Author: Clara (Page 1 of 6)

Come ‘explore’ the possibilities with Katherine Rundell!

Katherine Rundell

Katherine Rundell

Lemuria is excited to welcome Katherine Rundell to Jackson, Mississippi on Friday, September 29th. Rundell’s books are modern classics: the moment you begin reading them, you are transported into the story she is telling.

Her first novel, Rooftoppers, is the story of a girl who is rescued from a sinking ship, and she is found floating in a cello case. Many years later (with her adopted father), they set out on a search for her mother that leads them to the rooftops of Paris where a community of children run free during the night. Fans of Brian Selznick’s The Invention of Hugo Cabret will enjoy Rooftoppers.

Cartwheeling in Thunderstorms is a Boston Globe Horn Book Award Winner, and is a modern day retelling of A Little Princess. When Wilhelmina Silver is left an orphan, she is sent away from the wild African savanna she’s grown up loving to a cold boarding school in London where she is mercilessly teased by the other girls. She runs away, and must find a way to live on the streets of London.

Rundell’s third novel, a snowy tale with hints of Little Red Riding Hood folklore, is Wolf Wilder. Wolf Wilder is about a girl named Feo and her mother who are “wolf wilders.” That is, they train wolves to survive the wild after they are no longer wanted as pets by the nobles in St. Petersburg, Russia. When Feo’s mother is taken captive by the Tsar, it is up to Feo (and her wolves) to save her. Each of Rundell’s stories is unique, heartwarming, and exciting. Her characters are larger than life, and she truly understands the way children interact with the world.

explorerIn her newest novel, THE EXPLORER, four children ride a small plane to Manaus, Brazil. When the plane goes down in flames, the four children, Fred, Con, Lila, and Max survive the crash, but they must survive the Amazon Jungle as well. Between poisonous plants, giant bugs, and biting fish, will they make it to civilization again?

Rundell, who is a Fellow at All Souls College, Oxford, grew up in Zimbabwe, Brussels, and Belgium. Her love of travel is infused within the places she writes about in her books. After visiting the Amazon Jungle, Rundell was compelled to write THE EXPLORER. She says that her inspiration to write THE EXPLORER was to write a story “about children performing acts of extraordinary courage against all odds” and that she wants “to encourage children to be an explorer, no matter where [they] are.”

Meet Katherine Rundell, all the way from England, on Friday, September 29th, from 5:00 – 6:00 p.m. at Lemuria Bookstore. Call to reserve a signed copy of THE EXPLORER today! 601.366.7619

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Author Q & A with Rosemary Wells

Interview with Rosemary Wells by Clara Martin.

In the world of children’s books, there is a duo named Max and Ruby. They are bunny siblings: Ruby is the older sister who is very bossy, and Max is her little brother who is always up to mischief. The Max & Ruby series spans over forty books and now have their own television show on Nick Jr.

rosemary wellsTheir creator, Rosemary Wells, has been writing and illustrating books for over 45 years. She began working in publishing as a book designer for seven years. All through her writing and illustrating career, from her picture books to her young adult novels, Rosemary Wells advocates for children’s literacy wherever she goes. Born in New York City and raised in rural New Jersey, she now resides in Connecticut.

Lemuria Books is thrilled to welcome ROSEMARY WELLS, the author of MAX & RUBY for a story time and signing on MONDAY, OCTOBER 2ND from 3:30 – 4:30 pm. This story time is free and open to the public!

A presentation given by Rosemary Wells that is geared towards adults & educators will run from 5 pm to 6 pm, and a RSVP is necessary. To RSVP, please call Lemuria Books at 601-366-7619.

In an interview below, Rosemary Wells talks about her own characters, her illustration process, and the importance of reading books aloud to children.

What drew you to stories about toddlers and young children?

I can’t really tell you why. Perhaps because I had young children around me, and still do. I find them hilarious. My own childhood–I was as a tomboy, a very dedicated artist, and utterly non-compliant with what I didn’t like in school–also added to this. It always does in authors. We go back over our own lives and see, in the new lives around us, many of the same traits and predicaments.

However, I have also written 4 books for middle grade readers and 7 novels for YA!

Tell me a little bit about Max & Ruby (and your other characters).

