I read Girls Hold Up This World as part of my reading for Women’s History Month in March and it is part of my Diversity Rocks! challenge, which asks you to read books who are written by minorities. Jada Pinkett Smith is an African American actress, singer and writer appearing in films such as the Matrix Reloaded & Ali and also play Lena James in A Different World, a Cosby Show spin off. She is married to Will Smith.
Girls Hold Up This World is a short poem about how girls are special, strong and beautiful. I enjoyed it. My daughter liked it, but didn’t seem overly interested, most likely because its not Dr. Seuss type poetry. So I think with time she will like it better. Donyell’s photographs are powerful, vibrant and full of life. Women and girls are featured from lots of different backgrounds and I like that. The photos and poem make me feel strong, which I think is the intended purpose.
My favorite lines are these,
We are sisters of this Earth – members of one powerful tribe.
Every color, age, and size, we’re united by beauty inside.
I am considering buying this book for my two newest nieces, who we hope will be a permanent part of our brother’s family. My brother and sister-in-law are planning on adopting a sibling group of three bi-racial children. We hope it works out for them!
Holly and I thrilled to present our first author interview with Janet Halfmann. She is wonderful to work with and is passionate about nature and animals, which shows in her writing. Her specialty is nonfiction and her first fiction book is Little Skink’s Tail, which has been winning several awards and is very popular in our house. Janet was also generous enough to give us an autographed copy of her two most recently published books – Seven Miles to Freedom: The Robert Smalls Story and Little Skink’s Tail for a book giveaway. I have to tell you it’s real tempting to keep them and they will be parted with reluctantly.
Tell us a little about yourself so that people can get to know you better.
I’ve loved to write since I was a child, but didn’t really think about writing as a career until after I got my first college degree (in English and Spanish Education). When our children were young, I sold a few articles to magazines such as Ranger Rick and Jack and Jill. But I wanted to make a living writing, so I returned to college and got a second degree in journalism. That led to careers as a daily newspaper reporter in Wichita, Kansas, managing editor of Country Kids magazine based in Wisconsin, and many years as a creator of coloring and activity books (Mickey Mouse, Lion King, Little Mermaid, Batman, etc.) for Golden Books, also in Wisconsin. When a new owner moved all of Golden Books’ operations to New York City in 1997 and my coworkers and I in Wisconsin lost our jobs, I struck out on my own as a freelance children’s writer.
Where did you get the idea for Little Skink’s Tail?
I got the idea to do a story about a young skink while researching a nonfiction book I wrote about all kinds of lizards. I was amazed by how many kinds of lizards can snap off their tails as a defense-and the tails keep right on wiggling to distract the enemy. I was especially fascinated by young skinks, which often have bright blue tails.
So I knew the beginning and end of the story-that Little Skink would lose her tail and that eventually it would grow back-but I didn’t know what would happen in the middle. As I sat at my computer, I thought about how my four children and now my four grandchildren love to play dress-up and pretend. So I decided to have Little Skink do the same thing-trying on the tails of all the other animals in the forest. As I wrote the story, I pictured my granddaughter dancing about, showing off each tail.
A favorite part of writing the book was figuring out the fun thing Little Skink would say about each tail, such as too puffy-fluffy or too stickly-prickly. I’ve always loved language and I enjoy finding just the right word.
I wrote the book mostly for fun, but am proud that the story evolved on its own to encourage children to be comfortable with themselves as they are, which has made Little Skink’s Tail very popular for teaching character education.
You have written several nonfiction books and Little Skink’s Tail was your first fiction book. What are some of the differences between writing nonfiction and fiction books?
When writing fiction, I can make up things, so I can use more of my imagination. In some ways, writing fiction is more fun because I don’t have to be tied to the facts.
Little Skink’s Tail is fiction, but in many ways it is a combination of fiction and nonfiction. Everything in the story except the tail daydreaming is grounded in fact-the habitat, the prey-predator relationships, the animals’ uses of their tails, etc., are all scientifically accurate.
My latest nonfiction book, Seven Miles to Freedom: The Robert Smalls Story, is nonfiction and completely adheres to the facts, but several reviewers have said it reads like fiction.
Tell us about your first published book.
