In a nutshell: Like Mockingbird, but a much lighter subject, and more humor.
Julian's family moves to Maine to open a bed and breakfast, but the cranky next door neighbor is trying to stop them. Julian knows Mr. X is just lonely so decides to be his friend, whether Mr. X wants that or not. Julian tries to show him the wonders of the universe through his telescope but, like his family, Mr. X is too distracted. He does eventually make a bargain with Julian: I'll help you get a dog if you get over your fear of the water. Easier said than done. With his anxiety, Julian worries about A LOT, including drowning, which is why he wears a life jacket around the clock. But in the end, Julian has to -- at least, partially -- get over his fear to hang onto the people he loves.
In a nutshell: Miriam Makeba uses her voice to spread awareness of apartheid and, although in exile herself, bring hope to her people in South Africa.
Miriam Makeba, a Grammy Award–winning South African singer, rose to fame in the hearts of her people at the pinnacle of apartheid―a brutal system of segregation similar to American Jim Crow laws. Mama Africa, as they called her, raised her voice to help combat these injustices at jazz clubs in Johannesburg; in exile, at a rally beside Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.; and before the United Nations.
Set defiantly in the present tense, this biography offers readers an intimate view of Makeba’s fight for equality. Kathryn Erskine’s call-and-response style text and Charly Palmer’s bold illustrations come together in a raw, riveting duet of protest song and praise poem. A testament to how a single voice helped to shake up the world―and can continue to do so.
In a nutshell: A cast-off teen who wants to ignore everyone and be ignored must deal with bullies at school and their threats to the new family she's starting to love.
Goth girl Matt lives her life by simple rules: Stay under the radar, never go by Matilda (only Matt), and don't let anyone get too close. But everything changes when she moves in with a peaceful Quaker family in Pennsylvania. As the country fights a war in the Middle East, Matt fights her own personal war, battling bullies of her past and present and fighting to stand up for her belief in peace. Then violence erupts in town, and Matt finds that she will need to fight even harder to save the family she is starting to love.
In a nutshell: A girl on the autism spectrum reaches out past her own family's tragedy to help others as she helps herself.
In Caitlin’s world, everything is black or white. Things are good or bad. Anything in between is confusing. That’s the stuff Caitlin’s older brother, Devon, has always explained. But now Devon’s dead, and her father cries a lot. Caitlin wants to get over it, but as an eleven-year-old girl with Asperger’s, she doesn’t know how. When she reads the definition of “closure” in the dictionary, she realizes that is what she and her father need. In her search for Closure, Caitlin discovers that not everything is black and white--the world is full of colors--messy and beautiful, and it is through this discovery that she embarks on a road which leads her to find both healing and closure.
Mockingbird won the 2010 National Book Award for Young People's Literature.
In a nutshell: A teen who can never impress his dad spends the summer juggling the needs of wacky relatives and townspeople -- and discovers his real value.
Mike tries so hard to please his father but the only language Dad seems to speak is calculus. And for a boy with a math learning disability, nothing could be more difficult. When his dad sends him to live with distant relatives in rural Pennsylvania for the summer to work on an engineering project, Mike figures this is his big chance to buckle down and prove himself. But when he gets there, nothing is what he thought it would be -- not the project, not the relatives, not even the town. Mike may not learn anything about engineering, but what he does learn is far more valuable.
1 teenage boy + 1 crazy town + 3 weeks - $40,000. You do the math.
In a nutshell: A boy faces up to prejudice in his small town, ultimately realizing that he can’t erase the past but he can change the future.
After his beloved father dies, Red tries everything to stop his mother from selling their home and business, even getting in trouble with the sheriff -- and worse. At odds with his mother and little brother, he misses his friends even more. Rosie won't tell him what's going on in her family and Thomas, two years older and African-American, has outgrown Red's naivete. Beau and Miss Georgia, and maybe Red's teacher, are the only ones who seem to understand, yet it's 1972 in a small southern town and they, too, are victims of the prejudice that surrounds them all. It's up to Red to try to right the wrongs of the past and present, and make his stand demanding change for the future.
In a nutshell: A small, sickly teen with albinism runs off to battle to prove he's a man -- which he succeeds in doing but not the way he'd planned.
Adrian is small for his age, even for an almost thirteen year old. It doesn't help that he has albinism, which makes those he meets wonder if he's an angel or a devil. His father is a bowyer, and all Adrian wants to do is become apprenticed and go off to war as an archer. But that's not what his father wants for him. Since Adrian can write, his father wants him to be a scribe. When the Scots invade England and Adrian's best friend Hugh runs off to find his father and fight in battles, Adrian soon follows, intent on finding Hugh and joining him in glorious warfare against the pagans invading England from the north. When Adrian finds Hugh, who is caring for a wounded Scotsman, he's horrified that Hugh would aid an enemy. But soon he begins to question what he's been taught about the enemy and the nature of war.