What I really love is the sibling dynamic. It is so real. Max and Ruby are my own two children. This is how they constantly behaved with each other when they thought I wasn’t present or listening to them. Ruby never stopped guiding Max in all the ways of the world that Max had to learn. Max never took anything she said seriously. Never listened to a single word she said. This is a story dynamic which never ran out on me. It is a universal sister/brother routine in all countries in the world. That’s the reason the parents aren’t in the stories. None of the funny stuff would happy with Mom or Dad there. So where are they? In the next room, listening!

felix stands tallMy equally favorite character is Yoko. My next book is another Felix and Fiona melodrama friendship book from Candlewick. And next year, I have a book from Macmillan that introduces new characters, Kit and Kaboodle, twin pussycats and their little nemesis, Spinka, the mouse.

Why are you drawn to drawing animals to represent your children?

I draw animals better. People love animals, particularly young ones. That’s why we take stuffed animals too bed—not so much stuffed people!

Children depicted in illustration cannot do what animals can do on a page. Nor do they engender as much humor or sympathy unless drawn by Garth Williams! Kids are more serious to draw and elicit more reader questioning.

Can you tell me about your illustration style & process?

I wish I could answer this better. I draw. I’ve put in my 30,000 hours! I use mostly watercolor but have branched out to pastel. I copy. What I can’t draw well, I copy out of books. When I need inspiration, I look to the great illustrators and commercial artists of the early twentieth century. Trademarks, advertising, etc.  I encourage all my young artists in my workshops to concentrate, copy, and revise. Revise everything, because each time you do it again, the work gets better.

What do you love about writing and illustrating books for children?

It has endless possibilities. It’s what I do really well. It has been and continues to be a very successful career for me. I never tire of it because each book I do is alive. When they stop being alive, then I will stop. Not until then.

What were some books that made an impact on you as a child, and what do you hope your books do for children today?

We had very few books in the 1940s and 50s compared to today. Robert Lawson, Beatrix Potter, Garth Williams, who else? I don’t know. I copied them all. Lavishly illustrated fairy tales. We read them again and again. As a writer, I think that made me realize I better write books to be read over and over.

This is why I know for a fact, that although I had a golden childhood, safe from want, harm, and discord, that my great escape was books. No matter where we are on life’s scale, we need escape. Kids eat it up and they get it best from books. (worst, I have to add from video games, which are toxic and free of any moral compass or other good outcome.)

We need to read real books (not tablets) to our babies, starting very early in the first year of life.

The one great privilege that fortunate, advanced kids have over the less the fortunate is reading-aloud parents and regular visits to the library.

So, if we read to our children twenty minutes every day, they will listen to us, learn from their many books more than we can ever imagine.

When they reach kindergarten, no matter how underserved their childhoods, those children who are read to all the time will be the level equal of any privileged child in their school. They will be prepared to learn and advance in school. If you read every day aloud, you can almost guarantee your child’s bright future.

There are very recent live MRI scans of children’s brains while being read to. The critical development of the brain takes place in the first five years of life and apparently nothing stimulates it into permanent growth like read aloud stories in the parents’ voices. This treasure of childhood, reading aloud requires only a library card.

Books taught me to think in ways neither my parents not my teachers ever taught me. This is why it is so important that we encourage the next generation to be readers. We are in a national crisis in our country today. My two cents is this: We don’t need any more followers in America today. We need leaders. Real leaders are critical thinkers. They become critical thinkers from reading everything, things they agree with and things they don’t. Our kids need this cognitive training in order to become good citizens. Good citizens are independent. Good leaders understand the difference between facts/science and made up fairy tales that are narrow opinions and lead nowhere. If our country as we know and love it is to survive, the leaders of our next generation need generosity of spirit. While very young, the leaders of tomorrow have to learn to be patient, inclusive of those unlike them, kind to the less fortunate, courteous, curious, and able to dream a better world for all of us, not just for self.

Much of this comes from good parenting and educating. The rest comes from books.

Meet Rosemary Wells at Lemuria Books on Monday, October 2nd!

3:30 – 4:30 p.m. Story Time & Signing

5:00 – 6:00 p.m. Rosemary Wells Presentation on Literacy*

*Adults Only, Please RSVP at 601-366-7619

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Newberry-winner Victoria Jamieson offers a delightful book

Navigating middle school is tricky terrain, even under normal circumstances.

