Book Review and Author Interview

Today’s picture book review post is an inspirational one. During a time when women’s choices were limited, Emily Roebling had the courage and determination to do something unthinkable. She led the engineering process in building the beautiful Brooklyn Bridge.

Illustrations by Rachel Dougherty

Title: SECRET ENGINEER: HOW EMILY ROEBLING BUILT THE BROOKLYN BRIDGE

Genre: Picture Book

Ages: 5-8

Author and Illustrator: Rachel Dougherty

Publisher: Roaring Brook Press

Synopsis:

On a warm spring day in 1883, a woman rode across the Brooklyn Bridge with a rooster on her lap.

It was the first trip across an engineering marvel that had taken nearly fourteen years to construct. The woman’s husband was the chief engineer, and he knew all about the dangerous new technique involved. The woman insisted she learn as well.

When he fell ill mid-construction, her knowledge came in handy. She supervised every aspect of the project while he was bedridden, and she continued to learn about things only men were supposed to know:

math,
science,
engineering.

Women weren’t supposed to be engineers.

But this woman insisted she could do it all, and her hard work helped to create one of the most iconic landmarks in the world.

Now, let’s meet the author and talented artist behind this inspirational STEM story!

Rachel Dougherty

First and foremost, thank you for writing such a wonderful story that highlights the achievements of yet another strong, courageous woman in the engineering field. This is truly a must read for all children and a great addition to any library.

Where did you come up with the idea for Secret Engineer? Did something inspire you?

I watched a documentary on the Brooklyn Bridge, not thinking I was doing any kind of official research. I was initially just curious about how the bridge was designed and built, but when the narrator briefly mentioned Emily’s role in the construction my ears perked up. I was so surprised I’d never heard her story!


How long did it take you to write this story?

It took a few months of research and several tries to get an initial draft together, and then my agent and I worked on polishing up the draft and the first dummy for a few more months and sent it out to pitch. We received some interest from Roaring Brook Press, but contingent on some revisions to the story and art, and wanted to see a revised dummy before accepting the project, so I worked with my editor for a few additional months to change the pacing of the story and revise some of the sketches before we were even under contract. I guess I would say all told it took about a year before we were actually ready to go to final art.


What kind of research did you do to help write this story?

Oh, so much research! I started by reading everything I could get my hands on that covered the bridge, the construction, the Roeblings, and especially Emily. David McCullough’s The Great Bridge and Marilyn E. Weigold’s Silent Builder were immensely helpful. I also visited the Brooklyn Bridge and contacted the Cold Spring Historical Society (they’re now called The Putnam History Museum), which is the town in New York where Emily was born, learned a lot from the Roebling Museum in Trenton, read tons of information on civil engineering and pulled the equations that appear throughout the book from a text I found dated to 1916 called The Civil Engineer’s Pocket Book.  Once I started sketches, I pulled tons of reference photos from the Library of Congress – I needed so many construction photos of the bridge, photos of 1870s Brooklyn, photos of period-appropriate clothing and interiors, elevations and construction drawings,  you name it. My reference collection for this project is absolutely enormous, but every photo was essential to making the art as accurate as possible.

There is a lot of new vocabulary throughout specific to the engineering process. Were you familiar with these terms or was it something new for you?

Most of it was new to me! I really learned so much throughout the process of working on this project, and I had a great time doing it.


How many revisions did you go through?

I’m not exactly sure what counts as a revision, so it’s tough to answer that. Some changes were really quick and could be turned around in an afternoon, and some were absolute overhauls. I guess it’s easiest to say a whole lot. I do think that every revision we made help to make the book stronger, I wouldn’t take any of them back.

At the end of the story, there are historical photographs of the Brooklyn Bridge and a drawing of the bridge. How did you go about acquiring these?

My editor and book designer sourced the photos from the Library of Congress and I found some additional ones myself to throw into the mix. Ultimately, we agreed on the set that appear in the endpapers, and I think they really help readers get a sense of the construction-era bridge versus the modern bridge.

What’s coming up next for you?

I’m working on a manuscript about colors in historical and cultural context at the moment, but it’s in pretty early stages. I’m hoping it will grow into something as wonderful as Secret Engineer.

If any readers want to learn more about you or follow you on social media, where can they find you?

Readers can find me on:

Twitter @r_dougherty

Instagram @racheldoughertybooks

Or drop by my website at www.racheldougherty.com

Thank you again for sharing this remarkable story with us!

You can purchase SECRET ENGINEER: HOW EMILY ROEBLING BUILT THE BROOKLYN BRIDGE here

Thanks for stopping by and happy reading!


A Story for the Season

I love this time of year. We get to be with our friends and family to celebrate the season and give thanks. 

Recently I discovered another heartwarming story that provides a wonderful opportunity for discussions about giving, helping others in need, and empathy. 

What a perfect story to share with my children and kindergarten students this time of year!

Picture Book Title: SHELTER

Written by: Celine Claire

Illustrated by: Qin Leng. 

