Monday, July 29, 2019

Two "Boy" Picture Books--for Boys and Girls + Two Giveaways!

Not so long ago, writers were encouraged to write "boy books"--books that would appeal to young males who were less likely to be readers than girls. Many authors have taken up the challenge to create books that would engage boys. Here are two picture books that boys will like, as well as girls. 

A Boy Like You

Frank Murphy, the author of A Boy like You (Sleeping Bear Press, 2019), has a message he wants to share with boys (both young and old):

"The world needs a boy--a strong and brave and kind boy--now more than ever."

This sentiment pervades every page of this picture book that will be a great curriculum resource for the preschool-second grade crowd. 

The opening spread shows boys enthusiastically playing a variety of sports but ends with the admonition that a strong boy will,  "Play hard, but play fair. Be a great teammate. Say 'Nice goal!' and 'Good try!' Don't say 'You throw like a girl.' Ever. And, remember, there's so much more than sports..."

The pages which follow show a Black boy (with a White father and Black mother) working in the garden, baking, reading, and playing music which are all wonderful activities in addition to sports. This character is encouraged to discover other people's stories from a diverse cast which are skillfully and artistically portrayed by illustrator Kayla Harren

My favorite pages are when Murphy uses a play on words and instructs the reader to,  "Oh boy, be curious." And, "Oh boy, be thoughtful." I also really enjoyed the page of the little boy being scared to jump off the diving board. The text reads, "Here's a secret that not many people know. Fear and bravery are partners. You can't be brave without first being afraid."

Although the text may seem a tad didactic to adult readers, boys and girls will get the message loud and clear: 

"You are original. And that's a wonderful thing."

A Fist for Joe Louis and Me

In the author's note Trinka Hakes Noble writes that she first saw Joe Lewis's bronzed boxing glove in plexiglass in Cobo Center in Detroit. It inspired her to write this book, just as Joe Louis's knock out fight with Max Schmeling gave hope "during the dark days of the Great Depression and the coming of World War II with Nazi Germany." This book is coming out soon from Sleeping Bear Press and beautifully illustrated by Nicole Tadgell.

This sweet story highlights an unlikely friendship between the young Black boy Gordy Williams, and his Jewish friend, Ira Rubenstein. Gordy's father has been teaching him how to box and afterwards they listen to radio broadcasts of boxing fights--especially when Joe Louis is fighting. 

The Depression hits Detroit hard and his father--along with many others--loses his job at a car manufacturing plant. But Gordy thinks, "But we still had Joe Louis in our corner." 

Gordy meets Ira who's family just immigrated from Germany and they bond over boxing matches and Gordy teaches Ira how to "put up his dukes". They come up with boxing names  and become "Gordy Steel" and "Iron Ira" and joke how they are iron and steel--tough and strong, just like Detroit. 

Their friendship is solidified when Gordy sticks up for Ira against a bully, and their father's friendship is solidified when they discover their joint interest in boxing. In a conversation about Joe's upcoming fight against German Max Schmeling, Mr. Rubinstein says,

"My people and your people, we have much in common, Mr. Williams. This fight is for us too."
I didn't know what Mr. Rubinstien was talking about, but my father did.
"It's for all of us," he said as he stood and reached out his big hand. Mr. Rubenstien reached out his hand, too.
I wasn't sure why, but their handshake felt important, like reaching across something far greater than our kitchen table.


I am giving book picture books away so please tell me which one you want in the comments. Make sure you leave me your email address if you are new to my blog! Giveaway ends August 1. Follow my blog or share this on social media for an extra chance to win. 

Monday, July 22, 2019

Multi Racial Reads #20 and #21

It's been awhile since I've shared the books that I read while writing Half-Truths. Here are two more books that have helped me understand one of my characters, Lillian Harris. 

If you aren't familiar with Half-Truths, this is the pitch for my book:

In the heavily segregated South, fifteen-year-old Kate Dinsmore's world is shaken when she realizes she's related to her grandmother's Black housemaid. This knowledge leads Kate to truths that threaten to destroy her family.   

Ever since I saw the pictures of the principals in the hallway of the former Rosenwald School in Charlotte, NC and saw a man who appeared White but was Black, I knew that my book would revolve around two girls--Kate Dinsmore and Lillian Harris--who were related but belonged to two different races.

What I didn't know was what Lillian looked like. 

Have you heard of these African American leaders?

Ms. Jackson's book showcases twenty-five light-skinned African Americans who had the opportunity to cross the color line, but chose not to. Many of these men and women from the 18th century to the present, fought for the civil liberties of African Americans, women, and other minorities. Under the American "one-drop rule," these individuals had some African ancestry. But due to race-mixing many of them had Caucasian features. They could easily have passed as white -- but did not.

