Sunday, July 28, 2013

How a book is born. Joanne McGonagle's take on how her book An Ordinary Toad’s Extraordinary Night, came to be.

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This is a guest blog post by Joanne McGonagle, author of An Ordinary Toad's Extraordinary Night.

One of the requirements of the Master of Zoology program was to write a plan about how we thought we could make a difference in the world. My master’s journey began with the inspiration from an article by Peter Slovic: “If I look at the mass, I will never act: Psychic numbing and genocide.” This article discusses how the phenomenon of psychic numbing paralyzes humans and prevents them from taking action to help others in need. I thought if this was true for humans suffering, wouldn’t it be true for the big cats too? I wondered if we could deliver a message of hope instead of desperation, of success instead of failure, through compelling storytelling could we lure others into caring about the world around them? If I could get people to care about one tiger, could I get them to begin to care about all the tigers and motivate them to save the entire species?

My master plan focused on big cats and they are considered ‘charismatic megafauna’. The term ‘charismatic megafauna’ refers to large well-known animal species that garner a disproportionate share of the public’s attention. The tiger is the world’s most popular animal according to a survey conducted by Animal Planet. The big cat even beat out the dog for the number one position. These species have the ‘wow factor’ that grabs the public’s attention to try to save them. The koala certainly is charming, but a small toad... perhaps not.

During the peer review process of our master plans, one of my colleagues asked me a compelling question. Tim asked, “How would the results be different if you picked a less cute animal or non-charismatic megafauna? There are many people that like tigers, but how about something that they do not make stuffed animals or commonly occur in Winnie the Pooh cartoons? Frogs and Toads need help too.”

This is an important question. What about all the living beings that aren’t cute and cuddly or fierce and admired?

Driving one day, I thought about toads. Then I wondered why frogs seem to be the preferred amphibians. I imagined a young toad named Andrew. I wish I could tell you why his name is Andrew but I honestly don’t know. But I began to tell Gracey [the author’s cat], she was a great listener, the story of Andrew the young toad that wondered if his life might have been better had he been hatched a frog. And that’s how An Ordinary Toad’s Extraordinary Night came to be.

Thank you for caring for all animals, big and small. Charismatic and non-charismatic, we need them all and they need our help and protection.

Joanne McGonagle is the award-winning author of The Tiniest Tiger.  For more information join The Tiniest Tiger on Facebook.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Author Interview with Carole Roman

1.  What inspired you to write the CaptainNo Beard series?

My son self published a book and challenged me to write one as well. I thought about different subjects and realized I had a wonderful story based on a game I play with my grandson, Alexander. I don't like video games, and we play imaginary games for hours, so Captain No Beard was a natural choice. Right off my head, I had four stories to share about our different adventures.

2.  Will Cayla be in future series?
Yes Cayla will be in future stories. She was born when I wrote Pepper Parrot and I thought about how to include her in the group. Strangers on the High Seas was a great way to introduce her. She will be a very helpful part of the crew from now on.

3.  What do you want your readers to learn from these books? 
The Captain No Beard series is written for both children and the adult reader. There is a wealth of things to do when you use your imagination. You can go anywhere, do anything and have fun for hours. My goal is always for the book to carry on for discussion long after you finish reading it.  I think subjects like bullying, teamwork, talking to strangers, being bossy, being considerate, and learning not to judge others are things that need to be reinforced all the time. I never wanted them to be preachy, or for anyone to roll their eyes when they read it. I tried to approach each issue with sensitivity, hoping that it stays with the reader long after the book is put back on the shelf.

4.  Tell me a little about the If YouWere Me and Lived In... series.
I am a former secondary Ed Social Studies teacher. You can never turn that off.  When walking on the Las Vegas strip during our vacation, my grandson asked me to explain the differences in the themes of the casinos. In the space of one block, we saw the Eiffel Tower, ancient Rome, and a pyramid of Egypt. He was three and fascinated with the idea of other countries and their customs.  I wrote If You Were Me and Lived in....Mexico, the next day.  We came home and I followed with France, South Korea, Norway, Turkey, Kenya, India, and Australia.  I reached for all the continents, and chose countries that I knew almost nothing about. I then edited it down for children to understand and still be enjoyable to read. The books are a gateway to learn about other people and I hope they will open a world of discussion.

5.  How is the feedback so far on this new series? Do you find parents and teachers find the travel books helpful?
The cultural series has been embraced by both parents and teachers. There is very little out there for the preschool and early grade school age group. People who don't understand, complained there was not enough information. Many teachers understood that editing was the hardest to do. There is a wealth of interesting things to write about- but the book is a catalyst for educators to use as a jumping off point for the correct level of information. Using the book as a guide, each page can be instrumental in discussing as much or as little as the age group can handle. Names- how familiar are they, monetary value- what does it tell you about the country, sports, toys, things to do- is the county urban, rural, rich, poor, and what does the food tell you. This book is a terrific way to introduce culture to pre k to age 8, learning to respect both our differences and similarities. Knowledge is a great way to teach tolerance.

6.  What are you working on now?
I have a Captain No Beard book in production called The Treasure of Snake Island.  I would like to keep doing the cultural books. People are asking for me to do the country of their ancestors. Self publishing is very expensive and I am hoping the cultural series is embraced enough to pay for itself. I think it is an important series in so many ways and I hope it succeeds. 

Read our reviews on Captain No Beard and If You Were Me and Lived in... South Korea.  Also, visit the author's website for more information on her upcoming series and read the Best of 2012 Kirkus Review for the first book in the series Captain No Beard.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Book Review | 2 Kurious Kids by Heidi Gill

2 Kurious Kids by Heidi Gill is an adventure series for kids ages 3 to 8. Siblings, Hannah and Jacob love to take imaginary trips around the world, exploring each country at a time and learning new languages and experiencing new cultures.

On their first imaginary adventure, they travel to China. They imagine what their typical day may look while living in China. By the time they were on their fourth trip, they were visiting India. Most of the illustrations in both books were almost the same with variations in food and activities; in China children like to participate in gymnastics while in India they like cricket. Gill’s series emphasize that people are basically the same in their daily routine wherever they are in the world.

Though this is true, there are still variations in our daily lives that make our experiences culturally different. It would have been nice to see more activities and places that are indigenous to these cultures both in the story itself and in the illustrations, such as a market place scene or children at play using a type of toy that is native to the culture. This would illustrate that even though we are similar in most instances, there are some things that are only unique to various cultures.

Nevertheless, Gill does a great job in educating readers on the everyday words commonly used in all languages. For example, readers can learn breakfast words like cereal and milk, and at school words like chalkboard, teacher and pencil. The language characters and the word pronunciations are included, making the series wonderful starter books ideal for kids being introduced to a new language.

Teachers can demonstrate the language characters for kids to learn how to write them, giving kids a more hands-on approach and making the experience of learning a new language more appealing.

Look for more books in the series - Hannah’s and Jacob’s trips to Egypt, Mexico, and France!

Happy Reading!