Check This Out: Breaking Through the Clouds: The Sometimes Turbulent Life of Meteorologist Joanne Simpson

At long last I have posted. I’m thrilled to have on the blog once more the awesome Sandra Nickel, who is here to talk about her latest picture book, the gorgeous Breaking Through the Clouds: The Sometimes Turbulent Life of Meteorologist Joanne Simpson, published on March 8 by Abrams and beautifully illustrated by Helena Perez Garcia.

Check out this book trailer:

Sandra is represented by Victoria Wells Arms.

El Space: You’ve written books about the invention of nachos and about astronomy. So what made you turn to meteorology?
Sandra: That’s the golden question, isn’t it? Nachos. Dark Matter. Clouds. What do they have in common? The through line is that Ignacio Anaya, Vera Rubin, and Joanne Simpson each achieved something incredible, yet they remain unknown to most. I wanted to help broadcast their achievements. I wanted kids to know about them. Nacho invented nachos. Vera discovered dark matter. And Joanne was not only a trailblazing female meteorologist, but she also sparked a whole field of science by creating the first mathematical model of clouds—a model that helped us predict upcoming weather.

   

El Space: What did you do to prepare to write Joanne’s story?
Sandra: Before Joanne died, she gave boxes and boxes of her scientific and personal papers to Harvard University. I went to Harvard and looked through everything in those boxes. I learned about her discoveries, examined her work and family photographs, reviewed her personal thoughts, and read what others said about her in newspaper and scholarly articles. Then, I took all of that, keeping a clear eye on how Joanne told her own story, and formulated that into a story for children. It’s fascinating and challenging to learn about a life with its many facets and then try to reduce it down to the 32 pages that are normally in a picture book.

El Space: Since Joanne Simpson was such a trailblazer, I can’t help thinking of Vera Rubin, another trailblazer you featured in a book. [See cover above. Click here for more information.) What do these trailblazers inspire in you?
Sandra: It wasn’t easy for Joanne and Vera. For reasons I still don’t fully understand, the barriers for women in science were higher than for women in other areas. Joanne was the very first woman in the world to receive a Doctor of Meteorology. One of her professors told her that no woman ever had, and no woman ever would. But, Joanne did. Vera also faced strong resistance as a woman in astronomy. What I admire about these women is that they went on to actively support the young scientists coming after them. Just think about all the female meteorologists we see on TV these days. That’s thanks to Joanne. As one young meteorologist said, Joanne didn’t just blaze a trail, she blazed an entire road.

El Space: I love what this Publishers Weekly review says:

Enlivening simply relayed cloud facts (“Just like people, cumulus clouds are born, grow, and die. But unlike people, they exist for no longer than two hours”), Nickel threads the well-paced tale with myriad weather-related metaphors.

First, congrats on this great review. I wish I could think of a weather-related metaphor to aptly describe your beautiful prose! What do you do to hone your craft?
Sandra: I read. I read a lot. And then, for the science-based stories I tell, I try to think of ways to make the stories engaging and understandable for children. In the case of Breaking Through the Clouds, I used weather-related metaphors, as Publishers Weekly mentions. Then, of course, I have lots of people read my drafts before I submit to my agent and editors. There is nothing in this world like having others read your work and tell you how it reads to them.

El Space: How much collaboration was involved in the picture side of things? How did you communicate with the illustrator, Helena Perez Garcia?
Sandra: Since I had the chance to visit Harvard, but Helena didn’t, I sent photos that I had taken of Joanne’s notebooks and the pictures Joanne archived there. I also fielded questions she had—scientific questions, but also time-period questions, such as what type of projector Joanne used when she watched films of clouds. I sent all of this information via our editor Maggie Lehrman at Abrams, so Helena and I never spoke directly until the book was finished. It’s always fascinating to speak with an illustrator after the project is done and learn about their process. If anyone is interested, you can read about Helena’s work on Breaking Through the Clouds here.

El Space: You have another picture book debuting later this year—Big Bear and Little Fish. Congratulations! What will you work on next?
Sandra: I always have a few projects going at the same time. I have a picture book about the secret creator of the Tiffany Lamps (hint: it wasn’t Louis Tiffany as everyone thinks). I’m working on a story inspired by my three uncles who are blind. I have a story about a pigeon. And, I’m working on a collaboration with a wonderful writer, L. Marie about two girls who share a love of creating hats.

El Space: 😊 Thank you, Sandra for being my guest!

Sandra: Thanks so much, Linda! It’s always such a pleasure to talk with you about books and the craft of writing.

Looking for Sandra? Check out her website, Twitter, and Instagram.

Looking for Breaking Through the Clouds? Look for it at Barnes and Noble, Amazon, Indiebound, Bookshop, or your favorite local bookstore.

