Monday, June 9, 2008

VISIT THE ALL-NEW BLOGZONE

Please visit the all new BLOGZONE at nancyisanders.wordpress.com

Everything from this site has transferred over to the official new blog. Plus, you'll learn about the Book in A Month Club, the Alphabet Book Adventure, and more!

You can also find out more about my books, including one of my newest, Readers Theatre for African American History!

Saturday, March 1, 2008

BLOGZONE HAS MOVED!

Please visit the all new BLOGZONE at nancyisanders.wordpress.com.
Everything from this site has transferred over to the official new blog (except a few comments that were lost in the shuffle).

Friday, February 29, 2008

Author Interview: Catherine Ipcizade



Meet Author Catherine Ipcizade!
Blog:
Fresh from the Oven
Writer-Editor-Daydreamer

Bio:
I am a freelance writer/editor living in Southern California. In addition to 'Twas the Day Before Zoo Day, I've also just had three books from Capstone Press released: African Animals: Giraffes; African Animals: Lions; African Animals: Zebras. I also write for adults and have written everything from articles to professional blogs to greeting cards. I write for both the trade and educational market--fiction and non-fiction.

I'm married and have two beautiful children, ages four and seven, who provide much inspiration for my work.



Featured Book: 'Twas the Day Before Zoo Day
This delightful adaptation of ’Twas the Night Before Christmas, shares zoo keeper and animal preparations for the upcoming “Zoo Day.” But things aren’t going according to plan . . . The llamas won’t quit spitting, the giraffes are drooling, and the zebras aren’t happy at all with their stripes. Meanwhile, the zoo keepers are scurrying this way and that, cleaning up doodoos, ringing mealtime bells, and trying to get the animals bathed. Will “Zoo Day” go off without a hitch?

Questions:
Q: Your official book launch will be March 1st and 2nd at the Santa Ana Zoo in Santa Ana, California. Wasn’t that the exact place you first caught the editor’s eye of the publisher who accepted your book? Share about that exciting experience!
A: I'm thrilled to be having my book launch at the Santa Ana Zoo! About a year ago, I received word that 'Twas the Day Before Zoo Day was being held for consideration by Sylvan Dell. I'd been corresponding with them (especially with Donna German, the editor/owner at Sylvan Dell) about another manuscript prior to this one, so they'd likely gotten more e-mails from me than anyone in history (kidding). By the time the SCBWI Editor's Day rolled around, Zoo Day was in the final stages of consideration. I knew Lee German, co-owner of Sylvan Dell would be there, so I jumped at the chance to attend. At the conference, I was lucky enough to meet Lee and to hear that they loved the story and that there was a "good chance" they'd be publishing it. I resisted the urge to get down on my hands and knees and beg, and left the conference elated. About a month-and-a-half later and much finger-crossing, pacing, and obsessive e-mail checking, I received the acceptance.

Q: Can you describe the process you went through to write the manuscript for your picture book ‘TWAS THE DAY BEFORE ZOO DAY.
A: Writing 'Twas the Day Before Zoo Day was a joy from the beginning. Because I'd submitted to Sylvan Dell before, I had an idea of what they might be looking for. I wanted to write a manuscript specifically tailored for their company, so I knew it had to be fiction but with non-fiction elements. I'd just finished researching giraffes for another picture book and decided to take that concept and create a book about animals at the zoo. First I researched every animal imaginable, writing down any fun facts I could find. Then I started writing stanzas (the book is in rhyme) about each animal. Somehow from that, 'Twas the Day Before Zoo Day was born. "It was the Day Before Zoo Day" worked better as "Twas the Day Before Zoo Day," and voila! an adaption of Twas the Night Before Christmas became logical...and fun.

It just seemed natural to take animals in their zoo habitat and make them fun and sometimes naughty. After all, I've been to enough zoos to wonder just WHAT those animals are thinking while being stared at every day! I wrote the manuscript rather quickly, then spent some time revising, editing, cutting out stanzas and adding new ones. Then I sent it off and held my breath. I wasn't sure Sylvan Dell would want a spoof on "Twas the Night Before Christmas," so I actually sent two versions of the story.

Q: What have been some of the highlights of the journey as your book went from manuscript to published book?
A: Seeing the illustrations, from initial sketches to final product was AMAZING. I cannot describe how it felt to see Ben Hodson's work and to know that he'd "gotten" what I'd written. His animal expressions, and his unique take on the story made it so much more than I could have imagined. Ben is an amazing artist, and such a nice person as well. I got very lucky.

Q: Share one tip you’d like to give to a children’s author about attending a writer’s conference.
A: Attend! Don't be shy. Don't sit in a corner. Don't nearly hyperventilate, like I did, when trying to approach an attending agent or editor. YOU matter. Your work matters. When you have the opportunity to create an impression on someone, even if it's just for a moment, seize it!

If you’re in the area, be sure to plan for “Zoo Day” and take your family to the Santa Ana Zoo on Saturday and Sunday, March 1 and 2. Catherine will be there both days from 10:00 to 2:00 to sign copies of her wonderful new book, ‘Twas the Day Before Zoo Day as they celebrate the birthday of the zoo!

IMPORTANT NOTICE:
Starting tomorrow, this blog will officially move to nancyisanders.wordpress.com. If you want to post a comment to today's blog, please visit the new site and post it there. Otherwise, it might get lost in the shuffle. Thanks!

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Book in A Month Club! Target A Publisher

Welcome to the Book in A Month Club! Throughout the month of March, I’ll be posting the step-by-step approach I take to writing a picture book from start to finish. I’ll also include picture book author interviews and editor interviews for houses who publish picture books. If you’ve ever wanted to write a picture book and get it published—this is the place to find out some insider’s tips.

The first thing I do BEFORE I write the manuscript is target a publisher. Why is this the first step I take? Well, for one thing, during this month I won’t be posting the right or the wrong way to do something. You’ll find plenty of that type of advice at writer’s conferences or in workshops. What I am sharing is what works for me. I’ve written over a hundred book manuscripts from start to finish that have all been rejected. Repeatedly. But when I target a publisher BEFORE I write the manuscript, I land the contract. I’ve had over 75 books published this way. So this is what works for me.

Here are tips for finding an editor/publisher who states exactly what type of manuscript he or she looking for:

1. Many times I read interviews of editors in the Children’s Writer: Newsletter of Writing and Publishing Trends. It’s the best resource I’ve found for editor interviews. About a year ago, I made it my goal to contact at least one editor from an interview in each issue—but I had to quit doing that because I landed so many book contracts I couldn’t add more to my calendar! This has been by far my most successful method of targeting a publisher. I also try to post editor interviews on my blog each month. Read their interviews and see exactly what they’re looking for right now.

2. Another way to find an editor is to attend a writer’s conference. Over a year ago, I attended a local SCBWI event and heard the publisher speak from Sylvan Dell. He told us exactly the kind of picture books he likes to publish: fiction stories with a nonfiction science slant that cover topics geared to state and national standards taught in elementary schools.

3. Another way to find a publisher to target is to seriously study the current issue of the CHILDREN’S WRITER’S & ILLUSTRATOR’S MARKET by Writer’s Market. Look for houses who publish books on topics or genre that interest you the most.

4. Go to the local bookstore and browse through current books until you find one that interests you and that you can say, “I’d like to write a book like this!”

5. Search for publishers on amazon.com. Look for certain types of books that interest you such as bedtime books or nonfiction wild animal books and see which houses are currently publishing these types of books.

6. Study the websites of various publishers that interest you until you find one that seems like it would be a match for the type of book you think you’d like to write.

For the BOOK IN A MONTH CLUB this year, I decided to target Sylvan Dell. You can choose your own publisher to target. But if you’d like to try your hand at writing a fiction story with a science theme, I invite you to target Sylvan Dell, too! Perhaps one of us will write a picture book manuscript that catches their eye.

Today’s challenge:
Study various publishers and choose one to target.

Coming tomorrow:
Stop by tomorrow on my blog to “meet” Catherine Ipcizade. She’s the brand new author of ‘TWAS THE DAY BEFORE ZOO DAY and she’ll share tips about how she landed the contract. Her book is published by Sylvan Dell, the very publisher I’m going to target for my manuscript this year for the Book In A Month Club!

