I'm Emily Reynolds.
Why do we Americans love the UK so much? What is it about Europe that's just so alluring? A thousand things--the accents, the languages, the phrasing and funny-isms, the history, the art, the culture, the food, the fascinating people, the Marmite. Well, okay, not so much the Marmite...But we all love--or would love--to travel overseas at the drop of a hat (or $5,000!!! Choke!), right?
Since not many of us have the budget, or the green flag for travel at present (to jump the pond this summer), how about we revel in a few fantastic children's books that all have English connections, shall we? Let's!
1) Clever Jack Takes the Cake,
Written by Candace Fleming,
Illustrated by Brian G. Karas
Don’t laugh, this first book isn't even written or illustrated by a creative from the UK. But…hold on to your seats...once you've read this one, you’ll gain a smacking of timelessness that generally comes from stories originating in dear Old England--a feeling, rather, or a conjuring-up of the old world, that usually comes from reading Grimm’s Fairytales.
And this story, has an ending that's so fresh, it could be cut straight from your own heavenly lilac bush.
The story is replete with details of sleeping woods--laced with whispering winds--and four-and-twenty-blackbirds who descend to pluck walnuts off the buttery icing on the cake that a young boy sacrificed his all to bake, as a birthday gift for the princess.
The prose of Clever Jack Takes the Cake uses onomatopoeia of the satisfying variety--like that of the “pfft!” sound that candles make when sputtering out.
Better yet, this is the type of book to spark luscious one-liners for all ages! In fact, phrases from this book just might pop up at the most wonderful moments.
Occasionally a body or two around our table in Maine has been known to select a perfectly gorgeous strawberry (possibly even from our own scraggily patch in the garden--not worthy to be pictured below--the tidy rows below are from the "pick-your-own" fields at Gillespie Farms nearby), only to say, “The reddest, juiciest, most succulent strawberry in the land!”
For a fun run-down on the plot of Clever Jack Takes the Cake,
check out this link from the Children’s Book Review:
Other fantastic resources to enjoy, after sharing Clever Jack Takes the Cake with your kids, can be found here:
The illustrator’s website: https://www.gbriankaras.com/aboutme.html#top
The author’s website: https://www.candacefleming.com/video/video.html
2) That Rabbit Belongs to Emily Brown,
Written by Cressida Cowell,
Illustrated by Neal Layton
Likely, if you're reading this book review, you're already familiar with the first in the Emily Brown series. But on the slightest chance that you're not, I am writing this post JUST. FOR. YOU! This witty story is so cleverly-written, and so satisfying to read, that the only way to not slaughter its charm...is for you to experience it firsthand for yourself.
So, you absolutely must click on the link below to watch the author (a.k.a. Waterstones Children's Laureate [2019-2022]) read aloud from her "shed" in the bottom of her garden in London:
(Pssst...click on the link above, not the screenshot photo below, to watch. It's SOOOO fun! And talk about a dream studio for any artist...I will not covet. I will not covet. I will not covet...)
Cressida Cowell is not only fabulously endearing (as you saw above in her online reading of one of the most fun contemporary children's books available), but her stories are engaging enough, to keep parents wanting to read them again and again in their best goofy faux-British accents. (We all secretly-wish we spoke in a clean, crisp British dialect, don't we?
Admit it. I will. Our own American nasal tones are pretty blech.
I wonder if in heaven we'll be able to Britspeak, or perhaps sound like Aussies(?), if we so desire upon having lived a good life? I better start stepping things up...just in case. (Matt could speak with a Scottish brogue--he does play the bagpipes, after all--and I could speak like I grew up in the Lake District.
3) The Sherlock Files #1
The 100-Year-Old Secret,
Written by Tracy Barrett
Unusual in feel, this book is a pleasantly-innocuous, London-based mystery. My kids and I have listened to the audio version at least three or four times over the last decade.
