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    Five Questions With… Tanya Lee Stone (Girl Rising)

    By Clare Maloney
     | Mar 10, 2017

    TanyaLeeStone_220wA companion to the 2013 documentary of the same name, Tanya Lee Stone’s Girl Rising: Changing the World One Girl at a Time offers an in-depth examination of the social and cultural entrapments that serve as education barriers for girls in developing countries.

    You have a wide range of expertise in a number of areas. How have your own educational opportunities inspired your advocacy for girls’ education?

    Since school is free in this country, I did indeed have a great start! I went through the public school system through high school, and I also attended a magnet performing arts high school (which was also free). I was then lucky enough to be able to attend Oberlin College, where I was an English major. My education at Oberlin shaped me in countless ways that I was likely not even aware of at the time. Oberlin was the first college to grant degrees to women and African-Americans, and that history permeates the culture there. I went out into the world from there a much more aware person.

    How does your book distinguish itself from the 2013 documentary Girl Rising?

    The book was inspired by the film, and the collaboration between me and the filmmakers meant that they entrusted me with their raw video footage of the interviews they conducted with dozens and dozens of girls in many countries. The filmmakers had to condense what they learned into 9 stories, but I was able to include more than 25 girls’ stories. I was also able to take more time to really unpack the major obstacles to education and provide more content for people to be able to sit with and digest and revisit.

    During your research, what has been the most memorable instance of education breaking the poverty cycle in developing countries that you have come across so far?

    There are really so many of them that it’s hard to choose. But just recently, Sokha, from Cambodia, who was literally living on a dump and picking garbage five years ago, is now a college student at Kendall College in Chicago and doing marvelously. Quite incredible.

    GirlRisingCoverWhat kind of impact do you hope your book will have on readers who do have access to educational opportunities?

    The goal is really to educate and increase awareness of these terrible obstacles to education for girls that are happening all around the world—early child marriage and childbirth, modern-day slavery such as trafficking and forced labor, and limited or no access to education—which are all symptoms of poverty and gender discrimination. By increasing awareness of these issues, we hope to inspire more activism as well. The whole third part of the book is dedicated to both large and small ideas to give readers ideas for how they might be able to get involved—and how to connect their own passions to making a difference in someone else’s life.

    Many of your stories incorporate themes of strong, empowering women. Who has been the most inspiring woman in your life?

    I am lucky to have had many inspiring women in my life, starting with my grandmother when I was very young, some very important first female bosses when I was a young editor in New York, and today my closest friends who, every day, are making the world a better place in a myriad of meaningful ways.

    Tanya will be a guest expert at the next #ILAchat, which takes place on March 14 at 8:00 p.m. ET. You can meet her in person at the ILA 2017 Conference & Exhibits in Orlando, FL, where she’ll be taking part in the Young Adult Author Meetup on Saturday, July 15.

    Clare Maloney is an intern at the International Literacy Association. She is currently seeking a BA in English from the University of Delaware.

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    Five Questions With… Dean Robbins (Two Friends)

    By Clare Maloney
     | Feb 28, 2017

    Robbins_300hDean Robbins is an award-winning writer based in Madison, WI. His first book, Two Friends, chronicles a conversation between suffragist Susan B. Anthony and abolitionist Frederick Douglass over tea. With vibrant illustrations and actual quotes from the two historical figures, Two Friends is a heartening tale of friendship that introduces important historical topics in an approachable way for all ages. Be sure to check out the accompanying Reading Guide for instructional ideas.

    The premise of Two Friends was inspired by a statue of Susan B. Anthony and Frederick Douglass in their hometown of Rochester, NY. How did you come across this statue, and what about it was so moving to you?

    I’m dedicated to my personal pantheon of heroes, and that involves traveling to their hometowns in hopes of feeling their presence. In this case, I took a road trip to Rochester because I knew that both Susan B. Anthony and Frederick Douglass had lived there, making it sacred ground to me. On a tour of the Susan B. Anthony House, the guide mentioned that Anthony often invited her neighbor Douglass to sit in her parlor for tea. The tour also included a look at the statue of the two friends having tea in a nearby park.

    As much as I’d read about 19th-century reform movements, I didn’t know that Anthony and Douglass lived so close to each other and socialized. It was stunning to think that two of the world’s greatest champions of freedom shared ideas, worked together, and supported each other over tea. I’d felt similarly elated as a kid when I read comic books in which Batman and Superman teamed up as an invincible pair. It seemed too good to be true.

    Sean Qualls and Selina Alko, both of whom will be appearing at ILA 2017 this July, illustrated Two Friends. How would you describe the interplay between your text and their mixed media illustrations?

