Thank you to everyone who participated in the Page Through The Parks event that Liz Garton Scanlon, Barb Rosenstock, and I ran this month. Congratulations to all the winners of our books and especially to Mandi, the winner of our teacher/librarian giveaway. We love kids, books, the great outdoors, and our National Parks, so this was truly a fun thing for us. And also huge thanks to Nerdy Book Club, Jennifer Reinhardt of Picture Book Builders, and Alyson Beecher at Kid Lit Frenzy. Here’s to our beautiful parks, and to getting kids outside and reading!!
But now on to something really important. Nature isn’t always kind.
Many, many schools and libraries in Louisiana lost all their books in the recent flooding. As a book person, this breaks my heart, because rebuilding those libraries will take years of dedicated work and tons of money. And without that dedication some kids who need books the most will not have access to them.
The amazing Kate Messner has put together a blog post that she is keeping current with information if you want to help. You can donate money or books, but please be aware of age restrictions and other needs. Don’t send books that a school can’t use, like YA novels to an elementary. And don’t send used books, especially paperbacks.
But let’s all try to help. I’m sending copies of CHARMED CHILDREN and other books this week, to schools that can use them.
and Barb Rosenstock is giving away 3 copies of her picture book THE CAMPING TRIP THAT CHANGED AMERICA here.
And we have an awesome Rafflecopter giveaway, that you can see at the bottom of the post.
But we also want to encourage kids to read about, if not experience, our National Parks, so here are some of our favorite reads, which are also included in this book list. Please add your own favorites in the comments!
REDWOODS, Jason Chin, Square Fish, 2015. An ordinary subway trip is transformed when a young boy happens upon a book about redwood forests.
ALL ABOARD! NATIONAL PARKS: A WILDLIFE PRIMER, Haily Meyers & Kevin Meyers, Gibbs Smith, 2016. A train journey through some of America’s National Parks.
A WEIRD AND WILD BEAUTY: THE STORY OF YELLOWSTONE, THE WORLD’S FIRST NATIONAL PARK, Erin Peabody, Sky Pony Press 2016. Peabody tells the story of one of the first scientific expeditions into the vast Western wilderness surrounding the Yellowstone River.
MY YOSEMITE: A GUIDE FOR YOUNG ADVENTURERS, Mike Graf & Annette Filice (illus.), Yosemite Conservancy, 2012. In eight chapters covering everything from “Yosemite’s Rich Past” to “Endless Things to See and Do,” Mike Graf calls on the park’s most knowledgeable insiders — biologists, rangers, even the park’s resident entertainer — to share their most exciting stories and best advice.
WOLVES, BOYS, AND OTHER THINGS THAT MIGHT KILL ME, Kristen Chandler, Speak, 2011. Chandler’s debut novel is a classic coming-of-age tale set in Montana shortly after wolves were reintroduced to Yellowstone National Park.
Here’s our teacher and librarian giveaway. And we hope you’ve enjoyed our salute to our National Parks and the books written about them!
The items in our giveaway: a copy of IN THE CANYON, signed by both author and illustrator; a piece of Canyon-inspired art by Ashley Wolff; a beautiful chain-stitch embroidered Sequoia patch; a hardcover copy of THE CAMPING TRIP THAT CHANGED AMERICA signed by Barb; a grow your own Sequoia kit from “Tree in a Box”; a framed 13 x 19 poster of John Muir and Teddy Roosevelt camping in Yosemite; a 500-piece Yosemite jigsaw puzzle; a signed copy of FAITHFUL; a Yellowstone Old Faithful magnet; a Yellowstone coffee mug; and to hold all that stuff, a Yellowstone tote bag. Enter now! a Rafflecopter giveaway
I’ve never been to Yosemite National Park. This is something I’m longing to remedy. In the meantime, I can live vicariously, along with all of you, through Barb Rosenstock’s THE CAMPING TRIP THAT CHANGED AMERICA. This lovely picture book, illustrated by Mordicai Gerstein, tells the story of how John Muir and Theodore Roosevelt saved an American treasure for all of us to enjoy.