"In his first children’s book, Palmer uses thick, forceful brushstrokes to create vibrant, abstracted portraits of Makeba and her South African home. This rousing account of how Makeba used her music to fight for equality concludes with a timeline and extensive author’s note."
"Julian's distinctive narration, awash in supernatural perceptions as well as a nine-year-old's natural misconceptions, is a tour de force... Touching contemporary magical realism, with a final twist that truly surprises."
"Erskine has written a powerful indictment of injustice in all forms and an equally powerful and dramatic demonstration that young people, by taking individual action, can actually change history. This is an important book that deserves the widest possible readership."
"As readers celebrate this milestone with Caitlin, they realize that they too have been developing empathy by walking a while in her shoes, experiencing the distinctive way that she sees and interacts with the world. "
"As one of the first, if not the first anti-war novel for this generation, Erskine's story will surely open some minds to the idea that peace is nothing to be ashamed of. A good discussion starter on several levels."
"Allusions to Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird, the portrayal of a whole community’s healing process, and the sharp insights into Caitlyn’s behavior enhance this fine addition to the recent group of books with narrators with autism and Asbergers."
FYI, I am doing 10 free Skype visits in 2018. So far 5 have been taken and it's only March...first come, first serve!
Virginia Festival of the Book! Come join us in Charlottesville! There are so many events and I'm happy to be on one of the panels with David Barclay Moore (THE STARS BENEATH OUR FEET) and Alan Gratz (REFUGEE) to talk about THE INCREDIBLE MAGIC OF BEING as we discuss Making Sense of the World through middle grade fiction at the Village School on Saturday, March 24th, from 12 - 1:30 pm.
Golden Shovel Review of THE FREEMASON'S DAUGHTER by Shelley Sackier
"He will never see my side of the story." In this case, I took the 1st line of the 2nd chapter because the first chapter starts with the character’s name and I wanted something more generic.
Crackling historical adventure / romance, she and he
from warring Scotland and England, but will
they cross over or never
see eye to eye, see
that your, my
and our side
can come together of
our own free will, like The
Freemason’s Daughter, a teen Outlander story
MAMA AFRICA has been named a Notable Social Studies book by the Children's Book Council and a Notable Children's Book of 2018 by the American Library Association!
Congratulations to Charly Palmer for winning the Coretta Scott King John Steptoe Award for Illustrator for MAMA AFRICA! How Miriam Makeba Spread Hope with her Song! And thanks to our wonderful editor on this project, too, Grace Kendall of Farrar Straus & Giroux!
Initiative for 2018 -- Golden Shovel Book Reviews, based on the poetic form created by Terrance Hayes. Here's how it works...
Take a line from the book and write a poem where each consecutive word in the sentence ends the line, e.g., "I am a coward," the first sentence of Elizabeth Wein's CODE NAME VERITY would be a 4-line poem, the first line ending in "I," the second line ending in "am," etc.
First up: LONG WAY DOWN by Jason Reynolds
Line from the first page (last stanzas of the first verse): This story is true / It happened to me / Really / It did / It so did
The heart of this, the reality, feels achingly true
What might we be faced with, you and me?
Depends on our circumstances, and choices, really
A lurching, gut-wrenching elevator ride about what one person, many people, did
Now, what will this kid (or you or me) do, and how will he (or we) look back on what he did?
If you haven't received one in the mail, here's a link to the Discussion Guide for The Incredible Magic of Being!
Today I had twins! It's the book birthday of The Incredible Magic of Being and my first picture book, Mama Africa! How Miriam Makeba Spread Hope with her Song. I hope you enjoy them both as much as I enjoyed researching and writing them!
I love this review of The Incredible Magic of Being which I'm sharing with you the day before it publishes (with just one edit to allay any fears). :-) Thanks to author Deborah M. Prum ... by the way, if you're studying Russian history, you don't want to miss her hilarious Czars and Czarinas!
This is how much I enjoyed Kathryn Erskine’s The Incredible Magic of Being: the day after I finished reading the delightful book, I picked it up and read it again. I never do that.
Julian is a 9.63 year-old boy (his calculation) who loves physics and astronomy. He empathizes so fully with the people around him that he actually senses their thoughts and feelings. Oh, and one more thing…from the sound of things, it seems as if Julian’s death might be imminent.
