Saturday, September 26, 2020

FOCAL AWARD WINNER: TODOS IGUALES: Un corrido de Lemon Grove by Christy Hale

The 2020
FOCAL Award Winner!

Todos Iguales: Un Corrido de Lemon Grove = All Equal: A Ballad of Lemon Grove
Christy Hale - author/Illustrator
Congratulations to Christy Hale!
This year's FOCAL award luncheon honoring Christy Hale will be held virtually at a date (to be announced) in November.
Check the FOCAL web page for updates and further information.

Wednesday, September 23, 2020

PHOTO TIP #1 for Ilustrating Your Next Book

For many years I worked with professional photographers who illustrated my books with their photos. We worked as a team--I wrote the text and the photographer took the pictures. I learned a great deal about photography from them. For several of my newest books, including Hatching Chicks in Room 6 and Butterflies in Room 6, I have been my own photographer.

As I was cleaning out my teaching files recently I found a list of photo tips from my friend and fellow Grinnellian, Martha Cooper, a professional photographer best known for her photographs of subway art in New York city. She is also the illustrator of three children's books, My Two Worlds, Lion Dancer and Anthony Reynoso: Born to Rope.

At a class Martha and I taught together some years ago, she handed out a list of photo tips. Today, almost everyone is a photographer--we carry cameras in our pockets in our phones. Whether you are illustrating a children's book, creating a magazine story, assembling a slide show or family album, or even just sharing favorite photos with a friend, I think you will find her advice useful. She says:

LOOK and THINK before you shoot. A good eye is more important than a good camera.

Tip #1.  Think carefully about how and where and with what text your photos will be used. Are you aiming for specific documentation or evocative illustration or a combination?
Shoot with a point of view. Concentrate on situations which best express the proposed or existing text. No matter how picturesque or graphically interesting a photo is, it will wind up in the reject pile unless it is relevant to the particular story you are working on. (Martha Cooper)

Both Hatching Chicks in Room 6 and Butterflies in Room 6 are photo essays. In both books I needed to document the growth process in real time, which meant photographing each step of the life cycle--from egg to adult. This involved some close-up photography. But I also was documenting the children's participation in the process and their emotional reactions. This involved wide-angled shots placing the activity within the classroom. One of my favorite pictures in the butterfly book shows the children clearly entranced as they observe the chrysalises in their enclosure.
Photo for p. 15, Butterflies in Room 6
Look for more of Martha Cooper's tips in coming weeks on this blog.

Wednesday, September 16, 2020

LITLINKS: Kids See Chicks Hatch with their Own Eyes, Guest Post at Patricia Newman's Blog

This week at LitLinks: Kids See Chicks Hatch with Their Own Eyes you can find my article about how you can use my book Hatching Chicks in Room 6 in connection with reading and STEAM activities. I am happy to contribute to Author/Speaker Patricia Newman's wonderful blog featuring ways to connect STEM and STEAM books with literature in the classroom. My article features hands-on activities about chickens and eggs and reading strategies for using my book with students, helping them understand the concepts in the book. It posted today, joining dozens of previous posts by other children's book science writers and illustrators.
Thanks Patricia for the opportunity to contribute to your terrific site!

Wednesday, September 9, 2020

MUSIC LESSONS FOR ALEX: The Making of a Photo Illustrated Children's Book

    On August 3, 1985, the first copies of my new book, Music Lessons for Alex, arrived in California–just in time for the Suzuki Institute at UCLA. Although I have written over 30 books for children, the publication of this book is particularly special for me. Music Lessons for Alex traces the story of an eight-year-old girl, Alex, from the time she first begins violin lessons to her first recital nine months later. Like Alex, my own children struggled through beginning lessons, also experiencing the joy of progress, occasional frustration and disappointment, and ultimately the triumph of success.
    Many children who begin music lessons become discouraged because they do not understand the process involved, and imagine that they will become virtuosos overnight. I wanted to write a book that might help children and parents realize that learning to play music is just like learning to read, play a sport, or any other skill–that it is a slow, gradual, step-by-step process which can be fun and which has rewards along the way.
    In the spring of 1983, when I suggested my idea to my editor at Clarion Books in New York, she was interested. She remembered her own experience of playing the cello in her school orchestra and felt that if she had had a book such as mine, it might have helped her enjoy it more. We discussed how I would write my book and decided that it would be best to present the material in story form. The book would be illustrated by Dick Hewett, a Los Angeles photographer with whom I had worked before.
    Dick and I were lucky to have the cooperation of so many people, particularly Alex and her family, Alex’s teacher, and the students and teachers of the San Fernando Valley Suzuki workshop program. We attended several o Alex’s lessons, during which Dick took unposed photos–trying to be as unobtrusive as possible so that the lesson would not be interrupted. He also took photos when Alex went to group lessons at the workshops.
    When we assembled all the photos for the book we realized that there were some points that I had made in the story, such as tuning, correct placement of the feet,  practicing at home, that did not yet have illustrations, so we arranged to spend a day with Alex and Susan to take those photos. We also took photos of the Brentwood school orchestra to illustrated the point that as Alex progressed, playing in an orchestra was something to which she could aspire. We also wanted to show instruments other than the violin, for, although we had focused on the violin in our book, we felt that the basic process of learning to play music was similar for all instruments.
    When the photos and text of the book were finished and assembled–a process that took several months–we sent them to our editor. Then we worked with her to refine and clarify details. One of the hardest things for me to remember was that because of my involvement in my own children’s lessons, I understood a lot of musical terms that a child or parent new to music lessons, might not. As I wrote, I had to keep asking myself, “What would I want to know about music lessons if this were my first introduction to the subject?” Finally, more than a year after we had submitted our completed project to our editor, the book was published.
    As people attending the Suzuki Institute read Music Lessons for Alex, the people depicted in the photographs in the book discovered that they had become celebrities of a sort. Alex was even asked for her autograph by several people. I was pleased to have such a positive response to the book and hope that many children and parents will have the opportunity to read it.