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Book in A Month Club!

You’re invited to join the BOOK IN A MONTH CLUB! Each year in March one of my critique groups hosts this club as we try to write an entire book in just one month. It’s crazy…it’s zany…and it’s fun!

This year I’m planning to write a new picture book manuscript. Throughout the month of March, I’m hoping to post my progress here on the blog to help show you more about the world of writing a picture book from start to finish. You can follow along and write your book while I write mine.

So hop on board and join the fun! Better yet—get you entire critique group to agree to meet the challenge of trying to write the first draft of an entire book manuscript—in just one month! If you do, you become an official member of the club. Just let me know and I’ll explain how you can be e-mailed a logo you can add to your own blog or website and a printable certificate.

Kick-off day is Saturday, March 1st!

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Virtual Book Tour: Day 26

Left—Editor Aimee Jackson, Right—Author Nancy I. Sanders

For the very last day of my Virtual Book Tour, I’d like to extend a great big “Thank you!” to all the wonderful people who helped make it a success and who have shared such heart-felt enthusiasm for my newest picture book, D is for Drinking Gourd: An African American Alphabet.

First and foremost, I’d like to thank my great editor, Aimee Jackson. Aimee, you caught the vision for the book when I first contacted the publisher with the idea. And then you carried it all the way through to help make this book become a reality. Thanks for all your great input, your excitement for the project, and your outstanding expertise. And also—thanks for all the yummy recipes! It was fun to meet you in San Diego over the holidays.

Thank you to the amazingly talented artist and book illustrator, E. B. Lewis. E. B., you brought this manuscript to life. The paintings you created and the scenes you portrayed in the book have been simply over the top! It’s been a joy working with you and getting to be part of your world.

And thank you to Audrey Mitnick—my publicist at Sleeping Bear Press. Thanks for the great connections for stops on my tour and for all the timely advice, feedback, and suggestions you sent my way. You’re the best!

I also want to thank all the wonderful folks at Sleeping Bear Press who made this book what it is and who continue to work hard behind the scenes to bring D is for Drinking Gourd to the world. Sales, Marketing, Editorial, Design, etc.—what a great group to work with! Thank you, thank you, thank you!

And to all the wonderful people who have been a part of my Virtual Book Tour—thank you! From booksellers to writers to teachers to students to my critique groups to online guests…what a wonderful journey this has been together.

And now…drumroll please…I’d like to announce the winners of the 5 prizes I’m giving away to online guests. Each time you posted a comment on my blog during the tour or submitted an answer to the Trivia Questions, your name was put in a hat. Since each name could be in the contest numerous times, one of the winners won 2 prizes! Congratulations, and thanks for joining in the fun!


Gloria won a $25 gift card!
Carol won an African American history calendar!
Nomi won an African American history calendar!
Mrs. T. Melchiorre’s class won 2 prizes—a $25 gift card and an African American history calendar!


(Carol and Nomi, please contact me at jeffandnancys@gmail.com. E-mail me your street address so I can mail you your prize.)

Thanks again, everyone, for joining my Virtual Book Tour!

Monday, February 25, 2008

Virtual Book Tour: Day 25

Welcome back to my Virtual Book Tour! It’s been a great adventure together as we’ve celebrated the release of my newest picture book, D IS FOR DRINKING GOURD: AN AFRICAN AMERICAN ALPHABET in conjunction with Black History Month.


Today on our last official “stop” on the Virtual Book Tour, we’ll be visiting In Our Write Minds. This is the blog of the publishers of a wonderful writing program for teens called WRITESHOP. For the past few years, it’s been a delight to work with Kim Kautzer and Debbie Oldar as the author of their new soon-to-be-released writing program for early elementary students, WRITESHOP PRIMARY. Click on the link to learn more about this program, as well as how parents and teachers can use books such as D is for Drinking Gourd to help teach primary students to write.

Coming tomorrow:
Join me tomorrow on the last day of my tour as I announce the winners of the 5 prizes I’m giving away to online guests who posted comments during the tour and/or submitted answers to the Trivia Questions.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Virtual Book Tour: Day 24



My family flew from our home near Los Angeles, California into New York City last June to begin a week-long tour of historic sites. Many stops along our itinerary included historic African American sites. The very first place we visited was the African Burial Ground. Located at African Burial Ground Way, the memorial was still under construction.



The large sign posted said:
This enclosed area is a preserved part of the original AFRICAN BURIAL GROUND. Closed in 1794, African Burial Ground once covered more than five acres—about five city blocks. It is estimated that as many as 20,000 or more African men, women and children were buried in the original cemetery. Unearthed during building construction in 1991, the site is now a National Historic Landmark and within the New York City African Burial Ground and Commons Historic District. This surviving remnant of the burial ground is dedicated to the people who are buried here and to all who were enslaved n the city’s early history from 1626 until July 4, 1827, Emancipation Day in New York.



Everything seemed as if it was frozen in time. The day was quiet. It was a Sunday so there were no busy construction workers or other tourists. We had time to walk around the site…and think about America’s past…and wonder about our future…



We knew that the very ground we walked on was holy ground. Underneath our feet were memories of pain and suffering and sorrow. Yet as we looked at the memorial stones standing ready to be put in place, our hearts felt hope for the days and years ahead.

If you would like to learn more about African Burial Ground, read the insightful book, Breaking Ground, Breaking Silence by Joyce Hansen and Gary McGowan.

You can also visit these informative sites:
The African Burial Ground
Schomburg Center’s The African Burial Ground
National Park Service African Burial Ground
African Burial Ground Opens in Manhattan
African Burial Ground Memorial Opens in New York City

Coming tomorrow:
On Monday, Day 25 of the Virtual Book Tour, we’ll make our last stop of the tour to visit the website of a wonderful program that teaches kids to write. Then we’ll finish the tour on Tuesday when I’ll announce the winners of the 5 prizes I’m giving away!

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Virtual Book Tour: Day 23



Black pharaohs in Egypt, ancient empires of gold,
royal caravans to Timbuktu;
R is for African Roots
and the glories that Africa once knew.
-from D is for Drinking Gourd: An African American Alphabet






In great cities such as Timbuktu, many people were well educated and enjoyed a wealthy lifestyle. Kings and rulers were among the wealthiest of all. They dressed in splendid clothes, wore beautiful jewelry, held fancy swords, and sometimes carried scepters made of gold.




MAKE A KING'S SCEPTER
Materials
(Adult supervision required)
Scissors
2 paper bowls (plastic or Styrofoam do now work as well)
2- or 3-foot long cardboard tube from gift wrapping paper
Glue
Styrofoam ball about 2 inches in diameter
Gold acrylic craft paint
Paint brush

Use the scissors to carefully cut a hole in the bottom center of each bowl. The holes should measure the same size as the diameter of the cardboard tube. Slide the two bowls, rims facing each other, onto one end of the cardboard tube, about 1/4-inch down from the edge. Use a small amount of glue to hold them in place. Glue the rims of the bowls together. Allow to dry.

Glue the Stryofoam ball onto the cardboard tube, just above the bowls. Paint the entire scepter gold.
-from A Kid's Guide to African American History

Coming tomorrow:
On Day 24 of my Virtual Book Tour, I'll post photos of the African Burial Ground in New York City. My family and I visited this historic site last June, while the memorial was still under construction.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Virtual Book Tour: Day 22



On August 28, 1963, nearly 250,000 people gathered in Washington D.C. to support civil rights and the end of segregation. This date in history became known as the March on Washington.

The most famous speech that day was “I Have a Dream” by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Already an important leader in the Civil Rights Movement, Dr. King led numerous marches and crusades in support of equal rights, including the famous children’s march and the Montgomery Bus Boycott, sparked when Rosa Parks was arrested because she refused to move to the back of the bus.



When my family and I visited Washington D.C. last June, we climbed the steps of the Lincoln Memorial and stood on the spot where Dr. King gave his historic speech. His words reached out to challenge the citizens of America to truly live by the words written in the Declaration of Independence, and to accept and believe that “all men are created equal.”



