Author/Illustrator: Connah Brecon
Publisher: Running Press Kids
Available for Purchase: October 2014
“Frank was late. Frank was always late,” Brecon’s book begins.
Frank! is full of dance parties, lizard king invasions, and a school teacher that won’t quit. It’s a lot of fun and a great way to discuss timeliness, pocket watches, and working together with your kiddo.
We read this over the summer for kid’s story time at Half Price Books Humble and one of our favorite features of the story are the three pigeons who follow Frank the Bear everywhere. We enjoying scoping them out and finding them napping against a tree trunk on one page and lurking on a fence board on another.
Brecon has other picture books, but this is his first to be published in the United States. He lives in Australia, and we were pretty excited to get a chance to review his debut book. Kiddo thought Frank! was pretty exciting and she can be seen “reading” the book here on the left (she’s not yet four in this picture). The other kiddo at story time that day was looking through another title we received earlier that month. We’re pleased with our first experience with Running Press Kids and look forward to more of their publications in the future.
Recently I had the great joy of reading Colors of the Wind by J.L. Powers. Even more recently, I had the chance to do an interview with her! (I just can’t get enough interviews these days!)
1. How did you find out about George Mendoza? When did you first meet in person?
I met George a dozen years ago when I was asked to write a feature story about his life as an artist. I had no idea what I was getting into—and I suppose that’s a good thing. I have to be honest and say that I’d never thought a lot about what it was like to be blind before I met him, except to sort of assume that it was like being in the dark and then to realize that this couldn’t be exactly true either. But when I heard him describe that being blind, for him, meant seeing things that weren’t there—floating eyes, brilliant sunbursts, squiggly colors flashing by—and also like looking into a kaleidoscope, with images multiplied and reflected back, I was fascinated. The artwork speaks for itself but when you know the story behind the artwork, it’s even more amazing.
2. Did you do much research to tell George’s story, or did you let him tell his story to you?
George told me his story, several times, on different occasions and I kept getting more detail over time. We were initially working on a glossy, coffee-table style artbook, but couldn’t sell the concept to any publisher. Admittedly, it took me awhile to put two and two together and realize that this would make an amazing picture book, but finally I did, and here we are.
3. You have written award-winning novels for young adults and you’ve edited two collections of essays. What made you decide to branch out into the picture book arena?
I’ve always loved picture books but it’s an astonishingly difficult genre to write and to break into. George’s story seemed perfect for it—a story of perseverance, a story where his disability becomes the literal source of inspiration for him as an artist.
It is clearly a picture book but I’ve had several high school librarians tell me that this is also a good book for reluctant readers at the middle-grade to high-school level because it isn’t a cutesy story and it doesn’t have illustrations that are clearly aimed at the younger crowd. So it seems like a picture book for all ages, if that’s possible.
I have 3 young adult novels, though one of them (Amina) is currently only available in Australia.
The Confessional, my first novel, is a gritty novel about a young man getting murdered and it explores the problem of violence among young men and their friends. I’d recommend you wait until your daughter is late teens just because it is so gritty. But that all depends on the kid, right? It explores important questions about friendship and loyalty and faith so there’s lots to talk about when you do read it.
This Thing Called the Future is a great novel for 12 & up, an entertaining read about a young woman growing up in post-apartheid South Africa. Just as Khosi starts falling in love for the first time, a loved one starts dying of a mysterious disease, a witch curses her family, and she is being stalked by a man with shape-shifting powers. The book deals with the HIV-AIDS epidemic as well as the very real problem of young girls being preyed upon by older men, and it introduces American readers to the clash between traditional Zulu culture and the so-called modern world.
Amina is for 10-14 year olds, if you can get ahold of a copy here in the U.S. It tells the story of a young girl, Amina, an artist growing up in Mogadishu, Somalia. Her father is taken captive by al-Shabaab, and her brother is abducted to be a soldier. She is left to fend for her pregnant and ill mother and her elderly grandmother in a dangerous, violent city where young women are vulnerable. Will her artwork save her—or be her demise?
I would recommend Amina to start with (again, if you can find it—it just came out last year but isn’t available in the U.S.), then This Thing Called the Future, and last, The Confessional.
5. Will you and George work together to tell more stories? (We love his illustrations and your storytelling and would love to see more.)
Well, that’s an interesting idea, one I hadn’t really thought of. This book really required the publisher to have a vision for using George’s paintings as the main illustrations, so I’m grateful that Jill, our editor at Purple House Press, had that vision. I’ll have to explore the possibility, obviously with George. Thanks for the idea!
6. Colors of the Wind doesn’t just feature your writing and George’s paintings, there are also drawings by Hayley Morgan-Sanders. Did you work closely with Sanders as well, or was she hired separately by the publishing company?
