Category: Oz: Children’s Books (Page 1 of 18)

Offering children a look at ‘Love’

loveThis book shows love’s many and varied journey through the world. The narrative voice in this book speaks to the child and leads the young reader by the hand to show examples of love that a child may not recognize. The images de la Peña uses to describe love are from the child’s point of view. The very first illustration is from the child’s vantage point in a crib looking up at his/her parents, with the words

In the beginning there is light

and two wide-eyed figures standing at the foot of your bed,

and the sound of their voices is love.

The narrative voice describes the music in the back of the cab driver’s cab, the color of the sky at sunset and playing in summer sprinklers. The narrator says to the child, “the echo of your laughter is love.”

And yet, love is not just in things seen or heard in the natural world, but most importantly, the selfless actions of one human for another. The turning point of this picture book is where Loren Long shows two young boys, perhaps brothers, the elder holding out a piece of toast to his younger brother, where a figure outside the window walks in the snow towards the bus.

Accompanying that illustration are the words:

And in time you learn to recognize a love overlooked

A love that wakes at dawn and rides to work on the bus.

A slice of burned toast that tastes like love.

The full effect of this book is magnificent. Words shine through his gift  for lyricism, his finger on the pulse of those small moments that often go unseen, but are, indeed, love.

Love by Matt de la Peña is Lemuria’s January 2018 picture book selection for our First Editions Club for Young Readers.

Author Q & A with Philip Stead

Interview by Jana Hoops. Special to the Clarion-Ledger Sunday print edition (December 24)

Award-winning children’s book author and illustrator Philip Stead has the unique honor of being the only person alive today who can claim the title of “co-author” to a Mark Twain tale.

LIke most things associated with Twain, who died in 1910, the story of how that came about is, well, an interesting story.

But first things first. Before his collaboration with Twain on the newly released The Purloining of Prince Oleomargarine, Stead and his artist wife Erin Stead claimed a Caldecott Medal, along with the titles of New York Times Best Illustrated Book of 2010 and a Publishers Weekly Best Children’s Book of 2010, for their book A Sick Day for Amos McGee.

Together the couple also created Bear Has a Story to Tell, an E.B. White Read-Aloud Award honor book and, among others, Lenny and Lucy. As an artist as well as author himself, Stead has written and illustrated several books, including his debut, Creamed Tuna Fish and Peas on Toast.

The husband and wife team met in a high school art class, “and from the very first days, we planned on making books together,” Stead said.

steads

Today, they live and work in northern Michigan, along with their dog, Wednesday, and their 5-month-old daughter, Adelaide.

How did the idea for this book come to be–it’s quite unusual!

The Purloining of Prince Oleomargarine began as a story told by Mark Twain to his tow young daughters in the year 1879. Twain probably told countless stories to his children, but this is presumed to be the only time he committed notes for one of these stories to paper.

In 2011, the notes were discovered at the Mark Twain Archive in Berkeley, California. They were unearthed by a scholar who was doing research for a Mark Twain cookbook. He opened a folder labeled “Oleomargarine” expecting to find something food-related and instead discovered 16 pages of handwritten notes for a children’s story begun but never finished. Eureka!

How was it that you were chosen to write this book?

Honestly, I wish I knew! Probably there were others before us who were smart enough to say, “thanks, but no thanks.” But seriously, my best guess is that Erin’s artwork gave our editor confidence that maybe we could do this. Erin’s work is often described as old-fashioned. In an increasingly digital world, Erin has stuck with traditional techniques like woodblock printing and pencil drawing, both of which were around in Twain’s day. One challenge with this book was how to bridge the divide from 1879 to 2017. I think Erin’s art style helps bridge that gap.

Please give me a brief description of the story line, including the main characters. (Your technique of serving as the narrator for your own story, and holding conversations with Mark Twain, was great!)

olemargarineJohnny, a poor, kind, young boy, is forced one day by his cruel grandfather to sell his pet chicken at the market. In doing so, he unexpectedly comes into possession of some magical seeds. From the seeds grow a flower, and upon eating the flower, Johnny is granted the ability to speak with animals. Led by a skunk named Susy, Johnny and all the animals in the land set out on a quest to rescue a stolen prince, and with some luck, perhaps cross paths with a familiar chicken.

