Wednesday, August 20, 2014

FOCAL Writing Contest for Kids: THE TREE LADY

 (reposted from UTLA United News "Grapevine" section, August 2014)
The Tree Lady
An Essay Contest for Grades 3-8

An exciting opportunity to develop writing skills in your students is available from now until November 1st.  Enter your students in the FOCAL Award essay contest! Teachers in grades 3-8 may contact us on a first come, first served basis, for the award winning book, The Tree Lady, by H. Joseph Hopkins, to read to your students.  Then, encourage your students to write about why they liked the book and what it means to them. Three winners will share their essay at the award luncheon where they will meet the author and receive an autographed copy of the book!

Can you imagine the lovely city of San Diego as a desert town in the 1800’s? That’s what Kate Sessions, who became known as the tree lady, discovered when she moved there after college. Kate’s love of trees and her persistence are the reason we all enjoy the variety of trees in Balboa Park today.

The award is given annually by FOCAL (Friends of Children and Literature) to an excellent book with strong California content.  For more information visit:  Complimentary copies of the book are available to teachers (to use with students who are writing essays) at the Children’s Literature Department of Los Angeles Public Library’s Central Library while supplies last.  Call ahead to reserve your free copy at 213-228-7250.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

GRUNT, QUACK, OINK: Focus on Animal Books for Kids in SLJ

Many thanks to Barbara Wysocki for the nice mention, along with authors Gail Gibbons and Seymour Simon, in her July 23, 2014 post in School Library Journal!  I am delighted that nonfiction books like ours, and the wonderful new titles that she lists are becoming a focus of Common Core.  Kids always love learning about animals!

GRUNT, QUACK, OINK: Focus on Animal Books
By Barbara Wysocki

While the nation’s schools align their curricula with the Common Core State Standards (CCSS), school and public librarians serving children remain constant in their task of connecting young people with age-appropriate, meaningful materials. As Olga Nesi, a library services coordinator in the NYC Department of Education, notes, “While public and school librarians differ, our common patron base of children gives both groups fertile ground for growing ever stronger collaborative bonds.” Implementing CCSS for elementary students emphasizes content-rich text, and that means a wider range of carefully chosen nonfiction titles will end up in classrooms, backpacks, and, hopefully, even tucked into suitcases for family vacations. Linda Williams, children’s services consultant for the Connecticut State Library, highlights trade books found through reliable review sources. “Many books are advertised as suitable for Common Core use,” says Williams, “but librarians are looking for high-quality, complex texts.” She sees librarians as being well suited to help teachers find the materials they need, and is developing a webpage to assist in that effort.

As teachers team up with librarians to create go-to book lists and recommended websites, this is a starter set of animal-related nonfiction titles suitable for the elementary set. “Moo” and “Baa” are among a toddler’s first words, so it’s no surprise that young readers are fascinated by critters that swim, hop, and fly. (You’ll find some suggestions for classroom use tucked into the annotations.) While the focus is on outstanding books from the past three years, also recommended are standouts by authors such as Gail Gibbons, Caroline Arnold, and Seymour Simon, who’ve written excellent volumes for years. With a wealth of choices, this list covers a wide range of animals, but does not include insects. The books are divided into land, sea, and air, with a section devoted to more encyclopedic titles.

[Follow the link above for SLJ to see the list of books.]

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

FOLD THE FLOCK: Passenger Pigeon Origami Project

Origami Passenger Pigeon from Audubon
2014 marks the centennial anniversary of the extinction of the Passenger Pigeon. Once millions of these birds gathered in huge flocks across the eastern part of North America.  Now they are gone.To help remember the Passenger Pigeon, the Audubon Society is promoting the folding of origami pigeons as a symbolic way of recreating the great flocks of 100 years ago and raise awareness of the need to protect all our wildlife. A beautiful preprinted origami pigeon and directions for folding is included inside the May-June issue of Audubon Magazine.  You can also download a copy (for free) from the web at  or order sets of printed birds ready for folding.  Recently, my granddaughter helped me fold the pigeon that came in my magazine. When we finished, we logged onto the site and added ours to the flock.  As of August 3, 2014 the total number in the flock was 248,859.  By now it will be much more! You can fold yours and help the flock to grow.  Learn more about why Passenger Pigeons went extinct in the May-June 2014 issue of Audubon Magazine.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014