Note: Music Lessons for Alex has long been out of print. A few used copies are available on the internet. I wrote the above description of the process of creating the book shortly after it was published. The article appeared in Ledger Lines, the newsletter of the Los Angeles branch of the Suzuki Music Association of California.

Wednesday, September 2, 2020


I am so pleased to learn that my book Butterflies in Room 6: See How They Grow will be receiving the nonfiction award from the Children's Literature Council of Southern California (CLCSC) for books published in 2019. The annual Fall Awards Gala will be held virtually this year on November 7th. 
The chair of the Awards committee, Charmetria Marshall, wrote: We want to thank you for such an exploratory and fun book that highlighted the joy of a real class of children learning science first-hand. The committee found that the vivid images greatly enhanced the reading. 
Thank YOU Charmetria, and all the members of the Awards Committee!
The Children's Literature Council is a non-profit organization established in 1961 to promote greater interest in literature for children and young people, and to encourage excellence in the field. The awards are presented annually at the Fall Gala to celebrate and recognize the outstanding work of Southern California authors and illustrators. Other award winners this year are Laura Taylor Namey, Margaret Dilloway, Roseanne Greenfield Thong, and Rebecca Constantino. The keynote speaker at the Gala will be Deborah Heiligman.

Wednesday, August 26, 2020

RAY BRADBURY, my Neighbor

Gate to the property where Ray Bradbury once lived.
This week marks the 100th anniversary of Ray Bradbury, the author of The Martian Chronicles, Fahrenheit 451 and so much more. Until his death in 2012 he was my neighbor. I never saw him, but I often passed his modest yellow house in Los Angeles, just a few short blocks from mine, as I drove home from the supermarket. I remember loving his books when I read them in high school and college. In 2012, when I read in the paper that he had died at the age of 91, I wondered what would happen to the house that had been his home for more than fifty years. Then one day, as I drove by, I saw bulldozers knocking it down. Over the next year, in its place, a striking modern architectural edifice rose up and filled the property. Ray Bradbury fans were appalled, but it was too late. (For a time line of the house’s history, click HERE.)

View of the house from the front gate
On a recent daily walk, I passed the property and saw it up close for the first time. Much of the new house is hidden behind dense shrubbery. At the entrance is an elaborate iron gate whose design is made of intersecting letters. As we passed, I noticed a small sign. It reads:

Ray Bradbury, American author and screen-writer, wrote many of his greatest works in the home that once stood on this site. To pay homage to his life and spirit, the design of this gate incorporates his words.

“Living at risk is jumping off a cliff and building your wings on the way down.”
"I never ask anyone else's opinion. They don't count."  
"Don't think. Thinking is the enemy of creativity."
“Stuff you eyes with wonder,” he said, “live as if you’d drop dead in ten seconds.”
"Everyone must leave something behind when he dies, my grandfather said." 

Then, as I looked closely, I could see the words embedded in the gate design. While individual words and letters are discernible, it is a bit hard to distinguish the whole quotes among the surrounding metal. Even so, the fact that they are there to connect us with Ray Bradbury and his work means he is still part of our neighborhood.

After finding the sign, I wanted to read Ray Bradbury’s books again. When I went to the Los Angeles Public Library website I discovered that many of his books are available to borrow as digital copies. I checked out Dandelion Wine (1957), his semi-autobiographical book about his growing up years in Waukegan, Illinois (renamed Green Town in the book) and downloaded it to my computer. As I have been reading the stories–about making dandelion wine, the pleasure of fresh cut grass in the summer, his elderly neighbors and their “Green Machine”, and more–they bring back memories of childhood visits to my grandparents' house in Kenosha, Wisconsin, a similar midwestern town just up the road from Waukegan. While the time period of Bradbury’s stories about Green Town is nearly a century ago, the essential human qualities of the characters are universal.

A side gate to the property is also embedded with Ray Bradbury's words. Behind it is a glimpse into the densely planted garden surrounding the house.
I never would have discovered the sign on the gate if it hadn't been for the need to get out of the house in our self-isolation in response to the corona virus. My perspective has changed as I take my daily walks through my Cheviot Hills neighborhood in West Los Angeles. I see things up close. I have more time to linger and take a second look. I hear the birds sing and the noisy flocks of parrots foraging in the eucalyptus trees overhead. I see my neighbors’ houses and the diverse ways that they have landscaped their front yards. And I have rediscovered Ray Bradbury, one of America’s greatest writers.

(Republished from my travel blog The Intrepid Tourist 5/4/20.)

Wednesday, August 19, 2020


The Palms-Rancho Park Library in Los Angeles is celebrating the 100th anniversary of the birth of author Ray Bradbury.
I recently received this notice from my local library:

This summer Palms-Rancho Park Branch Library in Los Angeles is celebrating the centennial birthday of Ray Bradbury with a bookmark contest, graphic novels/comic book creation, and discussions. Join us as we recognize his long legacy of storytelling and library advocacy, August 22 - 29, 2020.

Ray Bradbury was a local resident and a long time supporter of libraries. He is one of my all-time favorite authors.

For more about Ray Bradbury and his books go to the LAPL Blog.