3 Children’s Books With Disabled Main Characters: Kidlit Karma August 2018

3 Children's Books with Disabled Main Characters with Guest blogger Charlotte Riggle

Charlotte Riggle HeadshotAt the end of 2017, I made a pledge. I challenged myself to review good books every month in 2018, particularly books that haven’t gotten as much love as I feel they deserve. I call it Kidlit Karma because I’m aiming to spread the love for books that I love.

This summer I’ve welcomed several writing friends to share books that they love. Today I’m happy to welcome Charlotte Riggle, my friend and fellow children’s book writer. Charlotte and I have never met in person, but we’ve traveled in the same small online writing circles for many years.

Charlotte is a voice for disability representation in children’s books. Both her most recent picture book, THE SAINT NICHOLAS DAY SNOW, and her the previous book, CATHERINE’S PASCHA, feature the main character’s disabled best friend. Neither story is about disability, they’re about children being children. They just happen to be different.

Cover art for THE SAINT NICHOLAS DAY SNOW by Charlotte Riggle          Cover art for CATHERINE'S PASCHA

Take it away Charlotte!


Books are magical. When you read a book, you can travel into the future or into the past. You can visit cities and worlds you’ve never been to. You can see animals that you never knew existed. And you can meet people that aren’t like the people in your neighborhood.

And all of this magic has a wonderful influence on the minds and hearts of children. Children who meet all sorts of people – different ages, different races, different abilities – are less likely to accept stereotypes. They are more likely to respond with empathy to all sorts of people. And, wonderfully, magically, meeting those people in books does the same thing.

So it’s important that our children read books about all sorts of people. Including people with disabilities. But there are genuinely not many children’s books with disabled characters. So here are three to get you started: a picture book and two middle grade novels. 

 

Picture Book: A SPLASH OF RED: THE LIFE AND ART OF HORACE PIPPIN by Jen Bryant and Melissa Sweet

Book cover for A SPLASH OF RED: THE ART AND LIFE OF HORACE PIPPIN

If you’re not a student of American art, you probably haven’t heard of Horace Pippin. I hadn’t until I discovered this wonderful book. Pippin is considered a folk artist, or an American primitive artist, like Grandma Moses.

A Splash of Red is a richly detailed biography of Pippin. He was born in 1888 and had what might be considered a privileged life for the grandson of slaves. He attended school through eighth grade. He loved art and drew and painted with whatever materials he could find.

When World War I started, he volunteered to serve. He was injured in combat – his right shoulder was badly damaged. He couldn’t draw anymore. He couldn’t paint. And he couldn’t find anyone willing to hire him.

He married. He helped his wife with her business. And he longed to draw and paint.

Eventually, that passion drove him to do what everyone thought was impossible. He supported his injured right arm with his left hand, and with time and determination, he began painting again.

A Splash of Red is gorgeous, as any book about an artist should be. There’s a wealth of detailed information in the back of the book. The book isn’t intended for very young children. But a child interested in history or art will read this one over and over again.

A SPLASH OF RED: THE LIFE AND ART OF HORACE on Amazon

 

Middle Grade: INSIGNIFICANT EVENTS IN THE LIFE OF A CACTUS by Dusti Bowling

Cover art for INSIGNIFICANT EVENTS IN THE LIFE OF A CACTUS

Aven, the main character of Insignificant Events in the Life of a Cactus, was born without arms. But she hasn’t let that stop her. She has learned to do almost anything any other kid can do, using what she does have: her mouth, her feet, and her wit. Her friends at school have known her since forever, and they’re used to the way she does things. It’s just not a big deal.

But then her dad gets a job running an run-down theme park in Arizona. The family moves across the country. And at age 13, Aven finds herself in a new school, with kids who don’t know her, and who think she’s a bit of a freak.

Aven doesn’t like being stared at. She doesn’t like being treated as if she can’t do things for herself. She just wants to go home to Kansas. But that’s not an option. So she finds a mystery that needs to be solved. Disappearing tarantulas. Missing photographs. A locked room and a locked desk.

Somehow, the mystery seems to have something to do with her.

Along the way, she makes friends with a couple of boys who are also outsiders: Zion, who is seriously overweight, and Connor, who has Tourette’s. Together, they could do what none of them could do alone.

Insignificant Events in the Life of a Cactusis notable for its realistic and unsentimental portrayal of uncommon disabilities. The characters aren’t written as collections of stereotypes. They are well rounded, interesting, utterly charming human beings. And while they grow and develop through their experiences, they do not encounter miraculous cures.

The book is a delight on every level. The publisher recommends it for kids in grades 3 to 7. But if you have an older child who has a significant disability, or who knows someone with a disability, I’m sure this book will resonate with them.

To learn how Dusti Bowling made sure the characters were realistic, read the interview on the Nerdy Book Club.

INSIGNIFICANT EVENTS IN THE LIFE OF A CACTUS on Amazon

 

Middle Grade: HANDBOOK FOR DRAGON SLAYERS by Merrie Haskell

Covert art for HANDBOOK FOR DRAGON SLAYERS

Tilda is the Princess of Alder Brook. But she isn’t particularly interested in being a princess. She would much rather be a nun, working alone in a scriptorium, copying books – or, even better, writing her own books. 

Of course, she’s got a lot of reasons for preferring books to the life of a princess. For one thing, her principality is in dire financial straits. For another, many of her subjects think she’s cursed. She’s got a club foot, after all.

The club foot affects who Tilda is and what she does. It’s not just the people who think she’s cursed. Her own mother won’t let her ride horses or do anything else where she might get hurt.

And there’s the pain. Her foot hurts. A lot. Her maidservant, Judith, knows how to help. But the pain and disability make it hard for her to do some things that are easy for others.

There are days that running away from her life at Alder Brook seems like a good idea.

And when her cousin Ivo kidnaps her mother, and then Tilda, to take Alder Brook away from them, she has to run away to survive. Judith and a would-be squire named Parzifal join her. They decide that, while avoiding Ivo, they should go on a quest to kill dragons.

Because it gives them something to do. And dragons are evil, right?

Well, that’s what Tilda and her companions think at the beginning of their quest. But through their encounters with the Wild Hunt, the Horses of Elysium, an evil magician, and (of course) a dragon, they learn a great deal about dragons – and about themselves.