As we looked out toward the Washington Memorial from the very spot where he gave his unforgettable speech, Dr. King’s words still rang in my ears, “I have a dream…” His dream was about children playing together and holding hands and growing up together to respect each other and honor each other as fellow human beings…and his dream has become my dream, too. That is why I wrote the book, D is for Drinking Gourd: An African American Alphabet.



Today, this great man in the history of our nation is honored in our nation’s capital. This is the statue of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in the rotunda. I was deeply moved when I saw it.

As we are drawing near to the end of my Virtual Book Tour, I remember a question one of the students from a classroom in Texas asked me during the tour: “What do you think was the worst thing ‘white people’ did to African Americans?” My answer was simply, “I think the worst thing is that people were not kind to other people. No matter how different someone is from you, it’s important to always be kind.” If we can just remember to be kind to one another, we can help make Dr. King’s dream a reality.

Yesterday’s Trivia Q and A:
Yesterday’s question was:
Who was the first African American to serve as Poet Laureate of the Library of Congress?
a. Rita Dove
b. Dorothy Bates
c. Daniel Payne
The answer is: a. Rita Dove. In 1993, the Library of Congress appointed Rita Dove as Poet Laureate. In this honored position, among other duties, she participated in the numerous poetry and literature programs at the Library and offered advice for the Library’s collections and archive.

Coming tomorrow:
Stop by on Day 23 of the Virtual Book Tour for directions for a fun craft to make. Our tour will soon be wrapping up to a close. The last day of the tour will be next Tuesday when I’ll announce the winners of the 5 prizes I’m giving away! Also, check out this link to a brand new blog, In Our Write Minds. This blog will be the last stop on my Virtual Book Tour next Monday and today they posted a "preview." Check it out!

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Virtual Book Tour: Day 21




For today’s stop on my Virtual Book Tour, I’d like to invite you to explore some of the informational Websites I visit as I research material for the books I write.

Africans in America
The Underground Railroad
BlackPast.org
The African American Mosaic
History Channel: Celebrate Black History Month
Documenting the American South
Guide to African American Documentary Resources

Just for Kids!
Here are Web sites that are fun to visit and help you learn more about African American history!

Time for Kids
Kulture Kidz
Escape to Freedom

Yesterday’s Trivia Q and A:
Yesterday’s question was:
Which quilt artist was famous for her two Bible quilts?
a. Augusta Savage
b. Alice Coachman Davis
c. Harriet Powers
The answer is: c. Harriet Powers. Keeping the African tradition of storytelling alive, African American women often sewed designs on quilts that told stories. In the late 1800s, Harriet Powers stitched beautiful quilts with the heart of a storyteller. Her two most famous Bible quilts are now owned by museums.

Today’s Trivia Question:
Who was the first African American to serve as Poet Laureate of the Library of Congress?
a. Rita Dove
b. Dorothy Bates
c. Daniel Payne
Today is the very last trivia question, so submit your answer by posting it as a comment to today’s blog. It won’t be published on the blog, but your name will be put in a hat to be drawn for 5 prizes to give away on Tuesday, the last day of the tour. Check back in tomorrow for the answer!

Coming tomorrow:
On Day 22 of my Virtual Book Tour, we’ll be paying a special tribute in honor of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Truly, he dedicated his life to helping bring equal rights to our nation.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Virtual Book Tour: Day 20

Today’s stop on the tour is dedicated to the students in Mrs. Lamar’s and Mr. Sanders’ fourth grade classes at Fairmont Elementary School in Yorba Linda, California. Thanks for all the great questions you sent in for me to answer! Click on the video to find out more about what it’s like to be an author and how a book is published. After you watch the video, be sure to come to Open House tonight and drop in at the Book Fair. Stop at my table and say “Hi!” I’ll be signing copies there of my newest book, D is for Drinking Gourd!



Yesterday’s Trivia Q and A:
Yesterday’s question was:
What was Ida Wells Barnett known as?
a. Champion ice skater
b. Princess of the press
c. Jazz singer
The answer is: b. Princess of the press. Ida Wells Barnett investigated and reported in the newspaper about the terrible things that were happening in our nation as a result of racism. Her brave stand against injustice and passion for equal rights helped bring many important changes in America.

Today’s Trivia Question:
Which quilt artist was famous for her two Bible quilts?
a. Augusta Savage
b. Alice Coachman Davis
c. Harriet Powers
Submit your answer by posting it as a comment to today’s blog. It won’t be published on the blog, but your name will be put in a hat to be drawn for 5 prizes to give away at the end of the tour. Check back in tomorrow for the answer!

Coming tomorrow:
On Day 21 of my Virtual Book Tour, we’ll be visiting some of my favorite sites to learn more about African American history.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Virtual Book Tour: Day 19

For today’s stop on the tour, we’re making another visit to Brown Sugar & Spice. As you may already know, this online bookseller specializes in Black History books for children and families. To view the original post there of a video where I answer questions for students in Pomona Unified School District, click on this video:



Just for Kids!
A lot of kids from classrooms all across the country have asked me a question: “How long have you been writing?” I think that some of you want to know the answer because you already like to write, too! And yes, I started writing when I was a kid. I liked to write poetry. I never dreamed I’d grow up to be a writer, though. I didn’t start writing for a career until after I was married and had two children. That was 22 years ago. I remember how long that was because I started writing just after my youngest son was born—and now he’s 22 years old! But I didn’t get any books published until about five years after I started to write. It took me that long to learn about all the various technical things a person needs to know to type a manuscript up and send it into a publisher.

Yesterday’s Trivia Q and A:
Yesterday’s question was:
Who was a famous inventor?
a. Lewis Latimer
b. Madam C. J. Walker
c. Lonnie Johnson
d. All of the above
The answer is: d. All of the above. Lewis Latimer invented a better filament to be used in lightbulbs. Madam C. J. Walker invented hair product and beauty creams. And Lonnie Johnson designed an invention that kids love—the Super Soaker®!

Today’s Trivia Question:
What was Ida Wells Barnett known as?
a. Champion ice skater
b. Princess of the press
c. Jazz singer
Submit your answer by posting it as a comment to today’s blog. It won’t be published on the blog, but your name will be put in a hat to be drawn for 5 prizes to give away at the end of the tour. Check back in tomorrow for the answer!

Coming tomorrow:
On Day 20 of my Virtual Book Tour, I’ll be posting a video that’s dedicated to the students at Fairmont Elementary School in Yorba Linda, California where my husband teaches fourth grade. Later that day, I’ll be appearing in person at their school Book Fair for a booksigning of my newest picture book, D is for Drinking Gourd: An African American Alphabet. Mark your calendars and come join in the fun!

Monday, February 18, 2008

Virtual Book Tour: Day 18

Welcome back to my Virtual Book Tour! Since February 1, we’ve been celebrating Black History Month and the release of my newest picture book D IS FOR DRINKING GOURD: AN AFRICAN AMERICAN ALPHABET BOOK. I'm glad you've stopped by to join in the fun!

Today, we're visiting the blog of Lorrie Flem. She’s the publisher of
Teach Magazine, the great magazine for home-schooling families. Click on the link to read the interview about D is for Drinking Gourd: An African American Alphabet!

Just for Kids!
Here are some picture books on my bookshelves at home. I thought it might be fun for you to look these titles up in your school or public library or get them at a bookstore and read them, too.
The Other Side by Jacqueline Woodson, illustrated by E. B. Lewis
Goin’ Someplace Special by Patricia C. McKissack
In the Hollow of Your Hand: Slave Lullabies, with CD, sung by Alice McGill
Black Cowboy Wild Horses by Julius Lester
Masai and I by Virginia Kroll
Pass It On: African-American Poetry for Children, selected by Wade Hudson
Back Home by Gloria Jean Pinkney, illustrated by Jerry Pinkney
Momma, Where are You From? By Marie Bradby
Max Found Two Sticks by Brian Pinkney
Pink and Say by Patricia Polacco

Here’s the Top Ten list from last week. There are so many African American writers that it’s impossible to list them all, but here’s a start:

The Top Ten African American writers
1. Langston Hughes
2. Alex Haley
3. Maya Angelou
4. Gwendolyn Brooks
5. James Baldwin
6. Toni Morrison
7. Alice Walker
8. Henry Louis Gates, Jr.
9. Lerone Bennett, Jr.
10. Virginia Hamilton

Saturday’s Trivia Q and A:
Saturday’s question was:
Which woman was appointed as Secretary of State in 2005 for the United States?
a. Mary McLeod Bethune
b. Carol Moseley Braun
c. Condoleezza Rice
The answer is: c. Condoleezza Rice. In 2001, Condoleezza Rice became the National Security Advisor, a very important position in the government of the United States. Then in 2005, she became the Secretary of State. This influential position often puts her at the side of the President and takes her all around the world.

