Thursday, September 11, 2014


Thirteen years ago today an immeasurable tragedy occurred in our country. We all came away changed and scarred. Amidst all the horror of that day were the heroics of the first responders and the SAR workers.

I heard their stories while I worked on Sniffer Dogs: How Dogs (and Their Noses) Save the World. It was an honor to speak to Shirley Hammond about her time at Ground Zero with her dog, Sunny. A volunteer, Shirley went without question. I heard about Sunny's discovery of a fallen firefighter and his confusion of how to alert to a deceased person after being trained as a live-find dog.

I also heard about brave little Sage, a border collie, who took part in her very first deployment at the Pentagon that day. She was the one who located the body of the terrorist who flew the plane into the Pentagon.

On this day of remembering I encourage you all to set aside a few dollars to contribute to the National Search Dog Foundation and the Sage Foundation for Dogs Who Serve.  These dogs and their handlers are always there for us and they need our support. 

And you won't even have to dump a bucket of cold water on your head! 

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Celebrate Antoine de Saint-Exupery's Birthday!

If you haven't read The Little Prince today is the day! Take the book outside to a quiet picnic table or rock by a lake and enjoy! 

The Morgan Library recently held an exhibit of The Little Prince. It showed all of the revisions that went in to the writing and the illustrations. Seeing the author's process was fascinating.  I knew I loved the book, (my childhood copy sits on desk's bookshelf!) but that exhibit made me love it even more. I wanted to bottle it all up and take it home so that I could savor it. Unfortunately, the Morgan did not publish a guide to the exhibit.  

That brings me to Peter Sis' new book -- The Pilot and The Little Prince. 

NPR did a fabulous interview with Peter Sis about the book, making me want to read it all the more. The life of aviator/author Antoine de Saint-Exupery is intriguing. I am thrilled that Sis took up the subject! 

Please let me know how you like the books. I have a feeling they will be equally unforgettable. 

Friday, June 6, 2014

On Joining a Book Club

Yes, I finally did it. I joined a book club!

I was in a fantastic mother/daughter book club when my daughter was younger. We had some great discussion, but it's been awhile.  That isn't to say I haven't had book discussions. Oh, I've had plenty!  And good ones!  And not so good ones! As the Regional Advisor for the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) Eastern NY region I co-host a monthly meeting. We include a short book discussion at each meeting. But, it's short and we always find that many folks haven't read the book yet. Recently we discussed The Book Thief. Our plan was to hold the discussion so that we could include a conversation about the movie as well. That didn't happen. The movie came and went so quickly that  many of us were unable to get to see it - including me!  By the time I did see it I was ready to talk about it again -- but with who? As my luck would have it a book group was meeting at my church that month and their monthly read was THE BOOK THIEF!!!!  YAY!  Of course, I just had to go. And it was wonderful! I thoroughly enjoyed the deep discussion we had and knew I was hooked.

Our next book -- The Night Circus -- one of my very favorites! I can't wait!

I'd love to hear about your book groups. What books have you read? Which were your favorites to discuss?

And, by the way, I loved the movie version!  No, it wasn't as good as the book - how could it be?  But it was wonderful too.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Historically Speaking About Mary Anning

It was fun to see Google celebrate British paleontologist, Mary Anning today on her 215th birthday! My first encounter with this historic woman was through Jeannine Atkins picture book, Mary Annng and the Sea Dragon.

Jeannine had traveled to Lyme Regis in England where Mary was born. She walked along the beach where 11-year-old Mary found a 17-foot fossil that made her famous. Jeanine captures Mary so beautifully in this book, which is why it was the Society of School  Librarians International 2000 honor book.  It is a great addition to a classroom library and fits in well with Common Core standards!

Saturday, May 10, 2014

The Kite That Bridged Two Nations - An Interview with Alexis O'Neill

Author and school visit specialist, Alexis O’Neill  is here today to talk about her latest award-winning book, The Kite That Bridged Two Nations.  Alexis, this is a great nonfiction picture book that introduces readers to a historic kite contest and Homan Walsh, who dreamed of flying his kite across the wide Niagara.

Can you tell us about the research that went in to writing this book?

Nancy – thanks for your invitation to share!

