Lisa Horak

Contrary to what its title might suggest, A Big Cheese For The White House is not about any of our presidents' rise to power. Candace Fleming once again takes a fascinating bit of historical trivia and renders it into a droll tale for young readers. In an introductory note, Fleming states that while the events are all true, the characters are not, and that she has taken some license, such as using the term White House rather than President's House, as it was known until the early 1800s. In this humorous story, the people of Cheshire learn that President Thomas Jefferson was eating cheese made in the town of Norton, Connecticut. Led by the wise and optimistic Elder John Leland, the Cheshire villagers rise to the challenge to outdo their rivals and create a bigger, better cheddar for President Jefferson to eat. With nearly everyone lending a hand, they use the milk of 934 cows, creating a cheddar weighing 1,235 pounds and standing four feet highÐbig enough that the president will never again need to serve Norton's cheese. Sure enough, by the time the cheese gets from Cheshire to Hudson, New York, to Washington, D.C., people are eagerly awaiting its arrival.

This book is brimming with colorful characters, like Goodwife Todgers, Humphrey Crock, and Farmer Fuzzlewit, who lend their time and talents to the effort. Only Phineas Dobbs, the resident naysayer and pessimist, repeatedly proclaims that It can't be done. S.

D. Schindler's illustrations perfectly mirror Fleming's wry, understated text. The color-washed pen and ink drawings create cartoon-like characters that are both realistic and humorously distinctive. Their unusual features and facial expressions match the quirky names Fleming has given them. Our country's archives are filled with examples of entrepreneurial spirit and stick-to-it-iveness, but this story is light, witty, and above all educational. Two themes emerge. One is that with enough hard work and cooperation anything is possible, and the other is that the whole is truly greater than the sum of its parts.

This book is so entertaining that children won't believe it is based on a real event. As parents will attest, any story that leads to an interest in history is a refreshing and welcome addition to the bookshelves. A Big Cheese For The White House is a delectable triumph for Fleming.

Lisa Horak is a freelance writer.

Contrary to what its title might suggest, A Big Cheese For The White House is not about any of our presidents' rise to power. Candace Fleming once again takes a fascinating bit of historical trivia and renders it into a droll tale for young readers. In an introductory note, Fleming states that while the events […]

Change. It's hard to deal with at any age, but it is especially difficult for young children. In Shadow, by Jill Newsome, Rosy and her family move to a new house, far from her friends, her school, and everything familiar. Suddenly her world is turned upside down. In fact, life becomes pretty miserable for poor Rosy. Any child in a turbulent situation can empathize: sometimes everything feels just plain wrong, which can make for a cranky existence. Fortunately this state of misery never lasts forever. For Rosy, things start to look up when she walks home from school one snowy day and finds an injured rabbit in the woods. She and her family adopt the rabbit and nurse it back to health. It quickly becomes Rosy's first new friend, following her everywhere and earning it the name Shadow. But life is never easy, and no good story is that simple. One day Shadow disappears, and Rosy is again distraught until a girl from her new school brings Shadow home in a box. Now Rosy has a second new friend to play with, and life is a lot more, well, rosy! Shadow is extremely effective in its simplicity. In very few words, Newsome is able to communicate the pain of childhood loneliness and sadness. Her lyrical text is nicely complemented by the watercolor illustrations of her husband, Claudio Munoz, who has illustrated several children's books including Man Mountain, Little Captain, and Come Back Grandma. Munoz's stormy paintings deftly convey the anger and fear Rosy feels towards her strange new world, and later her pleasure in companionship. With such sparse text, Munoz's pictures are essential to the overall mood of the book. Shadow reminds us all that change is indeed scary, but that with time and patience things ultimately work out in the end. Rosy learns that once you make new friends, life is a lot less threatening. These are simple truisms, but valuable ones that apply to children of all ages.

Lisa Horak is a freelance writer and full-time mother.

Change. It's hard to deal with at any age, but it is especially difficult for young children. In Shadow, by Jill Newsome, Rosy and her family move to a new house, far from her friends, her school, and everything familiar. Suddenly her world is turned upside down. In fact, life becomes pretty miserable for poor […]

A good book can have a powerful effect on its reader, provoking tears at the end of a love story or goosebumps during a suspenseful mystery. Exploding Ants (ages 9-12) by Joanne Settel, Ph.