With all that re-listening, how is it then, that I only recently noticed the "Book 1" part of the title?! Honestly, Einstein! After awakening to this fact last week, we just checked out numbers two, three, and four of the series from the library, and the kids are happily devouring them. Yay!
That being said, I did just come across reviews of the second book, warning that volume two smacks of “Scooby Doo.” (I admittedly adored Scooby Doo as a kid…but any reader in their right mind would deflate instantly upon finding out the swamp monster really was the unmasked butler of the old mansion for the twenty-third time—in a series of books that are totally unrelated with the Hanna-Barbera cartoon!) Still, I can hardly wait to read the whole series as I do love book one.
But, back to the first book in the series, The 100-Year-Old Secret, is written well enough that it can stand alone. Had I all the money for books I wanted, I would easily buy the hard copy to keep on the shelves for any age of my children to read. Nothing creepy, morbid, or crass in this book. Just a wholesome mystery to crack the case of a centuries-old missing painting. Oooh, ooh--art is involved. Yes!
The premise of the cute tweens, Xander and Xena (the matching names may be a bit cheesy, but hey…), picking up where their ancestor, Sherlock Holmes, left off—to solve the case of the missing painting of the girl in the purple hat, sucked me right in. (Perhaps because the first portrait for which I ever had someone pose, was when I was eleven years-old, and my neighbor buddy, Emo Snell Lloyd, humored me by sitting for me on my family’s back steps--wearing a wide brimmed Easter hat.) So this book just struck my soft spot--of wanting to be an artist as a little girl.
Here’s a link to the Looking Glass Review to give you a more thorough synopsis of beloved book one in the series:
4) Kat, Incorrigible,
Written by Stephanie Burgis,
Illustrated by Annette Marnat
If you’re always longing for more of the lusciously-satisfying details of JK Rowling’s world-building, and bask in the fast-paced repartee of sisterly banter in Jane Austen’s works...then Stephanie Burgis’s Kat, Incorrigible series is the perfect intersection for you. And the three of my kids who’ve read this series LOVED it—including one son.
This is a book I've seen those three fans pick up multiple times.
Really, how could one resist a trilogy set in the (Regency Era) English countryside, taking place in a parsonage with three sisters who squabble so realistically, that one almost remembers her own childhood quarrels?
But the genius of these books is that even though the siblings bicker, they ALWAYS stick up for each other when the chips are down. They have each other's backs. This family is so life-like, the reader lives on the page through Kat and her wiser (Elissa), and sassier (Angeline), older sisters.
But Kat's personality has enough grit and spunk that she ends up helping her older sisters to extract themselves from a dodgy betrothal and loads of mischief. As a reviewer named Leslie D. says, Kat can be "frightfully intuitive and woefully ignorant" enough to keep us turning pages at lightning speed.
Not to mention that the details of the Regency era magic (think a magic reticule bag) make a great escape. If you have a reader who loved Harry Potter, and will some day get lost in Jane Austen, this book will probably be a hit.
Here’s Goodreads’ spiel on the plot:
And if you’d like to read a really fantastic take on the book, go to School Library Journal’s Fuse 8 Book Review at:
5) The Giants and the Joneses,
Written by Super Star Julia Donaldson,
Illustrated by Greg Swearingen
After my oldest daughters gobbled up this book years ago, it sat on the shelves for years, waiting...waiting...for my youngest two girls, ages six and nine. They just discovered it, and it makes my heart twirl!
Fair Warning: This book teaches kids how to speak in Groilish, or Giantese. Be aware that after a few days of reading, your child may begin to substitute in a few words of Groilish for their own language, and look at you slyly for signs of feeling out whether or not you know of the language they speak also. It's highly entertaining to watch a six year-old speak a foreign language to you with an empowered, savvy smile! I know something my parents don't! (Oh, just wait kids, after you surpass my educational knowledge in the fifth grade--you'll everything know everything I don't!)
This book has a few sweet lessons about doing unto others what you would have them do unto you. Julia Donaldson has a good mind for slipping a moral or two into her books to educate the next generation.