I don’t just read YA – I read middle grade novels and picture books, too. And Handbook for Dragon Slayers is perhaps my favorite middle grade novel of all time. Tilda’s encounters with the dragon are especially wonderful.

You can read an interview with author Merrie Haskell on Disability in Kidlit, along with a fabulous review by a reader who also has a clubfoot.

HANDBOOK FOR DRAGON SLAYERS on Amazon

 

Thank you, Charlotte!

3 Children's Books with Disabled Main Characters with Guest blogger Charlotte Riggle

200+ Children’s Book Reviews

200+ Children's Book Reviews

I love reviewing connecting people with books almost as much as I love reading them. That’s one reason I review so many books here on my blog. And since I’ve started doing my Kidlit Karma project, I’m doing a lot more reviews.

Just one problem: it’s not that easy to find things here on the old blog.

So if you need, say, a nonfiction book for a tween – sure I’ve got it. …Somewhere… Something had to be done.

Now I’ve created a master page for all my book reviews. Yay!

It’s sorted in two ways:

  1. Ages and stages – this includes age ranges like baby, child, tween, teen, and adult. It also includes stages like early reading.
  2. Topics – Jump here to get a collected list of all STEM, nonfiction, diverse books, and books for writers. Within each topic they’re sorted by age to make things easy.

So, go forth and find a book to read!

 

CHECK IT OUT

Kidlit Karma Reviews: July 2018

 KidlitKarma: July 2018 book reviews

At the end of 2017, I made a pledge. I challenged myself to review good books every month in 2018, particularly books that haven’t gotten as much love as I feel they deserve. I call it Kidlit Karma because I’m aiming to spread the love for books that I love.

This month’s collection of books are all inspired by my eldest daughter, who is a struggling reader. Yes, children of writers can be struggling readers. So can bookworms. Though I was never diagnosed, I strongly suspect I’m mildly dyslexic.

Yes, writers can be dyslexic, too.

If all of this is throwing you for a loop, I recommend the book The Dyslexic Advantage. Not every struggling student is dyslexic, but for the 1 in 5 students who are dyslexic and the adults that love them, this book is revolutionary.

Cover art for THE DYSLEXIC ADVANTAGE

What if I told you there were books that are easy to read and enjoyable enough that even struggling readers will willingly devour them? 

It’s not magic, it’s graphic novels. 

So here’s the part where you start telling me that these aren’t real books, etc. Is a child reading a comic getting practice at decoding words? Are they having fun and learning to like reading so they will want to read more in the future? Yes and yes. And that will make them a better and more willing reader later.

I’m not the only one that thinks graphic novels are a boon to struggling and reluctant readers. 

Here’s why: Graphic novels tend to have more complex plots (befitting an older child) while having simpler language and smaller wordcounts appropriate to a struggling reader.

It’s about buy-in. My eldest listens to audiobook novels for kids twice her age. So she detests having to read easy readers. Something with a real plot that’s within her ability is very welcome.

Graphic novels have been the gateway for many readers. When you see a child who has struggled for years, picks up a book an inch thick and read it in 5 hours straight – there’s nothing to match their excitement at reading a “BIG” book or your pride at seeing the many hours of hard work come to fruition. And because of that success and excitement, she has read voraciously every since.

Maybe it is magic after all.

So with that in mind, here are some of our favorite graphic novels to get you started.

 

Graphic Novel: GHOSTS by Raina Telgemeier

Cover art for GHOSTS by Raina Telgemeier

Cat is not happy about having to move to a new town, but her little sister Maya is sick and they have to make the move to keep her healthy. Once they move, they discover that the town is haunted. But are the ghosts evil or friendly?

This story weaves together the kind of complex social struggles of a middle grade novel with the Mexican custom of the Day of the Dead. I present this book as a refute to the claim that graphic novels don’t involve brilliant bring-you-to-tears storytelling.

Raina Telgemeier has many more award-winning graphic novels, so make sure to check them all out.

Get GHOSTS on Amazon

 

Graphic Novel: ZITA THE SPACEGIRL series by Ben Hatke

Cover art for ZITA THE SPACEGIRL by Ben Hatke

Zita is a normal girl until her best friend is kidnapped by an intergalactic group. Now she’s on a rescue mission on a doomed planet with some unlikely companions.

My daughter got the first Zita book as a gift from her best friend. Since then, the whole family has read and reread all the books. These beloved books have earned a permanent place in our library.

Get ZITA THE SPACEGIRL on Amazon

 

Graphic Novel: PHOEBE AND HER UNICORN by Dana Simpson

Cover art for PHOEBE AND HER UNICORN by Dana Simpson

Phoebe is out skipping rocks one day and smacks a unicorn, breaking her from the spell of her own reflection. As thanks for freeing her, the unicorn grants her one wish. Phoebe’s wish: to be best friends with a unicorn. But she gets a bit more than she bargained for.

My husband was the one to discover this series. It was originally posted as a webcomic and we both fell in love with the humor and wit. We introduced it to our daughter, and that was that.

Get PHOEBE AND HER UNICORN on Amazon

 

Graphic Memoir: REAL FRIENDS by Shannon Hale

Cover art for REAL FRIENDS by Shannon Hale and LeUyen Pham

Making friends is not easy. It certainly wasn’t for shy little Shannon. And even when she had The Group to play with, she wasn’t sure they were friends worth having. Finding real friends is hard, but ultimately worth it.

This award-winning book is full of humor and heart. And though it’s set in the 70’s, the story is timeless

Get REAL FRIENDS on Amazon

 

Graphic Memoir: EL DEAFO by Cece Bell

Cover art for EL DEAFO by Cece Bell

A miraculous new invention gives young Cece the ability to hear for the first time. But school is hard enough without a bulky hearing aid. She enlists the help of her superhero persona El Deafo to take on the school and make friends.

Get EL DEAFO on Amazon

 

Graphic Novel: CATSTRONAUTS: MISSION TO THE MOON by Drew Brockington

Cover art for CATSTRONAUTS: MISSION TO THE MOON by Drew Brockington

The world has run out of electricity and it will be a permanent lights-out unless the brave Catstronauts can fix the problem.