Generally, where did Twain’s notes on this book end, and where did you take up the story?

Twain’s notes end at the mouth of a dark cave where, presumably, Prince Oleomargarine is being held by giants. Twain’s final words are: “It is guarded by two mighty dragons who never sleep.” So, Twain was very close to an ending already.

What we discovered was that the ending was not really the missing piece. The missing piece was the beginning. Twain’s notes begin abruptly with: “Widow, dying, gives seeds to Johnny–got them from an old woman once to whom she had been kind.” That’s certainly a nice place to begin, but Twain left us with nothing about the character of Johnny–who he was and why we ought to love him.

Some characters in the book were created by Erin and me to address this problem. The most notable additions are probably the cruel grandfather and Johnny’s luckless pet chicken, Pestilence and Famine. The name Pestilence and Famine, by the way, comes from a piece of Clemens family history. The Clemens family had many household cats with peculiar names. There was a cat named Sour Mash, and Satan, and my personal favorite, Pestilence and Famine.

What inspired the direction you decided to take in finishing this tale?

The book became a story within a story. First, there is the story of Johnny, and Susy, and Prince Oleomargarine. But then there is the story of Mark Twain and myself, sitting together at a secluded cabin, arguing over the direction of the story itself. These conversations between Twain and me came about because of a problem I encountered early on. The problem was that every now and then I wanted to deviate from Twain’s notes. It didn’t seem right, though, to make changes without giving Twain a say in the matter. The easiest and most fun solution to this problem was to make Twain (and myself) a character in the book.

Tell me about the artwork Erin produced for this book. How does it help to convey your own “vision” for this story?

Erin’s artwork is rendered in woodblock printing and pencil drawing. The colors are muted and atmospheric. In many ways, Erin became a third author for this story. So many choices were left completely up to her. It was never just a matter of executing my, or Twain’s, vision.

For example, the setting is all Erin’s. Oleomargarine is a fairy tale, but it is not a European fairy tale. It is American through and through. Erin wanted the setting to reflect that. She also wanted the setting to exist somewhere in time between Twain’s day and our own. So, having given herself those two guidelines, she settled on a world reminiscent of the American dust bowl–a perfect setting for her naturally dusty, airy, and melancholy artwork.

For what ages is this book most appropriate?

twain1This story began as a piece of oral tradition. It was as a story told out loud, maybe over the course of several nights by an adult to children. I would hope the finished book is used in much the same way. While the language might be difficult for a child under the age of 9 or 10, I believe that children of all ages will be able to appreciate the story–its rhythm, its humor, and its message–especially when told directly to them by a parent, or grandparent, or some other important adult figure in their life.

In what ways did you find it most challenging to complete the task of finishing Twain’s story, and on the flip side, what did you enjoy most about tackling this project?

The most challenging thing about this book was also the most rewarding. For me, the real work and the real joy was in finding Twain’s voice. Twain left notes for almost every element of plot, but he left very little finished prose. Because of that, I had to really immerse myself in Twain’s other works, sometimes listening to Twain’s writing as if it were music. Because of that, there is a little bit of Twain inside of me now forever.

Best Books of 2017 for All Kids

At the end of every year, it is always wonderful to look back and see what great books were published and now on the shelves for children to enjoy reading.

Here are the Best Books of 2017 to you can give as a gift this holiday season. To see a more comprehensive list for each age group, click the links on the ages!

Best Books for Kids Ages 0 -3

Life CoverLife by Cynthia Rylant and illustrated by Brendan Wenzel, $17.99 (signed copies available at Lemuria)

The vibrant, life-filled illustrations are accompanied by one line of text per page. The story begins with an illustration of a small plant growing in the desert, with the line, “Life begins small. Even for the elephants. Then it grows.” The following page shows a baby elephant reaching a trunk up to a larger elephant. “Life grows. Ask any animal on earth, what do you love about life?” A gorgeous book for a newborn or toddler.

Life Interior

 

My Very First Mother GooseMy Very First Mother Goose by Iona Opie, illustrated by Rosemary Wells, $24.99 (copies signed by Rosemary Wells available at Lemuria)

Folklorist Iona Opie passed away this year. Her legacy lives on in the nursery rhymes that she collected and edited in this beautiful edition of Mother Goose that are perfect for baby’s first Christmas.

