Welcome!

Welcome to the Bookshelf Detective, a site for readers and writers of children's literature. Thank you for visiting, and please let me know how this blog served you.
Cheers,
Kim Tomsic

Monday, May 23, 2022

15 Ways to be a Great Literary Citizen

 

Literary citizenship goes beyond just wanting a literary career. It’s about being an active, supportive participant in the writing community.

Don’t worry! You don’t have to have a big budget to be a great literary citizen. In fact, most of us cannot run to our favorite bookstores every week (or every month!) to buy the latest book we're excited about. Fortunately, there are many free ways to partake in serving as a stellar literary citizen. That's right! No matter your background or socioeconomic situation ★ you belong to this community ★ and you can engage. Here is a list of both big-budget, budget-crunching, and free ways to participate. Find what fits for you!


1.       Check out and review books from your library

2.      Read, read, read!

3.      Request that your library purchase a book for their collection. Most libraries have a “purchase request” or “suggest a purchase” form for members to fill out. All you need to do is google is your library’s name along with the words, “suggest a purchase.” Here’s more advice from EverydayReading.

4.      Shop indie! Indie bookstores and your local Barnes and Noble are packed with employees who love reading and will guide you to your next great book. Frommers created this fun list of indiebookstores across America. Bookstores I particularly love include TheWandering Jellyfish in Niwot, Colorado; Boulder Bookstore in Boulder, Colorado, BookBar Denver, Tattered Cover, and Second Star to the Right in Denver, Colorado, and Changing Hands Bookstore in Phoenix and Tempe, Arizona. Please support indies by telling me about your favorite bookstore in the comment section below!

5.     
Attend a book launch party, reading, or signing! Your bookstore probably has a monthly list featuring author events. Even if you can’t buy a book, please consider attending the launch party. You’d be surprised how often I’ve seen award-winning, best-selling authors speak to a room of only five people. Please fill those seats, say hello to the author, and then go to your library and request the book!
 

   6.      Celebrate authors and illustrators on their awards, lists, launches, book-birthdays and/or good news! If you have Twitter, Instagram, TikTok, Facebook, or any other social media account please help celebrate and spread the word!

   7.      Subscribe to free blog sites. In September 2021, Writer’s Digest published their 101 Best Websites for Writers

8.     Talk to event organizers about hosting inclusive events with diverse representation, perhaps even serve as an event volunteer! 

9.      Ask your local school and library to host an author or illustrator presentation. There are public and private funds for such purposes—don’t let them go unused!

10.  Subscribe to literary magazines such as Writer’s Digest , The Horn Book, or Poets & Writers

11.   Share articles or Op-eds written by your favorite authors. For example, last Sunday Meg Medina had an Op-ed in The Los Angeles Times titled: Want to shape your bicultural child’s sense of self before society does?  Lead them to books

12.  Join a critiquing group

13.  Write a Goodreads review

14.  Give Books as Gifts!

15.  Post an Amazon review

And remember to stay informed, stay active, and READ READ READ!

 

 


Sunday, January 23, 2022

Heart in Children's Literature by Kim Tomsic




Any writer trying to tackle the art of composing a children’s story will agree—it’s tough work. Whether writing a 500-word picture book or a 75,000-word novel, writers face a juggling act of theme (without being didactic), character (without being overly cutesy), story (with the perfect pace), and more all in effort to create that sweet balance of delight, entertainment, meaning, and connection.     But what makes a story good? In
Celebrating Children's Books: Essays on Children's Literature
, Arnold Lobel says, “A good picture book should be true. That is to say, it should rise out of the lives and passions of its creators.” Perhaps this statement could be pushed a step further, so it reads: A good children’s book (picture book through young adult novel) should be true. That is to say it should rise out of the lives and passions of its creators and have a placeholder for a child to insert themselves and their emotions. A good book should have heart.
In author Kate DiCamillo’s 2014 Newbery speech, she said, “…[those] working on stories, bookmaking, and art are given the sacred task of making hearts larger through story.” But what is heart and how does an author write it into a story? To figure this out, I asked three experts for their thoughts on heart in children’s books: Author Beth Anderson, Senior Editor at Chronicle Books, Melissa Manlove, and Senior Editor at HarperCollins, Maria Barbo.
First meet Beth. Not only is Beth Anderson the author of several picture books, she also writes about emotional resonance in her blog, “Mining for Heart.” Beth says, “Heart” is the treasure I’m after whenever I start a new manuscript. What will make this story more than a reporting of events? What will make the child reader think about the world a little bit differently? What will bring emotional resonance? To me, heart is not the theme or focus nugget but is much deeper and more personal. It emerges when you process the research or story through your own life experiences and passions to find a unique angle or thread. “Heart” can be nebulous, elusive, downright torture to tackle, but it’s what makes a manuscript sing!”
            Beth’s statement screams many truths, (the torture!). She also wonders, “What will
make a child reader think about the world a bit differently?” 