Julian and his family move from D.C. to Maine to a house by a lake where they plan to operate a bed and breakfast. Pookie, Julian’s teenage sister, is miserable about the move and about life in general. One could say she is a toxic waste dump of misery. Shortly after the family arrives, a lawyer comes to their door. He tells them that they have violated an easement agreement and that their neighbor is insisting they tear down the addition which Julian’s parents intended to use as a bed and breakfast.
At the end of each chapter, the reader finds a section called “Facts and Random Thoughts.” The sections contain fascinating information about physics, astronomy and Julian’s insightful reactions to the world around him.
Erskine nails Julian’s voice. He is all at once engaging, entertaining, and informative in a non-pretentious way. Although Julian is focused on end-of-life issues, the story is not maudlin in any way. The author manages to tell a poignant and moving tale without once being saccharine.
Science teachers take notice: this novel would provide an excellent complement to any section you teach on astronomy or elementary physics. For everyone else: this is a charming book, which will be much beloved by its audience.
My favorite review line for THE INCREDIBLE MAGIC OF BEING (from School Library Journal): "Julian's distinctive narration, awash in supernatural perceptions as well as a nine-year-old's natural misconceptions, is a tour de force....Touching contemporary magical realism, with a final twist that truly surprises."
STARRED REVIEW for MAMA AFRICA! From Kirkus: "An excellent perspective from which American readers can learn about apartheid and one of the pioneers who fought it through her art."
Also, illustrator Charly Palmer's artwork for MAMA AFRICA has been accepted by the Society of Illustrators for their "The Original Art" exhibit, highlighting the best artwork for children's books, 2017. Congratulations, Charly!
So thrilled to announce my new novel, THE INCREDIBLE MAGIC OF BEING!
Publishing Fall 2017 (Scholastic)
It's what happens when you take a boy named Julian, his anxiety, a telescope, a treehouse, a life jacket, a Styrofoam boat, s'mores, even a statue of the BVM (as Julian would say, "Look it up"), and shake them up with a lot of personalities ... they turn into what I hope is great ride.
In an effort to expand my world view beyond American and European literature (what I grew up with) I'm up to 56 countries now -- see "2016 Reading Project" -- and still reading. I'm enjoying the experience and also struggling with finding books from some countries, given my (embarrassing) English-only limitation. Currently at around a quarter of the world's nations, I fear I may only get to about half. If anyone has suggestions, please let me know!
My 2016 Reading Project – A Children’s Book from Every Country of the World
Although I grew up in six countries, I realize that my reading has been disproportionately American and European authors. Inspired by Ann Morgan’s TED Talk and blog, A Year of Reading the World, my 2016 project is to read a children’s book from every country of the world (using the UN list of member states although I’m happy to include the observer and other states). I found links to international children’s book sources on Ann Morgan's blog, and my local librarians have been fabulous, but if anyone has advice for finding more children’s books written by non-U.S. authors or has a favorite book that meets these criteria, please contact me:
1) the author at least grew up in that country, even if living elsewhere now
2) the book is available in English
Ideally, I’d love the book to be reflective of the culture (which I interpret very broadly) or important events that happened there or be about current issues. For example, my U.S. book is All American Boys by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely.
I’d also like a mix of picture books and novels. Frankly, I’m not a fast reader and 200 children’s novels would take a long time to read on top of other reading, writing, teaching, traveling, and life in general.
As I gather books, I’ll list them here by country, author and title, and eventually, what I’ve learned -- the fascinating differences and the common denominator, humanity. Thanks for your help! Peace, Salam, Shalom.
This is such a fun math trick! Tell a friend to circle 20 numbers on the calendar in a 5 by 4 rectangle and you will add up all the circled numbers in your head in a couple of seconds!
The Secret: Add the smallest and largest numbers that are circled and multiply their sum by 10. And that's it!
So for this example:
6 + 31 = 37 and then,
37 x 10 = 370
The sum of all 20 numbers is 370!
So grateful that Seeing Red is on the Sunshine State (Florida) list that I'm going to Florida twice -- once in January to Lakewood Elementary in St. Pete's, and a few months' later to "April is for Authors" in Palm Beach!
This reviewer was reminded of Lloyd Alexander's work when reading The Badger Knight. Wow! Gramercy! (Medieval for thank you!)
Mockingbird -- or Passarinha in Brazilian Portuguese -- is being made into a play in Brazil! I'll actually be there in a couple of months but will miss the production, scheduled for September 2016. I'm thrilled and honored, though. Thank you, Sao Paulo!
