Indie Spotlight

STEM Tuesday — A River Runs Through It– Writing Tips & Resources

 

 

Margo here, working to keep the (A) in STE(A)M. Science purists might think the (A) is unimportant but I’m here to argue that it is Very Important. and I will present reasons why.

For instance, this month’s theme is “rivers.” This week, I have examples of books about rivers that are superior at delivering content to youngsters because of that (A). I selected these books because they are perfect examples of using (A) – creativity in BOOK DESIGN that makes the content easier to understand and enjoy. Remember the spoonful of sugar? Plus having students make their own books is the perfect way to evaluate their learning and understanding of the subject matter (more on that below).

The first book is World Without Fish by Mark Kurlansky, illustrated by Frank Stockton. Take a look at this page. The book designer has made the page speak by using color, type design, and compositional tricks. Let’s back up a bit.

In the study of art, you will find that “art” has three components: subject, form, and content. Subject is, well – what it’s about. Subject in a painting might be an apple, in a book – rivers. Content is deeper meaning – the deeper meaning of the apple might be hunger depending how the apple is portrayed. In the book, content could be environmental impact. And form refers to the physical aspects, such as medium (paint or pencil) or such observable concepts as composition and color. Book design comes under the component of form. I argue that appropriate and creative FORM enhances the subject and content. And that (A) art is an essential ingredient in STE(A)M.

In World Without Fish, the subject is of course fish. The content is what is happening to fish, the impact of fishing, and possible solutions to maintaining the oceans environmentally and economically. Now this might be exciting to read just the text, but to some students, it might not. So the publishing team has taken creativity to the form – the book and type design, the colors, the styles and size – to make a book where the content fairly jumps off the page and engages young readers with energy. It includes a comic series that appears at regular intervals throughout the book. So we have the art of “visual narrative” to further the content and engage all types of learners.

The illustrations and creative use of type all serve to draw the reader in.

 

The next book, Explore Rivers and Ponds, by Carla Mooney, illustrated by Bryan Stone, is an activity book with more examples of creative arrangement of content. The design makes the material easier to understand. It’s almost conversational. It pauses to explain vocabulary and includes activities such as ‘bark rubbing,” which looked like a great active art project for getting kids out into nature and interacting directly with the environment. It’s an activity that requires no “art” experience and can produce some great drawings.

 

 

 

 

 

One of my favorite activities with students is making books. It offers a creative and very satisfying way for students to “show off” what they have learned. Let the students try their hand at creative book design. A very friendly and ecologically conscious guide to making books with kids is Susan Kapuscinski Gaylord’s Handmade Books for A Healthy Planet. An enthusiastic environmental artist, she offers many ideas for book projects. Visit her website for many free activities or visit her YouTube channel. https://www.youtube.com/user/skgaylord.

 

A project I did with university students requires publishing software skills, but it’s a great project that combines research, writing, collaboration, proper citing of sources, and, of course, art, and can be scaled down for younger children. I partnered with Dr, Esther Pearson, a member of the Echota Cherokee Tribe and we produced a coloring book called “Native American Lore.” The students did the research and artwork and had the satisfaction of seeing their work in print. We presented it at an educational symposium and proceeds are donated to a non-profit that provides school expenses for the children of migrant workers in Veracruz, Mexico. The students had an amazing sense of accomplishment to see their research and artwork out in the world. This would be great for science topics and promote teamwork and cooperation. You can still find our book on Amazon.

 

 

 

 

Please don’t think because you are not an artist, you can’t work (A) into STEM projects. You will find your students have a good sense of art and many will be delighted to help plan. There are plenty of resources such as Susan Kapuscinski Gaylord’s book, and you may find you have more (A) in you than you realize.

 

Books can be found here:

World Without Fish by Mark Kurlansky, Frank Stockton (Illustrator) ISBN-13: 9780761185000, Publisher: Workman Publishing Company. https://bookshop.org/books?keywords=9780761185000

Explore Rivers and Ponds! Carla Mooney (Author) Bryan Stone (Illustrator) 9781936749805. Nomad Press (VT) https://bookshop.org/books/explore-rivers-and-ponds/9781936749805

Handmade Books for a Healthy Planet – Sixteen Earth-Friendly Projects From Around The World, Susan Kapuscinski Gaylord, ISBN-10: 0984231900, makingbooks.com. https://www.susangaylord.com/store/p7/Handmade_Books_For_A_Healthy_Planet.html

Native American Lore An Educational Coloring Book: Class Research Project Paperback – November 5, 2018 by Dr. Esther Pearson (Author), Margo Lemieux (Author), Riverside Studios Publishing, ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 1731183933 . https://www.amazon.com/Native-American-Lore-Educational-Coloring/dp/1731183933/ref=sr_1_1?crid=2N6YKOA8ZYDBD&keywords=Native+American+lore+lemieux&qid=1662756358&sprefix=native+american+lore+lemieux%2Caps%2C94&sr=8-1

Kaleidoscope for Kids https://www.amazon.com/Kaleidoscope-Kids-Magic-Storymakers-Present/dp/B0B3S1Y4XN/ref=sr_1_1?crid=2PBZG4RAZRH13&keywords=Kaleidoscope+for+Kids+book&qid=1662989345&sprefix=kaleidoscope+for+kids+book%2Caps%2C111&sr=8-1

 

 

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Margo Lemieux is professor emerita at Lasell University, former regional advisor for SCBWI New England, and a lifelong learner. Her publishing credits include picture books, poetry, articles, and illustration. Her latest publishing project is an anthology with her writers’ group, the Magic Storymakers, titled Kaleidoscope for Kids.

 

 

Indy Spotlight: A Children’s Place, Portland OR

It’s always a treat to feature an independent bookstore devoted to children’s books, especially one that has been in continuous operation for years. Today we’re talking with Pam Lewis, owner of A Children’s Place in Portland, Oregon (www.achildrensplacebookstore.com).

MUF: Portlanders love books. It would be hard to find another town with so many good independent bookstores, and yet some have folded recently. During the COVID challenge, what have your strategies been?
Pam: Well,  it’s been a lot more work and procedure to get books out the door. We’ve relied on face-timing and phone orders and delivering at the curb or sometimes directly to cars.

MUF Have you had good community support during this time?
Pam: Oh yes, that’s why we’re still here! Our community made a good effort to buy from us rather than from Amazon, even during the shutdown.

MUF: Have you been able to resume live events?
PAM: No. We will not have live events here again until all children can get vaccinated!

MUF: What kind of atmosphere do you aim to create in A Children’s Place?
PAM: Welcoming to all. We greet everyone, parents and kids, and offer to help them find their next best book. Our staff reads the books and talks about them with customers. The store has a little stage and colorful posters all around. Customers who have been coming to the store since they were babies are now in college and still coming.

MUF: How do you choose the titles to carry in your store?
Pam: We talk with book reps about what books are “hot,” and we order books from authors we know and like. We listen to the interests of the children who come into the store. In addition to fiction, our customers look for books about birds, nature books, and guides to Oregon trails.

MUF: As middle-grade authors we’re curious to know: what are some books, new or old that you find yourselves recommending to readers 8-12 these days? That they ask for?
Pam: Dragons and dragon stories are always in demand, as well as unicorns and dinosaurs. Series are big with this age group: Tui Sutherland’s The Wings of Fire (dragon epic), Shannon Messenger’s Keeper of the Lost Cities (a telepathic girl in a strange world), Chris Colfer’s Land of Stories (fairytale adventures). In graphic series there’s Kazu Kibuishi’s Amulet .
We’re finding, too, that parents who buy the books are looking back to the classics, books they read as children and want to share with their own.

MUF: Tell us about how your store pursues its mission of raising readers, including your relationships with teachers and with homeless students in the Community Transitional School?
Pam: We give discounts to teachers and work closely with them to help build classroom and student libraries. We’ve been active with the Community Transitional School from the beginning. This welcoming school provides a stable education for homeless children pre-school to 8th grade. It even provides transportation to the site, something that is often difficult for the homeless to manage. Every Christmas, we have a Giving Tree with book requests on it that our customers can purchase. This means we can deliver a new book to every child in the school each year.

MUF: Describe an ideal day for you at The Childrens Place.
Pam: It’s kids coming in and finding the next book they want to read. We get to know our customers, who the advanced readers are who are the reluctant readers. Helping them find good sci-fi or graphic novels or whatever their interests are is what we like to do.

MUF: If a family from out of town visited your store, would they find family-friendly places nearby to get a meal or snack after shopping and browsing? And if they could stay longer, are there some especially unique or interesting sites or activities nearby youd recommend for a family to see?
Pam: Yes. There’s Caffe Destino, Grain Gristle, and Lucca (Italian). There are so many sites of interest in the area, including The Rose Garden, the Japanese Garden, Mt. Hood, and numerous hiking trails.

Thank you, Pam, for taking the time to talk with us today. Readers, if you haven’t been to A Children’s Place, be sure to visit next time you’re in Portland. 1423 NE Fremont Street.

Indie Spotlight: Children’s Bookstores Survive !

Madison Duckworth and owner Susan Selfors at Liberty Bay Books, Bainbridge Island

In spite of the challenges of Pandemic closures, children’s  bookshops have found creative ways and generous friends to help them stay in business. When COVID became pandemic, those following the book business assumed that widespread unemployment would mean a decline in book sales. They weren’t counting on people stuck at home doing their own cooking or repairs and wanting to know how. People curious about other pandemics in history or, in response to the Black Lives Matter protests, about African American history,  and racial injustice. Most of all, they underestimated the desperation and determination of people staying home with their out-of-school children!

The good news is that book sales actually went up in 2020 ,  and that the biggest increase was in children’s books. The not-so-good news is that most of that business has gone to Amazon.  The online giant has  been thriving while independent bookshops have struggled and sometimes gone under.