Today’s Trivia Question:
Who was a famous inventor?
a. Lewis Latimer
b. Madam C. J. Walker
c. Lonnie Johnson
d. All of the above
Submit your answer by posting it as a comment to today’s blog. It won’t be published on the blog, but your name will be put in a hat to be drawn for 5 prizes to give away at the end of the tour. Check back in tomorrow for the answer!

Coming tomorrow:
On day 19 of my Virtual Book Tour, we’ll be stopping by to visit Brown Sugar & Spice again. This wonderful bookseller specializes in books about Black History for children and families. A new video will be posted there where I answer questions from students in Pomona Unified School District!

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Virtual Book Tour: Day 17



When my family and I took a trip back east this past June, we spent a day driving down from Washington D.C. to visit Monticello. This famous plantation home was owned by President Thomas Jefferson. It was also the home for many enslaved African Americans, including Sally Hemings.

Historical reports portray Sally Hemings as fair-skinned with a marked resemblance to her white half-sister Martha. (They had the same father but different mothers—Sally’s mother was a slave.) Yet because of laws stating the children of enslaved African American women were born a slave, Sally lived most of her life as the slave of Thomas Jefferson—compared to her half-sister Martha who was Thomas Jefferson’s wife.

When Sally and Martha’s father died, Sally and her mother and the rest of her enslaved family became the property of Martha and Thomas Jefferson. Only an infant, Sally was taken with the other slaves to live at Monticello. Sally grew up at Monticello as a house servant, learning to sew and do domestic work. She also helped take care of her cousins, the Jefferson’s two daughters.



After Monticello was built, the part of the house you see in the picture above was where much of the work was done to maintain the house. The Kitchen, the Cook’s Room, and the Washhouse were here. African Americans who were enslaved spent many hours in this part of the house, working hard to keep the great estate running smoothly.



This hallway runs underneath the house. It was often used during stormy or wintry weather. Food from the kitchen could be carried through this passage and taken up to the dining room where the Jefferson family was eating or entertaining famous guests.



There were many other African Americans who were enslaved at Monticello along with Sally Hemings and her family. This is a picture of Isaac Jefferson. He was a metalworker and worked at Monticello as a blacksmith, a tinsmith, and a nailer. When Isaac Jefferson was elderly, he was interviewed about his life. Copies of that memoir can still be read today. In his memoir, Isaac Jefferson mentioned Sally Hemings as well as described the different members of his family and other workers on the plantation. He talked about what it was like to live at Monticello. You can read Isaac Jefferson’s memoir by clicking on the link to the Special Collections Library at the University of Virginia Library.



Coming Tomorrow:
On Day 18 of my Virtual Book Tour, we’ll list the Top Ten Writers, post trivia questions, and more! Send in your answer to the trivia question and have your name put in a hat--prizes will be given away next week at the end of the tour.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Virtual Book Tour: Day 16

For today’s special treat on my Virtual Book Tour, let’s take a look back in history to the late 1800s—the years just after the Civil War.

Times were hard for everyone, so people joined together to help each other. Fundraisers were held to raise money to build new schools or churches, or to help people such as a family whose barn burned down.

Not only were fundraisers a time to raise money, but they were also a time for socializing with neighbors and having fun. At a fundraiser, the Cakewalk dance contest was often held, and the best dancer won a cake. Beautiful quilts were displayed and auctioned off for the cause. Delicious food was sold. Other contests were held and games were played.



One game that helped raise money was the egg-cracking game. Dozens of hard-boiled eggs were available in large washtubs for players to buy. Players paid a quarter for each egg they used in the game.

To play the game, each player chooses about three hard-boiled eggs. The game is played with two eggs at a time, between two players. Each of the two players holds out the small, pointed end of their hard-boiled eggs. They tap the end of their egg against the other’s. One of the eggs will crack. The owner of this egg is the loser. The loser hands the cracked egg over to the person whose egg didn’t crack. The cracked egg belongs to this person for the rest of the contest.

Now the players are ready to play the game again. They may choose a new partner to play with or may play against each other again if they’d like. The winner may use the same egg over and over again until it cracks. Each time the game is played, the cracked egg is handed over to the winner of that round.

When the contest is over, it’s fun to see who has won the most cracked eggs. The cracked eggs can be taken home and eaten plain or made into deviled eggs or egg salad. (Be careful to keep eggs refrigerated as much as possible for health reasons.) Since spring is almost here and there will be Easter egg hunts going on, it might also be fun to play this historic game and have an egg-cracking party with your eggs, too!

-text and illustration from A Kid’s Guide to African American History

Yesterday’s Trivia Q and A:
Yesterday’s question was:
Where did Charlotte Forten teach?
a. the South Carolina Sea Islands
b. California
c. Texas
The answer is a. the South Carolina Sea Islands. Charlotte Forten was the granddaughter of the famous and wealthy black abolitionist, James Forten. She was also the niece of Robert and Harriet Purvis, whose work with the anti-slavery societies and Underground Railroad in Philadelphia helped bring slavery to an end. During the Civil War, Charlotte Forten volunteered to teach newly freed slaves from the plantations on the South Carolina Sea Islands. Her famous journal, or personal diary, can still be read today and tells of many interesting events that took place during this important time of our nation’s history.

Today’s Trivia Question:
Which woman was appointed as Secretary of State in 2005 for the United States?
a. Mary McLeod Bethune
b. Carol Moseley Braun
c. Condoleezza Rice
Submit your answer by posting it as a comment to today’s blog. It won’t be published on the blog, but your name will be put in a hat to be drawn for 5 prizes to give away at the end of the tour. Check back in Monday for the answer!

Coming tomorrow:
On Day 17 of my Virtual Book Tour, I’ll post photos of Monticello from my trip when I visited this historic site last June. This was the home of Sally Hemings, who lived most of her life as the slave of Thomas Jefferson.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Virtual Book Tour: Day 15

Today’s stop on the tour is dedicated to the students in Mrs. Walshe and Mrs. Herrera’s First Grade Class at Oak Ridge Elementary School in Chino Hills, California! It’s so much fun to have you here on the tour today! And thank you for sending me such interesting questions. I've really enjoyed thinking of the answers.



Q: Do you write every day?
A: Yes…and no. Right now I am writing fulltime which means I write every day while you’re in school. But I usually don’t write on the weekends. And I take vacations, too! When I wrote the book, D is for Drinking Gourd: An African American Alphabet, I worked on writing it almost every day, except for weekends and holidays. This is a picture of me writing D is for Drinking Gourd. I sat on our couch and wrote most of the text by hand, then later moved to the office to type the words into the computer.

Q: Do you have pets?
A: Yes. Humphrey, our cat, and Lucy, our dog, are my writing buddies! When I sit on the couch to write, Humphrey often jumps up on the matching couch. He likes to lay upside-down on his back and stretch out to watch me. Doesn’t he look funny? Sometimes while I’m writing, he tries to hide underneath the couch. He used to be able to do that when he was little and was a kitten, but now that he weighs 21 pounds, he doesn’t fit! He thinks I can’t see him, but I can. Can you see him, too?



Here’s a picture of Lucy. She is part dachshund. Can you tell she has very short legs? Lucy and Humphrey are about the same size and they like to play tag. They chase each other around and around the couch, even while I’m writing! (Humphrey cheats, though! He jumps over the top of the couch and then “tags” Lucy by jumping down on her when Lucy runs to the other side.)