Imogene, who goes by Impy, is entering middle school for the first time after growing up living in the Florida Renaissance Faire with her annoying little brother and her parents as cast members at the faire.

Now that she is old enough to train as a squire, she can’t wait to participate in the jousting, human chess match, and other knightly duties. But first, she has to enter a place more dangerous than a dragon’s lair: middle school.

It is not the idyllic pace she imagines it to be. It’s filled with mean older kids, locker combinations that are hard to remember, and the ordeal of making new friends. As Impy balances her “at home” identity as a squire in the Florida Renaissance Faire, filled with period costumes and speaking Olde English, she is embarrassed to share this part of her life with her new friends from school.

Where does she belong?

This graphic novel is filled with a great cast of characters, familiar middle school anxiety, and, of course, all the merry fun of a Renaissance Faire!

victoria jamiesonSo, lords and ladies of the land, we welcometh you to a night with the creator of All’s Faire in Middle School, Victoria Jamieson. Jamieson won a Newberry Honor in 2016 for her first graphic novel, Roller Girl.

For fans of Raina Telgemeier’s Smile and The Baby-Sitters Club graphic novels, All’s Faire in Middle School will be a delight.

The Tuesday event starts at 5 p.m. with a reading in Lemuria’s DotCom building in Jackson. A ticketed signing will follow.

Celebrating the books of Mississippi

By Clara Martin. Special to the Clarion-Ledger Sunday print edition (August 13).

For the past two years, on a sweltering Saturday in the middle of August, the booksellers of Lemuria have gathered outside of the Mississippi State Capitol at the crack of dawn to unpack boxes of books. For the third year in a row, these booksellers will be there with their sleeves rolled up, filled with anticipation. Because one day of the year, the most exciting literary event in the state will take place in the heart of Jackson on the steps of the Capitol. It is a place where people of all faiths, political leanings, and races join together in the celebration of one thing; books.

When you think of Mississippi’s literary history, there are the heavy weights: Eudora Welty, William Faulkner, Margaret Walker Alexander, and Richard Wright. But what the Mississippi Book Festival celebrates is the growth and continuation of literature in the state. The festival shows Mississippi as a hub that is rich in literary culture that is constantly evolving.

John Evans is the owner of Lemuria Books, the independent bookstore in Jackson that has been open since 1975. He is a big supporter of the festival and has long-term goals for the festival’s growth in the state. Evans say, “the Book Fest is the most important thing to happen in Mississippi now, and for the next couple of years. It benefits the tourist business, and will attract out-of-towners. It’s a landmark event. Hopefully, it [the festival] will be an event to mark a literary trail marker in the next couple of years. I think the Mississippi Book Festival proves the need for a literary trail.”

When I asked the director of the Mississippi Book Festival, Holly Lange, what the festival means to her, this is what she said: “What I love most about the book festival is the magic it creates: thousands of Mississippians have the chance to meet their favorite writers, participate in some pretty special national exhibits, and support our local authors and independent bookstores.”

It’s true. It really is magic to pull together the authors and the panels. This year’s lineup is phenomenal. Carla Hayden, the first woman and first African American to lead the Library of Congress, will be there to kickoff the whole event–she was sworn in as the 14th Librarian of Congress on September 14, 2016.

Whatever your preference and taste in books, there is a panel for you. Maybe you are interested in Art in Mississippi, with artists William Dunlap and H.C. Porter Or maybe you’ll join Two Cooks in the Kitchen with John Currence (his restaurant, Big Bad Breakfast in Oxford, has a wait-line of several hours on the weekend) and Vivian Howard, star of the PBS television show A Chef’s Life. If mysteries are your thing, then join Otto Penzler, Mysterious Press president and CEO and owner of The Mysterious Bookshop in New York City. Discover some amazing debuts with moderator Richard Grant, author of Dispatches from Pluto. Join Mark Bowden in discussion with a Vietnam veteran as he discusses his book Hue 1968 that follows the turning point of the Vietnam War. Ron Rash, Richard Ford, and Greg Iles will also be in attendance, just to name a few.