What’s cuter than cats? How about cats in space! These books are a delight with a fun narrative, purrfect puns, and gorgeous illustrations. My kids giggled all the way through and eagerly asked for more.

Get CATSTRONAUTS on Amazon

 

6 Great Graphic Novels for Struggling Readers

5 Surprising Things About Publishing A Children’s Book

5 Surprising things about publishing a children's book

In two months, my second book for children, I PRAY TODAY, will be published by Ancient Faith Press. When I did this the first time with GOODNIGHT JESUS, there were things that surprised me about the process.

How many of these did you know?

 

1. BOOK PUBLISHING TAKES A LONG TIME

FLORIS BOOKS - Inforgraphic flowchart of the publishing process

 

I wrote the first draft of GOODNIGHT JESUS when my oldest daughter was a year old. By the time it was published, she was six. That’s not uncommon.

I wasn’t totally unprepared for this. Before I started writing for children, I was an PhD student. Academic publishing is notoriously slow. When I submitted research papers for review, I had to wait 6 to 9 months for a response.

Then I was a freelance writer working with textbook publishers. Even though I wasn’t writing the textbook, I got an idea of how involved the process is. I dealt with editors, copyeditors, the person who checks copyrights, the contractors drawing the diagrams, the fact checkers, the authors, … The lists goes on.

Floris books put together an infographic flowchart above to show just how involved the publishing process is. And this isn’t even for an illustrated children’s book. My editor Jane Meyer who also authors her own children’s books shared a blog post showing the process for a children’s book. Because the artwork is so important to illustrated children’s books, the process is more involved and more expensive than for an adult book.

In the children’s book market, two years from acceptance to published book is a good turn around. GOODNIGHT JESUS was around 2.5 years from acceptance to publication. I PRAY TODAY will be 1.5 years. Understand that it takes time for everyone to do their jobs at every step of the process. No, that doesn’t make it any easier to be patient.

Also, if you ask me how the book is going, don’t be surprised if I have no idea.

 

2. YOU DON’T GET TO PICK THE ILLUSTRATOR – AND THAT’S OK

Goodnight Jesus interior pages

One thing that consistently surprises people is that children’s book author’s don’t pick their illustrator. Not every publishing house or every editor does things the same, but this is consistent. Someone at the publishing house – an editor or art director usually – picks the illustrator.

The author also doesn’t get a lot of say over what the images will look like. So if the editor thinks your story is best told with space aliens instead of the bunnies you envisioned, then you get aliens. Maybe you had pictured your story taking place in a big house in the country, but the illustrator draws it as a big city apartment.

Editors also get cranky if you include too many art notes (notes specify what the illustration should look like on a page). So unless you need a specific image for the text to make sense, leave out the art notes. In GOODNIGHT JESUS there was just one art note. The line “A kiss for George – reach higher!” doesn’t make much sense without the art note: “Child is too short to reach the icon.” That’s it. The only art note in the whole thing. Yes really.

Most writers cringe at the thought of losing control of their story like this. And most readers are flabbergasted as to how you get a coherent story that way. But believe me when I say that 999 times out of 1000, it works out.

Here’s the thing: editors, art directors, and illustrators are really good at their jobs. They can envision artwork that will not just compliment your story but actually make it better. When I envisioned GOODNIGHT JESUS, I imagined a child interacting with static icons. One of the other brilliant people came up with the idea to put the baby right there in Jesus’s arms. It makes these people alive and engaging. It’s also a powerful statement of faith and child-like perception. And it’s something I never would have thought of.

As hard as it is for authors to give up the control, it frees the illustrator and art director to come up with their own vision. Would they have thought of this if I had laid out my vision in explicit detail? Probably not.

So I’ve learned to sit back and watch in awe as these people work their magic. And I feel super appreciative that they are making my work look so good.

 

3. HOW MUCH WORK I HAD AFTER THE MANUSCRIPT WAS ACCEPTED

My manuscript was accepted! Time to sip wine and wait for the checks to roll in, right?

No.

Not at all.

No matter how perfectly polished you think your story is, something will need to change. 

Look back at the inforgraphic in #1. See how many times it says that the author is doing something. Yeah.

For awhile your manuscript will disappear into the publishing black hole as it works it’s way through the invisible stages of publishing. But soon enough, they’ll be putting you to work. First comes the editor’s take: a marked-up version of your manuscript with notes about unclear passages, weak words, and bumpy meter, for instance. Even in my super sort manuscripts, there were changes to be made. Once I finished the edits, it went back into the black hole for a bit longer.

Because GOODNIGHT JESUS and I PRAY TODAY are both board books, they’re very short and had few edits to make. (I still find it weird to submit a “book” that’s shorter than some of my grocery lists. But I digress.)

Eventually, it lands on the desk of the copyeditor who inevitably finds a whole pile of missed commas, punctuation errors, and other silly mistakes. They send me a corrected version and ask me to look over it. I cringe at my mistakes and thank all of creation that someone caught them before I got to look like a fool in print. And I work as an editor – it happens to the best of us.

And then the early illustrations are done and they ask for feedback. And then the proofs need to be looked over (digital copies of the pages as they will appear in print). And then… you get the idea.

The exact amount of back and forth depends on the publishing house, but there are always edits to be made and things to do. Instead of feeling defensive when other’s find errors, I think about how awesome it is to have so many people working so hard to make my work the best it can be.

 

4. HOW HARD IT IS TO NOT SHARE THE EARLY ARTWORK

 

This may just be me, but every sneak peek at the artwork makes me super excited. I just want to shout out to the rooftops “I WROTE A THING AND SOMEONE MADE REALLY PRETTY PICTURES FOR IT!” And then I would hold them hostage while I make them look at all the pretty pictures. It’s a little like having a new baby – you have to show everyone just how darn cute it is.

But there’s also this thing called copyright. And marketing plans. And other adult things I’m forgetting that also mean it’s a bad idea for me to post everything on the internet.

So instead I post when I can and save my intense enthusiasm and forced photo appreciation for my immediate family. You’re welcome.

 

5. HOW MUCH WORK THERE IS AFTER THE BOOK IS PUBLISHED

Ok, so my two-ish years are nearly up! The illustrator and all the people at the publishing house have done their magic to make my book as wonderful as possible. It’s being printed out and will soon be a real book!