Good news! One of you will received a free copy of Breaking Through the Clouds. Comment below to be entered in a drawing. Winner to be announced sometime next week.

Author photo, book spreads, and Breaking Through the Clouds book cover courtesy of the author. Illustrations by Helena Perez Garcia. Author photo credit: Emo-Photo. Big Bear and Little Fish cover from Goodreads.

Check This Out—The Stuff Between the Stars: How Vera Rubin Discovered Most of the Universe

Welcome to the blog! Returning to the blog today is the awesome Sandra Nickel, who is here to talk about her latest picture book biography, The Stuff Between the Stars: How Vera Rubin Discovered Most of the Universe. It was published by Abrams in March of this year and was illustrated by the amazing Aimée Sicuro.

SandraNickel   TheStuffBetweenTheStars

Check out the fab book trailer.

If you’ve been around the blog over the years, you know the drill. Once I talk to Sandra, I’ll tell you how you can get this book for free in a drawing that I am hosting.

El Space: Since your picture book is all about astronomy: If you could name a star, what would you name it?
Sandra:
Does it have to be one star? Or can it be a star cluster like the Pleiades? I always loved the idea of the Seven Sisters, up in the sky, named after their mother. My mother gave birth to three of us. Maybe we could be the Eleanores.

El Space: How did you come to this project? Sadly, I didn’t know anything about Vera Rubin until I read your book. I certainly didn’t know her connection to the study of dark matter.
Sandra:
I also didn’t know about Vera Rubin, not until Kate Hosford (below), a wonderful picture book author, texted me and told me about a tribute to her in The New York Times. I read the article and was captivated. I started researching that very day.

red photo cropped

El Space: Tell us about the research. How did your findings help you decide on the story angle? At what point did you decide you’d done enough research to make a start or to conclude the writing?
Sandra:
When I read The New York Times article, Vera had died two days before and papers were flooded with homages to her. After reading these, I found articles and a book Vera had written. The greatest discoveries, however, were interviews with Vera. They gave such a clear vision of her personality, childhood, home life, and struggles.

For the most part, editors no longer require picture book biographies to tell a person’s story from cradle to grave. They are looking for a story that fits into the classic story structure. Introduction. Rising Action. Climax. Resolution. I had the introduction early on, because Vera said she fell in love with stars when she was eleven. The climax had to be her discovery. That left me searching for rising action. Vera had so many challenges thrown in her path—far more than made it into the book. Once I was confident that I had found the most important ones, I knew I had enough to start putting the rising action together. The trick was to select experiences that resonate with children. I chose the experience illustrated below because everyone can understand how awful it is to be the only one against a crowd.

Vera Facing the Senior Astronomers

El Space: Your book is so beautifully written. How challenging was it to explain scientific concepts in picture book form?
Sandra:
From the beginning, I knew I needed to come up with imagery that would help children understand. I searched and searched for different ways to describe gravity, galaxies, and dark matter. Once I had all of these in my head, it became very clear that these same descriptions could be used to portray Vera Rubin’s life itself. It was challenging from the point of view of filling my mind with new ideas. Minds don’t always want to accept new things. But once that was done, it wasn’t challenging at all. The metaphors appeared as if they had always been there.

El Space: How long was the process from writing to publication? Did you have much contact with the illustrator, Aimée Sicuro? Why or why not?
Sandra:
It took over four years from the afternoon I read The New York Times article to the day The Stuff Between the Stars came out. With some nonfiction picture books, the writer and illustrator need to exchange information because the writer discovers photographs and descriptions through private sources not available to the general public. My book Nacho’s Nachos was that way. The Stuff Between the Stars was completely different. There are a number of photographs of Vera Rubin online, and Aimée Sicuro discovered each one of them. She asked for only one thing from me: one of Vera’s equations. She incorporated it into the gorgeous illustration below where Vera stays up working at night as her family sleeps.

Vera Working at Night as Her Family Sleeps

El Space: What did you learn about Vera’s life that inspired you in your own life?
Sandra:
The greatest Vera Rubin lesson is: Choose your own way. I know that seems cliché. But it’s harder than it sounds. It’s easy to fall into thinking that life is just hard, that suffering is part of the journey. I love that Vera said, I don’t like being treated harshly, I don’t like all the negativity. I love that she found a way far from all that and then discovered something bigger than everyone else. I’ll never discover something as immense as dark matter, but by doing things my way, my writing will hopefully be infused with joy. Because it makes me happy. And that is marvelous already.

El Space: What will you work on next?
Sandra:
There’s a book I’m working on right now with an editor that I hope will bring readers the kind of joy I’m talking about. It involves a very big bear and a very little fish who see the world in very different ways.

