Welcome to the Bookshelf Detective, a site packed with tricks and tips for readers and writers of children's literature. Thank you for visiting!
Kim Tomsic

Friday, July 14, 2023

Awards and Classroom Resources for Elephants!


(Chronicle Children’s Books, May 18, 2021) ISBN: 978-1452127835

**Printable Classroom Activities & Resources Page

**Book a School Visit 

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 and Françoise learn that a herd of wild African elephants needs a new home. They welcome the elephants to their wildlife sanctuary in Zululand, South Africa—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 a friendship . . . and the story of the miraculous way that love given freely will return—greater and more wonderful than it began.

Classroom Resources and Activities

Elephant Voices: How do elephants communicate with one another? What does the position of their trunks mean? Why do they flap their ears?  What is infrasound? Learn all this and more at “Communication between Elephants Voices and Sounds.” *Bonus, scroll to the bottom of their webpage and hear recordings of elephants! 

THE FIVE SENSES: Would you like to learn more about an elephant’s vision, hearing, or their keen sense of smell?  Check out more about elephant senses.

Warm Blooded vs. Cold Blooded Creatures: At this link, Sea World features a classroom activity for teachers and students to discuss warm blooded vs. cold blooded animals. Make sure you add elephants to the conversation!

Animal Spelling Bee: The Sea World website features another fun activity. You can host an  animal-centered spelling bee – just add “elephant” to the list. You’ll discuss words like “conservation”, “habitat”, and more. Consider adding “Zululand, South Africa” to the list, and discuss the difference between a continent and a country.

Meet the Elephants of Thula Thula (prounounced toola toola). Learn the names of the elephants that live on the wildlife sanctuary. Read about their conservation efforts or the history of the reserve. Perhaps you will decide to work together to save “Pennies for Protection” and adopt an elephant. 

 Video (7:12): See Lawrence Anthony call for the herd like you might call in a puppy from the yard. This seven-minute video titled “Lawrence Anthony's Rehabilitation of Elephants”, will be sure to delight you and your students. You will see all the stars of The Elephants Come Home.

Elephant Voices: This webpage takes a deep dive into identifying elephant behaviors, defining terms, and naming modes of communication.  

Awards & Critical Praise

Awarded the Norman A. Sugarman Honor in Children’s Biography

Winner!    Pennsylvania Keystone to Reading Elementary Book Award Primary Grade Winner

Winner!  Minnesota Comstock-Gág Book Award Winner

Finalist for Alabama Children’s Choice Camellia Award Finalist grades 2-3

Finalist for CYBILS Award

Finalist for the Kentucky Blue Grass Award

Finalist for the 2024 Connecticut Nutmeg Award

Finalist for the 2023-2024 California Young Readers Medal

Finalist for the 2023-2024 Iowa Goldfinch Award

Finalist for 2024 Illinois Bluestem Award grades 3-5

Finalist 2024 Utah The Beehive Award

Showcased at the Bologna Children’s Book Festival’s BRAW Amazing Bookshelf of “100 publishing gems” chosen from a selection of 2,200 books submitted by publishers from around the globe.

“The story’s flawless, gentle pacing illuminates the animals’ initial fear and the time, patience, and compassion it takes for attentive Lawrence to earn their trust…Hooper’s…shades of rich blue and soft rose heighten the story’s emotional impact.”—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.”         —School Library Journal

Where to Find:

Your local library. If they don't have a copy available, please request that they carry!

Available at

The Wandering Jellyfish: Click Here

Changing Hands Bookstore: Click Here

Barnes and Noble: Click Here

Indiebound (or to check your local bookstore): Click Here

Red Balloon Bookshop: Click Here

Amazon: Click Here

Or simply ask your local bookseller!

*Printable Resource Page: CLASSROOM RESOURCES
 available here.  

**Book an in-person or virtual  School Visit!

Wednesday, July 5, 2023

4 Success Stories - How a Children's Book Writing & Illustrating Conference Launched the Careers of Four Authors and Illustrators

Conferences are kingmakers. It’s true! Talk to published authors and illustrators, and you'll discover that more often than not an attendee’s career moved into hyper-drive after taking part in a conference. A conference is where you meet people with a shared passion, and you develop new neural pathways for craft. Ideas bubble to mind, and important connections are made. Many publishing hopefuls met their agent or editor attending breakout sessions, getting critiques, or selecting the right seat at an open-table luncheon. 

