Category Archives: Awards – Other

Malala’s Magic Pencil

Malala’s Magic Pencil
by Malala Yousafzai, illustrated by Kerascoet
Little, Brown and Company, 2017

An inspiring book written by its featured hero, who later became a winner of the Nobel Peace Prize.

Inspired by her writing talent, Malala dreams of what she can do with a magic pencil.  She learns other girls and boys scour the dump for valuables they can use to buy food to eat.  This causes her to think about freedom, especially about going to school. She knows girls in her country are limited in their education, as well as in their dreams and aspirations.

Then the limitations hit Malala directly. While she works hard in school to reach her dreams, dangerous men with weapons enter her city and declare girls are forbidden from attending school. She writes what it is like to be scared to walk to school and how her friends had moved away because of the dangers.   “My voice became so powerful that the dangerous men tried to silence me.  But the they failed.” Malala left her country, but still campaigns for education, including for women.

The art is exquisite, done with ink and watercolor, using gold to represent Malala’s dreams. This voice isn’t going away; a great introduction to contemporary world issues.

Read more reviews and purchase on Amazon.


Interview with Author/Illustrator Rich Lo

I was contacted by Charlesbridge last fall about illustrating the book. They liked the watercolor technique used for Father’s Chinese Opera. It was a technique I had used on a couple of projects commissioned by Great Books Foundation 2010. It took about two weeks to create the sketches from the manuscript and about 30 days to complete the finished art. The media are pencil and watercolor composed digitally.

Q. What do you mean when you say the publisher used ‘spot varnish’ on your illustrations?  Where was it used on your book, Mountain Chef, and how does it help ‘pop’ the illustrations?

Spot varnish is a printing process used to highlight areas of emphasis. In the book Mountain Chef, the varnish was used on the artwork. If you look closely, you can see a slight sheen over the illustrations. The publisher also used quality semi-gloss white paper stock. The combination resulted in rich colors throughout the book.


Q. As an accomplished artist in your own right, how did your journey take you to illustrating children’s books?

In 2012, I was emailing out samples of my work one night on the internet. One email was answered. It was from Anna Olswanger, a literary agent working out of NYC. She asked “I know you can do great art but can you write text?” Without hesitation, I said yes. I had no experience. In about 6 months, she chose 1 of 9 vignettes loosely based on childhood memories when I lived in Hong Kong. Layouts were created into a presentation. She sent the text with three color illustrations to the editors. We agreed on the terms with Sky Pony Press in 2013 and Father’s Chinese Opera became my first published book in 2014.

Q. For your first book, Father’s Chinese Opera, you won the 2014-2015 Asian/Pacific American Award for Literature in the Picture Book Category.  How did you come to write the story?  How has that award on your first picture book impacted your life?

I lived in Hong Kong for the first 6 years of my life. Father was a famous opera composer and a conductor. I was too young to be in school, so he often took me to work. I met all the actors and acrobats and sat in on rehearsals and performances. Those were happy times, so it was easy to visualize. I used my imagination to create the scenes and wrote text to describe them. It was the right process for me.

The award was unexpected. It is an accomplishment like nothing I’ve ever experienced. It gave me confidence to write and illustrate more children’s books. At a book talk at the Chinese American Museum Chicago, I honored my parents as heroes of my life. It also validated for me that miracles can happen.

Q. How is creating picture books changing your life?

It adds another dimension to my repertoire. The picture book industry provides a stage for creativity. As a professional artist, you want to extend and build skill sets to be better. I was fortunate to be invited to the ALA (American Library Association), participated in an award ceremony in San Francisco and the Book Expo in Chicago in the last two years. These are incredible experiences and are not to be taken for granted.

Q. Your first book was inspired by your father’s work as a composer, so you were born into a creative family.  Was your artistic interest always supported by your family?  How has their support helped?  When did you know you were going to be an artist?

Growing up in a pragmatic Chinese American culture, the arts are not always looked upon as valued professions. I followed my passion and worked hard to develop an artistic life and career. Raw skills are refined and imagination cultivated. With strong fundamentals and a lot of luck, I was able to make a living and raise a family with the earnings from the artwork.

Q. Do you do classroom visits?  If so, what is the response of the children?

Yes, I do. The children are more fascinated by the illustrations than by the story itself. I am learning how to make the artwork even more interesting for children.

Q. Earlier, you were commissioned to illustrate stories by Ray Bradbury and Langston Hughes, among others.  What was it like for you to create visuals for some of these great writers? Did you immediately see images as you read their words?

It is a privilege to illustrate for any author, but the great ones are icing on the cake. I do see imageries as I read. Keywords are used for initial ideas. Compositions are refined and techniques chosen to fit the story. I am blessed to be able to explore and then perfect techniques on projects.