My first published books were four titles in a Bugs series for The Creative Company in Mankato, Minnesota. Writing these books was a big break for me because it allowed me to get my foot in the publishing door and also gave me the confidence that I could indeed be an author. I visited the company for an informational interview before I decided to strike out on my own. The company didn’t have a job opening, but liked my writing. So when I decided to become a full-time freelance writer, the company gave me the opportunity to write four bug books, and a children’s author was born!.
What advice do you have for aspiring authors?
Read lots of children’s books, especially the kind you want to write. Then write, write, write, and revise, revise, revise until every word shines. When the manuscript is the best that it can be, study publishers to see who does that kind of book and send it out. Then, forget about it and move on to a new project (Most writers have a huge file of rejection letters).
I also strongly advise joining writers groups, such as the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators and its regional chapters, and attending their conferences and workshops. Our SCBWI group in Wisconsin has a listserv where writers of all experience levels ask questions and share information. There is so much to be learned from the experiences of other writers.
Sometimes writing opportunities come about in strange ways. For example, about nine years ago I found the nature books published by Soundprints at my local library and fell in love with them. So I spent months writing the very best manuscript I could about an animal not yet in their line. The company didn’t buy that manuscript, but months later when a writer dropped the ball on an assignment and the company needed a new manuscript fast on the brown pelican, the editor called me to write it. Now, I’ve written nine books for Soundprints-seven already published and two to release soon.
Tell us about some of your books that will be published soon and is it true that your daughter is doing the illustrations for one of your new books?
As I mentioned earlier, I have two nonfiction picture books coming out soon from Soundprints, which publishes nature books in association with the Smithsonian Institution. Narwhal: Unicorn of the Sea is about the adventures of a narwhal, an Arctic whale that has a nine-foot-long tooth jutting out from its jaw. Little Black Ant on Park Street features the life of the typical picnic ant. Plush animals and audio also are available with these books, and everything has to be approved by curators at the Smithsonian Institution.
Good Night, Little Sea Otter, a bedtime fiction story, will release this fall from Star Bright Books. Star of the Sea: A Day in the Life of a Starfish will come out in 2010 from Henry Holt. On a recent visit to Monterey Bay Aquarium in California, I got to see the animals featured in both of these books, which was a tremendous thrill for me!
And yes, my daughter, Laura, is illustrating two of my future books. Both are with Orchard House Press. Usually, the publisher chooses the illustrator. But in this case, the publisher needed more illustrators, so Laura submitted a sample drawing. The publisher loved it and wanted her to illustrate both of the books that I had under contract. Laura is an artist, but this is her first illustrating job, so she is more than a bit nervous. But I know both books will be terrific! And it will be so much fun doing book events together!
The first book is a picture book titled Bewitching the Chickadees. It is about a young girl, her grandma, a special bird feeder, and chickadees. Laura used a friend’s daughter and her grandma as the models and the sketches I’ve seen so far are fabulous! The second, Sunflower Princess, is a chapter book for ages 7-9. My granddaughter is the model for these illustrations, so she’s extra excited about this book. Release dates have not yet been set.
Why do you have animals/nature as the focus of so much of your writing?
I have loved animals and nature since I was a child. I grew up on a farm in Michigan and spent most of my time outdoors. I loved playing with the barn cats, exploring our small woods, and listening to the crickets on the back porch at night. My dad was what I call a farmer’s farmer. He loved animals and the land and that love rubbed off on me. I spent hours with my mother working in our big garden. Today, I am an avid gardener and love exploring nature. The wonders of the lives of animals and plants never cease to amaze me! On our recent visit to California, we found hundreds of hermit crabs in little pools among the rocks on the ocean shore. I could have watched them forever! They were fighting with one another and everything, just like in my hermit crab book for Soundprints. Thank goodness, my son captured them on video!
Holly’s children really like nonfiction books, but not all children like nonfiction. Reading nonfiction is part of a balanced reading diet. Do you have any recommendations for parents and teachers for encouraging children to read nonfiction?
I think you can encourage children to read nonfiction by finding books that match their interests. For example, our five-year-old grandson is fascinated with sharks, but isn’t one to sit still often to listen to a book. But when my daughter dug out her beloved nonfiction book on sharks from her childhood, our grandson couldn’t get enough.