 

The Little Red Cat Who Ran AwayThe Little Red Cat Who Ran Away and Learned His ABC’s (The Hard Way) by Patrick McDonnell, $17.99

I’ve been a fan of Patrick McDonnell’s illustrations for a long time, and this little red cat is one of my new favorites. As the little red cat runs away from home, he encounters adventures involving the alphabet, and this is the perfect book for a little one just learning his or her letters. The letter Z is accompanied by a little red cat, safe at home again, fast asleep.

Little Red Cat interior

 

12 Days of XMAS12 Days of Christmas by Greg Pizzoli, $16.99 (signed copies available at Lemuria Books)

We all know how the song goes: “On the first day of Christmas, my true love gave to me…A Patridge in a pear tree.” Followed by turtle doves, french hens, and five golden rings. Greg Pizzoli re-imagines this classic Christmas carol in his newest picture book for children, The Twelve Days of Christmas.” With each introduction of a new day of Christams, an elephant family receives the gift that corresponds to the day according to the carol. Have you ever really stopped to think about what would happen if you had a room filled with an assortment of birds? Namely, six geese a-laying and seven swans a-swimming? It would be chaos. Pizzoli takes the this carol and makes it literal, and that parents and young readers alike will giggle over the growing gifts the little elephant family does not know what to do with.

Best Books for Kids Ages 4 – 7

Princess Cora and the CrocodilePrincess Cora and the Crocodile by Laura Amy Schlitz and Brian Floca, $16.99 (signed copies available at Lemuria)

Hands down this is one of my favorite books for kids this year. It’s about a princess who is tired of her routine, so she writes to her fairy godmother, asking for a pet. She imagines getting a golden retriever, but what she gets instead is a crocodile. When the crocodile pretends to be the princess for a day, you can imagine that things do not go smoothly. Hilarious, and told in short chapters, this is a wonderful book for the reader just beginning chapter books or to be read aloud at bed time.

Princess Cora and the Crocodile interior

This House OnceThis House Once by Deborah Freedman, $17.99 (signed copies available at Lemuria)

Curl up by the fire and read this picture book on a cold night. This is one of the most beautifully illustrated picture books of 2017, and a great book to add to any child’s collection.

 

The Wolf, the Duck, and the MouseThe Wolf, the Duck, and the Mouse by Mac Barnett and Jon Klassen, $17.99 (signed copies by both author and illustrator available at Lemuria)

Mac Barnett and Jon Klassen have a history of creating great books together, and this one might be their funniest yet. What happens when a mouse is swallowed by a big, bad wolf? He finds a duck who has set up camp inside the wolf’s stomach, and both duck and mouse feast and feast until the wolf has a bellyache. Both duck and mouse are living it up—until the wolf’s life is threatened by a hunter, and then they have to create a plan to save the day. Add this book to your shelf immediately.

The Wolf, the Duck, and the Mouse interior

Best Books for Kids Ages 8 – 12

purloiningThe Purloining of Prince Oleomargarine by Mark Twain, Philip Stead, and illustrated by Erin Stead, $24.99 (signed copies available at Lemuria)

Why is this my favorite fiction book this year? In publishing, it is not too rare for a well-known author’s work to be found and published posthumously. However, in the case of The Purloining of Prince Oleomargarine, Phil and Erin Stead managed to take sixteen pages of notes from a bedtime story that Mark Twain told his daughters, and turn it into a true literary masterpiece over a century later. Phil holds a conversation with the ghost of Mark Twain (which is hilarious) and Erin’s illustrations are airy and lovely, as always. They truly breathe life into the story. So what’s the right age for this book? I’d say somewhere from 6 to 96.

There are a handful of times where I walk out of the store, a book under my arm, and race home to read it. Not only did I do that, but I felt somehow as if I was reading a lost masterpiece of children’s literature. There’s only one time I’ve had that experience, and it was with The Purloining of Prince Oleomargarine.

Purloining interior

Tumble & BlueTumble and Blue by Cassie Beasley, $17.99 (signed copies available at Lemuria)

Cassie Beasley is one of the best writers I know for children in the age range of 8 to 12. Her characters are funny, full of heart, and she really understands kids. Tumble and Blue is set in the Okefenokee Swamp of Georgia, involves a golden alligator named Munch, a cursed boy named Blue born into a family with special gifts, and one spunky girl named Tumble who is out to save the day and reverse Blue’s unluckiness.

