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!


Book Review and Author Interview with Lindsay Leslie!

I’m super excited to share with you a new picture book that is ready for little hands and creative minds everywhere on February 19th. Along with a sneak peek of the story, author Lindsay Leslie was so nice to answer my questions about her engaging new book. So sit back, grab a cup of tea, and join me. I’m glad you’re here.

Title: THIS BOOK IS SPINELESS

Genre: Picture Book

Ages: 4-8

Author: Lindsay Leslie

Illustrator: Alice Brereton

Publisher: Page Street Kids

Synopsis: Using the five-senses this wary and ‘spineless’ book tries to figure out what kind of story it might have on its pages.

Does it hear spooky wails from a ghost story?
Can it see a mysterious something peeking around a corner?
Is that the dizzy feeling of zero gravity it senses?
Might that be the stinky smell of animals in nature it detects?
Could it be tasting the saltiness of a story on the high seas?

Playful and humorous, Linsday Leslie invites the reader on an adventurous journey as the book grows braver and braver with each page until finally, it grows a spine!

The illustrations are quirky, textured, shape-oriented and colorful. They have an optical illusion effect begging the reader to take a closer look.

Now, it’s time to meet the awesome author, Lindsay Leslie.

Welcome, Lindsay! First and foremost, what was your inspiration behind this engaging title?

My inspiration was two-fold. One, I really had no control over. I remember walking into my youngest son’s room and stepping on one of his picture books because naturally, they were littering the floor. My subconscious took over. I thought things like: Did I break the book? Did I mess up its spine? What if this book were spineless? And, then, I said out loud, “This Book Is Spineless!” I immediately put the title in my notes section on my phone. I knew I had something with that title.

The second inspiration for this book is my personal experience with anxiety. I was an anxious kid and tried to hide it always. I was the kid who didn’t want to go on the roller coaster even though my mom bribed me with a puppy. I was the kid who didn’t want to learn how to swim. I was the kid who feared and feared a fair amount of things. The anxiety shifted over time and became different and not very fun as an adult, but I have developed better coping mechanisms. I was interested in looking at fears, fear of what’s inside all of us, and putting that on the page in a quirky, fun, relatable way. I also wanted the narrative to mimic the anticipation and heightening of anxious emotions and then the calming down.

You also use many sensory elements (hear, see, feel, taste, etc.). How did you come up with this unique twist to the story?

Oh, wow. How did I come up with that? Great question! I haven’t really thought about how that came to be until now. The sensory elements were not in my first awful draft, so it didn’t flow out of me in a flurry of words. They showed up in the second draft. I think with the first draft I was getting to know my character, which is the physical book, and with the second draft, I was exploring more of what the book was experiencing. I think I was trying my best to bring the book to life and to dig into its experiences. Because the book is afraid of the story on its pages, pulling on the senses became more apparent to me as I wrapped in various genres of stories that might be there.

There is a lot of fun play on words using alliteration in your story. Is the Thesaurus your go to?

The Thesaurus is my friend. Oh, yes it is. While some of these words popped into my head, I did spend a lot of time looking and searching for just the right words, like how to describe a particularly odoriferous animal or an alleyway that looks less than inviting. I love nothing more to go on a word hunt because I find some real treasures.


The illustrations are out of this world. There is very much an optical illusion element to it. Is this how you imagined them to be when writing your story?

No, not at all, which is FANTASTIC! I hold these illustrations close to my heart. Alice Brereton is a magician with her powerful, quirky, and thought-provoking art. If you can’t tell, I’m elated that what Alice created looks NOTHING like what was in my head.

How long did you work on this particular story?

I began writing this story in August of 2016. Page Street Kids offered me a contract late June of 2017. Together, my editor and I worked on it well into 2018. Word changes here and there.

If you had one piece of advice for writers, what would it be?

