by: Sarah Momo Romero
Happy Memorial Day everyone! I hope you are all enjoying the long weekend and taking a moment to remember and honor those who died in military service for our country. This month, I also wanted to pay tribute to the month of May and Asian Pacific American Heritage Month with a few picture books written and/or illustrated by Asian American authors and illustrators.
In the kidlit world, as with the world at large, we still have a way to go before everyone is on equal ground. But as far as these picture books go, I am excited and proud to be a part of a growing number of Asian American writers and artists creating diverse picture books. These are just a handful of my top picture book picks for May and Asian Pacific American Heritage Month; stories with characters who represent the young Asian American readers with characters like Hana in Hana Hashimoto: Sixth Violin (a character I would've loved to see when I was a little girl), but also stories to resonate with readers young and old, regardless of their ethnicity or background, such as Sam & Eva.
Hana Hashimoto, Sixth Violin, written by Chieri Uegaki and illustrated by Qin Leng is one of the first picture books to come to my mind to write about this month. As someone who tried, but did not continue with the violin as a young girl, I immediately felt drawn to Hana, her sweet charm and spunky determination. Leng’s illustrations of pencil outlines and soft water colors create the vivid scenes of Hana’s world beautifully. I especially loved the illustrations of Hana’s grandfather playing violin for his grandchildren, the music wafting through the evening air, and the stark contrast of the moment right before Hana’s big recital for the talent show, with all eyes on her.
Another more personal and deeply connecting picture book is A Different Pond, written by Bao Phi and illustrated by Thi Bui. A story drawn from Phi’s own memories of early morning fishing for food with his father, this unforgettable story offers a glimpse into a life many children with immigrant, working class parents lead, but are not often represented in picture books. Bui’s inky midnight blue hues gracefully create the hazy late night/early morning hours and the more somber but bittersweet tone of the story. Her gestural line work and simple silhouettes also emanate the warmness between the father and son.
What Do You Do With An Idea written by Kobi Yamada and illustrated by Mae Besom, brings the energy and inspiration, along with the uncertainty, a new idea sparks to this refreshing story. Written as an encouraging push towards following a new possibility, this playful character will connect with anyone, at any age, who has ever had an idea that seemed a little unrealistic, but just won’t go away. Yamada’s heartfelt story along with Besom’s textural pencil work, and gradual build of vivid watercolors from start to finish, just might inspire a new little idea to life.
And last, but not least, Sam & Eva, by Debbie Ridpath Ohi, one of my favorite picture book author illustrators. This unexpected “creativity clash” between young Sam and Eva are a treat to see. In the spirit of Journey by Aaron Becker and Dog Loves Drawing by Louise Yates, these two frenemies literally draw worlds and characters of the imagination with crayons and paint brushes that eventually take over and spin out of control. In this hilarious story, Ohi brings a playful edge to a friendly competition full of fun confetti, expressive kid-drawn dinosaurs, even capturing a chaotic, wordless moment in between.
I hope you’ll check out the expressive characters, lively colors and beautiful and heartwarming stories of each and every one of these picture books. And please share any recommendations for picture books discoveries you love. I’d love to check those out too.
Sarah Momo Romero is a Japanese Peruvian American artist, a graphic designer by day and children's book author and illustrator by night. She’s loved drawing and painting since she was a chiquita and now crafts stories of adventure and wondrous creatures. Sarah is an active SCBWI member who draws inspiration from her life in sunny Los Angeles with her husband/creative partner and dog/infamous escape artist, Peanut. Look out for her first picture book, "Wake Up, Little Bat!" coming out in the Fall of 2018!
by Bryan Patrick Avery
One of the most anticipated releases among magicians of the past several decades has to be the recently released “The Magic of Johnny Thompson”. Released just last month, it’s sold out everywhere (thank goodness I got my copy). The two-volume set covers the life and the work of one of the most storied legends of magic. Reading through it got me thinking about the ways we can tell true stories without making them feel like lectures or instruction manuals. This month, let’s take a look at a few non-fiction books that tell true stories in new and interesting ways.
“Take a Picture of Me, James VanDerZee”, by Andrea J. Loney and illustrated by Keith Mallett, tells the story of Harlem Renaissance photographer James VanDerZee. Though the story takes us from VanDerZee’s first exposure to photography all the way through his now famous exhibit, Harlem on My Mind, it doesn’t simply read as a collection of facts along a time line. Instead, Loney uses strong imagery and onomatopoeia in the text to create an immersive experience for the reader. The result is a story that makes an emotional connection with the reader while telling the story of an important figure in American history.
Another interesting way to present a biography is to focus on a single event or time in the subject’s life. This is what Carol Boston Weatherford did in “Before John Was a Jazz Giant”, illustrated by Sean Qualls. A Coretta Scott King Honor book, this book tells the story of how jazz great John Coltrane used the experiences of his childhood (family, church, and community) to influence his music. The rhythm of the story, each line beginning with the words “Before John Was a Jazz Giant”, pulls the reader through the book and towards an ending that brings the story to a satisfying conclusion. Coupled with Qualls’ illustration, Weatherford’s story is truly a work of art.
Of course, biographies aren’t the only non-fiction stories to tell. In “We Shall Overcome, The Story of a Song”, written by Debbie Levy and illustrated by Vanessa Brantley-Newton, we learn the history of the iconic civil rights song, We Shall Overcome. From its humble beginnings as a song sung by slaves on American plantations through the civil rights movement and beyond, we see the power the song had on those who sang it, giving them hope, bringing them together, and leading the way towards a better world. The book is inspiring, and a treasured reminder that what we create, has the power to change the world.
