Marcia Strykowski

Roller Boy Excitement

I’ve been away for a bit, but I’ve certainly been keeping busy during these hot humid days. Seems it’s a summer filled with weddings, showers, concerts and other fun get-togethers. But, aside from these pleasant distractions, there’s only a month or so to go until the release of my new middle grade novel: Roller Boy, published by Fitzroy Books. To kick off the launch, I’ve got three events lined up back to back, all in NH (details below).

I’m having such fun spreading the word and getting everything ready. If you see someone wearing a roller skates necklace around town, it’s probably me. Roller skate novelty items are not easy to find. These little skates were in the bead section (on sale!) at Hobby Lobby. And then to my surprise, my friend Rosemary found a pretty roller skate pin in the thrift shop that resides in the basement of our library.

At the first and main launch party, we’re going to have all sorts of food, fun, prizes, and good times in conjunction with the library’s 130th anniversary as an established public library.  There’ll be a scavenger hunt throughout the building with staff stationed here and there to answer any questions. September is also Library Card Sign-up month, so be sure to stop in at your own local library if you’ve been missing out on all it has to offer.

Upstairs in the meeting room, I’ll have freshly made chocolate lollipops for the first 50 people who stop by my book table. I found a plastic candy mold online and decided to make a small batch ahead to test out the idea. First, I painted in the blue and white chocolate and then I melted Hershey bars for the skate boot. I might mix and match a bit, for example, white or blue skates, we’ll see. Naturally, they’ll be GF since Mateo eats strictly gluten-free.It was fun to come up with a craft, too (below). When I added juice caps to the back as well as to the front of a cardboard skate, I was happy to discover it could now stand up on its own.

I’m especially excited to tell you about the scarecrows. Like several other towns in New England, Hampstead has a town-wide scarecrow exhibition for the month of October. Participation goes to a good cause, so thanks to Marilyn, who came up with this bright idea, we decided to give it a try this year. The library is buying two scarecrows to dress and decorate and, here’s the extra fun part, one of them is going to look like Mateo, the main character in Roller Boy! The scarecrow isn’t assembled yet, but this is how I’m hoping he might look, although I’m sure he’ll be a little slouchier, plus I’m having trouble finding old skates to give up to the weather. There’ll be a contest to name the other scarecrow. Stay tuned for pictures.

Here are the details for my upcoming launch events:

Sept. 29, 2018 Roller Boy Release Party at the Hampstead, NH Public Library in conjunction with their 130th Anniversary Open House celebration. Drop in anytime between 10 and 2.

Oct. 6, 2018 Children’s Author Festival from 11-3 in conjunction with Strawberry Banke’s Fall Fest, a popular annual event in scenic Portsmouth, NH.

Oct. 13, 2018 Barnes & Noble Book Signing from 12-3 in Salem, NH.

When tossing around promotional ideas, I was encouraged (dared!?) to put on a pair of roller skates. Did you know skates are much wobblier nowadays? It couldn’t just be my weak ankles. And the ground is definitely more slippery than when I was a teen. So to be blunt, it was terrifying! At least I lasted for the amount of time it takes to snap a picture, and then survived the ordeal.

If you’re anywhere near NH, stop in and say hello. Maybe you’ll visit your own home libraries, too. Librarians love to hear what patrons want to read, so if you can’t find Roller Boy on the shelf, you could easily put in a request. As always, thanks for reading and have a wonderful rest of the summer!


2018 Picture Books

Below are some new favorite picture books I’ve recently added to our library. These are all 2018 releases and several have it’s-about-time sensitive subjects included, but they are all uplifting and well worth the read. There were a few others I would have liked to include, however not all were checked-in when I read and reviewed, which I suppose is a good thing. Books as special as these tend to fly off the shelf!

Duck Gets a Job written and illustrated by Sonny Ross, published by Templar Books (an imprint of Candlewick Press) First U. S. edition 2018. This wise and thoughtful book about being who you were truly meant to be rather than stressfully following the crowd is long overdue. The pictures are delightful and the message spot on. This might make a nice graduation gift!

Fruit Bowl written and illustrated by Mark Hoffmann, published by Alfred A. Knopf 2018. A fun book about the connections between fruits and vegetables which includes a sympathetic tomato who smartly pleads his case as he tries desperately to get into the fruit bowl. Witty puns throughout!

Perfectly Norman written and illustrated by Tom Percival, published by Bloomsbury Publishing First U. S. edition 2018. Another great message about being brave enough to be yourself no matter how unusual you might feel and in the process you just might find your tribe. I tend to prefer large format books and this is a nice big 10″ x 12″.