Kimberly Reynolds, author of Children’s Literature: A Very Short Introduction, says, “Because children’s literature is one of the earliest ways in which the young encounter stories, it plays a powerful role in shaping how we think about and understand the world.” Reynolds’ statement echoes Kate DiCamillo. In essence, they are both saying that books play a powerful role that might affect the way children understand and think about race, religion, ableism, neurodiversity, gender identity and more. No wonder DiCamillo calls it a “sacred” task.

Helping a child think about the world a bit differently happens when an author succeeds at writing a story that gets under their skin. There, inside the pulse of the story is the opportunity for a child or young adult to connect, beyond mere amusement, so that the story seeps into their pores and stays long after the last page is read. To jump-start a pulse that pushes a story beyond entertaining-but-forgettable, a book must have 馃挋heart馃挋, and to achieve heart the writer must make the reader feel something.
            The Horn Book Magazine also covers the need for children’s stories to have heart and feeling-points. In a November 2012 article titled “Making Picture Books: The Words” by Charlotte Zolotow, Zolotow emphasizes how an emotional impulse to write for children should come out of a real place and says, “Many fine writers can write about children but are unable to write for them.” She says, “The writers writing about children are looking back. The writers writing for children are feeling back into childhood.” It is the feeling-points that writers must tap into if they want to reach a child’s heart.


 
            The next step in my mission to understand heart took me to Senior Editor Melissa Manlove from Chronicle Books. I knew Melissa would be the perfect person to talk to, because she made me work to uncover the heart of The Elephants Come Home (Chronicle Books, 2021). Back in 2012, I approached Melissa with a true story about a man named Lawrence Anthony who rescued a herd of seven elephants in Zululand, South Africa--the elephants had broken out of every other wildlife sanctuary they'd lived at and had thus frightened many townfolk with their destruction. Now they had to be relocated again, otherwise they would be shot! Melissa and I were both captivated by the many details of this story, but something was missing—that nebulous “something” was the heart. It sat in the outskirts of my writing, but the heart was too buried to actually feel it. I had to work, to dig, to revise until I was able to identify the true piece of me that I was bringing to the story (for me, it was growing up as a military brat and being made to move from home to home, like the elephants).  Once I identified the heart I felt when I thought about this story, I knew I couldn’t shove it front and center because then the story would feel forced. Melissa says heart can’t be in the reader’s face. It needs to be like a treasure chest the reader works to uncover.



Actually, she says it more eloquently. Melissa says, “The writers I admire most tend to be ones that, as they draft, are following a feeling, a hunch, a question. They’re feeling out what seems right and what the story seems to want to be. And THEN from that, later, in the revision process, they figure out what that part of us that lives on story but doesn’t have words of its own to speak was trying to say.
And when you let the story come first, and let it show you by feel where the heart is, then the heart is truly buried in it, like buried treasure, and your story becomes a map for those who will follow you.”

The Elephants Come Home written by me and with gorgeous illustrations by Hadley Hooper, released in 2021 with Chronicle Books. Melissa pushed me to dig deep so that I could leave a treasure for readers to find.

