Posted tagged ‘Picture Book Biographies’

Seven Questions for Vivian Kirkfield and a Giveaway!

January 23, 2020

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Once again, I have the privilege of interviewing author extraordinaire, Vivian Kirkfield. Her newest book, Making Their Voices Heard: The Inspiring Friendship of Ella Fitzgerald and Marilyn Monroe, launches, January 28th. See my review here. And there is a giveaway!

Ella Marilyn cover

Thank you so much, Cathy! I’m thrilled to be here on your blog just a few days before the launch of the new book!

And I’m thrilled to have you here. In your newest nonfiction biography, Making Their Voices Heard, why did you decide to focus on the friendship Ella Fitzgerald and Marilyn Monroe had for each other rather than their enormous talents?  

I knew I wanted to write a story for children…a story that children could relate to. Even young kids know about playdates and going to a classmate’s birthday party and how it feels when your friend is mad at you. How to be a good friend is an important lesson for kids. And although it’s true that each of these icons had enormous talent, each was being limited because of discrimination of one kind or another…and it was their friendship which helped break those barriers.

ella and marilyn in nightclub

Ella and Marilyn

When you begin to do research for a nonfiction work, do you have a specific plan you follow?

I begin my research on the internet…scrolling through whatever sites I can find. Then I turn to the local library and if necessary, reach out to the reference librarian to ask if she can connect with the larger libraries. I’ve also contacted the libraries and historical museums and historical societies in the cities where my subjects were born or worked. These often contain archives that are specific to the person I’m researching. In addition, if there are any living relatives whose names pop up during my research, I do try to connect with them.

How do you organize your research to make it easy for you to refer to it? Handwritten notes? Binder?

As I read, I take notes in a dollar store composition notebook…usually (and unfortunately) handwritten (unfortunate because I often can’t read my own handwriting). But I also print out pages from online sources (sometimes an online source can disappear between the time you read it and the time the manuscript is bought – at least you will have a hard copy of your information if/when the editor/fact-checkers ask about something. Then I use a manila folder for all the printed sheets and the notebook. I wish I were more organized…but so far, this system has worked pretty well. The most difficult time was when I was writing the nine nonfiction PB bios for From Here to There: Inventions That Changed the Way the World Moves (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, January 21, 2021). In only 9 months, I had to go from idea to polished submission-ready manuscript…seven polished submission-ready manuscripts (I had already written two of them when we signed the contract). If it weren’t for my fabulous critique partners, I never would have been able to accomplish such a feat in such a short period of time.

What are some of the places you go to find information? (Primary sources?  Newspaper clips? Documentaries? Videos?)

As I mentioned previously, online sources are my first line of inquiry. Then the library…with books/journals/newspapers. I also LOVE YouTube…there are amazing documentaries AND interviews…if your subject is fairly modern (within the last 100 years) there may be a wealth of information, some of the primary sources (an interview, for instance) available at your fingertips.

Another great source of information is the library…but not just the bookshelves. Many libraries have subscriptions to various databases – old newspapers, ancestry sites – and if you have a library card, you may be able to access a lot of it from the comfort of your own home and computer.

When do you know when it’s time to stop researching and start writing?

I know it is time to stop researching when I start reading the same information. Also, I try to write my pitch (what-you’d-say-to-an-editor-if-you-only-had-30-seconds-to-talk) and my one-sentence (kind of a synopsis of the story) before I start writing. If I feel I have enough information to create a strong narrative that answers the promise of my opening lines (yes, I write my opening lines early on), I stop researching and start writing. But, I’m always willing to go back and dig deeper if there are questions that remain unanswered.

inside spread nightclub

What is your secret for making your manuscripts shine?

I don’t know that it is a secret. 😊 It’s certainly something I share with all of my critique buddies, all of my critique service clients, and at any conference or webinar where I am presenting.