Hello Lighthouse written and illustrated by Sophie Blackall, published by Little, Brown and Company (a division of Hachette Book Group) 2018. Simply a gorgeous book. I’ve researched lighthouse history before and this has it all, telling the sweet story of a lighthouse keeper and his family during the time when lighthouses became automated. A beautifully illustrated peek at coastal history with informative back matter on the endpaper.

I Got a Chicken for My Birthday written by Laura Gehl and illustrated by Sarah Horne, published by CarolRhoda Books (division of Lerner Publishing) 2018. Another fun book, very unique with bright colorful illustrations and a surprise ending.

In-Between Things written and illustrated by Priscilla Tey, published by Candlewick Press 2018. This could have been a basic concept book, but the details and surprising examples of what it means to be in-between bring a whole lot more to this clever book. Wonderful mixed media illustrations!

Iver & Ellsworth written by Casey W. Robinson and illustrated by Melissa Larson, published by Ripple Grove Press 2018. The poignant illustrations and gentle words tell a rare rendition of the true meaning of everlasting friendship. A well-done debut book for both author and illustrator!

Julian is a Mermaid written and illustrated by Jessica Love, published by Candlewick Press 2018. A little boy and his grandmother demonstrate a loving story of acceptance in a sometimes cookie-cutter world. With its empowering message, this is an outstanding debut book.

We Don’t Eat Our Classmates written and illustrated by Ryan T. Higgins, published by Disney Hyperion 2018. You’ll love meeting Penelope, an adorable little T. rex who, on her first day of school, is surprised to discover all her classmates are children. Can she learn to stop eating them?

Whale in a Fishbowl written by Troy Howell and illustrated by Richard Jones, published by Schwartz & Wade 2018. A beautifully poetic book about a captive whale who longs for the ocean. Lovely illustrations which include a nice fold-out page.

Sylvia Rose and the Cherry Tree written by Sandy Shapiro-Hurt and illustrated by Xindi Yan, published by Tilbury House Publishers 2018. A lovely rhyming story filled with deep themes of caring and nature. The soft vibrant illustrations are stunning!

The Other Ducks written by Ellen Yeomans and illustrated by Chris Sheban, published by Roaring Brook Press 2018. A goofy fun story about two easily confused and clueless ducks. The humorous illustrations are watercolor, graphite, and colored pencils.

The Funeral written and illustrated by Matt James, published by Groundwood Books (House of Anansi Press) 2018. This is a light, gentle take on a sad event we all eventually encounter. Despite its underlying gloomy subject, the thoughts and actions of the children are buoyant, believable, and life-affirming.

Mommy’s Khimar written by Jamilah Thompkins-Bigelow and illustrated by Ebony Glenn, published by Salaam Reads (Simon & Schuster) 2018. Love and acceptance are the main themes in this very sweet combination of words and pictures. A debut book for both author and illustrator.

Alma and How She Got Her Name written and illustrated by Juana Martinez-Neal, published by Candlewick Press 2018. A charming book about a little girl with a very big name who learns about her many namesakes. The graphite and colored-pencil drawings are delightful!

Books of Childhood

When I run out of time, as I often do nowadays, but know I’m long overdue for a post, I think fondly of the books that got my mind and heart into this writing business in the first place. Anybody else remember The Five Little Peppers? Other favorite series from childhood were Donna Parker and The Tuckers. Some of the below books may be repeats from long ago posts, in fact I know they are, but it’s okay with me if it’s okay with you. 🙂
Although the 7-volume Donna Parker series was discontinued in the mid-1970s, it had its share of popularity during the two decades beforehand. Annette, (Funicello), a 5-volume series, was also popular during that time. Both classic mystery series were published by Whitman.

The Tuckers was another favorite series, written by Jo Mendel, and once again, published by Whitman. There must have been a dozen books in this series. For today’s readers, it could possibly be compared to The Penderwicks.

One of my favorite series when I was a young tween was Trixie Belden.

Trixie is the main character in a series of mystery books written between 1948 and 1986. There were 39 volumes and about 16 of them were already available in 1973 (which is when my character, Amy, was reading them). The first six were written by Julie Campbell. After she moved on to other projects, a variety of writers took over the Trixie Belden books under the pseudonym Kathryn Kenny. Over the past ten years, or so, Random House has reissued most of the series. The books star a girl detective and her best friend Honey. Trixie lives on Crabapple Farm and Honey lives next door in the Manor House estate. The girls form a club called the Bob-Whites with other friends and have many exciting adventures.
The Mary Jane series was written by Clara Ingram Judson (1879-1960). My copy was published in 1921 by Grosset & Dunlap in NY. There’s an inscription inside the book which reads: Betty Lou from Ginnie, Eddie, and David—Christmas 1937. Anybody know Betty Lou?