You also can select nonfiction books that read like a story. The animal books that I write for Soundprints are nonfiction, but read like a story. They feature a specific animal that has a problem and solves it. And as I mentioned earlier, some reviewers have said Seven Miles to Freedom reads like a story, even though it is nonfiction.
Book giveaway details!
Thank you Janet for your time and sharing your story with us. We enjoyed learning about your writing career and especially liked learning about your daughter Laura Halfmann. What a neat opportunity to work together on something you both love and I bet your granddaughter is thrilled to be a model for some of the illustrations. What wonderful memories you are creating.
As previously mention we will be holding a book give away. We have one autographed copy of Seven Miles to Freedom and one autographed copy of Little Skink’s Tail to go to two lucky winners. Sorry you can’t win both. The giveaway is open to continental U.S. residents only. Each book has received several awards listed below, click on the book’s title to read my review of each one.
Mom’s Choice Awards: Best Children’s Book for 2009 (1 of 3), plus Gold Medals: Educators’ Choice & Animal Kingdom
2009 Teachers’ Choice Award: Learning Magazine
2008 Best Overall Book and Best Picture Book: Florida Publishers Association)
I have also reviewed two of her books that are part of the Smithsonian Oceanic Collection published by Soundprints. Each book comes with a plush toy and has audio available as well. Excellent books for teaching about nature and appreciating nature. Again click on the titles to see my reviews Dolphin’s Rescue and Narwhal: Unicorn of the Sea.
*****The Giveaway has officially ended, all comments/entries made after Monday April 6th midnight MST are not eligible to win. Comments are still open and welcome (because well we like to hear from our readers)***********
Seven ways to enter the Giveaway – Yes that’s seven ways!
Share your favorite animal book or personal story with an animal in a comment – 1 entry
Write a comment about something Janet said in her interview – 1 entry
Write a post about this interview and giveaway and link back to our blog, then come tell us in a comment – 3 entries
Write a suggestion for encouraging children to read nonfiction books – 1 entry
Comment on your favorite family co-authors or author/illustrator teams in honor of Janet and Laura Halfmann – 2 entries
Subscribe to Bookscoops in a feed reader and then come tell us in a comment – 2 entries
The giveaway ends on Monday, April 6th at midnight, Mountain Standard time. The first person to win will get their choice of Seven Miles to Freedom or Little Skink’s Tail and the second winner will get the other book.
*****The Giveaway has officially ended, all comments/entries made after Monday April 6th midnight MST are not eligible to win. Comments are still open and welcome (because well we like to hear from our readers ***********
Narwhal: Unicorn of the Sea by Janet Halfmann and illustrated by Steven James Petruccio is the second book in the Smithsonian Oceanic Collection I have read and reviewed. I have to say I am impressed with both the series in quality and it’s intent, which is to promote the education and appreciation of nature. Each book comes with a stuffed animal and my five year old would be ecstatic to have a stuffed animal with a book, since she is a big animal lover and collector of stuffed animals. In each book there is a main character who faces a problem based on real experiences of that particular animal.
Narwhal: Unicorn of the sea is a delightful tale of a Narwhals, a type whale. The males in the species have long tooth, about 9 feet long that whalers often sold as unicorn horns throughout history. Not much is known about these whales as they spend in the winter in the harshness of the Arctic ocean. Just thinking about it makes me cold!
Janet weaves scientific fact with talented story-telling in Narwhal: Unicorn of the Sea. The book opens with the Inuit word for Narwhal – Tuugaalik, Tuugaalik with beautiful illustrations done by Steven Petruccio. The reader journeys with Narwhal and experiences sightings of tourist boats, dangerous killer whales and being trapped by frozen sea ice with prowling polar bears waiting at the surface. You spend a year with Narwhale starting in the Arctic summer where his pod spends their time near shore and then the out in the sea during the cold, long, winter. Along the way readers can see lots of other sea life from birds to seals, to starfish, jellyfish and and finally yummy flatfish, at least yummy for Narwhal because that is what he eats. Petruccio’s pictures of beautiful blue water and arctic scenes including some with colorful northern lights makes me want to go and see Narwhals in their natural environment.