 

The VanderbeekersThe Vanderbeekers of 141st Street by Karina Yan Glaser, $16.99

If I had a favorite category of children’s books, it would be “big-family-where-the-siblings-must-band-together”. Think The Penderwicks, The Five Little Peppers and How they Grew, The Moffats, and so on and so forth. Well, the Vanderbeekers officially get to join that list. It is almost Christmas, and the five Vanderbeeker children find out that their mean landlord is not going to renew their lease on the brownstone where they’ve lived their whole lives. It is up to them to change his mind, and perhaps, create little Christmas magic in the process.

 

The ExplorerThe Explorer by Katherine Rundell, $16.99 (signed copies available at Lemuria)

If you know me at all, you know that Kate Rundell is one of my absolute favorite writers right now for kids. Her new book, The Explorer, is about four children who are stranded in the Amazon after a fiery plane crash. Rundell visited Lemuria in October on a Friday. Her event was Friday evening, during most high-school football games. Two young boys, about age 10, showed up, and as they stood in the signing line, their father told the author, “I don’t know what you said at their school today, but they told me they had to come and get your book and have you sign it. These two football crazy boys are missing the big game right now for your book!” If that’s not a great endorsement for a book for kids in Mississippi, I don’t know what is!

Best Books for Young Adults

Hate U GiveThe Hate U Give by Angie Thomas, $17.99 (signed copies available at Lemuria)

So if you have not heard about this book yet, it is time that you know about it! This book, inspired by the #blacklivesmatter movement, was awarded eight starred reviews (virtually unheard of), was long listed for the National Book Award, and won the Horn-Globe Book Award. It has been on the NYT Bestseller list for 39 weeks and counting. The upcoming movie wrapped filming this fall, and Angie Thomas herself is from Jackson, Mississippi. It has been a pleasure to see the amount of success Angie has experienced in the year 2017, and her star is only growing brighter. I encourage you to pick up this timely book about how one young girl navigates life between her mostly-white prep school and all-black neighborhood, all while dealing with the death of her friend at the hands of the police.

You can now pre-order a signed, first edition copy of her new novel, On the Come Up.

Librarian of AuschwitzThe Librarian of Auschwitz by Antonio Iturbe, translated by Lilit Thwaites, $19.99

Written by Spanish author Antonio Iturbe, this book is based off of his real interviews with Dita Kraus, who survived the Holocaust and who now lives in Israel. It tells her story, how she served as a librarian in a concentration camp, where she protected eight precious books for the children at Auschwitz. Inspiring and heart-breaking, this is one book you should not wait to read, now that it has been translated.

Last NamsaraThe Last Namsara by Kristen Cicarelli, $17.99

If you have a reader who loves fantasy stories, The Last Samsara is the next one to add to your to-read list. Filled with dragons who are slain for telling stories, this book has all the great elements of a high-fantasy, for fans of Sabaa Tahir’s An Ember in the Ashes or Leigh Bardugo’s Grisha series.

 

Climbing the Wall in Dan Santat’s ‘After the Fall’

“Life begins when you get back up”

after the fall

Now we all know the story of Humpty Dumpty and how he fell and couldn’t be put back together again. But in Dan Santat’s beautifully illustrated new picture book After the Fall, he has already been put back together, but is now terrified of heights. His fear was so crippling that he could no longer enjoy things he once loved, like the good cereal on the top shelves of the grocery store or bird watching on top of the wall.

atf pictures

But Humpty Dumpty will not give up all the things he loves just because he is afraid of heights. No! He will just have to be more creative about enjoying them. He starts making paper airplanes to fly alongside his beloved birds. But tragedy strikes again, and his favorite plane gets stuck on top of the very wall he first fell off. Now Humpty Dumpty has to face a hard decision.

Does he let his fall define him or does he get back up again?

Dan Santat’s storytelling and illustrations blend perfectly together to create this vibrant and heartfelt story. With some fun twist and surprises to a tale we all thought we knew, After the Fall will inspire all that read it (trust me, I loved it so much that I bought it for myself). This is not just a book for children, it is a fun reminder to everyone that the important thing is not that you fell, but whether you get back up again.

