Thursday, April 19, 2012

Meet Denise Lewis Patrick

Denise Lewis Patrick grew up in Natchitoches, Louisiana. She has always loved words. Her Natchitoches grandmother was a great reader, and her New Orleans grandmother was a great storyteller. Before Denise could even write, she played with her dolls, giving them names and inventing their stories. Later, she started drawing cartoon characters and creating comic strips about them.
“I loved writing so much that I wrote and illustrated my very first book when I was about 10. It was a mystery story. I sewed the pages together on my Mom's sewing machine and glued yellow cloth to cardboard for the cover. I still have it."
In high school Denise wrote for the school newspaper, and also provided spot art as "filler." In 1977, she earned a B.A. in Journalism from Northwestern State University of Louisiana and moved to New York City that same year.
She worked briefly in magazine and newspaper jobs before beginning her career in the children's publishing industry as an Assistant and later Associate Editor at Scholastic, Inc. During her years there, Denise wrote and edited news stories, plays, and puzzles for students from fourth through sixth grades. She also wrote classroom materials for teachers. Denise moved on to become Editor at Joshua Morris Publishing, where she developed and edited mass-market children's books.
Over the years, she worked on various free-lance and work-for-hire projects. She has written narratives for the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center's exhibitions and preschool board books adapted from episodes of the Gullah Gullah Island television series. She was also a Project Editor for Macmillan Publishing's "Adventures of Raggedy Ann" book series, and has written for Children's Television Workshop publications Golden Publishing.
"I finally got the courage to write my own book after I remembered my favorite red Sunday shoes. I loved those shoes, just like the little girl in my first picture book, Red Dancing Shoes."
With Red Dancing Shoes, Denise made the transition from writer to author. Her subsequent work includes several picture books and two historical fiction novels for middle graders, The Adventures of Midnight Son (Holt, 1997), and The Longest Ride (Holt, 1999). Both were selected as New York Public Library Best Books for The Teenage. Meet Cécile, Troubles for Cécile, and Cécile's Gift are her first books for American Girl.
At the same time that Denise has pursued writing, she has been a wife and mother to four sons, with the youngest now in high school. As her sons grew, Denise became involved with writing in schools, first as a volunteer. For five years she served as a manager of a revision-based writing program for a local middle school, where she helped provide one-on-one student "coaching" on various writing projects. She also worked in this capacity for one year with high school students.
Her strong connection to student writing has continued. Today Denise is a volunteer mentor for a middle school all-girls writing club, Inklings, and since the fall of 2010, she's been an Adjunct Professor of Intermediate Writing at Nyack College's Manhattan, NY campus.

Author Denise Lewis Patrick responds to questions about Cécile and her stories

Q: What did you do to prepare to write Cécile's stories?
The first thing I did was to read about what New Orleans was like at the time her stories take place. What did the city look like? How did the different people live together? What kinds of work did free people of color do, and where did they live in the city? I found answers to these questions in books, drawings, old newspapers, and in the narratives, or diaries, of real people who lived in the 1850s. Next, I read about yellow fever, and how that terrible disease affected everyone who lived in the city. I imagined that people must have felt in many ways the same as they did after Hurricane Katrina, or after 9/11 in New York. I decided that I wanted Cécile's stories to show how something so big touched and changed the lives of real, normal people. But the most important thing I did was to go back and walk the streets of New Orleans, to smell the history in the old buildings and see the wonderful cast iron rails. New Orleans is more than a place to me. It's a feeling.

Q: What were the most challenging aspects of writing the Cécile books?
I believe the most challenging aspect of writing these books was deciding what to leave out of Cécile's story! Almost immediately, I began to imagine this lively, smart girl and the family she came from. In my own family, grandparents, aunts, and uncles are very important, and cousins are, too! I even created a family tree for the Rey family, with details such as what Papa's mother did (she made hats), and how Cécile's parents met (their fathers were friends). "Building" a life for the Rey family helped me to know Cécile as well as I know any real person.

Q: How would you describe Cécile's personality?
In my mind, Cécile Amelie Rey is bright, curious, and has a mischievous sense of humor. She loves secrets, of course, and also enjoys learning new things and meeting new people. She's not quite a "girly-girl," because unlike most girls of her time, she hates sitting still and being quiet!

Q: How would you describe Cécile's circumstances in the story?
I would say that she's a child who grows up fast, because she has to face some very serious events in her family and community. She also outgrows the kind of sheltered life she's had before, in becoming friends with Marie-Grace and actively helping children who are less fortunate.