With the resurgence of interest in To Kill a Mockingbird due to Go Set a Watchman, here's a fun article calling Mockingbird and a few other middle grade books "offspring" of the original Harper Lee novel.
VIRGINIA: Home, though I still love traveling and, as always, learning, reading, writing, playing games, eating chocolate, drinking coffee, and laughing with family and friends.
NEWFOUNDLAND, CANADA: Icebergs in the harbor, Aurora Borealis (the Northern Lights), the silver thaw, Bayman versus Townie, Miss Conception, cod jigging, caplin running, fish and bruise, curling, screech, mummers, and if none of this makes sense, I hope to one day finish my novel that explains it all (so much to write, so little time!.
SCOTLAND: My school was like Hogwarts, without magic, but complete with:
1. Houses (mine was "Douglas," gold badge)
2. Colorful teacher nicknames (The L, Giant, Furry Forrie)
3. Detentions (I still remember writing lines: "I must ask permission when this is necessary.")
4. Prefects (to be avoided--can lead to #3, above)
5. Plimsoles (sneakers), rubbers (erasers), prep (homework), berets (the hat kind), vests (the undershirt kind), knickers (the underpants kind), "elevenses" (snack), pudding (dessert), eating at high table (think: sitting between Dumbledore and McGonagall in the Hogwarts dining hall), and the best, a "siggie" or "signature" (a coveted slip of paper bearing the Headmistress's signature, recognizing you for a brave act or noble deed, and earning you extra points for your House as well as the admiration of your peers).
SOUTH AFRICA: Where I slept in the bush, and got the seeds of inspiration for Seeing Red. More firsts . . . school, where I carried my bookbag on my head and sang African songs . . . first sense of place, believing I was African, despite my sister's insistence that we were Americans . . . first taste of politics, the terrible policy of apartheid . . . first realization that grownups are not perfect and sometimes quite nasty.
ISRAEL: My first memories--of sand, friendship, and men emptying our house of everything we owned while my mother stood by calmly and they drove away in a truck. (Movers, only I didn't know what that meant at the time.)
THE NETHERLANDS: Where I was born.
It's always fun to see the book jackets other countries choose for my books. I particularly love the Japanese cover of The Absolute Value of Mike. Whoever designed it really read the book closely! Mike has a rock band T-shirt and the brown shoes he always wears. The homeless guy is on his cell phone. Moo is driving crazy as usual ... and they all look a little manga which is kind of fun!
Just for fun, here are 10 easy questions about Quaking and 10 discussion questions. (Answers to the first 10 are below the discussion questions -- it's better if you read the book first, though!)
1. What is Matt's favorite dessert?
2. What candy does Sam give Matt?
3. What is Matt's nickname for her World Civ teacher?
4. What book does Sam read to Rory?
5. What's the name of the famous Quaker Matt researches?
6. What does Sam wear on his wrist?
7. What job does Sam get that embarrasses Matt?
8. Who was the original owner of shawl Jessica gives Matt?
9. What activity does Mrs. Jimenez ask Matt to join?
10. What does Jessica bake for Matt?
1. What role do the invisible characters (Matt’s mother, Matt’s father, George Fox, Matt’s term paper character, Fatima) play in the story?
2. What does Maggie Mahone’s shawl represent to Matt?
3. What is the purpose of the “Blob?” Why do you think Matt is so disgusted by him? What makes her come around?
4. How do you think you’d handle being in Matt’s situation? What would you do? Who or what would you turn to for help?
5. Matt has strong opinions about the people in her life. How do you think other people view Matt? What do you think your opinion of her would be if you met her but didn’t know her story?
6. Why do you think Matt never uses contractions in her speech, choosing to say, “I do not care” rather than “I don’t care?”
7. What is the significance of the book, Green Eggs and Ham?
8. What makes the Rat behave the way he does?
9. Why do you think Matt signs the petition to reinstate Sam as a bus driver?
10. What makes Matt go after the Rat and the Wall at the end of the book?
Answers to factual questions:
Apple crisp, Wint-o-Green LifeSavers, Mr. Warhead, Green Eggs and Ham, George Fox, his father's MIA bracelet, school bus driver, Maggie Mahone (Jessica's grandmother), peace club newsletter, apple crisp
Music touches our hearts and souls. It's both comfort and inspiration. Here are songs popular in the early 1970's that I listened to while thinking about the charaters and events in Seeing Red. If you click on a song title it'll take you to the Amazon page where you can play a snippet of the song and get a flavor of it -- and Seeing Red! Enjoy!
Thanks to Julie Jensen, playwright, and Tracy Callahan, director, Mockingbird was a powerful play at the Kennedy Center in Washington, DC. It has been performed at a couple of other theaters, too, and I hope the show goes on (and on)!