And if you're not previously familiar with the work of Ms. Donaldson, these are my personal favorite of hers:
• Charlie Cook’s Favorite Book
• Tabby McTat
• The Room on the Broom
• The Highway Rat (a nod to the old poem, "The Highway Man"--yes, the very one that Anne Shirley recites in Anne of Green Gables. AND...the prose in the picture book can be sung with your kids to the melody of Loreena McKennitt's "The Highway Man" song from the album below. Fun, fun, fun!
Here are a few other collaborations between Ms. Donaldson and Axel Scheffler:
• A Gold Start for Zog
• The Gruffalo
• The Gruffalo’s Child
And Ms. Donaldson's latest books (The last on the list, The Smeds and the Smoos, sounds like it was heavily influenced by Dr. Seuss--in creative word usage, rhyme, and the fact that it carries an agenda--think The Lorax, but about discrimination and blind prejudice):
• The Scarecrow’s Wedding
• The Smeds and the Smoos
• Zog and the Flying Doctors
The video below of Zog and the Flying Doctors is read by the most adorable young British voice (worth watching with a little person if you can't find the book):
6) Malala's Magic Pencil
Written by Malala Yousafzai,
Illustrated by Kerascoët
This relevant picture book biography of everyone's young Pakistani heroine, Malala Yousafzai (who still seeks refuge in England), brings a potent message of hope. Her words share with young children everywhere, that one person standing up for what they believe in, can sweep the world with change.
I spoke for all the girls in my valley who couldn't speak for themselves. My voice became so powerful, that the dangerous men tried to silence me. But they failed.
Malala captures the imaginations of children right out of the gate--with her real-life childhood longing to have a magic pen that could draw up a bowl of rice, or erase the smell of the garbage heap outside her window.
You know the story. Later, as Malala grows, and sees the tyrannical leaders of her home town prevent girls from attending school, she begins to understand that she doesn't need a magic pen to make a change, she just needs to write with the one she already has--of her beliefs that all human beings deserve the right to an education.
For a read-aloud of this powerfully poignant and hopeful picture book,
enjoy this with your family below:
And to see Malala's beautifully-sincere acceptance speech as the youngest recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize at age 22, go here:
"I'm pretty certain, that I'm also the first recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize who still fights with her younger brothers. I want there to be peace everywhere. But my brothers and I are still working on that."
Well, every month, I say to myself, "This month, I'm going to write the quickest, simplest book review yet." And then I proceed to blether on absolutely far too much until you're completely gob-smacked by my barminess.
Did you like my use of fun words from the UK? I know. I'm a geek. Even more so, I hope you enjoy the books from the review.
Now, return the favor by going to the comments below, and please tell me which books about British characters, or written by English authors you love the most? Children's books, or adult, I'd love to hear from you about your favorite titles...
So, go be a bookworm, not unlike this slug enjoying his breakfast. Curl up and devour some of the best books! "Shloouuuup!"
Have a glorious summer, friends!
Charles Dickens coined it best in the opening lines of A Tale of Two Cities with:
“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, …”
Two hundred and fifty years after the fictional Charles Darnay chooses to live in England--because he can't bear to be surrounded by the cruel injustices of the French social system, here we are--facing the prejudice of our own country that we thought we'd battled ourselves first in the Civil War, and next in the 1950's and 60's with desegregation.
As our world spins out of control around the globe with racial injustice, protests and looting, a halted economy, and fear of the still-unknown dangers of this strange pandemic, I thought we might take a mental and emotional road trip.
Ahhhhh...Fresh air brings a clean-slate of a perspective! Breathe in the summertime breezes blowing through your rolled-down virtual car window. And make a stop in Portland Maine to step inside the childhood home of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.
Now imagine you're sitting in Longfellow's family sitting room, overlooking the courtyard gardens, sandwiched between two tall buildings in the cobblestoned-port city. The mist settles about the trunks of trees and lupine foliage as a storm brews overhead. Can't you almost just hear our young thirty-four year-old Henry scratching out the words,
"Into each life some rain must fall.
