Monday, August 28, 2023

Interview with Biographer Laurie Wallmark

Women's history rocks! And so do these new picturebook biographies from Laurie Wallmark highlighting extraordinary women in STEM – one looking to the sky and the other facing opponents across a chess board. Laurie is also the author several other biographies, so she isn’t new to introducing readers to fascinating women who have made an impact in our world.
Welcome, Laurie! Tell us about the inspiration for these latest biographies, HER EYES ON THE STARS and THE QUEEN OF CHESS. I keep an ever-growing list of possible women in STEM to write about. At the time I chose Maria Mitchell, there was only one picture book out about her. This was an older title which fictionalized some of her life story. I thought kids deserved to learn the facts. So, I dug in, did the research, and wrote my book. But before HER EYES ON THE STARS came out, two more picture books about her were published! As far as I’m concerned, though, there’s always room for more good books about an important woman in STEM like Maria Mitchell. The inspiration for THE QUEEN OF CHESS was completely different. In this case, an editor who knew about my other women in STEM biographies, asked me to write about Judit Polgár. The editor (and I) felt that it was important to showcase the achievements of a woman chess player. Since chess is so mathematical, I felt writing her story would be right up my alley.
These two biographies feature two very different women. Are there similarities that connect them? There is one big similarity between both women—passion. From a young age, both pursued their fields with intense focus. Night after night, Maria Mitchell looked through a telescope on her rooftop observatory and studied the heavens. Judit Polgár spent hours each day practicing her chess moves and studying the patterns the pieces made.
Judit certainly faced a number of challenges as she became the youngest grandmaster in the chess world. Did you face any challenges writing these biographies? Writing about Maria Mitchell wasn’t too challenging. There were plenty of reference materials and, for the most part, they agreed with each other. Judit Polgár was a different story, thought. Writing about her presented two challenges. First, there weren’t a lot of references I could use. Yes, her games were well documented. But a biography consisting only of game descriptions wouldn’t be that interesting. Second, she was such an amazing chess player that she rarely lost a game. It’s hard to add tension to a story when the person always wins.
Both books are such inspirational STEM titles, Laurie. Please tell teachers how they can use them in the classroom. Teachers can download a free curriculum guide for HER EYES ON THE STARS from my website THE QUEEN OF CHESS includes back matter that discusses the mathematics of chess.
These STEM ladies led extraordinary lives. You have a knack for digging these stories out of the past, these women out of obscurity. Who will you feature next, Laurie Wallmark? Can you give us a hint? I have another women in STEM title coming out next February—HER JOURNEY TO THE STARS: KALPANA CHAWLA, ASTRONAUT. Kalpana Chawla set her sights on flight at an early age. But achieving her dream of being among the stars took dedication, perseverance, and patience. Forging her own path, she became the first Indian American female astronaut, an inspiration for all girls to follow their dreams.
Check out Laurie's website for more about her and her books.

Monday, May 22, 2023

Research for Nonfiction and Fiction Writers

It doesn't matter if you are writing nonfiction or fiction -- research is crucial in making your writing come alive. You might have to venture to some pretty obsure libraries to find just what you are looking for to obtain the details you need. Don't limit yourself to what you can find online. Those links can fill some needs, but look beyond for articles and books that might not be online. More on this to come!

Saturday, February 4, 2023

Farmworker's Strike In Books

I adore historical fiction and verse novels. A SEED IN THE SUN, a beautiful novel by Aida Salazar combines both. With rich characters, readers enter the world of the 1965 farmworkers' strike led by Dolores Huerta.
Here are two nonfiction books that pair well with A SEED IN THE SUN. Add them to your classroom discussions!
Nancy Castaldo is the author of books about food and farming, including THE STORY OF SEEDS, THE FARM THAT FEEDS US, and her latest, THE WORLD THAT FEEDS US. For more about these titles visit her website

Wednesday, December 28, 2022

My Top Historical Reads of 2022

 So many books, so little time is the phrase I think about most at this time of year. Thankfully, another year is fresh on the forefront with new reads. Here are some of my fave historical books from 2022. In all of these books, authors have brought to life places and periods across the globe - from Italian immigrants in turn-of-the-century New York to 1930s Berlin to Africa to the fateful day of September 11, 2001. While they range in place and period, they also range in form. They are told in prose, verse, and graphic novel. 

Check them out! 

Turn-of-the-century NYC told in prose by Donna Jo Napoli

A wonderful novel in verse set in Africa from Kwame Alexander

Kip Wilson brings 1930s Berlin to life in this young adult novel-in-verse. 