D., will undoubtedly evoke a visceral response from the reader this book will give you the creeps! The creepy-crawly creeps, that is, for it explores various, often disgusting, ways that animals adapt in order to survive.

Readers, beware: Exploding Ants is not for the faint of heart. A professor of biology, Dr. Settel was very thorough in her research of the unusual and grotesque measures animals take to find food, shelter, and safety. She uses simple, vivid words and phrases to explain the big picture: survival of the fittest. Almost every part of every living animal, from skin to dung to mucus, can provide food for some other species. Exploding Ants will primarily delight youngsters in the yuck is cool phase, explaining and providing actual photographs of such phenomena as a butterfly larva masquerading as a bird dropping to avoid being eaten by predators. Not gross enough? Bet you didn't know that tongue worms make their homes in the mucus inside of a dog's nose. And then there are Settel's famous exploding Camponotus ants, which launch a suicide mission when attacked by a predator. These fearless ants will burst open and spew a deadly poison that kills both themselves and their enemies. To be fair, not everything in Exploding Ants is gross. Settel includes several more palatable examples of adaptations as well, like honey ants that store sweet nectar in their bodies to feed their colony when food is scarce, or the male frigatebird that inflates an elastic red pouch on its throat when courting a mate. Exploding Ants will help young readers recognize the value of all creatures great and small, cute and slimy. Ideally, the book will contribute to a new generation of nature lovers, one infatuated not only with cuddly critters but also with the less charismatic and less visible species. As Settel proves, they are equally fascinating.

Lisa Horak is a freelance writer who lives in Annandale, Virginia.

A good book can have a powerful effect on its reader, provoking tears at the end of a love story or goosebumps during a suspenseful mystery. Exploding Ants (ages 9-12) by Joanne Settel, Ph. D., will undoubtedly evoke a visceral response from the reader this book will give you the creeps! The creepy-crawly creeps, that […]

Most people have no trouble answering trivia questions about their own accomplishments; Jane Yolen is an exception. The award-winning author admits she has trouble keeping straight the dizzying array of colorful characters and plots in her more than 200 books, which range from poetry to fiction, fairy tales to science fiction, and songbooks to novels.

Yolen's children's books have received numerous prestigious awards, including the Caldecott Medal for Owl Moon, the Horn Book Fanfare Award, the Society of Children's Book Writers Golden Kite Award, the Christopher Medal, the Kerlan Award, and the Regina Medal.

Her mastery of the written word is not surprising, given her literary origins. Her father was a newspaperman, and her mother wrote short stories and created crossword puzzles. Born of two wordsmiths, the rest is . . . poetry. Raised in New York City and Westport, Connecticut, Yolen graduated from Smith College and received a master's degree in education from the University of Massachusetts. She has been a professional writer ever since, initially writing poetry and newspaper articles. She sold her first book, Pirates in Petticoats, a nonfiction book about female pirates, on her 21st birthday.

Next came a book of poetry for children, and a few books later, she began writing fiction. Unlike most aspiring writers, however, Yolen wisely recognized that to successfully write children's books, she should learn more about the publishing industry.

She edited children's books for several years before becoming a full-time writer, a career she clearly prefers. "I am a person in love with story and with words. I wake up, and I have to write."

Now, more than 25 years later, Yolen remains a poet first and foremost. Her recently released Snow, Snow combines poems with photographs that evoke winter's chilly beauty. This is the third such book on which she collaborated with her son, Jason Stemple. (The others are Water Music and Once upon Ice.) Stemple, an outdoor photographer living in Colorado, selected his favorite snow photos and sent them to Yolen. The pictures inspired her to write 13 poems celebrating winter. "I love cold weather," says Yolen. "I don't ski anymore, but I do enjoy the snow." Children and adults alike will delight in Stemple's crisp, bright photos and Yolen's simple, well-crafted, and vivid images: "Somebody painted/The trees last night,/ Crept in and colored them/White on white./When I awoke,/The tree limbs shone/As white as milk,/As bleached as bone." Snow, Snow is a wonderful book to introduce children to the art and beauty of poetry.

Yolen's keen sense of rhythm and artful phrasing pervades her prose as well as her verse. One of the few children's authors to write about real life, Yolen's quiet poetry poignantly reaches out to kids dealing with sadness and pain. She has written about the death of a beloved family member, a lonely child missing a father gone to war, and the damming of a scenic river. At the other extreme, Yolen is equally adept at humor and satire, writing poems about dancing dinosaurs and hilarious stories about a space-traveling toad and his spaceship "Star Warts."