If you have young kids, then the Kidnote is the way to go, with Candace Fleming, author of over 30 books for children, and illustrator Eric Rohmann, who is also a Caldecott Medalist. Their latest joint project is the adorable picture book Bulldozer Helps Out. Other great events for kids include the big tent of Kids Corner, which will feature an early Saturday morning surprise guest reading of Ezra Jack Keats’ classic–Snowy Day–and a free Popsicle to beat the summer heat. Join a group of star middle grade authors who all have their roots in Mississippi. Meet Angie Thomas, the Jackson native whose book The Hate U Give has been on the New York Times Bestseller List for 22 weeks and counting. Thomas’s young adult novel is a powerful look at race in modern America.

So, what are you waiting for? Rain or shine, the Lemuria crew will be at the Mississippi Book Festival bright and early on Saturday, August 19, slinging books and wearing some custom made shades. Join us, and the rest of Mississippi, for a day in August that is fun for the whole family, free to the public, and all about books. Visit msbookfestival.com for information on author, panel times, and other events.

ill be there ms book fest

In the Middle at the Mississippi Book Festival

In two short Saturdays, I will be moderating a panel filled with some of the most talented names in children’s literature for readers ages 8 to 12. With the third annual Mississippi Book Festivalcoming up on Saturday, August 19th, you won’t want to miss hearing (and meeting!) these authors of middle grade fiction from 9:30 AM – 10:30 AM in the State Capitol Room A in the State Capitol. I know I’m excited, and I hope to see a lot of parents and their young readers there too!

The line-up for the books at the In the Middle Panel!

Tumble & Blue

Cassie Beasley, Tumble & Blue: Cassie visited Mississippi for her first book, CIRCUS MIRANDUS, which went on to become a New York Times Best Seller! She comes back to the Mississippi Book Festival with a second book under her belt called TUMBLE & BLUE. Meet Tumble Wilson. She’s putting the “tumble” in “rough and tumble,” following in her idol’s steps, Maximal Star. She wants to prove she can be a hero. Meet Blue Montgomery, who comes from an eccentric family full of strange talents. The only talent Blue has is to lose. At everything. Meet Munch. He’s a golden alligator in the Okefenokee Swamp who has the power to grant good luck to the fools who face him. A centuries long curse, two fool-hardy children, and a hungry, magic alligator? What could possibly go wrong?

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Kristin L. GrayVilonia Beebe Takes Charge: “The day I was born I was four times smaller than the trophy largemouth bass hanging in my daddy’s shop…Boy, have times changed.” Can you say hello to my new favorite fourth grader? Vilonia Beebe (pronounced Bee-bee), like a lot of children her age, wants a dog. But she’s got to prove herself responsible enough to take care of one, including keeping a goldfish alive over spring break, catch some chickens, and do all this before the Catfish Festival. So begins Vi’s mission to take charge. It’s been 43 days since Vilonia’s Nana died, and Vi’s mother, who normally writes obituaries in the paper, can’t bring herself to write another one—including her own mother’s. Vilonia is on a mission to cheer up her mother, and what better way to do that than with a dog. Full of spunk, charm, and a lot of heart, you won’t want to miss meeting Vilonia.

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Kimberly Willis Holt, Blooming at the Texas Sunrise Motel: This is also Kimberly’s second time to the Mississippi Book Festival following her visit with Dear Hank Williams. In Blooming at the Texas Sunrise Hotel, Stevie Grace (named after Stevie Nicks) finds herself an orphan following a tragic car-crash. She also discovers that she has a grandfather who lives in East Texas and runs the Texas Sunrise Motel. This grandfather is also less than happy to find out he has a long-lost granddaughter. With a great cast of funny and heart-warming characters, Stevie Grace navigates life at the motel, living with her grandfather, and also uncovers secrets in her mother’s past along the way. I cannot recommend ALL of Kimberly Willis Holt’s books enough. She is a phenomenal writer!

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Alison McGhee, Pablo and Birdy: When Pablo was a baby, he washed up on the shores of Isla in an inflatable plastic swimming pool with a lavender parrot clinging to the boy. It’s been 10 years since that day, and Birdy, the parrot, hasn’t said a word. Now, strong winds are blowing once more, the same kind of winds that brought Pablo and Birdy to Isla in the first place. In Isla, there are many stories, but the one with the most mystery is the Legend of the Seafaring Parrot. This particular parrot is said to remember every sound, every whisper, cry, laugh ever uttered in the world. Could Birdy be the Seafaring Parrot? She doesn’t talk, so how can she hear every sound in the world? But if she is the Seafaring Parrot…she may be the answer to Pablo discovering who he really is, and where he really belongs. Accompanied by beautiful pencil illustrations by Ana Juan, Alison McGhee’s Pablo and Birdy is amazing and I want to recommend this to every almost-ten-year-old reader out there!