    Two Friends is less a straight biography of Anthony and Douglass than a poetic evocation of their tea party on a snowy day. The friends enjoy a moment of serenity before going out, once again, to face adversity and change the world. With painterly richness, Sean and Selina brought this mood to life. They also included so many lovely details that I discover new ones every time I pick up the book.

    Their masterstroke was embedding words within the images: bits of printed and handwritten text that show up in clothing, trees, snow—even butterfly wings. This design element is visually striking but also thematically relevant. In the book, Anthony and Douglass are always reading, writing, and talking about freedom and equality. The text-drenched images emphasize that Two Friends is a story about the awesome power of words.

    Two Friends is geared toward readers ages 4 to 8. What compelled you to write this particular story for this particular audience?

    Anthony and Douglass are among the bravest heroes in U.S. history. In spite of fierce opposition, they insisted that the country live up to the highest ideals of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. It’s important that children learn about them at an early age, but concepts like abolition and women’s suffrage can be difficult to explain to elementary school students. That’s why I liked the idea of a tea party. If kids have a hard time grasping 150-year-old political issues, I know they can relate to two friends coming together for the grown-up version of a playdate.

    Kids are also very sensitive to unfairness. Two Friends introduces Anthony and Douglass’s egalitarian vision without delving into details that might be confusing for young readers.

    TwoFriends_cover_200wThis book was written long before the contentious 2016 presidential election in the United States, yet could not feel more timely. How has the current cultural climate generated new interest in the year-old publication?

    Two Friends is probably getting this kind of attention because it’s clearer than ever that Anthony and Douglass’s work remains unfinished. They championed the dignity of all people and showed what’s possible when oppressed groups refuse to be dominated. If they were alive, they’d surely try to level the playing field for every citizen. In that sense, they can inspire today’s activists who want to make the United States a better place.

    Which historical figure would you most want to have a tea party with, and why?

    My heroes include Louis Armstrong, Abraham Lincoln, Alice Paul, Emily Dickinson, the Grimké Sisters, and Jackie Robinson, and I’d happily sit down for tea and cake with any of them. But the first names on my fantasy guest list would be Susan B. Anthony and Frederick Douglass. There’s little documentation of what they said to each other during their tea parties in Rochester, and I’d give anything to eavesdrop!


    Clare Maloney is an intern at the International Literacy Association. She is currently seeking a BA in English from the University of Delaware.

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    Five Questions With... Carol Swartout Klein (Painting for Peace in Ferguson)

    By April Hall
     | Aug 25, 2016

    carol swartout kleinCarol Swartout Klein, a native of Ferguson, MO, always dreamed of writing a children’s book. When she saw her community come together to heal after unrest in the city, she was inspired. Her debut book, Painting for Peace in Ferguson, was named one of ILA Teachers’ Choices for 2016.

    Your bio says you always wanted to write a children’s book. Why haven’t you before now?

    While I have had several ideas in mind for a children’s book in the past I think sometimes a story finds you. And that was the case for Painting for Peace in Ferguson. I grew up in Ferguson, and like many in the community, I was in shock and was so saddened and disheartened by the unrest and by the understandable anger that caused it. It became a story that was personal for me—of witnessing an incredibly hopeful moment that moved me to tears…when after months of tension, I saw people coming together, caring…in this case through painting. When I witnessed the community coming together to create these amazing larger-than-life murals just days after fires had left Ferguson devastated I knew that this was an inspirational story that I wanted to somehow share.

    When the painting was happening, did you know then you would write this book?

    I don’t consider myself very artistic, but I have always written and worked with artists…so I thought if I wrote a book and donated all the profits to Ferguson that could be my way of giving back. What really gave me the idea of just how to tell this story was remembering the Mr. Rogers quote, “When you see scary things on the news, look for the helpers…you will always find helpers.” With that I said to my husband, “What I’d really like for Christmas this year is to focus on nothing but writing and producing a children’s book about what just happened.” In addition to all the profits going back to the community, I also wanted to work with only local suppliers, from the publisher to the printer, so that the money stayed within the community. Within 60 days after hiring professional photographers, finding a publisher, appealing through social media for snapshots, getting photo releases, and many late nights, Painting for Peace in Ferguson was born. 

    What role do you think art has in the healing process?

    Art has played a key role throughout history from being cathartic to challenging, allowing people to work through emotions and grapple with changes in creative ways. It was interesting to me that many of the organizers of this event were actually art therapists. The painting gave people the ability to express emotions and make new connections with others they had never before met while painting side by side. It truly became an exercise in art therapy on a community-wide level. As the Ferguson community and St. Louis region continue to change and work toward a better future for all of its residents, artists will continue to reflect on where we’ve been and cast a light on where we might be headed.

