Wednesday, February 24, 2021

Stompin' at the Savoy: A Nonfiction Picture Book Review and Giveaway

 Congratulations to Joan Edwards who won Barbara Younger's painting from last week's blog.

The other day I received a stack of books from Sleeping Bear Press which included several nonfiction titles.

In honor of Black History month, I chose Stompin' at the Savoy: How Chick Webb Became the King of Drums by Moira Rose Donohue as the first one to read and giveaway. 

As I write two nonfiction picture books, I am participating in a superb online "crash course" in writing nonfiction, NF Fest. Each day a different author posts information and an activity related to writing nonfiction. Today, I was inspired by Candace Fleming's challenge, "Let's Make a Scene" to look at the scenes and summaries in a nonfiction text. She defines scenes as "a specific time, a specific place, and one change." Summaries,
tell the reader something necessary without creating a full scene. You can use summary to transition between scenes, set the tone or mood for the next scene, leap forward in time, or explain something (context) your readers will need to understand the next scene. We can identify it by its lack of time and place.

This blog will be my analysis of some of the scenes and summaries in Stompin' at the Savoy


The book opens with a scene of William Henry "Chick" Webb tapping rhythms on iron railings and marble steps. The author and illustrator foreshadow the changes that will occur in Chick's life.

The reader turns the page and on the left side finds a summary of William's early childhood illness that affected his spine. On the right is the dramatic illustration of this scene:

After the fall and an operation, the doctor wanted him to get a set of drums to strengthen his arms (summary). In the next two-page scene William is in the kitchen with his mother pounding on "pots and pats, floorboards and washboards" (notice the wonderful alliteration and internal rhyme!) because the family couldn't afford drums or drumsticks. William made his own drumsticks!

The following page is a summary illustrated here. There's no time or place, but rather an explanation of how William became known as Chick.

Next, the reader sees a scene in which Chick is making money by selling newspapers and twirling his real drumsticks in the air. The change is that he has saved up money to buy the drumsticks and is attracting attention, and spare change, with his tricks.

The next scene shows how although Chick stopped growing at four feet, one inch, he saved enough money to buy a drum set.

The reader then learns through the following scenes how jazz bands were "jamming all over the country" and Chick was hired to play with other bands.  Finally, Chick started his own swing band and hired Ella Fitzgerald as his lead singer.

The next scene shows the dancers at the Savoy ballroom where Chick's band was hired to play. 

At that time, band competitions were the rage. There's a scene where Chick loses to Duke Ellington. Disappointed but undeterred, Chick challenges Benny Goodman, the "King of Swing" to a battle of the bands.

Several pages depict both summary and scenes at the Savoy the big contest night.  

The climax of the competition is depicted in this scene in which Benny Goodman's drummer bows to the new "King of Drums."

How About You?

Have you considered scenes and summaries in the book you are writing or reading? This exercise was helpful to me as I go forward in writing picture books, but it is also helpful for all genres of writing. I previously blogged about scene elements here and here.

Other Thoughts

I loved Laura Freeman's artwork that swirls through the pages.  She captures the music's movement through art--which to me, seems like an incredible feat. 

Stompin' at the Savoy is a great classroom resource to teach K-2nd graders about African American history, music, and perseverance. The one page of back matter expands the reader's knowledge of the challenges which Chick faced as well as information about swing music. In the touching last paragraph, the author shares why she was drawn to Chick's story. 


Leave me a comment by 6 PM on February 26 to enter this giveaway. Increase your chances to win by sharing it on social media and/or following my blog. Make sure you tell me which you do. If you are new to my blog, make sure you leave your email address so I can notify you if you win. U.S. addresses only. 

Wednesday, February 17, 2021

An Artist By Surprise: A Guest Post by Barbara Younger


I have a special treat for you today. My friend, Barbara Younger, is taking over my blog and I am proud to be showcasing her art. Make sure you read all the way to the bottom. There is a fantastic giveaway!