Jack & Jill by Louisa May Alcott (1832-1888)—no copyright (perhaps it’s on the missing dust jacket?)—was published by the now defunct Goldsmith Publishing Company in Chicago.

The Secret Stair by Pemberton Ginther, was published in 1932 by Cupples & Leon Company in NY which was founded in 1902 and then acquired by Platt & Munk in 1956. The author Mary Pemberton Ginther (1869-1959) was also a successful artist. My copy was once owned by someone named Rudie Lindgren. I wonder what became of Rudie…
The three green books were published by The Mershon Company, an active publishing house between 1897 and 1906. These books were all written by Laura Lee Hope, a pseudonym used by at least ten authors who wrote many series for children under the Stratemeyer Syndicate.

The Bobbsey Twins has a 1904 copyright and the following inscription: Miss Beth Austin, Elm Street, Salisbury.

One of my Bunny Brown books was owned by a Dorothy Walmsley, who lived on Fairmont Street in Malden, MA in 1935. Many years later I bought her book for fifty cents.

Below are two inside views of Trending Into Maine by Kenneth Roberts. This book was beautifully illustrated by N. C. Wyeth.
The Story of Snips by Angusine Macgregor is my oldest ‘picture book’, copyright circa 1909. I always felt it had a rather homemade look and was therefore very surprised to discover a different version, once owned by Barbara of March House Books. (Barbara’s on a blogging break, but has a boatload of fascinating posts in her archives.) The below 48 page book is 9 1/2″ wide by 7″ high with 23 full page illustrations. Hard back binding is the publisher’s original illustrated grey paper covered boards with a red cloth spine.
Snips was a very naughty mouse, so his parents packed him off to boarding school. When he did not know his lessons, he was made dunce by the strict schoolmasters. 😦 BUT, to give away the happy ending, he escapes and eventually becomes a model mouse!

And there you have some of my favorite old books, still keeping their place on my shelves after all these years.

For more vintage posts, check these two out by clicking on the pictures:




Write What You Know

Writers are often told to write what we know rather than pretending to be in someone else’s shoes. I’m not sure how I feel about this. For the most part I get what it means, but I also think one can completely immerse themselves into a different lifestyle, time, place, or even person, especially if a lot of research is involved. As for myself, my characters and their situations are completely made-up, but I do tend to add in things that connect to my real life. For example, take my upcoming book, Roller Boy. I was trying to figure out where the whole idea came from, since I don’t have very much in common with Mateo. One small aspect, I realized, was we both enjoy eating Mexican food, and like Mateo, I take it gluten-free. Sorry if you’re reading this before lunch.As for roller-skating, I’m not good at all and I can’t remember the last time I skated, but I did enjoy whirling to the music as a teen and even attempted it again briefly as an adult when my children were involved. Watching them learn to skate well and do tricks was way better than risking my own life. At left, a picture of me, ha in my dreams! And here’s the necklace I’ll be wearing for my book release.As for Call Me Amy, there are several connections, the biggest being location. My grandparents lived on the Maine coast in a fishing village very similar to where Amy lives.Miss Cogshell, a character in Call Me Amy has a big ol’ lilac bush next to her back door and so do I.

Also, in Call Me Amy, Amy watches a seal take off for the ocean. After the book came out, I made sure I witnessed a seal release, too.Miss Cogshell collects miniature animals, which brought back memories of my mother’s own long-ago collection of them (and I think she still has them!).Amy’s Choice, a sequel to Call Me Amy, features a landscape painter and not only have I done some painting, but my great grandmother was a painter, too. Here’s one of her works:There is much talk about a lighthouse in Amy’s Choice, along with a tour to the top. Like Amy, I love lighthouses, too.In Amy’s Choice, Amy helps out in the town library, kind of like me! OK, maybe not this particular library, but isn’t it adorable?I’m sure if I thought about it long enough I could come up with more connections between my life and my characters’ lives, as I’m sure any author could. But, I think, what it comes down to is ‘writing what you know’ means more about the truths and emotions of life. We’ve all experienced loss, love, excitement, disappointment and a host of other emotions. To write about these feelings truthfully, whether your story is about a frog or about a leader of a foreign country is the heart of writing what you know. You don’t have to be a knight to know what it might feel like to wear that suit of armor and face a fire-breathing dragon, even if your only experience is with a scratchy sweater and a campfire.So, if you like animal stories with a coming-of-age character, set in a scenic coastal village, try Call Me Amy. To see that same character go through more adventures, such as climbing to the top of a lighthouse and setting up an exhibit of paintings, while making new friends, follow up with Amy’s Choice. And if you’re ready for a city boy who’s out to make the most of himself while practicing the fun sport of roller-skating, try Roller Boy, too! All are appropriate for ages 9 and up!