Melissa is a master of theme and thesis and if you ever have the opportunity to attend one of her lectures, it will be the best gift you ever give yourself. For this article, I asked Melissa to expand on feeling points, and she explained that, “Many [stories are] disposable. And that’s because they’re entertaining in the moment, but they don’t mean anything. There’s nothing that stays with you afterward, nothing that nibbles at your imagination and pulls you back to them.” Even if a story is fiction, Melissa says a good story makes us “feel it is true.” Melissa explains that feeling in story is “the language-brain articulating what the story-brain had already known in feeling. A storyteller must evoke a universal feeling.” Melissa says for a story to go deeper, there needs to be “a human experience at the heart of that story that we all can relate to…and a truth about that human experience in the story.”
Charlie & Mouse: Book 1: Snyder, LaurelA great example of a human experience at the heart of a story we can relate to is Charlie and Mouse, edited by Melissa Manlove, written by Laurel Snyder, and illustrated by Emily Hughes. The starred review written by Elizabeth Bird in School Library Journal starts out with a negative tone, “Only the jaded should write reviews of children’s books.” The reviewer goes on to say, “If I am a parent and there is any danger AT ALL that my child is going to ask me to read and reread and reread again a piece of tripe that calls itself a children’s book, I at least want some forewarning. I have great love for the sardonic stripe of reviewer. Anyone who has honed their teeth on the literary darlings of sweetness & light.” Elizabeth Bird says she is sick and tired of reading overly-sweet books and goes on to add, “So I sometimes wonder if having my own kids has made me more inclined towards books with a glint of true emotion amidst the adorableness. With that in mind, I guess I could be forgiven for initially thinking that Charlie & Mouse wouldn’t work for me. Heck the eyeballs of these kids take up half their heads as it is. Yet when I read this story what I found was a quietly subversive, infinitely charming, eerily rereadable early chapter book not just worth reading but worth owning.” Though Bird set out to dislike Charlie and Mouse, she felt the heart and says, “my tolerance for the cutesy is distinctly low. So it was with great pleasure that I discovered that while the characters of Charlie and Mouse are undeniably cute, they are not cloying. They are not vying for your love. They are living their lives, doing what they want to do, and if what they do happens to be cute, so be it, but that is not their prerogative.”  Heart won the day.   
            I circle back to Kate DiCamillo, because Flora and Ulysses is a great example of a book with heart, and it was a very human and universal experience that led DiCamillo to write this Newbery Award winning bookthe experience of love, grief, and loss. DiCamillo says her truth rose out of her deep love for her mother who often asked who would take care of her Electrolux vacuum cleaner when she passed away. In January 2009, her 86-year-old mother fell, broke her hip, and died less than a week later. DiCamillo’s heart ached, and she grieved as painfully and deeply as anyone who loses a loved one grieves. In her 2014 Newbery speech, she says she wrote Flora and Ulysses because she “wanted to excavate that grief.” She says, “I wanted and needed to find my way to joy.” This was her truth, but she doesn’t lay it on the page so literally. The truth takes on new forms and shows up in her book through characters that would have made her mother laugh—Flora, the squirrel, the giant donut, and a vacuum cleaner (remember the Electrolux), and it’s not just any vacuum cleaner, but one that gives the squirrel superpowers!
The Newbery committee called Flora and Ulysses a story of hope, joy, and love. Through this book, readers experience real feelings filtered through DiCamillo’s characters while originating from her authentic human experience—her love and grief and also her hope to regain laughter and joy. This echoes back to what Melissa Manlove said, “there needs to be “a human experience at the heart of story that we all can relate to…and a truth about that human experience in the story.” In the end of Flora and Ulysses, readers discover that Flora’s father, George Buckman, has a capacious heart. One that is very large and “capable of containing much joy and much sorrow.” And this is parallel to the truth of DiCamillo’s heart, joy, and sorrow in her mourning process. Authentic feelings that showed up on the pages.

Senior Editor Maria Barbo from HarperCollins says, “Authenticity is key for emotional resonance. That thing you do in private that you think nobody else does—someone does it. A writer or artist has to make themselves vulnerable in that way—to share the secret, raw parts of themselves because relatability stems, in part, from specificity.” She adds a reminder, “The reader’s heart isn’t going to be in it if yours isn’t.” Maria is the editor for Bubbles...Up! a love poem to swimming, written by Jacqueline Davies illustrated by Sonia Snchez. Each reader might find a different pulse point as they read, but without a doubt this story has heart.馃挋 
The experts agree—a good book should have heart. Melissa Manlove says, a “good story must feel true.” Maria Barbo says that a reader’s heart can’t be in it unless the writer’s heart shows up first. Beth Anderson challenges authors to find what will cause the child reader to think about their world view. Children’s Literature: A Very Short Introduction says, “Children’s literature can also be a literature of contestation, offering alternative views and providing the kind of information and approaches that can inspire new ways of thinking about the world and how it could be shaped in other, potentially better ways.”  Heart shows up when we process stories through life and literature experiences. Writers all have something that is deeply personal to share. We have something that, as Arnold Lobel says, “…can rise out of [our] lives and passions.” The real question is: are we willing to be vulnerable and write from an authentic place and share our feeling-points so the story can come alive for a child.

At the end of Kate DiCamillo’s Newbery speech, she said that as a child, she sat with books in her tree-house and could, “Feel the stories I read pushing against the walls of my heart.” For her, those stories traveled beyond the boundaries of mere entertainment and had a lasting pulse. Again, DiCamillo says those, “…working on stories, bookmaking, and art are given the sacred task of making hearts larger through story.” Writers can only do this if they dig deep and give of themselves so authentically that a book develops a pulse—a story that not only entertains but also has a placeholder for the child to insert themselves and their emotions. Children deserve stories that have heart.
 



Tuesday, May 18, 2021

The Elephants Come Home: A True Story of Seven Elephants, Two People, and One Extraordinary Friendship


 

The Elephants Come Home (ISBN: 978-1452127835) is the amazing true story of a herd of elephants, the man who saved them, and the miracle of love that brought them home.


One day in 1999, Lawrence Anthony and Fran莽oise Malby Anthony receive word that a herd of wild African elephants need a new home. They welcome the elephants to their wildlife sanctuary—Thula Thula—with open arms. But the elephants are much less sure they want to stay. How will Lawrence prove to them that they are safe and loved? What follows is a gorgeously illustrated real-life story of friendship . . . and the story of the miraculous way that love given freely will return—greater and more wonderful than it began.

