PPBF: Thomas Jefferson Builds a Library

TITLE: Thomas Jefferson Builds a Library

AUTHOR: Barb Rosenstock


PUBLICATION INFO: Calkins Creek, Sept. 1, 2013

ISBN: 978-1-59078-932-2

SOURCE:  personal collection

INTENDED AUDIENCE: ages 8 and up

GENRE: nonfiction


“Thomas Jefferson learned to read. And then, he never stopped.”

From the Publisher’s Web site: Thomas Jefferson loved books, reading, and libraries, and he started accumulating books as a young man. This original and lyrical picture-book biography tells the story of how Jefferson’s vast book collections helped to create the world’s largest library, the Library of Congress in Washington, DC. Filled with excerpts from primary documents, including Jefferson’s thoughts on books, reading, and learning, this title also features John O’Brien’s whimsical and detailed illustrations. Rosenstock and O’Brien worked closely with experts to ensure the text and images are accurate. The book concludes with an author’s note, bibliography, and source notes.


WHY I LIKE THIS BOOK: Oh, where to start. I’m a big fan of both Thomas Jefferson and Barb Rosenstock. I attended Mr. Jefferson’s University (University of Virginia) and worked as an intern in Monticello’s research department. I adore Barb Rosenstock’s slice-of-life histories. She doesn’t try to tell Jefferson’s whole life story. Instead, she focuses on one particular aspect of his character — his passion for books — and uses that to illuminate a piece of history. And it’s clear that she has researched her topic thoroughly. I am using this book as a mentor text for a manuscript I’m working on.


  • Rosenstock has a teacher’s guide on her Web site. There are lots of fun activities and questions aligned with the Common Core.
  • Visit your school or local library. How are the books organized? What kind of books do you find?
  • Write your own book. I’ve blogged about book writing for young children previously. I find Joyful Learning in KC to be one of the best blogs around for teaching writing to very young children.
  • Take an online tour of the Library of Congress. I took an in-person tour years ago, and it is so lovely.

Every Friday bloggers review “Perfect Picture Books.” Find a complete list of book reviews organized by topic, genre and blogger at author Susanna Leonard Hill’s site.


Perfect Picture Book Friday: A GOOD TRADE

Normally, I review nonfiction picture books, and I have a fantastic one on order. I hope I’ll have it in time for next week. In the meantime, the brightly colored cover of this  historical fiction caught my eye at the library.

TITLE: A Good Trade

AUTHOR: Alma Fullteron


PUBLICATION INFO: Pajama Press, March 15, 2013

ISBN: 978-0986949593

SOURCE:  library


GENRE: historical fiction


“In a small Ugandan garden, a single poppy blooms white in a sea of green.”

This quiet story follows a Ugandan boy as he pumps a day’s supply of water at the village well. Although the day starts ordinarily enough, this day is special. The aid workers’ truck has come with a gift.

THEMES/TOPICS: culture, gratitude, geographic

WHY I LIKE THIS BOOK: Patkau’s bright illustrations originally caught my eye. I grabbed this lyrical book to teach my children about a corner of the world they have no other way to experience. Fullerton shows life in this war-torn part of the world in an age-appropriate way.


  • I think the best activity would be to grab a nonfiction book about the country to learn more. There were plenty on my library’s shelves. You could also go online to learn more at sites like TIME for Kids, which depicts a day in the life of another Ugandan child, Racheal.
  • Using Kato’s day and Racheal’s day, map your day. Draw a picture or write what you do in the morning, afternoon and evening. How is your day the same as Racheal’s and Kato’s? How is your day different?
  • Play a Ugandan children’s game. Send A Cow has a list …. here.

Every Friday bloggers review “Perfect Picture Books.” Find a complete list of book reviews organized by topic, genre and blogger at author Susanna Leonard Hill’s site.

Uncategorized, Writing

Kids’ Magazines – Writing to Theme

Globe Detail

I’m a big fan of theme-based children’s magazines like ASK, BOYS’ QUEST, DIG, and APPLESEEDS. These publications devote an entire magazine to one subject, like sushi, Germany, wheels, or Mars.

As a reader, I find it fascinating to learn about so many facets of one subject. As a writer, I appreciate the challenge of coming up with a interesting theme-based article.

I like to focus my work on theme-based magazines for a couple of reasons. First, I think most writers want to write what they want to write. They don’t want to be constrained by a theme. I would guess — and this is totally a guess — there is generally less competition when it comes to getting stories into theme-based publications.