  1. I write about people/topics I am passionate about
  2. I dig deep with my research
  3. I search for a golden nugget that will strike a chord with my child reader
  4. I craft strong opening lines that hook the reader
  5. I utilize various techniques from the picture book writing toolbox (including assonance, alliteration, the element of three, refrains) that help keep the reader engaged and move the story forward
  6. I formulate a satisfying ending that often echoes the opening lines
  7. I read mentor texts in the genre I am writing (this happens before, during, and after I write the manuscript)
  8. I record myself reading the story aloud…and then listen back to catch the places where I trip up or where the reader will lose interest
  9. I share the manuscript with critique buddies and revise with their feedback in mind
  10. Then I record myself again…revise/polish…send out the manuscript to a couple of other critique partners…and revise/polish again.
  11. I know I am done when I listen back and am engaged from the first word to the last…and can utter an AHA, HAHAHA, or AWWW when the last word is uttered.

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Is there anything else you’d like to share with us?

No manuscript will ever be perfect. Please don’t try to make it so. Pour your heart into the writing and be willing to revise if several critique buddies point out similar problems. Polish until you feel the story sings. But at some point, we need to go from writing and revising mode to submitting mode because the song of your story won’t be heard if it’s sitting in your drawer/computer/notebook. And even after an editor acquires your manuscript because she loves it, there will probably be additional revisions required…or at the very least, requested. Be open to the perspective of the editor and illustrator…but advocate for this story because you are responsible for putting an accurate, authentic, and consistent book into the hands of children. Never forget that this is YOUR story. Your words. Your heart on the page.

Thank you so very much, Cathy, for the opportunity to share my thoughts and spread the word about my newest picture book that launches January 28: MAKING THEIR VOICES HEARD: The Inspiring Friendship of Ella Fitzgerald and Marilyn Monroe (Little Bee Books, illustrated by Alleanna Harris).

As always, Vivian, it is my pleasure to have you as my friend and as a guest on my blog!

THE GIVEAWAY!

Vivian has generously agreed to give away a copy of her newest book or a fiction/nonfiction picture book critique.

For a chance to win, please leave a comment below. For an extra chance to win, post this giveaway on social media, and make sure you state where you posted it in your comment. Please note:  You must be a resident of the U.S. and at least 18 years of age to enter. The giveaway ends on Thursday, 1/30/20 at 11:59 pm EST. The winner will be randomly picked and announced on my 2/6/20 blog post. Good luck to all!

Learn more about the fabulous Vivian Kirkfield:

Writer for children—reader forever…that’s Vivian Kirkfield in five words. Her bucket list contains many more than five words – but she’s already checked off skydiving, parasailing, banana-boat riding, and visiting critique buddies all around the world. When she isn’t looking for ways to fall from the sky or sink under the water, she can be found writing picture books in the quaint village of Amherst, NH where the old stone library is her favorite hangout and her young grandson is her favorite board game partner. A retired kindergarten teacher with a Masters in Early Childhood Education, Vivian inspires budding writers during classroom visits and shares insights with aspiring authors at conferences and on her blog, Picture Books Help Kids Soar where she hosts the #50PreciousWords International Writing Contest and the #50PreciousWordsforKids Challenge. She is the author of numerous picture books. You can connect with her on her website, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, Linkedin, or just about any place people with picture books are found.

 

 

 

Celebrating Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

January 16, 2020

On Monday, we celebrate the life of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. He was born on January 15, 1929, and became a well-known figure as a Civil Rights activist. His “I HAVE A DREAM” speech in 1963 was one of his most inspiring speeches. Check here to see more about Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

For young readers who want to know more about the life of this inspirational speaker, here are some books to check out.

a place mlk

A Place to Land:  Martin Luther King Jr. and the Speech that Inspired a Nation written by Barry Wittenstein and illustrated by Jerry Pinkney, Neal Potter Books, 2019.

big dreams

Martin Luther King Jr. written by Maria Isabel Sanchez Vegara and illustrated by Mai Ly Degnan, Frances Lincoln Children’s Books, 2020.