Critical Praise:

“[A] moving true story. . . (Have tissues handy.) [The Elephants Come Home’s] flawless, gentle pacing [and] pages with saturated, eye-catching teal, copper, and emerald hues. . . . heighten the story’s emotional impact. . .”The Horn Book Magazine

“In brief action-packed sentences, Tomsic informs readers of all the steps taken to bring [the elephants] back, with the text placed against Hooper’s beautifully realized illustrations of African animals and the vast, gorgeous landscape…with its focus on the elephants and the protagonists, this book is lovely, tender, and moving.”       Kirkus Reviews

 This touching true story portrays conservationist Lawrence Anthony’s relationship with a frightened, hunted herd that found a home at his reserve in South Africa, Thula Thula..The importance of conservation shines through the friendship story here, and both themes are beautifully complemented by Hooper’s detailed, atmospheric drawings of the elephants and their surroundings.”—Booklist

The illustrations are expansive with a limited color palette of warm oranges and cool greens and blues. The animal characters are dynamic, humorous, and emotive. . . . A sentimental but high-­interest story based on true events of the bond between wild animals and the humans who care for them, suitable for early elementary students.”         School Library Journal


A limited number of signed and doodled copies are available at BookBar Denver. Order here: https://www.bookbardenver.com/book/9781452127835


• TOUCHING ANIMAL FRIENDSHIPS: Owen and Mzee, Tarra and Bella, Rescue and Jessica . . . touching true stories of the emotional bonds possible between species are charming, and speak to the limitlessness of love.
• ELEPHANTS: Elephants are one of the most fascinating and charming wild animals in all of nature. This heartwarming true story will intrigue & inspire children, turning the most reluctant readers into elephant enthusiasts.
• CONSERVATION THEME: This book tells the true story of caring for one of the world's most beloved endangered animals: the African elephant. This book is a great, upbeat jumping-off point for discussions of the importance of preserving endangered species and their environments.
• ENGAGING NONFICTION: There's no better way to get readers hooked on factual books than to offer them real-life stories with heart and meaning.
• STRONG CURRICULUM CONNECTIONS: The Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) emphasize learning about animal habitats/biomes in K–2 curriculums, while later grades address topics like conservation and endangered species. With a depth of research and an engaging, highly visual narrative, this book is an excellent resource for librarians and primary school educators.

Perfect for ages 4-9:
• Kindergarten and elementary school teachers           Lovers of animals, wildlife, and the natural world
• Parents and grandparents                                         Zoo and natural history museumgoers
• Librarians                                                                  Parents and Kids of all ages

Thursday, September 24, 2020

10 Ballet Dancers: An Interview with Author Amanda Malek-Ahamdi

 

Today, on the blog we welcome debut picture book author Amanda Malek-Ahamdi

 



Amanda, Congratulations your upcoming beautiful debut picture book 10 Ballet Dancers . It is delightful, entertaining, and inclusive. Parents will love it! Kids will love it! Furthermore, the art by Kathrine Gutkovskiy is gorgeous! Thank you for agreeing to this interview. I’m excited to hear about your inspiration and about your fun launch project and launch party plans. Let’s get started!

 

 

1.I hear you're one of the most sought-after dance teachers in Arizona. Tell me more about your inspiration to write this book.

 

I don’t know about one of the most sought-after dance teachers in Arizona, but I do love teaching dance and have taught at various places around the valley. I started teaching dance when I was 17 and have taught children ages 18 months and up.  I teach several adult classes, too. I am also fortunate to have had the opportunity to teach dance in the entire public school system spectrum, K-12. I’ve even taught at the Community College level. I love how each age group brings something different to dance.

 

As for inspiration to write this book…being able to combine my passion for dance, both performing and teaching, with my love of reading and life-long dream to become a published author was like two puzzle pieces coming together.

 


I still remember my first author visit with Mister Tom at my Elementary School. He read us his book, Messy Cat. I still own my copy. It was while I sat in awe of Mister Tom that I dreamed of becoming an author someday.

 

Fast forward many decades…eh hem (an era) later and here I am with my debut picture book.

 

For this particular book, I have the amazing Tara Lazaar who hosts STORYSTORM every January to thank for pulling 10 Ballet Dancers out of my head and onto the page. It was only the third day of the challenge, and I had written down 10-15 ideas when 10 Ballet Dancers fought for my attention, demanding to be written immediately.

 

The seed of the story had been in my brain for so long that when it finally fought its way to the surface it was fully formed. I made very few changes to the text from its original draft. Writers refer to this as BIG MAGIC. When I attended the SCBWI LA Conference in 2019, Mem Fox was the special guest at the luncheon. She mentioned Ten Little Fingers and Ten Little Toes only took “15 minutes” to write. I was excited to learn that I had an experience like Mem Fox.

