Tuesday, June 11, 2019

THINK QUICK with Author Kim Chaffee

Hi Kim!  Congrats on your new picture book, HER FEARLESS RUN and your Kirkus starred review!   You've done such an incredible job of portraying Katherine Switzer's persistence and passion for running in a powerful, moving and inspiring way.  All of the THINK QUICK themes below appear in your book.  Let’s see which way you lean.  Remember, THINK QUICK!

On running:
Magical or therapeutic? Im going to cheat on the first question! Ha! I am going to say running is magically therapeutic :) It heals hearts and minds and builds warriors that will conquer the world!

On the Boston Marathon:
Daunting or Exciting? Exciting! The crowds, the other runners, the history of that race! Its 26.2 miles of thrill!

On Kathrine Switzer:
Fearless or Persistent? Fearless! Fearless! Fearless!

On women's abilities:
Limitless or limited? Limitless! We are all capable of so much more than we give ourselves credit for. We can do hard things!

On dreams:
Impossible or necessary? Definitely necessary! But they cant stay dreams. You need to turn your dreams into goals so you can create an action plan to achieve them!

On following the rules:
Always or rarely? I always been a rule follower. Kinda boring, I know. But clearly there are rules that are meant to be broken!

On mentors:
Runner or Writer? Yes! Wait, did I just cheat again?

On bravery:
Fearless or Fearful? I think in order to be brave one needs to feel fear first so Im going to go with fearful”for this one.

On books:
Her Fearless Run or Her Fearless Run? :) I hope I dont get this one wrong! Her Fearless Run!

Kim Chaffee once held the Guinness World Record for the largest game of pick-up sticks ever played. (It’s true! Check out pg. 111 of the 2005 edition) She is a former second-grade teacher who loves coffee, chocolate, and writing picture books that kids will want to read again and again.  Her debut picture book, Her Fearless Run: Kathrine Switzer’s Historic Boston Marathon, was inspired by her own journey with running.  Kim is a graduate of the University of New Hampshire and now lives not too far from there with her husband, two kids, and two cats. Find her online at www.KimChaffee.com or on Twitter at @kim_chaffee.

Tuesday, June 4, 2019

Mentor Text Author Study: Lesléa Newman

Author Lesléa Newman is a poet, an author, a mentor, and an activist. The byline on her website, CHANGING THE WORLD, ONE BOOK AT A TIME sums up her goal of creating books that explore the themes of respect, celebration, and acceptance. A goal Newman is achieving given she's authored over 70 books for children and adults. Many of her books include themes that explore her gay and Jewish identities. She’s won multiple literary awards and received the 2018 Matthew Shepard Foundation Making a Difference Award for her writing and work in the LGBTQ community.



Newman is well known for writing Heather Has Two Mommies, Laura Cornell (Illustrator). Originally written in 1988, the story features a family with two female parents. The book was updated in 2015. Like many other stories about families, this one is about a child, Heather, who enjoys doing fun things with the parents she loves. When a classmate inquires about Heather's daddy, her teacher asks the class to draw pictures of their individual families. Newman’s message is one all children should hear to show pride in their families whether they have two mommies, two daddies, only one parent, or raised by other family members.

“Each family is special. The most important thing about a family is that all the people in it love each other.”

In Sparkle Boy, Maria Mola (Illustrator), multiple layers appear in this one story. Newman addresses sibling dynamics, bullying, societal gender stereotypes, self-expression, and acceptance. In each spread are realistic examples of both positive and negative ways in which children interact with one another. However, the takeaway of the story inspires children to treat one another with respect. In the scene below, Casey’s big sister Jessie is finally able to come to his defense.

“Because boys don’t wear skirts and bracelets and nail polish. “Everybody knows that,” said the boy. “Right?” he asked, turning to Jessie.
“Why can’t boys wear skirts and bracelets and nail polish? Jessie asked the boys.


Newman celebrates her Jewish heritage in many of her books. In A Sweet Passover, David Slonim (Illustrator), children learn about the Jewish holiday of Passover. A young girl, Miriam, participates in her family tradition and learns exactly how much matzah, matzah, matzah they eat during Passover. Although this is a funny fictional story, the text also adds a layer of educational information.

“She joyfully sang the Four Questions in Hebrew, and then listened as Grandpa read the answers from the Haggadah and told the story of the Jews’ exodus from Egypt in his deep, booming voice.”

Children will laugh out loud and certainly remember the Two Maccabees in The Eight Nights of Chanukah Elivia Savadier (Illustrator). Written in rhyme, this story is fun to read aloud or sing!


Perennially popular topics make great board books for very young children; however authors need a good hook to make them competitive in the market. Newman’s rhyme in A Kiss on the Keppie, Kris Wiltse (Illustrator), is a fun read aloud and invites the reader to interact with their very young audience. Jewish families will appreciate Yiddish terms such as "keppie" (head) "bubbe" (grandmother) and "zayde" (grandfather).
Where Is Bear? Valeri Gorbachev (Illustrator), is a rhyming hide-and-seek story. Along with other animal characters, young children engage in the quest to find the missing bear. It’s funny to think the largest character in the story is the hardest to find. And don’t miss the frog on the cover!