I did read this book with my daughter and two of her friends. Their favorite page was the one where Narwhal and another male cross teeth as if in a sword fight. They enjoyed the story and learning that whales are mammals and what types of things they ate. I the reason they liked the book so much is because it is easy for them to see how Narwhals are like humans. They often have family groups, they need to eat, they like to play and they sometimes have scary things happen to them.
If you want a high quality way to introduce children to nature through literature I highly recommend Narwhal: Unicorn of the Sea and the Smithsonian Oceanic Collection. This book and series would are some of my top picks for helping children to appreciate and experience the natural world.
What are some other ways you can think that would help children learn appreciate nature?
My review of Narwhale: Unicorn of Sea is part of Nonfiction Monday. To see other books reviewed for Nonfiction Monday see at Tina Nichols at Tales from the Rushmore Kid
A novel by an amazing author who, sadly, passed away only a few months ago. Dorothy Sterling was a pioneer in historical literature, traveling throughout the South conducting interviews and research to use in writing more than 30 books, primarily non-fiction, that challenged traditional ‘confederate’ thinking about African Americans. Mary Jane was one of the books that resulted from these efforts.
When Mary Jane decides to be one of the first students to integrate at Wilson Junior High, she doesn’t understand why everyone in her family is making such a big fuss. On her first day of school, she realizes that life will be harder than she expected, but she is determined to survive.
“Mary Jane thought Mamma didn’t understand how hard things were at Wilson. Truth to tell, Mamma understood more than Mary Jane knew. Every night she talked with Daddy about transferring her to Douglass. Every day she paced the porch, fearful that some harm had come to her little girl.”
A compelling, insightful tale that not only gives you a glimpse into the difficulties of achieving integration, but gives you glimpses into the culture of that era. Dorothy was born in 1913, and wrote her books based on first-hand experience and primary resources- both signs of her journalism background. This, in my opinion gives her books more authenticity. Some protest that the reactions of families and communities was wrong- but she wrote it how it was, not how some people like to clean up the past and put it on a pretty plate so people will want to look at it.
What others are saying about Dorothy Sterling:
“In 1957, she [Sterling] toured several Southern states to collect interviews with black children who were integrating white schools. Their stories of courage in the face of beatings and verbal harassment by hostile whites formed the basis of “Tender Warriors” (1958), a nonfiction book with photographer Myron Ehrenberg, and “Mary Jane” (1959), a novel.
She fought to publish “Mary Jane,” which portrayed the desegregation battle from the point of view of a black girl in a newly integrated school. Initially boycotted in the South and in some Northern cities, it eventually became a bestseller and was printed in several languages.”
Some of Dorothy’s books are difficult to find and out of print- I found this one listed on ebay as an antique, but didn’t need to buy it since my Mom has a copy in her home library. I apologize that there is no picture, but I don’t know how to work my Mom’s scanner- there are nice pictures of the book on ebay and amazon, if you care to go look.
Two nights ago I went to a book signing at the King’s English Bookstore for Laurie Halse Anderson author of Wintergirls, Speak, Chains and lots more. I was fortunate to be able to read the arc courtesy of Natasha Maw who is seriously one of the most generous people I know and who I carpooled with. My review of Wintergirls is here. Laurie Halse Anderson’s website and blog.
I wasn’t quite sure what to expect because I haven’t met many authors face to face and I love her book Wintergirls. I didn’t want to be disapointed and I am happy to report that Laurie exceeded every expection. I am in awe of Laurie Halse Anderson and am in love with her books and with her even more than before. I am still mulling over the things she said and dancing on air.
I have only met one other person like her before. They both have an amazing ability to make people feel comfortable and valued for who they are. When she spoke to you she really listened and you felt that she really cared about what you were telling her. Of course I also observed her talking with other fans, which is one of the advantages of being at the back of the line. I watched her talk on a cell phone to a girl’s mother who couldn’t be there, write down the information to contact another reader’s friend who was sick and unable to make it. Then Laurie hugged another girl who told her that after reading Speak she got help for sexual abuse.
I thanked her for writing about such tough subjects as a lot of people don’t want to talk about those subjects, but they exist. I told her I have seen students deal with all those issues in my classroom and thanked her for giving voice to issues such as rape, eating disorders and cutting. She replied by saying she often feels like she should have a crown with an elephant on it because it seems she talks about the elephant in the room, even if no one wants to. I am glad there is high quality literature that gives people a forum in which to discuss these topics.
