We Love Fishing! by Ariel Bernstein

Happy Book Birthday to a bunch of NJ SCBWI writer-friends!

Hon, you know how much I love Kidlit, especially picture books, so congrats to authors whose picture books have just debuted!

Ariel Bernsteins’s newest picture book, We Love Fishing!, illustrated by Marc Rosenthal, debuted on February 23, 2021.

Perfect for fans of Mo Willems, this hilarious picture book explores feeling like the odd one out with bright and engaging art by New York Times bestselling illustrator Marc Rosenthal.

It’s a beautiful day, and a group of friends are excited to spend it together. The woodland creatures can’t wait to pile into their boat and go fishing! Or, at least, Bear, Porcupine, and Otter can’t wait. They love fishing. Squirrel…does not.

Squirrel tags along with his enthusiastic friends, but is there anything they all love? Or is this fishing trip already sunk? 

Goodreads

Check out Interview With Author Ariel Bernstein on Ellwyn Autumn’s Blog to find out what she finds most challenging about writing picture and chapter books, a common theme in her stories, and what she’d do if approached by an elf.

Other books by Ariel are I Have a Balloon, Where Is My Balloon, and Warren & Dragon chapter books. @ArielBBooks

Don’t Call Me Fuzzybutt! by Robin Newman

Happy Book Birthday to a bunch of NJ SCBWI writer-friends!

Hon, you know how much I love Kidlit, especially picture books, so congrats to authors whose picture books have just debuted!

Robin Newman’s newest picture book, Don’t Call Me Fuzzybutt!, illustrated by Susan Batori, debuted on March 15, 2021.

Bear is tired. It is time for his long winter nap. He will sleep for 243.5 days. But Bear is a very light sleeper. The slightest thing will disturb him, so he knits ear muffs and posts signs and even chops down trees to make a sturdy front door for his den, and then he goes to sleep. Meanwhile, Woodpecker is working on the houses he builds, but he notices several of the houses have disappeared. He sees bits of them scattered on the ground and follows the trail of bits to the new front door Bear built for his den. That is where the houses went. Woodpecker tap-tap-taps on the door. Bear wakes up and is not happy about having his nap disturbed. The two get into a shouting, name-calling match. Can they resolve their differences?

Robin Newman has written a laugh-out-loud story that little ones will want to hear over and over. It is funny, sweet, and hopeful. The illustrations by Susan Batori are so much fun and filled with details that will keep little eyes on the pages. This is a real winner. Don’t miss it.

San Francisco Book Review

Check out “Interview Alert: Robin Newman” on Lauri Fortino’s Frog On A (B)Log to find out how she started writing for kids, where she finds inspiration, and why she believes picture books are important.

Other books by Robin are The Case of the Bad Apples, No Peacocks! A Feathered Tale of Three Mischievous Foodies, Sesame Street: Breathe, Think, Do with Elmo: Problem Solving for Little Monsters, and more. @robinnewmanbook

Dylan’s Dragon by Annie Silvestro

Happy Book Birthday to a bunch of NJ SCBWI writer-friends!

Hon, you know how much I love Kidlit, especially picture books, so congrats to authors whose picture books have just debuted!

Annie Silvestro’s newest picture book, Dylan’s Dragon, illustrated by Ben Whitehouse, debuted on April 1, 2021.

Dylan loves playing, drawing, dreaming, and, best of all, dragons! But his days and weeks are so full–with piano lessons, science club, baseball practice, karate class, and more–that when the dragon of his daydreams shows up, there’s never any time to play. How can Dylan let his family know that his busy schedule needs room for dragon time? 

Goodreads

Check out “The Picture Book Buzz–Interview with Annie Silvestro” by Maria Marshall to find out a common theme in her picture books, what she advice she’d give children, and insight into her journey as an author.

Other picture books by Annie are Mice Skating, Bunny’s Book Club, The Christmas Tree Who Loved Trains, and more. @anniesilvestro

Let Liberty Rise, How America’s Schoolchildren Helped Save The Statue of Liberty by Chana Stiefel

Happy Book Birthday to a bunch of NJ SCBWI writer-friends!

Hon, you know how much I love Kidlit, especially picture books, so congrats to authors whose picture books have just debuted!