Every year, the New England Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators hosts many events including a big annual conference. This spring it was, once again, held in Springfield, Massachusetts.  One of 700 attendees last weekend, I was fortunate to be able to stay overnight in the same hotel where the conference was held. Although I was hardly ever in my room, I did notice there was a lovely view out the window.
The first thing I did after arriving (besides checking in and registering) was to meet up with former Picture Book Boot Camp attendees in the MVP pub. Take note of the man in the far right back corner. I have yet to figure out if he’s merely trying to pay his bill, or if he’s a photo-bomber hoping to get into a picture with Jane Yolen.
After lunch I attended a workshop called Plotting Your Picture Book with Ann Marie Stephens. She gave some great tips, activities, and handouts. Please excuse how badly all my speaker pictures turned out. I have an old-fashioned camera and didn’t want to use the flash.
Patricia MacLachlan was scheduled to be the speaker for Fireside Chat, but unfortunately she was sick and had to cancel. I’ve heard Patricia speak before and she’s wonderful—truly inspiring. So, that was the bad news, but for good news, Jane Yolen stepped in and took over last minute. Her daughter Heidi Stemple, as moderator, asked questions that brought out all kinds of interesting thoughts on writing and creating and not giving up. Below is a blurry picture of them.
Another highlight of Friday night was a First Look Panel featuring agent Linda Camacho, keynote Matt Phelan, author/illustrator Dan Santat, and author Nancy Werlin. John Bell moderated the panel. First pages and illustrations were turned in ahead of time and then, on the spot, the panel gave their thoughts on what worked and what didn’t work in each submission. Again, an extremely lousy picture, but, hey, this time I was sitting in the back and lucky to have remembered to pull out my camera at all.
After that, I mostly hung around the Meet & Greet Portfolio Showcase. So many wonderful displays of talent and fun to run into people I hadn’t seen in years. There was also an open mic event going on, but I never did get there. I did check out the conference bookstore, though, where stacks of many gorgeous titles were available.

Saturday morning dawned bright and early, starting with a continental breakfast. Then we moved on to Welcome and Announcements in the ballroom. Below is a wide picture of committee members and volunteers. They did an amazing job on this conference. What I liked most (aside from the gluten-free chocolate cake for ALL 700) was there was hardly any downtime (unless you chose it), every minute was jam-packed with interesting things to do, see, or learn about. I’ve been to conferences of a different sort where there are huge lulls between events in hopes attendees will take advantage of the many vendors—not my cup of tea. Our keynote speaker that morning was the fabulous Rita Williams-Garcia who shared humorous details of her long ride to success.
During lunch, as well as other times, a giant slide show displayed book covers for attendees with book releases during 2017 and 2018. Here are two views of Roller Boy.
I attended several great workshops on Saturday. By then, I’d given up trying to take pictures. I went to Twisted Plotting with Nancy Werlin, Rigorous Research with Michelle Cusolito and Karen Boss, part of Matt Phelan’s excellent workshop on graphic novels, and an informative Point of View class with Karen Boss.

All the while, there were many other workshops to pick from, as well. Therefore, I’m missing many presenters who I’m sure gave fantastic presentations on topics across the board. If only I could be in more than one place at a time!

Another great keynote speech to wrap up Saturday’s events featured Amy Reed who spoke with warmth and sincerity about her struggles to find her place.
Throughout the conference there were many door prizes raffled off along with award announcements. Unfortunately I was only able to stay at the conference until Saturday evening. I posed for a picture with many of my critique group members (being a last minute idea, we missed a few) and then, home I went, inspired and ready to write.

Picture Book Biographies

I’m finally getting around to writing another of my all-time-favorite posts—picture book releases! This time my focus is on picture book biographies. There are an abundance of excellent ones appearing on the scene. I don’t see this type of book ever losing ground in popularity. With their lavish illustrations and informative back matter, picture book biographies are enjoyable for all ages. I’ve read a ton of them, but I’ll limit this alphabetized collection to only those books released within the past year. Fasten your seatbelt, long post of great reads ahead!

A Lady Has the Floor: Belva Lockwood Speaks Out for Women’s Rights was written by Kate Hannigan and illustrated by Alison Jay. Published in 2018 by Calkins Creek. This is an awesome story about a fearless unsung champion who was way ahead of her time. She even ran for president in 1884 and 1888. Belva was a lawyer, teacher, and activist who strongly believed in equality for all. I love the crackled-style folk art illustrations.