So now can I sip wine and wait for the checks to roll in?

Uhm, no.

Once upon a few decades ago, a publisher could put out a book and people would just buy it. There are a lot more books being published these days (yay!) which means that there is a lot more competition (boo!). So unless you’re already a household name, expect to spend some time on marketing your new book – a website so your readers can find you, social media so you can keep in touch, connecting with readers through school visits and speaking engagements, … None of these things are strictly required, but they do help potential readers connect with your work. I happen to enjoy such work, so expect to see website changes and social media posts about I PRAY TODAY in the near future.

But hey, soon I can go full fan-girl over this fabulous thing I made. (Or is that just me?)

With two months left before I PRAY TODAY is fully birthed into the world, I’m still having to keep my enthusiasm to myself. But expect to hear a lot more soon.

Kidlit Karma Reviews: June 2018

June 2018 Kidlit Karma book reviews with Katherine Rothstein

At Katherine Rothstein Photothe end of 2017, I made a pledge. I challenged myself to review good books every month in 2018, particularly books that haven’t gotten as much love as I feel they deserve. I call it Kidlit Karma because I’m aiming to spread the love for books that I love.

If you follow me on Instagram, you’ll know that I moved into a new house earlier this month. Lucky for me my critique partner and fellow kidlit writer, Katherine Rothstein, has agreed to share her summer kidlit reading list for this month’s review. You can follow her on Twitter at @krothsteinslp2.

Take it away Katherine!

 

 


It’s officially summer!  Whether you hit the beach, lounge in your hammock, or float around the pool it’s the perfect time to read a good book. I am a speech pathologist, kidlit lover, and mommy of two. My daughter is one eager reader and enjoys reading everything from the back of a shampoo bottle to novels. My son has particularly high standards, and he prefers a read with humor and loads of action.  One thing they have in common…they both LOVE funny. Determined to keep them reading all summer, I’ve strategically created a book exchange with their friends, designed enticing book displays throughout the house, and even tucked a book or two under their pillows.  Here are a few of our favorites:

 

PICTURE BOOKS

I am a huge advocate of rhyming books for all ages but especially for children under six years old and emerging readers.  Rhyme is an essential phonological awareness skill that is necessary when learning to read.  Our brain best learns new words and information by classifying into categories. If a child can read Cat, they should also quickly learn Hat, Bat, Fat, Mat, Rat, and Sat.  Plus, rhyming books are fun to read aloud!

 

MONSTERS NEW UNDIES by Samantha Berger and Tad Carpenter

MOSNTER'S NEW UNDIES book cover

MONSTER’S NEW UNDIES is adorable!  Your tush will fall in love with this sweet little monster on a search for new undies.

Get MONSTERS NEW UNDIES on Amazon

 

FROG ON A LOG by Kes Gray and Jim Field

FROG ON A LOG book cover

Every animal has a place to sit and conveniently, each animal’s seat rhymes with that animal’s name. But Frog does not want to sit on a log. “It’s not about being comfortable,” explains the cat. “It’s about doing the right thing.”

Get FROG ON A LOG on Amazon

 

ONE BIG PAIR OF UNDERWEAR by Laura Gehl and Tom Lichtenheld

ONE BIG PAIR OF UNDERWEAR book cover

ONE BIG PAIR OF UNDERWEAR will show you that it is fun to count and share, and it all starts with one big pair of underwear.

Get ONE BIG PAIR OF UNDERWEAR on Amazon

 

EARLY READERS

Here are two that are laugh out loud funny. They teach a basic concept of opposites. They also offer fun and colorful illustrations to capture the attention of non-reading listeners.

 

STEVE AND WESLEY: THE ICE CREAM SHOP by Jennifer E. Morris

STEVE AND WESLEY: THE ICE CREAM SHOP book cover

Get STEVE AND WESLEY: THE ICE CREAM SHOP on Amazon

 

THE LONG DOG by Eric Seltzer

THE LONG DOG Book cover art

Get THE LONG DOG on Amazon

 

GRAPHIC NOVELS

These are a hit with my reluctant reader.  They have more text than early readers, deeper plots and fun illustrations to support the story.  Best of all, they are hilarious!

 

THE BAD GUYS series by Aaron Blabey

THE BAD GUYS #1 book cover art

A wolf, a piranha, a snake and a shark make up this Bad Guy team.  They plan and execute missions to support their new image of being good. Full of humor to make any kid chuckle.

Get BAD GUYS on Amazon

 

NARWHAL AND JELLY series by Ben Clanton

Book cover for NARWHAL AND JELLY: THE UNICORN OF THE SEA

Narwhal and Jelly are awesome friends with big imaginations.  This book has real fun fish facts and a waffle who battles a robot.  Yep, all that excitement packed into 65 pages!

Get NARWHAL AND JELLY: THE UNICORN OF THE SEA on Amazon

 

MIDDLE GRADE

Okay, so these two favorites do not check the funny column, but they are sure to make you smile.  And, who can resist a heart-warming story of friendship between a dog and their person?

 

CHESTER AND GUS by Cammie McGovern

Book Cover Art for CHESTER AND GUS

Chester wants to be a service dog but fails his certification.  A family adopts him in hopes that he will be a companion to their 10-year-old son with autism. Chester is lovable, smart and determined to find a way to connect with Gus and find his fit in this family.

Get CHESTER AND GUS on Amazon

 

BECAUSE OF WINN DIXIE by Kate DiCamillo

Book Cover Art for BECAUSE OF WINN DIXIE

There is a reason this book has received so much attention.  The author has a way of making the characters come to life. A brilliant story about forgiveness and friendship.

Get BECAUSE OF WINN DIXIE on Amazon

 

Have a fun summer and happy reading!

 

 

 

 

Kidlit Karma Reviews: May 2018

Kidlit Karma May 2018 with Guest Melinda Johnson

At the end of 2017, I made a pledge. I challenged myself to review good books every month in 2018, particularly books that haven’t gotten as much love as I feel they deserve. I call it Kidlit Karma because I’m aiming to spread the love for books that I love.