I asked Barb a couple of questions, and here are her answers:
Which came first for you – a visit to Yosemite, or the inspiration to write THE CAMPING TRIP THAT CHANGED AMERICA? What did you think when you saw the Park?
I first learned about the camping trip in a review of an adult book on Theodore Roosevelt. A few months later, I was researching mountain vacations online and typed in “history” too (what history nerd wouldn’t?) and up popped a photo of Theodore Roosevelt and John Muir standing alone at Glacier Point in Yosemite. Presidents are NEVER alone now, there are always hordes of people around them. What was so important then that Roosevelt went into the wilderness with John Muir as a guide? I started researching. I started writing. I did NOT visit Yosemite. I wrote 37 versions of the book and somewhere in there, an editor at Dial became interested in the story. And THEN, my librarian sister convinced me to travel to Yosemite.
Teddy Roosevelt and John Muir in Yosemite
She said a person from the flat state of Illinois couldn’t write about the mountains without visiting them. I did not expect to be as overwhelmed or emotional or patriotic. Yosemite! That such a place existed! Waterfalls and wildflowers. Sky and earth. Quiet.. There are no words, just go yourself someday. While at the park, I met Lee Stetson, who plays Muir at the park (in Ken Burns’ documentary too!) Just talking with Lee and seeing him bring Muir to life helped my writing, as did Linda Eade, the wonderful librarian at Yosemite. Later in the week, I walked to the exact spot TR and Muir camped and just took it in. I kept coming back to the idea, This place was almost destroyed. Muir saved it. Roosevelt saved it. Countless of others who worked with them and in all the years after saved it. The National Park Service saved it. For all of us. The final manuscript of The Camping Trip that Changed America, would not have happened if I hadn’t visited Yosemite. The book is historical fiction, informed by research, but it also told through the trees, the rock and the water.
Their Yosemite campsite
What about the meeting between Muir and Roosevelt makes it so special and do you think someone could still do what they did?
I think it’s special because these two men could not have been more different. They were total opposites in many ways: rich/poor, founder/immigrant, extrovert/introvert, war hero/draft dodger, big city/wilderness…I could go on and on. The story is about two opposites that find common ground. How? Both were avid readers and wonderful writers. It’s the story of two men of very different temperaments, going out in nature and working to save their country’s natural treasures for all of us. In our times, maybe we should send the whole U.S. Congress on a year-long camping trip.
Barb and her sister at Glacier Point
So yes, I always think there’s hope for people (even politicians) to do what they did. To stand up. To act boldly. To make positive changes that will be good for our grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
We are so happy to be able to bring you our Page Through The Parks tour. We’ve got a downloadable list of books for you, plus three Goodreads’ giveaways: Barb’s THE CAMPING TRIP THAT CHANGED AMERICA is here; Liz Garton Scanlon’s IN THE CANYON is here; and my giveaway of FAITHFUL is here. Plus…we’ve got a wonderful teacher and librarian giveaway with all these fun items: a copy of IN THE CANYON, signed by both author and illustrator; a piece of Canyon-inspired art by Ashley Wolff; a beautiful chain-stitch embroidered Sequoia patch; a hardcover copy of THE CAMPING TRIP THAT CHANGED AMERICA signed by Barb; a grow your own Sequoia kit from “Tree in a Box”; a framed 13 x 19 poster of John Muir and Teddy Roosevelt camping in Yosemite; a 500-piece Yosemite jigsaw puzzle; a signed copy of FAITHFUL; a Yellowstone Old Faithful magnet; aYellowstone coffee mug; and to hold all that stuff, a Yellowstone tote bag. Enter now!
Our Page Through The Parks adventure continues this week in Yellowstone National Park, the setting for my YA debut novel FAITHFUL.
I first visited Yellowstone in my late twenties, and nothing could have prepared me for the wonder. The landscape would be amazing enough by itself, but add the wildlife, hot springs, geysers, and history, and it is one of the most marvelous places on this planet.