Q: How long does it take to write a story?
A: When I wrote D is for Drinking Gourd, it took me three months to write it. Most pictures books take me that long. Some books take me longer to write. I’m starting to write a brand new book this week. My deadline is in December. There will be a lot of research and a lot of pages in this new book, so it will take me longer.



Q: How do you think of your characters?
A: Some characters in my books are real people. So I try to find out all about them. I read about what they did and then I like to ask, “Why?” For instance, when I wrote the page “F is for Founding Fathers,” I discovered that James Forten joined the American Revolution as a kid. He sailed on a small ship and helped carry gunpowder to load the cannons. I wanted to know why? Why would a kid want to join the American Revolution to fight against the British? So when I went back to Philadelphia last year on a family trip, I went to the address where his house used to be when he was growing up. I stood on the corner and looked around. There, through the treetops, I saw Independence Hall! He grew up close enough to Independence Hall to see it from his house. And I also learned that when the Declaration of Independence was read aloud for the very first time just outside of Independence Hall, James Forten joined the crowd and listened. Knowing all this helped me understand how much James Forten believed in freedom. He fought for freedom in the American Revolution when he was young. And when he grew up and became very wealthy, he was an abolitionist and helped lead the fight to bring freedom and equal rights to all people in America.

Q: Are all your stories true stories?
A: No. Some are true stories, some are half true and half fiction, and some are completely make-believe! I like to write different stories at different times.

Q: What do you read for fun?
A: Some of my favorite books to read are encyclopedia sets about African American history. My other favorite books are picture books and classic children’s books. Right now I’m reading the Laura Ingalls Wilder series of Little House in the Big Woods. Just before that I read Charlotte’s Web. And I’m in the middle of listening to a book on tape of The Secret Garden.

Thanks again, to the students at Oak Ridge! It was nice that you could join my Virtual Book Tour.

Just for Kids!
Do you have a favorite book? If you know how to read it yourself, you could make a recording of yourself reading it aloud. You could add fun sound effects and ring a bell each time the page is supposed to be turned. Then you could share the recording with your friends. If you don’t know how to read it yourself, you could tell the story in your own words and record it on a DVD to share with your friends. You could even make up your own story, write it down, draw pictures to go with it, and make it into a book. Then you could make a recording of yourself reading your very own book out loud. Doesn’t that sound like fun?

Yesterday’s Trivia Q and A:
Yesterday’s question was:
Why was Martin Delany famous?
a. As an explorer
b. As a major in the Union Army
c. As a leading abolitionist
d. All of the above
The answer is: d. All of the above. A gifted leader, Martin Delany led an amazing life. He traveled tirelessly on the antislavery lecture circuit, speaking frequently at abolitionist meetings across the northern United States. He explored the northern continent of Africa in hopes of establishing a colony where blacks could live a life of freedom. When Civil War broke out, he met with President Lincoln and encouraged him to assign blacks as officers. He, himself, was commissioned as a major in the Union Army, the highest ranking black officer in the Civil War!

Today’s Trivia Question:
Where did Charlotte Forten teach?
a. the South Carolina Sea Islands
b. California
c. Texas
Submit your answer by posting it as a comment to today’s blog. It won’t be published on the blog, but your name will be put in a hat to be drawn for 5 prizes to give away at the end of the tour. Check back in tomorrow for the answer!

Coming tomorrow:
On Day 16 of my Virtual Book Tour, I’ll be posting information about a fun activity you can do with your family, friends, or class. Stop on by!

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Virtual Book Tour: Day 14




Today’s stop on the tour is once again dedicated to the awesome students at Glenwood Avenue Elementary School, located on an island in Wildwood, New Jersey! I’m so glad you’re a part of my Virtual Book Tour. I also want to extend a personal thanks for these amazing teachers who have helped make this all happen: Mrs. Sharpe, Mrs. Cardaci, Mrs. K. Melchioree, Mrs. T. Melchiorre, and Ms. Sholtis.

Last week students sent in questions to interview E. B. Lewis, the award-winning illustrator of D is for Drinking Gourd. This week, I’ll be answering questions they asked me as the author. What great questions they wanted to know!

Q: Did you write this book to educate others? Because I did learn things about African-American history.
A: Yes, one of the main reasons I wrote this book was to educate people about the amazing contributions and wonderful accomplishments African Americans have done. I wanted kids just like you to learn all the exciting things I had learned about African-American history. I wanted you to learn these things so you could tell your friends. I wanted you to know about these things so you could tell your parents or your grandparents. I wanted you to read about these things so you could talk about them with your teacher and in class.

Q: What kind of adventures did you have when doing the research for this book?
A: During the three months I was actually writing the book, I spent most of my time writing. But during the years leading up to this book, I have done lots of research which took me on many fun adventures! I attended a Juneteenth celebration in my hometown with my family and friends. At the elementary school where my husband teaches, I heard a woman act as Sojourner Truth and tell her amazing story. I saw a man act as Frederick Douglass and deliver one of his most famous speeches about the Fourth of July. I love to visit the California African American Museum in Los Angeles where, among other things, the beautiful art of quilt artist Faith Ringgold is on display. I continue to experience amazing adventures as I do more research about African American history wherever and whenever I can.

Q: How much research do you have to do for this kind of informational book?
A: A lot. I had been researching African American history for over five years when I wrote this book. I have more than 100 books about African American history on my bookshelves in my office and in the room where I read to do my research. My husband and friends help me by clipping out newspaper articles about African American history or printing out stories from the Internet to help me know about current topics in the news. Yet I want to keep doing more research because there is so much I don’t know! And since I write for children, I want to tell kids everywhere all about the amazing things I discover during research.

Q: What made you choose the letter D for the title instead of the rest of the alphabet?
A: I tried to think of a title for the book that would talk about hope and courage and triumph. I felt that the Drinking Gourd and the people who followed the North Star north to freedom expressed this spirit of hope and courage and triumph in a very special way. That’s why I chose this title. I also knew that many people had heard of the Drinking Gourd, so I felt using it as part of the title would catch people’s interest, too.

Q: What kind of inventions did you see when you researched for this book?
A: I saw so many! If you would like to see some of the same ones I saw, click on the link to visit the website About.com:Black Inventors A-Z There are links to the biographies of many famous inventors and some of the pages even have pictures of their inventions! Another great website to visit is the Black Inventor Online Museum. Visit both sites and have fun learning more about these amazing men and women inventors.

Q: When you are writing and get stuck…what do you do to get ‘unstuck’?
A: I got stuck lots of times when I was writing D is for Drinking Gourd. If I got stuck while I was writing one of the poems, I took a walk or worked in my garden or did chores such as ironing or washing dishes. The active movement helped clear my foggy brain so I could think creative thoughts again. If I got stuck while I was working on the facts along the sides of each page, I got a book out about that person and read it for awhile. Or I looked that topic up on the Internet. Reading what other people wrote about that person or topic helped give me ideas to get back to writing again.

Q: Did you always want to be a writer?
A: No. When I was in high school, I wanted to be a biochemist and work in a laboratory doing experiments. By the time I started college, I wanted to be an English teacher. After that I changed my mind and wanted to be a nurse. Finally, I decided to be a writer. I’ve been writing for 22 years now and have written over 75 books. Now I can’t imagine doing anything else!

Thanks again, students at Glenwood Avenue! It’s been great having you be part of the Virtual Book Tour.

Just for Kids!
Now that you’ve learned a little bit more about how to make an alphabet book, would you like to make your own alphabet book, too? First pick a topic to write about such as Inventors or Sports or Favorite Books. You can even make your own alphabet book about African American history! Make a list of the letters of the alphabet on a piece of paper from top to bottom. Think of one word to write down for each letter. Hard letters like X can be in the middle of a word like explorers. When your list is complete, make a separate page for each letter of the alphabet book. Write the word or a sentence about that word—or even a whole paragraph about it—on your paper. Then draw a picture for each letter. When you’re done, put all the pages together in a book. You can put them in a 3-ring notebook or a book report folder. Or you can make your own cover from sturdy poster board and use brads or paper fasteners to hold it together. And if you get your book done quickly, you can even enter it in an alphabet book contest at Winterthur’s Alphabet Book Contest. Click on the link to find out more information about the contest rules.