    Bee in Her Kingdom

I always wanted to be an artist. What fun to live your days swirling colors across a canvas. But since I can’t draw, and I’m good with words and stories, I spent my professional years as a librarian and then a writer and teacher. On a lark a few years ago, I took an acrylic painting class. The color swirling began!

Fruit in the Kitchen Bowl

Just for kicks, I posted some of my paintings on Facebook. I was astounded when a friend wanted to buy one. At first, I thought he was teasing. Another friend commissioned three paintings for her child therapy practice.  Another asked me to contribute paintings to a local charity auction. I sent my crazy sun to CBS Sunday Morning, and they accepted it. I was an artist by surprise.

Estrella, Happy Under the Peruvian Stars

As a writer, I know that character is everything. The story begins there. And so, when I paint, I think about the personalities of my subjects and the challenges they face. I give each painting a title that hints at the adventures to come. Here are “Ms. Bear Moves into the Oval Office” and “Penny Waits at the Station.” I always hope the beholder will imagine the rest of the story.

Ms. Bear Moves Into The Oval Office

Penny Waits at the Station

In 2019, our local historical museum commissioned my work for their upcoming antique toy exhibit. I named my collection of fourteen paintings “Toys Escaping.” Jama Kim Rattigan featured my series on Jama’s Alphabet Soup, which was a great moment for this new artist (scroll down to read the story).

    Snuggle Bunny Escapes the Nursery

At art shows and sales, kids rush over to see my paintings. Grownups like them too, especially those who collect whimsical art or folk art. I’ve now sold over 165 paintings. I’m honored to be represented at Margaret Lane Gallery in my hometown of Hillsborough, North Carolina.

I love taking on commissions. I listen carefully to understand what the person wants, and then give it my best spin. My friend Stephanie asked for a portrait of her family, each member disguised as their favorite animal.

The Animals Set Sail

I price my paintings modestly because I want my art to be affordable. I’ve donated a collection of paintings to Turtle Central, the gift shop of the Bald Head Island Conservancy. All profits go to the environmental work of the conservancy, especially the protection of sea turtles.

    Lucy Adds to Her Golf Ball Collection

This summer, I received enthusiastic comments from art editors through a course I took with the Children’s Book Academy. We’ll see if I have a career as an illustrator in my future. For now, I’m happy and still quite shocked to be an artist by surprise.

On the porch of Margaret Lane Gallery
Barbara is holding
"Duck Sells the Farm and Joins a Band"
photo credit David Knox

Barbara Younger is the author of twenty books for kids and adults and holds an MFA from Vermont College of Fine Arts. She sells her whimsical acrylics through art shows, galleries and shops, and her online presence. She lives in Hillsborough, North Carolina, with her husband Cliff.

Thanks to Carol for highlighting the work of so many wonderful illustrators and for letting me have this space to share mine. You can see more of my paintings at Connect with me on Facebook here and follow me on Instagram here. Please email me with any questions at


Barbara is giving away her painting, “Bee in Her Kingdom” (10" by 10")! To enter, leave me a comment by 6 PM on February 19. MAKE SURE you leave me your email address if you are new to my blog. For an extra chance, please share this on social media. Let me know what you do. 



Monday, February 15, 2021

Laura Sassi Gives a Master Picture Book Class

To follow up on last week's blog about Laura Sassi's picture book class, please see my interview with her on the Write2Ignite blog. Here are Laura's books. Leave a comment on the Write2Ignite book to win a copy of either Goodnight Manger or Goodnight Ark.

Thanks to those of you who expressed interest in Laura's class. I can't wait to attend! Maybe I'll finally finish my rhyming picture books--that don't quite rhyme!

Wednesday, February 10, 2021

THE LEAF DETECTIVE: A Picture Book Review

 Congratulations to Rosi Hollenbeck, my California blogger counterpart, who won Buzzing With Questions from last week's blog.