Melinda Johnson Author

If you follow me on Instagram, you’ll know that I’m deep into packing to move to a new house in a couple of weeks. Lucky for me, my friend and fellow author, Melinda Johnson, has agreed to post this month’s reviews.

 

Melinda’s most recent book, SHEPHERDING SAM, is a middle grade novel about a boy named Sam and a corgi pup named Saucer. Sam and Saucer will be returning later this year in a sequel novel.

 

SHEPHERDING SAM cover art by Melinda Johnson

You can learn more about Melinda’s books and see pictures of her real-life corgi puppy on her website.

 

Take it away, Melinda!

 

 


Minnie and Moo: I Can Read Books by Dennys Cazet

Have you read the Minnie and Moo books by Dennys Cazet? They’re not new, but you can find them easily in your public library or online. The snort-out-loud funny adventures of these two very human cows should be part of everyone’s better childhood memories.

Best enjoyed on a battered sofa with someone nearby who likes to hear the funny bits read aloud, these stories show Cazet to be master of the art of using simple language well. The books are humorous on two levels, making them as much fun for an adult reading them to small children as they are to the early readers who venture into their pages independently.

Minnie and Moo are proud members of the I Can Read Books collection, in which they bear a level 3 “Reading Alone” rating. The type is large, there is space between lines of text, and there are usually 4 – 8 lines of text per page. Around the words are wonderfully silly illustrations of Minnie and Moo, providing color and extra humor, and supporting comprehension of the story.

One of my favorite things about the humor in these books is how well it plays to the readers’ developmental age. Minnie and Moo are much smarter than the average cow, but not so smart as the child reading about them. They get into crazy situations because they are fearless and imaginative, but they misunderstand or ignore commonsense things that young readers will pick up easily. In the many happy hours I’ve spent reading and hearing about these books, I’ve seen over and over again that a child will laugh hard when she “gets it” and the cows don’t. For example, in one of our favorites, Minnie and Moo and the Musk of Zorro, the two cows find what they believe to be Zorro’s secret weapon buried in a trunk in their barn.  They begin by getting a word wrong (“Mama, it’s not the musk of Zorro, it’s supposed to be the mask!”), and it goes downhill from there.

“LOOK!”

Minnie took a spray can out of the trunk.

“Oh, Minnie,” said Moo.

“Could it be?” Minnie asked.

Moo looked at the can.

“What does it say?” asked Minnie.

“Hmm,” muttered Moo, “something about armpits.”

Minnie pushed the spray button.

The can hissed and filled the air with a sweet smell.

“The musk of Zorro!” Minnie gasped.

Belly laughs ensue, but there is also an empowering satisfaction in knowing why it’s funny. Children in the early reader stage are still figuring out how humor is made. As every parent knows, the first years of joke-making are often as confusing to the joker as they are to the audience. Children are used to laughing, but also to being uncertain why other people are laughing with or at them. It is easy to understand what Minnie and Moo get wrong, so the child can laugh hard and confidently. And from an adult perspective, Dennys Cazet’s ability to pull off that humor in ways that are constantly fresh and imaginative but never exceed the necessary reading level is impressive. I also appreciated his ability to be funny at a child’s level without descending into potty humor or inviting readers to laugh unkindly at the character’s expense.

There are 16 Minnie and Moo books, by my best count, and I have not yet read all of them. To give you a taste of their delightfulness, here are three that are favorites in our house.

 

Minnie and Moo and the Musk of Zorro

Cover for MINNIE AND MOO AND THE MUSK OF ZORRO

Plot: Inspired by the legendary hero, the best bovine friends reinvent themselves as Juanita del Zorro del Moo and Dolores del Zorro del Minnie. Armed with a lipstick sword and a can of something they’ve never seen before, they defend the barnyard with more enthusiasm than success.

Favorite quote: “Moo, listen to me—” “Listen to the world,” said Moo. “It cries out for heroes!” Moo turned and ran toward the barn. “Follow me, Dolores,” she called. Minnie sighed. She threw up her arms. “Juanita!” she shouted. “Wait for me!”

Get MINNIE AND MOO AND THE MUSK OF ZORRO on Amazon

 

Minnie and Moo and the Potato from Planet X

Cover for MINNIE AND MOO AND THE POTATO FROM PLANET X

Plot: Spud, an alien who looks like his name suggests he would, crashes his space ship in the field next to Minnie and Moo. Minnie and Moo help him repair and refuel, and the farmer’s tractor will never be the same again.

Favorite quote: “My name is Spud. I am from the planet X. I make deliveries for Universal Package Service. As your double eyeballs can see, my UPS space truck has crashed. I must have another ship and five gallons of space fuel. You must help me. We must go fast.”

Get MINNIE AND MOO AND THE POTATO FROM PLANET X on Amazon

 

Minnie and Moo Wanted Dead or Alive

Cover for MINNIE AND MOO WANTED DEAD OR ALIVE

Plot: Minnie and Moo think their farmer has money trouble. They set out to help him, but they don’t know much about money, and they know even less about banks. It doesn’t help that they look exactly like a pair of notorious bank robbers.

Favorite quote: “Look at those posters,” said Minnie. “Those people are WANTED.” “Of course,” said Moo. “They are favorite bank shoppers. Remember when the market named Mrs. Wilkerson Shopper of the Year? They put her picture up.” “But Moo,” said Minnie. “Look at that poster. The Bazooka Sisters don’t look like Shoppers of the Year…”

Get MINNIE AND MOO WANTED DEAD OR ALIVE on Amazon

Kidlit Karma Reviews: April 2018

April 2018: Kidlit Karma book reviews

At the end of 2017, I made a pledge. I challenged myself to review good books every month in 2018, particularly books that haven’t gotten as much love as I feel they deserve. I call it Kidlit Karma because I’m aiming to spread the love for books that I love.

April is poetry month, so today’s post features all picture books with outstanding use of poetic devices. I have divided them into rhyming and free verse poetry.

 

RHYMING PICTURE BOOKS

People often assume that picture books MUST be written in rhyme – not true!

People also often assume that writing rhyming picture books is easy – definitely not true!

I’ve published one board book in rhyme and have another one coming later this year. So I can tell you from experience that nailing down perfect rhyme and meter is no easy feat.