Old Faithful Inn, 1904
It was not a stretch to decide to set my novel in the Park, and I also decided to set it in 1904, the year the Old Faithful Inn was opened. It would have been a marvel of its time. You can read lots of historical and other accounts in my archived posts on Yellowstone history. But the place was a tourist destination from the late 1800s for good reason, and acquired the nickname Wonderland. Lucky for me, the new historical archives opened in Gardiner Montana just as I was researching, so I had access to many early documents, maps, and accounts.
I’ve also loaded a Pinterest page with pictures I gathered during my research, so you can live vicariously. In FAITHFUL, Maggie’s journey through Yellowstone mirrors the experiences that travelers would have witnessed, from the beauty of the landscape to the threatening animals, to even a highway robbery, which did happen to some tourist coaches in the early 1900s.
If you ever have the chance to visit Yellowstone, grab it. You can stay in the Park at one of the many gorgeous and newly renovated hotels, or outside the Park, or camp, if you’re adventurous. And Teton National Park is not far south and equally beautiful, as is Glacier National Park to the north.
Mammoth hot springs
Don’t forget that we have a number of giveaways going this month. You can enter a giveaway for FAITHFUL here. And Liz Garton Scanlon’s picture book IN THE CANYON, set in the Grand Canyon, can be found here, and Barb Rosenstock’s THE CAMPING TRIP THAT CHANGED AMERICA, set in Yosemite, here.
Our graphic, including one of my views of the Grand Canyon.
I couldn’t be more excited about our August “Page Through The Parks” plans! We now have a Facebook page, so please follow along for live updates.
It’s fitting that we’re beginning our tour in the Grand Canyon, one of the most majestic places on Earth! But before I begin, please make sure you read to the bottom. Giveaways!! If you are a reader, each of us is giving away books on Goodreads. And if you’re a teacher or librarian, we’ve got an amazing Rafflecopter giveaway for you. Please, read on!
When I visited the Grand Canyon a few years back, I was overwhelmed. I had to take a few steps back from the edge (well, if you know me, you know I had to take many steps back.) But oh how beautiful! How unbelievable, that our country has had the foresight to preserve such a treasure!
Liz Garton Scanlon‘s IN THE CANYON brings that landscape to life. I asked her a couple of questions, and here they are with her answers:
What inspired you to write a book about the Canyon? “My agent actually suggested it — she knew that I was (am) a big hiker and backpacker and just general outdoors-lover. What she didn’t know (I don’t think) was that I had hiked the canyon down to the river in my 20s, so when she offered up the idea I happily dove in.”
Liz Garton Scanlon
What was your favorite moment in writing the book? “My favorite moment in the text of the book is actually ALSO my favorite art spread, and that’s the “Hello, Mr. Red Tailed Hawk” page. I love the conversational nature there, the intimacy of child and natural world, and Ashley’s art on that page just blows me away. I actually have a signed print of that on my studio wall. Lucky me!”
I also asked illustrator Ashley Wolff: While working on the illustrations for IN THE CANYON, how many times did you visit the Grand Canyon to get the landscape you wanted to portray? And here’s her answer:
Ashley’s boots in the Grand Canyon.
“I hiked into and out of the Grand Canyon once in 1990, took a mule down to Plateau Point in 1998, and then took a special trip in May of 2013 to do the research for In the Canyon. With Liz’s script tucked in my backpack and only a camera phone, my sister and I hiked down the South Kaibab Trail and back up via Bright Angel in one long, hot sweaty day. It’s a 16 mile round trip with a mile of elevation loss/gain on either end. We paused for an hour at Phantom Ranch to resupply our water and salty snacks and get back to the rim after dark. It was quite a day!”
We would love for all of you to have the chance to visit the Grand Canyon and the other Parks. But in case you can’t, we’ve got a long list of books, for readers from young to old, that we hope you’ll check out.
