefully thought out—down to the teachers’ packing food and toothbrushes in case they were arrested. Palmer’s brushy paintings are full of color, detail, and emotion. The narrative is well paced and will work brilliantly as a read-aloud for patient, older preschoolers and early elementary–age children, and it should spark many a conversation about race and protest.  An alarmingly relevant book that mirrors current events.” —Kirkus Reviews, starred review


“A vivid nonfiction narrative that illuminates the January 1965 Teachers’ March to Selma’s Dallas County Courthouse. By highlighting and interweaving the journeys of a few specific people—Rev. F.D. Reese…Dr. Martin Luther King Jr….and Too Sweet, a teacher and single mother who joined the march—the Wallaces eloquently portray the vitality of the group effort as well as the high risk involved in participating in the initial and subsequent Selma marches. Abstract, multilayerd paintings by Palmer ground readers in the action. This well-researched picture book proves riveting in its telling of how everyday heroes led a fight that resulted in the Voting Rights Act.” —Publishers Weekly, starred review

And guess what? The talented team of Sandra and Rich Wallace have stopped by to chat with us! I’m over-the-moon excited! As you can see by the blog heading, they are going to be talking about publishing a nonfiction picture book during a pandemic. So buckle up and get ready to ride along with them!

ME: Hello Sandra and Rich! Thank you for coming by.

Happy Birthday to you! Happy Birthday to you! Happy Birthday to THE TEACHERS MARCH! Happy Birthday to you!

SANDRA AND RICH: Happy birthday (but don’t blow out any candles yet!)

Today was supposed to be the book birthday for The Teachers March! How Selma’s Teachers Changed History, so we’re grateful to Vivian Kirkfield for welcoming us to celebrate on her blog.

The book spotlights a vital but little-known event of the Voting Rights Movement, when Reverend F.D. Reese and 104 other Black teachers left their classrooms in Selma, Alabama, and marched to the county courthouse to demand their right to vote. They risked their lives and their livelihoods, and helped pass the Voting Rights Act of 1965. They also inspired hundreds of their students to stand up to injustice and become future change-makers.

We’ve been waiting patiently for this book, since the birthday was originally set for September 8, then September 22. Now it’s been pushed back another week to September 29. The printing and shipping of books have been impacted by the ongoing pandemic.

If you’re an author, by now you might be thinking “oh my gosh, I’m so glad I don’t have a book coming out during a pandemic, what would I do?” Well, the truth is, as kid-lit authors, and especially nonfiction authors, we can do a lot! And because we’ve learned so much about how to support our book during a pandemic, we’ve decided to celebrate this fleeting “book birthday” by sharing what we’ve learned and how it’s strengthened the ways we write true stories together.

Five things we’ve learned about publishing a nonfiction picture book during a pandemic

  1. A pandemic changes everything. It also shines a light on racial inequities and injustices. So did the teachers’ march.

The teachers knew they could be fired from their jobs, beaten by police, and jailed for standing up for their rights. This mirrors so much of what’s going on in the country today. The teachers’ march and the history behind it brings context to today’s racial injustices. The struggle is still real, and young people protesting today are certainly not the first to do so. The Teachers March! demonstrates how community leaders previously stood up to systemic racism and police brutality through nonviolent protests and created change.

2. A pandemic heightens the urgency of oral history.

When we first learned about the teachers’ march, we were deep into researching and writing another hidden civil rights story on location, in Selma, Alabama. That night, at the hotel, we decided that we absolutely had to interview the people involved in the teachers’ march ASAP (because who knows what next month will bring?) So, we returned home briefly, then flew back to Selma at our own expense—and without a book contract—to spend precious, unforgettable time with the teachers who made history and the young people they inspired. (Later, we learned how important this decision would be.) We visited Coach Lawrence Huggins in his home, where he shared with us his scrapbook of photos and articles about the march. We shared meals with Joyce Parrish O’Neal and learned how her mother, who taught 8th grade, chose to march as a single mom and what that moment—that day—meant to Joyce, who was fifteen. We listened to John Lewis and Reverend Reese preach at Ebenezer Missionary Baptist Church and then interviewed Reverend Reese at the church. Sadly, Reverend Reese passed away shortly after we’d interviewed him for the third time, and we became the last two journalists to interview him about the teachers’ march. So responding to that sense of urgency proved essential.