Alabama Spitfire: The Story of Harper Lee and To Kill a Mockingbird was written by Bethany Hegedus and illustrated by Erin McGuire. Published in 2018 by Balzer and Bray. Alabama Spitfire is a fascinating look into the creator of one of my favorite novels: To Kill a Mockingbird. Nell’s journey to tell her powerful story is inspiring and the pictures are delightful.

Anybody’s Game: The Story of the First Girl to Play Little League Baseball was written by Heather Lang and illustrated by Cecilia Puglesi. Published in 2018 by Albert Whitman & Company. Very cute story about talented Kathryn Johnston who was determined to play baseball on a boys’ team even if it meant cutting her hair and breaking the rules to get there.

Balderdash! John Newbery and the Boisterous Birth of Children’s Books was written by Michelle Markel and illustrated by Nancy Carpenter. Published in 2017 by Chronicle Books. Wonderful tribute to the ‘father of children’s literature’ for whom the famous Newbery awards were named. The busy illustrations are full of interesting details.

Becoming Bach was written and illustrated by Tom Leonard. Published in 2017 by Roaring Brook Press (A Neal Porter Book). Johann Sebastian Bach was born into a family of great musicians. As one who saw musical patterns all his life, this is the story of how he followed his dreams to become a true Bach. Beautiful illustrations add much to this interesting biography.

Before She Was Harriet was written by Lesa Cline-Ransome and illustrated by James E. Ransome. Published in 2017 by Holiday House. (A Coretta Scott King Illustrator Honor Book).  The illustrations are lavish and lush and go perfectly with the lyrical writing in this gorgeous book about Harriet Tubman who has gone down in history for her exceptional strength and bravery.

Big Machines The Story of Virginia Lee Burton was written by Sherri Duskey Rinker and illustrated by John Rocco. Published in 2017 by HMH Books for Young Readers. I love this special biography filled with information, great illustrations, and real photographs. Whether or not you are already a fan of Katy and the Big Snow, The Little House, Mike Mulligan and the rest of Virginia’s classic winners, you will be after you flip though this delightful book.

Charlie Takes His Shot: How Charlie Sifford Broke the Color Barrier in Golf was written by Nancy Churnin and illustrated by John Joven. Published in 2018 by Albert Whitman & Company. Another amazing story about an unsung hero, who took great risks to open up a national pastime game to all who want to play. Charlie became the first black golfer to win the Professional Golf Association Tournament.

Dangerous Jane was written by Suzanne Slade and illustrated by Alice Ratterree. Published in 2017 by Peachtree Publishers. Great story about Jane Addams, another strong, empathic woman who, rather than sit back and hope for change, stood up for what she believed. Fascinating details of her life from birth up through winning the Nobel Peace Prize. Well done watercolor illustrations throughout.

Danza! Amalia Hernández and El Ballet Folklórico de México was written and illustrated by Duncan Tonatiuh. Published in 2017 by Harry N. Abrams. Duncan’s award-winning illustration style is so fabulous—colorful, unique, and always recognizable. And this fascinating story about the dancer and founder of Mexico’s Folkloric Ballet is no exception.

Dorothea Lange: The Photographer Who Found the Faces of the Depression was written by Carole Boston Weatherford and illustrated by Sarah Green. Published in 2017 by Albert Whitman & Company. Interesting introduction to one of the leading documentary photographers of the twentieth century. The illustrations do a good job of reflecting the time period.

The Flying Girl: How Aída de Acosta Learned to Soar was written by Margarita Engle and illustrated by Sara Palacios. Published in 2018 by Atheneum Books for Young Readers. Both the pictures and the poetic words soar in this colorful tale of another little-known champion who broke through barriers. Aída became the first woman to fly a motorized aircraft.

Frida Kahlo and Her Animalitos was written by Monica Brown and illustrated by John Parra. Published in 2017 by North South Books. The lively and colorful acrylic paintings were a perfect choice for bringing this fabulous Mexican artist to life. Unlike other picture books about Frida, this one also stands out for its focus on her pets.

Girl Running: Bobbi Gibb and the Boston Marathon was written by Annette Bay Pimentel and illustrated by Micha Archer. Published in 2018 by Nancy Paulsen Books. This depiction of a determined young runner gives nice details of the obstacles Bobbi overcame in order to participate as the first woman runner in the Boston Marathon. Fun collage pictures have added mile markers that follow the marathon route.

Grace Hopper, Queen of Computer Code written by Laurie Wallmark and illustrated by Katy Wu. Published in 2017 by Sterling. A cheerful positive message of going after what you want in life. Laurie’s done it again with choosing a strong female character who wanted to know how things worked. Vivid cartoon-style digital illustrations with quotations from Grace throughout add much to this lovely book.