All of Don Brown's graphic novels are chock full of facts and story. 

Thursday, March 5, 2020

Women's History Month - Those Who Resisted

From the Writer's Almanac:  It was on this day in 1933 that the Nazi Party won 44 percent of the vote in German parliamentary elections, enabling it to join with the Nationalists to gain a slight majority in the Reichstag. Within three weeks, the Nazi-dominated Reichstag passed the Enabling Act, which gave Hitler dictatorial powers and ended the Weimar Republic in Germany.

Let's honor the women who worked in the Resistance at that time and during WWII, my family included. 

Here are a few books that tell the story of some of those people:

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Children of the Past -- An Interview with Lois Huey

Who can imagine what life must have been like for a kid living twenty thousand years ago? Lois Huey can! Travel back in time with author and archeologist, Lois Miner Huey, with her latest book, Children of the Past:Archeology and the Lives of Kids. Thanks, Lois, for talking with us today about this fascinating book.

What inspired you to write about kids who lived thousands of years ago?

Based on archaeological evidence, I was wondering what it was really like to be a kid years ago. My latest book Children of the Past Archaeology and the Lives of Kids (Lerner 2017) begins thousands of years ago with cave kids and goes through time to the 1790s. Finding evidence of children from various times in soil layers is exciting for archaeologists. I wanted to share that excitement and what that evidence of their lives meant in different time periods. In previous books like Forgotten Bones Uncovering a Slave Cemetery and Ick! Yuck! Eew! Our Gross American History, I've included kids in the information based on both archaeology and documents but not to the extent I wanted to do. So now I have.

Writing about the distant past must have its challenges. There aren’t diaries or other first-hand accounts to study. How did you research this subject?

Archaeologists, like children's writers, are very willing to share their research and reports. I contacted those I knew who were especially interested in this topic, and received lots of information, scientific reports, and ideas from them. I then studied their bibliographies and continued on from there.

As an archeologist, you have such a unique perspective. Did you draw upon your own work in the field for this title?

One of my favorite archaeological projects was an excavation at Schuyler Mansion State Historic Site in Albany, New York. The mansion in the 19th century became an orphanage. The upper layers of soil contained numerous doll parts, clay marbles, a jack, and even parts of toy tea sets. The doll parts clustered in one area of the site, the glass marbles in another, indicating girls and boys played in separate areas. The biggest surprise to me, though, was the fact orphanage kids had toys at all. Research in the Roman Catholic Church archives revealed how many such items were provided to the kids by parishioners as part of teaching them how to care for babies, sew outfits for them, and play fairly. I wanted to include this story in the book, but the editor persuaded me to stop at the end of the 18th century. I agreed with her.

How might a teacher use this book in their classroom?

Children of the Past covers so many time periods that teachers from the fourth grades on through the seventh grade would find it useful. Cave kids, hunters and gatherer children, the first farmers, early colonists in America, and a largely unknown southern Underground Railroad are included--something for each of many periods of history. The chapters begin with a narrative story based on the archaeological (and documentary) evidence, then goes into expository explanations of the science involved in archaeological work that yields the evidence used.

Do you have any tips for young aspiring writers?

I always was one of those who wrote stories in school and at the picnic table in the back yard for friends to read. I encourage any kid who has that inclination to continue. It's a rewarding way to get down your thoughts, the scenes in your head, information you discover--and it's fun. Writing leads to good grades in school, becoming a journalist, librarian, teacher, and even an archaeologist!

Thank you, Lois! This has been fun. We look forward to see what subjects you will focus on in your upcoming books.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Trinity Church, St. Paul's, and Hamilton

I spent some time this weekend in lower Manhattan. My hotel was directly across the street from St. Paul's Chapel so I had to stop over to see this 250-year old Episcopal church that survived 9/11 and holds so much history.

The cemetery is populated by Revolutionary War veterans and New World residents who lived in New York before we were a free nation.

It is remarkable to see this tiny chapel among NY skyscrapers and to imagine an earlier New York. St. Paul's was built by Trinity Church to serve the neighborhood.

St. Paul's 

Just a few blocks away is Trinity Church, where Angelica Schuyler her sister, Eliza and Alexander Hamilton are buried. The original Trinity Church burned down. While awaiting the new building, George Washington and the gang attended St. Paul's.

Trinity Church 

He was a good guy, but.....  

John Lawrence! 

Eliza's plot

This is a great place to fill out your Hamilton knowledge. These two locations are filled with so much history. I could hear the whispers of the early parishioners while walking among the graves and standing inside these two special churches.