“Now all are found except for Bear,
No one sees him anywhere.

Beetle asks, “Where can he be?”
We’ve got to find Bear instantly!”


Newman weaved two events from her family history to write Gittel’s Journey: An Ellis Island Story, Amy June Bates (Illustrator). The story is an emotional account of an immigrant child who must travel to the United States alone when her mother is denied entrance to the ship due to an eye infection. Newman handles Jews’ immigration to America truthfully and in each scene, readers can feel Gittel’s hope or loneliness or fear.  Information about Jewish immigration, the real Gittel and Newman's own family stories are included in the backmatter.  

“Home is not safe for us,” Mama tells her tearful daughter. “You are going to America to have a better life.” 

Ketzel, the Cat Who Composed, Amy June Bates (Illustrator), about the Jewish composer Morrie Moshe Cotel, is also fiction but based on a true story. What makes this story appealing to kids is Newman’s focus on how Cotel enters a contest using a composition written by his kitten!

     “Little ketzel!” Moshe cried. He often used Yiddish words when he was nervous or excited. “Come, little Ketzel,” he said, scooping up the bland-and-white kittle. “I will take you home, and we will make beautiful music together.”
     “The next morning, Moshe moved a stack of music books off the top of the piano and set Ketzel down. “You must listen outside yourself and inside yourself,” he instructed as he began to play.

Don’t miss other picture books for young children written by Lesléa Newman:

Writers should study books by Lesléa Newman because they are filled with great examples of rhyme, humor, and heart. But as important are the themes she explores and the positive messages she delivers to her young audience. Through her work, Newman is indeed changing the world, one book at a time. 


Welcoming Elijah: A Passover Tale with a Tail Susan Gal, (Illustrator)

Tuesday, May 28, 2019

Mentor Text Talk with Meera Sriram

We are so excited to introduce you to Meera Sriram! She recently celebrated the release of her debut picture book in America, The Yellow Suitcase. All kids need to see themselves in books, and this text celebrates a bicultural child's journey from America to India as she reconnects with family. 

Don’t be fooled by this nearly early reader- sized book. The Yellow Suitcase is a diverse, emotional picture book, led by main character Asha’s journey to honor her grandmother’s life in India. The amazing team of Meera squared, Meera Sriram and Meera Sethi, partner to bring life to the words and illustrations despite the topic of loss. Although thousands of miles hold main character Asha apart from her grandmother in India, there are plenty of traditions and special memories to highlight the impact of their relationship. The main connection, a yellow suitcase, normally hosts a gift exchange between Asha and Grandma. Grief turns to anger when Asha thinks there is no way for the gift exchange to continue. To her surprise, Grandma has left something special for her. The flat art perspective provides a brush-graffiti feel to the art at times, amping up the multicultural appeal in a unique way. Tear drop memory windows, tear-stained art, and tears-turned-to-flame offer additional  glimpses into the stages of grief and cultural connections.

Like us, Meera reads picture books as mentor texts to learn more about great writing. It's always interesting to gather different perspectives on this process. Thank you, Meera, for joining us today, and also for writing this important story.

Do you utilize picture books as mentor texts?

Yes! I often turn to picture books to mentor me through a story idea. It could be to analyze plot (or story arc) or to see how to address a particular theme. I go back and read my favorite authors or look up new books to see how they navigated possible roadblocks.

How has reading picture books helped you discover who you are as a writer?

I read a lot of picture books. And very often, I’ll find myself gravitating towards certain types of stories. Then I make a list of more books in that category. When I read them, I usually discover what I particularly like about them. Sometimes I realize it’s the importance of the theme. Or maybe a particular author’s use of language or style of writing. Eventually I start identifying the story I truly want to tell. Reading Jacqueline Woodson taught me that quieter stories could be very powerful (and vice versa), even for a younger audience. Reading Allen Say stories, for instance, made me realize that I’m drawn to nostalgia, and many times I end up weaving that feeling or element into my narrative. Most importantly, when I read more, I’m inspired in so many different ways to tell my own stories.

Were there any particular mentor texts that inspired you in the creation of The Yellow Suitcase? 

I did not read mentor texts while drafting or revising “The Yellow Suitcase” or specifically for this project. However, by the time I’d decided I wanted to tell this story, I had read several books that were centered around the theme of loss and grief (which is also the theme in my book) – titles like Boats for Papa, The Scar, and Sweet, Sweet Memory. Reading these books helped me in two ways: (1) they gave me the confidence to write on a difficult theme for young children (2) they pushed me to come up with an alternate way to treat the subject.

Meera Sriram grew up in India and moved to the U.S at the turn of the millennium. An electrical engineer in her past life, she now enjoys writing for children, teaching early literacy, and advocating for diverse bookshelves. Meera has co-authored several children’s books published in India. THE YELLOW SUITCASE is her debut picture book in the U.S. She believes in the transformative power of stories and writes on cross-cultural experiences that often take her back to her roots. Meera currently lives with her husband and two children in Berkeley, California, where she fantasizes about a world with no borders. For more information visit www.meerasriram.com