February 24, 2016 So here's a fun little fact from the good folks at the New Hanover County Public Library in Wilmington, North Carolina. They keep track of the most checked-out books each year and then report their findings in the local news. (We all like to know what other people are reading, don't we? I do!) Well, I'm happy to say that THE LEMONADE WAR was one of the most checked-out children's books in the library! (It is one of the books on North Carolina's 2015-16 Elementary Battle of the Books list.) I love to close my eyes and imagine all the reading going on in that beautiful city by the sea—of my books and many others. So if you're looking for some new ideas of what to read next, check out the link and see what our friends in Wilmington are reading.
February 15, 2016
It's time once again for the Great Lemonade War Contest! Every year, I team up with Alex's Lemonade Stand Foundation to help raise money for research to help end childhood cancer. Do you want to help? Watch the short video below to learn how your school can get involved and then click on the "sign up" button for more information. Your school could win a free visit from me! Wouldn't that be fun? I'd love to visit your school and thank you personally for helping such a great cause.
February 6, 2016
I went to a terrific book event on Wednesday: Susan Goodman (nonfiction writer without peer, in my opinion) was at the Harvard Book Store talking about her new picture book: THE FIRST STEP: HOW ONE GIRL PUT SEGREGATION ON TRIAL. The book's illustrator, E. B. Lewis, also spoke, so the audience had a double treat: learning about both processes, writing and illustration.
The book tells the true story of Sarah Roberts who, in 1847, was the plaintiff in a court case (Roberts v. City of Boston) in which she demanded the right to attend her neighborhood school. The school refused to allow her to attend because she was black.
Susan spoke about her meticulous research (making it sound as exciting as a high-stakes treasure hunt! which of course research is! I love research!) and also how that research informed the writing in a way that allowed her to tell the story most effectively. Susan's books are always accurate, and I admire that in her work, but more than anything else, I admire the way she makes her nonfiction prose sing. You feel things in Susan's books. Important things.
On December 4, 1849, a heavy snow blanketed the city. Even a ferocious blizzard wouldn't have stopped people from flooding into the courthouse. So many of them were African American—dockworkers and washerwomen, barbers and blacksmiths—giving up a day's pay to be there. Some were lucky enough to get a seat. Others were willing to stand, for hours if need be.
As a writer, I can't help but notice her use of rhythm, repetition, imagery, alliteration, assonance, and consonance—all techniques of poetry—that convey the facts of the story in a way that makes the words flow straight to the reader's heart. It isn't just a true story; it's one that draws you in and calls on your emotions to sit up and take notice.
Like so many of Susan's books, this one pulls off a really neat trick: in telling one very specific story from the past, it gives us a greater truth that applies to our lives today. Sarah Roberts lost her case. The court ruled against her, and she was not allowed to return to her neighborhood school. She lost. We don't like that word very much in children's books, do we? We want success! Triumph! Something that inspires young readers to reach for the stars! And what inspires us more than winning? But Susan points out that this trial was one important step in a long, slow march toward equality. As she writes so beautifully (using a physical metaphor that school-age children can understand):
Every big change has to start somewhere...
Three steps forward, one step back.
One step forward, three back.
And who among us doesn't need to remember that lesson, in our day-to-day lives, as well as in viewing the wider scope of the world? Sometimes we lose, but sometimes our loss is an important step into the future.