She was hired separately by the publishing company. It worked out well, didn’t it? I’m grateful for Jill’s hard work designing this book as well; she did a fabulous job.
7. I review children’s books and conduct interviews with my three year old daughter. She wants to know how a female author could write about a man’s life so well. (She is convinced that you must be a man because the story is about George and he is a man!)
My first novel, The Confessional, was first-person view point multiple narrators, all young men. I spent lots of time observing young men to write that. My second novel, This Thing Called the Future, features a young modern South African woman as the protagonist. And my third, Amina, features a young modern Somalian woman as the protagonist. So far, none of my novels have featured protagonists exactly like me—a white woman who grew up as a minority in a blue-collar Mexican and Mexican-American neighborhood along the U.S.-Mexico Border. It’s not that I’m uninterested in my own story, only that I have had compelling stories I wanted to tell about people who are not exactly like me and I believe that any novelist can and must explore the lives and stories of people who are, in some way, different than themselves. But often, it turns out that our differences are more surface than people think—but we focus on those surface differences until they seem really important. So I guess in the end, I feel like I write about people, and since I’m a person, I’m writing about people who are basically similar to me. Having said all that, I am a very careful researcher; I invest a lot of time and money into travel, friendships, and research so that I can write with as much accuracy and authenticity as possible. And I always have people from the group in question read and vet my manuscripts for possible errors. If one of them says there is a problem, no matter how minor or how major, I change it.
8. In your bio it says you teach English at Skyline College in California. Has teaching English helped you write better, or hindered your ability to produce more work?
Teaching writing and literature has helped me become more intelligent about how the writing process works and to talk about the elements of any kind of written work. This, in turn, has definitely made me a better writer. I used to write and sort of hope everything would come together. I didn’t understand the elements of a story and I really really didn’t understand the process of revision. I was afraid to truly change things because I was afraid I would ruin things. Now I just go at it. Nothing is sacred. Teaching definitely did that for me. Being able to see the problems in another person’s writing allows you to begin to see the problems in your own.
We did two events in El Paso, Texas and one in Las Cruces, New Mexico, all with children in attendance who did artwork after the event. It was great fun. We have an upcoming event in September in Santa Ana, California and I hope we have a good showing there. We haven’t YET gone into schools but I hope this book will lead the way.
10. What is one thing you’d like your readers and fans to know about you?
I travel as much as possible. The world is a fascinating place. Travel expands your ability to understand other people, to love the world, and to see how complex problems are so that you can never again offer facile solutions to the problems that plague the world. Literature—from picture books to novels—is a form of travel without ever leaving the safety of your own home. So encourage reading for people of all ages, and encourage people to read as much and as widely as possible!
Title: Mosey’s Field
Author: Barbara Lockhart
Illustrator: Heather Crow
Publisher: Schiffer Publishing
Genre: Picture Book
As a homeschool mom, a story time host, and a book blogger, I can’t just can’t get enough of Schiffer books. They are educational, riveting to crowds, and just plain gorgeous.
Recently we read, reviewed, and enjoyed Song for Papa Crow. We even got to interview the author! This week, we’ve been blessed with a copy of Mosey’s Field and the kiddos today loved it. We read it twice and no one who had sat through the first reading complained or got antsy.
Mosey’s Field tells the story of a corn farm and walks children through all the seasons of field corn from the eyes of a dog. Mosey watches the seeds get planted and notes how “the stalks grew tall and the leaves crisscrossed each other, green upon green, so there were only tiny patches of sky.”
It’s not surprising to discover that both the illustrator and the author of this book are teachers. Barbara Lockhart is a retired kindergarten teacher and Heather Crow is a teacher and freelance artist. Kids respond well to the story, want to follow the adventures of Mosey, love the illustrations, and know a little bit more about where food comes from by the time they are done hearing the story.
Designed for booklovers ages 0-6, it is a lengthier picture book and you’ll want to be aware of your audience’s attention spans before you tackle it. Great for kids who are used to being read to, if you’re just introducing your child to the world of books I’d start with a few shorter titles with the intention of working up to this. Our kiddos at the bookstore today did great!
At one point in the story Mosey is on the opposite side of the corn field, near town, away from home. Mosey can’t see home and the family is out wondering where their pup has gone. My kiddo in particular was very relieved by the ending and asked me to tell the author that she’s “glad Mosey found his family” but will have you know that page 22 was a moment of great contention in her little soul.
If you’re in the Humble area, join us at Half Price Books for story time on Wednesdays, 10:30 am. To the right we are reading Marit Menzen’s Song for Papa Crow, which has become quite a household and store favorite. Join us next week and we’ll revisit Mosey’s Field.