When asked if it is difficult to switch between the silly and the somber, Yolen replies, "No harder than a child in school to go from math to social studies!"

Describing the breadth of her writing, Yolen says, "It's astonishing that so many writers today just keep writing about the same things. I think that's boring. Writers can be as broad and deep as we want to be, to teach and share life's lessons with kids."

And teach she does. In another recent release, Raising Yoder's Barn, which is set in the Amish country of rural Pennsylvania, Yolen teaches the lessons of hard work and neighborly compassion. When lightening strikes the Yoder's barn, an entire family and community — including eight-year-old Matthew Yoder — lend their unique talents and rebuild the barn in a single day. Yolen often visits the Amish country and says, "I knew that I would write about that landscape and those good people when I found the right story to tell. This is that story." Raising Yoder's Barn is rife with similes: "My brothers and I worked hard all summer in a field with furrows straight as a good man's life," and "Lightening, like a stooping hawk, shot straight down toward our barn." Warm, hazy paintings by illustrator Bernie Fuchs make the reader feel the timelessness, gentleness, and simplicity of the Amish community.

Sometimes story ideas literally come knocking upon Yolen's door. Yolen and her husband live in Hatfield, Massachusetts, home to Smith College, her alma mater.

Recently, the head of Smith College invited her to write a children's story commemorating the 200th anniversary of the birth of the school's founder, Sophia Smith. That book, Tea with an Old Dragon, published last fall, incorporates the few known facts about Smith with various local legends about this pioneer in women's education. It is also the true story of a young girl who took piano lessons from Smith, the so-called "old dragon." Yolen's fellow alumna Monica Vachula added her exquisitely detailed illustrations to this charming story.

With so many unique books to her name, Yolen claims no favorites. "The one I like best is whatever I am working on at the time." She is currently finishing a historical book for young adults about Mary, Queen of Scots and collaborating on several efforts with her children, all of whom inherited her creativity and love of books. Yolen and her daughter Heidi E.Y. Stemple, a writer, are collecting folktales from around the world that focus on mothers and daughters; and she and her son Adam, a musician, are working on a songbook of old folksongs.

While the minutia of her stories may at times elude her, Yolen has no trouble summarizing her books on the whole. "At a time when books are competing for kids' attention with a lot of razzmatazz, my books are like a quiet friend. I think they give much more to a child."

Lisa Horak is a mother and freelance writer living in Annandale, Virginia.

 
Most people have no trouble answering trivia questions about their own accomplishments; Jane Yolen is an exception. The award-winning author admits she has trouble keeping straight the dizzying array of colorful characters and plots in her more than 200 books, which range from poetry to fiction, fairy tales to science fiction, and songbooks to novels. […]

Thanksgiving is a time to reflect on our blessings, congregate with family, and, yes, eat turkey. But how well do we really know this seasonal celebrity? In his most recent book, All About Turkeys, writer, illustrator, and naturalist Jim Arnosky explores the feeding, hunting, and mating habits of the wild turkey. In so doing, he carries on his fine tradition of educating children about familiar aspects of nature, and that is something to be truly thankful for. Arnosky, 52, lives with his wife on a farm in Vermont. He has written and illustrated more than 45 nature books for children, including three additional titles published this year: Little Lions, Watching Desert Wildlife, and Crinkleroot's Visit to Crinkle Cove. Each shares Arnosky's exquisitely detailed, yet gentle, illustrations and straightforward text, which combine to excite young readers about the natural world. BookPage recently spoke with Arnosky about his passion for nature and his voluminous body of work.

When did you first develop your appreciation of nature?

As a child, I lived in rural Pennsylvania and would spend entire days outdoors. I was fascinated with cartoons and wanted to be an artist, so I'd create animal characters, like raccoons and foxes. But the pivotal moment occurred while visiting my grandmother in New York City. I saw these raccoons at the Central Park Zoo, which I later learned were native to Pennsylvania. It was such a revelation, that these animals lived where I lived even though I couldn't readily see them. I became consumed by the elusive nature of wildlife and began looking for tracks and other signs of life to discover what else lived in my world.

Which came first, your love for writing or for illustrating?