The reviews were fantastic -- here's a sampling:
Mockingbird offers a finely nuanced look at grief, love, and autism with a hearty dose of laughter mixed with the tears. This five star world premiere from the Kennedy Center and VSA, is not to be missed. --DC Metro Theater Arts
Mockingbirdprovides an entertaining jolt of theater for kids and parents alike, as well as accessible jumping off point for families to explore tough topics like bullying, mental disorders, and loss. --DC Theatre Scene
Most importantly, this is a simple story told beautifully in a way that both adults and their kids can appreciate. --Broadway World
And here's a link to a very useful, insightful guide to Mockingbird and autism produced by the Kennedy Center. Thanks to all!
Mama Africa, my first picture book, is a go! Here's the blurb from Publishers Weekly:
Grace Kendall at Farrar, Straus and Giroux has bought Mockingbird author Kathryn Erskine's debut picture book, Mama Africa, to be illustrated by Charly Palmer, also a debut. The book tells the story of Grammy Award-winning South African singer and civil-rights activist Miriam Makeba, who brought global attention to the injustice of apartheid through her music while in exile. Publication is tentatively set for 2017; Linda Pratt at Wernick & Pratt Agency represented the author; the illustrator represented himself.
I can't wait to share her story -- and to see the stunning illustrations from Charly Palmer!
Thanks to the Fairfax Network, here's my appearance on the Meet the Author show! There are clips about my research for Mockingbird and how I overcome writer's block, as well as info about the Mockingbird play and links to study guides for Mockingbird and Seeing Red.
I thought it might be fun to explain a page from my notebook. This one is late in the process of THE BADGER KNIGHT, a draft nearly complete but with various elements to clarify:
Starting from the top….
What is his greatest fear? This is a question I ask about all my characters. Sometimes there are multiple fears or I’m still thinking about which one is the greatest.
Insert Donald trying to give him/them oatcakes from his bag. (The page numbers indicate a couple of scenes where this could be inserted.) This was an anecdote to reveal his kindness.
What is Adrian going for? How is he different at the end of the novel than when we first meet him? What is the psychic change in him and how has it come about? These are overall questions that require my reading through the entire draft in order to check if the answers are there.
What does Adrian want? And why? What is he scared of? And why? These are constant reminders to myself to be aware of what’s driving my character.
Hugh could bring oatcakes from Donald to bank of stream OR p. 197 D tries to give them oatcakes + they have awkward realization he’ll need them for battle. Again, page numbers indicate scenes for possible insertion.
Work thru the final phase: A+D going to Scotland for the climax. At this point in the process I obviously hadn’t finished Adrian and Donald’s journey.
keeper/warden Need to explain about warden/marches Decide whether Sir Reginald is a keeper or a warden? Has Donald heard of him? Does he know he’s corrupt? Here I knew I had to explain the way the border areas (marches) between England and Scotland were governed in 1346, the time of the novel. I wanted to keep consistent language and decide if Sir Reginald (a bad guy) was a minor governor (keeper) or major (warden). I also had to decide if Donald knew that Sir Reginald was corrupt (he does).
whistle/flute vellum/paper shoes/boots These are notes to myself to search the document for these terms in order to be consistent about usage. If I called Donald’s instrument a whistle at one point, I don’t want to refer to it as a flute later or it’d be confusing.
make clear that D is hit on back of head / in the arm (bleeding) in battle scene. Here I had to decide what his injury was.
need to insert SOMETHING more about lepers–that unholy 3 stone Thomas Since Adrian disguises Donald as a leper in an attempt to get him through enemy lines I needed to keep the theme of lepers present by having the bullies in Adrian’s village (the “unholy trinity”) throwing stones at their local leper, Thomas.
hears wind + it sounds like it’s saying “Ailwin,” telling me I’m as useless as that poor man Sometimes I slip into the voice of my character when I’m writing my notes. :-)
add: otherwise, Good Aunt is right and I really should’ve died in that plague This refers to the opening of the novel when he remembers his (not so good) aunt saying he should’ve died in the plague rather than his mother and sister
When I completed a task, I checked it off or crossed through it. Sometimes, I don’t use all the ideas so they may be left unchecked. Or, if it’s the last element on the page that I’m actually going to incorporate into the story (like making clear where Donald’s injury is) then I don’t bother crossing it off because it’s time to flip to the next page of notes.
Every writer’s process is a little different but we all have to work through edits and revisions. That’s what helps to perfect a story so it can make it to the printed (or electronic) page. Happy writing (and revising)!