A Weekly Low Down on Kids Books
Title: The Crows of Pearblossom
Author: Aldous Huxley
Illustrator: Sophie Blackall
I first bought this picture book simply because I wanted to raise my child to be literary and it was written by ALdous Huxley. Naturally, a literary child should be raised on the works of Huxley, naturally.
The first time I read it to kiddo, I remember being a little creeped out. I’m not sure why. Maybe because I had mommy hormones and it took the mother crow at least 297 missing eggs before she got upset about her lost babies. Maybe because father crow didn’t swoop down and kill the rattlesnake right away. To be honest, I have no idea, but I do know my kid must have picked up on whatever I was feeling and furrowed her little brow.
Nevertheless, we read it all the time now. It makes its emergence in the spring and summer and gets tucked back into the shelf during the fall and winter unless we’re on a bird or snake kick. It’s not that the book itself is set in any particular season, the illustrations are just sort of sunny and Owl doesn’t wear shirts, so of course it must be somewhat warm out.
I adore Sophie Blackall. I know I say this about a lot of authors and artists and people and things in general – but there just is no limit to how much a person can love and adore things. That’s the marvelous thing about love and adoration, it is limitless and unending.
Obviously, her artwork is fantastic. In addition to that, I think her ‘about the illustrator’ blurb in the dust jacket of the picture book is too adorable:
Sophie Blackall is the illustrator of Ruby’s Wish, the Ivy & Bean series, and many other picture books. Her father once arrived at a party as Aldous Huxley was leaving. They may or may not have crossed paths in the vestibule. She lives with her delightful children, an ambivalent cat, and several presumptuous squirrels in Brookly, New York.
Can someone please write something equally adorable for my author blurbs? I never seem to know what to say for them. Me – who writes endlessly and speaks just as often – has nothing to say. Not in any concise and witty manner, anyway.
Back to Huxley, he apparently wrote The Crows of Pearblossom for his niece in 1944. It wasn’t published until 1967 with Barbara Cooney as illustrator.
That edition looked like this and is now out of print:
Which means, if you see it laying around somewhere in a clearance rack or heap bin – snatch it up! It should not be cast aside. It isn’t necessarily worth a whole lot, you can find copies on abebooks.com for $2 – $10, but out of print is out of print and you never know when you might be holding the last clean copy. I like Sophie Blackall’s illustrations better, but the original work should be salvaged.
Title: A Shropshire Lad
Author: A. E. Housman
Illustrator: Charles Mozley
In February I stumbled across A.E. Housman. Between the state of my soul, the weather, and Housman’s poetry, I found a little hub of safety. In the words of my best friend, “Where has he been all our lives?”
Even in kid’s books, of all places.
The book I found is a $10 hardback from Good Books in the Woods. It’s a hardback. It was printed in 1968, and the style of binding, as well as the illustrations, reflect that. To me, it’s the perfect edition to have floating around the house for your kiddo to discover and flip through as early readers. Same classic poetry with a much different kid friendly feel.
Title: I Love Dirt!
(52 Activities to help you and your kids discover the wonders of nature)
Today, we went for a much needed walk in the woods. When the weather is nice, we’re out there five days a week. When the weather is too hot to be nice, we’re out there four days a week. When the weather is obnoxiously freezing cold, wet, and completely unnatural to a born and bred Texan, we hide indoors and rock back and forth holding our hot coffee and teas. Well, not quite, but close. We actually sit by the window and watch the birds eat bits of things we’ve left in the yard, name the squirrels that live in the trees out back, and read stories by the fire burning in the fireplace.
Today, the sun was out for a bit. It wasn’t quite so cold. We needed the woods and we needed it bad. There was cheering involved.
So, we loaded up our trustee going out bag and went for a trek. Tucked inside was our copy of I Love Dirt and as soon as we hit the trails we read from chapter two: Bouquet of Color.
Bouquet of Color is an exercise in finding flowers and identifying how many colors we can see. It’s a purely natural I Spy game.
We discovered more flowers we would call purple than I would have supposed. Lots of purple field pansies, baby blue eyes (that look more purple than blue), and even some butterfly peas. We saw a lot of pointed phlox, but that is categorically considered a ‘red’ wildflower… so maybe we’re a little colorblind because they looked pinkish purple to us.
Of course, there was a lot of yellow in the form of dandelions, but not as many as I would have guessed. We found a lot of dewberry patches sporting their telling white blooms, and took note of where they were so we could come forage berries come summer. Yet, tt seemed Kiddo was still shouting “I see purple!” more than any other phrase.
Click this photo to find out…
Sometimes on the trail we get distracted from whatever task is at hand and just enjoy ourselves. Here she said, “I want to put the sun in my mouth!” I couldn’t resist snapping that picture.