Henry is aching over his first wife's death.
And yet another writer whom we all know and love equally understood that sorrow so keenly by saying,
“The pain I feel now is the happiness I had before. That's the deal.” (C.S. Lewis)
I was reminded of this line at the recent funeral of a beloved uncle. And because for most of us, that metaphorical rain is still falling out in some way or another, and may continue to do so for a while, there won't be many real, physical road trips this summer of 2020. And that's okay. How about then, if we send our minds on an escape instead?
Here are some beautiful summer recommendations that aren't really escapist, but rather a juicy ethical feast:
1) The Running Dream,
Written By: Wendelin Van Drannen,
Narrated by Laura Flanagan
You may have read this book, but have your kids listened to the audio version? All six of mine were GLUED to this story! In fact, it made the child on dish duty (no matter the age from six to seventeen) jump right up after a meal to start loading dishes so they could hear what Jessica was going to go through next after having her leg amputated.
I've listened to this audio book probably four or five times since it came out in 2011. There's just so much meat to think about and discuss, when facing a story full of opposition to overcome. And the author nails the character development for teens on its stubborn head.
This is the type of story that all of us need to hear. So we can remember that we can overcome hard, dark situations in life. Just by working through the next small step, even when it's painful, we can push forward. Jessica's character in this story reminds us that hundreds, and thousands, of baby steps line the path to achieving big goals. Goals take time. Days, months, years. Decades. And if they're really worth it? A lifetime.
Here's Goodreads' synopsis of the plot:
Jessica thinks her life is over when she loses a leg in a car accident. She's not comforted by the news that she'll be able to walk with the help of a prosthetic leg. Who cares about walking when you live to run?
Here's a fantastically-sympathetic interview clip with the persistent Wendelin Van Draanen. She radiates hope and a can-do attitude: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6Revi1nl4dg
2) Les Miserables,
Written by Victor Hugo,
accessed free on Librivox.org
Have you ever tried to push through the mammoth tome of Les Miserables, only to hit the brick wall of the war chapters? I've been stymied by them twice. Almost thrice. :)
I even tried checking out the audiobook from the library years ago, then came to the same dry recounting of the Napoleonic wars, and Zzzzzzzz...felt I was facing the front lines with a short saber instead of a bayonet or rifle.
Maybe it just took having a daunting commission last year, with hours of uninterrupted painting time ahead of me, to get through that spot in the story. Or...hearing the audio book on LibriVox! The scenes of Napoleon's downfall actually turned into one of the tenderest parts of the story for me after Napoleon's personality was fleshed out at his up-seating.
Who knew? The history building up to the French Revolution came alive in my mind for the first time ever (well, at least since falling under the spell of The Scarlet Pimpernel when my older college-going brother introduced Percival Blakeney to me and my best friend and sisters as young teens. "Cool!")
And the chapters describing the saintlike priest who forgives Jean Val Jean--showing him mercy and kindness for a second chance on life, and in God's eyes--more than worth the read!
So back to LibriVox. What is it, a few of young'uns might be wondering?
For starters--free audio books! Just as the Latin name implies: "Libri"=free, "Vox"=voice, hence, "free voice." The purpose of Librivox is: "To make all books in the public domain available, for free, in audio format on the internet."
What's included in the public domain, you might ask? Well, the Electronic Frontier Foundation says,
Which boils down to this: Les Mis is read for free. For you. To enjoy. Since it was published 158 years ago, and its copyright belongs now to the people. Because of this...
Just joking around. But here's the catch. LibriVox Works on volunteer fuel. That means that people all over the world record one chapter at a time. So when I listened to Les Miserables last year, one chapter would be read (for instance) from the viewpoint of Marius by a male's Australian voice. Then the next chapter (from the viewpoint of Cosette), would be read by a female British voice. And then the next chapter from the view of Eponine, would be read by a female American voice. And so on...