Imagine That! How Doctor Seuss wrote The Cat in the Hat was written by Judy Sierra and illustrated by Kevin Hawkes. Published in 2017 by Random House Books for Young Readers. Although there have been plenty of Dr. Seuss biographies, this book was unique in that it focuses entirely on The Cat in the Hat and how it came to be written. As you can tell by the brilliant cover, this is a fun read!

Joan Proctor, Dragon Doctor: The Woman Who Loved Reptiles was written by Patricia Valdez and illustrated by Felicita Sala. Published in 2018 by Alfred A. Knopf Books for Young Readers. Yet another fascinating woman scientist I knew nothing about. Her uncommon interest in reptiles (she even brought her crocodile to math class one day) gives a humorous twist to this story of being true to oneself.

John Ronald’s Dragons: The Story of J. R. R. Tolkien was written by Caroline McAlister and illustrated by Eliza Wheeler. Published in 2017 by Roaring Brook Press. Really, who could resist opening a book on the life of this masterful storyteller? The lovely depictions of the English countryside bring a dreamy quality to Tolkien’s boyhood and fascination with dragons. Great back matter, as well!

Karl, Get out of the Garden! Carolus Linnaeus and the Naming of Everything was written by Anita Sanchez and illustrated by Catherine Stock. Published in 2017 by Charlesbridge. From his start as a curious young boy, Linné ended up naming more than 12,000 species of plants and animals. His Latin classification system was accepted and used by scientists across the globe. A lovely, well done introduction on an important aspect of biology.

The Legendary Miss Lena Horne was written by Carole Boston Weatherford and illustrated by Charlotte Riley-Webb. Published in 2017 by Atheneum Books for Young Readers. Beautiful art brings Lena’s story to life. Her constant determination and struggle against racism is an important aspect that bears retelling. 

Lighter than Air: Sophie Blanchard, the First Woman Pilot was written by Matthew Clark Smith and illustrated by Matt Tavares. Published in 2017 by Candlewick. Lovely writing complements the soft watercolor and ink paintings of this charming story of a courageous woman who took to the skies despite the dangers involved with this mode of transporation. 

Long-Armed Ludy and the First Women’s Olympics was written by Jean L. S. Patrick and illustrated by Adam Gustavson. Published in 2017 by Charlesbridge. This was a fun read. The paintings are well done with super writing to match. Told with humor, I enjoyed learning about this strong athlete.

Mae Among the Stars was written by Roda Ahmed and illustrated by Stasia Burrington. Published in 2018 by Harper Collins. A gorgeous picture book—bold digital and ink illustrations—inspired by the life of Mae Jemison, the first African American woman to travel in space.

Margaret and the Moon: How Margaret Hamilton Saved the First Lunar Landing was written by Dean Robbins and illustrated by Lucy Knisley. Published in 2017 by Knopf Books for Young Readers. Excellent combination of good writing and fun illustration with real pictures of Margaret at the end of this entertaining read.

Melvin the Mouth: Young Mel Blanc…before he was the Man of 1,000 Voices was written by Katherine Blanc and illustrated by Jeffrey Ebbeler. Published in 2017 by Charlesbridge. Fun to learn more about the man behind famous cartoon voices, such as Porky Pig, Bugs Bunny, and Woody Woodpecker.

The Music of Life: Bartolomeo Cristofori & the Invention of the Piano was written by Elizabeth Rusch and illustrated by Marjorie Priceman. Published in 2017 by Atheneum Books for Young Readers. This lively book, filled with fascinating details and gouache paintings, is sure to please all music lovers.

Ordinary, Extraordinary Jane Austen is written by Deborah Hopkinson and illustrated by Qin Leng. Published in 2018 by Balzer & Bray. Being the Story of Six Novels, Three Notebooks, a Writing Box, and One Clever Girl, this absolutely lovely book is a must for all Austen fans. At the end, each of her famous works is given a brief summary, including special quotations pulled from the novels.

Shark Lady: The True Story of How Eugenie Clark Became the Ocean’s Most Fearless Scientist was written by Jess Keating and illustrated by Marta Alvarez Miguens. Published in 2017 by Sourcebooks Jabberwocky. A great, colorful, inspiring story for young adventurers.

Strange Fruit: Billy Holiday and the Power of a Protest Song was written by Gary Golio and illustrated by Charlotte Riley-Webb. Published in 2017 by Millbrook Press. A powerful book dealing with difficult themes during a dark time in U. S. History, just before the Civil Rights Movement.