After she signed our books, she then spoke to a small intimate group of authors, book bloggers and fans. A few of Utah’s authors were there too, including James Dashner, Sara Zarr, Emily West Smith, Ann Bowen and others. Who I happened to be in line in front of, so it was a fun experience to meet more authors.
She addressed my concerns about someone who is struggling with an eating disorder possibly being triggered by the book, which of course she had too. When she talked with some of the experts in the field they said just going to the grocery store can be triggering so not to worry too much about the book. She did mention that she has had some people say I don’t think this is the book for me right now, and that’s fine. She understands.
She said some things about writing I really liked and one in particular struck a chord with me. She said that often times women who are stay at home moms who want to be writers sell themselves short. They aren’t as assertive in getting paid or as good at negotiating contracts. They say things like, you don’t have to pay me that much or I’ll just write for free. Well she says she was writing as a single mom and it was her sole source of income. She had to learn to handle things differently. She learned by watching other people, mostly men in the writing business, and said you can combine art and business. That really resonated with me you know the whole believe in yourself and be confident.
So here is the confession and by the way dear sister, I am telling your secret, which I promised I would do. I have goals, aspirations dreams whatever you call it of becoming an author. I’m working on a few writing projects and my sister Holly is the same. She’s already written a picture book, which I think is quite an excellent book. Maybe we will be the next Bronte sisters, except there are only two of us. Guess that means we will have to recruit someone.
My sister and I will be featuring Janet Halfmann as our first author interview on Monday, March 30th. She has also generously given us an autographed copy of Little Skink’s Tail and Seven Miles to Freedom for a giveaway. Both are excellent and will be parted with somewhat reluctantly. Details will be forthcoming.
Janet is passionate about animals and nature as much of her writing focuses on those two themes. I swear that my daughter and her are cut out of the same mold. My five-year old is fascinated with animals and just loves them. She doesn’t like dolls a whole lot, but has a large stuffed animal collection and is amazingly good with animals.
Dolphin’s Rescue is a lovely little book about Pacific White-Sided Dolphin and one in particular who happens to get a little carried away with his dolphin acrobatics and manages to land himself aboard a research boat. Dolphin’s experience is based on a true story of a dolphin who really did just that. Janet does a nice job of telling the story of Dolphin and his life. By reading this book you will learn some basic information about this type of dolphins live, how they use sound waves to locate prey and objects under water and what they eat. You also learn how they support each other when one is injured or sick. Helping the dolphin to rise to the surface.
Now Dolphin’s Rescue is part of the Smithsonian Oceanic Collection published through Soundprints, which ” . . . fosters at the earliest age an appreciation and understanding of wildlife and habitats so that our children will grow to respect the environment as adults.” I think this book does that. It doesn’t give tons of factual detail so you are overwelmed, but gives you enough to see what life is like as a dolphin.
I read the book with my daughter and her two friends and they seemed fascinated with the idea that dolphins could leap into the air, which included one of her friends trying a few of his own. Thank goodness we didn’t have an unfortunate landing like Dolphin. I like how this book introduces children to the animals of the ocean in a way they can understand and makes you want to experience the ocean.
Steven Petruccio does a beautiful job with the illustrations, which I believe are in watercolor. They make you want to swim in the ocean and see dolphins up close with lots of details with fish, seagulls and lovely skies. You almost feel like you are in the ocean with them.
I would recommend this book for anyone trying to instill a love of nature in children. I could also see elementary teachers using this book for great science classes on how dolphins use sound to locate items and for large motor activites as children could pretend to leap and jump like dolphins as my daughter’s friend did.
I saw this title and just had to get it. Not because I want my sister to disappear, but because there were some days, when we were young, when it may have been on my mind a little bit.
This is a cute book about two sisters, whose Dad goes to Afghanistan to help the country rebuild by designing schools. While he is gone, Sprig tries hard to control her tears, while Dakota tries hard to control her younger sister, kind of. So, to retaliate against Dakota’s controlling, Sprig develops a list of ten ways to make Dakota disappear. Most of them are totally juvenile and irrational.