This unusual mash-up of readers makes for an adventure. At first, I wasn't sure if I was going to like the hodge-podge of volunteer voices. But actually, I was pleasantly surprised by how the readers seemed to fit the chapters they narrated. Don't know how that worked out...Or maybe I just grew used to the readers and their excellent quirks.
Below is a pic of the chapter by chapter format for listening. You don't even have to download a thing. Just go to the website when you have time to listen...the hardest part is remembering on what "SECTION" you left off between listens (tip--write it down on a log) and squeeze in more free classics when you have time!
Here's the link to a random chapter, below, of Les Miserables if you want to see what you're in for:
So, if you want to hear the Dickens, Bronte, or more classics per month than your audio book provider allows for your budget, LibriVox is a fantastic, FREE option, or addition, to your audio-listening habits. Happy "hearing of the people sing," to you!
3) The Curious World of Calpurnia Tate,
Written by Jacqueline Kelly,
narrated by Natalie Ross
If you couldn't get enough of Jacqueline Kelly's rock-solid storytelling in her first book, Newbery Honor Award-winning The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate, but didn't realize a second installment slipped under the door in 2015, then this is your story.
The audio narration by Natalie Ross is fantastic--she does an especially great job of portraying Calpurnia's Mark Twainesque grandfather with just the right amount of austerity and gentleness.
As a side-note, I still feel that some resolution with Calpurnia's aversion to domestic skills needs to be addressed in a third volume by Ms. Kelly. Perhaps if Calpurnia goes off to medical school, she'll realize that even veterinarians need to know how to cook for themselves--if they don't want to slog through fried eggs and oatmeal for every dish.
And hopefully Ms. Kelly could enlighten Calpurnia to the fact that the sacrificing of one's passions to stop daily (for some of us that's two or three times daily, right?) to prepare food for others, is one of the most vital acts a body can do to continue progression for all, and service to others. (..."when ye are in the service of your fellow beings, ye are only in the service of your God." -Mosiah 2:17, The Book of Mormon).
I mean, if there's one thing we have all learned from CoVid-19, it's how much we DEPEND on hard-working people in the food service industry--produce and dairy farmers, grocers, butchers, bakers, and truck drivers. Thank you every one, for making the world's food happen every day!
So Calpurnia, wake up and smell the hot cocoa (which you need to know how to heat up yourself)!
But as much as Calpurnia's character loathes domestic duties, she's helped my own family find sanity, even joy (hear that, Callie V.?!), while cooking because of her antics. The irony! The stories of Calpurnia dreading to be taught by SanJuanna to whip up egg-whites by hand somehow make it easier for me to do that very act--all while hearing her complain about it. Go figure. We can do hard things. Cooking is not hard. Just tedious, sometimes. Right?
The author here, gives us a look at what went into preparing a single meal for a large family from the side of those who did all the grunt work behind closed kitchen doors. Calpurnia curiously wonders at the efforts, lifestyle, and workload of the people who really keep the show going for her family each day. We see highlights of:
I may never know or understand what hardships so many oppressed peoples have gone through, but even reading fictionalized accounts, can give us a flavor or appreciation.
4) Beatrix Potter: Artist, Storyteller,
Written by Judy Taylor,
Narrated by Patricia Routledge
(Maybe I just soaked up every word of this biography as I love Beatrix Potter so much that I named one of my children after her. Or maybe Ms. Potter just lead a very intriguing life? Either way, this bio is delightful. And a read that older children will enjoy/endure hearing as well.
Audible carries it, and if you liked the movie "Miss Potter," or "Peter Rabbit," I think you'll dig the audio bio that covers Beatrix's courageous battles to preserve 4,000 acres of rural farmland and countryside which she gifted to the National Trust upon her death in 1943, as well as 14 farms. Beatrix Potter was truly a forward-thinking woman, artist, illustrator, sheep-breeder, and conservationist.