Thank you, Sandra for being my guest!

If you want to learn more about The Stuff Between the Stars, check out this video produced by the Smithsonian. In it, Sandra reads the book and interviews Aimée Sicuro. You’ll also see a fun demonstration by Aimée on painting a galaxy.

Looking for Sandra? Check out her website, Twitter, and Instagram.

Looking for The Stuff Between the Stars? Look for it at Barnes and Noble, Amazon, Indiebound, Bookshop, or your favorite local bookstore.

But one of you will look in your mailbox or tablet and go, “Oh my goodness! A free book!” Comment below to be entered in a drawing to receive a copy of The Stuff Between the Stars. Winner to be announced sometime next week.

Author photo, book spreads, and book cover courtesy of the author. Illustrations by Aimée Sicuro. Author photo credit: Emo-Photo. 

Check This Out: The Unicorns Who Saved Christmas

With me on the blog today is the marvelous Mary Winn Heider, another Secret Gardener classmate, who is here today to talk about her picture book, The Unicorns Who Saved Christmas, which was published by Running Press Kids. Mary Winn is represented by Tina DuBois.

 

El Space: How on earth did you come up with this concept? Why unicorns?
Mary Winn: And of course the flip side to that coin, how could it possibly be anything but unicorns!

El Space: Good point!
Mary Winn: The truth is that I didn’t come up with the idea—my editor pitched me the premise and I thought it just sounded like so much fun. So I started with the idea that Santa has to use unicorns instead of reindeer, and then I experimented with a variety of scenarios explaining why it had to happen and how it ended up like that, which included both a Magical Animal Temp Staffing Agency and a parody version of The Night Before Christmas. I really love the wild brainstorming phase. But the more I worked on it, the more I was drawn to this very sweet unicorn troop who were absolutely bowled over to be invited to audition as reindeer substitutes. There is something so adorable to me about these fantastic, magical, stylish unicorns being so gaga about Santa.

El Space: Your book is so funny and quirky—a really tough balancing act to pull off. I can’t help thinking of Santa Cows by Cooper Eden, though your book isn’t about cows. 😄 I also think of Elf, a movie I love watching each year. It seems to take just the right balance to keep the humor from sinking into the sea of coy. How do you achieve that balance? I can’t help thinking of your novel, The Mortification of Fovea Munson [click here for the interview with Mary Winn about that book], which also has that balance.

 

Mary Winn: That’s such a lovely compliment—thank you for that, Linda. I agree with you that the balance is important, and while I’m drafting, I definitely err on one side and the other. That overstepping is a really useful part of my writing process—and I think for how I write, the metaphor really works: it feels exactly like being on a balance beam. I start off making big swings and toppling into the tries that don’t quite work, and then gradually making more nuanced adjustments until I feel a sort of intuitive rightness. I don’t have an algorithm so much as a very, very loose recipe. I like to make sure that as absurd and ridiculous as I get (and I like to get real absurd and ridiculous—my writing partner on my current project just sent me comments on a chapter today, which included the note, Mary Winn, this is preposterous. And to be clear, I consider that a really positive note)—as absurd as I go, I make sure that the story always stays grounded in something true and real. In this case, it’s the unicorns’ sincere need to not let Santa down.

El Space: So glad to hear about your process and the hard work you put into your books. And I love the illustrations! How much input did you have with the illustrator, Christian Cornia?
Mary Winn: I didn’t talk to Christian until after the book was out, but I adooooooore the way he drew the unicorns. All the little details, like that How to Rainbow book that one of them is reading at the top—just to die for. And the crocodiles! That crocodiles spread is among my favorite things ever.

El Space: That is a great spread in the book [which you can see part of if you click here and scroll down]! What Christmas book, if any, did you love to read when you were a kid or as an adult? Why?
Mary Winn: Hmmm. . . . Good question. I don’t actually recall one that I liked to read specifically at Christmas. I was a weird, indiscriminate kid, and loved to read seasonal books all year. But I do associate Christmas with reading, because I’d be off from school and I could just read the entire break!

El Space: What will you work on next?
Mary Winn: My next novel—The Losers at the Center of the Galaxy—comes out in March, so I’m starting to think about that book again. It’s funny how they sort of hibernate in your brain between the time that you finish them and they come out. And I’m working on a really exciting hybrid graphic/prose novel with an illustrator pal. It’s definitely the most exciting part of my days right now!

Thanks as always, Mary Winn, for being my guest.

Looking for Mary Winn? You can find her by clicking on one of these:
Website, Highlights, Twitter, Instagram, and Barrel of Monkeys.

Looking for The Unicorns Who Saved Christmas? Look here: Indiebound, Barnes and Noble, and Bookshop

But one of you will receive a copy at your home! Ho-ho-ho! (After Christmas, sadly, but something to look forward to.) Comment below to be entered in the drawing. Winner to be announced early next week.