King

Be a King:  Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s Dream and You! written by Carole Boston Weatherford and illustrated by James E. Ransome, Bloomsbury USA Childrens, 2018.

peaceful

Martin Luther King Jr. A Peaceful Leader written by Sarah Albee and illustrated by Chin Ko, HarperCollins, 2018.

golden

My Little Golden Book About Martin Luther King Jr.  written by Bonnie Bader and illustrated by Sue Cornelison, Golden Books, 2018.

Celebrate the life and ideas of Martin Luther King Jr. and follow your dream.

 

An Interview with Vivian Kirkfield

April 25, 2019

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Today I have the great privilege of interviewing the fabulous Vivian Kirkfield. Vivian is an extremely talented author who is always there to inspire, support, and mentor the community of kidlit writers. Her newest picture Sweet Dreams, Sarah: From Slavery to Inventor, is a biography of Sarah E. Goode, a former slave and one of the first African American woman to receive a patent for her invention of the cabinet bed. This is a beautiful story of the dreams and determination of a young woman as she works to achieve her goals.

Sarah cover

Welcome, Vivian! I’m thrilled to have you here on my blog today. 

In the past, women have been overlooked when it comes to calling attention to their many accomplishments in our nation’s history. How did you learn about Sarah E. Goode’s story and what was it that motivated you to tell it?

I had just taken a class in writing nonfiction picture books and the instructor had recommended we check online for lists of the ‘first person to do this or that’. And, being an obedient student, I followed her advice and plugged in ‘First Woman to do…” into Google. And a list of women came up and Sarah E. Goode was on that list as the first African American woman to receive a U.S. patent in 1885. WOW, I thought…in 1885, women couldn’t vote and, in many states, they couldn’t even own property. And for an African American woman to do that, just 20 years after the abolition of slavery, that was amazing! I knew I had to write that story.

 Great choice!

In order to keep a nonfiction story accurate, research is required. How did you approach researching the life of Sarah?

One of the problems with research is that if the person is not well known, there probably isn’t much written up about them. And this was certainly true for Sarah Goode. There was almost NOTHING online…just two sentences (the same two sentences) on several Black History websites. And NOTHING in print. So, I reached out to my local librarian who reached out to librarians at some of the major libraries…but even they didn’t have much. One sent some photos of the street where Sarah’s store had been located in downtown Chicago. Another sent an advertisement from a local newspaper of the era showing a listing for Sarah’s store. And I checked the census records for Chicago in 1870 when Sarah’s family first lived there and she was 15 years old and then in 1880 when she was already a married woman with a child. In addition, I reached out to the cemetery where Sarah and her family are buried and the cemetery records person sent me a list of the people who are buried in Sarah’s family plot. You need to be persistent and proactive with your research…and most important of all, you need to be precise and keep accurate accounts of where you find all of your information BECAUSE, when your manuscript is bought, the editor and fact-checkers may want to see your documentation.

Mentor texts are valuable in that they are helpful in studying various techniques, strategies, and formats an author uses in his/her writing. Did you use any mentor texts before you began writing the story of Sarah? If you did, please share with us?

I love mentor texts…and always recommend them when I do critiques and give feedback to other writers. For Sweet Dreams, Sarah, I used many including:

Brave Girl: Clara and the Shirtwaist Makers Strike of 1909 by Michelle Markel

Henry’s Freedom Box: A True Story of the Underground Railroad by Ellen Levine

Elizabeth Leads the Way: Elizabeth Cady Stanton and the Right to Vote by Tanya Lee Stone

After studying the mentor texts, did you have a specific plan in mind as to how you wanted your story to unfold? Story structure? Theme? Craft elements? Tell us how you went about writing your story.