Yesterday’s Trivia Q and A:
Yesterday’s question was:
Which U.S. Marshal was famous for keeping law in the wild Wild West in the territory that eventually became the state of Oklahoma?
a. Bass Reeves
b. Nat Love
c. David Ruggles
The answer is: a. Bass Reeves. Known as the “invincible marshal,” Bass Reeves brought law and order to the territory which eventually became the state of Oklahoma. It was wild and rugged, and home to many feared outlaws. For 32 years, Reeves had amazing adventures capturing over 3000 outlaws and bringing them into justice.

Today’s Trivia Question:
Why was Martin Delany famous?
a. As an explorer
b. As a major in the Union Army
c. As a leading abolitionist
d. All of the above
Submit your answer by posting it as a comment to today’s blog. It won’t be published on the blog, but your name will be put in a hat to be drawn for 5 prizes to give away at the end of the tour. Check back in tomorrow for the answer!

Coming tomorrow:
On Day 15 of my Virtual Book Tour, I’ll be answering questions for first grade students at a school near where I live—Oak Ridge Elementary School in Chino Hills, California. Be sure to hop on board tomorrow and join in the fun!

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Virtual Book Tour: Day 13




Thanks for joining my Virtual Book Tour! Today we’re taking a closer look into how D is for Drinking Gourd: An African American Alphabet, was illustrated.

I interviewed artist E. B. Lewis about the illustration process. Here’s part of the interview:

Q: Why did you decide to illustrate this book?
A: I’ve always wanted to do an alphabet book. Many children’s book illustrators want to illustrate at least one alphabet book. To be honest, though, when I thought about most alphabet books, they seemed kind of hokey. But when I saw the manuscript for D is for Drinking Gourd, I felt that this was really different! The events that are highlighted and the layout of the book is great. The way Sleeping Bear Press lays out their alphabet books give the reader so much interesting information! I thought, “Why not jump on this? This is just down my alley!” It connected my two passions: literature and art. There’s a perfect marriage here.

Q: Describe the process you go through to illustrate a book.
A: My process is a little different than most. Initially, when I first came into children’s books, I sat down and went through the illustration process in my head. I created thumbnail sketches and created a storyboard. The illustration process is a visual interpretation of the written word. It’s a different language. It’s a translation as if I were translating your words into French. I need to explain the story you just told to me and I need to explain it to my people whose language is a visual one. How do I do this? How do I explain the story to my people who have no concept of the English language? That’s the process I go through in my head.

Now I take the manuscript and go directly to the publisher. I sit down with the editor, the art director, and the designer. The four of us sit down and we go through the process together. It’s a team process. The team should get involved in the beginning rather than the middle. I’m probably the only one who works like that. I draw right in the office. I’m probably the only illustrator who does that. Many artists are so possessive of our work. Many of us feel that to put us together with someone takes something away. I see it as the opposite. I see this as a team.

Q: How did you decide on the cover?
A: The cover basically was a combination of my idea and the editor and the art director. My initial idea can be seen on the title page of the book. It’s an illustration of a family escaping from slavery, looking up at the Drinking Gourd in the night sky. Here’s a pencil sketch of my original concept for the cover as well as the pencil sketches for the first page of the book “A is for Abolitionists.”




I flew to the office of Sleeping Bear Press and we sat down together as a group. We decided to use a different idea for the cover. The editor, art director, and I came up with the concept of a girl gazing up to the sky. It was a collaborative event.

Q: Describe a highlight of working on this book.
A: Often when I’m in the middle of the process of doing a book and thinking about the models and characters, I think about it all the time. I travel with it. It’s something that shapes my day. I went on a school visit to Columbia, South Carolina. I went there knowing we had changed the idea of the cover. It was no longer the initial one of a family escaping from slavery. We decided to make the cover more of a universal appeal. Even though the book focuses on African American history, it’s really American history. Everyone related to the concept of having a picture of a girl on the cover. I had this concept in my head of a little girl looking up at the sky.

When I went on the school visit to Columbia, a little girl was in the audience. She was in the class I was speaking to. I spotted her and thought she’d be perfect for the cover. I spoke to the teacher and thought of two places to use her image in the book—one on the cover and one in the interior. I always take photos of all my subjects, so I took pictures of this little girl. All the shots I took were of a frontal view.

I showed the photos to the editorial team. They looked at them and said they’d prefer a profile. Then I had to find a different little girl.

I was on a lunch break at the university where I teach when I saw a little girl and her mom coming down the escalator. I approached them and said, “I’m a children’s book illustrator and your daughter would be perfect on the cover of my new book!” The mom was very skeptical. She gave me her card. I noticed she was a lawyer. My best friend is a lawyer. I asked her if she knew my friend. She said yes, so I called my friend. He spoke with her on the phone. He said, “Definitely run far away from him!” They had a good laugh over that. Not long after that, I went over to her house and did a photoshoot. That’s how I got her picture to use as a model for my painting on the cover.




E. B. Lewis is the acclaimed illustrator of many award-winning picture books including the 2005 Caldecott Honor Book, “Coming On Home Soon.” His 2004 “Circle Unbroken” was named a Booklist Top 10 Black History Books for Youth. His book “Talkin’ About Bessie: The Story of Elizabeth Coleman” won a Coretta Scott King Illustration Award. Mr. Lewis teaches illustration at the University of the Arts in Philadelphia. His work is included in major private collections, galleries, and museums. For more information about this outstanding artist, visit his website at www.eblewis.com.

Yesterday’s Trivia Q and A:
Yesterday’s question was:
About how many Black cowboys rode the Chisholm Trail during the late 1800s?
a. 50
b. 500
c. 5000
The answer is: c. 5000. During the time of the long Texas cattle drives from the 1870s to the 1890s, one out of every five cowboys was an African American. There are still many African American cowboys today.

Today’s Trivia Question:
Which U.S. Marshal was famous for keeping law in the wild Wild West in the territory that eventually became the state of Oklahoma?
a. Bass Reeves
b. Nat Love
c. David Ruggles
Submit your answer by posting it as a comment to today’s blog. It won’t be published on the blog, but your name will be put in a hat to be drawn for 5 prizes to give away at the end of the tour. Check back in tomorrow for the answer!

Coming tomorrow:
On Day 14 of my Virtual Book Tour, I’ll be answering questions for students at Glenwood Avenue Elementary School in Wildwood, New Jersey. Be sure to stop in and join the fun!

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Virtual Book Tour: Day 12

For today’s stop on the tour, we made another visit to Brown Sugar & Spice. For those of you who are visiting my tour for the very first time today, this wonderful bookstore specializes in Black History books for children and families. Be sure to bookmark this site as the place to go to purchase top-quality books with a value! Here's the video that was originally posted on that site:



Just for Kids:
A lot of kids want to know where I get my ideas to write about. I’ll tell you a secret—I have a special place where I keep my ideas! Ideas come at such strange moments. I might be brushing my teeth. I might be eating dinner at a restaurant with my friends. I might be walking into the mall. So when I get an idea, I grab a piece of paper and—quick! I write it down before it gets away from me. (And yes, I always carry a pen and a piece of paper wherever I go.) Then, when I get home, I go to my special place and put that piece of paper in there with all my other ideas. That’s so that next time, when someone asks me to write a story, and I don’t know what to say, I just go to my special place and pull out all my ideas. Right away I find an idea that interests me and that I’d like to write about. My special place is a file folder in my desk drawer right next to where I sit every day and write. On the file folder in big, pink letters it says: IDEAS! You can make a special place to keep your ideas, too. Get a file box and put some index cards inside. Decorate the outside with stickers and designs. Then put the box in a special place. If you get an idea about something you like, run and get the box. Quick! Write your idea down on an index card and put it back in the box. The next time your teacher or someone asks you to write a story, go to your special place. Get out your idea box. Look through your list of ideas until you find something you really, really want to write about. Then have fun writing your story!

Yesterday’s Trivia Q and A:
Yesterday’s question was:
Which state was the first to officially abolish slavery within its borders?
a. Virginia
b. New York
c. Vermont
The answer is: c. Vermont. In 1777, Vermont became the first state to officially bring an end to slavery within its borders. One by one, other states in the North followed Vermont’s example.