    Are the paintings still up, or are they in storage or collected somewhere?

    Actually we have some really exciting news. All but a couple of the paintings have been taken down at this point. For the past six months, we have been preparing for an exhibition sponsored by COCA—the Center of Creative Arts—a diverse arts education center and the largest multidisciplinary arts institution in St. Louis. They are the backbone arts organization sponsoring an exhibit of several dozen of the original murals, some of which are massive in scale, in six locations in the St. Louis area. To my knowledge, this is the first-ever multi-location collaborative exhibit in the city. Art will be exhibited at the Missouri History Museum, the Sheldon Performing Arts Center, the University of Missouri-St. Louis, the Vaughn Cultural Center, the Ferguson Youth Initiative and, of course, COCA. The exhibit opens August 27 with the final location finishing its exhibit November 19.

    Do you have a favorite piece and, if so, which one?

    Black and White Arch082516Perhaps the most iconic image of this whole movement was the black and white Unity Hands, which shows black and white hands coming together in the shape of the St. Louis Gateway Arch shown on page 13 of the children’s book, painted by Ana Bonfilla. As she says, “We are split apart as a community. But, my hope is that eventually we can come together.” According to Ana, the roots at the bottom signify “We are going to have to uproot ourselves in order to come together and make a better future. We can’t just stay where we are.”

    But the story that really touches me the most was the huge painting that covered almost two dozen pieces of plywood on Ferguson City Hall. Painted by a half dozen artists, the art evolved as it was being painted. In the center is a large tree designed by Sheri Goldsmith showing leaves painted with words that are important for a healthy community—respect, hope, opportunity, and education. Stylistically the leaves are then spread by the wind in swirls on two huge side panels reminiscent of a Van Gogh painting to bring these positive wishes out into the community. As Sheri describes it, “The Missouri National Guard, who still had members stationed protecting City Hall at the times, asked if one of their emblems could be included in the painting, signifying their inclusion in the wishes for healing.” If you look closely you can see that a shoulder patch from one of the guardsmen is attached on one of the letters of City Hall. This one image captures the desires of so many for unity. Just one of many remarkable stories that happened during “Paint for Peace” and a story that I felt privileged to tell. 

    April Hall is editor of Literacy Daily. A journalist for 20 years, she has specialized in education, writing and editing for newspapers, websites, and magazines.

     

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    Five Questions With… E.G. Foley (The Gryphon Chronicles Series)

    By April Hall
     | Mar 17, 2016

    eg foleyE.G. Foley is actually two authors. The husband/wife team Eric and Gaelen Foley write middle-grade literature and have found success in the world of indie digital publishing. Together they write the fantasy series The Gryphon Chronicles. Gaelen Foley knows the busy world of publishing houses and made a conscious decision with her husband to launch their books for younger readers independently.

    Here’s the obvious one you’ve probably answered a billion times, why write together and use a single name?

    We’re a unit! Actually, this was my doing, and a strategic decision. I wanted to signal my large audience of loyal romance readers—who also happen to be moms, grandmas, and aunts, i.e., the main book buyers for kids in their families—that it was me, the same “G” (Gaelen) Foley they know and trust and have been reading since 1998. But at the same time, I wanted to draw a clear enough distinction between the two names that we wouldn’t have our kid readers coming over to the romance novels, thinking those are for them, too, because they’re not. Those are for grownups.

    How did you make the transition from romance to young adult writing?

    When I saw famous male writers like James Patterson and John Grisham making the transition from writing their mega-bestseller suspense novels to young adult books, that got my sassy side riled up, and I thought, “Hey, if those guys aren’t afraid to try something completely different and nobody blinks an eye about it, then I’m not going to be intimidated out of trying it just because I’m a female author.” Plus, writing middle grade is just so much fun that I would’ve continued working on it with Eric even if we never ended up publishing it. It was always a labor of love, not commerce.

    What I have learned by just forging ahead with it is that there really is no reason for a writer to pigeon-hole him or herself artistically just because the industry is set up to do it that way. It’s dangerous to allow others to define who we are. Also, the basic skill set involved in novel writing transfers from one type of book to another. Once you understand how to do characterization, conflict, pacing, story structure, etc. then it just becomes a matter of exercising your imagination to apply those tools in a new way.

