Friday, February 26, 2016

Shmulik Paints the Town ~ Author interview & Book Giveaway!

Shmulik Paints the Town 
By Lisa Rose; illus. by Catalina Echeverri
32 pages; ages 3-8
Kar-Ben, 2016 

Themes: imagination, multicultural, humor

Israel’s Independence Day is coming up and on Monday, the mayor drops by Shmulik’s art studio. 

“Can you paint us a mural on the wall and decorate the park around it?”

“Certainly!” says Shmulik. 

On Tuesday Shmulik heads out to check the wall with his dog, Ezra. But it’s much too pretty a day to waste painting. On Wednesday, Shmulik can’t think of a thing to paint so he puts it off til the next day. And so the week goes, with Shmulik procrastinating day by day. 

What I like love about this book: Shmulik the procrastinator. Don’t we all have a bit of Shmulik inside us? I love Ezra, who takes matters into his own hands – er, paws. And I love the bright illustrations and splatters of color everywhere. It made me want to dig out some paints and a brush and have at it. 

Beyond the book: 
Imagine you are chosen to paint a wall and a park for Independence Day. What would you paint? 

How many excuses can you think of for getting out of painting the garage -  or doing your homework? 

Can animals paint? Koko the gorilla paints pictures, and so do animals at the zoo. Watch animals painting at the Houston Zoo.

I'm giving away a copy of the book - but first, let's talk to the author, Lisa.

Sally: What inspired this story? 

Lisa: My cousin paints pictures using dog paw prints.  She drips the paw in paint and then stamps it over the canvas and then creates paintings based upon the prints.  Owners love to have this very unique work of art.  Also, sometimes people bring their old and sick dogs to her so that they can have a lasting memory their beloved pet.

At first, this wasn’t even Jewish themed story and it wasn’t working. After putting the story aside for long time, I attended a story structure workshop by Shutta Crum and figured I figured out how to revise it.  Victory!  My advice: Never to throw out stories that aren’t working.  Simply, put them aside—you never know when you will learn how to revise it.  It may take days…or years…but it will come. 

Sally: I love that Shmulik is a procrastinator. How did he get his wonderful name? 

Lisa: I have to admit I didn’t name my character Shmulik - although, I do have a cousin named Shmulik. 

Sally: Were you delightfully surprised by the wild bright splatters of paint in the illustrations? 

Lisa: It is a little known secret that authors have very little control.  In fact, I never even spoke to the illustrator until after the book was released.  The illustrator didn’t know about my cousin’s paintings and the inspiration for the story.  However, I’m so pleased with the illustrations!  I can’t wait to give Catalina a BIG HUG! 

Sally: Talk about the need for diversity in children’s books.  

Lisa: Many times people don’t buy diverse books, because they lack the awareness.  I decided to help this change by making the writing community more aware of the issue. I’m Jewish.  However, I taught in Detroit and many of my stories are inspired by my African American students.   My experience gives me a unique perspective of understanding two communities. One thing I’ve observed is how both communities can lack an understanding of each other - not  because of hate, but because of just living divided.

I believe the way to end ignorance is with knowledge.  To help bring attention to this issue, I started “MISSING VOICE picture book discussion group” on Facebook. I call it MISSING VOICE because I want it to mean more than just race -  to also include religion, and little known historical facts and people. Once a month we read a new picture book and discuss it. Then, at the end of the month, there’s a live chat with the author on our Facebook page. You can find out more about Lisa at her website

Book Giveaway: If you want a chance to win a copy of Shmulik Paints the Town just follow these rules.
  1. Leave a comment on this blog post
  2. send me an email to sueheaven(at)gmail(dot)com  - or click on my profile and send an email from there.
  3. to be eligible for the giveaway you have to live in the continental US 
Today is PPBF (perfect picture book Friday), an event in which bloggers share great picture books at Susanna Leonard Hill's site. She keeps an ever-growing list of Perfect Picture BooksReview copy provided by the publisher. 

Friday, February 19, 2016

The Perfect Percival Priggs

The Perfect Percival Priggs   
by Julie-Anne Graham
32 pages; ages 3 & up
Running Press Kids, 2015

Theme: family life

Opening: Percival Priggs was perfect. His parents were perfect. His grandparents were perfect. Even his pets were perfect.

The problem, though, is that being perfect is quite exhausting! And Percy is afraid that his parents won’t love him if he isn’t perfect.

What I like about this book: Percival tries to do too many things at once, and multi-tasking doesn’t aid perfection. In fact, he makes a slight miscalculation … causing his rocket launch to be anything BUT perfect. But instead of yelling at him, his parents laugh because they, too, have tried things that didn’t work out so well.

 Beyond the book: Think about a time when you tried something and failed at it. Draw or write about that attempt. What do you think about it now?

Some inventions came about by accident: popsicles, potato chips, post-it notes, and play-doh (it was intended to clean wallpaper). You can learn more about them here.

Today is PPBF (perfect picture book Friday), an event in which bloggers share great picture books at Susanna Leonard Hill's site. She keeps an ever-growing list of Perfect Picture BooksReview copy provided by the publisher. 

Friday, February 12, 2016

Most Dangerous: Daniel Ellsberg & the Pentagon Papers

 Most Dangerous: Daniel Ellsberg and the Secret History of the Vietnam War

by Steve Sheinkin
384 pages; ages 10 & up
Roaring Brook Press, 2015

This is a riveting tale of intrigue and power… a tale of an obscure government analyst turned whistle-blower that reads like a fast-paced spy novel.