I knew I wanted to grab the reader’s attention immediately…for me, the opening lines are a key element in picture book writing. It’s my way into the story…and the style of the opening lines is kind of how I want the story to unfold. So, as a lover of the element of three, I started the story with three lines:

Before the Civil War, Sarah obeyed her owner.

Hurry up!

            Eyes down!

                        Don’t speak!

Slaves were property—like a cow or plow or the cotton that grew in the master’s fields.

And then I continued that format on the next page:

But every day Sarah dreamed of a different life.

A husband.

            A family.

                        A job that she loved.

Her father was a carpenter. With a hammer in his hands, he could build anything. Sarah thought she could, too.

Can you feel the rhythm of each spread? The element of three is very powerful…that’s why you can always hear it in speeches by politicians…for example: LIFE, LIBERTY, and the PURSUIT OF HAPPINESS. Three is a magical number…it sounds good to the ear and it feels good to the heart.

 And the ending has the same element of three:

This time a thick envelope arrived from the U.S. Government Patent Office.

Sarah took a slow deep breath.

            She slid out the papers.

                        She read out loud:

 S.E. Goode

Cabinet Bed

No. 322,177. Patented July 14, 1885

Staring at her name in print, Sarah proudly traced each letter. Her idea, her invention, her name in history. She had built more than a piece of furniture. She had built a life far away from slavery, a life where her sweet dreams could come true.

 I love how you circled back to the beginning and used the element of three at the end. 

Input from other writers and critique partners is an important part of the writing process. Were comments and suggestions from your writing colleagues helpful as you continued to revise your story? Did they make a difference in your final draft?

Yes! Yes! And Yes! I love my critique buddies…they are my support, my encouragement, and I embrace their feedback and suggestions. I don’t always do everything they advise…and sometimes I keep something if I am very passionate about it. For instance, the instructor of that nonfiction picture book writing class had advised I change the beginning. She felt it needed more action and so I placed Sarah in the furniture store right off the bat, turning pages in a catalog and deciding that the furniture that was being sold was too boxy, too bulky, too big. But that didn’t feel right to me…I felt the story needed the powerful picture of slavery in the beginning so that readers could go on the journey with Sarah…from being owned to being the owner of a patent. And so, after several months of playing with the new beginning, I brought back the one I’d had originally.

How many revisions did you make before you were satisfied with your work?

Dozens and dozens…a hundred or more maybe? I sent it into Rate Your Story a month after I wrote it…and it got an ‘8’…on a scale of 1 to 10 with 10 being the worst. So, I worked on it with my critique buddies…and sent it in again several months later…and it got a ‘3’. And then revised and polished some more and sent it to the Rate Your Story annual contest and it won second place for nonfiction picture books. YAY! And so, I knew I had a strong story and I began submitting that one, pretty much exclusively, whenever I had an opportunity to send a manuscript to an agent or editor. And it paid off because I got four agents who were interested…and, when I finally decided I would go with Essie White, she sent it out right away and we had a book deal with Creston Books within two months.

That’s amazing, Vivian! What can your fans expect next from you?

Thank you so much for asking, Cathy. I have two books in the pipeline for 2020…Making Their Voices Heard: The Inspiring Friendship of Ella Fitzgerald and Marilyn Monroe illustrated by Alleanna Harris (Little Bee Books, Spring 2020) and From Here to There: Inventions that Changed the Way the World Moves illustrated by Marilyn Gilbert (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Fall 2020). I’m truly excited about both of these books because the Ella/Marilyn manuscript was loved by so many editors but their sales and marketing teams said no…but it’s a wonderful story about the moment when the lives of these two icons intersected and they helped each other. And the Invention book is actually a compilation book of NINE full length, fully illustrated picture book stories, each capturing the AHA moment of that visionary who invented something that changed the landscape of the world. Both are filled with STEM components…the Ella/Marilyn with rich back matter and the Invention book with sidebar info.