Today’s Trivia Question:
About how many Black cowboys rode the Chisholm Trail during the late 1800s?
a. 50
b. 500
c. 5000
Submit your answer by posting it as a comment to today’s blog. It won’t be published on the blog, but your name will be put in a hat to be drawn for 5 prizes to give away at the end of the tour. Check back in tomorrow for the answer!

Coming tomorrow:
On Day 13 of my Virtual Book Tour, we’ll be learning more about the illustration process the original manuscript of D is for Drinking Gourd went through to become the beautiful picture book it is today!

Monday, February 11, 2008

Virtual Book Tour: Day 11

Today’s stop on the tour is dedicated to Mrs. Riddle’s 4th Grade computer class at New Braunfels Christian Academy. Welcome to the tour—you’re joining us all the way from Texas! And thank you for sending such wonderful questions. They were challenging and fun to answer.



The Interview:
Q: Did you think history was fun when you were a kid?
A: History was the hardest thing for me in school! It was hard for me to remember all those dates and names. But now, history is one of my favorite things to study! I’ve learned that history is about people and their stories, not just a bunch of dates and names. Now I study history and try to get to know people from the past. I love it!

Q: Have you ever gone to Africa?
A: No. But I have a dear friend who is from Africa. She grew up in Ghana, a country in Africa. This past summer, she took her children back to visit her home in Ghana. When she returned, she brought me a beautiful box made of ebony. Ebony is a dark black wood from Africa that has been valued for centuries! My friend also brought me back a DVD of a slave fort in Ghana called Elmina Castle. It is near where she grew up. During the slave trade, Africans were captured and put inside the fort. They had to walk through a little doorway called “the door of no return” and then were put onto a slave ship. My friend and her children walked through that door this summer. She said it was a very sad experience to remember the pain so many people felt. My friend also showed me many photos of her trip and of her beautiful family, many of whom still live in Ghana today!



Q: Do you know anything about Africa?
A: I love learning about Africa! Just recently, I discovered a brand new thing about it that I had never known. I learned about an ancient city called Kano that is now in northern Nigeria. Long, long ago it was one of the most important cities in the world! Starting around 1000 AD, there were seven ancient walled cities, or birane, built in northern Nigeria by the Hausa-speaking people. Some of its wall is still standing, as you can see in the photograph just above. Kano was one of the most important of these cities. Caravans arrived here from across the great Sahara desert. These caravans came looking for the many important and valuable items the people in Kano had to trade. People in Kano knew how to work with metal. They produced blue cotton cloth that was famous for its beauty and craftsmanship. They had spices and leather and pottery to trade. During the Middle Ages, Kano was an important city famous for its scholarship, religion, and trade.

Q: How much do you know about Martin Luther King, Jr.?
A: I have read a lot about Dr. King. I have a lot of respect for him. He truly tried to make a difference in our world and help people learn to love and respect each other. I have not written much about him yet, but I am already collecting books about his life. I plan to read them and learn more about this great man in our nation’s history. Then I want to tell his story in a fresh, new way to children.

Q: Did you meet up with anyone special that gave you the influence to write this book?
A: I have a friend Leilani who I used to spend time with before she moved to Seattle to be closer to her family. Leilani is African American. Leilani once told me to write books about African American history for young children that would inspire them and give them hope. I always tried to keep that advice in mind as I wrote D is for Drinking Gourd.

Q: Have you ever thought about quitting your job as an author?
A: No. Writing is something I like to do, even as a hobby. I plan on writing even when I’m old. I have so many book ideas that I don’t know if I’ll ever have enough time to write them all!

Q: Have you ever met an author?
A: Yes! Everywhere I go, I meet people who have written a story for their children or about their memories of when they were a child. Many of them don’t have their story published yet, but they hope to! I also have many friends who are authors. We hang out together and e-mail each other and encourage each other. Also, when I go to events to learn more about being a writer, I meet famous authors like Tomie de Paola. I met him in the elevator at a writer’s conference, which was a fun moment for me. He was one of my family’s favorite authors when our kids were little. We love his Strega Nona books.

Q: What age do you have to be to be an author?
A: Any age will do! The U.S. Copyright Office says that when someone writes a story on a piece of paper, that work is automatically under copyright protection. That means anyone at any age can be an author! All you have to do is write. Write a funny story about your cat. Write a story about a vacation you took. Make copies of it and share it with your friends and family. There! You’re an author, too!



Q: Have you written a funny book?
A: Yes. I co-wrote a series of books called Parables in Action. One of the titles in the series was “Moon Rocks and Dinosaur Bones.” In the stories, there is a boy named Larry, the Spy. He always talks in secret code. “Iggle, iggle, snoogle, snoogle” is his secret code for “Yes.” There is a girl named Bubbles. She wants to be an actress and is always practicing for auditions. In the book, Comet Campout, Bubbles wears a pink tutu on the camping trip because she is practicing to be a ballerina in a TV ad. It was fun writing about the hilarious adventures of this group of friends.

Q: Have you ever doubted one of your books?
A: Yes, every single time I write a book, I go through a period of doubting it. This usually happens somewhere in the middle of writing it. I wonder if people will be interested in reading it. I doubt my ability to write it. I worry about making mistakes. I doubt if I’ll be able to finish the book in time for my deadline. I have learned that these kinds of doubts are healthy to have. They make me be more careful when I write. They make me be more determined to finish the book. They are a challenge to me as an author, and they help me do my best in the end.

Q: How did the Internet help you research for your books?
A: I use the Internet all the time. I look up books to see if I want to buy them for my own personal research library. I find current information that is so brand new, there hasn’t been time to put it in a book yet. I visit Web sites of historical sites and American history collections where I find photographs and information that might not be in a book. It is an important tool for me as a writer.


Q: When were you born? Where were you born? What did you do before you became a writer? How old were you when you got married? How many kids do you have? What animals do you have? How old were you when you wrote your first book? How long have you been writing books?
A: I was born on May 17, 1960. A special surprise was that it was on my mother’s birthday! So we share a birthday together. My hometown is Everett, Pennsylvania. I grew up there on a dairy farm. After I grew up, I got a job as a nurses’ aide. First I worked in nursing homes where I helped take care of elderly people. Then I moved to California and got a job working in Loma Linda Hospital. I met my husband Jeff, here in California. We were married in 1982 when I was 22 years old. This year we are celebrating our 25th anniversary! We have two adult sons, Dan and Ben. We also have a funny cat named Humphrey and a dog that is a dachshund mix named Lucy. Humphrey and Lucy are friends. I was about 25 years old when I got my first book published. It was a book called “Bible Crafts on a Shoestring Budget.” The last time I checked, it was still selling well today! I have been writing books now for 22 years. I have had over 70 books published.

Thanks for asking so many great questions! It’s been joy to have you be part of my Virtual Book Tour!

Saturday’s Trivia Q and A:
Saturday’s question was:
Which pilots in World War II flew the famous airplanes known “Red Tails”?
a. The Tuskegee Airmen
b. The Golden Thirteen
c. The Buffalo Soldiers
The answer is: a. The Tuskegee Airmen. During World War II, the Air Force was suffering heavy losses until they assigned the Tuskegee Airmen to escort bombers and protect them from enemy fire. The tail of their planes was painted a bright red. The Tuskegee Airmen became famous for their record of never losing a single bomber to enemy planes.

Today’s Trivia Question:
Which state was the first to officially abolish slavery within its borders?
a. Virginia
b. New York
c. Vermont
Submit your answer by posting it as a comment to today’s blog. It won’t be published on the blog, but your name will be put in a hat to be drawn for 5 prizes to give away at the end of the tour. Check back in tomorrow for the answer!

Coming tomorrow:
On Day 11 of my Virtual Book Tour, we’ll be making a stop to visit the wonderful online bookseller again, Brown Sugar & Spice. Brown Sugar & Spice specializes in black history books for children and families. A video is posted there where I share about life as an author and writing my new book.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Virtual Book Tour: Day 10


















This past June, my family and I visited Mount Vernon, the plantation home of President George Washington. It was also the home for many enslaved African Americans. These men, women, and children worked hard to make the plantation the successful and beautiful place that it was.



