For pleasure years ago, I had read David McCullough’s book, The Great Bridge, about John A. Roebling’s building of the Brooklyn Bridge. McCullough mentioned Homan Walsh and the kite flying contest because Roebling finished the Niagara Suspension Bridge project when the original engineer left. When someone suggested to me that that incident might make a good kids book, my research began.
Internet. I searched Wikipedia to get overviews of the event, people and places; collect key words and images; and examine bibliographic sources.  I collected online articles. maps and images.
Secondary Sources: I read books about Niagara Falls, the bridge engineer, kites, and American economics and transportation in the 1840s. I saved bibliographies from those books to explore and to see where expert sources overlapped.
Primary Sources: I accessed archives at libraries, historical associations and museums in Niagara Falls, Ontario Canada; Niagara County, NY; Buffalo & Erie County, NY; Monroe County, NY; Nebraska State Historical Society; and which yielded  U.S. Census data, a passport application, newspaper articles and reports contemporary to the times, lithographs, photographs, and maps. But a key element of my research was traveling to Niagara Falls and walking where my subject actually walked, seeing where his family lived, and experiencing Niagara Falls first-hand.

Did you actually make your own kite and fly it?  

I didn’t construct my own kite, but I finally learned how to fly one! I used to be a “Charlie Brown kite flier” – every kite crashed.  Then two things happened: a kite store owner advised me to keep my back to the wind so that it flowed evenly over both ears. Then I brought my kite to the beach where there was no chance of it getting stuck in a tree. And it worked!

How did you organize all your research when you were writing?
I used two main organization systems – one for computer files, the other for paper files.
For computer files, I made folders as I went along. For example, I had folders called Bibliography, Bios, Bridges, Contacts, Images, Kites, Railroads, Timelines , etc. Within the folders, I had sub-folders and specific files. For example, in the Bio folder, I had sub-folders for information on key players such as Homan Walsh (including his family), Charles Ellet Jr (the bridge builder), Theodore G. Hulett (bridge consultant). Within the sub-folders, I had files for specific articles.
My paper files were similar, but they included catalogs, brochures, maps and other bulky items.  

It must have been difficult to decide what to include and what not to include. Can you share a bit about that process?
I had a bit of a struggle. I wanted to be true to the actual events, but I also had to create a compelling narrative arc. When I test-drove a draft with 5th graders, they didn’t like the scene in which two men, the bridge engineer and a bridge consultant, approached Homan Walsh when he was alone flying a kite. While the incident was true, kids today are hyper-aware of “stranger danger,” so that scene bothered them. I took it out and it actually improved the story’s flow.
Another challenge I faced was in correcting long-held understandings of the kite flying contest which had been misreported – from an interview with Homan Walsh to an historical lithograph depicting the event. I’m grateful to my editor for allowing my extensive Author’s Note at the end to set things right!

What tips can you offer budding nonfiction authors?
Always fully document your sources, no matter how slight they are. When I collect an image or an article from the Internet, the first thing I do is paste the URL into a Word document, then paste in the content. When I collect information from books, pamphlets or other “hard copy sources” on paper or index cards, I put complete bibliographic information at the top of the first page or card. Beside the information, I make sure to reference the specific page
on which I found it. This makes it easier to find later if questioned by an editor.

What are you working on now?
I’m juggling many projects. I love 19th American history and have a fondness for New York State where I lived for so many years, so that’s where I’m focusing my attention right now.

When you have questions about research or publishing nonfiction, how do you find help?
My go-to place for finding out answers to pressing questions is the NFforKids listserv. With over 800 participants, many of whom are highly published nonfiction authors, it’s a fabulous resource.

Anything else?
My Kite book recently won the SCBWI Crystal Kite Award in the California-Hawaii region. I want to express gratitude to my peers for this great honor. The Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators has over 22,000 members, and this is the only peer-given award in publishing for young readers.

Congratulations, Alexis!  The book certainly deserves the honor!  Thank you for such a wonderful interview. 

Monday, April 28, 2014

Holocaust Remembrance Day

Here are some great reads to share with the young people in your life on this Holocaust Remembrance Day.


Monday, March 10, 2014

Pure Grit - with Guest Blogger Mary Cronk Farrell

Fiction and Non-Fiction for Young People Take a Look at 
War Veteran’s Coming Home

Pure Grit: How American World War II Nurses Survived Battle and Prison Camp in the Pacific is a little-known true story about 79 women who were captured POW by the Japanese in the Philippines in 1942.