So when I see someone who has done an excellent job, I take notice.

Picture Book: SOME PETS by Angela Diterlizzi and Brendan Wenzel

Cover art for SOME PETS

This book is written in a snappy beat and short lines that will keep even young kids engaged. The language is rich despite only having three words per line. (And two of them repeat in almost every line!) The illustrations are funny and help to carry the story. Overall, this is a fun and bouncy rhyming picture book that will suit a wide range of ages.

SOME PETS on Amazon

 

Picture Book: TWINDERELLA: A FRACTIONED FAIRY TALE by Corey Rosen Schwartz and Deborah Marcero

Cover art for TWINDERELLA: A FRACTIONED FAIRY TALE

Cinderella has a twin sister. Who knew? This clever take on the fractured fairy tale combines perfect rhyme and meter with a STEM focus on fractions. Poetry, humor, and STEM – bestill my nerdy, kidlit-loving heart. The most impressive part is that none of these parts were sacrificed for the sake of the others: the poetry is perfect, the story is lovely, and the math is accurate and amusing.

TWINDERELLA on Amazon

 

FREE VERSE PICTURE BOOKS

My last two poetic picture books are a little different. Just as people mistakenly assume that picture books must rhyme, they also assume that poetry must rhyme. If you don’t already love free verse poetry, I recommend reading these out loud. You’ll be a changed person.

Picture Book: SIT-IN: HOW FOUR FRIENDS STOOD UP BY SITTING DOWN by Andrea Davis Pinkney and Brian Pinkney

Cover art for SIT-IN

I can’t help but gush about this book. First, the language is sumptuous and superb. So much so, that I would argue with the book description. This isn’t prose; it’s free verse poetry. But it’s also a true story well, told well. And it’s has a message that is important in any age. The two parts (poetry and true story) complement each other: the poetry brings in a sense of vibrancy and emotion that lets readers connect to the people in the story, their plight, and the power of their actions.

 

Picture Book: CROWN: AN ODE TO THE FRESH CUT by Derrick Barnes and Gordon C. James

Cover art for CROWN: AN ODE TO THE FRESH CUT

Normally, I save my reviews for books that haven’t gotten much reviewing love. This book has gotten plenty of love, including enough awards that they have to arrange them carefully on the cover. But this is one of those books that’s deserves every drop it has gotten and then some.

You could also argue that this book is truly poetic prose instead of free verse poetry. This is one of those cases where the lyrical language is so strong, you’re not quite sure what you’re reading, but you love it in any case.

So go get this book. See why it won all the award and decide for yourself if it’s prose or poetry.

CROWN: AN ODE TO THE FRESH CUT on Amazon

Kidlit Karma Reviews: March 2018

Kidlit Karma March 2018 graphic

 

At the end of 2017, I made a pledge. I challenged myself to review good books every month in 2018, particularly books that haven’t gotten as much love as I feel they deserve. I call it Kidlit Karma because I’m aiming to spread the love for books that I love.

March is Women’s history month and many of us are banding behind the banner of #kidlitwomen to support fellow women writers. So today’s post features all picture books written by women about pioneering women and girls.

 

Picture Book: KATE WARNE, PINKERTON DETECTIVE by Marissa Moss and April Chu

Cover art for KATE WARNE, PINKERTON DETECTIVE

I love both mystery and history when they’re well told and this is both! Kate Warne was the first female detective in the United States. But in the 1800’s, not many people believed that a woman could be a detective. Kate didn’t just want to be a detective, she wanted to be a detective for the foremost detective agency: the Pinkerton detective agency. This picture book tells how she foiled a major robbery plot and convinced the critics that she was a worthy detective.

I had already fallen in love with Kate Warne after reading the fictionalized account in THE DETECTIVE’S ASSISTANT. KATE WARNE, PINKERTON DETECTIVE is a biography and I really enjoyed learning more about Kate Warne and her real exploits.

KATE WARNE, PINKERTON DETECTIVE on Amazon

 

ONE PLASTIC BAG: ISATOU CEESAY AND THE RECYCLING WOMEN OF THE GAMBIA by Miranda Paul and Elizabeth Zunon

Cover art for ONE PLASTIC BAG

This is the inspiring story of Isatou Ceesay who saw a problem in her community and turned it into an opportunity. Mounds of trash, especially discarded plastic bags, were everywhere. They were an eyesore and a health hazard. When the families pet goat ate a bag and died, she knew she had to do something. She transformed the discarded bags into a way to make money, not just for herself but for other women.

ONE PLASTIC BAG on Amazon

 

Picture Book: THE YOUNGEST MARCHER: THE STORY OF AUDREY FAYE HENDRICKS, A YOUNG CIVIL RIGHT ACTIVIST by Cynthia Levinson and Vanessa Brantley-Newton

Cover Art for THE YOUNGEST MARCHER

I had heard of the children’s march before reading this book but not Audrey Faye Hendricks. Reading this with my kids, I felt like they finally connected with the civil rights movement. We’ve read a lot of excellent books about the civil rights, but it feels distant. It was a long time ago for them and mostly involved adults. But seeing kids taking action and participating – now they get it. By the end of the book, I was sniffling, too. I hope this book encourages them to stand up for things they believe in, even if they feel small.

THE YOUNGEST MARCHER on Amazon

 

If you’re looking for a young adult book written by a woman about women, check out my January review of RADIOACTIVE! HOW IRENE CURIE AND LISE MEITNER REVOLUTIONIZED SCIENCE AND CHANGED THE WORLD by Winifred Conkling.

A Manual for Moving Forward: What Science Says about #kidlitwomen and #metoo

A Manual for Moving forward: what science says about #kidlitwomen and #metoo

The #metoo movement has swept the world. Last month, that tidal wave crashed into the kidlit community. It started with an article by author Anne Ursu on sexual harassment within the children’s book industry. She conducted an anonymous survey and shared her eye-opening results. Then things really took off with a post by the School Library Journal. I don’t often say this, but the comments are enlightening.