Author Q & A with Angie Thomas

Interview with Angie Thomas by Clara Martin. Special to Twenty by Jenny.

Angie ThomasIn August of 2015, I met Angie when she had just signed with her agent. She was excited, hopeful, but also nervous. She didn’t know how a book influenced by Black Lives Matter would work for a YA story. Over a year later, The Hate U Give is going to be a movie (starring Amandla Stenberg as Starr), and Angie (and T.H.U.G.) are getting ready to take the world by storm. Angie was kind enough to answer some questions before embarking on her tour! Here is a review of The Hate U Give.

Where are you from? Tell me about the journey that led you to where you are now.

hate u giveI was born, raised, and still reside in Jackson, Mississippi. I’ve told stories for as long as I can remember—I used to write Mickey Mouse fanfiction when I was six. But I never thought that I could be an author until I was in college, studying creative writing. I actually wrote the short story that became The Hate U Givewhile I was in my senior year. It took me a few years after college, though, to decide to make it a novel. Even after I wrote it, I was afraid that the topic may not be appropriate for YA. So when a literary agency held a question and answer session on Twitter, I asked if the topic was appropriate. An agent not only responded and said yes, he asked to see my manuscript. A few months later, I signed with him, and a few months after that we were in a 13-publishing house auction.

When did you know you needed to write this book?

Oscar Grant

Oscar Grant

Like I said, I first wrote it as a short story during my senior year of college, back in 2010/2011 after the shooting of Oscar Grant in Oakland, California. Like my main character, Starr, I was living in two different worlds—my neighborhood that most people called “the hood” and my upper class, mostly-white college. By being in these two different worlds, I heard two very different takes on the case. At my school, he was seen as a thug who deserved what he got, but in my community he was one our own. My anger, fear, and frustration led me to write the story. I put it aside after graduation, but as more of these cases continued to happen, I found myself angry, afraid, and frustrated again. So I did the only thing I knew how to do–I wrote.

Black Lives Matter is…

An organization and a movement. I don’t think a lot of people realize there’s a difference between the two. (And for the record, I’m not affiliated with the organization). It’s also a statement. It is not saying that only black lives matter or that black lives matter more. All lives should matter, indeed, but we have a systemic problem in this country in which black lives don’t matter enough. Black lives matter, too.

Tell us a little bit about Starr. Why did you use her voice to tell the story? She starts out so unsure of herself, and it was amazing watching her grow and come into her own.

I know plenty of Starrs in my neighborhood; I was a bit of a Starr myself growing up. She’s in two different worlds where she has to be two different people, and she’s still trying to figure out which one is truly her. I think a lot of people can relate to that. Also, there is this stereotype that black women, especially young black women, are loud and harsh, and I wanted to crush that stereotype with this character.

There is a moment where Starr is in the car with Chris, and she says to him, “I don’t need you to agree…Just try to understand how I feel. Please?” And I felt like this was a powerful line that white people need to hear from black people.

That’s one of my favorite lines, actually. I think if more people understood why black people are so upset when another unarmed black person is killed, it would help bring about change. These cases always become political, but for so many of us they are personal. They need to become personal for all of us.

Another moment that I felt was really powerful is between Ms. Ofrah (Starr’s attorney) and Starr.
“Who said talking isn’t doing something? [Ms. Ofrah] says. “It’s more productive than silence. Remember what I told you about your voice?’
‘You said it’s my biggest weapon.’
‘And I mean that.’”

That’s another one of my favorites (Is it ok for an author to like something they wrote? Haha.) I hope that more people realize just how powerful their voices are, especially in our current political climate. Fighting is not always about violence; sometimes it’s about speaking out. Our voices can change things.

This story is fiction, and yet, it is a real look into casual racism, blatant racism, and both sides of the police equation (Starr’s uncle is also a policeman)—and this is just the tip of the iceberg. In many ways, Starr’s story is not fiction. It is the story of every black person who has been a witness to injustice, time and time again.

My ultimate hope is that it will help people realize that empathy is stronger than sympathy.