    Put it this way, if you’re a good cook, it doesn’t matter so much whether you’re making casserole or cupcakes—it’s going to be yummy, simply because you know what you’re doing in the kitchen. Whatever you do a lot, you get good at. Well, I’ve been writing full-time for 17 years, so even though there is always more to learn, I came into writing kidlit with a very solid foundation of over 2.5 million words in print and many appearances on national bestseller lists under my belt. You never know what you can do until you try!

    Are your books applicable for the classroom and how?

    the lost heirIndeed. First, I’d mention that The Gryphon Chronicles are now accepted in the Accelerated Reader Program in schools. The Lost Heir (Book 1) was pegged at 5.5 grade level, but we’ve heard from parents and kids as young as 8 who have enjoyed them. It just depends on the kid. The areas where I think teachers would find it useful would be for language arts, since we do not dumb down our writing style—kids are smart! Also, for any history modules dealing with the Victorian era, for example: How kids in the 1800s were educated, from governesses and home tutors to prep schools and finishing schools for the rich and mandatory education for the poor. (Did you know that in Victorian times, kids were only required to go to school to age 9?! Sorry, kid, you’re 10 now, go get a job! LOL. Hard to imagine!)

    Other topics include things like child labor, the apprenticeship system, orphans and orphanages, and crime and punishment for children in Victorian England—quite appropriate, since our hero, Jake, starts out as a pickpocket! The series would also be of use in a study of mythical creatures from British folklore. The Victorian era saw a wonderful resurgence in the old fairy lore. Another area that we touch upon (especially in Book 2, Jake & the Giant) is the many inventions of the era. Jake’s sidekick, Cousin Archie, is a boy genius who loves inventing things, so that lets us touch upon the scientific news of the day, such as whatever Mr. Edison and Mr. Tesla were up to that year. Obviously, these books take a lot of research! 

    Since you’re self-published, do you find getting books in hands more difficult?

    Paperbacks, yes; e-books, no. I think we sell many, many more middle grade e-books than publishers do because our price ($4.99 or so) is half of theirs. … Indie platforms allow us to control our pricing ourselves, and as with all things indie, it’s very empowering having that control. Plus, we can afford to do that for our readers because we don’t have to pay for a skyscraper in Manhattan!

    Do you think you would be ready to sign on with a publisher for your children’s work now that you’ve had some success independently?

    The reason we never sought a publisher in the first place was because I didn’t want the stress of two sets of legally binding contract deadlines. In the ensuing years, though, I’ve become much more efficient at juggling several different projects at one time. So I don’t think that would be an issue anymore.

    We’re open to giving publishers a first look at our next series, as they certainly have a wonderful infrastructure in place for getting kids’ books into schools and libraries and, of course, into all those super-fun children’s indie brick-and-mortar bookstores and the national chains. However, there would need to be some negotiation to ensure the contract would not infringe on our ability to continue self-publishing other projects at the same time, and they’d have to at least match the very good money we can make on our own with the far more generous royalty rates … (from) indie platforms give to authors/content creators. Contracts can be minefields that tie up an author’s rights for the life of the copyright (i.e., until 70 years after you’re dead). So the pros would have to outweigh the cons.

    April Hall is editor of Literacy Daily. A journalist for 20 years, she has specialized in education, writing and editing for newspapers, websites, and magazines.

     
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    Five Questions With… Violetta Lamb (Plants and Animals)

    By April Hall
     | Jan 19, 2016

    It’s not often that a third-grade student becomes a published author, but you can find Violetta Lamb’s book, Plants and Animals (StarWalk Kids Media) on Amazon. The publisher worked with the superintendent of Lamb’s Blue Springs, MO, school district to pair the author with an illustrator, Susan L. Roth, to work together on the final product. Lamb said she was excited about the book and learned a lot from the experience.

    How long have you been writing?

    Since I was in kindergarten, but I hadn’t written an actual story until second grade.

    What was it like working with Susan L. Roth?

    It was fun learning how to work with the art materials that Susan L. Roth provided. She is amazing, and I am so glad to have met her!

    What was the inspiration for the story?

    At my old school, my teacher Mrs. Hilbert had talked about author and illustrators. She talked about Susan L. Roth and Seymour Simon, and I love their work. That’s where I got the idea and had hoped it would be like that: informative, but fun!

    Do you plan to write more books in the future and make it your career?

    I am still really young and don’t know what I will be when I grow up. But yes, I have continued writing!

    Most of our readers are teachers who work with young people. What is the one piece of advice you would give students about writing and publishing?

    Never give up—ever. If it is your dream, do it.

    April Hall is editor of Literacy Daily. A journalist for 20 years, she has specialized in education, writing and editing for newspapers, websites, and magazines.

     
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