Publisher: Kids Can Press (2017) Age Range: 4-8

 Synopsis: A storm is coming and the forest animals rush to prepare when two strangers emerge from the fog. The animals wonder: Who are these strangers? What are they doing here? What do they want?

When the strangers kindly ask to exchange tea for a chance to sit by a warm fire, or have some cookies for dipping, even just a spot to take comfort in the light of one’s hearth, the strangers are turned away. Except for one generous critter named Little Fox. Because of his kindness, the others discover the meaning of compassion and generosity.

So there you have it! If you’re on the lookout for a picture book to read this time of year, check out Celine Claire’s heartwarming story.

Also, if you have a picture book about kindness, generosity, empathy, etc. that you enjoy reading with your family (or just love reading!), please feel free to leave it in the comments below.

Happy reading and Happy Thanksgiving!

Finding Time

Have you ever wished that time would slow down? Even just a little?

I know I do.

I think back to my pregnancy and being in awe of the amazing process a woman’s body goes through. I remember staring at my stomach watching this little alien creature take over, kicking me at all hours of the night.

Now, they’re 5 and nearly 7, still young, but not babies anymore.

I’m reminded of this everytime Google Photos sends me an email that says, “Rediscover this day. Look back at…”

More like, “Life is moving fast, don’t blink or you’ll miss it.”

Last week, the tears welled in my eyes as I stared at my son’s first birthday party. I remember his ruffled blond hair and the way he used to snuggle up close under my chin when I held him. Thankfully, he’s still a snuggler, but how could that time have passed so fast?

Now when the little reminder pops up in the corner of my email, bugging me to click on it and “rediscover” these moments, I can’t even open them.

Is it because it makes me sad?

Am I worried that I’ll realize these moments won’t last forever?

Or because I just don’t want to revisit the very “homemade” looking cakes I baked for each birthday (I’m no Betty Crocker. It’s okay, I’ve accepted it.).

Or maybe it’s another gentle reminder to live each moment to the fullest. To enjoy the small things in life.

The hugs.

The stories.

The muddy mess kids make when discovering a giant puddle in the backyard (I thank the lucky stars for hoses and cheap bar soap).

I also wonder if these images and thoughts are trying to tell me to be present…

That I need to remember yesterday’s memories, but recognize today’s.

And continue living life to the fullest.

Moreover, we can’t control time, but we can make time.

Especially for those that matter most.

 

 

 

 

New Releases: Children’s Books!

I love, love, love (did I mention, love?) children’s literature. Even as an adult, walking into a bookstore or library, I get a rush of excitement and scoop up more books that I can carry to the check-out. There’s so much laughter, love, humor, and creativity that goes into these little works of art.

Coming out next spring by a brand new publisher, A Belletristic Wander, are two new titles that I can’t wait to get my hands on. Before giving you a brief synopsis of these fabulous tales, check out the amazing illustrations.

rumtum sailer
RUMTUM THE SAILOR by Kyle Duffy, illustrated by Mary Manning

and…

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CHARLIE AND THE HOT BALLOON sketch by Nerris Nassiri, illustrated by Jessica White

Aren’t they awesome?

My son is a huge fan of rhyme, adventures, and humor, so naturally RUMTUM THE SAILOR will be a big hit in our house.

Publisher’s Synopsis:

RUMTUM THE SAILOR is a larger than life adventure of a father who sets sail, but ends up on a deserted island.  Even though he has almost nothing on the island with him (just one oar that happens to wash up), he is determined to keep his promise to his family and be home in time for supper. It is also the story of “Stow-a-way” a mischievous octopus that shares all of Rumtum’s adventures, without Rumtum ever even knowing he is there!

The publisher also adds:

“Beneath the humor and rollicking rhyme of this book, the core feelings of love for his family and the taste of fantasy as he accomplishes the impossible, will touch the heart of the reader.”

I’m hooked!

While that story is all about adventure, this next one takes on a softer tone about a little boy who was told that his mother had “gone to live in the stars.” So what does he do? He discovers the magic of a hot air balloon and decides to build one himself in hopes of finding his mother.

Author’s Synopsis:

“…it’s about a boy searching for his mother. Deeper down, it’s about a child who perseveres through the saddest thing that can happen to them. The story explores themes of love and loss through the eyes of a child and plays with innocent perspectives and determination to move past things.

Magical, right?

Now, for a few more amazing sneak peeks of the illustrators’ brilliant samples and how you can preorder these great new reads!

image-1.png
CHARLIE AND THE HOT AIR BALLOON beginning sketch by illustrator Jessica White

image (2)
CHARLIE AND THE HOT AIR BALLOON beginning sketch by illustrator Jessica White

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Sample sketches by Mary Manning, illustrator of RUMTUM THE SAILOR 

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Sample sketches by Mary Manning, illustrator of RUMTUM THE SAILOR 

Preorder here and learn more about the two authors and illustrators, in addition to the publisher’s personal stories.