Besides, this audio bio is narrated in a lovely, British, school-marmy accent...Can't wait for you to gobble it up faster than the Flopsy bunnies did those soporific lettuces in Mr. McGregor's garden.
(Talk about rabbit holes...that milky juice that oozes from a lettuce stem after being cut fresh from the garden, turns out to be not just be a clever literary ploy on Ms. Potter's part to make her bunnies sleep after all. http://thetanglednest.com/2009/06/soporific-salads-and-lettuce-opium/ I always thought that white bleeding from the spiky stem of the lettuces was weird--now I know it wasn't just my own gardening misadventures gone awry. "What kind of spiky, milk-bleeding monster lettuce is this, anyway?!")
5) Interview with the Robot,
Written by Lee Bacon,
Narrated by a Fabulous Full Cast
This is not my typical genre of book. But if you thought Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card was fun (but didn't revel in the swears--totally unnecessary!), then you'll love the smooth writing and curiously-clean plot of Interview with the Robot. Really, if you're reading this review, you're the type who will dig this story.
In fact, I think anyone would find this book fascinating. My youngest son turned it on to help him get through his afternoon chores each day, and the whole family just happened to hang out where he was listening--for several days...oh, until about the time the book ended. It's that good! Even my oldest girls and husband lingered to hear. If one of us missed a few minutes, we'd ask questions to get caught up to speed.
This cutting-edge story is perfect for any age, but especially tweens! The intriguing plot makes your mind wonder about the ethics of recreating life in robotic form. Plus, the sweet friendship between the two main characters is utterly charming here. Definitely worth a listen if you are an audible subscriber! We loved this book. More like it, please?!
6) The Great Brain,
Written by John D. Fitzgerald,
Illustrated by the Inimitable Mercer Mayer
I think many of us can remember either having this series of books being read to us as children, or coming across them on the library shelves at some point during adolescence. Did you? Can you recall that? Comment below, if you have childhood memories of these books...I'd love to hear about it...
So my husband and I often checked out these audio cassettes (that's how old we are!) for long-distance car rides when our oldest three kids were younger. But now it's time to introduce these classics to our youngest three. The funny thing is, I went to pull the first book in the series off the shelf last night, only to find that the second and third books were missing.
Hmmm...I asked my husband about it, and while I was in the little girls' bedroom reading the first book to the six and nine year-old, he was in our bedroom reading the third book to our eleven and thirteen year-old. Ha ha! Great (brain) minds think alike. I guess it just feels like this is a unique time in the world when we can slow down and empathize with what a simpler, old-fashioned life was like. Not to say it was perfect. There were ills and misguided ideas in that era too. But reading about the past helps us re-evaluate our "family-functioning" (or not-so-functioning, depending on the day!) today--to see where we may have gone wrong, or what we can do better...
Here's one of the best reviews (from Goodreads, naturally) that I've come across to describe the caliber of solid writing in a children's book. It made me laugh as my youngest just did (last night, while hearing book two) exactly what this reviewer describes his son doing while listening to these stories:
I've read a lot of books to my son. A lot. The Hobbit, all three books of The Lord of the Rings, the Narnia books, Lloyd Alexander's Chronicles of Prydain, six or seven of the original Doctor Dolittle books, several Three Investigators books, and far more. And he's loved almost all of them (I selected them carefully, from the books I loved best as I child and teen).
And... just in case you haven't read or watched it yet, here's :
• Bonus Book/Movie Recommendation #1):
Written by the brilliant Jerry Spinelli
Hopefully you've already been spellbound by the magic of this unusual book. I've been waiting for years to share it with my own kids, and now that they're finally old enough to enjoy it, it's out as a movie! Ha! I'd better have them read it quick!
My oldest daughter was woken up by a fox circling the chicken coop last week at 4:30a.m., and couldn't fall back asleep after shooing it away. So she went downstairs, turned on this movie, and was swept away before early-morning seminary!
The story is an uplifting reminder to find joy in who we are, let go of fear to make room for friendship, and open our eyes to the situations of those around us.