Come catch the holiday spirit with Greg Pizzoli’s ’12 Days of Christmas’

We all know how the song goes: “On the first day of Christmas, my true love gave to me…a partridge in a pear tree.” 12 days of christmasFollowed by turtle doves, french hens, and five golden rings. Greg Pizzoli re-imagines this classic Christmas carol in his newest picture book for children, The Twelve Days of Christmas. With each introduction of a new day of Christmas, an elephant family receives the gift that corresponds to each day according to the carol. Have you ever really stopped to think about what would happen if you had a room filled with an assortment of birds? Namely, six geese a-laying and seven swans a-swimming? It would be chaos. Pizzoli takes the this carol and makes it literal, making parents and young readers alike giggle over the growing amount of gifts that the little elephant family just does not know what to do with.

You may recognize Greg Pizzoli from his picture book The Watermelon Seed, which won a Theodor Seuss Geisel Award in 2014. Join Greg at Lemuria Books on Friday, December 1, to kick off the holiday season with a signing and story time for The 12 Days of Christmas, from 3 p.m. to 4 p.m.

Can’t make it but want to reserve a picture book as a gift for the holidays? Call us at 601-366-7619 or visit our website.

Celebrate the 65th anniversary of ‘Charlotte’s Web’ with these books

Maybe there was a time before, when I loved books and loved stories. charlotte's webBut I like to think of my life as before and after. Before Charlotte’s Web, I listened to stories. After Charlotte’s Web, I read them.

For every bibliophile, there is a book, or a story, that turned the tables. So, living my life in a post-reading Charlotte’s Web world, I am always drawn to stories that remind me of the friendship between Wilbur and Charlotte, strong girl-characters like Fern, and comedic entertainment in Templeton the Rat.

And as Charlotte’s Web turns 65 this year, here are two recent stories that will take you back to the wonder of “some pig.”

The Unlikely Story of a Pig in the City

unlikely story of a pig in the cityThis story by Jodi Kendall opens on Thanksgiving Day at the dinner table. Josie Shillings’ college-aged older brother Tom brings home a baby pig he has named Hamlet who was the runt of the litter. Josie’s father is adamant: “Not a chance,” Dad said, pointing at Tom with a silver fork. “Pigs don’t belong in the city.”

It is Josie who comes to the rescue, convincing her father to let her keep the pig, on the condition that she finds a home for it by New Year’s. Josie must juggle her upcoming gymnastics competition, surviving close-quarters living in a large family, a grumpy next-door neighbor, and buying pig-food for Hamlet, who is rapidly growing into quite the porker.

You’ll fall in love with Josie’s determination, Hamlet’s antics, and the Shilling family. As Josie’s favorite book is Charlotte’s Web, there are references to E.B. White’s classic as well.

A Boy, A Mouse, and a Spider: The Story of E.B. White

Have you ever wondered what ‘E.B.’ stood for in this children’s author’s name? Turns out, his full name is Elwyn Brooks White.

boy a mouse and a spiderIn this beautiful picture-biography by Barbara Herkert and illustrated by Lauren Castillo, the story of White’s childhood, from his life-long love of animals, to his fear of public speaking in school, is truly a one-of-a-kind story for young children who want to know more about White.

Castillo, who won a Caldecott Honor for her book, Nana in the City, truly captures the essence of New England summer nights, Elwyn’s shyness and the beauty of his surroundings, and his friendship with animals.

Whether it was a mouse in his pocket, who turned into the inspiration for Stuart Little, or a spider’s web in the eaves of his barn with a certain Charlotte A. Cavatica at its center, White’s story shows us that his every-day surroundings, while simple, were filled with moments of wonder that he translated into timeless classics for children.

Discovery brings Twain back to life in kid’s bedtime story

By Clara Martin

What do cooking grease, ornery dragons, and Mark Twain have to do with each other? As it turns out, quite a lot.

At the Bancroft Library in Berkeley, California, in a search for recipes relating to a Mark Twain cookbook in the Twain Archives, the word “oleomargarine” pulled up 16 pages of handwritten notes. But the notes weren’t about cooking. These 16 pages comprised a bedtime story, a fairy tale that Twain told his daughters, Clara and Susy Clemens, while in Paris in 1879.