We walked through the beautiful grounds of this historic plantation. We saw gardens, and horse stables, and hog pens, and fields. Everywhere we looked, we saw reminders of the people who lived and died here, leaving their powerful mark upon the history of our nation.













In the quiet shade of the woods, the trail we followed led us to holy ground: the burial ground for those who had been enslaved here. A simple marker whispered a hint of their story. A tombstone honored their lives. It was a deeply emotional experience for all who entered here, remembering…



Saturday, February 9, 2008

Virtual Book Tour: Day 9

Today is Saturday, February 9, and at 2:00 I’m delighted to be appearing live and in person at Mrs. Nelson’s Toy and Book Shop in La Verne, California. Click on the link to the store for more information and directions.

We’ll be celebrating Black History Month together at the store by reading D is for Drinking Gourd: An African American Alphabet. After the short storytime, our younger guests will have the opportunity to make a craft! So invite and friend and come join us for this fun, free event!














Just for Kids!
If you live too far away to join us at the store today, you can make the craft at home. We’re making tambourines.

During the days before the Civil War, tambourines could easily be made from scraps of metal or an old tin pie pan. Nails were used to poke holes in the center of metal bottle caps, where were then attached with wire around the edge of a pie tin. Since some plantation owners didn’t allow drums, tambourines were an instrument that made a nice rhythm.

Here’s how to make your own tambourine:

Materials
Markers
2 white dinner-sized paper plates
Hole punch
Thin ribbon
Scissors
12 jingle bells

Use markers to decorate the bottoms of the two paper plates with fabric designs from Africa. Look at the pictures above for authentic patterns. Staple the two plates together with the plate surfaces facing each other to form the tambourine. Use the hole punch to punch out 12 holes around the edge of the tambourine. Tie on a jingle bell at each hole.

To play the tambourine, shake it to jingle the bells in a rhythmic beat. You can also hold it in one hand and hit it against the palm of your other hand.
-from A Kid's Guide to African American History



Yesterday’s Trivia Q and A:
Yesterday’s question was:
What city-state in northern Nigeria became an important center of trade, culture, scholarship, and religion during the Middle Ages?
a. Cairo
b. Kano
c. Casablanca
Answer: b. Kano. This ancient walled city was the northernmost stop most caravans came to from across the Sahara Desert bringing desert salt and Mediterranean goods. Traders came to Kano looking for spices, metals, and the city’s famous indigo-dyed textiles made from cotton grown in the region.

Today’s Trivia Question:
Which pilots in World War II flew the famous airplanes known as “Red Tails”?
a. The Tuskegee Airmen
b. The Golden Thirteen
c. The Buffalo Soldiers
Submit your answer by posting it as a comment to today’s blog. It won’t be published on the blog, but your name will be put in a hat to be drawn for 5 prizes to give away at the end of the tour. Check back in tomorrow for the answer!


To read what others are saying about my newest book, D is for Drinking Gourd, check out one reader’s review on Amazon, an online bookstore.

And here’s another review from The Old Schoolhouse: The Magazine for Homeschool Families. Enjoy!

Coming tomorrow:
On Day 10 of my Virtual Book Tour, I’ll post photos of Mount Vernon from my trip when I visited this historic site last June. Many African Americans who were enslaved worked and lived on this plantation.

Friday, February 8, 2008

Virtual Book Tour: Day 8

Today’s stop on the tour is dedicated to the wonderful students at Glenwood Avenue Elementary School, located on an island in Wildwood, New Jersey! A great big thanks goes to these dedicated teachers who helped organize this exciting event: Mrs. Sharpe, Mrs. Cardaci, Mrs. K. Melchioree, Mrs. T. Melchiorre, and Ms. Sholtis.



As a special guest appearance today, E.B. Lewis, the award-winning illustrator of D is for Drinking Gourd, answers questions Glenwood Avenue’s students submitted for an interview.


Q: What made you decide to become an artist? Did you take art lessons?
A: I grew up in a house where art was very important. My father worked at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Both of my mother’s brothers were artists. One of my uncles graduated from the Tyler School of Art and then taught art at Temple. My other uncle went to the Philadelphia College of Art. Growing up in that kind of an environment made it a natural thing for me to decide to become an artist. I went to the Tyler School of Art—the same school as my one uncle. I now teach art at the University of the Arts which used to be the Philadelphia College of Art. You can see that it has become full circle.

Q: How long did it take for you to illustrate D is for Drinking Gourd: An African American Alphabet?
A: It took about two entire months to illustrate it.

Q: What materials and supplies did you use for the pictures?
A: Good quality paints and brushes make a difference. I used Winsor & Newton watercolors and Kolinsky Series 7 watercolor brushes.



Q: In the Malcolm X drawing, were the people reflected in the sunglasses real or made up?
A: Those are real people! I saw them in a photograph and decided to illustrate them reflected off his glasses. Every one of the models I use for the illustrations in my books is a real person. Depending on the book and the location and the background, sometimes I do a photo shoot at a park or other various locations. If the story takes place in Mississippi, I’ll hop on a plane and go to Mississippi. If it’s in Africa, I’ll go there if I can. I’ll go wherever the story takes me. There are times when it’s not feasible to travel because of time restraints, so I will actually create those images as closely as I can. I often go to the Print and Picture Department in Philadelphia and take photographs from the pictures in their files.

Q: When you drew the pictures for this book, did you feel like you were there?
A: I always feel like I’m there when I’m illustrating a book. It’s a very emotional experience. One of the most emotional pieces for me to work on in D is for Drinking Gourd was the page “S is for Slavery, a sad part of our past.” It was very powerful.



Q: How did you get the colors to reflect off each other for the letter H?
A: That’s a great question! It’s all about being observant and looking carefully at the reference. That particular reference I was using had a shiny reflection on it, and I was able to interpret that and include it as a beautiful quality of the illustration I was making.

Q: What is the hardest part about illustrating a book?
A: The hardest part about illustrating a book is probably gathering the references. It’s not necessarily a time issue, it’s just about finding the right images that I want to use. I go to the library. I look on the computer. I ask people who are experts in their field. The reason I want to find just the right images is because when I illustrate a book, it’s a visual interpretation of the written word. It’s like speaking a different language. It’s as if I would be translating your words into French. I need to explain the story someone told me with words and it’s as if I need to translate that to my people whose language is visual. I sit down and go through that interpretation process in my head. I do thumbnail sketches and create a storyboard. I try to translate the words into images.

Q: Do you have a collection of your own artwork?
A: Yes. All over the house.

Q: Do you have any wise words for students who like to draw?
A: Practice, practice, practice. Just have fun! The other stuff comes later. What’s important now is to practice as much as you can and experience the joy of drawing!

Thank you, E.B. for joining the tour today. This was a highlight of the week!


Yesterday’s Trivia Q and A:
Yesterday’s question was:
What was a major symbol used by abolitionists to inspire people everywhere to fight to bring an end to slavery in America?
a. Liberty Bell
b. Seven candles of Kwanzaa
c. Olympic torch
The answer is: a. Liberty Bell. The Liberty Bell rang out frequently in Philadelphia, the birthplace of freedom from British rule. Eventually it became a symbol of freedom from slavery as well.

Today’s Trivia Question:
What city-state in northern Nigeria became an important center of trade, culture, scholarship, and religion during the Middle Ages?
a. Cairo
b. Kano
c. Casablanca
Submit your answer by posting it as a comment to today’s blog. It won’t be published on the blog, but your name will be put in a hat to be drawn for 5 prizes to give away at the end of the tour. Check back in tomorrow for the answer!

Coming tomorrow:
On Day 9 of my Virtual Book Tour, I’ll be visiting a delightful children’s bookstore, Mrs. Nelson’s Toy and Book Shop. Only this visit isn’t “virtual,” it’s a real, live event! Mark your calendars, invite your friends, and come celebrate Black History Month with us! On Saturday at 2:00 at Mrs. Nelson’s wonderful bookstore in La Verne, California, I’ll be reading my picture book D is for Drinking Gourd. Afterwards, our younger guests will have the opportunity to create a craft from another one of my books, A Kid’s Guide to African American History.