You may have heard of some of them. Adam Clayton Powell (1908-1972), for example, was described by a reporter as a child who was "white to all appearances, having blue eyes, an aquiline nose, and light, almost blond hair, yet he became a bold effective black leader." (Roi Ottley, p. 64) Powell was an influential representative for almost 30 years and was well-known to several presidents. 

You probably haven't heard of the other leaders. Charles Chesnutt (1858-1932) was a literary artist and civil rights activist. "His works candy revealed the cruelty of slavery, societal prejudice, and social injustice... Despite having primarily Caucasian features, Chesnutt knew that his chances for success in the South were minimal... Even as a child, he lamented over the forced estrangement by fellow blacks and spoke frankly about his plight as a Negro who looked white." (p. 114)

Harriet Ann Jacobs (pen name Linda Brent) (1813-1897), was an author, reformer, feminist, abolitionist and relief worker.  Harriet was born a slave in Edenton, North Carolina in 1813. In her autobiography, Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, Harriet described her owner's horrific sexual harassment. After escaping from his clutches she hid for almost seven years under her grandmother's porch. During that time a $100 reward was offered for the return of a "light mulatto." She used the Underground Railway to escape to the North; a condensed version of her autobiography was published shortly before the Civil War. 

The lives of these brave men and women who could have passed for white, embraced their African American ethnicity. They helped me see Lillian Harris, my important secondary character, in an entirely new light. 

From Half-Truths:

This is how Kate reacts when she first sees Lillian at her grandparents' home, "Why does Grandmother have a white girl working for her and why isn’t Auntie Esther taking care of the washing?" 


But what about the Blacks who chose to pass? What was their life like? 

Allyson Hobbs' book, A Chosen Exile: A History of Racial Passing in American Life, pointedly showed me the pain and difficulties associating with passing. 

Jim Crow and Passing

In a section that reminded me of Mothers of Massive Resistance, the author talks about Walter Plecker who worked tirelessly to enforce the one drop rule:
Doctors and midwives received missives cautioning them that it was illegal to classify any child as white without clear evident that neither parent had a drop of black blood. (p. 131)
 Passing, sometimes compelled by the kinds of traumatic confrontations that were recounted in African American autobiographies, provided an unusual yet effective means of authoring one's own life. The practice allowed those who could pass a means of clandestinely navigating the Jim Crow order. Passing offered much, but it could not mend splintered relationships with ones family; it could not ease a deep-rooted sense of alienation and longing for ones people. Passing was unfit for the task, borrowing from Du Bois, of merging two selves "into a better and true self." This curious phenomenon granted economic privileges and societal courtesies, even transformational opportunities for self-fashioning, but often at a terrible cost. (p. 133)
"Crossing over" was a proven strategy for navigating "chilly water"; at the same time, it raised concerns about how black families would remain whole when nearly white relatives moved away, formed new families, and started new lives. The 1926 article in Opportunity hinted at this dilemma framing "this subtle migration" as the "most ambitious offensive ever launched by the sons of Ham," but worrying about "the deliberate annihilation of ethnic affiliation when physical appearance does not proclaim it. (p. 142)

From Half-Truths:

Towards the end of the book, Lillian's father confronts Kate. Kate had thought that if Lillian passed she'd have a ticket into a better life:
Do you have any idea what happens to a Negro who tries to pass? Lillian’s Aunt Dorothy left Charlotte so she could blend into life in New York City.” Mr. Harris scoffs. “She was barely twenty years old and broke her momma’s heart. Sure, she got herself a fancy radio job and married a white man—but she left her history. Her mother, her sister, all her relations—they don’t exist for her no more. They’re as good as dead.”  

I am indebted to Ms. Jackson and Ms. Hobbs for their hard work in writing and publishing these books. As a White woman writing a novel with a main character who is Black, these books are invaluable windows into Lillian Harris's world. 

Monday, July 15, 2019

What's New with Write2Ignite 2019

Congratulations to Jana Leah Burkhardt who won The Perfect Candidate and Sandra Warren who won The Next to the Last Mistake from recent blog giveaways.

After presenting at Write2Ignite 2018, I decided to volunteer my services to this South Carolina based organization dedicated to training Christian writers to provide quality literature for children and young adults. Since then, I've become their official blogmeister and am presenting three teen workshops at the annual conference on September 20-21 at North Greenville University. I'm turning this blog over to my fellow team members who have created several informational videos. Feel free to share this blog with a friend or teen who aspires to be a writer! The Early Bird discount ends August 31.  

Teen/Tween Writing Contest

In this video, Director Deborah DiCiantis, talks about a GREAT contest for teens and tweens. The winner will receive a scholarship to the conference! Check this out for more details.