Q. Do you have any more books coming out soon?  Where can people find out more about you?

A picture book titled New Year, published by Sky Pony Press, will be coming out in November 2016.

Rich Lo’s work can be viewed on his websites:

Review Rich Lo’s books on Amazon.  Mountain Chef, Father’s Chinese Opera, New Year

Originally published online at Manhattan Book Review

Gordon Parks, How the Photographer Captured Black and White America













Gordon Parks, How the Photographer Captured Black and White America
by Carole Boston Weatherford, illustrated by Jamey Christoph
Albert Whitman and Company, 2015
NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Children’s Literary Work

The youngest of 15 children, Gordon Parks was born into a time when African-Americans were thought to be only suited for porter and waiter jobs.  When he was 25 he saw a magazine spread about migrant farm workers and he was inspired to purchase a camera for $7.50 at a pawn shop.  The camera changed his life.  Talented and self-taught, Gordon Parks decided to take pictures of his America.  He soon earned a position with the federal government to take pictures to tell the story of Black America.  He soon became famous and made many creative contributions, including many beyond photography, that helped change African-America’s place in America.

One of the many stories children won’t hear in their studies, but of real people who made a difference to many others.  An afterward includes photos and more details about Gordon Parks.

Read more reviews on Amazon.

The Inventor’s Secret, What Thomas Edison Told Henry Ford

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The Inventor’s Secret, What Thomas Edison Told Henry Ford
by Suzanne Slade, illustrated by Jennifer Black Reinhardt
Charlesbridge, 2015
NSTA 2016 Outstanding Science Trade Book for Students K-12

Who knew that two famous inventors, Thomas Edison and Henry Ford, were friends?  And what was Thomas Edison’s secret for his many, many inventions?

This delightful story starts when both were curious boys who spent most of their time running experiments—and getting into trouble!  Thomas made explosions with chemistry experiments and was especially curious about electricity.  Henry was curious about the energy in a river and when he built a dam and waterwheel to catch the river’s energy, he flooded a neighbor’s field.  Mostly he was curious about engines.  When he built his first steam engine, it exploded and set his school’s fence on fire!

Thomas made many inventions, which everyone heard about.  Henry made a quadricycle that everyone laughed at.  What was Thomas’ secret, he wondered.  Then one day he decided to meet Thomas and find out his secret.  He talked his way into a dinner and waited and waited, until finally he had a chance to talk to Thomas.  Thomas lit up like a light blub when Henry told him about his four-cycle engine.  Henry sketched his invention and Thomas asked question after question.  And then it happened.  Thomas banged his fist on the table, and shared his secret!

This book is filled with history nuggets and an afterward sharing Thomas and Henry’s special friendship, how the author came to write the book and the challenges the illustrator had to accurately illustrate the book.  It also includes snippets of information on several inventions of both Thomas and Henry.  A great introduction to two twentieth century men who changed the world.  The Inventor’s Secret was awarded the NSTA 2016 Outstanding Science Trade Book for Students K-12.

Read more reviews and purchase on Amazon.

Imani’s Moon (2014 Best Picture Book for Girls!)

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Imani’s Moon
by JaNay Brown-Wood, illustrated by Hazel Mitchell
Mackinac Island Press, 2014
Children’s Book of the Year, Principal’s Award
NAESP Children’s Book of the Year Award
2014 Mighty Girl Book for Young Readers
2015 Reading Is Fundamental – Multicultural Book

Imani’s Moon inspires young girls to reach for their dreams.   This is my pick for the best picture book for girls!

Set in Africa, Imani, the smallest girl in her tribe, is teased by the other children.  She is told, “…you’ll never accomplish anything!”  At night her mama lifts her spirits with stories.  One story was of Olapa, the goddess of the moon who fought a great battle against the god of the sun and triumphed.  Imani dreams of doing something great like Olapa and decides she will “touch the moon.”  The others laugh when Imani announces her dream, yet they follow her.  For two days she attempts two creative ways to touch the moon, but they fail.  Greatly disappointed, she returns home where young warriors were performing the adumu, the jumping dance.  Inspired, she knows that’s how she will reach the moon.

Beautifully written and illustrated Imani’s Moon is rich with love, bold colors, and one young girl’s determination.  The story ends with Imani telling her mother a story, The Tale of the Girl Who Touched the Moon.

When I read Imani’s Moon to a very active third grader, she sat quiet for the whole story.  When I brought it back later to re-read, she ‘read’ it to me—from memory!  Imani’s Moon is a powerful story.

Read more reviews and purchase on Amazon.

Author Interview: Patricia M. Newman

Patricia NewmanI caught Patricia Newman’s presentation at a local library and was I impressed!  When I arrived, I found a very large vase of water with pictures taped to it and many vials of interesting stuff.  She opened her talk discussing the benefits the ocean provides people, from swimming, to fishing, to providing us clean air.