 

 

2. I love that the art in 10 Ballet Dancers features diversity and inclusivity. Do you find that the diversity in your book represents the diversity of ballet classes or is this your dream for the future of ballet?

 

 One of my favorite dance quotes ever by a famous modern dancer, J贸se Lim贸n is:

“Every man and woman has the innate ability to dance.”

 

As humans dance is part of us. When you look at babies and how they naturally move to the rhythm of the music it’s hard to dispute what J贸se Lim贸n said.

 

I think the diversity and inclusivity represented in 10 Ballet Dancers is spot on with the world of dance today. However, not every dance class is going to be this diverse.

 

I would say growing up I was unaware of the dynamics of my classes. I was just there to dance with the people who were dancing alongside me.

 

The beauty of dance is that it is Universal and when the music is on everyone becomes one with the rhythm.

 

Today I am very fortunate to dance in a contemporary company, (Wight Noise Dance Company) that is both diverse and inclusive the way that 10 Ballet Dancers depicts the class. The company is slightly different than the book as the members age range is from 20-50+ years old.

 

Moment of TRUTH! My original title for this book was TEN BALLERINAS!

 

When I began to think about how I would approach a publisher with my book idea, I planned to ask the company members to take some pictures of the dance moves so I had a visual component to help explain the text for those not familiar with Ballet Terminology. 

 

I caught myself saying, “What am I thinking! We have two men in our company. I can’t write a book about dance that doesn’t include boys!” Luckily, it was an easy switch thanks to both Ballerinas and Ballet Dancers having four syllables!

 

Speaking of boy dancers: I remember being on a book thread in 2019 (before I had a publishing contract) and seeing a parent ask if a particular ballet book featured boys. The answer was “No.” I screen shot that conversation and thought I’ll get in contact with the woman who asked the question someday!

 

I contacted her the week of August 17. Her son is now going to participate in my project #flatballetdancers before the book releases. I just popped a postcard in the mail for him, and will be gifting him and his dance studio a signed copy of 10 Ballet Dancers.  

 

 

2a. #flatballetdancers! Tell us about this project.

 

I am so excited for this project! #flatballetdancers is inspired by my favorite children’s book author/illustrator Michelle Nelson-Schmidt. Back in October of 2019 she sent around these cute stuffed dogs named, Rufus and Lucy. We had the opportunity to house them for a week. It was a fantastic experience. Our boys really loved it!

 

To keep things simple for the project and shipping costs to only one stamp, I chose to send the characters out like a Flat Stanley. When a person receives the dancers they have an “adventure” with them and take a picture. They then post the pic to Instagram using: #flatballetdancers. If they don’t have an Insta account, they can message me via Facebook, Twitter or my website’s contact form and then I’ll post them.

 

When the dancers arrive at their home, they contact me, and I provide the next destination.  As the dancers travel through the USA, I will be coloring in a map for all of their stops. I can’t believe how many travel plans they have already! 26 states have been secured and 35 trips due to stopping in some states more than once.

 

I would love to see the dancers make it to all 50 States. They will keep traveling until the book’s One Year Book Birthday! I am all for multiple visits to states. I will be putting a tally mark in the state for each time the dancers make a visit. Anyone reading this blog is welcome to contact me to participate via Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/authormamanda),

 Instagram (authormamanda), Twitter (@authormamanda) or my website (authormamanda.com).  

 

3. Ballet has some tricky words, so thank you for providing a glossary and pronunciation guide at the end. What do you say to parents who might stumble over words like d茅gag茅 or glissade when reading with their children? 

 

Parlez-vous francais? I love to tell my students that they are getting to learn a different language—French. But instead of telling them I ask them “Do you know what language you are speaking when you say the Ballet words?

 

For anyone who might stumble over the words—just roll with it!


 

Have fun enjoying the story, gazing at the AMAZING illustrations by Kathrine Gutkovskiy, and hopefully the rhythm of the book will also help naturally guide the way you say the words.

 

Or…sound out the words with your children. Think of how new readers break words apart into their letter sounds and syllables. When my children and I come across a word they don’t know they begin to sound it out. Once they’ve said all the sounds, I then say, “Now SQUISH it” meaning put all those sounds together ‘quickly’ to say the word. I think that children will be in awe of their parents not knowing a word and that the modeling of how to figure out an unknown word would be an invaluable lesson.

 

If you’re still struggling and really want to make sure that you’ve got the pronunciation correct you can always google it.

 

3a. I heard you have a funny story about the rhythm of the book. Tell us!

 

Well…shhhhhh…it’s a secret or I at least try to keep it a secret as long as possible.

 

I may be a dancer, but I lack internal rhythm. Basically, when the music is on I am feeling that beat and I am “in the pocket” but as soon as that music turns off…I am not the one you should ask to lead the movement with counts alone.