Strong as Sandow: How Eugen Sandow Became the Strongest Man on Earth was written and illustrated by Don Tate. Published in 2017 by Charlesbridge. Fun pairing of bright, outlined illustrations with this intriguing story. Interesting back matter includes Tate’s own time as a bodybuilder.

Vincent Can’t Sleep: Van Gogh Paints the Night Sky was written by Barb Rosenstock and illustrated by Mary Grandpre. Published in 2017 by Knopf Books for Young Readers. One can never have too many books about Vincent Van Gogh and this one is spectacular—gorgeous and lyrical!

Who Says Women Can’t Be Computer Programmers? The Story of Ada Lovelace written by Tanya Lee Stone and illustrated by Marjorie Priceman. Published in 2018 by Henry Holt & Company. Another fine book on Ada with bright whimsical illustrations and a solid storyline.


What great times we live in to have all these amazing people from history finally getting long overdue recognition for their grand efforts in making this a better world. What do you think? Aren’t picture book biographies a wonderful invention? Did I miss any of your favorites?

Roller Boy Cover Reveal

I am so excited to share the cover illustration for my upcoming novel geared toward readers aged 9 to 14. Roller Boy will be released by Fitzroy Books in late September. After working on the inside text for so many months (years!) I have to admit I was nervous about how the cover would turn out. Months ago I’d discussed possible ideas with my publisher—things I liked and things I didn’t like about covers. One idea in particular had caught my fancy, a wraparound city scene. But then I didn’t hear anything more, and didn’t see sketches. What would they come up with for Roller Boy? I wondered.

Covers are so important and there are some that just don’t work, either because they are poorly executed and designed, goofy cartoons aimed at the wrong age group, or the main character looks totally unlike how he is described in the book, or…, well, you get my point, the possible problems are endless. Would this be my new cover?Or how about this one? At least it shows a roller skate…As you can see, there are all sorts of ghastly possibilities when it comes to covers. BUT, I’m happy to say…I LOVE the completed Roller Boy cover!

First, here’s the back cover blurb:

Mateo always assumed he’d make the baseball team with his buddy Jason, but when only Jason makes the team, his mood sinks low. So low, he knows he has to do something about it. But what? What can he be good at?
When Mateo wins free lessons, he discovers he’s pretty good at roller-skating. And it doesn’t hurt that the most beautiful girl he’s ever laid eyes on happens to be Roller City’s star skater. But still, roller-skating? No way can Jason find out Mateo is whirling around in girly skates–anybody halfway to cool would be hanging at a skate park, on boards or blades.
Other issues stacked against him are the strong reservations of his mother, who feels Mateo should be spending his time studying, not skating, and his inability to eat gluten—no more grabbing a pizza with the guys.
Despite these conflicts, Mateo keeps his sense of humor and channels his innermost strength into an incredible ride on roller skates that just might take him all the way to regionals.

Drumroll please…


Here it is!

And the beautiful full cover spread:
What do you think? I can’t stop looking at it and all I can say is thanks to Fitzroy Books for producing such a gorgeous cover!

The next step in this exciting process will be my publisher sending out Advance Reader’s Copies to various major review sites. Please cross your fingers that they’ll enjoy reading about Mateo and his wild ride on roller skates, and as always, thanks for your interest and support!

Edited to add in a clickable button for anyone who would like to purchase Roller Boy:

Thank you! 🙂

Walking for Writers

We’ve all heard we have to “get into the chair” to accomplish our work. We’ve also all heard we have to “walk 10,000 steps” to stay healthy. ‘They’ say that sitting is the new smoking—yikes. Since there are only so many hours in a day, how can we possibly achieve this on a daily basis?

I’ll be the first to admit there’s no way I can squeeze in 10,000 steps, on vacation, easy, but every day, no way. BUT, I can do less, 7,000 if I push it. And I think getting up out of the chair frequently is just as important. This is not as easy as it sounds. Especially if there’s a deadline looming, whether real or self-imposed. 

I’m finding if I plan on taking a long walk, it looms over me. I’ll tell myself just one more paragraph, just one social media comment. But, if I break it up into several short walks (which in the long run is healthier than all at once anyway), it seems much easier to accomplish. And I often come back with new insight on whatever writing problem I may have been trying to tackle.

Few people know how to take a walk. The qualifications are endurance, plain clothes, old shoes, an eye for nature, good humor, vast curiosity, good speech, good silence and nothing too much. Ralph Waldo Emerson

If we could give every individual the right amount of nourishment and exercise, not too little and not too much, we would have found the safest way to health. Hippocrates

It is a shame for a man to grow old without seeing the beauty and strength of which his body is capable. Socrates

We do not stop exercising because we grow old – we grow old because we stop exercising. Kenneth Cooper

Physical fitness is not only one of the most important keys to a healthy body, it is the basis of dynamic and creative intellectual activity. John F. Kennedy

Some of us have tried setting a timer to get ourselves writing, maybe we need to do it all day long—thirty minutes in the chair, thirty minutes out, etc.