I’ve got so much advice that I could really annoy everyone with it. How about one piece of advice that would resonate no matter where someone is in their writing journey? That piece of advice is to enjoy. Find the work you enjoy, the topic you enjoy, whatever inspires you to start typing or scribbling on paper. Don’t chase the trends. Don’t watch what everyone else is doing. That all changes and you aren’t everyone else. When you write with joy, the reader will read with joy.

What is coming up next for you?

I’ve got some cool stuff going on that I’m excited about. I’ll be at TLA this year, so if you are attending or anywhere Austin, swing on by and do let me know! My second picture book, NOVA THE STAR EATER (illustrated by John Taesoo Kim, Page Street Kids), comes out May 21. I have a third book called DUSK RAIDERS WANTED slated for Spring 2020 with Page Street Kids, illustrated by Ellen Rooney. And, I’m on submission with other work, so fingers crossed!

Thank you for taking the time to answer my questions and for sharing your amazing story with us!

Thank you for having me!

And there you have it.

To check out and purchase THIS BOOK IS SPINELESS visit here.

Want to read more of Lindsay’s picture books? Check out NOVA: THE STAR EATER here.

If you’d like to learn more about Lindsay and see what she’s up to visit her website: https://lindsayleslie.com/

Or visit her social media feeds:

Twitter: @LLeslie

Instagram: @lindsaylesliewrites

Thanks for stopping by and happy reading!


New Year, New Ideas

The new year is upon us, and there’s another writing challenge about to begin.

If you’ve ever visited my site before, you know how much I love writing contests and seeking out ways to help me generate new ideas. If you’ve never been here, well, I love writing contests and seeking out ways to help me generate new ideas. 🙂

Why? They push me to create. While some of the ideas remain locked inside my GoogleDocs without seeing the light of day, others take on a different form and are like a jumping off point a.k.a. somewhere to get started.

It’s about creating. Getting words on paper that can, and often do, spark a new idea. The best writing feeling in the world? When that idea pops in your mind and BAM! You write, and write, and can’t stop until every last word is down. Obviously, the story is nowhere close to being finished. But, it’s not about that. It’s the feeling of motivation and inspiration all in one. That, you’ve-just-got-to-get-it-down-on-paper feeling.

Where am I going with this?

Each January another awesome and free (yes, free!) writing challenge begins. It’s called Storystorm. Chances are you’ve heard of it. If not, you’re in for a treat! Hosted by Tara Lazar, a fabulous children’s book author, Storystorm is for all writers. “Any genre, style, student, amateur, hobbyist, aspiring author, or professional,” can join Tara says.

Intrigued? Here’s how to start:

Begin by signing up on her website. Then, every day in January you will receive a daily post with a writing challenge. The objective is to garner 30 new writing ideas by the end of the month. Some might see the light of day, others may remain locked in your GoogleDocs. 🙂 Again, it’s about creating.

But wait! There are prizes! If you create 30 ideas by the end of the month, you sign a pledge on her website, and you’re eligible to win some awesome prizes like professional consults, book signings, original art, and more.

So, if you’re looking for some extra motivation in the new year and want to have more ideas in your back pocket, come join us. If you’re looking to take part in something fun just because, come join us.

If you have another idea that keeps you writing and creating, please share in the comments below. Like I said, I’m always open to new ideas. 🙂

Cheers to the new year and happy writing!

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!

Inspired by Nature: PB Review

My family loves spending time in the outdoors. After busy days at work, school, and moving through the daily hustle and bustle of life, there’s an urge to escape and get back to nature. A call to the wild, you could say.

Trekking through the forest, discovering a new trail, or watching the kids run wild and free, there is no doubt that nature is healing.

Over the past couple of years, we’ve set a family goal to visit as many national parks as we can. Our kids take part in the junior ranger programs and have the privilege of meeting the park rangers that work tirelessly to protect our landscapes and wildlife.