 

MOVING FORWARD

The kidlit community is still struggling with how to handle this situation. The Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) revamped their sexual harassment policy. Abusers have been formally barred from the organizations and conferences. Agents and publishing houses have been slower to drop abusers who they represent and have published, but it is happening. One publisher has even made the decision to delay publication of a book so it could be re-illustrated after the first illustrator was outed as a serial abuser. And women are banding together under the #kidlitwomen movement to take back our industry.

It’s a start. But if we’re going to reshape the kidlit community, we need more people acting to make that happen.

I’ve considered how I can contribute to #kidlitwomen and support my fellow female writers. My other great passion (besides writing) is science. In a former life, I was a PhD-track academic studying language and the human brain. So looking for answers naturally led to science and what it can tell us about this moment and this movement.

 

COGNITIVE DISSONANCE: Now what?

The recent revelations of sexual harassment in kidlit were jarring. (I wish I could say that’s it’s equally jarring to see how men have consistently been supported to the detriment of women, but many of us saw that one coming.)

It’s jarring partly because the view from the outside is a very loving and supportive community. And from the inside, that is the predominant experience. It’s one of the best communities I’ve ever been privileged to participate in.

But predominant experiences aren’t the only experience within our community. Some have experienced harassment, assault, and manipulation. Professional organizations have allowed this to continue for years.

Realizing that the mostly warm fuzzy community you love was also hiding predators is unsettling. Cognitive dissonance is the scientific term for this feeling. It’s the jarring sensation you get when you have two contradictory ideas. It’s like realizing your sweet uncle Bob, that always brought you the just-right book to shepherd you through the turbulent teen years, was also a hit man for the mob. It’s upsetting. It makes you question EVERYTHING.

You have two options:

  1. Deny or downplay the new information that caused the cognitive dissonance. (“Uncle Bob would never do that!” or “But he’s a really nice guy.” or “He’s just been having a really hard time in his marriage.”)
  2. Accept the new information and change your worldview. Taking apart your broken set of beliefs and putting them back together is a truer, better way. It’s uncomfortable, but in the end, it’s better. And it’s the only way to move forward.

Cognitive dissonance doesn’t have to be a bad thing. Reassessing is a necessary part of life. You might still care about uncle Bob, but given what you now know it would be plain stupid not to change how you interact with him.

So in this moment, when our view of the kidlit community has been flipped inside out, take a breath. Don’t resist the discomfort with a “no they didn’t” or “nothing is wrong” or “it’s not a big deal.” Resist the urge to defned or rationalize away what you now know.

Pause. Listen. Process.

Then let your worldview shift. Accepting and acting on this newly discovered reality is how we move on.

 

BYSTANDER EFFECT: How do I stop sexual harassment?

Ready to take action? Great! You’re determined to be a part of the solution and put a stop to sexual harassment. How do you do that? Let’s start somewhere a little easier.

Imagine you’re in a crowded grocery store – everyone is rushing to get food for the next big holiday. And in the middle of a crowded aisle, an older woman trips and falls. She’s sitting there, leaning against cans of corn beef.

You’re just as harried as everyone else – you’ve got food to buy, preparations to make, kids whining. Do you stop and ask if she’s ok? If she’s fine, you lose time, look a bit foolish, and maybe embarrass her. Lots of other people are there and none of them seem to be rushing to the woman’s aid.

Research says you’ll most likely keep going. It’s called the bystander effect – the more bystanders that see the little woman in the canned-meat aisle, the less each one feels responsible for her.

If you saw that same older woman trip on a remote mountaintop it would be obvious that you should act – no one else is around, and she has no other way to get help. But when you’re surrounded by other people, you don’t feel quite as responsible.

It’s often unclear if help is needed. The woman may just need a minute to regain her composure. Or she could have had a stroke. She might not be able to call out for help because of her physical condition in the moment. But if everyone is looking and waiting for someone else to act, then no one ever gets around to it.

There’s a really simple cure for the bystander effect.

  1. Know that it exists and realize that people are unlikely to act.
  2. Act on that realization.

It’s the same concept that underlies the phrase “if you see something, say something.”

Smile and say hi to the women. Maybe make a joke or tell an anecdote to put her at ease and relieve her embarrassment. “Sometimes I think they put ice on these floors.”

Then offer her a hand up. She may turn it down. She may gratefully smile back, take the hand up then finish her shopping. Or she may be unable to get up or unable to respond. No more ambiguity, call an ambulance. If you need help, single out a specific person in the crowd. Make it obvious that that person, yes, you in the red shirt are now responsible for calling the ambulance. Now you’ve broken through another person’s bystander effect, too.

Now imagine that instead of a feeble woman at the grocery, you’re in a crowded post-conference get-together. Lots of those lovely kidlit folk are chatting about their favorite topic – books! – while sipping wine. You notice a man putting an arm around a woman. She looks a bit uncomfortable but doesn’t pull away. Everyone else keeps chatting, unconcerned. She hasn’t pulled away or asked for help; does that mean she’s fine? Or is it like the lady in the grocery store where everyone is assuming someone else will act. Is she trapped by the social situation in the same way the grocery lady might be trapped by her physical situation? Anyone who has given in to middle school peer pressure knows that you can be manipulated by a situation or a powerful person, be they the popular girl, a schoolyard bully, or a sexual predator hiding among the kidlit sheep. Anne Ursu’s survey results were full of examples of situations where women did not feel they could speak out on their own behalf.

What to do? Like the lady in the grocery, if you see something, do something. Approach with compassion. Try to ease awkwardness and embarrassment. And if you sense a dangerous situation, get help.

If it were me, I would walk up and say “Excuse me, do you know where the ladies room is? Could you show me?” I’ve now engaged, I can better judge the situation. And I’ve given her a valid excuse to leave the situation on good social terms. She can choose to take the hand I extend or not. But if I sensed she was in real danger – like a man separating her from me, trying to pull her away, or preventing her from grabbing that metaphorical hand, I would be more direct. “You look uncomfortable. Do you need help? Would you like me to call someone?”

Would I be embarrassed? VERY. I would probably be beet red and feel like an intruder, but it’s important. If I misread the situation, they can laugh at me later. But if I didn’t….. I don’t want to be complicit through my lack of action.

So you reading this, yes you with the good intentions feeling uncertain how to proceed, step out of the crowd and act. Act when you see someone in need. Act even if you’re not sure help is needed. Act even though you feel embarrassed. Just ACT.