 

When my copy of The Unicorns Who Saved Christmas arrived, Henry quickly commandeered it. “And look how nicely it fits under the Christmas tree,” he said, I guess as a hint for me to get him a copy of the book since I snatched mine back.

Random squirrel meme:

Mary Winn’s book covers are from her website. Author photo by Popio Stumpf. Santa Cows cover from Goodreads. Elf movie poster from Ebay. Random squirrel meme from sayingimages.com. Balance beam image from HuffPost. Henry photos by L. Marie, who is grateful for her copy of The Unicorns Who Saved Christmas.

Taking Root

So, a dear friend sent me this housewarming gift:

Because that is what kind, wonderful people do. (And for anyone reading this, that was not a hint for you to send a gift. You’re kind and wonderful without that.)

Though I was really pleased and thankful, I also had this reaction:

Because as far as plants are concerned, I have been this:

I texted a Plant Whisperer friend who knows what to do, since I really want these plants (the basket has multiple plants) to survive. She texted me a gif like the following for the plants.

Sigh.

Seriously, being the great friend that she is, she told me what to do for them. Eventually, they will need to be divided into separate pots. But for now, they seem content to be together.

After examining the basket of plants, another awesome friend (I am rich in friends) told me, “These plants are hard to kill.” Guess they’re like terminators in a way, only they aren’t out to kill Sarah Connor or her son John. (If you’re scratching your head, Google the Terminator movies.)

Plants represent for me the need to be planted where I am. Possessing even one has always meant, “I’m not going anywhere.” So, this plant grouping reminds me to put down roots. (Fun fact: some of the tenants of my apartment complex have lived here over forty years! Talk about roots!)

Plants also remind me to be responsible. I can’t just leave for weeks on end without a game plan for their care. Not if I want them to live.

Do you have houseplants? Enjoy caring for them? Or are you indifferent to them? While you think about that, I will move on to the winner of Nacho’s Nachos: The Story Behind the World’s Favorite Snack by another dear friend, Sandra Nickel. See interview here.

   

The winner is Nicki!

Nicki, please comment below to confirm. As usual, I’m grateful to all who commented.

Author photo and book cover courtesy of the author. Rabbits and Grim Reaper gifs from tenor.com. Arnold Schwarzenegger as the terminator gif from somewhere online. Other photos by L. Marie.

Check This Out: Nacho’s Nachos: The Story Behind the World’s Favorite Snack

I love featuring books on the blog, especially books written by my friends. And I couldn’t be more pleased to welcome to this space my friend and fellow Secret Gardener, the awesome Sandra Nickel, who is here to chat about her fabulous picture book, Nacho’s Nachos: The Story Behind the World’s Favorite Snack. It was published by Lee & Low Books on August 11 and illustrated by Oliver Dominguez.

   

Sandra is represented by Victoria Wells Arms. Let’s give it up for Sandra! (There will be a book giveaway at the end of the post, in case you wondered. 😁)

El Space: Four quick facts about yourself?
Sandra:
1. I adore writing picture books, absolutely adore it!
2. I grew up in a small town and still live in a small town—except the small town I live in now is in Switzerland.
3. I’ve been a colossal nacho fan since I was a kid.
4. I had the enormous honor of being taught how to make Ignacio “Nacho” Anaya’s original recipe in the birthplace of nachos, Piedras Negras, Coahuila, Mexico.

El Space: What was your path to picture book writing? How did you come up with the idea for this picture book?
Sandra: My path to picture book writing was long and twisty. I’ve had all kinds of jobs, the penultimate of which was being a lawyer. The catalyst for change was my daughter, who asked for stories—made-up stories—whenever we were in the car. She was a ruthless muse, asking (read: demanding) that I revise on the spot. After this story-telling boot camp, I enrolled in the “Harvard of Children’s Literature,” the MFA program for writing for children and young adults at Vermont College of Fine Arts. Like most in our class, I started off writing novels, but then I discovered picture books, and there was no turning back!

About the inspiration for Nacho’s Nachos, one day I was making nachos in my kitchen and wondered, Hmm, where did these come from? I hopped online and discovered that Ignacio Anaya [below] had invented them. It was unbelievable to me that I didn’t know my favorite snack was created by a generous, quick-thinking man, whose nickname was Nacho. When I realized this culinary hero had mostly been forgotten, I decided to do what I could to tell the world about his story.