The kids have learned about animals, plants, trees, and how to preserve our natural treasures. So far they’ve each earned five badges, one for each park we’ve visited.

The reason I share this is that recently, I came across this picture book titled: OLIVER THE SECOND-LARGEST LIVING THING ON EARTH by Josh Crute and illustrated by John Taesoo Kim.  Not only is it beautifully illustrated, but it’s a story inspired by nature.

img_2151-1

Age Range: 4-8

Publisher: Page Street Kids

Synopsis: A tree named Oliver is tired of being the second-largest tree.  He stretches his limbs in winter, lifts logs in spring, soaks up the sun in summer, and munches on mulch in autumn, trying to grow big enough to be noticed. Until he discovers that he’s been a part of something much larger, the Sequoia National Forest.

img_2153-1

It’s a humorous story with a lot of heart, and there’s an excellent note at the end about the Sequoia National Forest and other second largest things in the world.

It’s a great reminder for children that you don’t always have to come in first. In fact, being second is important, too.

Words

Words are powerful.

Whether displayed on a billboard, expressed through feelings, or read in a book, they are everywhere. Depending on how they are presented, they can be perceived in various ways.

Naturally, I think of picture books and the effect they have on children, even adults.

Recently, my daughter and I were browsing the local bookstore when she bounded over giddy about a book she discovered.

I glanced at the cover. A young girl was staring at a man wrapped in a blanket crouched down on the sidewalk. At first, I was surprised she picked this. Generally, she’s attracted to bright colors and big illustrations. This story was more muted.

“Will you read this to me, Mommy?” she asked.

We found a bench and admired the modestly sized book.

“OLD MAN by Sarah V. and Claude Dubois.” I  began.

the old man book

The story starts by comparing the life of a young girl and a homeless man. With its sparse text and beautiful illustrations, my daughter and I were captivated.

“Mom? Why is he living on the street?”

“Where is the old man’s family?”

“Why can’t he remember his name?”

Questions poured out of my daughter’s mouth.

Sarah V’s. carefully chosen words kept us reading not two, but three times. We talked about homelessness, empathy, acts of kindness, and showing compassion for others.

When it was time to leave, the book’s message stayed with us. As a family, we talked about it during dinner and brainstormed ways we can help others.

This was another gentle reminder, that words, whether spoken or read in a children’s book, are powerful and have a lasting ripple effect on our lives.

If you haven’t read THE OLD MAN by Sarah V. and Claude K. Dubois, check it out. I highly recommend it!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

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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: Environment and Animal Conservation

I always find it interesting seeing what kind of books my children pick out from the library.  But sometimes, I like to encourage them to find something connected to what we’re learning about as a family. For example, our goal of exploring all the national parks (we’ve visited 7 so far!) and as part of this journey, talking about the environment and animal conservation.

My kids like to mix it up. A little non-fiction and fiction. Believe it or not, even with fiction stories there are lots of ways to apply them to real-life conversations.

Red Knit Cap Girl to the Rescue by Naoko Stoop

Energy Island: How one community harnessed the wind and changed their world

Energy Island: How one community harnessed the wind and changed their world

What If There Were No Bees?: A Book About the Grassland Ecosystem (Food Chain Reactions)

What if there were no bees? by Suzanne Slade and Illustrated by Carol Schwartz

 

All Kate Messner Books

Over and Under the Snow

Over and Under the SnowOver and Under the Snow

Over and Under the Pond

Over and Under the Pond

Up in the Garden and Down in the Dirt

Up in the Garden, Down in the Dirt  

This is mostly about adding art to a community, but we tied in the importance of community gardens and their impact.

Maybe Something Beautiful: How Art Transformed a Neighborhood

Maybe Something Beautiful by F. Isabel Campoy and Therese Howell, illustrated by Rafeal Lopez

Are there any books that your family has discovered that you’d like to share? I’d love to hear about them!

Happy Reading.