Angie Thomas will serve as a panelist on the “Rising Stars in Young Adult” discussion at the Mississippi Book Festival on Saturday, August 19 at 12 p.m. in the Galloway Sanctuary.

Isn’t There Supposed to be a Mad Scientist in This Story?!

Original to the Clarion-Ledger 

WFES062252111-2What is there to do when a picture book has been canceled? Pencil is the narrator and director in this story. The crayons are getting ready to act out their parts. Frankencrayon is sent to page 22 to make his grand entrance. He is, as his name suggests, a crayon towering over the rest, a mix of green, orange, and purple broken crayons held together by masking tape.

When the lights go out, there is a horrible screeching noise. And worse yet, when the lights come on, there is a terrible scribble all the way across the page! As Teal crayon says, “A scribble can ruin a picture book!”

The mystery scribble just keeps getting bigger and bigger…where could it be coming from?

The pencil (director of the story) gets a notice that the picture book has been canceled.

1. No one likes the scribble thing.

2. The characters are gone.

3. Isn’t there supposed to be a mad scientist in this story?

But the pencil forgets to tell Frankencrayon that the picture book has been canceled, and on page 22, Frankencrayon makes his grand entrance onto the page with the scribble! But the lights are off, and where has everyone gone, and most of all, WHO IS SCRIBBLING IN THIS BOOK??

Frankencrayon is clever, funny, and teaches kids to make a creation out of what other people might perceive as a mess. Bring the kids to meet the author and illustrator, Michael Hall, and join us for a FRANKENCRAYON story time on Thursday, January 28th, at 3:00 p.m. at Lemuria Bookstore.

Call 601-366-7619 with questions.

The Wolf Wilder by Katherine Rundell

Jacket (2)“Wolf wilders are almost impossible to spot. A wolf wilder is not like a lion tamer nor a circus ringmaster: Wolf Wilders can go their whole lives without laying eyes on a sequin. They look, more or less, like ordinary people. There are clues: More than half are missing a piece of finger, the lobe of an ear, a toe or two. They go through clean bandages the way other people go through socks. They smell very faintly of raw meat.”

So begins Katherine Rundell’s The Wolf Wilder, a story that envelops readers in words, taking them on a journey into the dark of the snowy Russian forests and into the heart of St. Petersburg. It is a story that wraps around the reader much like the red coat the protagonist wears.

In The Wolf Wilder, the nobility of Russia purchase wolf pups to bring their families good fortune. The wolves wear gold chains and are taught to be tame. Once the wolf begins to act, well, like a wolf, they are sent back into the wilderness. This is where the wolf wilder comes in to help “untame” the wolf and teach it to run and hunt and survive in the wilderness where it belongs. Feodora, described as a “dark and stormy girl” and her mother, Marina, are wolf wilders in the deepest forests of Russia, far away from St. Petersburg, where they turn the wolves wild in an abandoned chapel.

When Marina is arrested by the cruel General Rakov for defiance against the tsar for “wilding” the wolves instead of shooting them outright, Feodora embarks on a dangerous journey to St. Petersburg to rescue her mother. She is accompanied by three wolves named White, Gray, and Black, and by Ilya, a boy her own age who used to be an imperial soldier but whose lightness of foot is much like the wolves.

With motifs from Little Red Riding Hood, Rundell spins her own fairytale that, much like the Grimms, goes into the darkest part of the forest, with little hope of escape. Rundell has a way with words and language, as seen in her previous two middle grade novels, Rooftoppers and Cartwheeling in Thunderstorms, and The Wolf Wilder does not disappoint. Feo, a little girl who might be too small to notice, outsmarts the imperial soldiers with her wits, her wolves, and the help of friends she makes along the way. A beautifully enchanting story to read this winter, The Wolf Wilder shows that there is glittering undercurrent even in the darkest of moments, and even the smallest of golden moments can illuminate the darkness.

Originally published in the Clarion-Ledger.

Gene Luen Yang Named the National Ambassador for Children’s Literature

Original to TwentybyJenny.com. By Clara Martin.