Second, if a theme-based magazine rejects an article, it’s easier to pitch the same article to a general interest magazine like SPIDER or HIGHLIGHTS. I find it harder to do the opposite. For example, if you write an article about women sportscasters in the NFL, and a general interest magazine rejects it, it may be harder to shoehorn it into a theme at another publication.

Finding story ideas for theme-based issues can be tough. I would encourage you to go back to your expertise, which we discussed in the first part of this series. Think about how your areas of expertise might relate to the theme. If you volunteer at an animal rescue and the theme is wheels, how might pets use wheels? Oh, right, you’ve seen stories about disabled dogs in special wheelchairs. There’s a story that might captivate kids and be relevant to the theme. If you’ve lived in Germany where speed rules the Autobahn, how might you parlay that into a wheels story?

I can wholeheartedly recommend BOYS’ QUEST and its sister publications FUN FOR KIDZ and HOPSCOTCH as great markets for new writers. You write the entire article, allowing you to build your file of writing samples, and you write to theme.

What kind of experience have you had with theme-based publications?


Kids’ Magazines: Tip 2 – Write the Whole Thing

Manual Typewriter Keys

This is the second in my series about breaking into magazines with children’s nonfiction. Last time, I discussed picking a subject in which you are an “expert” to boost your chances of getting published. Today, I want to encourage you to choose a magazine that asks you to write and submit the whole article.

This may sound silly. Of course you have to write the whole article! But some magazines require only query. A query is  typically a sample first paragraph, a brief outline, and a bibliography. Most magazines require new writers to send a resumé and writing samples as well.  If the editor likes the query and has confidence in the writer, the editor will assign the article.

Queries are great. They take less time up front. If the editor doesn’t go for your idea, you haven’t wasted hours agonizing over each and every word. But here’s the challenge: where are you going to get those writing samples to attach to your query?

You may be tempted to send a picture book manuscript or a chapter from your latest middle grade. I’ve done that. But the voice and approach might not be appropriate for the magazine.

Sure, you could write up a mock magazine article to send as part of a query. But if you’re going to do that, you might as well send the piece to a magazine and get your first acceptance.

So pick a magazine that asks you to write the whole article. Once you’ve had that first acceptance, you can add that magazine article to your stack of writing samples you submit as part of a query. And now you’ll have confidence in the strength of your writing samples. An editor loved them enough to publish them!

In my next post, I’ll discuss some of the advantages of themed publications, and why I think they might be easier to break into.


Back to School, Back to Reality

ImageIt’s officially back to school time in our house. For the kids, it means back to the classroom. For me, it means back to writing.

Yes, I did some writing this summer, keeping up with my work-for-hire science articles, writing a book proposal and several magazine queries, even completing a couple of magazine articles.

But now it’s time to put a few fresh picture book ideas down on paper and get my work in front of educational publishers. 

What does back to school mean for you?

Books, Nature, Science/Math, Uncategorized

Perfect Picture Book Friday: THE EDIBLE PYRAMID

It’s Perfect Picture Book Friday! Here’s a quick writing update before I start the review:

  • I finished another query for Boys’ Quest Magazine and got it out the door. They accepted my last two submissions, so I’m hopeful.
  • I have a couple of magazine stories kicking around for Fun For Kidz and Appleseeds. Work begins on those next week.
  • My wonderful critique group helped me whip my latest manuscript into shape. My goal is to finish revisions this weekend so I can send out. I have a writing conference next weekend, where I’ll have a session with an editor I think might be a good fit.
  • I’m working on another picture book idea! It’s been awhile, since I’ve had one come to me as a full concept versus just the subject matter.
  • I signed up for a picture book workshop with one of my writing idols Ann Whitford Paul.
  • I won a copy of Brave Girl: Clara and the Shirtwaist Makers’ Strike of 1909 by Michelle Markel, which I will review in the coming weeks.

Unrelated: The kids are out of school for Good Friday and Easter Monday, and I’ve planned lots of fun. Today we’re headed to the Natural History Museum of LA to see the dinosaur exhibit.

Now, on to today’s review.

TITLE: The Edible Pyramid: Good Eating Every Day


PUBLICATION INFO: Holiday House, 1994 (reprinted 2007)

ISBN: 978-0-08234-2074-2

SOURCE: Library


GENRE: fiction


“On the day of the grand opening of The Edible Pyramid restaurant, customers lined up to get inside.”

From the book jacket:

“Soup’s on at the Edible Pyramid. The feline host is serving everything a kid needs to eat for a healthy, balanced diet. There are yummy items from every group in the food pyramid and advice on getting plenty of exercise too!”