The Japanese attack on American forces in the Philippines came shortly after the surprise bombing of Pearl Harbor, and it caught the U.S. army and navy unprepared. Nurses rose to the occasion though they had not been trained in combat nursing. They helped set up field hospitals in the Bataan jungle and worked day and night trying to save the lives of American and Filipino soldiers.

When Americans were forced to surrender to the Japanese, the nurses were sent to internment camps where they remained captive for three years. They bravely faced the horrors of prison camp—disease, starvation and humiliation by their guards. Finally liberated near the end of WWII, they came home to a brief celebrity, and then were told to forget what had happened and not talk of it.

Many of the women suffered physical and emotional scars throughout their lives, while not receiving recognition for their sacrifice and service.

This book ties in with a number of excellent fictional titles which delve into more current situations of veterans arriving home from war and dealing with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and family relationships.

The Impossible Knife of Memory is the story of teenager Hayley Kincaid and her Iraq vet father finally settling down after years of living from town to town as he struggled with PTSD. Maybe now Hayley will be able to go to high school and live a normal life, maybe even have a boyfriend. Author Laurie Halse Anderson, drew on her experience as the daughter of a war veteran to write her latest book. Click here for an interview with her about how personal this book is for Halse Anderson.

The Things a Brother Knows by Dana Reinhardt and Something like Normal by Trish Doller are both novels about young men who go off to war directly after high school graduation. The stories begin when the young men come home, and take a keen look at the difficulty of family relationships because members can’t truly understand the veteran experience.

In Reinhardt’s story, seventeen-year-old Levi follows his older brother Boaz, an ex-Marine, on a walking trip from Boston to Washington, D.C. in hopes of learning why Boaz is completely withdrawn. Doller writes about soldier Travis home on leave from Afghanistan and desperately trying to cope with PTSD after seeing his best friend die. 

Students might compare and contrast how the women of WWII and the male soldiers who fought in the Middle East and Afghanistan felt about participating in a war? Perhaps they can identify evidence from the text to support their conclusions.

Students could look at similarities and differences between veterans’ experiences coming home after WWII and, now after Iraq and Afghanistan. Teachers can engage them in collaborative discussions about these topics as well as issues such as, what it’s like for young people when a parent returns home from active military service, what responsibilities a country has toward its returning warriors, and what lessons it is possible to learn from history.

Thanks, Mary, for stepping in as guest blogger today. I know teachers will appreciate your insight and include these stories in their classroom. 

I'd love to your inspiration for Pure Grit.  Can you tell us about that? soon as I heard about American woman POWs in WWII, I had to discover more about them. The more I discovered, I knew I had to do the story. For me there was never any question. The women are so inspiring, I wanted to tell everyone about them.

I'm so glad you did!  Their stories are so important to history.  What's next for your readers?

My next book is a biography of Labor Leader Fannie Sellins who was shot to death on the picket line in 1919. Another example of a courageous and compassionate women in history we have heard too little about.

 Sounds like another compelling read!  Find out more about Mary and her books on her website

Friday, January 31, 2014

Ick! Yuck! Eeeew! -- An Interview with Lois Huey

Yuck! Ick! Eew! by Lois Huey is disgusting!  And that’s what makes it a wonderful read for middle school kids interested in how people really lived in history. As a reader who loves to read historical fiction and imagine myself in those flowing gowns riding inside carriages and walking through heather-filled fields, Lois Huey’s book shatters that dream by shining a very bright light on the reality of those days. Lois has done an amazing job on her research and so much of this information will be new to readers. This is a great book for classes studying Colonial America.  I’ll leave my dreams inside those romantic book pages and be thankful I can put on a gown for Halloween and still live in 2014 America! 

Lois, can you tell us more about how you conducted your research for this book?

In addition to information from excavations, I consulted original sources, that is, accounts from the time period. The people who lived then had little to say; they were used to their conditions. But the diaries and letters of visitors were a great source. They commented on what they saw--and a lot of it wasn't flattering.

As an archeologist you have probably encountered history from the ground up.  Did anything surprise you when you were writing this?

First, I encounter history from the top of the ground down. I have excavated in the yards of many New York State historic houses from the 17th and 18th centuries and discovered their surroundings were far from clean. Trash littered the ground. What surprised me in the research about life above the ground was the information about bugs! They were surrounded with flies, mosquitoes, bedbugs, etc. Yuck!