There was also had a bowl of colored Gold Fish at the table with a pretty nifty sign of the book cover. Each kid got a party bag with an HPB cup inside so they could scoop goldfish from the bowl.
I got the idea for Truffula Tree Cupcakes on Pinterest. It’s chocolate cupcake mix, icing dyed green with food coloring, I added dark green sprinkles for fun, and cotton candy on a kebob stick. Do the cotton candy last minute, I tried to do it too soon and the humidity of Houston caused the cotton candy to crystallize and shrink. We had to buy a second batch of cotton candy and redo it right before the party.
Title: I Love Dirt!(52 Activities to help you and your kids discover the wonders of nature)
Author: Jennifer Ward
Foreword: Richard Louv, author of Last Child in the Woods
Illustratator: Susie Ghahremani
I popped in at Half Price Books after a long season off from scheduling book signings. Tucked low in my employee cube was a book – this book – with a post it note on it from my boss.
“Andi – I thought you might like because of the woods you live by!”
I did like it, immediately. And bought it with my Christmas money.
The book starts with a riveting foreword about the nature of nature in the United States and how much we have strayed from the outdoors. Interestingly enough, the more we stray from outdoor life, the more children struggle with obesity, ADD and ADHD, as well as depression.
And the more kids spend outdoors?
“A 2005 study by the California Department of Education found that students in schools with nature immersion programs performed 27 percent better in science testing than kids in traditional class settings. Similarly, children who attended outdoor classrooms showed substantially improved test scores, particularly in science. Such research consistently confirms what our great-grandparents instinctively knew to be true, and what we know in our bones and nerves to be right: free-play in natural settings is good for a child’s mental and physical health. The American Academy of Pediatrics agrees, stating in 2007 that free and unstructured play is healthy and essential for children.”
I’m in love with this book. I already do a lot of nature activities with my child – foraging for starters. We play outside at the public park, we walk nature trails, we run, we jump, do cartwheels in the grass, hunt insects and lizards, sword fight with sticks, and sing our ABCs at the tops of our lungs by the creek. As Ward states in her introduction, “There is nothing more joyful and inspiring to watch than children discovering the world around them.”
All of the activities in this book are pretty much cost free. The only one I found that requires any kind of purchase is the bird feeding one, and that’s only if you want to do it big and don’t have spare groceries in your house. The activities are simple, like sprinkling orange peels in your yard or covering pine cones with peanut butter and bird seed to bird watch from inside when it is too cold to be outside.
The book is broken up seasonally, so you can hop in and do something no matter when you pick up the book. Each activity has a prompt or a concept to get your child thinking about the activity and world itself.
Title: The Clock Snatcher
Author: M.G. King
Illustrators: Angela A. Corson & Sebastian Alvarado
Genre: Children’s Picture Books
NOW AVAILABLE ON AMAZON!
When I heard M.G. King was writing another book, I was pretty excited. We love Librarian on the Roof! here at our house and I completely devoured Fizz & Peppers. Anything M.G. King touches, pretty much turns to gold in my opinion. She’s Texas’ very own Rumpelstiltskin.
This latest picture book is 47 pages long, with a lot of glorious black and white pictures. Think The Spider and the Fly when Tony DiTerlizzi did the illustrations – a myth to last the ages in combination with high quality sketches can’t go wrong.
Right now the book is only $3.99 on Kindle. Maybe if everyone buys one and supports our favorite local kid’s author there will be a hardback edition in our future. My bookshelves are already itching for a copy… I can hear them calling for it… this book belongs in every mother’s library… and child’s, and dragon lovers’, and clock collector, and art appreciator, and…
Author: Kathryn Lasky
Illustrations: Kevin Hawkes
I stumbled on this book by complete accident. Most my homeschooling tools I seek out or find while searching the non-fiction section with a thought in mind. This book I merely acquired and had no idea it was going to be added to our core curriculum.
Although I love the Sir Cumference books, I often wondered how I would properly include those books into a classical education for my child when studying the circumference belongs in the times of Ancient Greece. Now I have my solution. Sir Cumference will be fun re-iteration of facts learned. Where The Librarian Who Measured will definitely be a part of our first years of school.
I’m sure I learned about this guy at some point in school, but it didn’t sink in. His name didn’t even sound vaguely familiar when I started reading this story to kiddo before bed last night. But as I read, my mind raced to the day we will sit and discuss Eratothenes in context. We will talk about Ancient Greece and the ancient libraries. We will discuss oranges and circumferences. We will talk about the planet and maps of the world. We will study things in a manner in which she will remember it – as opposed to a passing one liner in a text book. This book made me happy for days of school in our future.