This week I'm excited to be a part of a blog tour for a marvelous new picture book, The Leaf Detective by Heather Lang.  

Lang's passion for the life and work of Margaret Lowman is clearly communicated through the beautiful language in her free verse poetry. Outstanding illustrations by Jana Christy enhance the book's impact on young readers in this terrific picture book biography. 

"We are part of our ecosystem, not outside it." Margaret 'Canopy Meg' Lowman. 


This is the first picture book biography I've read that opens with information about the character as an adult and then flashes back to her childhood. Here is the opening:

Meg loved how leaves

  burst into the world 

      and unfurled. 

She admired their different shapes, 

colors, and textures. 

After twenty years of thinking about them, 

   reading about them, 

      studying them, 

Meg wanted to understand them, 

to discover their stories. 

How did they survive? 

   How long did they live? 

      Why did they die?

The author then takes a step back into Meg's childhood in Elmira, New York. A shy child, Meg found "comfort and friendship and quiet excitement in plants."

"Meg wrapped herself in nature,
like a soft blanket."

As a young woman, she "fed her passion with science" in college--despite the fact that one professor didn't allow her to take his class because she was a woman. 

Meg "stuck like sap" to her passion and went to graduate school in Sydney, Australia to study the rainforests.

Using seat-belt straps,
Meg sewed a harness.
From a metal rod,
she welded a slingshot.

This was no easy feat. It took many tries but,

At last, splashed with flowers and sunlight--
   the canopy!
The treetop swayed
   back and forth.
Flies whizzed.
Lizards lingered.
A black weevil sucked leaf juices.
Sweat bees landed on her arm
for a lick of salt.
And the jungle's music danced all around her.

The rain forest had never been studied from within. Meg was thrilled to explore this new frontier--even people said women didn't climb trees! 

Leaf facts like these add more information to each page:

"By the 1970's, deforestation, the clearing of forests by humans, had become a serious problem in Australia and around the world. Scientists guess that more than half of our forests have already been destroyed."

She explored the stinging tree.
It defended itself--
its pincushion leaves tore at her skin,
and chemical hairs injected poisons with a fiery sting!

Meg tried to climb at night,
but dangling from a rope, studying leaves,
is difficult
and dangerous 
in a dark forest
    with deadly snakes
         and spiders
               and ravenous biting ants. 

She had to find a better way, but what?

Then one night,
at one of her research sites,
she and a friend had a brilliant idea--
a trail through the treetops
made with ladders instead of ropes.

Meg helped invent the world's first canopy walkway!

Meg's work had only begun. She traveled to Cameroon, Africa, where she joined a team of scientists who used a hot air balloon to place a raft in the treetops!

At the top of the canopy, Meg realized that she wanted to work on conserving rainforests. She returned to Cameroon and helped the villagers learn how to use the rainforest's gifts, like ferns and orchids, rather than cutting them down. In Western Samoa, she helped set up canopy tourism. In Ethiopia, she persuaded people to protect their trees by building stone walls. 

Meg used her voice
to inspire people
to save their rainforests
to save themselves
  because to Meg, a tree is not just a tree.

It is a shelter for animals and people,
a recycler and provider of watner,
a creator of food and oxygen,
an inventor of medicine,
a soldier against climate change.

It is essential for life on earth.


Heather Lang included an extensive author's note which includes her  experience meeting Meg and going on a climb with her in Peru!

Heather and Meg in 2017

There is a beautiful two-page spread of the rain forest that shows the plants, trees, animals, and insects at each level. The resource page includes a bibliography, videos, and source notes.


This book will make a superb addition to any K- 5th grade home or school library. It will inspire students to conserve natural resources and teach them how you can write about science in a lyrical manner! 

Click here to find the curriculum guide. 

No giveaway this week. I'm saving this one for my grandchildren.
Watch this video, and you'll want to order your own copy!