Recently, the mailman delivered a package, and, to my surprise, it contained a copy of my book BIRDS: NATURE'S MAGNIFICENT FLYING MACHINES (Charlesbridge, 2003) translated into Chinese.  I am always thrilled to find out that my books have been translated into other languages and to think that children in other parts of the world are reading what I wrote. I also like to see what the text looks like in other languages.  In this case, I was particularly fascinated to see the Chinese characters that are used for the word "birds" in the title and for my name.  I was inspired to get out the chop (or "official" seal) of my name that I had made when I was in Shanghai in 2005 for an author visit.  Only my first name fit, but now that I have my book, I can see how my last name is written as well.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014


As of August 2014, California Readers will be closing its doors. The main reason is the fact that LAUSD has not been funding personnel for its school libraries for the past several years and the people needed to coordinate the program in the schools are not there.
I am so sad to learn that California Readers will no longer exist.  It has been a wonderful organization and done so much to help connect authors like me with the many schools in the LA area.  I have really enjoyed the opportunity to do school visits both during the regular school day and after school for the LA's Best program.  And I will miss the annual luncheon, which has always been a highlight of the year.  I thank California Readers for honoring me as a Leo Politi author and for everything else it has done to promote reading, writing and the love of books.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

GIRAFFE, with photos by Richard Hewett, Now Available at StarWalk Kids

Informative and engaging, Giraffe offers a close-up look at this gentle giant of the African plains. A clear text and forty extraordinary full-color photographs highlight the giraffe’s unusual physical features and present a fascinating view of its day-to-day life and behavior, both in captivity and in the wild.
My book, GIRAFFE, originally published by Morrow Junior Books, is now available as a digital book at StarWalk Kids and also soon at Amazon as a Kindle book. It is illustrated with captivating photos by Richard Hewett. I am thrilled to see this book available again.  Through the month of July you can read all of the books in the StarWalk Kids catalogue for free.  It is a great opportunity!

Most photos of giraffes are interesting: that powerful neck and the long slim body that go with it make every movement unusual. Here they crane toward their favorite food leaves from the acadia trees, posing awkwardly to drink water without tipping over in one picture, then galloping gracefully with all four legs off the ground in the next, twisting around in a knot for a drink of mother's milk. The concise text offers a general introduction to the giraffe and includes a close-up look at a newborn calf young giraffe. Arnold also passes on other information, like the animal's zoological name, which translates to "camel leopard." Hewett's well-placed, full-color photos reveal both the elegant and goofy sides of the giraffe. These two have collaborated on Koala, Kangaroo and, more recently, Zebra. Ages 7-10.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

2014 FOCAL AWARD: The Tree Lady: The True Story of How One Tree-loving Woman Changed a City Forever by H. Joseph Hopkins

Written by H. Joseph Hopkins, Illustrated by Jill McElmurry
FOCAL (Friends of Children and Literature, the support group of the Children’s programs of the Los Angeles Public Library) has chosen  The Tree Lady: The True Story of How One Tree-loving Woman Changed a City Forever by H. Joseph Hopkins as the award winner for 2014. The award will be presented at a luncheon December 6, 2014. This beautifully written book chronicles the life of Kate Sessions, who led a campaign to plant trees in San Diego, California, thus turning the city from a seaside desert to a urban garden. Colorful illustrations by Jill McElmurry convey Kate Session’s passion for plants.
I have been a member of the FOCAL Award Committee for four years, this year (my final year) as the past chair. Books that are considered for this award must have a California connection, and I must say I always learn more about my state after reading the books nominated for each year. This book gave me a new perspective on the beautiful city of San Diego and on a determined woman who followed her dream.

Katherine Olivia Sessions was born on Nob Hill in San Francisco November 8, 1857. After graduation from high school in Oakland,she entered the University of California at Berkeley in 1877, where she studied science and graduated in 1881. Her horticultural career began after teaching briefly in San Diego where she accepted a position in 1884. As owner of a flower shop and a succession of nurseries in Coronado, City Park, Mission Hills and Pacific Beach, she became a central figure in California and national horticultural circles with her landscaping, plant introductions, and classes.
It is in Balboa Park that the legacy of Kate Sessions is most obvious. She leased land in what was then called "City Park" in 1892 for a nursery. For this privilege, she was to plant one hundred trees a year in the park and furnish three hundred more for planting throughout the city. In 1902 she was instrumental in the formation of the park Improvement Committee with her friends George Marston and Mary B. Coulston. Their work resulted in assuring the park's place in the life of the community. Kate Sessions died March 24, 1940. She has come to be called the "Mother of Balboa Park" and a bronze statue of her was erected there in 1998.

(Excerpted from the San Diego History Center)