Here's a link to the fun movie trailer (aimed at the high school crowd, and a great movie for parents and teens to see together--though a certain thirteen year-old I know may scream from the gross factor of two innocent kisses...):
And for me personally to learn more of what I need to understand about the history what it's like to be someone in the minority in America, while navigating this unsettling day and age, here's a title long overdue on my to-read list:
• Bonus Book/Movie Recommendation #2):
Chains (Seeds of America #1),
Written by Laurie Halse Andersen
My two oldest daughters thought it was definitely worthwhile. Having loved Ms. Andersen's book Fever, I'm pretty confident this one will be a poignant reminder of what I have yet to learn to understand what freedom really means. For all. Not just half, nor some, but equality for ALL of God's children.
Here's what good old Goodreads has to say:
ER: Hi, Andrea! As a busy mom of four active kids, how did you find time to write Joshua Little and the Leaves? And was there an incident with one of your own children that inspired the story?
AC: Joshua Little and the leaves was not inspired by any incidents with my own children. In fact, it was written before any of them were born.
Ever since moving out to Utah for school, I had lived close to my sister, Melanie. And when her twins were born I would bike to their house by the Provo Temple after my last class on BYU campus to help out with the babies. Consequently, their children James and Joshua were a big part of my life.
My nephew, Joshua, was about 3 at the time that I wrote the book. He had discovered how fun it was to play in the leaves and...my sister...had bought a new camera and taken lots of pictures of [him]. They were darling photos and I have a tender spot in my heart for Fall because of my years growing up in Maine, and...my birthday is in October. So pictures of my nephew in vibrant piles of leaves combined with my love of Fall is how it all started.
Joshua has grown up every bit as creative and resourceful as the character in my book though. Even as a very young child he would ask questions like “do turkeys have ears?” He has also always been a doer and a builder. One year for Christmas his parents just gave him lumber. Now, even Though he is still only fifteen years-old, he's already worked on a framing crew and builds everything from sheds, outhouses, and horse jumps, to dirt bikes..."
ER: What did you study in school, and how did that influence your interest for writing children's picture books?
AC: I majored in English and minored in German. I also worked in the publication lab at Brigham Young University where local authors would bring in their work and we would help them research markets for their writing and the submission process.
As a result I read and wrote a ton in college. And I saw everyday people writing and submitting their work for publication. It was encouraging. One time I also met with a local children’s book author, Rick Walton, to learn about how he got started. I discovered that he wrote a lot of stuff other than picture books to support his family.
These experiences made me think it was possible to write and publish my own work, but I would say my upbringing also had a hand in influencing me. [My] mom read to us every day. There were plenty of books at home and library trips were frequent. I enjoy many kinds of literature (novels, poetry, plays, philosophy, short stories, essays) but picture books have always been special to me. I never outgrew them.
...Even in high school my mom subscribed to "Cricket Magazine" which was filled with illustrated short stories. In college, when school got especially stressful, sometimes I would go to the library or the bookstore on campus and just plop down for ten to twenty minutes to de-stress with a pile of picture books.
Sometimes that was my date choice when looking for someone to marry. And even now, I mostly check picture books out of the library. I don’t think I will ever get tired of them. And my kids will probably be the same way. When I sit down to read to my toddler, it isn’t long before all three older ones crowd around to listen and see the pictures too :-)
ER: Do you have much time for writing at all now that your hands are so full?
AC: Life has only gotten busier and more demanding the more children I have. Ironically, even though we aren’t running around to appointments or sports or school, it feels even more so with COVID 19 since they are all home all the time and I am now the home school teacher too :-)
Sometimes I am able to spend time writing, but It is really rare. I simply don’t have much free time at all any more since so much of it goes to meeting [my kids'] needs and helping them develop their talents now or simply giving them my time to show them how much I love them.
