Posted tagged ‘Picture Book Biographies’

An Interview with Vivian Kirkfield

April 25, 2019

cropped-pippa-home-page-031-e1543009948671

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.

Advertisements

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.

 

9780152025229

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!”

9781419714658

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.        

Women’s History Month

March 27, 2014

IMG_0570

Surrounded by amazing women!

Celebrating Women’s History Month

March 20, 2014

Betty Mae Tiger Jumper is an inspirational woman who demonstrated character, courage, and commitment during her life. The picture book biography, She Sang Promise:  The Story of Betty Mae Jumper, Seminole Tribal Leader, by author, Jan Godown Annino, describes her life as a member of the Seminole Tribe in Florida.

IMG_0578

As a small child, Betty Mae learned tribal medicine, traditions, stories, and legends of the Florida Seminoles. When Betty Mae heard about reading, she pleaded with the Elders to send her to school. She was a quick learner and eventually went on to become a trained nurse. Returning home to the people she loved, Betty Mae convinced women to trust her new medicine and helped many suffering from diseases.    

It seemed there was nothing Betty Mae couldn’t do. When her husband was sick and unable to work, she took over for him and wrestled alligators. When the U.S. government asked the Seminoles to organize a Tribal government to work with leaders in Washington D.C., she became the “voice for her people.” And when it came time to elect a Tribal leader, Betty Mae asked for votes. She was the first woman to be elected a leader of the Seminole Tribe in Florida. In a man’s world, Betty Mae Jumper sang promise to all. Throughout her life, she never forgot where she came from and continued to keep alive the stories and traditions of the Seminoles.

The illustrations by Lisa Desimini are in bright jeweled colors that depict time-honored aspects of the Seminoles. Like the title, She Sang Promise, this book is uplifting and serves as an inspiration to young girls and boys who have the character, courage, and commitment to succeed!


%d bloggers like this: