"Evan and his dog did everything together." The first line of THE ROUGH PATCH by Brian Lies sets up the deep friendship between Evan, a fox, and his dog.
In this book, Evan especially enjoys sharing his love of gardening with his canine friend. The two friends did everything together, until..."
one day the unthinkable happened."
The author doesn't come out and say that the dog died. Instead, an artful two-page spread explains that "Evan laid his dog to rest" and shows the fox, dejected, digging a hole in his garden. The art on the right-hand page shows a swirling cloud with the text "and nothing was the same" surrounded by moody, dark colors. Any child (or adult) who has lost a pet would be familiar with the emotions elicited by this powerful combination of words and images.
This book depicts Evan angry and sad about the loss of his friend, until gardening eventually is his salvation...and the path to a new canine friend. I love how this book shows that getting over grief takes time and that it ends on a hopeful note.
It's not easy to write about death in a way that's both moving and accessible to children. New York Times-bestselling author/author Brian Lies has done a fabulous job with this book, which I'd recommend to any child who's ever lost a pet.
The Rainbow Bridge has a worksheet that kids can complete to help them work through the grief of losing a pet. Younger kids can be helped by a parent or teacher or can only complete the appropriate parts.
This article from Psychology Today also has some tips, including the idea of creating a "Bowl of Memories" with scraps of paper with memories (written or drawn) about the pet.
The Rough Patch
by Brian Lies
Published by Greenwillow Books (HarperCollins), 2018
Ages: 4 and above
For more Perfect Picture Books, please see Susanna Hill's blog.
My son's third-grade teacher has a classroom poster that I love. It's called "10 Ways to Be a Better Reader." It then goes on to list the 10 ways, each in a different color. The part I love is that #1 to #10 all say the same thing: READ.
It's the same with writing. To be better writers, we must read...
1. Published picture books: I've known this for years, but have only recently taken it to heart and begun regularly checking out and then reading bags and bags of recent picture books. I'm also currently participating in Reading for Research Month (ReFoReMo), which has been a fantastic way to discover new books.
2. Other people's manuscripts: Everyone says that you need critique partners to help you hone your writing. After all, other people can see problems and solutions that you can't in your own writing. But, there's also benefit to critiquing other people's work. When you do so, you see what other writers do well (and where they need work), which can inform your own writing.
3. Blogs: There are so many blogs out there about writing, by writers and for writers that it would be impossible to keep up. Two that I especially enjoy are Susanna Hill's Blog (for the book reviews, contests and other community-building activities) and Literary Rambles (for the informative interviews with agents). Pick at least a few and try to read and comment regularly.
And of course, while you're reading, don't forget the most important thing: keep WRITING!
Ada Rios grew up in a town made of trash." So begins the moving and inspirational true story: Ada's Voiolin, the Story of the Recycled Orchestra of Paraguay.
I don't read a lot of non-fiction picture books and discovered this one through my participation in Reading for Research (ReForReMo). And what a fantastic discovery!
The story takes place in a slum town in Paraguay, where the inhabitants' main source of income is picking and selling trash from a landfill. In this environment, Ada struggles to stay out of trouble and focus on school.
One day, a new person comes to town and starts offering music lessons to the local children. But, he only has three instruments and 10 students. And that's not that only problem. In a town "where a violin is worth more than a house," it's not safe for the children to take the instruments home to practice.
Fortunately, the teacher comes up with an extremely innovative solution: making instruments from the materials at hand: recycled trash!
Over time, more and more children join the "recycled orchestra," which began to improve...so much that the orchestra of kids from one of Paraguay's poorest towns go on to perform around the world!
This tale of hope, creativity and the power of music is lyrically written by Susan Hood and beautifully illustrated by Sally Wern Comport. A Spanish-language version is also available.
If you're interested in the fascinating, real-life story behind this book, here's an interesting YouTube video.
Title: Ada's Violin the Story of the Recycled Orchestra of Paraguay
Author: Susan Hood
Illustrator: Sally Wern Comport
Published: 2016 by Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers
Age range: 7-10
To read more reviews of Perfect Picture Books, check out author Susanna Hill's website.
Since yesterday, I've read at least 20 books. Mind you, they were all picture books that averaged less than 500 words. But, lest you think I just zipped through them (like my 9-year-old son does), let me explain: I read them for research, not merely for pleasure.
This year, for the first time, I'm taking part in Reading for Research Month (ReFoReMO), an annual online activity that challenges participants to read a daily list of five to 10 books, along with a blog post about them from an expert in the kidlit field. On the first day, I read a wide range of books defined as "bibliotherapy," a term I didn't even know existed for the type of book that can be used therapeutically to help kids deal with different experiences.
It's only day 2, but I've already discovered a few new books that I love and likely wouldn't have read otherwise. One such example is Planting Stories: The Life of Librarian and Storyteller Pura Belpré.
I know that picture book biographies, especially of lesser-known figures, are hot right now...but I don't usually enjoy them. Planting Stories is different. It's lyrical, engaging and written like a fictional story with sparse, carefully-chosen text.
Beyond discovering good books, Reading for Research is about using mentor texts to "truly understand the form, the market, and the craft of writing them." I've come to realize the value of reading many picture books in order to grow as a writer. While I've been reading a lot of picture books on my own (and tracking them in my handy-dandy spreadsheet), Reading for Research gives me a focused way of reading a curated list of books throughout March.
I'm excited to keep reading and discovering books that will help me along my path to publication. And now if you'll excuse me, I have another 30 or so books to pick up from the library!