Monday, April 27, 2015

You Heard it Here First: Introducing Constance Lombardo and Mr. Puffball

Congratulations to Peggy Rothschild, a new blog reader, who won Susan Moger's book, Teaching the Diary of Anne Frank.
I love introducing new authors and illustrators and sharing news of upcoming publications. This time, Constance Lombardo, a writer/illustrator in the SCBWI-Carolinas region, takes center stage with her debut graphic novel. This week you'll hear about her path to publication; next week I'll review her book and give away an autographed copy of her ARC. 

Photo by Chris Chromey
CAROL: Tell us a little about yourself. Your background, your dreams, how long you've been at the "I want to publish a book!" business. Did you go to school for writing or illustrating?

CONSTANCE: I got my BFA in Illustration from Syracuse University many moons ago. After graduation, I took painting, printmaking, writing, and pottery classes. I interned with a renowned community muralist in San Francisco. I drew and painted and was in gallery shows in San Francisco and New York.

CAROL: How did you get into writing children’s books?

CONSTANCE: When I had my baby, I read her my favorite picture books and realized that was what I wanted to do. When I was very little, I told my dad I wanted to make ‘books with drawings in them.’ It took me a while to get back to that dream!

CAROL: What steps did you take to make this dream come true?

CONSTANCE: I subbed my first book – a picture book called The Sky is Where the Sun Lives in 2003. In the following years, I wrote many picture books, two YA novels, and one MG novel. I joined SCBWI and attended several regional conferences and one national conference in NYC where I learned SO MUCH about writing, editing, publishing and networking. I formed a critique group in Asheville (The Secret Gardeners) and with the help of these resources I continued to grow as a writer and improve my skills to get to the next level. Highlights magazine bought one of my stories (as yet unpublished,) Humpty Dumpty’s magazine published one of my poems, and my illustrations have appeared in magazines (SCBWI Bulletin, New Moon Moon Girls) and on cd covers.

In 2011, I started drawing cats without a specific project in mind. Drawings led to comic strip panels, which led to a more realized narrative starring one irrepressible feline: Mr. Puffball. He wanted to go to Hollywood. He was naïve but optimistic (like me!) And he wanted a bow tie.

In 2012, SCBWI Carolinas hosted a Graphic Novel Workshop by Mark Siegel (Editorial Director, First Second Books) in Asheville, NC. (Thanks, SCBWI Carolinas!!) The timing could not have been more perfect. I got motivated to finish a rough draft, attended this wonderful workshop, learned a lot and left eager to submit my graphic novel.

CAROL: How did you find your agent and your publisher?

CONSTANCE: I began subbing and got some of the most positive feedback I’d ever received. I had subbed some picture books to the fabulous Lori Nowicki of Painted Words, and she expressed interest in seeing more. When I subbed my graphic novel, Lori seemed really interested and scheduled a phone date (Hooray!) I had subbed to agents for years, but this was my first phone call. Was I nervous! Fortunately, Lori and I really hit it off - she loved Mr. Puffball and gave me some excellent editorial guidance. I followed her suggestions and, a few months later, we signed! 

Within a few months, she connected me with my amazing editor, Jill Davis at Katherine Tegen Books/HarperCollins. Jill loved Mr. Puffball but wanted to see the book changed to an illustrated MG novel format (like Diary of a Wimpy Kid or Big Nate.) I went with that idea and loved where it took me. Jill showed it around Katherine Tegen Books, rooting for me all the way, and we soon signed a three book contract. The first Mr. Puffball comes out fall 2015, the second in 2016, and then the last in 2017. Yay!!! I am so lucky to work with Jill Davis. Now I know what it means to have a truly excellent editor – because of her, my novel is tons better than I ever could have imagined. (Thanks for bringing us together, Lori Nowicki!)

CAROL: That’s so exciting! Where are you in this process?
CONSTANCE: I am currently working on the 2nd book.  I love combining words and pictures and see myself working in this format on future projects. I would love to do a YA graphic novel or illustrated novel. And I still hope to publish a picture book or two (or three or four!) one day.

Next week I'll be posting a review of Constance's book and offer you a chance to win her ARC. Meanwhile, here's the synopsis:

In the illustrated middle grade novel, Mr. Puffball: Stunt Cat to the Stars by Constance Lombardo (Katherine Tegen Books, HarperCollins Children’s Books, fall 2015,) Mr. Puffball leaves his New Jersey home on a cross country trip (with postcards home to Mom!) to make his movie star dreams come true. When he lands in Hollywood, Mr. Puffball catapults himself into the next best thing to being a famous movie star: working as a stunt cat to his movie star hero, El Gato! (with over 200 drawings!) 

Monday, April 20, 2015

Teaching the Diary of Anne Frank: A Review and a Giveaway!