Chana Stiefel’s newest picture book, Let Liberty Rise! How America’s Schoolchildren Helped Save the Statue of Liberty, illustrated by Chuck Groenink, debuted on March 2, 2021.

On America’s 100th birthday, the people of France built a giant gift! It was one of the largest statues the world had ever seen — and she weighed as much as 40 elephants! And when she arrived on our shores in 250 pieces, she needed a pedestal to hold her up. Few of America’s millionaires were willing to foot the bill.

Then, Joseph Pulitzer (a poor Hungarian immigrant-cum-newspaper mogul) appealed to his fellow citizens. He invited them to contribute whatever they could, no matter how small an amount, to raise funds to mount this statue. The next day, pennies, nickels, dimes, and quarters poured in. Soon, Pulitzer’s campaign raised enough money to construct the pedestal. And with the help of everyday Americans (including many thousands of schoolchildren!) the Statue of Liberty rose skyward, torch ablaze, to welcome new immigrants for a life of freedom and opportunity!

Chana Stiefel’s charming and immediate writing style is perfectly paired with Chuck Groenink’s beautiful, slyly humorous illustrations. Back matter with photographs included.

Scholastic

Check out “The Picture Book Buzz – Interview with Chana Stiefel” by Maria Marshall to find out what inspired Chana to write this book, where she did research, what she wants kids to take away from the story, and which illustration contains a surprise historical coincidence.

Chana is an author of over 25 books for kids, including My Name Is Wakawakaloch!, Animal Zombies…& Other Real-Life Monsters, and Daddy Depot. @chanastiefel

Rissy No Kissies by Katey Howes

Happy Book Birthday to a bunch of NJ SCBWI writer-friends!

Hon, you know how much I love Kidlit, especially picture books, so congrats to authors whose picture books have just debuted!

Katey Howes’ newest picture book, Rissy No Kissies, illustrated by Jess Engle, debuted on March 2, 2021.

A lovebird who doesn’t like kisses?!

Rissy’s friends and family wonder if she’s sick, confused, or rude. But kisses make Rissy uncomfortable. Can one little lovebird show everyone that there’s no one right way to show you care?

Rissy No Kissies carries the message that “your body and your heart are yours, and you choose how to share.” A note at the end provides further information for kids, parents, and educators about body autonomy, consent, and different ways to show affection.

“This is an artistic gem for consent discussions, sensory-processing contexts, and anyone who champions children’s agency and bodily autonomy. Radiant.”―starred, Kirkus Reviews

Amazon.com

Want to know why Katey chose to address the important topic of consent? More about her writing process? See a printable lesson plan that pairs with her book? Like the sound of Sunflower Love Cookies?

Check out an interview by Darlene Beck-Jacobson, “Katey Howes Talks About Bodily Autonomy and Consent in Her New PB: Rissy No Kissies.”

Other picture books by Katey are Grandmother Thorn, Magnolia Mudd and the Super Jumptastic Launcher Deluxe, and Be a Maker.

Independent Book Store Day

Independent Book Store Day, April 24, 2021, is billed as “One Day. Hundreds Of Bookstores. Fifty States. Join The Celebration!” My two favorite Indie bookstores are The Book House and Words. Both have great selections, calm, welcoming atmospheres, special events, and the personal touch and help that you can only get at small stores.

I hope to one day, very soon (fingers crossed, wish on a dandelion, Flying Wish Paper and more), enter one or both of these stores as a Kidlit author, not just a customer.

Hon, what’s your favorite Indie book store?

The Book House in Millburn, NJ

Words in Maplewood, NJ

Image c/o the bookstores’ websites.

Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream”

Image source, BBSMI
Flags fly at Liberty State Park.

Bmore Energy is a place to share ideas, inspiration, creativity, and moments of beauty and levity in everyday life. Call it positive energy with time for contemplation.

Rarely do I share my political views, but in light of the palpable tension apparent in every single person I know, if you’re uncertain why our nation is on the precipice, read Isabel Wilkerson’s researched, insightful, and devastating book, an accounting of race in America, Caste, The Origins of Our Discontents.