 

TEND AND BEFRIEND: How do I prevent sexual harassment?

Long ago, researchers found that people have one of two reactions to threat: fight or flight. So when you stumble into a bear in your backyard, you can either fight it or run away.

That research was based on men. New research found a wider variety of responses. They found that women, in particular, are more likely to protect their children and band together for group protection. Since scientists like rhyme as much as writers, they coined the phrase “tend and befriend.”

Tend and befriend is a powerful way of dealing with threats. You can see it in action in many cultures and times. When deforestation threatened the lives of people in Africa, it was women who banded together to replant the trees. In Liberia, women organized after 14 brutal years of civil war and won peace. In the US, women have banded together again and again to create change for women and minorities.

A single person may seem to have little power, but when those small actions are put together for a common purpose, they can effect enormous change.

So how can tend and befriend work for creating change in the kidlit community?

  • TEND: First, we need to protect the most vulnerable. That means protecting those that have already suffered sexual harassment. It also means creating protections for those who are more vulnerable such as women who may be harassed by a more powerful abuser. Or women of color who are doubly vulnerable. Acting in the moment is powerful and necessary. Tend to the woman at cocktail hour with the unwelcome arm around her shoulders.
  • BEFRIEND: If we want to effect large change and create a community where sexual harassment is not tolerated, we need to join together as a band of brave women and their allies. We are stronger together, so let’s use that power.

As a band of women and allies, we can push the gatekeepers of our industry to guard the gates and keep the harassers out. Agents, editors, conference organizers – we as a group should demand that all these people have clear policies and practices that protect us all. SCBWI has begun that process as have some agents. Perhaps others are doing it behind closed doors. But I won’t assume others will act, it’s too important. I will say something.

Throughout the month of March, many women and allies will be sharing their #kidlitwomen stories. Including many ways that we can work together to create a better community for everyone. I will be supporting those people by sharing their ideas and taking action. Be engaged on social media. One voice alone is quiet, many together is a roar that can’t be ignored.

 

YOUR MANUAL FOR MOVING FORWARD:

  • Listen and accept that something is broken within the kidlit community.
  • Shift your view to a healthier, truer one.
  • Decide to act.
  • If you see something, say something. Even if you’re unsure if help is needed. (Especially if you’re unsure.)
  • Support one another but especially tend to the most vulnerable in our community.
  • Band together and put all out small efforts together to create a big change in kidlit. A change that makes our whole community a safer place.

 

CLOSING

The #metoo and #kidlitwomen movements are much larger than I can address in a single post.  I limited myself to only discussing sexual harassment and how to prevent it. But I could easily have talked about the culture that allowed the harassment to occur. Or about how the system promotes male authors at the expense of female authors. Or how the double-whammy of sexism and racism makes it especially difficult for women of color. Or the role that men need to take to help us reshape this industry into something safer and more equitable for all. I’m leaving those topics to others who are better equipped to speak to that experience. We’re a band of brave women, after all. We don’t need to deliver every message, sometimes it’s enough to pass the microphone.

A Manual for Moving forward: what science says about #kidlitwomen and #metoo

Kidlit Karma Reviews: February 2018

Kidlit Karma February 2018 post picture

At the end of 2017, I made a pledge. I challenged myself to review good books every month in 2018, particularly books that haven’t gotten as much love as I feel they deserve. I call it Kidlit Karma because I’m aiming to spread the love for books that I love.

Last month, I shared my first batch of books and today I’m sharing another batch.

With Easter on the horizon, I considered going with a theme and posting all Easter-related books. But my good friend and fellow Kidlit writer, Charlotte Riggle, has already put together several roundups of Easter-related picture books. Like this list of multicultural Easter books and this list of Easter books for toddlers. 

So instead, today I’m going to save my gushing for Charlotte’s book itself along with some other great, non-Easter books.

 

Picture Book: CATHERINE’S PASCHA by Charlotte Riggle

Cover for CATHERINE'S PASCHA by Charlotte Riggle

 

Catherine can’t wait for Pascha, the middle of the night Easter celebration at her church. And this year, she is definitely not going to fall asleep and miss Pascha. She’ll keep her eyes open all night for the candles and giggles with her best friend. Plus, there’s a giant feast afterward! But she might close her eyes for just a minute…

I love this book for two reasons. It’s a peek inside how another culture celebrates Easter. But it’s foremost, a really amusing story told from a child’s perspective.

A disclaimer: Charlotte and I have never met in person, but we travel in many, many of the same online circles. Over the years, she has firmly come over to the side of being a friend rather than just a colleague. However, I bought her book for my own kids long before we “met” online. Her work speaks for itself in its quality. The best testament I can give is that my kids pull it off the shelf all year long to read. They quote it at Easter time. We’re on our third copy because we loan it out and the little readers can’t part with it.

CATHERINE’S PASCHA on Amazon

 

Middle Grade: THE METROPOLITANS by Carol Goodman

Cover for THE METROPOLITANS by Carol Goodman

Four kids from very different walks of life, all find their fates bound together at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. They are entwined in centuries of secrets and magic but the Japanese just bombed Pearl Harbor and they’ll have to stop something even more catastrophic in New York City.

The author has woven together solid history with fantasy and the results are engrossing. I devoured this book and I’m hoping it will become a series.

THE METROPOLITANS on Amazon

 

Young Adult Nonfiction: ALEXANDER HAMILTON REVOLUTIONARY by Martha Brockenbrough

Cover of ALEXANDER HAMILTON REVOLUTIONARY by Martha Brockenbrough

Brockenbrough does a great job of stringing together the relevant facts in a way that both tells a true and complete story of Alexander Hamilton’s life, and also keeps the reader engaged way past their bedtime. If you think you don’t like history books, try reading this one to change your mind.

I am obsessed with Hamilton the musical. Lin Manuel Miranda is a musical genius, but he also had a really great subject to work with. Alexander Hamilton’s life was a real-life soap opera (just add musical score). I’m not alone in my obsession and the glut of Hamilton books on the market in the last year is a reflection of that. If you’re going to read only one of the Hamilton biographies, this is an excellent choice.

ALEXANDER HAMILTON REVOLUTIONARY on Amazon