Saturday, February 6, 2021

Looking for a Writerly Valentine's Gift (To Give or Receive?)--Look No Further!

If you are a picture-book-writer wannabe (and I know that besides myself, there are several of my readers who fit that description) then Write2Ignite has something to offer you.

On April 24, Laura Sassi is teaching our next Master Class on Picture Books. It'll be virtual so no matter where you are, you can attend!

Here is the scoop:

What does this have to do with Valentine's Day?

I'm glad you asked!

Tell your sweetheart that you'll skip the chocolates, flowers, or dinner out (if you're brave enough to go to a restaurant) in favor of receiving this master class! 

Make it easy. Print this page out and leave it somewhere he will find it: the refrigerator door, on his favorite chair, or underneath the TV remote. 

Tell him to go to the Write2Ignite registration page to sign you up. If he does that before March 1 (which of course he will, right?) he'll receive a $10.00 discount. 

In an upcoming post, I'll share more information about Laura and her qualifications to teach us. I hope to see you there! 

Wednesday, February 3, 2021

BUZZING WITH QUESTIONS: The Inquisitive Mind of Charles Henry Turner- A Picture Book Review and Giveaway

 I received a record number of comments on last week's blog. Congratulations to Danielle Hammelef for winning GRANDDADDY'S STORIES.



At the moment I am studying picture book biographies, with the hope of writing one or two myself. That means you will meet some notable dreamers, scientists, and artists through the words of talented authors and illustrators. Buzzing with Questions (Calkins Creek, 2019) written by poet, author, and creative writing instructor, Janice Harrington, is the story of Charles Henry Turner, a 19th-century scientist. Vivid, joyful illustrations by Theodore Taylor III bring Charles' quest for understanding the natural world accessible to young readers. 


Without a doubt, Charles was a boy with questions.

His teacher encouraged him to search for his answers. And that's exactly what he did. After finishing high school, Charles Henry Turner did what very few African Americans did in 1886 -- he went to college. 

He was the only brown-skinned man in the class and his white professor was worried about how he would be received. But the other students enjoyed the company of their fellow hard-working student.

Charles spent hours "peering through microscopes, planning experiments, gathering specimens, keeping records, drawing charts, ad reading scientific papers." His curiosity knew no limits.

  • Could spiders learn, or were they only weaving machines that made the same web over and over?
  • How did ants find their way home? Did the sun guide them? Did they follow a trail? 

Searching for answers led to devising experiments. Which led to more information and more discoveries.

Along with his high school students, Charles investigated bee behavior. First, they fed them at breakfast, lunch, and dinner. When they only set out jam at breakfast, the bees still buzzed and circled at other meal times. From that, they deduced that bees had a sense of time.  

Bees, giant water bugs, whirligig beetles, dragonfly nymphs, water striders, paper wasps, hornets, or tent caterpillars. Charles studied them all.

His mazes, spider jars, paper circles, and cardboard stages toppled old ideas about insects. He never stopped inventing new ways to study the smallest creatures, searching for new ideas, or asking new questions.

Despite facing racial prejudice, Charles became an integral part of his St. Louis community. He hoped that by studying biology, people could see the connections between all living things. 

Charles Henry Turner, the boy whose teacher urged him "to go and find out," grew into a teacher himself, a devoted scholar who taught students to look closely, to find the webs that connect us all, and--just as he did--to fill the world with questions, questions, questions. 


Resources at the back of the book include why Ms. Harrrington wrote this book, a timeline, and other resources.  It is a great curriculum resource for Kindergarten-third grade classrooms and STEM book. 

For a Buzzing with Questions read aloud, watch this:

For another great video about Charles Turner's experiments, watch this:


Please leave a comment along with your email address by 6 PM on February 6. It's a great addition to your classroom or home library. 

THE NIGHT WAR: A MG Historical Novel Review

  By now you should have received an email from my new website about my review of THE NIGHT WAR by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley. (It'll com...