Happy reading!

#50PreciousWords

I participated in this year’s #50PreciousWords contest hosted by children’s author Vivian Kirkfield. The guidelines?

  1. Write a story appropriate for kids ages 12 or under, using only 50 words…they can all be different words, or you can use some of them over and over…just as long as the total word count of the story is 50 or less.

What a fun and exciting opportunity! To make it even better, I became one of the 20 winners! Wow.

If you’re looking for a writing challenge, check it out and give it a whirl. Next up? Vivian created the same challenge, but for kids. I know my students will love this!

Happy Writing!

Children’s Books Illustrations Linked to Decreased Word Learning in Preschoolers

Hold up. Before placing the newly minted children’s book on the counter at the bookstore, you might want to take a peek inside first. Look at the illustrations. Are they colorful and bright? Do they show more than one thing happening on a page? If so, put it down for second and listen up.

A new study published in Infant and Child Development shares how a group of researchers from the University of Sussex found that having more than one illustration on a page can result in poorer word learning in preschoolers.

That sound a little strange? Don’t kids enjoy reading stories with pictures? Yes and yes, but to a point. The researchers are saying that a younger child viewing a page with more than one illustration or reading a book with flaps, make it more difficult for them to follow. Essentially, there’s too much going on to focus.

Co-author of the study Dr. Jessica Horst said, “…this is the first study to examine how decreasing the number of illustrations increases children’s word learning from storybooks.”

For the study, they read three stories from a set of storybooks to a group of three-year-olds. The first book had one page of illustrations, and the other page was blank. The second story had illustrations on both pages, while the third had one large illustration. What they found was that the children learned twice as many new words after reading the book with a single picture on a page.

Does this mean you need to go through your child’s bookshelves and start cleaning house? Not exactly. In a follow-up study, they found that merely pointing to the illustrations on the pages with multiple images before reading was more beneficial when guiding the children to learn new words.

“Our findings fit well with the Cognitive Load Theory, which suggests that learning rates are affected by how complicated a task is. In this case, by giving children less information at once, or guiding them to the correct information, we can help children learn more words,” said Zoe Flack, Doctoral researcher and co-author of the recent findings.

In addition to reading stories with fewer illustrations, how about the many times your child begs for you to read the same story over and over again? Believe it or not,  it may not be a bad idea to listen. Horst shares that after reading the same story multiple times, the child gets something new out of it. For example, the first time they are just enjoying the story while the subsequent reads they begin to notice details and listen to the words being said.

The silver lining in all of this is just to keep reading to your children. By exposing them to texts and sharing the love of reading with them is a gift in itself.

New Study Connects Diaper Contents to Brain Development

“Poopy brain!” your child yells at his little sister. Before sending the tyke to time-out for having a potty mouth, he may be onto something. Of course not literally, but a new study from University of North Carolina School of Medicine is finding connections between the yucky mess found in your child’s diaper to their future cognitive abilities. This isn’t to say you should study every lump and color (sorry, TMI) of your child’s fecal masterpiece, but know a scientist does.

The first year of a child’s life is critical in not only brain development but gut establishment as well. Looking for a possible connection between the two, Ph.D. Rebecca Knickmeyer, an associate professor of psychiatry, and a team of colleagues from the UNC, decided to take a closer look at the bacteria found in dirty diapers.

First, the team took fecal samples from nearly a hundred one-year-olds. A year later, using the same group of children, they conducted a series of cognitive tests that measured fine and gross motor skills along with perceptual abilities and language development.

Before I tell you the results, let’s review a quick science lesson about the microscopic powerhouses called microbes.

Microbes are in the world around us and within your body. In fact, your gut holds massive amounts; we’re talking trillions, of microbes that live in a little community called a microbiome.

While some microbes, bacteria or viruses, get a bad rap, overall these tiny creatures do more good than harm, by breaking down the food you eat to detoxifying your body and warding off stress.

What they found was vastly different compared to their hypotheses. “We had originally predicted that children with highly diverse microbiomes would perform better–since other studies have shown that low diversity in infancy is associated with negative health outcomes, including type 1 diabetes and asthma. Our work suggests that an ‘optimal’ microbiome for cognitive and psychiatric outcomes may be different than an ‘optimal’ microbiome for other outcomes,” says Knickmeyer.

In the end, what are we learning? Alex Carlson, an MD/Ph.D. student in Knickmeyer’s lab and first author of the research, says that while there is a lot more tests needed to be done before suggesting that everyone take a particular probiotic to create more healthy bacteria, there are some key things for sure. These results are opening up more areas for testing including the effect these tiny creatures may have on the emergence of social skills and anxiety. Also, how we may be able to guide the development of your microbiome to help diminish cognitive and language problems in children.

Knickmeyer concludes that “How you guide that development is an open question because we have to understand what the individual’s microbiome is and how to shift it. And this is something the scientific community is just beginning to work on.”