Ignacio Anaya photo courtesy of Luis Anaya, grandson of Ignacio

El Space: As I read it, I craved nachos! What were the challenges of writing Nacho’s Nachos? How long did it take from writing to publication?
Sandra: It’s been six years since that day in the kitchen. When I discovered the stories on the internet didn’t agree about how nachos were invented, I travelled to Piedras Negras. The families of Ignacio Anaya, Mamie Finan—the woman for whom nachos were invented—and Rodolfo de los Santos—the owner of the restaurant where nachos were invented—still live in the area and very generously agreed to speak with me.

An original nacho in Piedras Negras

What I discovered was that even in Piedras Negras, folks have different versions of the story. It made me double down on research and look beyond the internet. I found two archived newspaper articles, where the reporters interviewed Nacho himself. When I read them, I felt that I was as close as I was ever going to get to the truth. With those articles and the details I gathered from photographs and interviews, I at last had my story! Lee and Low chose Oliver Dominguez to illustrate, and the book was released in celebration of 80 years of nachos!

My nachos

El Space: What was the process of working with Oliver? How much input did you have?
Sandra: First of all, let me say that I am delighted beyond words that Oliver is the illustrator for Nacho’s Nachos! He’s immensely talented, conscientious about getting details right, and a fabulous human being.

About your question, the general rule of picture books is that the writer writes, the illustrator illustrates, and each is careful not to step on the creative toes of the other. With a nonfiction like Nacho’s Nachos, there is a bit more collaboration by necessity. The families of Nacho, Mamie and Rodolfo kindly shared photos of the protagonists and the Victory Club. I shared these with Oliver so that the details of the illustrations could be as accurate as possible. In addition, our editor, Louise May, acted as our go-between, passing on questions Oliver and I had for each other.

El Space: I’m curious: how much have nachos evolved since their creation?
Sandra: They have evolved! A lot! The original nachos weren’t the piles of tortilla chips we now see all loaded up with lots of toppings. Nacho’s original creation was pure and simple: a freshly fried tortilla quarter, with melted cheddar cheese, and a single strip of pickled jalapeno pepper.
The incredible thing about Nacho’s invention is that it has inspired others to create their own versions. I’ve seen recipes for reuben nachos, hotdog nachos, caviar nachos, kung pao chicken nachos, and s’mores nachos. And that’s just the beginning. The sky really is the limit when it comes to nachos!

El Space: You’re always so helpful to writers, Sandra. What advice do you have for picture book writers?
Sandra: The best trick I discovered for myself is to divide the story into fourteen spreads once I’ve done my brainstorming and initial draft. This way it’s pretty easy to see the narrative arc of the story. As with novels, the best picture books have a start, rising action, crisis, climax and resolution. With fourteen spreads I can basically graph out what needs to happen where and then revise. The spread divisions also help me keep an eye on the all-important page turn.

El Space: What will you work on next?
Sandra: I have two picture books coming out in 2021—The Stuff Between the Stars: How Vera Rubin Discovered Most of the Universe and Breaking Through the Clouds: The Sometimes Turbulent Life of Meteorologist Joanne Simpson. I am doing all the things that go along with that. Brainstorming marketing ideas for The Stuff Between the Stars. Revising and fact checking for Breaking Through the Clouds.

As for writing, I have a picture book coming out in 2022 about a worrywart of a bear and an adorable fish. Those two have taken up residence in my mind, and they’ve been bugging me to write down another of their stories. They’ve gotten so loud I don’t have a choice anymore!

Thank you so much for this chance to talk with you. I always love spending time with you!

Thanks so much, Sandra, for coming to chat!

Here are some great reviews of Nacho’s Nachos:

★ “Nickel’s thorough research, including communications with the descendants of the principals, brings to life the man behind the world’s favorite cheesy bites. . . . Nickel’s homage to this congenial, hardworking man and his renowned snack is a celebration of ingenuity and kismet.” — KIRKUS REVIEWS, starred review

“This tale of the humble origins of nachos, bolstered by vivid and period-specific illustrations, will whisk young readers away to a different time and place.” —BOOKLIST

“VERDICT A unique biography read-aloud title for younger kids.” — SCHOOL LIBRARY JOURNAL

Looking for Sandra? Check out her website, Twitter, and Instagram.

Looking for Nacho’s Nachos? Look for it at Barnes and Noble, Amazon, Indiebound, or your favorite local bookstore.

Or look in your mailbox, ’cause someone will receive a free copy. Comment below to be entered in the drawing. Winner to be announced on September 7.

Henry with a Yeti-size plate of nachos. He prefers his nachos with a touch of ground beef, a dab of salsa, sour cream, guacamole, and peppers.

Author photo, nacho photos, and book cover courtesy of the author. Author photo credit: Emo-Photo. Ignacio Anaya photo courtesy of Luis Anaya, grandson of Ignacio. Map showing Piedras Negras from somewhere on the internet. Picture book layout by Debbie Ohi. Henry photo by L. Marie.