She then moved into a history of the ocean during the past 300 years and how the introduction of plastics and their accumulation is impacting ocean life, air and people. Using the large vase as the ‘ocean’, clothes pins clipped to the vase to represent the earth’s growing population, and pouring into the vase  more than a dozen vials of ‘toxins’, trash, ‘fishing nets’, etc., the audience got to (almost) experience what happens in the ocean.  If you are unable to catch her in person, check out her book, Plastic, Ahoy! Investigating the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, the winner of The Green Earth Book Award.

PlasticAhoyQuestion:  How did you come to research and write Plastic, Ahoy!?  How long did it take?
I wrote Plastic, Ahoy! because of an article I read in the Sacramento Bee about a group of graduate student scientists who mounted an expedition to the North Pacific Central Gyre . The expedition had all the makings of a great book that might in fact become a call to action for future ocean stewards, e. g.  students who were themselves scientists, the scientific method, and, what was at the time, the mystery of how plastic trash affected marine life. The Plastic, Ahoy! scientists were among the first to study the floating garbage.

I first wrote a book proposal, which took about 18 months to be accepted. After I received a contract, I had about a year to write the book. The last few months of that time, I worked with my editor to make the book as perfect as we could.

Q:   How did you develop the presentation?
I wish I could say I created this presentation, but I didn’t. I found it in the December 2014 issue of POPULATION CONNECTION. I wrote to the editors to ask if I could use it during school and library visits. Luckily they said yes! Originally, the presentation was written for high school students, but I’ve modified it for middle-grade audiences.

Q:  One of my favorite parts of the presentation was when you identified little changes we can make to reduce our plastic use.  Can you share the top 3 that kids can do?
I’ll share five:

  1. SKIP THE STRAW. When you order a drink in a restaurant, tell your server you don’t need a straw, and be sure to say you’re saving the ocean! Better yet, speak to the manager and ask him/her to consider ditching straws altogether.
  2. SAY NO TO PLASTIC TO-GO BOXES. If you take food home from a restaurant, politely refuse Styrofroam to-go containers. Ask for a cardboard box or a piece of aluminum foil instead.
  3. REMIND YOUR PARENTS TO BRING REUSABLE BAGS INTO THE GROCERY STORE. A simple “fix” for our oceans. If you forget your bags in the car, ask your check-out person to load your groceries back in your cart and pack them in your bags when you get to the parking lot.
  4. BRING A REUSABLE WATER BOTTLE TO SCHOOL instead of opening a fresh plastic water bottle every day. If you have events at school, such as concerts or festivals, consider a giant urn of water where people can refill their water bottles or buy water in cartons rather than plastic bottles. Here’s a link:
  5. Did you know that most plastics are recyclable? In Sacramento County (where I live) we can recycle the following items to make sure they never wind up in the ocean:
  • All CRV containers
  • Containers with numbers 1 – 7 in the triangle symbol
  • Soda bottles, milk jugs, shampoo bottles, etc.
  • Tubs and containers (i.e. yogurt, margarine)
  • Plastic bags (stuff several bags inside each other)
  • Buckets, pails and crates
  • Toys (i.e. plastic tricycles)
  • Clamshell trays and deli containers
  • Plant pots
  • Laundry baskets
  • Polystyrene (Styrofoam®)

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Q:  Your book won the Green Earth Book Award.  Tell us what that experience was like for you.
The award was announced on Earth Day 2015, and Annie Crawley (the book’s fantastic photographer) and I were so excited we screamed at each other on the phone! We are going to Washington, D.C. for an October 1 ceremony. Can’t wait!

Q:  You have 14 books, most non-fiction.  You seem to have many interests.  How did you come to write on so many different topics?
I often ask myself the same question. I guess I go where my curiosity takes me (although sometimes book topics are also suggested by editors). You never know where I’ll turn up to ask questions for research.

Q:  Have you always wanted to be a writer?  How did you get into writing children’s books?
I never thought about being any kind of writer—although I was always the go-to person in my other jobs for written materials. Somehow it just worked out that way. After my kids were born and I started reading children’s books again, I knew I wanted to give it a try. It’s rewarding, but it’s also the hardest job I’ve ever had.

Q:  What’s the hardest part of writing for children?
To paraphrase Eudora Welty, each book teaches me to write itself but no other. My biggest challenge is finding my way into a new book. How will the story start? What do I want to say with this book?

Q:  The past 5 ½ years you’ve been a Regional Adviser (RA)
for the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI)?  Tell us about SCBWI and share with us how you find time to write.
SCBWI is the only professional organization dedicated to people who create content for children. It provides craft instruction and entrée to the editors and agents who buy our work. I loved my time as a volunteer RA for SCBWI, and mostly through the help of an exceptional team who worked with me, was able to continue writing while organizing events. I stepped down in January 2015 so someone else could experience the camaraderie of the organization.