Q: Were any of Cécile's stories based on your own or your family's personal experiences?
My father and my New Orleans relatives used nicknames for us, the same way her family does. Food is very important to my family, as it is to the Reys–especially when we're celebrating anything. But on the other hand, maybe Cécile herself is a bit like I was as a girl: always listening to the grownups talk, and always asking questions!

Q: What did you discover about New Orleans in writing the Cécile books?
What I discovered about New Orleans as I was writing these books is that there's even more to love about this city.

Q: What do you hope girls will learn from Cécile?
I hope that girls learn from Cécile that sometimes, true friendship finds you even when–or especially when–you're not looking for it. It comes when you need it. She discovers an ability that all girls have–to bravely open their hearts to a bigger world than the one they've known.

Contributor: American Girl Publishing

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

The 100th Anniversary of the Titanic

100 years have passed since the RMS Titanic hit an iceberg and sunk in the North Atlantic Ocean, tragically killing over 1,500 people. Since then, countless adaptations of the historic event have been told through movies, musicals, plays, and books. In remembrance of the 100th anniversary we have compiled a list of recently published books for children and teens so they can explore the history and circumstances surrounding the event as well as understanding the lives of those onboard the fated ship.

Titanic Sinks!
Barry Denenberg

The Titanic was luxury liner with a short life. It died sinking into the depths of the ocean during its maiden voyage in 1912. Presented in a magazine format, read about the major events of the Titanic's journey and fate. The author, Denenberg, takes on a fictional role of a magazine correspondent named S. F. Vanni to write about the news and information about the ship; He also used headlines to sensationalize the drama of the ship building. Aboard theTitanic, the story changes format. Vanni keeps a journal and writes about the people and the activities on the ship as it crosses the Atlantic. After the tragedy, the magazine format returns with accounts from the survivors and an interview with Captain Rostron who commanded the ship, Carpathia, which went to rescue passengers from theTitanic. There are several photographs of the ship, crew, and passengers. Denenberg bases his information on a variety of resources which he listed in the bibliography. The book and its format make a fascinating reading experience. Readers may wish to examine Titanic from the "Eyewitness" series along with their reading. 2011, Viking/Penguin Group, Ages 10 to 15, $19.99. Reviewer: Carrie Hane Hung (Children's Literature).

Monday, April 2, 2012

Themed Reviews: Easter

Easter: Sunday, April 8, 2012

            Easter marks the end of Lent, the forty-day period of fasting, prayer, and penance. This Christian holiday that honors Jesus Christ's resurrection from the dead has been celebrated in various forms for thousands of years. It is considered a movable feast—meaning it doesn't fall on a set date every year but instead is celebrated (at least in the western world) on the first Sunday following the full moon after the vernal equinox; somewhere between March 22 and April 25 every year.

            Today, common practices include going to church, Easter egg hunts and baskets, and meals with family and friends. Easter is the second largest "candy" holiday in the U.S.; only Halloween sells more. Chocolate bunnies and jellybeans are two of the most prevalent candies at Easter. Over 90 million chocolate Easter bunnies and 16 billion jellybeans are produced each year. And as illustrated by the books in this year's feature, the Easter Bunny is a popular symbol this time of year. Browse through these titles and those from previous years for some selections to share with your family or students.

Duck and Goose: Here Comes the Easter Bunny!
Tad Hills

The poultry odd couple, Duck and Goose, are back. Easter is tomorrow and they need to find a good spot to hide so they can catch a glimpse of the Easter Bunny. But where? In the pond? No, the water is too cold. Up high in a tree? Ooops, they find themselves up too high in the tree. Worried they might not get to see the Easter Bunny, they decide to pretend they are trees in the meadow. Covering themselves in tree branches from the furry top of their head to their webbed feet, they settle down to wait, anxious to see the Easter Bunny and sure he won't even know they are watching. Hmmm. But were they watching when the Bunny came or were they snoozing? Find out by reading this fun book and looking for the special appearance of the Easter Bunny who left some of the prettiest colored eggs ever seen inside an Easter basket. The author, also well-known as an illustrator has written several other "Duck and Goose" books including two New York Times bestselling picture books, Duck, Duck, Goose and Duck and Goose. What does the author think is important to share with the parents of his readers? "Read to your kids. Have your kids read to you. Or—and this is a great way to get reluctant readers reading—encourage your child to get comfortable and read to a pet (or even a doll). Pets and dolls won't judge a reader's ability and they'll love the attention." Right on, Mr. Hills! 2012, Schwartz & Wade Books/Random House Children's Books, Ages 2 to 5, $6.99. Reviewer: Suzanne Javid (Children's Literature).
ISBN: 9780375872808