Wednesday, September 30, 2020


Banned Books Week is an annual event celebrating the freedom to read, launched in 1982 in response to a sudden surge in the number of challenges to books in schools, bookstores and libraries. It highlights the value of free and open access to information. Banned Books Week brings together the entire book community — librarians, booksellers, publishers, journalists, teachers, and readers of all types — in shared support of the freedom to seek and to express ideas, even those some consider unorthodox or unpopular. For more info on Banned Books Week...

And, for a sampling of both classic and contemporary books that have been banned, click HERE for a list put together by PEN AMERICA: The Freedom to Write. 

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: Point of View

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)

Example: 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.