Is there any period of time that you could imagine yourself in if you could travel back in time?

I would love to go back in time to the 18th century, but I'm afraid the smells alone would knock me over! So I'll stick to what I can imagine while excavating through layers of time in the ground and what I can learn from those who did experience it firsthand.

What can your fans look forward to reading?

Just out is my first online publication done for The New Netherland Institute. Click on the link to read it  and enjoy the colorful illustrations.

My next book, also from Lerner Publishing, is about the lives of enslaved people in the northern states. Yes, there were thousands of slaves in the north living with their enslavers in the same house while working in the cities and small farms. What were their lives like? Since they left few records, I am reporting what has been learned by scientists who examine bones and test for DNA. Three 18th century African burial grounds  have been excavated by archaeologists in the north so far. One is near Albany, NY, one in Portsmouth, NH, and one in New York City. I am comparing the results of each.

Thanks, Lois!  If readers want to learn more about Lois' books check out her site

Monday, January 20, 2014

Interview: Augusta Scattergood on Glory Be

Augusta Scattergood’s debut middle grade, Glory Be, perfectly captures life in a Mississippi town during the Freedom Summer in the early 1960s.  With the same sensitivity and beauty of Kathryn Stockard’s The Help, Scattergood, gives us a story of civil rights and friendship. I had the pleasure of serving on the faculty of a Highlights Foundation Workshop with Augusta and am happy to share this conversation with you. 

Thanks, Augusta, for writing such a beautiful novel and for talking with me today.

Thanks for having me, Nancy!

 Glory Be is wonderful.  As authors, I'm not sure if we choose our stories or if they choose us. What was the case with Glory Be?

I think I chose this one! I've always loved to write, but writing a novel seemed like a daunting task. I first tried to write it as an adult short story about a wedding planner who loved Elvis. Well, thank goodness that didn't work out!

I love middle-grade novels, especially historicals. I really felt I knew this time and place.
It took me a while to sort it all out, but by the time I realized exactly what I wanted to say, it felt like I'd handpicked the story.

This story feels very personal.  Tell us about your research.

I certainly didn't have to research the food, the clothing, the town. Those were based on my own experiences. But even the music and the Nancy Drew books, I double-checked to be sure the dates were right. Believe it or not, there's a terrific book about the history of swimming pools, and of course, many about Freedom Summer in Mississippi. I read a lot about the subject. True confessions, I love research.

My absolute favorite research was done via oral histories, especially those on the Library of Congress and the University of North Carolina websites. Hearing those voices and reading their words was like stepping back in time.

And the research you did certainly comes through in this book, Augusta.

It is challenging to imagine a world without the civil rights we now enjoy, even though discrimination still exists among so many different groups.   How do you feel kids will relate to Glory and her world today?

It delights me to no end when kids are astounded about that world. When they cannot believe that it was against the law for black children and white children to go to school, the library, the playgrounds together. That happens often when I do presentations about the book and the 1960s.

It also surprises me how much today's kids know about the social scene! The music-- though they have no clue when I mention "45s"-- is something they seem to have at least heard about. All hands go up when I ask who the King of Rock and Roll might be.

Although it doesn't seem that long ago for some of us, Glory Be is definitely historical to the children reading it. What were the challenges in bringing this story to printed page?

Where shall I begin?
As Greg Neri, one of my writer friends said when I told him I'd sold the book: "Ten years to overnight success. That's about right."

I think I had a large learning curve about how to plot a book. Then there was finding the perfect agent. But truly, once Linda Pratt and I connected, the rest was easy. I loved working with my editor. And I couldn't have dreamed of a better publisher for this particular book than Scholastic.
Congratulations on a terrific book that, I'm sure, will find its way into many hands. On that note, what’s next for your fans?

Fans. That truly tickles me, Nancy.

My next book, The Way to Stay in Destiny, another middle-grade novel, will be published by Scholastic in Spring, 2015--next year! Also edited by Andrea Pinkney, this one's set in 1974, in Destiny, Florida. About baseball, pianos, a dancing teacher, Hank Aaron.
It was a lot of fun to write.
Thanks so much, Augusta!  For more on Glory Be read Lessons on Bigotry and Bravery from NPR.