Wednesday, October 7, 2015

The 63rd Annual BREAKFAST WITH THE AUTHORS, Santa Barbara, CA

Mary Ann Fraser, James Burks, Joan Bransfield Graham, Greg Trine, Caroline Arnold, Rebecca Langston-George at the Breakfast With the Authors, Santa Barbara, CA, October 3, 2015
Last Saturday, October 3rd, I had the pleasure of participating once again in the Annual Breakfast with the Authors, hosted by the Santa Barbara County Office of Education. This was the 63rd anniversary of the breakfast–each year an opportunity for people who love books and reading to meet with authors and hear about their latest books and thoughts about writing while enjoying a delicious breakfast. Featured authors this year were myself, James Burks, Julie Dillemuth, Mary Ann Fraser, Rebecca Langston-George, Mel Gilden, Joan Bransfield Graham, Valerie Hobbs, Michelle Robin La, Sarah Lynn Scheerger, Greg Trine, Mark London Williams, and Lee Wardlaw. (We missed Lee, who couldn’t make it at the last minute.) 
In recent years, the authors have been given a topic to respond to in our short (3-5 minute) talks. This year, the question was: If you could write in any time period past or future, when would it be, and why? Answers varied from the Stone Age (when stories were written in pictures) to the 40's and 50's (when children’s books came into their own in the publishing world)  to the present (with the explosion of the digital age and all that means for research, writing and communicating with editors.)
I thank Rose Koller, Fred Borchers and everyone at the Office of Education for all the hard work of putting on the breakfast and to Chaucer’s Books for providing books for sale and autographing. I have been attending the Breakfast With the Authors since the 1980's when my first books were published, and it is always a highlight of my year and a great way to begin the school year.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

MY FIRST LIBRARY: Hennepin County Library Northeast

At the Hennepin County Library Northeast in Minneapolis, Minnesota
Last week, when I was in Minnesota for the celebration of the East Side Neighborhood Services Centennial, I stopped to visit the recently remodeled Hennepin County Library on Central Avenue in Northeast Minneapolis. When I went inside and checked the computer catalog I was pleased to discover that the library system (including this branch) has many of my books. More than fifty years ago, when I was growing up in Northeast Minneapolis, this was the library that I came to with my family and where I checked out books with my library card. At the checkout desk the librarian would put a card stamped with the due date in the pocket at the front of each book. Two weeks later I would bring back the books and check out more. It was my first library experience. In those days it was called the Central Avenue library and it was part of the Minneapolis Public Library system, now merged with the Hennepin County libraries, and it was in a different building, a large stone structure built in 1915 with funds from Andrew Carnegie.
The Central Avenue Library, Built in 1915
Every Saturday morning my parents would drive us to the library from the Northeast Neighborhood House where we lived. My brothers and I would go downstairs to the children’s room to pick out our books, and our parents would go upstairs where the adult books were shelved. Later, at home we'd gather on the sofa or one of our beds and either my mother or father would read to us. I liked story books such as Madeleine or Curious George. My brother Steve loved trains--which we could see chugging along the tracks on the other side of the park--so his books were usually about locomotives.  Peter liked sports and Tom preferred animals so we always had a variety of subjects to choose from. Even after I learned to read on my own I continued to listen to these "story times."

The library I grew up with was torn down in 1971 and replaced with a modern glass and brick building, which was then remodeled and enlarged in 2011. The old card catalog that I remember thumbing through is long gone and many of the bookshelves have been replaced with tables and computers. But the library is still a place where people from all over the neighborhood come to read and research and on the Saturday morning I visited it was already busy. Long ago the books at the Central Avenue library fed my love of reading and is one of the reasons I grew up to be a writer. I have fond memories of the hours I spent there.

For a brief account of my years in Northeast Minneapolis and my connection to East Side Neighborhood Services, go to my blog page Memories of Northeast Minneapolis. This is the text of the short speech I gave at the 100 year celebration of ESNS.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Coloring Page: Jaguar

In the Amazon rain forest, jaguars slip through shadows on silent paws. Their spots help them hide. When a jaguar gets close to its prey, it pounces and bites it with powerful jaws.