Congressman Lewis has since died as well. He knew Reverend Reese and protested with him, but he couldn’t be present to watch the teachers march because he’d been jailed in Selma a few days before while protesting peacefully for voting rights.

3. Find new ways to make the story you are sharing be heard beyond ever-changing book birthdays.

Nonfiction requires research, and researching hidden histories means finding primary sources, conducting interviews, and hopefully, uncovering photos. Of course, when the story becomes a book, the powerful illustrations make the people who changed history real. The historical moment itself becomes an emotional, human connector. We had all this with The Teachers March! We took the stunning illustrations created by artist Charly Palmer, our recorded interviews with Reverend Reese and other participants, and–thanks to a very creative musician–produced an unforgettable book trailer that honors the teachers and underscores what they faced, what they did, and what still needs to change. It’s been viewed by educators more than 500 times in one month, well before the book is even out. See it here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cwzvFDKg8tc&t=31

4. Today’s teachers are heroes in different ways. Connect with them as much as you can.

E-learning is more important than ever because of social distancing. With educators under stress and duress as human beings and by teaching during a pandemic through in-person, virtual, and hybrid learning, we wanted to support them. We knew they’d be impacted by this book and become champions of this story and wouldn’t want it to continue to be lost to history. But they’re dealing with a lot right now. So, we asked, “What can we do for you?” They told us that the best digital tools they could utilize to bring the teachers’ courage and history-making actions to young readers were a book trailer and a downloadable educator’s guide that included interactive discussions and activities. We and our publisher jumped on those ideas. The educator’s guide is here: https://boydsmillsandkane.com/kanepress-activities/the-teachers-march-educator-guide/

5. Share your writing journey and your writing process.

Everyone seems to want to know how we work together to write true stories. It’s the number one question we’re asked at conferences, during school visits, by bloggers, by reporters, and by marriage counselors. (That last one is a joke, by the way. We happily just celebrated our 20th anniversary.)

We look for little-known people who have brought about seismic change. They’ve broken barriers and made the world better, but their stories have been lost to history. The teachers’ march on January 22, 1965, set monumental civil-rights changes in motion, but it was quickly overshadowed by Bloody Sunday and the march from Selma to Montgomery. In fact, many of the teachers and the hundreds of students they inspired marched on Bloody Sunday and in the Selma-to-Montgomery march. Reverend Reese is seen with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Coretta Scott King in many of the iconic photographs of the Montgomery march, but he’s usually not identified. We felt a responsibility to bring his story and the teachers’ story to young readers.

Our research process is to read everything that’s available about our subject to ground ourselves in the history. Then we visit the places where the story took place and we do in-person interviews whenever possible. Those first-hand accounts are essential for context, primary source information, and voice, and to humanize history. While the pandemic has delayed travel for research, it’s also heightened our awareness to conduct more interviews (via Zoom), and to work with archivists on access to information.

We sort out all of our research and those interviews, then we both choose which sections of a book to write. We constantly go over each other’s work to ensure continuity and clarity, and to maintain a consistent narrative voice.

We’ve both written a lot of fiction, so that’s helped us to focus on story arc and tension. We also both have journalism backgrounds, and we’ve found that our nonfiction “voices” are similar enough. (Our novelist voices are quite different, so we’d have to work much harder to write a seamless novel together. We haven’t tried that. We probably won’t!)

We’d like to thank Vivian Kirkfield for inviting us to share the story of The Teachers March! and the ways we’ve learned how to make certain the teachers’ activism won’t be lost to history.

ME: Oh my gosh! Sandra and Rich…THANK YOU!!!! We are all so very grateful, not only for this fabulous book that highlights an event that should always be remembered…but we also thank you for sharing so much of your writing process. I know this post is going to help all of the writers out there…and may even encourage some of them to form collaborations for their next projects.