The Perfect Pillow

I read this picture book the other night (perfect bedtime reading)

and thought, What is the perfect pillow?

I must confess that this is not a question I’ve ever thought long and hard about. Back in the day, my parents shopped for sheets and pillow cases during the January white sales. They probably bought new pillows also. I say probably, because when I was a kid, I never paid too much attention to what my parents thought about pillows or bedding in general. I only knew that the pillow I was used to was the perfect pillow. In fact, I took to college the same pillow I’d slept on for ages!

These days, I’ve never met a $3.99 pillow I didn’t like. Some people might be appalled at the cheapness, especially when pillows sell for ten, twenty, even a hundred times that amount.

Or tens of thousands times that amount.

Out of curiosity, I Googled to discover the most expensive pillow, thinking that pillow had to be the most perfect pillow ever. This article stated that the world’s most expensive pillow (photo below) was developed by a Dutch inventor/physical therapist named Thijs van der Hilst. It is called the Tailormade Gold Edition Pillow. It is made of memory foam based on a 3-D scan and has a 24-carat gold cover, diamonds, and a 22.5-karat sapphire. It is only $57,000.

The Tailormade pillow. I think the appropriate thing to say right now is, “Ta da!”

Ha! A mere pittance! The company that makes this pillow sells one for $3995. I’m sure you’ll want to order several, so click here to get yours now!

Seriously, the perfect pillow is one that helps you gain restful sleep. If you’re a back sleeper, a stomach sleeper, or a side sleeper, the perfect pillow varies, especially if you’re dealing with back or neck pain also. Searching the internet for these categories can net you dozens of duck feather/down, memory foam, and latex pillow recommendations.

But these days, the perfect pillow, at least for me, is one made by a friend: the fabulous Laura Bruno Lilly who made and sent this one:

What kind of pillow is perfect for you?

Pillow found at trendhunters.com. Other photos by L. Marie.

Nostalgia

Happy Martin Luther King Day! He had a dream. What’s yours? As you think about that, I’ll move on.

Lately, characters from past television series have been making the news because of their return to the silver screen. Jean-Luc Picard (Patrick Stewart, below). Lizzie McGuire. The cast of Saved by the Bell and Full House. Not to mention MacGuyver, in a show rebooted awhile ago. I’m just waiting for an announcement about a Columbo reboot, though I can’t imagine the show without the late, great Peter Falk.

Nostalgia has been the catalyst for the return of many film franchises, shows, toys, and candy. This is probably why you can see so many old favorites from the past (toys, candy, TV shows on DVD) at the gift shops of restaurants like Cracker Barrel or specialty shops.

As I read Shari Swanson’s picture book, Honey, the Dog Who Saved Abe Lincoln (Katherine Tegen Books/HarperCollins), which we discuss here, I felt a sense of nostalgia watching young Abe exploring the woods near his home. He had a lot more freedom than most kids his age do nowadays. So did I. When I was eight (a year older than Abe is in the story) and was given my first bike, I would tell Mom, “I’m off,” and would be gone for hours, riding around the neighborhood. Even with T-Rexes still roaming the earth back then (totally dating myself), I had the freedom to go off with just a friend who was my age.

    

Lest you think, What awful parents, this was the norm back then. Starting in kindergarten, my best friend and I walked to school without hovering parents. And I lived in a neighborhood in Chicago!

My parents had taught my brothers and me to always look both ways while crossing the street, as well as teaching us “Stranger Danger” stuff, like never talk to strangers or accept anything from them. Even with all of that freedom, I survived childhood. (Spoiler alert in case you wondered.)

Nowadays parents would probably be arrested for the amount of freedom my parents and Abe’s parents allowed kids. Sadly, we live in a world where many parents have to go the extra mile to keep their children safe. I hardly ever see kids out by themselves, with the exception of my neighbors’ kids. But I know their parents are just a shout away.

So I’m nostalgic for the times when I was free to roam without fear. If I had a dream, in the vein of Martin Luther King, Jr., my dream would be for a world in which children could do the same.

The winner of Honey, the Dog Who Saved Abe Lincoln is Lyn!

Lyn, please comment below to confirm. Thank you to all who commented on the interview post.

What makes you feel nostalgic?

Patrick Stewart photo from The Daily Telegraph. Dream image from clipart-library.com. Martin Luther King, Jr. image from wallpapersin4k.org. Candy from 4imprint.com.

Check This Out: Honey, the Dog Who Saved Abe Lincoln

With me on the blog today is the fabulous Shari Swanson (another great Secret Gardener classmate; for others, click here and here), who is here to talk about her picture book, Honey, the Dog Who Saved Abe Lincoln, which was published by Katherine Tegen Books/HarperCollins and debuts today, people! Woot!