Still don’t know why an angry, violent, weapons-laden mob stormed the Capitol on January 6, 2021? Or why a police officer was killed when he was hit in the head with a fire extinguisher? A woman trampled to death? A gallows set up to lynch the Vice President? Or why, if the color of the people’s skin in the crowd was different, the outcome of the day would have been vastly different? Consider who supports Auschwitz sweatshirts, Nazi insignia, Confederate flags, and gallows. And why. Do I need to spell it out?

On Wednesday, January 20, 2021, the world will be watching the transition of power. Even if that transition is peaceful, this country is home to over 70 million people who voted for a person and his political henchmen who promote racial, religious, and ethnic superiority, polarization, divisiveness and violence. What’s become of basic human rights, natural resources, the environment, foreign relations, trust, healthcare, education, decorum and civility, not to mention the ability to discuss and debate opposing political views? And, how will we look back at the response to a global pandemic that’s, so far, killed over 397,000 people in the U.S.? How many citizens are willing and ready to let the U.S. devolve into a racist regime? I feel ill thinking about it.

This year, MLK Day falls during an historic Inauguration Week. Martin Luther King Jr.’s speech is as powerful and important today as it was in 1963.

Peace to you, hon, wherever you’re from, whatever religion you practice, and whatever ethnicity you are, and hoping and praying the same humanity is extended to you that you extend to others.

Transcript of speech by 
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. 
August 28, 1963. Lincoln Memorial in Washington D.C. 

I am happy to join with you today in what will go down in history as the greatest demonstration for freedom in the history of our nation. 

Five score years ago a great American in whose symbolic shadow we stand today signed the Emancipation Proclamation. This momentous decree came as a great beckoning light of hope to millions of Negro slaves who had been seared in the flames of withering injustice. It came as a joyous daybreak to end the long night of their captivity. 

But one hundred years later the Negro is still not free. One hundred years later the life of the Negro is still sadly crippled by the manacles of segregation and the chains of discrimination. 

One hundred years later the Negro lives on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity. 

One hundred years later the Negro is still languishing in the comers of American society and finds himself in exile in his own land. 

We all have come to this hallowed spot to remind America of the fierce urgency of now. Now is the time to rise from the dark and desolate valley of segregation to the sunlit path of racial justice. Now is the time to change racial injustice to the solid rock of brotherhood. Now is the time to make justice ring out for all of God’s children. 

There will be neither rest nor tranquility in America until the Negro is granted citizenship rights. 

We must forever conduct our struggle on the high plane of dignity and discipline. We must not allow our creative protest to degenerate into physical violence. Again and again we must rise to the majestic heights of meeting physical force with soul force. 

And the marvelous new militarism which has engulfed the Negro community must not lead us to a distrust of all white people, for many of our white brothers have evidenced by their presence here today that they have come to realize that their destiny is part of our destiny. 

So even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream.

I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident; that all men are created equal.” 

I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit together at the table of brotherhood. 

I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice. 

I have a dream that little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character. 

I have a dream today. 

I have a dream that one day down in Alabama, with its vicious racists, with its Governor having his lips dripping with the words of interposition and nullification, one day right there in Alabama little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers. 

I have a dream today. 

I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places plains, and the crooked places will be made straight, and before the Lord will be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together. 

This is our hope. This is the faith that I go back to the mount with. With this faith we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope. With this faith we will be able to transform the genuine discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood. With this faith we will be able to work together, pray together; to struggle together, to go to jail together, to stand up for freedom forever, )mowing that we will be free one day. 

And I say to you today my friends, let freedom ring. From the prodigious hilltops of New Hampshire, let freedom ring. From the mighty mountains of New York, let freedom ring. From the mighty Alleghenies of Pennsylvania! 

Let freedom ring from the snow capped Rockies of Colorado! 

Let freedom ring from the curvaceous slopes of California! 

But not only there; let freedom ring from the Stone Mountain of Georgia! 

Let freedom ring from Lookout Mountain in Tennessee! 

Let freedom ring from every hill and molehill in Mississippi. From every mountainside, let freedom ring. 

And when this happens, when we allow freedom to ring, when we let it ring from every village and hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God’s children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual, “Free at last! Free at last! Thank God almighty, we’re free at last!”

