Archive for May, 2010

Book Review | Busing Brewster
by Richard Michelson

Score: 3.5

illustrated by R.G. Roth © 2010,  Alfred A. Knopf. Teach Them to Your Children.  Richard Michelson has written another excellent piece of historical fiction, this time about the “forced busing” of black students into white schools during the 1970s. Using a minimum of words and supported by the 70s-style ink and watercolor collages of R.G. [...]

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NESCBWI Conference 2010: “Come prepared to take notes.”

I spent this past weekend in the company of very creative people – children’s book writers and illustrators. In other words, I spent the weekend in heaven. Well, mostly in heaven.  After all, we were meeting in Fitchburg, MA. Nevertheless, Richard Michelson, Cynthia Leitch Smith, Kim Ablon Whitney, Marla Frazee and Allyn Johnston to drop a few wondrous names had gathered there to mingle and converse about the craft of writing for children. The New England chapter of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (NESCBWI), of which I am a member, put this extraordinary event together.

I learned so much it is difficult to put it into words. Have I mentioned I am writing a children’s book? No? My apologies, I am currently working on a few picture book manuscripts.  As part of that endeavor, I joined NESCBWI, started a writing group (I now have four, new, extraordinarily gifted BFFs), and decided that I would attend a writing conference.

I learned when signing up for the weekend’s events, that I had the option to submit a manuscript for a critique by a professional editor or agent. My first reaction was – why do that? Why not live with the fantasy that I am an excellent writer, and the book is perfect as is.  Why let someone burst the balloon and ruin what promises to be a lovely weekend?

Nevertheless, on Friday I found myself waiting for a critique of my work in progress by an editor from Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers. I can’t remember the last time I was that nervous. I had read the editor’s bio that said she was looking for “Middle Grade boy books.”  I had sent in a picture book manuscript about a girl. I was wondering why they paired me with her and worrying that I was wasting her time.

However, when I sat down the editor’s first words were, “I like your idea. I showed it to my boss, and she liked it too.” I know this because I wrote down everything she said.  A sheet in my Conference Registration Packet entitled “Making the Most of Your Critique” said “come prepared to take notes.” I was prepared.  I took notes. As the editor provided me with a line-by-line critique of my picture book manuscript, I listened carefully and took copious notes. At the end, I simply said, “Have I told you I love you?” She smiled and told me how to send her the manuscript after I had made the revisions. I took more notes. I had received a Golden Ticket to Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory! I floated out of the critique room, notes firmly in hand.

So many extraordinary experiences occurred over the weekend, it is difficult to synthesize them all into a short blog. However, I took notes, so here are some highlights:

  • Cynthia Leitich Smith (of cynsations fame in the kidlitosphere), one of the keynote speakers, provided the following jewels of wisdom: “All stories start with a moment of change.” “You probably should not kill Santa Claus in a book for young readers.” “Don’t Panic!” “Celebrate!” “Write the kind of book you love to read.” Her speech was uplifting, optimistic and empowering. What more could you ask from the kick-off speaker?
  • I believe Marla Frazee, illustrator of All the World and many other beautiful books, is Jewish, although I asked her, and she said she is not. The reason I say this is that she studies manuscript texts prior to illustrating just like a Jew studies Torah prior to writing a D’var. She looks for what’s not there, the white space, the emotion, the material behind the words that she may not be seeing. Marla Frazee’s illustrations are a midrash of the text the author writes.
  • Allyn Johnston, Vice President & Publisher, Beach Lane Books, who was a keynote speaker along with Marla Frazee, has a favorite question. “Is the end working yet?” Her passion for children’s literature is palpable. I could not take notes fast enough while listening to all the advice she was providing.

The weekend continued that way. “Come prepared to take notes.” Walk into any room. Sit down, have your notebook and pens ready. Wisdom was flying everywhere – in workshops, at the dinner tables, at the lunch tables, in the hallways. Creative, helpful people had gathered. Everybody wanted to share the latest from the workshop just attended or overheard standing in the lunch line. Everyone wanted everyone else to succeed. “Come prepared to take notes.”  The volunteers who put the weekend together, the faculty who taught and all the attendees who came made sure that everyone was prepared, and no one missed a thing. Thanks to everyone for creating a memorable weekend in Fitchburg!

Happy Reading,

Kathy B.

©2010 Kathleen M. Bloomfield and forwordsbooks.com all rights reserved. I am an Amazon Affiliate. If you click on a book title referred to on my web site and purchase it from Amazon, I may receive a very small commission on your purchase.

You will incur no additional cost, however.

I appreciate your support.

Chashuv/Important: “Take a Census” (Numbers 1:2 & 4:22)

This week and next Jewish people around the world will be reading and discussing Torah portions, Bamidbar and Naso, about the census of the Israelites in the desert. Interesting, as we here in America are going through our own decennial census and have just sent out enumerators to follow up with households whose mail-in census forms were not received by the US Census Bureau Office.

“Count Me In!” “You Can Count on Me!” “Stand Up and Be Counted!” are just a few of the many idioms in the English language using the word “count.” In these cases, “count” implies a certain responsibility or accountability, if you will, on the part of the counted individual. By stepping forward and being counted, as in a census for example, you are attesting to the fact that you exist, are present and available for the task at hand. When you take on responsibilities or make yourself responsible, you become important or Chashuv in Hebrew.