Dear blog followers and friends – please make sure you review this book, tell friends about this book, ask your local library to purchase copies for their collection, and don’t forget to leave a comment for a chance to WIN a copy of THE TEACHERS MARCH!

To find out more about this talented twosome:

Investigative journalists Sandra Neil Wallace and Rich Wallace are award-winning writers of nonfiction titles including Blood Brother: Jonathan Daniels and His Sacrifice for Civil Rights, which won the International Literacy Association’s Social Justice Award. Sandra’s picture-book biography Between the Lines: How Ernie Barnes Went from the Football Field to the Art Gallery earned NCTE’s 2019 Orbis Pictus Award for Outstanding Nonfiction. The Wallaces recently founded The Daily Good, a nonprofit dedicated to literacy, food security, inclusion, and health in their city of Keene, NH. Visit them at SandraNeilWallace.com, RichWallaceBooks.com, and DailyGoodNH.org.

Sandra and Rich…I’m only about an hour away from Keene…currently in Merrimack, but moving at the end of the month to Bedford. When Covid restrictions are lifted, perhaps we’ll meet at a bookstore event or conference.

I hope everyone has a wonderful rest of the week…please pop in tomorrow when we’ll be singing Happy Book Birthday to Nick Solis’ new book: The Staring Contest…and then over the weekend for Perfect Picture Book Friday (Alayne Kay Christian’s The Weed That Woke Christmas) and Saturday when we welcome Joana Pastro, author of A Damsel NOT in Distress.

A Super Trifecta: Will Write for Cookies Plus Giveaway

WILL WRITE FOR COOKIES

Plate of Cookies

INSIGHT – INFORMATION – INSPIRATION

FOR WRITERS

TODAY’S GUESTS

JEANETTE BRADLEY, KEILA DAWSON, LINDSAY METCALF

A super trifecta – triple the awesomeness – I’m so honored to present these three talented women who will be sharing their insights and inspiring all of us today. Their newest book, NO VOICE TOO SMALL, was our Perfect Picture Book Friday pick yesterday. Let’s find out a bit about each of them first.


Jeanette Bradley has been an urban planner, an apprentice pastry chef, and the artist-in-residence for a traveling art museum on a train. Her debut picture book LOVE, MAMA was published by Roaring Brook Press in 2018. It contains no cities, pastries, or trains, but was made with lots of love. She is also co-editor and illustrator of the forthcoming anthology NO VOICE TOO SMALL: FOURTEEN YOUNG AMERICANS MAKING HISTORY (Charlesbridge, 2020) and illustrator of WHEN THE BABIES CAME TO STAY (Viking, 2020). Jeanette lives in Rhode Island with her wife and kids. Jeanette is represented by Emily Mitchell of Wernick & Pratt.  Follow her on Twitter @JeanetteBradley and on instagram @jea_bradley.

Keila V. Dawson worked as a community organizer, teacher, school administrator, educational consultant, and advocate for children with special needs before she became a children’s book author. She is co-editor of NO VOICE TOO SMALL: FOURTEEN YOUNG AMERICANS MAKING HISTORY, along with Lindsay H. Metcalf and Jeanette Bradley, illustrated by Bradley (Charlesbridge, September 22, 2020). Dawson is the author of THE KING CAKE BABY, illustrated by Vernon Smith (Pelican 2015)andthe forthcoming OPENING THE ROAD: VICTOR HUGO GREEN AND HIS GREEN BOOK, illustrated by Alleanna Harris (Beaming Books, January 26, 2021). She is a New Orleans native, has lived and worked in the Philippines, Japan, and Egypt and lives in Cincinnati, Ohio.
Website: www.keiladawson.com Twitter: @keila_dawson Instagram: @keilavdawson Pinterest: pinterest.com/keiladawson/ Flipgrid: https://flipgrid.com/novoicetoosmall/  