Q:  You have a new book coming out October 1, 2015.  Tell us about it and how it came to be.
Ebola Fears and Facts cover (1)EBOLA: FEARS AND FACTS is the brainchild of my brilliant editor, Carol Hinz, at Millbrook Press. At first I wasn’t sure if I wanted to write a “disease” book, but the opportunity to work with Carol made the decision an easy one. I’m especially fond of the way the School Library Journal reviewer describes the book, “Breaking new ground, Newman has written a truly excellent book for middle grade students that tackles the terrifying specter of Ebola. As the title suggests, readers will come away with more facts and less fears.”

For more information about Patricia Newman, visit her website:


by Lola M. Schaefer, illustrated by Gabi Swiatkowska
Henry Holt and Company, 2004
Outstanding Science Trade Books for Students K-12

Illustrator Gabi Swiatkowska and writer Lola M Schaefer bring alive a true story about a hawk that was wounded by and lived with an arrow running through its body for several months.

When Hawk takes an arrow in his side, he learns he can fly and gets him to the top of a Red Oak tree where he can rest.  He cares for his wound as best he can.  But after two days he is hungry and set off to find what he can.  He learns to negotiate with the arrow and goes after easier food to catch.  One day Hawks gets the arrow tangled in tree branches and snaps off part of the arrow.  Life is a bit easier.  One day he spots a field of mice, easy prey, and when he drops down to feast, his claws become entangled in a netting.  Rescuers remove the arrow and care for Hawk until he is fully healed.  They return him to his home and release him.

An afterword shares details of the Hawk’s story.  Geared more for the reader 6-11 years old.

Read more reviews on Amazon.


Hidden: A Child’s Story of the Holocaust

Hidden: A Child’s Story of the Holocaust
by Loic Dauvillier, illustrated by Marc Lizano & Greg Salsedo
First Second, 2012
originally published in France
2015 Mildred L. Batcheleder Award, Honor Book
Kirkus Reviews Best Books of 2014
2015 Sydney Taylor Award Winner

A sensitive graphic book for the youngest readers depicting one French, Jewish family’s experience during World War II.  Young Elsa asks her grandmother why she was so sad, and her grandmother shares her story.  She tells of her becoming a ‘family of sheriffs’, which immediately made her an outcast.  One night her family is taken away, but she was left behind in a box.  A neighbor comes and cares for her, until it is too dangerous and she must leave.  A moving story told from the innocent—but learning—perspective of a young girl.

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What Do You Do With An Idea?

What Do You Do With An Idea?
by Kobi Yamada, illustrated by Mae Besom
Compendium Kids, 2015
Gold Independent Publisher’s Book Award

A young boy has an idea and wonders what to do with it.  The new idea is kind of strange and he decides to leave it behind and walks away, but it follows him.  The boy worries about what others might think and tries to hide the idea, but the boy feels happier when his idea is around.  One day he shows it to others, and indeed they didn’t think much of it.  But then he decides it was HIS idea and keeps it.  He plays with it until one day his idea became its own, transforming the black-and-white illustrations into full living color.  Brilliant!  The tale speaks to a child’s inner self and imagination, and gives him or her permission to have, cultivate and grow from the ideas that come into his or her imagination.  This tale stays with the reader, like the idea stays with the boy.

A compelling tale told visually with black and white drawings accented with an egg-shaped idea featuring its own brilliant colors.  A powerful example of words and illustrations working together.

Read more reviews on Amazon.

Hana Hashimoto, Sixth Violin

Hana Hashimoto, Sixth Violin
by Chieri Uegaki, illustrated by Qin Leng
Kids Can Press, 2014
2015 Ezra Jack Keats Book Award

A story of a gentle spirit who creates a brilliant way to succeed at her dream, despite her newness to the craft.

After three lessons on her violin, Hana decides she want to be in the talent show.  Her brothers laugh at her and say she will be a disaster.  But inspired by her grandfather, a 2nd violinist for a great symphony orchestra in Japan, she pursues her dream.  She remembers her grandfather’s beautiful music she woke to each morning when she visited him last summer.  She also remembers the fun sounds her grandfather made in the evening for her brothers and her.  She practices and practices for the show.  The day of the show she is scared.  Thinking her brothers were right, she wants to turn into a “grain of rice and slip between the floorboards.”  Imagining her grandfather sitting before her for support, she shares with the audience music they can enjoy and she can perform, even as a beginner. Everyone enjoys her performance.  When she and her family return home, her brothers ask for an encore!   Find out what she does to succeed as a beginner!

Read more reviews on Amazon.