[Good for the] Soul, Pixar Movie

Even if we weren’t in a global pandemic combined with a toxic and scary political climate, Soul, available on Disney+ and rated PG, would have been a wonderful movie. Given that we are stuck in an historic chapter that everyone would like to rip out of the book, Soul means even more. The movie’s messages combined with the color of the cast are significant. The music, humor and animation are amazing. And there’s imagination in spades.

Hon, have you seen it? What did you think?

The best Disney/Pixar animated movies historically straddle the line between delighting children and adults. “Soul,” a Pixar title diverted to Disney+, tilts heavily toward the latter, beautifully exploring ambitious themes about the meaning of life that should resonate more with adults than the younger souls in your streaming orbit.

That warning aside, credit Pixar veteran Pete Docter (“Up” and “Inside Out”) and co-director Kemp Powers (the writer of the play and upcoming movie “One Night in Miami”) with an addition to Pixar’s library worthy of its classics. While the movie might not have been a commercial slam dunk, it’s hard not to admire a premise that dares to tackle such lofty ideas as life after death and what makes living worthwhile, as filtered through the hopes and dreams of Joe Gardner (voiced by Jamie Foxx).

A middle-school music teacher, Joe has spent his life yearning to make it as a musician, pursuing gigs at the expense of his career. When the opportunity suddenly presents itself to live out those dreams, his distracted glee leads to his untimely demise — a real bummer, considering that he had just said he “could die a happy man” if he got to play with the musician that had offered him the chance.

Awakening on the escalator to the hereafter, Joe makes a desperate break to go back, leading to a fairly amusing tour of what the great beyond might resemble. While that animation is customarily lush, the actual character design of the “souls” is rounded and simple — a bit like the Poppin’ Fresh doughboy, only a slightly eerie shade of blue.

In the process, Joe encounters a young soul in what’s known as The Great Before, 22 (Tina Fey), who has long resisted embarking upon the journey to Earth, despite a hilarious roster of mentors that includes a who’s who of historical figures.

It’s around here where “Soul” really begins to leave small fry behind, unless your preteen is apt to get jokes about George Orwell and Mother Teresa.

Ultimately, Joe and 22 do find their way to Earth, but not in the way (or form) he expected, leading to a madcap series of encounters as he seeks to achieve what he sees as his life’s purpose.


That section of the movie unfolds cleverly enough, but it’s the resolution that really brings the whole idea home. The emotional nature of that experience recalls the opening sequence in “Up,” which silently chronicled a lifetime of love and ultimately loss, leaving many adults in the theater (ah, theaters) sobbing while their kids waited to get to the talking dog and airborne house.

“Soul” also features a wonderful score, since music is fundamental to the story, provided by Nine Inch Nails’ Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross with jazz compositions courtesy of Jon Batiste — again, not something likely to be fully appreciated by the tykes on the couch.

Aside from Foxx and Fey, the voice cast includes Phylicia Rashad, Angela Bassett and Graham Norton and Daveed Diggs.

Of course, the idea of animation tackling big, existential themes is welcome, and the “Soul” creative team deserves enormous credit for the effort. Yet one suspects translating that into the sort of box-office stampede Pixar has enjoyed with movies like the “Toy Story” and “Incredibles” franchises would have been challenging, making the direct-to-streaming gambit less of a financial sacrifice.

Either way, “Soul” is highly recommended — especially to adults who might not be otherwise inclined — and a return to form for Pixar after the less-satisfying “Onward.” Parents wanting to really enjoy it, however, might want to watch at least once without their kids, who, understandably, will be less cognizant of choices made, roads not taken and where their own escalators might lead them.

CNN Entertainment review by Brian Lowry, Thursday, December 24, 2020

Powerful Pandemic Perspetive

Cecile, left, the matriarch of our family.
Grandma with her youngest granddaughter.

I was intensely moved by Toby Levy’s January 3, 2021 Op Ed article in The New York Times. Apparently, so were 621 people who commented on her piece. Coincidentally, me and my niece Talia left also comments. Ms. Levy’s article reminded us of our own family’s matriarch, Cecile. My husband’s mom survived the Holocaust, as did his dad, by being shipped to Siberia with their families. Hunted every step of their journeys across Europe, their childhoods were harrowing and horrific. According to Cecile, dealing with the pandemic is isolating, lonely, worrisome, and inconvenient. But terrifying? No. Cecile is in better spirits than a lot of my contemporaries. I listen to her for perspective and wisdom, just like Ms. Levy.