Definitely my love for art. I have wanted to be a cartoonist since I was a kid. I didn't begin writing until the early 1970s, when my wife and I were living in a cabin at Hawk Mountain in Pennsylvania. I was a freelance illustrator for Ranger Rick and other publications when I met a wise old man who gave me a piece of invaluable advice keep a journal. So I bought a leather-bound journal that I thought I'd use for sketching. To my own surprise, I began writing about every wildlife encounter that I had. Writing books, though, came much later.

What artists and writers influenced you?

John Burroughs, John Muir, and Ernest Thomas Seton affected me deeply. Reading Burroughs was like listening to me talk to myself. I felt like I was actually with him on his fishing and hiking expeditions. After steeping myself in his books, I was determined to do that too, to make kids believe they are experiencing nature with me. Ernest Thomas Seton is less well known, but he was a wildlife writer and naturalist who specialized in children's books.

What was the first book you published?

In 1974, I wrote the first book about Crinkleroot, the sage woodsman. I wanted him to be an expert in the natural world, yet lovable and whimsical enough to bring natural history to kids. The book was entitled, I Was Born in a Tree and Raised by Bees. Recently I re-colorized the art, made the book more current, and it will be published as Crinkleroot's Nature Almanac.

How do get ideas for your books?

Everything comes either from what I see either through my eyes, a camera, or a video camera or where I identify a lack of information. I want to know not only what lives where I live, but also where my readers live. For example, rattlesnakes are common in the southwest, so I wrote All About Rattlesnakes for kids living in the desert.

Is there one central message that you hope to impart to children?

I am convinced that if you love the outdoors, natural places, and wildlife, you will grow into a person who will consider those factors no matter what work you do. My job is to foster an appreciation of nature and a curiosity about wildlife. I tell kids what I know and let them decide how to think about it. Hopefully they'll use that knowledge and make a difference.

You're very prolific. How long does it take you to write and illustrate a book?

I do four books a year, and each takes about three months. First I research a site, photographing or videotaping a species. Then I let the ideas percolate for awhile before I illustrate my images. The pictures determine the story, so the words actually come last.

What are you working on now?

I'm finishing a video companion to All About Deer. Few children even know the size of a deer. When I ask kids how big a deer is, I get answers ranging from the size of a dog to the size of a pony. And I'll be starting All About Turtles soon. Next spring I have two books for very young children coming out, called Mouse Numbers and Mouse Letters, which were originally written for my daughter when she was three. I'm also working on a surprise book that is a celebration of my own years watching wildlife.

We'll be watching to see what you help children discover next.

Lisa Horak is a mother and a freelance writer living in Annandale, VA.

Thanksgiving is a time to reflect on our blessings, congregate with family, and, yes, eat turkey. But how well do we really know this seasonal celebrity? In his most recent book, All About Turkeys, writer, illustrator, and naturalist Jim Arnosky explores the feeding, hunting, and mating habits of the wild turkey. In so doing, he […]

If a picture is indeed worth a thousand words, then Joyce Hansen's latest book, Women of Hope, speaks volumes about 13 of our country's most heroic and inspirational African-American women. Each woman is featured in a one-page biography opposite a beautiful black-and-white photograph.

The portraits were part of a poster series created by the Bread and Roses Cultural Project, to "honor courageous, creative women of color whose persistence and vision gave society hopefulness and inspiration." Moe Foner, Executive Director of Bread and Roses, writes in the foreword that wherever the widely displayed posters appear — from bus stations and airports to schools and community centers — "pictures of these indomitable women lend a presence of strength and hope." Each striking photograph is accompanied by a one-page biography, just enough to whet the reader's appetite. Hansen provides thumbnail sketches of women worthy of entire books about their achievements, and leaves us wanting more.

The brief profiles are perfect for a book report or for young readers with short attention spans. (Now that I think of it, where was this book when I was in the fourth grade and had to choose a role model?) If the biographies fall short in their lack of detail, they make up for it in emotion and drama. The book moves chronologically from slavery and the Civil War through to the 1990s and includes an annotated bibliography. Hansen includes a list of more than 30 additional "Women of Hope" for readers to explore. These cultural and political icons remind us all that we are capable of anything, including change on a massive scale.

If a picture is indeed worth a thousand words, then Joyce Hansen's latest book, Women of Hope, speaks volumes about 13 of our country's most heroic and inspirational African-American women. Each woman is featured in a one-page biography opposite a beautiful black-and-white photograph. The portraits were part of a poster series created by the Bread […]

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