Gene Luen YangEarlier this week, Gene Luen Yang was appointed the National Ambassador for Children’s Literature. Having heard Yang speak at the Children’s Book Festival in Hattiesburg in April of 2015, this news comes as a delight. His presentation was engaging, made everyone laugh, and I’ve never seen so many librarians queue up to buy a graphic novel. They were sold out minutes after his speech. With his friendly demeanor and an innate ability to teach, whether it is about the history of superheroes in comics—Superman was also an alien immigrant—or teaching history (the Boxer Rebellion) or coding, Yang’s range and appeal is wide and varied. There is one constant, though. Gene uses illustrations, comic-strips, in fact, to tell his stories.

He is the first graphic novelist to be chosen for the position of National Ambassador (which has been around since 2008), and it is perfect timing. The graphic novel is having a moment. Raina Telgemeier’s ever popular SmileSisters, and Drama books are always in high demand. My only regret with Victoria Jamieson’s Rollergirl is that I didn’t get to read it when I was eleven. The list goes on and on.

For those of you who don’t know what a graphic novel is, it is a term for a novel told through comic-strip drawings. Reading Without Walls, a platform Yang developed with his publisher that he will promote as the new National Ambassador, is about “being open to new kinds of stories.”

JacketAmerican Born Chinese (First Second, 2006) was the first graphic novel to both win the Michael L. Printz Award for young adult literature and the first graphic novel to be a finalist for the National Book Award. Yang drew on his own experience of being a first-generation Chinese boy growing up in the San Francisco Bay Area. A coding teacher for 17 years, Yang only stopped when the demands of traveling to promote his books, but even though he’s not in the classroom, he continues to teach computer programming in his new book, Secret Coders. In just reading the first installment in this series, I now know the basics of coding, and this book will be an awesome introduction to computer programming for kids.

A graphic novel is a complex story, often more so because of its format. Children are innately open to new kinds of stories. In reading graphic novels, they make connections to their own lives, and they are constantly processing context clues both in the text and drawings.

As children’s literature continues to evolve, it is exciting that Gene Luen Yang will be leading the way for the next two years.

Congratulations, Gene!

Finding Winnie: The True Story of the World’s Most Famous Bear

On August 24, 1914, Captain Harry Colebourn bought a baby bear for $20 on a train station platform.

“Harry stopped. It’s not every day that you see a bear cub at a train station. ‘That Bear has lost its mother,’ he thought, ‘and that man must be the trapper who got her.’”

On his way overseas to fight in World War I, Colebourn, a veterinarian from Winnipeg, decided to name the bear Winnie after his hometown.

When Colebourn showed Winnie to the Colonel, he was originally met with disapproval.

“’Captain Colebourn!’ said the Colonel on the train, as the little Bear sniffed at his knees. ‘We are on a journey of a thousand miles, heading into the thick of battle, and you propose to bring this Most Dangerous Creature?’ Bear stood straight up on her hind legs as if to salute the Colonel. The Colonel stopped speaking at once—and then, in quite a different voice, he said, ‘Oh, hallo.’”

Soon, Winnie was one of their own.

Jacket (1)Finding Winnie is narrated by Lindsay Mattick, the great-grandaughter of Harry Colebourn, as a family story passed down from generation to generation. When Lindsay’s son asks her for a story, she asks “What kind of story?” to which the reply is;“You know. A true story. One about a Bear.”

This picture book tells the miraculous journey of a man and his bear that crossed the Atlantic from Canada to England; and this is the very bear that would become the inspiration for Winnie-the-Pooh when A.A. Milne and his son visited the London Zoo.

After crossing the Atlantic with Winnie, Harry knew that she was growing larger and could not be taken into battle, so he took her to the London Zoo.

“Winnie’s head bowed. Harry’s hands were warm as sunshine, as usual. ‘There is something you must always remember,’ Harry said. ‘It’s the most important thing, really. Even if we’re apart, I’ll always love you. You’ll always be my Bear.’”

Harry and Winnie’s parting seem’s like the end of the story, but as Lindsay points out, “Sometimes, you have to let one story begin so the next one can begin.”

The beautiful and heartfelt illustrations by Sophie Blackall bring this story to life in ink and watercolor. Her illustrations depict Harry Colebourn’s excitement of finding the bear, the heartache of leaving Winnie behind in the zoo, and the joy of a new friendship with Christopher Robin. Finding Winnie will bring you and your child joy and delight at discovering the true story behind one of the most famous characters in literature, and show that sometimes, one story’s ending is just another story’s beginning.

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