This book contains all the important elements of middle reader fiction- there’s puppy love, and sibling rivalry. I think the main reason the younger sister wants her older sister to disappear is because she is stressed and the easiest person to lash out at when you feel overwhelmed, is often the person you love the most.
A fun, quick read that all- especially sisters will understand and enjoy. The ending resolves in a pleasing way. And just so you know Cari, I never had a list. I promise.
For me the story of women’s suffrage in the United States is one of the most compelling stories of courage in the United States. Some women risked their fortunes, jobs, families and their lives to achieve the dream of voting not unlike a group of rebels in 1776. With Courage and Cloth by Ann Bausum is a gem of a book that tells this story of courage and sacrifice that will keep you turning page after page. This is one of the best books I have found that describes the movement in a succinct manner that is easy to understand and keeps you at the edge of your seat. Ann covers the movement with a depth that is hard in less than a 100 pages. After reading this book you can’t help, but be in awe of these women and their courage. The story is nothing short of amazing.
The book has lots of visual appeal with primary source photographs. The text is not your typical black, but uses the colors of the movement – purple for justice, white for purity of purpose and gold for courage. The text is a deep purple, captions are gold and many of the photographs have been edited to add hints of the color in the cloth banners used as picket signs. In addition the book is well documented, a must for a non-fiction book. I would recommend this book for gifted elementary readers, middle school readers and for readers even into high school and beyond.
It has been my experience that most people know little or nothing about the woman’s suffrage movement in the United States. Sure, most could at least associate Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and the Seneca Falls Declaration with the movement along with a few other women like Carrie Chapman Catt and Lucretia Mott, but most have never heard of Alice Paul and her friend Lucy Burns. Not to mention the jail time some of the women served in horrible rat infested prisons, hunger strikes, torturous forced feedings and attacks by angry mobs.
I really liked how Bausum explains the two main groups who worked for Women’s suffrage and focuses primarily on the early 1900s with Carrie Chapman Catt leading the National Woman Suffrage Association, the organization originally started by Anthony and Stanton. The NWSA strategy was to win the vote state by state and had achieved some success. Alice Paul originally worked with the NWSA, but frustrated with the lack of progress started with Lucy Burns the National Woman’s Party.
A major strategy of the NWP was to appeal directly to the White House. They first staged a large parade of 8,000 women and girls on President Wilson’s inaugural day. The women were attacked by mobs of men and boys many women receiving bruisings and injuries while police officers who were supposed to protect the women often stood by and did nothing or at times helped the mob! Later women referred to as Silent Sentinels would picket the White house with banners and signs all year during all types of weather. They even continued their silent protest during WWI, which to protest a war-time president was considered very radical and had not been done by the suffragists previously. These women were among the first to use peaceful protest to achieve their political goals decades before Martin Luther King. The Silent Sentinels kept the issue of suffrage in the press and on the minds of many Americans.
Really this is a must read for everyone. I do have to admit that I am a bit jealous of Ann Bausum because she meet Alice Paul when she was 13, and Alice Paul is a favorite historical character of mine. After reading this book I am even more grateful for the opportunity I have to vote and that my daughters will have that opportunity because of women like Alice Paul, Susan B. Anthony, Lucy Burns, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and many others. My right to vote is not something I think about, I mean I get to go and vote, no questions asked. I am so glad these women fought the hard fight and won and I can hardly think of a better way to honor them to share their story and to keep on voting.
What are some other ways you can think of to honor our foremothers?
Grace is learning about the presidents at school. She is floored when she finds out that not a single girl has ever been president of the United States and decides that she wants to be president when she grows up. First though she must win the class election for president.
It’s a very cute and well written book as Grace practices her campaigning and speech giving skills at her elementary school. It also goes through and explains the electoral process, campaigning process and is a great introduction into the women suffrage movement. My daughter and I really liked the illustrations, lots of color and they really help you understand the text. I really liked that the children in the story are of various ethnicities.
Great book for elementary age students to learn about the election process. My daughter (5) really liked this book and even ‘wrote’ her own story about a girl becoming a president complete with villians, bats and a jail cell. Her story consists of about 6 pages of illustrations as she tells the story out loud. but don’t worry the girl in her story gets to be president.