 

 So…when I wrote this book, I wrote it in its current rhythm, but I actually didn’t recognize the rhythm!

 

I have an amazing critique group named Story Stitchers. We meet every two weeks. I was so excited about 10 BALLET DANCERS. I could just feel in my gut that this story, of all the stories I’d written, was the one that was the most polished.

 

When I read my manuscript, I read it in an excited yet unrhythmic tone. Almost as if I was reading a textbook. My critique group would say things like, “That’s a lot of words we don’t know how to pronounce,” and “Amanda, we know you’ve worked hard on this, but there just doesn’t seem to be a rhythm to it.”

 

Completely distraught that night I turned to my husband Mike, who is fortunately a drummer, and said, “Honey, does my story have rhythm.” He said, “Yes!”

 

He’d already glanced at the manuscript a few times before, but that night as he read he began to drum out the beat on his leg. We grabbed his bongos and recorded on my phone. I practiced along with him until I was able to internalize the beat.

 

I may not be able to teach the beats to you, however, when I am reading the text now, just like when the music is on while I’m dancing, something just clicks and everything works out.

 

Two weeks later I was sharing my “new-found” rhythm with my critique group and everyone agreed that it was ready for submission!

 

4. What do you have planned for your debut launch party in the middle of this tough year?

 

2020 has really thrown everyone into a new way to navigate our lives.  

 

Lamenting for just a moment. I was really looking forward to having an in-person event. I think my favorite part would have been seeing the smiling faces as I signed the books and watching the children handle the book as they walked away. Would they be hugging it, already flipping through the pages, or checking out their name written in the book.  I had also planned a dance class for people to learn the moves from the books. My boss, Rachel Wight, at Wight Noise Dance Company had offered to host the event and planned to invite the Arizona Commission on the Arts.

 

We are now going VIRTUAL!

 

https://www.facebook.com/events/2759186857733652/

 

Tuesday, October 13 at TBD, Join us on 10 Ballet Dancers Book Birthday, for a read aloud, a drum lesson on the rhythm, a Q&A and giveaways.


 

Wednesday, October 14 at 4:30 pm, Join my favorite author/illustrator, Michelle Nelson-Schmidt as she reads 10 Ballet Dancers during her weekly Storytime Live. She will be giving away 5 signed copies of the book.

 

Thursday, October 15 at 3 pm, Join WNDC director Rachel Wight and I as we chat candidly about dance and how the company helped create photos for 10 Ballet Dancers.

 

Friday, October 16 TBD, Join my former elementary school librarian as she reads aloud 10 Ballet Dancers.

 

The dance class will still be offered. It is now planned for November; a month after 10 Ballet Dancers launches. A ZOOM link will be emailed to those who have pre-ordered or order during the launch.

 

To see the prizes offered and any updates on the schedule check my website at www.authormamanda.com

 

 

 

5. What were your favorite books from when you were a child?  

 

As a child, you would find me in my room most afternoons and weekends curled up with a book.

 

My favorite series was Sweet Valley Twins! I actually still own my copies. I’m so glad I held onto them, because I will get to share that part of my childhood with our daughter who was born in February of 2020.

 

I also loved reading Beverly Cleary books. I am currently reading through the Ramona series with our ten-year old son. He is loving them and thinks Ramona’s antics are hilarious. We’re reading them in order and just started Ramona and Her Mother. I cannot wait until we get to the toothpaste part. It just might remind Vincent of his own five-year old brother, Antonio, who used to make “cakes” out of toothpaste in the sink last year.

 

I truly could go on and on about my favorite books. Instead I would like to share what I believe developed a life-long love of reading for me.

 


In my childhood home we had two huge bookshelves at the end of the hallway that reached from the floor to the ceiling. As a little girl I remember being in awe of its height and excited to dive into all of the books that packed the shelves. At a young age I was reading ­The Red Pony by John Steinbeck and The Call of the Wild by Jack London. I remember looking at the cover of White Fang by Jack London many times and opting to not open it because the cover looked a bit scary. Maybe now I’m old enough to read it!

 

Having all of those books at my fingertips led to my passion for the written word and my exploration to express myself through writing. I feel very fortunate to have both writing and dance as outlets to navigate life.

 

In our home we have books in every room, shelves upon shelves of books. We even have a book nook under the stairs! Vincent, Roman, Antonio, and Francesca love reading and being read to. All of our boys also make their own stories often with folded paper that they staple together. They talk about getting published someday. I hope that the joy our children find in reading and writing never leaves them.