THEMES/TOPICS: healthy eating, food, exercise, science, nature

WHY I LIKE THIS BOOK: Loreen Leedy is a favorite. She blends factual information with comedic characters and great plots to make highly readable books. I can’t think of a better way to teach kids about healthy eating. One note: the USDA has forgone the “Food Pyramid” in favor of the “My Plate” analogy. However, the information in this book continues to be valid.


  • Leedy has activities on her site, including a challenge to pick five foods and see where they fit on the pyramid.
  • Or give your child a food group, fruit for example, and let him or her pick a new food to try.
  • You could also serve kids a favorite food and challenge them to estimate how many servings from each food group the food contains. (MATH!)
  • Have kids think about the ways they exercise and add up the minutes: recess, t-ball practice, gymnastics, dance party in the living room, for example.
  • Learn more about MyPlate from the USDA.

Every Friday bloggers review “Perfect Picture Books.” Find a complete list of book reviews organized by topic, genre and blogger at author Susanna Leonard Hill’s site.





PUBLICATION INFO: Holiday House, 2010

ISBN: 978-0-8234-2220-3

SOURCE: Library

INTENDED AUDIENCE: grades 1 – 3 (publisher)

GENRE: picture book (fact-tion, a nonfiction, fiction blend)


“Hi there! My name is Erg, and I’m pure energy! Everybody loves a powerhouse like me.”

Join Erg and his friends as they learn about energy, its different forms and how its made. Leedy’s comic-book style book includes hints on how to save energy and resources for learning more about energy.

THEMES/TOPICS: science, energy

WHY I LIKE THIS BOOK: Leedy is one of my favorites. She makes learning lots of fun with her comic-book style art. She has a knack for explaining complex concepts simply.


Every Friday bloggers review “Perfect Picture Books.” Find a complete list of book reviews organized by topic, genre and blogger at author Susanna Leonard Hill’s site.


Perfect Picture Book Friday: DREAM SOMETHING BIG


AUTHOR: Dianna Hutts Aston


PUBLICATION INFO: Dial Books for Young Readers, 2011

ISBN: 978-0-8037-3245-2

SOURCE: Library

INTENDED AUDIENCE: age 4 – 8 (Kirkus)

GENRE: picture book (nonfiction, I think)


“One chip of tile. Uncle Sam held it in his hand, studying it, his imagination turning like a kaleidoscope. He put it in his pocket. ‘I’m gonna do something big,’ I heard him say.”

Dianna Hutts Aston tells the tale of how a reclusive Italian immigrant spent 34 years building the Watts Towers  — now a National Landmark — out of rebar, mesh, broken glass and tile. Then he gave a neighbor the deed to the property and walked away.

THEMES/TOPICS: history, folk art

WHY I LIKE THIS BOOK: Roth’s collages are the perfect accompaniment to this little-known story, evoking the towers’ mosaics. Aston’s story is a fascinating look at a little-known folk artist told simply for the youngest readers. It sends the message that anyone can be an artist.


  • Aston’s book contains instructions for building your own Watts Towers out of pipe cleaners and other craft materials.
  • Learn more about the Watts Towers, including how to visit, here.
  • A 1957 video about the towers and Simon Rodia can be found here. A documentary called, “I Build the Tower” is also available.

Every Friday bloggers review “Perfect Picture Books.” Find a complete list of book reviews organized by topic, genre and blogger at author Susanna Leonard Hill’s site.

Books, Nature, Uncategorized

Review: Can You Find These Butterflies?

Author: Carmen Bredeson
Illustrator: Lindsey Cousins
Publication Info: Enslow Elementary, 2012
ISBN: 978-0-7660-3980-3
Source: publisher-provided complimentary copy
Intended audience: PreK through first grade
Genre: nonfiction, picture book (24 pages)
Themes/topics: butterflies, nature
Opening and synopsis: “A butterfly starts out as an egg. A tiny caterpillar hatches from the egg. It eats and grows.” Using simple language, Bredeson describes how a caterpillar transforms into a butterfly. Then she challenges young readers to learn about nine different types of butterflies and spot them in nature.
Why I like this book: This book invites children to become butterfly experts. Rather than just feeding them facts about butterflies, it encourages them to explore their own backyards, parks and open spaces and see if they can tell a Monarch from a Viceroy. Stunning time-lapse photography shows a caterpillar forming a chrysalis and emerging as a butterfly. Additional, close up photographs show primary features of each butterfly. Simple language geared towards first-grade readers make this a wonderful book for progressing readers.
Resources/activities: Raising butterflies is always a favorite for small children. You can order caterpillars through Insect Lore. Also, if you are on the migration path for monarch butterflies, you can record your sightings online.