The most important things in your life are what get your time. For me that includes scriptures, family meals, practicing instruments, reading, one-on-one snuggles at bedtime and all the necessary things that get put in between all that like house hold chores, school and work. Consequently, a lot of things that I really love (like writing, art, quilting etc.) are just on hold at the moment.
I look forward to the day when I have a bit more of my own time back, but for now I am trying to enjoy all the little ones around me while they are home 24/7.
In fact, without Jake (my husband) Joshua Little and the Leaves might never have gone from being a manuscript to a published book.
ER: Thanks, Andrea, for sharing your fabulous story! One ending note of interest for our readers...Andrea mentioned on the phone that if it hadn't been for her husband coming across her old manuscript in a desk drawer, the book wouldn't be in children's hands and on library shelves today.
So kudos to Jake Cluff, for saying, "Hey, Andrea, what about that old manuscript of yours, do you want to publish it, or what?" Supportive spouses make the world a happier place, one writer, one picture book at a time. Thanks to my own good husband, Matthew, for encouraging me to write... instead of going crazy.
As there's nothing quite like the contentment that comes from working a "bit of earth" (as Mary, Mary, Quite Contrary from The Secret Garden calls it), I'm sharing six books this month about the pleasure of gardening. I think we could all use an escape from cabin fever about now...
1) Joshua Little and the Leaves,
Written by Andrea Cluff,
Illustrated by Evgeniya Pautova
When I set this book--atop a stack of others--on my youngest daughter's bed, she jumped up (no exaggeration), and said, "OOOOH! I love that book! It's so funny! Can we read it right now?!"
Wow! Impressive that one "little" story made such an indelible mark on my child's book-loving soul.
So we did read it. And she was right. It's charming! Yes, I know it's not the right season to share a book about leaves falling when the buds are just starting to push up. But the whole point of Joshua Little and the Leaves, is that change can be enjoyed--through every season of life. Even when at first we don't understand, or even like it!
And so fitting a story for little people who don't quite understand why life is changing as it has, from whatever this crazy virus has thrown at them. This book can be a great segue into a conversation about how life alters--when we least expect it. But there are some things we can do to prepare, or to cope. Like play with those we love. (As depicted by Joshua and his mama below...)
Beyond all the serious talk, this book is simple, but graceful. The flow of the text's rhythm and fresh, computer-generated illustrations remind me of Ludwig Bemelmans' Madeline...but with a cool 2.0 retro nod.
The illustrations are not overworked. Evgeniya Pautova, how did you make such a lovable little mop-of-a-Scottie dog with so few strokes? And Andrea Cluff, thanks for making the world a better place with one sweet "Little" story.
Readers, check back in one week, on Friday May 8th, to enjoy a mini-interview with author
Andrea Cluff as she answers questions about the inspiration behind her book and the road to self-publishing Joshua Little and the Leaves!
2)Anna's Garden Songs,
Poems by Mary Q. Steele,
Illustrations by Lena Anderson
So I happily stumbled upon this golden treasure at our local GoodWill last summer. Where has this book been all of my life?!! It was published forever ago, apparently! How is it not more widely printed? Painted by the same illustrator as Linnea in Monet's Garden, these watercolors are magic.
If you have a green thumb, these illustrations--paired with cleverly-silly poems--are a dream for every vegetable-pushing parent. See for yourself...
That poem is almost as sweet as a crunchy June pea right off a June vine. Now if only our chickens didn't eat all of ours! Argh! Not so much free-ranging this summer, I'm thinking...(The garden-ravaging stinkers!)
Unfortunately, my kids will completely empathize with this cheeky rhyme:
"I do not think I'll eat
Two of my kids chose potatoes for their "vegetable-to-plant-and-weed" last summer. Not so much happened on the weeding end. But the kids sure went wild when it was time to dig for buried treasure! The happy painting above by Ms. Anderson exactly depict that satisfaction of digging up these "apples of the earth" (as the French call them).
One child was excited for the harvest, the other thought it was work--until he hit gold, rather fuchsia--himself!