If you are a teacher or librarian, please enter our Rafflecopter giveaway for a lot of really awesome items, including:
a copy of IN THE CANYON, signed by both author and illustrator; a piece of Canyon-inspired art by Ashley Wolff; a beautiful chain-stitch embroidered Sequoia patch; a hardcover copy of THE CAMPING TRIP THAT CHANGED AMERICA signed by Barb; a grow your own Sequoia kit from “Tree in a Box”; a framed 13 x 19 poster of John Muir & Theodore Roosevelt Camping in Yosemite; a 500-piece Yosemite jigsaw puzzle; a signed copy of FAITHFUL; a Yellowstone Old Faithful magnet; aYellowstone coffee mug; and to hold all that stuff, a Yellowstone tote bag. Enter now!
I’m delighted to have a guest on the blog today – Karen Romano Young. Her debut middle grade HUNDRED PERCENT is out this week, and it’s getting wonderful buzz, including a Kirkus starred review! Here’s a bit about Karen:
Karen Romano Young has dived to the bottom of the Pacific Ocean in a tiny submarine, crunched through Arctic ice in an icebreaker, and visited labs, museum workshops, and research institutions across the U.S. to write and draw about science. She was a lead science communications fellow aboard Dr. Robert Ballard’s research ship E/V Nautilus.
Karen has written and/or illustrated more than 30 books for children and is the creator of Humanimal Doodles, a science comic. Her nonfiction books include Try This!and Try This Extreme! (National Geographic). Her fiction work includes The Beetle and Me: A Love Story; the graphic novel Doodlebug: a Novel in Doodles; and Hundred Percent. Her next book for Twenty-First Century Books is The Whale Watchers.
Karen lives with her family in the Connecticut woods. She has not yet traveled to space.
And an extra note – it turns out that Karen and I have lots in common – we’ve both been in submersibles! Here’s Karen:
Congratulations on your Kirkus starred review! Please give us a synopsis of HUNDRED PERCENT.
Thank you so much, Janet. I’m thrilled about the great advance notice HP is getting. This book gets into the secret lives of sixth graders — what it’s really like to deal with lifelong friends in a pivotal year when everything — relationships, bodies, interests — are changing so quickly. Christine Bernadette Gouda — also known as Tink by her family, Chris by her best friend Jackie (who’s trying to help her become cooler), and Hundred Percent by a weird, fascinating boy who calls himself Bushwhack — is looking for how she can be a hundred percent herself in this whirlwind time.
I love books with strong girl protagonists. In what ways do you see Tink as strong – and what are her vulnerabilities?
Tink is so self-conscious it hurts! She just can’t stop noticing where she does or doesn’t fit in, and worries a great deal about what other people think, but she’s also aware that her friends and classmates are in the same situation. It seems like every moment of sixth grade requires a new response, from Halloween to Valentine’s Day to the spring sports season, and Tink messes everything up simply by trying to fix it! Tink is an observer but she’s also a doer. This combination — action and reaction — characterize this book and also lie at the root of Tink’s strength. She’s always evaluating, testing, trying, screwing up, and starting the process over again. It’s tough, because Jackie — cuter, more worldly, and more mature (or so she thinks) — seems to have the answers. That Tink eventually finds a way to stay true to herself and Jackie and Bushwhack is the central struggle of the story.
You’ve written a number of books across age ranges and genres. Do you have a favorite age range – do you feel your voice most easily represents one more than others?
I am clearest on how it feels to be 11 to 15. I remember this time of my life very clearly as a time when the world seemed to be a continuous flow of choices — who and what to try, who and what not to try. When I look back now I feel that the things I did then put me on a path to the rest of my life, and I see that in kids of that age — my own kids and other kids I have met and worked with as a teach science, writing, and art. There is an openness and opportunity at this age that speaks strongly to me as a writer. I have immense respect for the intellectual capabilities and emotional response of middle graders, middle schoolers, and early high schoolers, and I want to write books — whether novels or nonfiction, graphic fiction or graphic nonfiction, that reflect the potential I see.
You’re also an illustrator. Please talk about how you balance your talents.