And of course, my agent has several manuscripts out on submission and I am currently working on other stories. My only problem is that there are only 24 hours in the day…and I need many more than that to write all of the stories that are in my head and on my heart. Of course, I might have more time if I wasn’t as active on social media, but I do love connecting with the kidlit community and working with other writers and helping them follow their dreams. I truly believe that nothing is impossible if you can imagine it…and I’m thrilled to be living my dream.

Thank you so much for having me, Cathy! It’s a joy to chat with you!

The pleasure is all mine, Vivian. 

viv with SDS at Creston Lerner (1)

Vivian Kirkfield holding Sweet Dreams, Sarah at the Creston Books/Lerner Books booth at the Bologna Book Fair in Italy.

Other picture books by Vivian Kirkfield not to be missed.

Pippa’s Passover PlatePippa must find her Passover plate before the Seder begins.

Four Otters Toboggan An animal counting book that has an environmental theme.

Find out more about Vivian Kirkfield here.

John Deere, That’s Who!

May 3, 2018

It’s spring! Farmers are out plowing their fields, getting them ready to plant crops. Corn and soybean fields surrounded the town where I grew up. If you saw a green tractor, you knew immediately it was a John Deere tractor. John Deere didn’t invent the tractor, but he was instrumental in changing the design of the plow which helped make it easier for farmers to cultivate their land.

deere

If you want to know more about John Deere, the book, John Deere, That’s Who! written by Tracy Nelson Maurer and illustrated by Tim Zeltner is a perfect choice. John Deere was a blacksmith originally from Vermont. In 1836, he took his tools and headed west for a new start. He found a job as a blacksmith in Illinois where he fixed all kinds of things, including plows. The “thick, rich soil” stuck to the farmers’ plows and made their jobs very difficult. Their complaints made John think about creating a plow where the soil wouldn’t stick. John worked hard and after many tries, he finally fashioned a shiny steel plow that would cut through the soil and make plowing easier and faster. That was the beginning of John Deere’s company. Tim Zeltner’s beautiful illustrations and landscapes reminiscent of Grandma Moses art complement Tracy Nelson Maurer’s delightful story about John Deere’s venture into making plows.

 

Celebrate National Women’s History Month

March 8, 2018

The month of March we celebrate the amazing women who have made valuable contributions to our nation and have inspired and empowered young girls to do the same.

Check out the variety of picture book biographies below of women who have made a huge difference in our world.

pictures

The Girl Who Thought in Pictures written by Julia Finley Mosca and illustrated by Daniel Rieley,  Innovation Press, 2017

 

figures

Hidden Figures written by Margot Lee Shetterly and illustrated by Laura Freeman, HarperCollins, 2018

margaret

Margaret and the Moon written by Dean Robbins an illustrated by Lucy Knisley, Alfred A. Knopf Books for Young Readers, 2017

Wells

Ida B. Wells Let the Truth Be Told written by Walter Dean Myers and illustrated by Bonnie Christensen, Amistad Press, 2015

shaking

Shaking Things Up written by Susan Hood, HarperCollins, 2018

fancy

Fancy Party Gowns written by Deborah Blumenthal and illustrated by Laura Freeman, Little Bee Books, 2017

shark

Shark Lady written by Jess Keating and illustrated by Marta Alvares Miguens, Sourcebooks Jabberwocky, 2017

Ruth

I Dissent written by Debby Levy an illustrated by Elizabeth Baddeley, Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2016

grace

Grace Hopper Queen of the Computer Code written by Laurie Wallmark and illustrated by Katy Wu, Sterling Children’s Books, 2017

girl

Girl Running written by Annette Bay Pimentel and illustrated by Micha Archer, Nancy Paulsen Books, 2018

harper

Alabama Spitfire written by Bethany Hegedus and illustrated by Erin McGuire, Balzer & Bray/Harperteen, 2018