The first thing I noticed about Susan Moger’s book, Teaching the Diary of Anne Frank: An In-Depth Resource for Learning About the Holocaust Through the Writings of Anne Frank was her personal connection to Anne’s story. Here are the opening words to the preface:
I was born the day Anne Frank went into hiding-July 6, 1942. When I first read The Diary of a Young Girl, I was 13, the same age as Anne when she started her diary. That combination of events, and the fact that I, too, kept a diary, forged a connection between Anne and me. (p. 5)
The second thing I noticed was the book’s superb organization. Beginning with a lengthy note to teachers on how to use the book and  ending with “Resources and References” which is divided by grade level, the author has created a classroom resource which will make reading A Diary of a Young Girl not only memorable, but also a starting point for a learning unit with historical and sociological implications. 

Ms. Moger worked hard to show the historical context of Anne Frank’s life. But that broad worldview is balanced with personal snapshots showing how Anne was a “normal” teenager in an abnormal time. The book's timeline reflects this by showing what was going on in the Frank family in correspondence with world events.

Each of the five chapters incorporate resource pages amplifying the author's mission: to teach young people about the Holocaust so that Anne Frank's legacy will influence present and future generations.

You'll have to get the book to appreciate the depth of resources which Susan assembled in this curriculum resource. I can't begin to showcase her project suggestions, response journal topics, thought provoking discussion questions, and excerpts from Holocaust survivors. Here are just a few examples which spoke to me.

This map is similar to the one reproduced in the book. If you click on this website you can see a succession of maps showing the progression of German occupation.


This photograph captures Anne and her dream of one day becoming a journalist or a writer.


National-Socialist German Workers' Party
Party Secretariat
Head of the Party Secretariat  Fuehrer Headquarters,                         July 11, 1943 
Circular No. 33/43 g.

Re: Treatment of the Jewish Question

On instructions from the Fuehrer I make known the following:
Where the Jewish Question is brought up in public, there may be no discussion of a future overall solution.

It may, however, be mentioned that the Jews are taken in groups for appropriate labor purposes.

signed M. Bormann

Distribution: Reichsleiter
Group leaders
File Reference: Treatment/Jews

Source: Documents on the Holocaust, Selected Sources on the
Destruction of the Jews of Germany and Austria, Poland and the Soviet

Union, Yad Vashem, Jerusalem, 1981, Document no.160. p.342.

This is one of several documents used in the prosecution of Nazi war criminals during the Nuremberg trials. Ms. Moger also devotes several resource pages and discussion questions on the topic of doublespeak and euphemisms.


            A Dead Child Speaks
                         by Nelly Sachs

My mother held me by my hand.
Then someone raised the knife of parting:
So that it should not strike me,
My mother loosed her hand from mine.
But she lightly touched my thighs once more
And her hand was bleeding –

After that the knife of parting
Cut in two each bite I swallowed –
It rose before me with the sun at dawn
And began to sharpen itself in my eyes –
Wind and water ground in my ear
And every voice of comfort pierced my heart –

As I was led to death
I still felt in the last moment
The unsheathing of the great knife of parting.

(Translated by Ruth &Matthew Mead)
Holocaust Poetry: Compiled and Introduced by Hilda Schiff.

I read the Diary of Anne Frank over fifty years ago and I still remember some of the feelings it evoked in me. Photocopies of actual pages from the diary startled me. Of course I knew that her journal was a hand-written account and not a typed paperback. But seeing her handwriting and the photos she inserted with her comments, connected me to my younger self who kept a diary because that’s what Anne Frank did. It made me wonder: how many other young women and writers have been inspired by Anne’s example?

The Diary of a Young Girl is a classic book appreciated by readers young and old.  Hopefully this curriculum supplement will continue to facilitate Anne’s purpose: to document a piece of history that the world can’t afford to forget.  

Ms. Moger is giving away an autographed copy of this award-winning book. A perfect addition to any school or home school library, I hope my faithful blog readers will share this post with teachers and/or enter on behalf of a local school. To enter, please leave me a comment by April 23. Make sure you leave me your email address if you are new to this blog.
If your class is studying the Holocaust, here are several other books on the topic which I have reviewed on this blog:

The Boy in the Striped Pajamas
Rose Under Fire
Liesl's Ocean Rescue
Prisoner of Night and Fog 

Visit Anne Frank Foundation for more pictures of Anne and her family.

Visit for interviews about Anne's diary.

Read Annexed by Sharon Doger for a fictionalized story about Peter Van Pels.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Red Madness: How a Medical Mystery Changed What We Eat

Congratulations to Kathleen Burkinshaw who won Miriam Franklin's ARC, Extraordinary. didn't know they are both Sky Pony debut authors--but I did! Look for a review and giveaway of Kathleen's book, The Last Cherry Blossom  next fall.
How many of you have heard of pellagra? Before reading Red Madness, I was unfamiliar with the disease. But reading it resolved a personal mystery for my husband's 85-year-old uncle. He finished the book and said, "Now I know what I had as a child."