The story ended abruptly with Prince Oleomargarine being kidnapped and taken to a cave guarded by dragons. The Mark Twain House sold the rights to Doubleday, an imprint under Penguin Random House. But with the author long gone and only 16 pages of notes to work with, the story needed some guidance.
Lucky for us readers, Philip and Erin Stead, the team behind the Caldecott Winning picture book A Sick Day for Amos McGee, took the reins in The Purloining of Prince Oleomargarine.

prince oleomargarine

But how do you work with a dead man who was writing before the 20th century? By turning him into a character, of course.

In the story (and in real life), Philip goes out to a cabin on Beaver Island to write this story and converse with the ghost of Twain, who interjects in the first half of the story quite frequently. The banter goes on back and forth, with Philip Stead asking Twain “what happens next,” and when Twain’s own story doesn’t fit with Stead’s vision, he goes ahead, sometimes with Twain’s permission and sometimes without.

What ensues is a hilarious feat of storytelling that hearkens back to the oral tradition. As you read, you will feel the need to read this to someone else, to share the story. After all, aren’t the best stories meant to be shared?

So while the Steads make some changes, they stick to the theme that runs through all of their books–the importance of kindness.

The hero of the story, Johnny, is a young African-American boy whose grandfather is a “bad man.” His only friend in the world is a chicken named “Pestilence and Famine.”

He sells his chicken to an “old, blind woman, thin enough to cast no shadow.” This beggar woman gives Johnny a handful of pale blue seeds in exchange for the chicken. She promises him that if he plants the seeds under very specific conditions, then a flower will bloom. If Johnny eats the flower, he will never feel emptiness again. He plants the seeds, and one flower blooms. Johnny eats the seed, ravenous with hunger, but he does not feel fulfilled. He is about to give up when he hears a voice: that of a talking skunk named Susy. As it turns out, the magic flower allows Johnny to talk to and understand animals.

Johnny’s life with the animals is filled with peace. As the old beggar woman promised him, he does not feel emptiness because of his friends. But when they come across a notice proclaiming that Prince Oleomargarine has gone missing, Johnny and the animals go forward to help.

As it turns out, the King is very, very short. So, all of his subjects must stoop before him (or they will be enemies of the state). He claims that giants have taken his only son and heir to the throne. Johnny and the animals follow the trail and end up at the entrance to a cave, guarded by Two Ornery Dragons. AS the narrator says: “An important thing to know about dragons is this: They are always arguing with one another. No two dragons can agree on anything.”

And, as this is where Twain left Philip Stead to pick up the storytelling mantle, this where I will leave you to discover the rest of the tale.

Erin and Philip Stead

Erin and Philip Stead

While reading The Purloining of Prince Oleomargarine, I felt as though I was reading a long-lost classic children’s story. Which, in a way, I was. Thanks to the magic and artistry of the Steads, the gem of the original story is not lost. With Erin’s ethereal illustrations that are suited for a fairy tale of this magnitude, she brings Phil’s words, Twain’s eccentricity, Johnny’s pure heart, and the importance of kindness to life.

To borrow from Twain, I think the moral of the story can be summed up as such: “There are more chickens than a man can know in this world, but an unprovoked kindness is the rarest of birds.”

Philip Stead will appear at Lemuria on Monday, October 30, to promote The Purloining of Prince Oleomargarine. He will sign books at 5:00, and he will read from the book beginning at 5:30.

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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With Her Little Eye: ‘Olivia the Spy’ by Ian Falconer

This blog is in honor of my little sister, Olivia. She grew up on Olivia the Pig books and I got the joy of reading them along with her. Olivia is a classic and has made many families fall in love with her over the years. My family even started a collection of pig stuffed animals. We can’t see a pig without thinking of Olivia the Pig. She is a most beloved children’s book character and, after many years, she is back.

Olivia is sassy, bold, and refuses not to be seen. She has been any- and everything from a fairy princess to a circus performer–and now she is a spy!

In Olivia the Spy, Olivia overhears her mom talking with her dad about her, and she must know what they were discussing. She decides to do some investigating herself. She becomes a spy! She is sneaky and quiet. She must blend in with her surroundings. This is not something Olivia is good at, but she never gives up. Don’t worry; Olivia always finds a way.