With COVID restrictions, everything that defines bookshops, everything they do best. was now impossible. At heart a bookstore is a place. A place where people can go to browse at leisure, talk about books. and get recommendations from booksellers.  Booksellers who have curated their collections and know their customers and communities. It is a place to attend community events, classes, author talks, book clubs, concerts. Now that their doors were ordered closed, how could independents survive?

One answer is: with a little help from their friends! As he has in the past, bestselling author James Patterson has made a generous donation to help bookstores survive the crisis. Early on, he launched #SaveIndieBookstores, a partnership with the American Booksellers Association and the Book Industry Charitable Foundation. He personally  contributed $500,000 for grants to bookstores. “I’m concerned about the survival of independent bookstores, which are at the heart of main streets across the country,” Patterson said. “I believe that books are essential. They make us kinder, more empathetic human beings. And they have the power to take us away — even momentarily — from feeling overwhelmed, anxious, and scared.”

Many stores issued pleas to their regular customers to  shop online or making donations.   Fortunately, communities love their bookstores. The GoFundMe for Hicklebee’s in San Jose (www.hicklebees.com), for example, saw 1,000 people give $80,000 in just over 24 hours. Hicklebees also partnered with the Santa Clara Office of Education to create a “Keep Kids Reading” book drive for hundreds of families in need.

Indy bookstore owners are nothing if not imaginative and adaptable. The 2020 mantra of Maureen Palacios, co-owner of Once Upon a Time Bookstore (www.shoponceuponatime.com) in Montrose, California, was

“Try Anything.” Her shop arranged FaceTime appointments with staff who would take customers on a virtual tour of the shop and help them select books. They also made some popular videos featuring their stuffed toys. Other shops persuaded well-known authors, who normally command a fee for an appearance, to do free virtual author visits. Many other activities, such as book clubs and classes, were more or less convertible to online.

Of course every independent bookstore had to up its online ordering business to keep going. Many shops went from being gathering places to feeling more like fulfillment and shipping warehouses, with maybe some curbside pick-up sales. Yet here bookshops caught a break. Amazon, called upon to ship increasing volume of goods during the pandemic, decided books were not essential items and gave them lower priority. This probably tells you all you need to know about them as a bookseller. Books were still cheaper from Amazon, but no longer could you count on them being delivered in a couple of days. Who knew? It might be a couple of weeks or more.

Aha, an opportunity! Many shops had already taken to delivering to the door locally, but now they had an edge. Jim Morgan of The Curious Reader (www.curiousreaderbooks.com) in Glen Rock, New Jersey, has sometimes spent 2 hrs. on the road. He tells customers: “If you order from us and we have it in stock, you’ll have it that afternoon.” That’s music to the ears of the mother of a restless 7-year-old weary of online school. Location, location. Some shop owners wondered if they weren’t spending more money on gas than they were making in sales. But they were often rewarded with thank you notes, snack bags, and cookies. And future loyal customers.

Then even independent shops started having trouble delivering specific titles in a timely way. A paper shortage developed, and many publishers started deceasing print runs and putting off publication dates.  So titles in demand
weren’t always easy to get. But book stores still had plenty of good books in stock. So some expanded and emphasized their book subscription services, choosing and mailing a couple of appropriate books each month for all reader levels. Eyeseeme (www.eyeseeme.com) of University City Missouri’s selections are all under $25, and billing is monthly.

Hipocampo Children’s Books (www.hipocampochildrensbooks.com) of Rochester New York had only been in operation for a year when the shutdown hit. Fortunately, they had already built a loyal community following because of their unique mission. Owners Henry Padron and Pamela Baile stock children’s books in 14 languages, plus a small collection of adult books in Spanish and English. Of course with the shutdown, they could no longer host the dance lessons and cultural and folklore workshops they liked to hold on site.  But they were able to move some events to Facebook Live. And now that they have been allowed to open again, they have a clever way of assuring social distancing. They’ve taken out all the seating in the shop and placed hula hoops around the floor.

April 24, 2021 is National Independent Bookstore day. Let’s all celebrate this year by un-chaining ourselves. Amazon is going to thrive no matter what. To make a real difference, buy books in person or online from the folks who really know and care about books, and who create wonderful places for us to find the books we love. When you shop at an independent bookstore, you support a community. And in the long run, sales of carefully curated books at independent shops actually help to determine the quality of books that will get published.

Just looking for a huge selection of books where you’re likely to find almost any specific title you’re looking for in stock? You still don’t have to resort to the Big A. Go to Powell’s Books in Portland Oregon (www.powells.com), the largest independent book store in the world. Powell’s offers a vast selection of new and used books both in its physical stores (they’re open now) and online.

Soon we’ll all be able  to enjoy our favorite bookstores in person.  Let’s support them now so they will still be there when we do go.  Want to locate an independent children’s bookstore near you or a new one to explore online?  Go to: indiebound.org/indie-store-finder.