Uh, whoops — I fell over! Just kidding, but this balancing act is still a work-in-progress. My intention has always been to multitask between fiction and nonfiction, and I have now added graphic novels and science comics (short and long form), as well as ocean science outreach and education aboard ships! Whew. It’s exhilarating and I’m so pleased with all the different strands that my work follows. The balancing strategy is to let them take turns, to follow the projects that obsess me at any given moment, but also to gently add to and work on back-burner projects until they reach critical mass and begin to obsess me, too. I feel like I’m answering this question by showing how I don’t balance. But I’m happy with it so it must be okay!
Can you tell us what you’re working on now?
Yes! A full-length graphic nonfiction book about deep sea explorations; a novel about a girl who grows up in a library; a conventional nonfiction book about how whale scientists and citizen scientist whale fans and whale watchers are teaming up to advance our understanding of how whales live.
Bonus question: what’s your superpower?
I’m not afraid to be a total geek. I encourage you and anyone else to geek out on the thing or things in life that made you want to jump out of bed in the morning and shout hooray — and to be the opposite of shy about sharing not just the subject of your passion but the fact that you are madly, deeply passionate about it.
August 25, 2016, is the 100th anniversary of our country’s National Park Service. Come with us as we celebrate our great treasure!
I am a huge fan of our national parks. I’ve had the great good fortune to visit a number of them, and I set my first novel, FAITHFUL, in Yellowstone National Park. I believe that every child should have the opportunity to visit at least one Park, and that it’s truly important that children get outdoors, explore, and (of course) read.
I’ve joined forces with two other authors who’ve written about our National Parks: Liz Garton Scanlon, who in her picture book IN THE CANYON, features the Grand Canyon, and Barb Rosenstock, whose picture book THE CAMPING TRIP THAT CHANGED AMERICA features Yosemite. Together we’ve organized an almost month-long visit to Yellowstone, the Grand Canyon, and Yosemite, which we’re calling “Page Through The Parks.”
As part of this visit, we’re offering giveaways of our books for readers on Goodreads, giveaways of lots of cool stuff for teachers and librarians as part of a Rafflecopter giveaway, and we hope we’ll introduce you to the natural beauty of the American landscape that we love through a blog tour and interviews.
If you’d like to play along, and you’ve visited any of our National Parks, please show us your Pictures In The Parks on any social media, using the hashtag #readUSA.
Look for our visit to begin on August 1. I’ll be posting the giveaway details here and on Twitter and Facebook. But to start, here’s a downloadable list of books that we’ve found set in or written about many of our beautiful national parks: Kids Books on or about the National Parks
Please come back here in August and follow along in our celebration.
In two days, I’m excited to announce, we’ll be launching a new website dedicated to THE CHARMED CHILDREN OF ROOKSKILL CASTLE. The website contains a trove of information, with some reveals and other “extras”, but most importantly, it contains a game that can be played in schools, libraries, or by readers anywhere.
Here’s a description of the game:
THE SECRETS OF ROOKSKILL CASTLE
A Game for Readers, Libraries & Bookstores
Rookskill Castle has many secrets.
Some you’ll find.
Some will find you.
Something is amiss at this spooky Scottish castle. For 200 years the villagers have seen children where there are no children and have heard singing but have never seen the singers.
Who are these sad, mysterious children who appear and disappear – and do they need our help?
In this game, clever players will work in teams to solve clues hidden within the pages of books on library or bookstore shelves. Together the players will discover four objects that uncover spine-chilling secrets of Rookskill and the ghostly children within.
For bookstores and libraries, the game kit contains full instructions, sample dialogue, and printable clues, charms, and other event materials. Look for the game kit on the Book page at www.rookskillcastle.com.
In addition to solving the riddles for fun, players will learn how to find books and other materials in a library or bookstore, so we hope that librarians and teachers will use the game to introduce new patrons to the library. Players need not have read THE CHARMED CHILDREN OF ROOKSKILL CASTLE in order to play or to win, and from time to time participants will be able to enter a drawing for fun prizes.