This disease which produces a horrible skin rash, leads to severe intestinal problems, causes neurological problems, and often leads to death, no longer afflicts wide portions of our population--the way it did during the first half of the twentieth century. Pellagra has been eradicated from most developed countries because of the tireless work of one physician: Joseph Goldberger. Red Madness by award winning author Gail Jarrow, describes how this medical mystery was solved.
Written with clear language accessible to readers from age ten through adult, Gail Jarrow chronicles the history, myths, and treatments associated with pellagra. Dr. Goldberger's tireless efforts to determine the primary cause of pellagra included hosting "filth parties." In gruesome detail, Gail describes how Goldberger tried infecting himself with pellagra in order to prove that it was not contagious or a result of infection.
"This Oklahoma sharecropper and his family pick cotton in 1916.
The older two children--ages six and five--together picked twenty-five pounds of cotton a day.
Goldberger tried to communicate his message about diet to farmers and mill workers,
 two groups that suffered from pellagra." (p.100)
Since the disease appeared most often in poor households where diets were limited to 3-M's: meal (cornmeal baked into bread), meat (fatback, form the fatty layer on a pigs back) and molasses (syrup), Goldberger was convinced that pellagra was probably caused by a diet deficiency. But how could he prove that? Goldberger spent eleven years, traveling frequently in the South where the disease was most common, and performed experiment after experiment. 

In 1923 his efforts finally paid off. Experimenting with dogs who were experiencing pellagra symptoms, Goldberger fed them brewer's yeast (something missing from most pellagrins' diets). Quickly, the dogs recovered. In 1926 the Mississippi River flooded. 700,000 people lost their homes and 45-50,000 developed pellagra. The Red Cross took Goldberger's recommendation to add yeast to the impoverished people's diet. Within two months people were cured. 

After Goldberger died in 1928, other scientists continued searching for the vitamin that would prevent pellagra. Eventually, Conrad Elvehjem discovered that nicotinic acid (now known as niacin) was indeed, the pellagra-preventing vitamin. Ten years later bakers began adding niacin, along with other Vitamin B complex vitamins to bread. That was the beginning of the enriched bread we enjoy today. 

According to a recent Writer's Digest article, "Straight Up Nonfiction with a Twist," one way authors enhance text is by using sidebars for supplemental material. Gail and her team at Calkins Creek did an excellent job of interweaving newspaper headlines, facts, and photos such as this one into the body of the text.
"Some doctors referred to the butterfly-shaped rash on the
girls neck as the Collar of Casal, named after
the first doctor to write about pellagra." (p. 83)
In addition, dozens of case histories of individuals whose lives were torn apart by the disease, are sprinkled throughout the book. 

In a recent SCBWI, Bulletin article, "What Teachers Want from Nonfiction Authors," Alexis O'Neill said that teachers wanted authors to share about their research and writing process. Accordingly, I asked Gail a few questions about her process.

CarolWhat was it like for you to see the images of people afflicted with pellagra and pulling them together for this book?

Gail: Part of me approached this topic in a clinical manner. I have a background in biology, and I was fascinated to learn how a vitamin deficiency could lead to such dramatic physical symptoms. But when I read the accounts of patients’ suffering written by their doctors, I felt upset knowing this disease was so easy to prevent. Even after  pellagra’s cause and cure were discovered—and publicized—people continued to fall ill and die. Many victims lacked the resources to eat properly or didn’t realize how diet affected their bodies. Tragically, other deaths occurred because some physicians refused to accept that pellagra was a diet deficiency disease.

Carol: Was any part of this writing/publishing journey more difficult than another? 

Gail: The hardest part—and this is always the case when I write a non-fiction book—is locating and obtaining the primary documents.  Those were key because  secondary sources were contradictory about the early-20th-century understanding of pellagra, Joseph Goldberger and his research, and other details included in my book. Whenever possible, I go back to the original sources and do not necessarily trust what I read elsewhere. Too many times, I’ve found errors in the secondary sources.

For more information on the nitty gritty behind writing this book, see the informative Author's Note at the end of the book and Gail's interview in the School Library Journal. Teachers, make sure you utilize the educational activities which Gail has assembled. With such a detailed analysis of the disease, what caused it, and the stigmas associated with the disease, Red Madness will be an excellent supplement to history, sociology, and science lesson plans. 
I usually give away the books which I receive to review. This time I donated Red Madness to The Christian Academy, where my daughter teaches. In an upcoming blog I plan to review another new book by Gail, Fatal Fever: Tracking Down Typhoid Mary.  You'll have a chance to win that one; both books are outstanding additions to any home or school library. 

Read this book and maybe you'll discover answers to the mystery disease which left its mark on someone you know. 


  Although I moved to WordPress for my new website , I'm still having issues with sending out blog notifications. Here's this week&#...