10 Ballet Dancers available from Small-Tooth Dog Publishing Group: buying link

Indibound: buying link

Amazon: buying link



    • ISBN-10 : 1947408259
    • ISBN-13 : 978-1947408258
    • Product Dimensions : 11.02 x 0.25 x 8.5 inches
    • Publisher : Small-Tooth-Dog Publishing Group; Illustrated Edition (October 13, 2020)
    • Reading level : 5 - 10 years
    • Language: : English

    More about Amanda:

    Amanda is a native to Arizona, former elementary school teacher, mother of four, wife to a scientist, dance teacher, professional contemporary and modern dancer and now a children’s book author. Her dream of becoming a published author most likely started with experiencing her first author visit at her elementary school when she was in second or third grade. The book was Messy Cat written by Mister Tom. Amanda still owns her autographed copy. Amanda began pursuing her writing career more actively in January 2017. She joined the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) in July 2017. Since then she has attended three AZ Conferences and two in LA. In September of 2017, she began taking classes via StoryTeller Academy created by Arree Chung. Amanda has learned so much from the classes and is grateful to have found an amazing critique group through the program. They are called the Story Stitchers. Now, if you asked Amanda when she started dancing, she’d laugh and say, “the womb,” but then laugh again, and say, “technically when I was five.” Amanda’s passion for dance and love of teaching children how to dance has led to the creation of many dance stories. Some dating back to when she was a new dance teacher at the age of 17. Amanda is thrilled that The Small Tooth Dog Publishing Group has accepted her debut dance manuscript about ballet dancers to be published in Fall 2020. She looks forward to all of the adventures ahead as a debut author and cannot wait to experience the joy of signing a book for a child at what might be their first author visit. 



     

    Friday, June 12, 2020

    The Importance of Neurodiversity Representation in Middle Grade Lit By Caitlin Lore


    Today, guest-blogger, Caitlin Lore, shares important thoughts and insight about neurodiversity in middle grade literature. Buckle up! You're in for a treat.

    Let's define neurodiversity first:



    Across the Spectrum: The Importance of Neurodiversity Representation in Middle Grade Lit
    By Caitlin Lore

    When it comes to middle grade literature (books for 8-12-year-old readers), well-developed and diverse characters carry more importance than vivid settings, strong dialogue, and perfect plotting. The middle-grade years are tumultuous times for tweens not only as they are developing physiologically, but also personally. As they transition from children to young adults, these young readers begin thinking more critically about the world around them, therefore it is imperative that they see themselves and/or diverse characters represented in novels. In her presentation on diverse writing, author Linda Sue Park said that “books for young readers have the role of shaping and influencing their worldview.” 
    Books can help children feel empowered and/or help them develop empathy. However, in order for this to happen, readers must make connections to the characters they are reading about: in spirit, in triumphs and challenges, in personality, and in diversity.