That’s all for this month, I’m off to spend the day with Johnny Thompson’s book to find some inspiration of my own. Have a great and magical month.
by Melissa Stoller
The “heart” of a picture book can provide an emotionally satisfying depth, an “a-ha” moment, and the truthful core layer of a story. That elusive heart can serve as a connection between the reader and the story. Other components of a story are important: plot, structure, character arc, voice, interplay between text and illustration, luscious language, theme, and more. But if the heart of the story isn’t clear and impactful, the story may not resonate with children or adults.
So how does a writer ensure that the “heart” layer is present?
First, read many picture books and notice the heart of the story. And when drafting a manuscript, identify the heart moment (or moments) as you would identify the character arc, theme, and plot. If you can’t locate a heart layer in your manuscript, revise until that component is as strong at the theme or the structure. When the heart of your story is compelling, readers will care about your characters and plot and the book will be meaningful long after the final page turn.
These debut picture books provide excellent examples of heart. The quotes below highlight the universal emotions present in these stories, but to gain a full appreciation of the text and illustrations, you’ll have to read the whole book:
1) “The world is so big! I want to go see it, Daddy. You and me together.” Alma and How She got Her Name, by Juana Martinez-Neal. Readers will identify with wanting to explore the whole world with a trusted parent, and they’ll connect with Alma as she discovers the story of her name.
2) “What’s happening? Is that applause? It’s my fans! They still love me, no matter what.” I Am Famous, by Tara Luebbe and Becky Cattie, pictures by Joanne Lew-Vriethoff. Children will connect with the idea of family and friends loving them, no matter what.
3) “When all the supplies were gathered, Ruby asked, ‘Who wants to help me cut the boards?’ ‘Not me,’ said Oscar Lee. ‘I don’t think so,’ said Rodrigo. ‘No way,’ said José. ‘I’m too busy.’ ‘Fine,’ said Ruby. ‘I’ll cut them myself.’” The Little Red Fort, by Brenda Maier, pictures by Sonia Sanchez. Children will relate to Ruby, who asks her brothers to help, but when they are too busy, she does it herself.
4) “The future is in your footsteps. Freedom is in your feet. Put one in front of the other, and greet your destiny.” This is It, by Daria Peoples-Riley. Readers will feel the emotion of a young ballerina, poised to begin her dance, and will connect with her journey.
5) “Kipling lined up his wishing rocks and made a wish for Mama on each one. He waited and waited, but not even one Wish Mama came home.” Love, Mama, by Jeanette Bradley. Young children will relate to Kipling, who is waiting for his Mama to return, and they will feel the emotion at the core of this story.
When drafting and revising picture books, include “heart” in your stories. This important element will help you build an emotional bridge to your readers, ensuring they will want to read your book again and again.
Melissa Stoller is the author of the chapter book series The Enchanted Snow Globe Collection - Book One: Return to Coney Island and Book Two: The Liberty Bell Train Ride (Clear Fork Publishing, 2017 and Fall 2018); and the picture books Scarlet’s Magic Paintbrush and Ready, Set, GOrilla! (Clear Fork, Summer and Fall 2018). She is also the co-author of The Parent-Child Book Club: Connecting With Your Kids Through Reading (HorizonLine Publishing, 2009). Melissa is an Assistant for the Children’s Book Academy, a Regional Ambassador for The Chapter Book Challenge, an Admin for The Debut Picture Book Study Group, and a volunteer with the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators/MetroNY. Melissa has worked as a lawyer, legal writing instructor, freelance writer and editor, and early childhood educator. She lives in New York City with her husband, three daughters, and one puppy. When not writing or reading, she can be found exploring NYC with family and friends, traveling, and adding treasures to her collections.
Hullo sweet thangs - we have 2 lovely videos to share with you from two awesome former students. First up we have Nancy Churnin's biography of Irving Berlin followed by Rosie J. Pova's Sarah's Song. While they are really different from each other, what they have in common is a great love and connection with their subject matter and beautiful poetic language.
Take a peek and let me know what you think in the comments xox
Also, have a peek at Nancy's website right here http://www.nancychurnin.com/
And make sure to visit Rosie J Pova right here https://www.rosiejpova.com/
Mira Reisberg—Editor and Art Director at Clearfork Publishing/Spork. Director of the Children’s Book Academy
Over the past 30 years, Mira has worn just about every hat in the children’s book industry including award-winning illustrator, author, and children’s literary agent. Mira holds a PhD in Education and Cultural Studies with a focus on Children’s Literature. She taught university level children’s book courses before starting her own international online school – the Children’s Book Academy. Mira’s students have published well over 200 books and won just about every American children’s book award. Her first edited and art-directed acquisitions at Clearfork/Spork will be available at the end of 2018 and early 2019. She feels very grateful to help make the world a better and more joyful place through kidlit.
We are so excited to be mixing things up at CBA, beginning with some delicious additions to the Blogfish. Meet our awesome new bloggers!!
Here's our lineup:
1st Mondays begin with Clear Fork/Spork editor/art director, & CBA Director Mira Reisberg PhD who is handing her Mondays over to awesome former now trad. pubbed students to widen their audience.
2nd Mondays will feature super smart Melissa Stoller whose career is taking off with several new books.
3rd Mondays will feature Bryan Patrick Avery, published writer, man of mystery, and professional magician among other things.
4th Mondays feature funny Aussie author Sharon Giltrow sharing awesome Aussie books.
And 5th Mondays will feature Libyan American author Koloud Tarapolsi sharing wonderful diverse books.