“Olivia, Who had always stood out, now needed to blend in. She might be anywhere. Anywhere. Seriously, Anywhere.”

“Olivia, who had always stood out, now needed to blend in. She might be anywhere. Anywhere. Seriously, anywhere.”

What will Olivia discover through her investigation? Is it the truth? Olivia will learn whether or not she can trust what she overhears as the whole story.

Ian Falconer brings Olivia alive once again in this hilarious new book. Lovers of the classic Olivia books or those who have not even met Olivia yet will thoroughly enjoy Olivia the Spy. Falconer’s comical illustrations are very funny, a combination of drawings, painting and photos that bring even more life to his stories. They are quirky and will brighten anyone’s day.

Author Q & A with Corabel Shofner (Bel Alexander)

Interview by Jana Hoops. Special to the Clarion-Ledger Sunday print edition (July 30).

Native Jacksonian Corabel Shofner (known as a child in Jackson as Bel with one L Alexander) has, with “great success, taken the long way when it came to navigating several important milestones in [her] life–but things have always, eventually, seemed to fall into place.”

At age 17, she decided to “interrupt” her education at Murrah High School–so she left, and hitchhiked around the world, landing in New York City. She eventually enrolled in Columbia University and graduated magna cum laude and Phi Beta Kappa after studying English literature and Arabic. She and husband Martin Shofner now live in Nashville, where she received a degree from Vanderbilt University School of Law. They have three grown children.

almost paradiseNow in her mid-60s, Shofner is officially beginning her new career as a writer, releasing her debut book, Almost Paradise(Farrar Straus Giroux)–a story about love, self-sacrifice, and a family’s second chance at redemption.

Her shorter works have appeared or are forthcoming in Word RiotWillow ReviewHabersham ReviewHawai’i ReviewSou’westerSouth Carolina ReviewSouth Dakota Review, and Xavier Review.

Tell me about growing up in Jackson.

We lived in Lakeland and Old Canton Road. My first school was Duling, where I was fascinated by the principal, Mrs. or Miss Boutwell, because she had a mysterious medical crisis called a blood clot.

There were pine woods behind my house which I would walk through to see Ophelia, who was the housekeeper/caregiver for Mrs. Brown in Woodland Hills. Mrs. Brown is the first person I know who died. Ophelia’s lovely stone cottage was right out of a fairy tale. If someone left ashes in her ashtray she kept them because she loved the smell. I think of her every time I see or smell ashes.

We moved our house from Lakeland to Lelia Drive, down by what is now River Hills Country Club. Anybody who was alive at that time will remember the house that was stuck on the bridge for weeks. That would be mine. For year, when I would be drive home by a friend’s mother, she would pull up and gasp, “Wasn’t that the house…?”

I was a terrible student and not a reader at all, except when I crawled into the attic to read Black Beauty with my plastic horses. I did write. The first book was titled The Monsters Under My Bed. I dropped out of Murrah High School and hitchhiked away, but I go to all the 1971 class reunions.

I still have farm land in the Delta and we come home often. My children are all grown, now ages 24-31, and they are all very imaginative and artistic.

You are, or were, an attorney. When did you start writing, and are you giving up your legal career for writing at this time?

I love researching and writing law, but as a career, it is over. It was a great job, but I’m a bit conflict averse, which I should have thought about ahead of time. And I didn’t like measuring my life in billable hours. My family has a long history in law. My grandfather–Julian Power Alexander, who married Corabel Roberts–wrote a dissenting opinion when he was on the Mississippi Supreme Court that said that the constitution does not exact wisdom from its citizens, but ensures their right to folly. I love that so much.

He died at the Sugar Bowl (in New Orleans, in January 1953, two months before I was born. They took his body to Bultman’s funeral home and then on the train home. Bultman’s is now a Fresh Market Grocery Store. Pat Stevens told me that when I visited her in New Orleans recently. My father was a dear friend of her husband Phineaus.

Julian and Corabel had a Dutch Colonial house on Poplar Street in Belhaven, and I remember toddling up to the front door. My cousin (author Tom Sancton of New Orleans and Paris) tells me we are at least fifth-generation Mississippians-and 13th-generation Mayflower descendants–but, as he says, “that’s another story.”