Lindsay H. Metcalf is a journalist and author of nonfiction picture books: Beatrix Potter, Scientist, illustrated by Junyi Wu (Albert Whitman & Company, 2020); Farmers Unite! Planting a Protest for Fair Prices (Calkins Creek, 2020); and No Voice Too Small: Fourteen Young Americans Making History, a poetry anthology co-edited by Lindsay H. Metcalf, Keila V. Dawson, and Jeanette Bradley, illustrated by Bradley (Charlesbridge, 2020). Lindsay lives in north-central Kansas, not far from the farm where she grew up, with her husband, two sons, and a variety of pets. You can reach her at lindsayhmetcalf.com or @lindsayhmetcalf on Twitter and Instagram.

Do you see what powerhouses these women are? And why I’m so excited to have them all here today? HELLO, HELLO, HELLO! Welcome to Picture Books Help Kids Soar. I really appreciate you all stopping by. I know everyone is excited to hear what you have to say, so let’s get right to it!

ME: Who were your favorite authors/illustrators when you were a child?

Jeanette: I loved Mary Bair, especially THE COLOR KITTENS, which I read until the binding fell off of my Little Golden Book.  Arnold Lobel has also had a big influence on my aesthetic. There was something about that tiny house in MISS SUZY that was so appealing to me that I used to just stare at those drawings and imagine I lived there. I think it shows up in my work.

Keila: I have fond memories of nursery rhymes and fairytales, but no particular authors come to mind. As a young reader, I liked HIGHLIGHTS magazines and when older I loved the humor and satire of MAD Magazine. I grew up in the era of Dick and Jane. I can still hear my mother’s voice when practicing a school reading assignment and she’d say, “Those words aren’t on the page.” I think I’ve been creating stories in my head for a long time.

I remember when the Nancy Drew books were popular, but I was an active outdoorsy kid and preferred having my own adventures rather than reading about them.

 Lindsay: I remember loving picture-book series. The Berenstain Bears (Stan & Jan Berenstain), Little Critter (Mercer Mayer), and the Little Miss and Mr. Men books (Roger Hargreaves). For the latter, I had many of them on tape and would sit for hours listening through my giant headphones and kiddie tape deck. I can still hear the music that would play when it was time for a page turn. I learned to read at age 4 by listening to those tapes. Even though I write mostly nonfiction now, I almost never read it as a kid—unless you count the newspaper. Which I guess you should, since I grew up to be a journalist.

ME: What do you know now that you wish you knew when you first started writing/illustrate?

Jeanette: There will always be people whose work you love and wish your work looked more like theirs. Don’t try that.  Just be you, making the marks on the page that only your hand can make.

Keila: That it’s important to learn all you can about making connections, networking, and marketing before your first book sells so you will have time to focus on writing your next book.

Lindsay: That not every project will sell, and that’s OK.  Each manuscript is a learning experience with its own challenges that sculpt you into a better writer.

ME: Where do you like to write/illustrate – inside, outside, special room, laptop, pen and paper?

Jeanette: I create whenever and wherever I can find the time. Sometimes that means I’m drawing on my iPad on the sidelines of a field hockey tournament. Other times it means locking myself in my basement studio with a pair of noise cancelling headphones. 

Keila: I turned my solarium into an office and use a laptop, but I often work in my kitchen where I act as concierge to my cat and dog.

Lindsay: On my porch swing with my laptop. Our porch overlooks a quiet street corner, and all the backyard critters are my must. I get to hear the breeze blow through the leaves, the crickets, the cicadas… I can watch the squirrels play chase and hear the Mississippi kites with their haunting cry. Nature is my muse.

ME: When do you write/illustrate – early morning, late in the day, middle of the night, on schedule, as the muse strikes?

Keila: My muse is a night owl! I do my best thinking while writing. And sometimes when dozing off to sleep or waking. I do my best revision work in the shower!

 Lindsay: I think best during a specific window between morning coffee and lunchtime. Trouble is, that’s when my kids need help with online school! After lunch, I crash for a couple hours and struggle to put together a thought. Late afternoons are for marketing tasks, errands, and chores. So I find myself often writing and working on the weekends when my husband can take care of the day-to-day.