How we Taught our Kids to Ride Without Training Wheels at age 3

“You’re doing it! Look at you go!” I shout at our three-year-old son as he pedals his wobbly bike without training wheels down the street.

Three? You may ask yourself. Yes, that’s right. It can be accomplished. Say goodbye to the training wheels, and self-doubt that your child will never learn how to ride a bike on their own. Sayonara to the oversized bike trailers and “hello” independence. Well, let’s not get too carried away, but that’s how it felt when my husband and I had our two children conquer this life skill by the age of three.

Want to know our secret? It’s called a balance bike. It was no secret to the many families that had already relied on this genius two-wheeled pedal-less bike. But when we discovered it? Our confused thoughts on how to teach this task were gloriously put to rest. It’s a secret no more. We wondered why this didn’t come with the instructional manual on “How to Raise Kids.” That’s right, we never received one when the stork dropped off our two bundles of joy at our front door-step. Isn’t that how it works? Let’s move on.

We first heard about this awesome alternative after a fellow dad kindly and willingly shared his brilliant secret with us. We did a little more research, and within no time, a lime green balance bike showed up on our doorstep. Contrary to the prior statement, it was not flown in by bird, just the friendly neighborhood delivery man.

How does it work?

Unlike ordinary bikes, it has no pedals, larger tires, and lower seating for a toddler to rest their feet on the ground. The child uses their legs and feet to push off the ground to gain speed. After some practice getting on the bike and scooting around, the child will gain confidence and naturally begin to lift their feet for longer periods of time. Mostly, they start to coast around. It’s all about balance.

“Bikes with training wheels tilt to the one side, creating a false sense of balance. In order to ride without the training wheels, a child must “unlearn” how to ride unbalanced and learn how to ride balanced,” according to an article on Two Wheeling Tots.

That sounds like a lot of extra work when some of the steps can be cut out. Basically, with the balance bike, the child will feel themselves tipping to one side and will learn to keep their body upright and support themselves.

When do they start using the balance bike?

Two Wheeling Tots says that kids can start as young as 18 months old, all the way up to 5-years-old. They use the bike for about two years before moving onto a traditional bike without training wheels.

How we did it

To get our daughter excited about the process, we let her pick out which color of bike she would like, along with a fitted helmet. Once the balance bike arrived,  I was shocked at how lightweight it felt. It was a plain bike frame with two wheels. No chains, no other contraptions for the child to get caught on, just pure simplicity.

We started on the driveway first teaching our 20-month old to tilt the bike to the side and lift her leg over the seat. While grasping the handlebars, she practiced sitting and focused on balancing herself. After the novelty of being able to just sit on her very first bike wore away, our daughter gained more confidence and began to push herself around. It went from a single push, to push, push, glide.

In no time, she was testing out the steering, slightly turning, then making larger circles. My husband and I were amazed at how natural the process was. Within a few months, we noticed she would lift her feet to coast along. By the age of three, we felt she was ready to try a bike with pedals.

Unsure of how the transition would look, we purchased a little bike from the second-hand store. We put our daughter on the traditional bike, held the back of the seat, showed her how to keep her feet on the pedals and walked with her as she rode. Eventually, we let go. She fell off but caught herself. We tried again, and within three attempts, she was riding down the sidewalk. It was incredible!

My son didn’t catch on quite as quickly. We thought he was ready, when he was not, so we gave the traditional bike a rest for a bit. He practiced balancing a little longer until he said he was prepared to try again. Within no time, he was pedaling on his own. He just wasn’t ready when we thought he was. It was up to him. That is a key factor in the whole system. The child knows when they are ready to learn and each child is different.

Would we do it again?

Yes! We feel it took away a lot of the guessing that comes along with trying to figure out how to teach this task.

We have since passed the balance bike on to our niece who’s loving this new experience and boost in confidence. If you’re interested, I encourage you to check out the balance bike and if you feel it’s a good fit for your child, give it a test ride.