In your debut novel, Almost Paradise, the main character, Ruby Clyde Henderson, had an unpredictable life for whom things eventually worked out in an unexpected way. She is a complicated character who deserves more than she often got during the first 12 years of her life. How did you conceive of this character and this story-line for your first book?

I had been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis and was heavily medicated, very worried about my children and our future. Ruby Clyde marched into my room and bounced on my bed, telling me about herself, in 2001. This book has been in and our of “the drawer” for years. Ruby Clyde is a healer and I believe that writing her story is why my prognosis is now quite strong.

It’s difficult to tell the time period in which the book is set, until we read that her aunt was digitizing document on her computer–but there are no mentions of cell phones, tablets, social media, or “devices.” Why is there no evidence of these modern distractions?

I wanted my story to be modern, but somewhat timeless, hence the computer in the backroom and a television that is rolled out of the closet. Sister Eleanor doesn’t have a phone–cell or land line. Phones were not necessary to Ruby Clyde and her mother socially or financially. Cell phones are certainly ubiquitous today, but once they are in a story it seems like tech takes over and clutters the relationships. So, even though mine is a contemporary story, I wanted Ruby Clyde and her mother to be connected by other means, and I wanted Paradise Ranch to be a very peaceful, nurturing, and healing place.

Some of the characters, maybe Joe Brewer and Lady Frank, might well have owned cell phones, but didn’t use them in my scenes. The Catfish probably had one somewhere. I thought of dropping in a mention of cell phones, but then that would bring more attention to cell phones and before you know it, everybody would be calling everybody.

By the way, you are not the first person to question the time period. I think there are several places where it is a bit more dreamy than realistic.

The relationship between Ruby Clyde and her mother is, for the most part, reversed. Explain the importance of their roles.

Ruby Clyde is competent and self-reliant by necessity because her mother has withdrawn. I have often seen that when a parent falls short, the child will step forward and take on the adult role. They lose their childhood. It is a tragedy that is overlooked because people are prone to praise the child for stepping in. That is hwy I call this a reverse coming-of-age story. Ruby is able to find adults she can trust and to reclaim her childhood. Of course, she has no entire clue this is what’s happening.

Tell me about the Christian references in the story…Ruby Clyde has an aunt who is a nun, she believes in the power of prayer, and she makes deals with God and lives up to them.

I am a Christian. Biblical imagery is some of the powerful stuff on earth. Much of it can be quite baffling. I have an odd way of seeing everything, religion included. Ruby Clyde believes and questions all at the same time. Also, self-sacrifice is important to me, as it is so difficult to do and keeps getting pushed down the list of virtues. Hence, the Tale of Two Cities thread. I was worried that I might offend people of faith, but I was relieved when a very conservative religious reviewer said that she “would definitely have no qualms about recommending the book to Christian families.”

What is your bigger message to readers who join Ruby Clyde on her journey in this story?

“Message” is a loaded word. It is difficult to write plain words and have them understood at face value. “Message” is in the ear of the reader. I certainly hope that Ruby Clyde’s bravery and compassion are contagious. Ruby Clyde likes to say that you have to love pieces of people because if you wait around for perfect, you will end up with nothing. Maybe that is a message from Ruby Clyde of her own self.

Corabel Shofner

Corabel Shofner

Tell me about your other publications.

Stuff. Short stories, essays, legal writing. I wrote a brief for the U.S. Supreme Court.

Why were you drawn to writing a children’s book as your debut novel?

I just wrote my story. (My publisher) Farrar, Straus, And Giroux told me it was for 10-year-olds. That said, I couldn’t be more enchanted with the people dedicated to children’s literature.

Do you plan to continue writing children’s (or middle years) books?

Yes. I will continue to write my stories and then be told what they are. That said, whatever I write I will always support teachers and librarians and all people who work in children’s books. They are my people.

Corabel Shofner will sign copies of Almost Paradise at Lemuria Books at 5 p.m. on Tuesday, August 1. She will also serve as a panelist on the Middle Grade Reader’s discussion at the Mississippi Book Festival on Saturday, August 19 at 12 p.m. at the State Capitol in Room H.

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