     

Shari is represented by John Rudolph. After Shari and I chat, I’ll fill you in on a giveaway of this very book. Now, let’s talk to Shari!

El Space: Four quick facts about yourself?
Shari: My favorite color is periwinkle. Actually, periwinkle is a favorite word, too. Perhaps I’ll write a book about Mr. Perry Winkle and his Phantasmagoric Adventures Through Color. (Dibs. 😀)


• I love games, all sorts—puzzles, mysteries, board games, sports, hiding pictures, and treasure hunting.
• I have a beloved dog named Honey, not, surprisingly, named after Abraham Lincoln’s dog.
• I love words—etymologies, derivations, roots, cadence, sound, rhyme—everything about words. When I was in high school, I read All About Words by Maxwell Nurnberg and Morris Rosenblum while suntanning on the beach. One of my favorite courses in college was linguistics.

El Space: How did you come to write this picture book about a dog and Abraham Lincoln? How long was the process of writing the book?
Shari: When I was teaching middle school literature early this millennia, we read about Abraham Lincoln’s early years from an excerpt of Russell Freedman’s book on Lincoln. It was fascinating. I hadn’t ever heard about Lincoln’s Kentucky years and wanted to know more. I thought perhaps children would like to read about Lincoln when he was their age. I had the pleasure of meeting the late Russell Freedman at an SCBWI conference in 2006 and told him how much I wanted to write a picture book expanding on those details from his book. With tears in his eyes, he encouraged me and told me what a wonderful picture book that would be. When I was deep in that research, I discovered Honey. Honey had saved Lincoln’s life! What would the world be like if we hadn’t had Abraham Lincoln? Honey was an unknown hero. Honey, I thought, would make a wonderful picture book. And then I set off to write that story. The first draft of my book was written when I was doing the picture book semester at VCFA, back in 2011. I sold it in 2016, and now it is finally in the world!

El Space: How did you get started writing picture books?
Shari: I’m not sure there is an easy answer to this. I’ve always loved picture books. But I didn’t always understand that I could write them. Somewhere along the line, I realized that you don’t have to be a master artist to write a picture book, and that made me think maybe I could try it. I took a course in picture books at UCLA Extension way back in the early 1990s, I think, so it’s been a lifelong dream. I enrolled in the picture book semester when I was at VCFA with Julie Larios, and a workshop just prior to that with Julie and Uma Krishnaswami. That six months was maybe my favorite in my entire education as it was so filled with play and words and sheer delight.

El Space: How much input did you have with the illustrator? What was your reaction to seeing the illustrations?
Shari: Every picture book author/illustrator interaction is probably different. My editor, Maria Barbo at HarperCollins/Katherine Tegen books, was wonderful at taking my thoughts and opinions into account at each stage of the process. First, she asked me if I had an illustrator in mind to suggest. That inquiry sent me on a delightful tour through bookstores and libraries, trying to find artists that had the right feel for Honey. When she suggested Chuck Groenink, she sent me links to his portfolio. [Click here for a post about Chuck and his process on another picture book.] We both loved his work, especially his use of light in dark scenes, a skill that would be important for the cavern scenes in Honey. Seeing Chuck’s first drafts for Honey was a highlight of my life. Right there in my hands was this charming beautifully-realized art bringing my words to life. As we moved forward, I had the ability at every stage to offer my thoughts. One suggestion that I am thrilled Chuck incorporated was adding more detail to the forest scenes. I wanted the readers to feel just how distracting the woods were, with all the sounds and animals, and have the reader be literally distracted by the detail on the page just as young Abe was distracted on his journey.

El Space: What picture books have inspired you as a kid? As an adult?
Shari: As a child, I loved Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak, A Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats, Are You My Mother, by P. D. Eastman, and all things Dr. Seuss. As an adult, I love picture books that are poetic and musical; those that have wildly creative art, perhaps looking at things from unusual perspectives, and those that celebrate characters who are not stereotypic.

     

El Space: Any advice for would-be picture book writers? What do you think a twenty-first century kid needs to see in a picture book?
Shari: My best advice it to read your work out loud. Notice where the pauses and awkward phrasings are so you can fix them. I also think it is hugely important to make a picture book dummy, eight sheets of paper folded in half to make 32 pages, and block out your story. Where are the breaks? Are there interesting page turns? Is there something that is illustratible on each page? Finally, don’t give up. Take the time to create as often as you can. The joy is in the journey. I’m not sure what a modern kid needs to see in a picture book. I hope in Honey, a modern reader can both identify with young Abe—his distractedness, his love for animals, his desire to help—and think about the differences, too, like how Abe walked miles alone through a wild dangerous forest, so that the book is both timeless and grounded in its time.