Make the Most of Your Conference Meeting

Here is Diane Buie on making the most of your 15 minute meeting at a writer's conference:

A Good Critique Experience is Precious

Brenda Covert talks about the critique opportunities at the conference:

Other Conference Benefits

Jasmine Covert, Brenda's daughter, shares some of the benefits teens receive from attending:

Linda Phillips Helps Announce our Bring a Friend Discount!

This discount has been extended through the entire registration period. You and your friend will each receive $15.00 off when you register

And Some Writing Tips From Yours Truly 

Of course, I had to add my own video to the Write2Ignite collection. Here I am sharing five writing tips particularly for new writers. 

Monday, July 8, 2019

Projekt 1065: A Review And TALKING STORY Giveaways

Congratulations to Janet Davis-Castro who won HER FEARLESS RUN on last week's blog. 

No giveaway this week, but I hope you'll check out one of Alan Gratz's wonderful books. 

From the Author's Note:
Project 1065 is a work of fiction set against the very real backdrop of Nazi Germany in World War II. Kristallnacht, the Gestapo, the SRD, the concentration camps, the Hitler Youth, the Edelweiss Pirates, the "Aryan" education in German schools--all of this real. Everything Adolf Hitler says to Michael and the other boys in this book is an actual quote from Hitler; I gathered them together from various speeches and interviews so that I wasn't putting words in Hitler's mouth. Adolf Hitler said enough crazy, awful things that I didn't need to make up anything new for him. p.307
I have the privilege of knowing Alan Gratz, the North Carolina author of this middle grade book for boys and girls. That last sentence is pure Gratz--I can hear his earnest voice saying those exact words.

As readers of my blog know, this isn't my first review of one of Alan's well-researched and well-written pieces of historical fiction. Here is my review of Prisoner B-3087 and one of Refugee. Since Alan's latest book, Grenade takes place in Okinawa in World War II, you can see the connection. Hands down, Alan knows how to connect young readers to the facts and realities of war.


"It's hard to smile when you're having dinner with Nazis." (p.1) This attention-grabbing opening line says a lot. The speaker, thirteen-year-old Michael O'Shaunessey lives a life of pretend. The son of the Irish ambassador to Germany, he is in a precarious position: his parents are spies for the Allies and his uncanny ability to memorize words, numbers, and diagrams is one of their secret tools.

Michael's spy work is under the cover of being a member of the SRD, the junior group that will eventually join the Hitler Youth. It's a role he despises but one that grants him opportunities to access information which he passes along to his parents. He is in class with forty other members of the junior Hitler Youth; much of their time is taken up in learning Nazi propaganda and training to die for Germany.


Fritz Bendler, a new scrawny boy at school who Michael befriends; Michael's teacher, Herr Professor Doktor Major Melcher; and Simon Cohen, a Jewish airman who the O'Shaunessey's hide in the Irish embassy, are all important secondary characters. Although Simon teaches Michael important lessons about facing his fears and being willing to make sacrifices, I'm going to share some excerpts about Fritz and Melcher which help define Michael's journey.

Early in the book Michael provides an observation that is as much about himself, as it is about his teacher:

Even though I wasn't his biggest fan, I had a soft spot for the old codger. I'd gotten the impression he didn't love the Nazis. It was nothing Melcher had said or done--anything that explicit would have gotten him hauled off to a concentration camp or reenlisted in the army, even though he was too old to fight again. it was just the way he talked so lovingly about the way things used to be. I felt he was a kindred spirit. A fellow faker. (p. 29)

Later on, his classmates are taken aback when Doktor Melcher points out that Hitler, and the other Nazi leaders do not fit the blonde, blue-eyed, straight-nosed Aryan ideal.

You could almost hear the classroom gasp. Was Herr Professor Doktor Major Melcher joking? It had to be a joke. It was no secret that the F├╝hrer didn't match the Aryan ideal that he'd gone to war to defend, but no one talked about it. To speak of it in public was like saying the emperor wasn't wearing any clothes. It just wasn't done. But Melcher wasn't joking. I could tell, and so could the other boys. I felt as though I could hear the heartbeats of every boy in the room but mine slow to a cool, calculated thrum. They were trained to be on the lookout for dissenters, people who didn't agree with the Nazi party, tuned in like the special radios that Nazis sold that only picked up German radio stations.
.....If he wasn't careful he was going to end up in a concentration camp. (pp. 103-104)

Meanwhile, Fritz is frequently picked on because of his short stature. Michael decides to teach Fritz how to defend himself and the other boys set up a boxing match between the two friends. To his surprise, Fritz doesn't hold back and tries to clobber him. The scene graphically shows Michael's inner turmoil as well as the brutality of the fight. 