Illustration courtesy of Brooke-Boynton Huges
Illustrator Brooke Boynton Hughes attended SCBWI's International conference in California more than a decade ago. She entered her portfolio in the illustrator showcase, didn't win but got noticed. In fact, she signed with agent Marietta Zacker and landed a book deal that same year! Furthermore, Brooke signed up for the one-on-one portfolio review. She received feedback throughout the conference weekend and learned nuanced details about craft. When she returned to the event the following year (2013), she walked away as the Portfolio Showcase Honor Award winner and the Mentorship Award winner! In 2014, she received the Portfolio Honor Award at SCBWI's Winter Conference in New York. 

    Brooke's success didn't come from one conference. She says, 

I think the most important part about attending conferences is the chance to have one-on-one portfolio critiques and the opportunity to learn about your craft.  I attended six or seven international conferences and three or four regional conferences before I was published and before my portfolio was recognized in the showcase."  
Now her illustrations are published in books with Beach Lane, Disney Hyperion, and Random House.Author turned agent Ana Crespo met her editor, Kelly Barrales-Saylor who was then an editor with Albert Whitman and Co. (she is now an editor with Sourcebooks) during the regional Rocky Mountain SCBWI conference. Ana signed up for a manuscript critique and landed a feedback timeslot with Kelly. After listening to Kelly’s edit suggestions and taking ample notes during workshops, Ana was armed with ideas to improve her writing. Ana went home, reworked and edited her story, then queried Kelly who bought and published The Sock Thief. Ana went on to sell four books to Albert Whitman in a series called JP BOOKS, MY EMOTIONS AND ME. During another conference, she met Alvina Ling Executive Editorial Director of Little Brown Books. Alvina later published Hello Tree, illustrated by Dow Phumiruk.


I met my editor, Melissa Manlove of Chronicle Books, at an SCBWI conference, and let’s just say it involved an unofficial scavenger hunt, an Aperol Smash, and a failed pitch. But that failed pitch was part of a connection, and in the end I received a business card and an email address. A year-and-a-half later I worked on the craft points I’d learned at the conference, I worked with my critique group, I read and drafted, and then I sent a query letter about a new manuscript—here’s where I cue the drum roll and build to a frenzy—I got a YES! That’s how I sold the award-winning picture book, THE ELEPHANTS COME HOME

If the above three stories haven't convinced you that conferences are kingmakers, here’s one more. Author Martha Brockenbrough met the editor of her debut picture book The Dinosaur Tooth Fairy at a conference. His name - Arthur Levine of Arthur A. Levin at Scholastic (he is now an editor and founder of Levine Querido). Martha says in an interview with SCBWI, “Truly. Every picture book I’ve ever sold has come directly from my time at an SCBWI conference”. Martha has since sold many picture books and highly-praised novels. Her latest middle grade novel, To Catch a Thief, is out now!

Monday, July 3, 2023

Walter Grant by We Need Diverse Books

What would it take to get you to the next phase of your writing or illustrating dream? A computer? A class? A conference? Something else? We Need Diverse Books and the Walter Grant offer an opportunity to help you take a step forward.   

Take a glimpse at some of the awesome books created and/or contributed to by previous Walter Grant winners: 

We Need Diverse Books extended the deadline to apply for the 2023 Walter Grant to July 10, 2023. If you miss the deadline, read on to get an early start for next year. 

From the We Need Diverse Books website: 

"The Walter Dean Myers Grant program was established to provide grants of $2,000 each to promising diverse writers and illustrators who are currently unpublished. Since 2015, we have awarded 45 grants. Current and former grantees have gone on to publish or contract over 50 books for children and teens."

2015 winner, Angie Thomas, used her award to buy a computer. She went on to write the New York Times Bestseller The Hate U Give and other award winning books. Read more about previous winners in this article by 
Andrea Ruggirello.  

Requirements when applying - you'll include:

  • a brief statement (200 words) about how you will use your grant money to further your writing career. 
  • a 200-word summary of the work you're submitting.
  • 1 500-word essay about how diversity impacts your writing and/or illustrating career. 
  • a 2,500-word excerpt of your work (in the genre in which you are applying) or 4 to 6 illustration samples  

Read here to learn details about submission guidelines, application process, and eligibility details. 

Where to apply:  Right on the webpage - read and scroll down to complete. There's a list of FAQs at the bottom of the webpage: We Need Diverse Books Walter Grant 

Direct any questions to waltergrant@diversebooks.org


P.S. Who is "We Need Diverse Books"? 
We Need Diverse Books™ is a 501(c)(3) non-profit that advocates essential changes in the publishing industry to produce and promote literature that reflects and honors the lives of all young people.

Details here.


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