A Holocaust survivor reflects on what it means to survive the pandemic.

By Toby Levy, a retired accountant and a volunteer docent for the Museum of Jewish Heritage. Jan. 3, 2021

These days, I’m a little bored.

The boardwalk is my lifesaver. I’m two blocks from the boardwalk. I can walk to Coney Island if I want to. I go alone. I have some friends here. We used to play canasta once a week. But when Covid arrived, my daughter insisted, “You can’t sit in one room!” So I talk on the phone. I read. The grandkids call in by Zoom. I also do a little bit of Zoom lecturing for the Museum of Jewish Heritage.

I keep very busy, and it helps me a lot. I am trying not to give up. But what is getting me down is that I am losing a year. And this bothers me terribly. I’m 87 years old, and I lost almost a full year.

I’m doing everything I can to stay connected, to make an impact. So even now, amid Covid, I tell my story to schools and to audiences the museum organizes for me, by Zoom.

Here’s what I say: I was born in 1933 in a small town called Chodorow, now Khodoriv, about 30 minutes by car from Lvov, now Lviv, in what was then Poland and is now Ukraine. We lived in the center of town in my grandfather’s house. The Russians occupied the town from 1939 to 1941, then the Germans from 1941 to 1944. My father was well liked in town by Jews and non-Jews. One day in early 1942, one of the guys came to him and said, “Moshe, it’s going to be a big killing. Better find a hiding place.” So my father built a place to hide in the cellar. My grandfather didn’t want to go. He was shot in the kitchen; we heard it.

Not long after that, the Germans said they were going to relocate the remaining Jews to the ghetto in Lvov, so my father and my aunt searched for someone to hide them more permanently. They found Stephanie, who had a house on the main street with a garden and a barn. She had known my parents their whole life. My father built a wall inside the barn and a hiding place for nine people, where we slept like herrings. It was just four feet by five feet. Pigs and chickens were on one side, and we were on the other: my parents, my aunt and uncle, my maternal grandmother and four children, ages 4, 6, 8 and 12.

Eventually, with the help of Stephanie’s 16-year-old son, they expanded the space a bit and added a way for the kids to look out. That is where I spent the next two years. I always think of the son when I get down, because when Stephanie was scared to keep hiding us, he insisted we stay.

We had lice. We had rats. But every day in the barn was a miracle. I’m not a regular person. I’m a miracle child. Most of the Jews of Chodorow never returned.

So when the coronavirus came, I thought, “I’m a miracle. I will make it. I have to make it.”

During the war, we didn’t know if we would make a day. I didn’t have any freedom. I couldn’t speak loudly, I couldn’t laugh, I couldn’t cry.

But now, I can feel freedom. I stay by the window and look out. The first thing I do in the morning is look out and see the world. I am alive. I have food, I go out, I go for walks, I do some shopping. And I remember: No one wants to kill me. So, still, I read. I cook a little bit. I shop a little bit. I learned the computer. I do puzzles.

I still sometimes feel that I am missing out. A full year is gone. I lost my childhood, I never had my teenage years. And now, in my old age, this is shortening my life by a year. I don’t have that many years left. The way we have lived this year means I have lost many opportunities to lecture, to tell more people my story, to let them see me and know the Holocaust happened to a real person, who stands in front of them today. It’s important.

I am scared that I am not going to be in the shape I was a year ago. When this started in March, one of my grandchildren, who lives in New Jersey, went to Maine with his wife; they never came back. They have a baby boy now, and I have only seen him on Zoom. This child will never know me. That’s a loss.

Some of what I’m missing is so simple. I have a male friend I know from synagogue. We would take a trip, if we could, by car. To anyplace! I would go to Florida. Maybe even go to Israel for a couple of weeks. But not now. So, again, this has shortened my life. That is my biggest complaint.

I understand the fear people have, and I understand you have to take care.

But there is no comparison of anxiety, of the coronavirus, to the terror I felt when I was a child. That was a fear with no boundary. This is going to end, and I am already thinking, planning where I am going first, what I will do first, when this ends.

Toby Levy for The New York Times