I savaged him, fueling each new punch with some new hatred. I hated Hitler for starting this war. I hated the Hitler Youth for their constant bullying. I hated Fritz for making me hit him again. I hated myself for hitting him. 
When at last I stopped, Fritz lay motionless on the ground, completely and totally beaten. All around us was utter silence. I looked up, eyes afire, chest heaving, arms tensed for another fight. Horst took a step back in fear. I had managed to scare even the monsters, and when you can scare monsters, you can be sure you've become one yourself (p. 128).

As the story progresses, the SRD boys--led by Fritz--torture and capture Doktor Melcher while the police stand by. Michael realizes that the police were scared of a group of 13-year-olds who could turn them over to the Gestapo. He is in agony--but chooses not to say anything in order to carry out his vital plan: steal the plans for Projekt 1065 from Fritz's house.
In a moment of painful analysis, Michael finally realizes why Fritz has become cruel and calculating.

Fritz stood over me, a look of fierce cruelty in his knitted eye-brows and suddenly I understood. Why Fritz had wanted me to teach him how to fight. Why he'd been so desperate to join the SRD. All his life, Fritz had been the boy with the bloody nose sitting here on the ground, looking up at the bully who'd beaten him. 
He'd joined the SRD so he could become the bully himself. Just like little Hitler. (p. 236-7)


If you haven't already realized it, I believe this book is a must-read for middle school students, teenagers, and adults. It is suspenseful, full of tension and page-turning action. At many points Michael is forced to make difficult choices, to sacrifice beliefs and people he loves, and to conquer his own fears. Although it is a frightening book because of the subject matter, the material is not gratuitously graphic for the sake of displaying violence. It is unfortunately, an accurate description of what life was like for these young boys who were brainwashed and forced to assume responsibilities that even adult solders would abhor.

My father was forced to flee Germany in 1939. He remembered the Hitler Youth rallying outside his parents' apartment in Nuremberg and that one boy betrayed his parents. "Either you were in the Hitler Youth--or else," he told me. 



The summer issue of Talking Story, Celebrating Young Adults is now live. Our expert and illustrators are young adults and we're giving away four wonderful books: The Perfect Candidate, The Next to the Last Mistake, When Worlds Collide and Don't Blame the Reckless.  Giveaway ends July 11th and don't forget to leave your email address if you are new to my blog. Also, please let me know which book you're interested in too. 

Monday, July 1, 2019

Her Fearless Run: A Picture Book Review and Giveaway

Congratulations to Connie Saunders who won Gayle Krause's Once Upon a Twisted Tale on last week's blog. As she's found out, it pays to enter twice!!

Not only do I give away books, but I enter giveaway contests myself. Recently I won Her Fearless Run (Page Books, 2019) by Kim Chafee and illustrated by Ellen Rooney from Kathy Temean's blog. (By the way, if you're interested in writing or illustrating for children, this is a blog you want to follow!) I'm pleased to share this book with you and the young runners in your life. 


Ever since she was a young girl, Kathrine Switzer loved to run. As a twelve-year-old, she would mark her laps with a piece of chalk on a tree along her route. 

The mailman stared. The milkman asked if she was okay. Because in 1959, it was strange to see a girl running.
Girls weren't supposed to sweat. Girls weren't supposed to compete. They were too weak, too fragile, for sports. That's what most people thought.
But not Kathrine.

Kathrine loved running so much that when she went to college and didn't find a women's running team, she joined the men's team. She learned about the Boston Marathon and decided she wanted to train for it. When she told the volunteer team manager and her coach, Arnie Briggs, her dream he replied, "Women can't do that kind of distance. They can't run that long."

"But I run six or even ten miles with you every night!" Kathrine shot back.

Determined to prove that she could complete the marathon, Kathrine ran despite bitter cold, snowbanks, and swollen toes. She even had to cut triangle wedges out of her sneakers to get them on her feet.

On April 19, 1967, 741 runners registered (a record!) and Kathrine was the only woman with an official number. Even though a race official attempted to push her out of the race, Kathrine ran on. 

For a moment, Kathrine wondered if she should quit. She still had twenty-four miles to go.
Suddenly, finishing wasn't just about her. If she quit now, no one would believe that a woman could run a marathon. People would still say women weren't supposed to sweat. Women weren't supposed to complete. They were too weak too fragile. They shouldn't be allowed to run.
When she rounded the final corner and crossed the finish line, reporters surrounded her and asked what made her run the Boston Marathon.

Her answer was simple. "I like to run. Women deserve to run too."


I am giving away this inspirational picture book to one fortunate individual. Share this blog on social media or become a new follower of my blog and I'll enter your name twice. Make sure you tell me what you have done in the comments and leave me your email address if you are new to my blog.

Teachers: You can download a classroom guide for use in grades 1-6. 


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