“In the summer of 1964, Daniel Ellsberg was thirty-three,” writes Steve Sheinkin. After serving in the Marines he worked as an analyst with the Rand Corporation, a think tank that focuses on military and international issues. He was asked to work on a project focusing Vietnam as our country headed into war.

At that point, Ellsberg was hawkish. He believed the US was doing the right thing. He also knew that to get good information, you had to actually go to where the action was, so he visited Vietnam.

Upon his return, he tried to show that peace was preferable to continued war, but the presidents – first Johnson and then Nixon – didn’t want to “lose” a war. So the fighting escalated, with more and more young men being drafted and sent to die.

As he collected information, Ellsberg realized that his government was deceiving the people. He came to the realization that he would have to do something to end the war. That’s when he decided to photocopy thousands of pages of what became known as the Pentagon Papers – a study that revealed the US bombings of Cambodia and Laos and other activities not reported in the media. The papers demonstrated that the Johnson administration had systematically lied to the people and to the Congress about what was going on in Vietnam.

Forty years later history repeated itself. This time with Edward Snowden, and instead of seven thousand pages of photocopied documents, a flash drive. But the big questions are the same. “Governments must keep some information secret in order to function – but how much secrecy is too much?” asks Sheinkin. Is there ever a time when citizens are justified in leaking information about their government?

On Monday we're joining the roundup over at the Nonfiction Monday blog where you'll find even more book reviews.  Review copy from the library.

Friday, February 5, 2016

Two books by Transgender Teens

This winter I read a couple of memoirs that really made me think about gender and sexual identity. Both, written by teens who grew up within miles of each other, are coming-of-age stories set in the south.

As I was reading, one thought kept pushing to the front: gender-questioning kids - and their parents - need to see these books. Both of these books raised as many questions as they answered. Both Katie and Arin shoot straight from the hip and get to the heart of their stories. I truly think that these books can save kids' lives - but only if they have the opportunity to read them. If we are truly going to embrace diversity in children's and young adult literature, then stories like these must find a place on the shelf.
Rethinking Normal: a Memoir in Transition
by Katie Rain Hill
264 pages; ages 12 & up
Simon & Schuster, 2014

What happens when you're born into the wrong body? For Katie, that realization came at a young age. She realized that a serious mistake had been made: she was a girl who had been born in the body of a boy. As a toddler, she knew something was "off", but at that age a kid's gender isn't a serious concern. If little boys to play with dolls and little girls roughhouse, adults don't think too much about it.

But add a couple years, and other kids start to notice. Katie, named Luke by her parents, didn't fit in. She had a graceful walk, a girlish voice, and no interest in football - and that didn't go over well in Okay, Oklahoma. Now Katie was judged and bullied, and it made her life miserable to the point where she wished she was dead.

When she started high school, and after reading an article about another transgender girl, Katie finally found the courage to talk with her mom. I think the line that broke my heart is when her mom asked, "Can't you just be gay?" Fortunately for Katie, her mom became an ally, and supported her (now) daughter's desire to be called "she" and dress like a girl. There is a lot of heartache in Katie's story, and a lot of poor decisions, miscommunication, and just plain not knowing where to go - things that would be true in any coming-of-age story. But when your coming-of-age also means realizing you are a completely different person.... that is a deeper story.

One of the transgender friends Katie becomes close to is Arin, born into a girl's body he never felt comfortable in. Arin tells his story in:

Some Assembly Required: the Not-So-Secret Life of a Transgender Teen
by Arin Andrews
256 pages; ages 12 & up
Simon & Schuster, 2014

Arin, beginning life as Emerald, preferred playing tag and other active, outside games. But by the age of three, he was enrolled in dance classes. "My tap movements were more like stomps," he recalls. As for leotards and tutus and bunny ears and fishnet stockings - he loathed them all. His letters to Santa listed wishes for a backpack, legos, a pocket knife... but gift boxes held frilly skirts and Barbie dolls because that's what people expected a little girl to want.

It's hard for a young child to understand why he feels different... it's not like Arin knew he was a guy. But one day, in fourth grade, he forgot running clothes and needed to do a mile run for gym class. A cousin lent Arin some of his: skintight tank top and black shorts. When Arin slipped them on it was like putting on a superhero suit - no zippers or buttons or other fastidious nonsense. Just simple running clothes.

What really horrified Arin, though, was the talk all moms give their fifth-grade daughters. When he heard what would happen every month, he burst into tears... that was something that happened to girls. Not him.

Like Katie, Arin looked for answers on the internet and read articles about other transgender teens. That's how he learned about Katie. And it was those articles, shared with his mother, that helped her finally understand that the daughter she called Emerald didn't feel like a girl at all.

Both Katie and Arin speak from the heart, and their books are eminently readable personal accounts. They do not mince words or dance around hard topics: they tackle issues of body image, dating, gender reassignment surgery and hormone therapy. They write about their feelings. And they write about their relationship with each other - a romance that hit the media as a story about "America's first teen trans couple".

Both books conclude with sections on tips for talking to transgender people, and resources for families including books, movies, and helpful websites.

On Monday we'll be joining the roundup over at the Nonfiction Monday blog where you'll find even more book reviews. Review copies provided by the publisher.