    When novels are full of the same type of character—a heterosexual, white, neurotypical tween—or in other words a character who represents the “unmarked state,” readers, especially the child reader, may feel alone or invisible. Yet, when readers are represented in the pages by way of ethnicity, culture, religion, sexuality, and/or disability, they are seen and heard, and these readers realize they are not alone in the world. Diversity, particularly neurodiversity in middle grade literature, invites readers into a character’s life for the time being, offering a chance for neurodiverse readers to find themselves in the story while also teaching neurotypical readers the importance of perspective taking.
    As the publishing industry continues to shift from the old-school canon of almost exclusively showing WASP characteristics as the heroes to now including POC heroes and heroines and also publishing books representing OWN voices authors and characters, more young readers are able to see themselves within the pages. But there is still a gap in diversity in children’s literature when it comes to disability representation. Many studies on diversity in publishing focus on race and ethnicity, specifically the annual Statistics on Multicultural Children’s Books done by the CCDC . This is extremely important work and hopefully will pave the way for the publishing industry to create more books with representation for those with disabilities, including neurodiverse characters. Representation matters, and according to a September 2019 article released by Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, people with disabilities represent 26% of Americans.
    Neurodiversity is important in middle grade literature because this is the time when children experience a wide range of growth, including how the world tends to view and treat others. Though we are becoming a more inclusive society, unfortunately we are still one that often places a stigma on differences and disabilities. For instance, in Ibi Zoboi’s My Life as an Ice Cream Sandwich, the main character Ebony-Grace appears to fall on the autism spectrum. Though it is not explicitly stated, readers with awareness of neurodiversity will notice that Ebony-Grace sees life differently than the kids around her. She often retreats into her imagination location where she is “Space Cadet E-Grace Starfleet” and the  people in her life are characters, too. Though this is Ebony-Grace’s perspective on the world, those around her do not see it that way. In fact, her friend Bianca continually asks her, “Why are you so weird?” which reinforces a stigma that Ebony-Grace’s difference is just that: different. 
    Later, Ebony-Grace struggles to find words to express what she’s feeling about this. Her Father approaches her about being disrespectful, and she says, “I’m just trying to be…regular and normal”. This is a moment of vulnerability and revelation in Ebony-Grace’s character. She is confident in who she is, but she also recognizes how the world sees her. Shannon Maughan’s article in Publisher’s Weekly, “Navigating Middle Grade Books” states that Rebeka Simonson, an editor at Atheneum Books,  “[believes] middle grade fiction deals with the things kids are going through at those ages… a growing awareness of the wide world outside of oneself and the injustices it often contains.” Scenes in My Life as an Ice Cream Sandwich reveal important moments of injustice both in the novel and in society: how the world responds to kids who are different. Yet the fact that Ebony-Grace is the main character of this novel presents an opportunity for neurodiverse readers to connect and grow with her as she confronts the stigma of her difference. It also presents an opportunity for neurotypical kids to develop empathy.
    Diversity representation with characters like Ebony-Grace in middle grade literature is extremely important. In Haley Moss article entitled,  Diverse Autistic Authors Are Changing Neurodiveristy Representation in Books, she states that, “No autistic young reader should feel alone or that they don’t identify with how neurotypicals view them; they deserve access to stories of acceptance and empowerment.”
    While neurodiversity in middle grade literature gives those identifying with brain differences a place to find connection, representation is also important for neurotypical readers. As mentioned earlier, growing empathy is imperative. Middle grade literature that features neurodiversity gives all readers the chance to explore the mental and emotional state of another human being, which ultimately can be a gateway to teaching empathy. Another novel that does this well is counting by 7s by Holly Goldberg Sloan. From the very beginning, the protagonist, Willow Chance states that she is, “…different. As in strange.” The character goes on to explain, “But I know it and that takes the edge off. At least for me.”  The only overt indications of Willow’s neurodiversity are when she informs readers she was labeled as “highly gifted” after being evaluated at school. However, Willow is also told that she lives too much inside her head. She has an obsession of counting by 7s, which she says she “uses as an escape technique.” She is also particularly drawn to skin disorders and plants both of which border on the obsessive side.
    Today, Willow might be diagnosed as falling on the autism spectrum, and while that is never revealed to readers, it is still clear that Willow would identify as neurodiverse.
    The majority of  counting by 7s is told from Willow’s perspective, which allows readers a deep look at life through the eyes of a neurodiverse character. Both neurodiverse and neurotypical readers have the opportunity to connect with Willow. However, though empathy is innate, it is not automatic. Neurotypical readers must engage in perspective taking when reading, connecting with Willow’s emotions, learning what it is like to be called weird, and feeling what it’s like to not be accepted by the herd. By engaging in perspective-taking, neurotypical readers are thrust into Willow’s thoughts, feelings, and moments. Readers experience the turmoil and ridicule alongside her which in turn garners empathetic feelings and a deeper desire to understand her world. Karol Silverstein wrote the article “How Stories About Disability Help Create Empathy” for the We Need Diverse Books blog, and she says neurodiverse representation matters because it bridges “the gap between discomfort and familiarity, between fear of the unknown and true empathy.” Diversity in middle grade literature often goes beyond mere understanding—diversity is about true representation and inclusion. When a neurotypical reader takes the perspective of a neurodiverse character, there is a coming together of worlds and a shift from the unknown to understanding.

    Reading list:


    If you enjoyed counting by 7's and My Life as an Ice Cream Sandwich, here are eight more middle grade reads with neurodiverse characters that Caitlin highly recommends!
    1.      Not if I Can Help it by Carolyn Mackler, featuring 5th grader Willa who is learning to manage her Sensory Processing Disorder among other big life changes.
    2.     Planet Earth is Blue by Nicole Panteleakos, featuring 12 year-old, space-loving Nova who is autistic and mostly non-verbal, learning to express herself.
    3.     The Someday Birds by Sally J. Pla, featuring 12 year-old Charlie who falls on the autism spectrum, and loves birds, chicken nuggets, & is just trying to make sense of the world.
    4.     Each Tiny Spark by Pablo Cartaya, featuring Emilia Torres who has a hard time focusing because of her ADHD, and wishes she could reconnect with her dad.
    5.     Fish in a Tree by Lynda Mullaly Hunt, featuring Ally who's never had trouble hiding her dyslexia until she meets her new teacher, Mr. Daniels.
    6.     The Miscalculations of Lightning Girl by Stacy McAnulty, featuring Lucy Callahan who has genius-level math skills after being struck by lightning but still struggles with middle school.
    7.      Focused by Alyson Gerber, featuring 7th grader Clea who is always distracted and when she starts having problems at school, finds out it's because she has ADHD.
    8.     A Mango-Shaped Space by Wendy Mass, featuring Mia Winchell who has synesthesia and wants to keep it a secret.
    ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
      Thank you, Caitlin!
     
    You can find Caitlin on Instagram and Twitter @caitlin_lore and  Caitlin's website is www.caitlinlore.com

    Blog Archive