El Space: What will you work on next?
Shari: I have several more works in progress, but the one getting my immediate attention is a non-fiction picture book, another heartwarming story of an animal/human interaction, this one from WWII.

Thanks, Shari, for being my guest!

Looking for Shari? Look no further than her website, Twitter, or Pinterest.

Looking for Honey, the Dog Who Saved Abe Lincoln? Check out your local bookstore, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or Indiebound.

One of you will receive a copy of Honey, the Dog Who Saved Abe Lincoln in your very own mailbox. Just comment below! Winner to be revealed January 20, 2020.

The first meeting of the picture book club almost ended in a fistfight. While Lazy Buns and the Squeezamal agreed that Honey, the Dog Who Saved Abe Lincoln, is a great book, they disagreed on the refreshments, or the lack thereof. “It was your job to bring tea with honey for us to share!” the Squeezamal grumbled, Lazy Buns having only remembered to bring herself a cup of coffee.

Author photo by Christie Lane Photography. Book covers, with the exception of Shari’s book, are from Goodreads. Periwinkle flower from Wikipedia. Book storyboard from somewhere on the internet. Other photo by L. Marie. Squeezamals are a product of Beverly Hills Teddy Bear Company. Lazy Buns is a Pop Hair Pet, a product of MGA Entertainment.

Hidden Figures

After reading the title of this post, you’re probably thinking of the 2016 movie of the same name. But I’m thinking of this person.

Back in the day, I was really into the Waldo books. If you don’t know what those are, they are picture books in which the reader is tasked with finding Waldo, a character hidden within a crowded scene.

Like this one.

Not as easy as it sounds. How about you? Have you see the Waldo books? Were you ever a fan?

Though I knew this series was the creation of London illustrator Martin Handford (left) back in the 80s, I didn’t realize the character was originally called Wally in the UK until I looked for images for this post. The name had been changed when the books were published in the U.S. The character also has different names in other countries where the books are found.

I wondered why finding this character (and others, like Wenda, Wilma, and Odlaw [below]) was and still is popular. (You can even find Waldo on Facebook.) According to this article at Smithsonian.com, it all comes down to the satisfaction of visual search—staring fixedly at something until you find what you’re looking for. This is why word searches are so popular. Also, the search for Waldo/Wally has helped scientists study eye movement.

 

Here’s another article on the science of finding Waldo: https://exploringyourmind.com/how-does-our-brain-find-waldo/

Writing a memoir or a biography is a kind of search. Instead of looking for Waldo, the author looks for his or her place or his or her subject’s place in the vast arena of history. And yes, that’s the segue to the reveal of what you probably came for: the winner of a copy of Mennonite Daughter—The Story of a Plain Girl by the one and only Marian Beaman. Click here for the interview with Marian.

   

The winner of Mennonite Daughter—The Story of a Plain Girl is Lori of Lori’s Lane!

Thank you to all who commented.

Henry is convinced that he would make an excellent Waldo. In fact, he thinks you’ll have a hard time finding him in this photo.

Waldo postcard from blogspot.com. Book cover from barnesandnoble.com. Martin Handford photo from waldo.fandom.com. Wenda from somewhere on Pinterest. Odlaw from Waldo.wikia. Henry photo by L. Marie.

Joy to the World!

Joy to the world
Joy to the world
Joy to the world, the Lord is come.
Let earth receive her King.
Let every heart prepare Him room.
And Heaven and nature sing
And Heaven and nature sing
And Heaven, and Heaven, and nature sing.
Isaac Watts (1674-1748)

It’s Christmas Eve! I don’t want to take up too much of your time. As promised, I will reveal the winners of the books discussed in this post in which I featured books by Sarah Aronson, Stephen Bramucci, and Melanie Crowder.

First up, Sarah Aronson. She has two books, but the winner will receive one.

   

The winner of a preorder of Just Like Rube Goldberg is . . .

Is . . .

Is . . .

Is . . .

Is . . .

Is . . .

Lyn Miller -Lachmann—Author, Editor, Teacher!

Next is Stephen Bramucci.

   

The winner of The Danger Gang and the Isle of Feral Beasts! is . . .

Is . . .

Is . . .

Is . . .

Is . . .

Is . . .

Marian Beaman—Plain and Fancy!

Last but not least is Melanie Crowder.

   

The winner of The Lighthouse between the Worlds is . . .

Is . . .

Is . . .

Is . . .

Is . . .

Is . . .

Andy—City Jackdaw!

Winners, please comment below to confirm! Let me know if you would like a printed copy or an eBook.

Happy holidays!

Author photos courtesy of the authors. Book covers from Goodreads. Other photos by L. Marie.