And the site allows readers to ask me questions about my books and writing.
Recently I watched one of my all-time favorite movies yet again, A Knight’s Tale with the late Heath Ledger. I love it for its quirky characters, its wry humor, its evocative dialogue, its historical twists, and its way of making history relevant by the use of contemporary music. But I also love the way the screenplay unfolds the story.
Many beginning writers (*raises hand*) make the mistake of starting too far back in the story. That is, “once upon a time, a girl was born…” and we watch said character go to school, brush her teeth, and suffer her backstory wound, all in time-linear fashion, until the real story starts when said character is sixteen. A story like this is usually as dull as toast and rarely publishable. The best stories begin not at the beginning but with an incident that sets the main character in motion to the inevitable end.
It is, however, necessary for audiences to understand how your character got to that inciting incident. So how does one layer in backstory? Let’s look at A Knight’s Tale for a great example of plotting backstory. (And I highly encourage you to take a look at the movie if you haven’t already.)
Our hero, William (Ledger), enters the story as the squire to a knight. We have no idea how he got there, but it doesn’t matter – until later. What matters up front and is information we are given is that he’s not noble-born, but goes into disguise as a knight, which takes him from jousting tournament to tournament. Being in disguise is his story problem, and leads to the climax, which I won’t reveal here.
When do we see the first of his backstory? We get a small glimpse about 1/4 of the way into the movie when we hear the revelatory thematic phrase, “It’s possible for a man to change his stars,” meaning someone who begins life in one way can end it in another with effort, persistence and a little luck. In this first glimpse, we’re given a short scene of a very young William with his father, who first plants the seed of “change your stars.” We also see swift and subtle hints that this is a challenging goal to attain.
But we don’t know the entire story for a long while, until William and his crew are on their way to London for the first time in many years. Then the full backstory of William’s engagement as a squire and his departure from home is revealed in a longer flashback. This moment comes right about or just after the 1/2-way mark of the movie. From this point we understand that William’s departure from his father was both good and important (“change your stars”), but also emotionally difficult (his wound).
In short, we’re given a glimpse of William’s past and backstory wound when we need it, and not a moment sooner.
The transitions between these flashbacks and the story present are also perfectly executed, especially the second flashback in which William recalls his first childhood ferry crossing – leaving London and his father at night – when he is crossing back to London after many years.
When you need backstory to explain a character’s behavior, to illustrate their wound, or to enrich or deepen the theme and/or hero’s journey, consider placing flashbacks in your story after you’ve set your character on their path. Keep the flashbacks short and transition them in and out in a way that feels natural. Your story will have more energy, and your reader will be drawn into the expectation that you’ll reveal important information when the time is right, and not before.
First, I’ve joined The Booking Biz as a client! I’m delighted to be part of their very professional team, as this will allow me to concentrate on my writing while they can attend to the details of any school visits from me. If you are a teacher or librarian, please contact them if you’d like me to visit your school.
Second, with the help of Kirsten Cappy at Curious City, and Websy Daisy, we are building a dedicated website for THE CHARMED CHILDREN OF ROOKSKILL CASTLE. At that site, there will be opportunities for reader interaction, most especially involving a reader library game that is tons of fun. The site will go live soon, and you’ll see links here, so please stay tuned.
Third, I’ll be appearing at two bookstores in the Pacific Northwest soon. On June 9, I’m joining a cohort of fabulous authors at the University Bookstore in Bellevue, WA for a great book event: an “author extravaganza”. Then on June 11, I’ll be at Powells in Beaverton, OR at 2PM to discuss, read and sign. I hope you’ll join me!
And finally CHARMED CHILDREN is also a participant in this summer’s new program “Bunk Reads”, also an initiative of Curious City. Bunk Reads will be placing libraries in ten of Maine’s highest ranking camps. Each book in the library will be identified by a sticker and will have postcards tucked inside. More details to come!
So please follow along to learn more about these and other happenings.