For a printable page with a drawing of a jaguar you can color, click HERE.

You can learn more about rain forest animals in my book A Day and Night in the Rain Forest.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015


Anyone who works with children knows the insatiable curiosity every child has about the world we live in and how everything in it works. One of the reasons I like writing nonfiction is that I still have those questions inside me. I want to know the answers too. I continually find it amazing that people are actually willing to pay me to find out all kinds of fascinating things.

Once I read an article that described children as being not like vases to be filled, but rather like fires to be lit. I like that image because it suggests that children have minds that are alive and eager to learn. My purpose as a writer is to provide the spark for that fire. I want readers to close the last page of my book and say, “That was exciting!” or “Wow” I never knew that before!”

People often ask me what I like best about being a writer. I enjoy the research and creative process, but the best part for me is when the book is finally published. When the first copy of a book arrives in the mail and I see my name on the cover, it gives me a tremendous feeling of satisfaction, especially when I know that the book is now ready to go into schools and libraries where kids can read it. I always hope that my readers will feel the same sense of excitement that I felt when I wrote the book.

I enjoy being involved in the creative process and being able to find out new things and trying to understand them. I also get a great deal of satisfaction from being involved with children and trying to keep up with their curiosity. Children are the most valuable resource in our country today and I feel they deserve the best books that we can give them.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

SEPARATE IS NEVER EQUAL: Sylvia Mendez and Her Family’s Fight For Desegregation by Duncan Tonatiuh, Winner, 2015 FOCAL Award

The FOCAL Award for 2015 has just been announced. The book is Separate Is Never Equal: Sylvia Mendez and Her Family’s Fight For Desegregation by Duncan Tonatiuh, published by Abrams, 2014.

Almost 10 years before Brown vs. Board of Education, Sylvia Mendez and her parents helped end school segregation in California. An American citizen of Mexican and Puerto Rican heritage who spoke and wrote perfect English, Mendez was denied enrollment at a “Whites only” school. Her parents took action by organizing the Hispanic community and filing a lawsuit in federal district court. Their success eventually brought an end to the era of segregated education in California.

For more information about FOCAL and the writing contest for kids, go to . Winners will meet the author of Separate Is Never Equal and have their essays read aloud at the Focal Award Luncheon in December.

The FOCAL Award Luncheon will be held on December 12, 2015 at noon.
Save the date on your calendars!
FOCAL (Friends of Children and Literature) is the support group of the Children's Literature Department at the Los Angeles Public Library.

Sunday, September 6, 2015

SAVE THE DATE for the Breakfast With the Authors, October 3rd, in Santa Barbara, CA

The 63rd Annual Breakfast With the Authors will be held Saturday, October 3rd, 2015, 10 am to 1 pm at the Santa Barbara County Education Office, 4400 Cathedral Road, Santa Barbara, California. Following a delicious brunch, a distinguished group of children's book authors, including myself, will share their thoughts about writing and books. The authors books will also be for sale and available for autographing.
Reservations are required. Go to for more information.
Hope to see you there!

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

PROJECT: Butterfly Life Cycle with Pasta

A butterfly’s life cycle begins with an egg, which hatches into a caterpillar, which develops into a chrysalis and then metamorphosizes into a butterfly. You can observe all of these stages if you hatch painted lady butterflies in your classroom. And the perfect art project to illustrate the stages can be done with a paper plate and pasta.

You will need:
  • A paper plate
  • 4 types of pasta: bulgar for eggs; ziti for the caterpillars; shells for the chrysalis; and bowties for the butterflies
  • Glue
  • Markers, paint or crayons
  • Make an “X” across the paper plate to divide it into four sections.
  • Label each section with a butterfly stage: egg, caterpillar, chrysalis, butterfly
  • Glue the appropriate pasta in each section. Draw or paint leaves. Color the pasta if desired.
I thank Jennifer Best for sharing this project with me. Her kindergarten students at Haynes Center for Enriched Studies did this project when they were learning about insects.
Painted Lady Caterpillars