Mae

Mae Among the Stars written by Roda Ahmed and illustrated by Stasia Burrington, HarperCollins, 2018

ludy

Long-Armed Ludy written by Jean L.S. Patrick and illustrated by Adam Gustavson, Charlesbridge Publishing, 2017

Radiant Art

May 4, 2017

“Every artist dips his brush in his own soul, and paints his own nature into his pictures.” ~Henry Ward Beecher

I was not familiar with Jean-Michel Basquiat until I read, Radiant Child: The Story of Young Artist Jean-Michel Basquiat, written and illustrated by Javaka Steptoe, Little, Brown and Company. This book was awarded the 2017 Caldecott Medal, the 2017 Coretta Scott King Award for its illustrations, and the 2017 NAACP Image Award Nomination for Outstanding Literary Work.

radiant

From an early age, Jean-Michel knew he wanted to become a famous artist. His mother was a creative spark in his life, exposing him to literature, theater, museums, and the energy of New York City. His father brought home old paper from the office on which Jean-Michel drew for hours. When his mother became ill, Jean-Michel lost an important mentor in his life. More than ever, drawing and painting were his passion. At night, he spray-painted poems and drawings on the walls in the New York City. His pieces brought attention to the city’s diverse population and its social and political issues. Basquiat’s unique style was embraced by art critics and fans, and, at a young age, he achieved his goal of becoming a famous artist.

“Art is not what you see, but what you make others see.” ~Edgar Degas

What makes this book truly amazing is Javaka Steptoe’s eye-catching illustrations. In the back matter of the book, he provides more information about Jean-Michel Basquiat and adds a poignant author note. Javaka Steptoe was inspired by Basquiat’s work. He saw his graffiti in New York City, read about Basquiat in the newspapers, and went to one of his art shows. In illustrating this book, Steptoe says he used his own interpretations of the artist’s works rather than using copies. The end result is a book filled with vivid illustrations inspired by Basquiat and his unique style. Through his text and art, Javaka Steptoe exposes readers to an extraordinary artist and offers them an opportunity to learn and appreciate artists and their compositions.

“The artist is a receptacle for emotions that come from all over the place: from the sky, from the earth, from a scrap of paper, from a passing shape, from a spider’s web.” ~Pablo Picasso


 

Movin’ to the Music

May 5, 2016

Music speaks to me. When I hear something that makes me want to move to the groove, I find my happy feet.

 

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Jazz Baby did just that. This book is written by Lisa Wheeler and illustrated by R. Gregory Christie and is a Theodor Seuss Geisel Honor Book. Wheeler’s text and Christie’s illustrations sing to its readers. It’s fast-paced. It has rhythm, rhyme, and a beat that keeps your toes tapping. There’s snap, clap, and singing with a “Doo-Wop-Doo.” Each page turn offers up more fun as family, friends, and neighbors get into the action as the beat goes on. When the song and dance party comes to an end, it’s time for the little jazz baby to sleep. “OH YEAH!”

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Another book that is upbeat is Trombone Shorty. It’s a Coretta Scott King Award winner and a Caldecott Honor Book. This is a picture book autobiography written by Troy “Trombone Shorty” Andrews and illustrated by Bryan Collier. Andrews tells how his love of music began when he was a child, living in New Orleans where music was always in the air. He was drawn to brass instruments, and when he found a broken trombone, he made it his. Because the instrument was much bigger than he was, he got the nickname Trombone Shorty. His older brother encouraged him, and he practiced day and night. At a jazz festival, Bo Diddley heard him play his trombone and called him on stage to join him. After that, Trombone Shorty organized his own band and played around New Orleans. He now has a band of his own and has performed with many talented musicians. Even with his success, Trombone Shorty has not forgotten his roots. He started the Trombone Shorty Foundation to make sure the musical history of New Orleans is preserved. His foundation also helps mentor talented music students from New Orleans high schools. This inspiring story accompanied by Collier’s  amazing illustrations is not to be missed.        


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