I see the census as a way for the government to know I exist. Not in a “Big Brother is Watching” way, but in an “I need to know you are there, if I am going to be able to take care of you” way. If I fulfill my responsibilities – pay my taxes, vote, follow the law, etc. – then I expect my government to do the same in return. How will that happen, if the government has no idea that I exist? How will it know that I need a road to my home, a school for my children, or a hospital for my community?

The United States census is mandated by the U. S. Constitution, the information is absolutely, positively and utterly confidential (I believe the government is close to paranoid about this), and the information gleaned from the census impacts such significant decisions as my state’s representatives in congress, electoral votes and government funding. I am an important/Chashuv participant in making sure the information collected is accurate.

When I was in school, I learned that participating in the census was a “civic responsibility.” I wonder if they teach that any longer. In case they do not, and to be of some assistance to the enumerators out there who are working hard to make sure that everyone gets counted, I have put together a list of books that can help your child – and perhaps yourself – understand the importance of counting and the value of being counted in America.

Happy Reading,

Kathy B.

The History of Counting. By Denise Schmandt-Besserat. Illustrated by Michael Hays. © 1999, Morrow Junior Books, a division of William Morrow and Company. Ages 9-12.  How did the world arrive at the method of using numbers the way we do today? It was not always this way. This intriguing history follows humankind from pre-historic through agricultural into commercial times as the need for an abstract counting system became greater and more important. Wondrous illustrations of counting systems from the simple to the complex aid the understanding of this complicated topic. The text, while easy to understand, delves deeply into the back roads of history to unearth how we arrived at a universal system of numbers that most of us assume has been in use forever.

How Many Snails? A Counting Book. By Paul Giganti. Illustrated by: Donald Crews. ©1988, Greenwillow Books. Ages 3-6. More than a simple counting book, the reader must see the details in this charming and colorful concept book. Count the number of flowers. How many of them are yellow? How many dogs are spotted? “How many cupcakes had white icing and candy sprinkles?”   A wonderful introduction into taking a closer look at the world around us.


A Million Dots. By Andrew Clements.  Illustrated by Mike Reed. © 2006, Simon and Schuster Books for Young Readers. Ages 4-10. What does a million look like? Using tiny dots and captivating information, Clements and Reed help children and adults see and understand the concept of 1 million. As you read this well illustrated and engagingly written book, they challenge you to find a specific dot and learn a fascinating fact about the number it represents. Eyes may cross, but giggles will abound as everyone learns about great big numbers.

If America Were a Village: A Book About the People of the United States. By David Smith. Illustrated by: Shelagh Armstrong. © 2009, Kids Can Press. Ages 6-9. Do you wonder how the information from the census is used? Some of it assists in the writing of wonderful books like this, that help our children understand more about the country in which they live and the people who live there. This extraordinary picture book uses the statistics from the US Census Bureau and many other resources to describe the United States of America, with a population of over 306 Million, as a village of 100 people. The results – both the artwork and the numbers – are captivating presenting you with a picture of America unlike any you have ever seen before.

I Am America. By: Charles R. Smith, Jr.  © 2003, Scholastic, Inc. Ages 3-6. Simple lyrical text and warm blocks of bright, bold colors, accompany gorgeous full-color photographs of charming children from across the country in this delightful introduction to America today. The diversity of cultures, religions, styles, sounds and so much more are all represented here. I see hope for our country in the eyes of the children on these pages.

Unite or Die! The Story of the Thirteen Colonies. By Jacqueline Jules. Illustrated by Jef Czekaj. © 2009, Charlesbridge Publishing, Inc. Ages 6-10. Perhaps you have forgotten why we need a Federal Government in the first place. Possibly a refresher course in American History 101: Post- Revolutionary War is in order. Here is a perfect solution. Did you know that “in the beginning” all the states had their own currency? There was no trade agreement with foreign governments because the states could not speak with one voice? Vermont used to be land that was claimed by both New York and New Hampshire? A school play is the setting for these fun facts and many more as the students reenact the 1787 Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia. Captivatingly humorous, cartoon-style illustrations will engage children of all ages in learning about a seminal moment in American history. The first census in US history followed in 1790.

©2010 Kathleen M. Bloomfield and forwordsbooks.com all rights reserved.
Books used in this review came from my public library.
I am an Amazon Affiliate. If you click on a book title referred to on my web site and purchase it from Amazon,

I may receive a very small commission on your purchase.

You will incur no additional cost, however.

I appreciate your support.

Book Review | mockingbird (mok’ing-bûrd)
by Kathryn Erskine

Score: 3.5

© 2010, Philomel Books, an imprint of Penguin Group, USA. Caitlin is in Fifth Grade when her older brother, Devon, is shot and killed during a school shooting.  Caitlin has Asperger’s Syndrome, and Devon was the one person in the world who could help her navigate life’s difficulties and do things “the right way.” Everyone [...]

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Book Review | Marcelo in the Real World
by Francisco X. Stork

Score: 4

© 2009, Arthur A. Levine, an imprint of Scholastic Inc. Marcelo Sandoval is 18-years-old and making plans for the summer between his junior and senior year at Paterson High School, a special preparatory school for children with autism and Asperger’s Syndrome (AS). Looking forward to working as the stable man at Paterson, in charge of [...]

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