What do you think? Do you have any tips on getting your work done AND keeping fit at the same time?

American Library Association Awards 2018

Congratulations to all the winners for this year’s ALA awards! There are so many wonderful new books released each year and it’s certainly not easy to stand out in the crowd. Here are a few winners from the children’s books categories who did stand out.

John Newbery Medal for the most outstanding contribution to children’s literature: Hello, Universe written by Erin Entrada Kelly, is the 2018 Newbery Medal winner. A funny and poignant neighborhood story about unexpected friendships. The book is published by Greenwillow Books, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers.

Randolph Caldecott Medal for the most distinguished American picture book for children: Wolf in the Snow, illustrated and written by Matthew Cordell is the 2018 Caldecott Medal winner. A heartwarming adventure about helping others. The book was published by Feiwel and Friends, an Imprint of Macmillan.

Coretta Scott King Book Awards recognizing African American authors and illustrators of outstanding books for children and young adults: Piecing Me Together, written by Renée Watson, is the King Author Award winner. A timely, important, and deeply moving novel. The book is published by Bloomsbury Children’s Books.

Coretta Scott King/John Steptoe New Talent Award to affirm new talent: The Stars Beneath Our Feet, written by David Barclay Moore, is the Steptoe Author Award winner. A debut novel that celebrates community and creativity–soon to be a movie. The book is published by Alfred A. Knopf, an imprint of Random House Children’s Books, a division of Penguin Random House LLC

Michael L. Printz Award for excellence in literature written for young adults: We Are Okay, written by Nina LaCour, is the 2018 Printz Award winner. A beautiful story about grief and the power of friendship. The book is published by Dutton Books for Young Readers, an imprint of Penguin Young Readers.

Schneider Family Book Award for books that embody an artistic expression of the disability experience:

Silent Days, Silent Dreams, written and illustrated by Allen Say and published by Arthur A. Levine Books, an Imprint of Scholastic Inc., wins the award for young children (ages 0 to 8).

Macy McMillan and the Rainbow Goddess, written by Shari Green and published by Pajama Press Inc., is the winner for middle grades (ages 9-13).

You’re Welcome, Universe, written and illustrated by Whitney Gardner and published by Alfred A. Knopf, an imprint of Random House Children’s Books, a division of Penguin Random House LLC is the winner for teens (ages 14-18).

Each of the above mentioned prestigious prizes has honorable mentions, as well. There were also lifetime achievement awards and other honors announced today. For the complete listing, click here.

Congratulations again to everyone involved in the business of making beautiful books for children.


Hans Christian Andersen’s Paper Art

I’ve been busy writing and editing, hence the gap between posts this month, but I’ve also been thinking about the art of paper-cutting. I’ve always found this craft fun to do and fascinating to see displayed. I went to a wonderful exhibit of paper cutting at the Currier Museum in Manchester, NH, last May. As usual, I’m kicking myself for not taking notes, but I was allowed to take pictures which I hope to share at some point. Since way back around the fourth century in China, people have been cutting paper into patterns. Not only to be useful but for decorations, too. This folk art spread through the trade routes of the Middle East and eventually trickled into Europe. By the seventeenth century, paper cutters in Switzerland, Italy, Germany, Poland, and Holland were developing individual cutting styles depending on their region. All this leads us to the extremely talented Hans Christian Andersen (1805 – 1875). Although better known for screen and stage adaptations of The Little Mermaid, The Snow Queen, Thumbelina, The Emperor’s New Clothes, The Princess and the Pea, The Ugly Duckling, and many other beloved stories, the Danish storyteller’s paper cutting abilities were just as imaginative and clever as his wonderful fairy tales. About 1,000 of these beautifully detailed illustrations still exist in museums around the world.

Hans carried a huge pair of long heavy scissors with him everywhere he went. Often a crowd would gather and he would snip whole whimsical scenes while reciting his tales to attentive audiences. At the end of the story he’d carefully unfold his intricate work for all to see.I’ve done a lot of paper cutting with very tiny pointy scissors and I can’t imagine accomplishing anything as detailed and brilliant as the above full fairy tale from circa 1864.

The below painting is by Karl Hartmann (1818-1857).One of many sculptures of HCA, this one in New York City. Do you have a favorite Hans Christian Andersen story?

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