ME: Why do you write or illustrate for children?

Jeanette: In college I studied ceramics, and I was drawn to an aesthetic of deceptively simple appearing art that is called wabi-sabi in Japan. It is a philosophy of beauty that embraces imperfection and strives for simplicity, and yet is the hardest thing to do well. So of course writing and illustrating picture books would appeal to me! 

Also, I love multimedia art, and picture books are meant to be read aloud. They are in a way, a performance on a very intimate stage. When creating with words or pictures, I am always thinking about the interaction of three art forms: visual art, literature  and theatre.  Even when I am just illustrating a book, I think about it as both a series of 2D images and as an interactive, 3D sculpture.

Keila: As a writer, I want to introduce children to people and places they may not have ever imagined. When I learn something that isn’t in a book for kids, I want to write about it so children can be better informed. I write for kids because I believe learning about and from one another is the key to understanding the one world we share.

Lindsay: Because I want to help make the world a better place, and children are wide open to new ideas and excited about joining in the same mission.

ME: Also, if you have any thoughts or advice for aspiring writers and/or illustrators, please share. As well as anything else you want to talk about that parents, educators, writers, librarians might want to hear.

Jeanette: My advice for aspiring writers and illustrators is the same: find a critique group! You can’t grow in isolation. 

Keila: Writers often hear read, read, read. I think it’s important to read the whole wide world. And for parents and educators – take Kwame Alexander’s advice, “If you want your kids to imagine a better world, the books on your shelves should reflect that.”

Lindsay: My advice for teachers, parents and children is that reading is reading is reading. Let kids choose what they read—whether it’s the same comic book 109 times in a row, the Jeep manual, or a book that features a main character of a different gender. Putting young readers in boxes for reading levels or asking them to take a quiz after they read sucks away the joy and discourages them from becoming lifelong learners.

ME: WOW! A tremendously helpful trifecta of insights and information, for sure. Thank you so very much, Jeanette, Keila, and Lindsay! Thank you also for the generous giveaway…I know there will be LOTS of interaction for this post because every comment and every social media share is another ticket in the giveaway hat…and everyone is panting to have a copy of this book! Plus, thank you for sharing a favorite recipe,.which is coming up in three, two, one…take it away, Keila!


Keila: Do you want to host a post pandemic protest planning potluck party? I made this dish when hosting a Get Out The Vote event. And it was a hit!
And I’ve included an invitation template also.

New Orleans Crock-Pot Red Beans & Rice

Ingredients:

1 lb. Camellia red beans

1 yellow onion, chopped

2 cloves garlic, chopped

½ green bell pepper

2 bay leaves

½  tsp black pepper

½ tsp cayenne pepper

½  teaspoon salt

 ½ teaspoon thyme

1 medium-sized ham hock

½ lb. ham

½  lb. beef smoked sausage

½ 1b. hot sausage

¼ cup butter (4 tablespoons)

1 4 oz. can tomato sauce

2 cups long grain white rice, cooked

French Bread

Directions:

  1. Put beans in a large bowl, cover with 2 inches of water, and soak overnight.
  2. The next day, drain remaining water from beans, rinse. Put the beans in a Crock-Pot; fill with water about 2 inches from the top. Add meat and all fresh and dried seasoning except garlic.
  3. Cut yellow onion, garlic, and green bell pepper. Slice sausages and ham into bite-sized pieces.
  1. Cook on low for about 6-8 hours or until beans are soft and easy to mash. Mash about a third of them on the side of the crock-pot with a large spoon to create a creamy gravy.
  2. Add butter, tomato sauce, and garlic. Cook for another 30 minutes.

And here’s a template for an invitation to a Post Pandemic Protest Planning Potluck. What will you be speaking out about? And what dish will you bring?

I hope everyone has a beautiful weekend. It’s Rosh Hashanah for those who celebrate…a New Year…a new beginning…but honestly, I think we all need those wishes for a Good and Sweet Year.