Category Archives: Children’s Literature

Meet Beryl Reichenberg and Her Picture Books

Beryl Reichenberg: From Teacher to Author

I became aware of Beryl Reichenberg while reading an article in The Paso Robles Daily News. It announced a Halloween craft class she was going to teach. I’m always  interested in local authors, especially those who write for children. I decided to try to get acquainted.

I emailed Beryl, and she was gracious enough to grant me an email interview. She told me most of her books were for sale at Studios on the Park in the Up Front Gallery. It was open and I found them. They were spread between the top cubbies under a craft display. I read every one of them on display (with her permission) so to better frame my questions.

Meet Beryl Reichenberg and Her Books
Beryl Reichenberg Books on Display at Studios on the Park in the UpFront Gallery. They are near the back underneath a display in some storage compartments.
Meet Beryl Reichenberg and Her Books
Up Front Gallery at Studios on the Park. Find Beryl’s book in the back left corner in the gray display.

 

If you’d rather go straight to Beryl’s author page on Amazon before reading more about Beryl and my reviews of her books I liked best, here’s a direct link to all Beryl’s titles. 

Some Background Information on Beryl Reichenberg

Beryl Reichenberg has lived in California for most of her life. She now lives in San Luis Obispo County. We both attended UCLA for part of our education. Beryl is a retired high school English teacher, as am I. Unlike me, she is a talented artist and published author. She still uses her teaching skills, but with younger children. Her specialties include paper crafts and fiber art.

Below she is teaching a class on paper craft at a bookstore.

Meet Beryl Reichenberg and Her Books
At Granada Bookstore teaching Paper Craft and Bookmaking Class, used by permission.

I will let Beryl speak for herself now, in as she answers the questions I had.

My Interview with Beryl Reichenberg

Education and Teaching

In this interview, I asked two kinds of questions. Some were about her background and inspiration. Others related to specific books I wanted to know more about. I will integrate the book questions as I review her books.

Barb: What ages did you teach? What did you like best and least about teaching? 

Beryl: I taught high school English and Social Studies. I always enjoyed working with the students and seeing them become engaged in what they were learning. My classes were less lecture and more open discussions, encouraging the students to think for themselves and ask questions.

In a sense, I am still teaching but now to a younger age group, children under eight years old. Most of my stories are full of subtle lessons. I also teach paper craft and bookmaking classes for kids. I enjoy this age group and like to watch them problem solve as they work on their creations.
 Minecraft Papercraft – Minecart Set, Over 48 Piece

Do you want to try paper crafts yourself? These products can get you started.

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 Paper Craft American Crafts Paper Pad, 6 by 6-Inch, Dear Lizzy Lucky Charm Klutz Paper Flying Dragons Craft Kit

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Why Beryl Started to Write

Barb: Did your teaching experience motivate you to create any of your books because you thought they might be good teaching tools to stimulate awareness and class discussions?

Beryl: Actually, I started writing children’s stories about ten years ago when I became a grandmother. I fondly remember my own grandfather telling me his made-up stories about the Three Jolly Fleas when I was young.

At first, I wrote mainly for my grandkids and found it so fulfilling that I continued writing story after story. I enjoy the whole creative process of writing, illustrating and setting up the books for printing.

Meet Beryl Reichenberg and Her Books
Reading “Hopping to the Moon” at Los Ranchos School Library. Photo supplied by Beryl Reichenberg and used with permission.

Interest in Nature

Barb: Nature plays a big role in most of your stories. What made you so interested in it?

Beryl: I ‘ve always have been interested in nature and science and I find that children like stories about the natural world. They relate to animal characters in a personal way particularly, and my animal characters are often stand-ins for the children themselves.

Beryl’s Experience with Publishing with Create Space

Beryl has used Create Space to publish some of her books. So I asked her about it.

Barb: Do you have any advice for writers who are contemplating self-publishing with CreateSpace?

Beryl: Publishing with CreateSpace is relatively easy, although some computer skills are needed. The website offers assistance when necessary. When publishing a story, I always set up my complete files myself, both text and illustrations.

Most important is to proof your files carefully and to order proof copies to ensure there are no glitches and that the illustrations print properly. These copies are fairly inexpensive and are delivered promptly. I usually order several proof copies as I make changes and corrections to make sure everything is to my liking.

Unfortunately, CreateSpace does not print hardcover books and their soft cover books do not have a printed spine. But the copies are inexpensive and the service is print-on-demand, so I only order the books I need at any one time.

The book below was published on Create Space.

Meet Beryl Reichenberg and Her Books
Open Pages of A Real Dragon by Beryl Reichenberg and Elise Hudson (Illustrator)

I have a regular publisher, Oak Tree Press, and they have published six of my books. I find that It is easier to use CreateSpace. Also, the wholesale price is less expensive. If I order a number of books at a time, I can also reduce the shipping costs. Cost is important when I sell wholesale or on consignment.

Reviews of Beryl’s Books

Since Beryl has written and illustrated at least 35 children’s books, I don’t have room to review them all here. So I have picked some I liked best. She has illustrated most and  had others illustrate a few of them.  I asked her about a technique I saw in some illustrations in a few of her books

Barb: Why did you decide to insert photos of human characters into the drawings in the book instead of drawing them? Were there special children in your life who wanted to be in your books?

Beryl: Drawing children is much more difficult for me than drawing animals. Pictures of my grandchildren seemed to be a natural solution. Besides, they like seeing themselves in my stories. I find that other children respond positively as well. They like to see actual children pictured in my books. 

If you’d rather go straight to Beryl’s author page on Amazon before reading my reviews of the books I liked best, here’s a direct link to all Beryl’s titles. You will also find links to all the books at the end of this post.

 

Books Featuring Monarch Butterflies

Meet Beryl Reichenberg and Her Books
Monarch Caterpillar and Butterfly

When Caterpillars Dream

In this story, we meet Cathy Caterpillar as she sleeps in her chrysalis and dreams. She dreams of taking trips with the monarch butterflies and then getting lost. A friendly frog tells her to just trust her instincts. When Cathy woke up we watched as she “wiggled and squiggled” to get free of her chrysalis and fly away as a monarch butterfly.

At the end of the book, young readers learn about how the monarch butterflies migrate. There is also an introduction  to words that may be unfamiliar.

Meet Beryl Reichenberg and Her Books
When Caterpillars Dream, by Beryl Reichenberg

Butterfly Girls

This fictional story also features monarch butterflies.  Sisters Ashley and Becky find a chrysalis in their yard.  One day the “sleeping” butterfly emerges and the  girls name it Beauty. Beauty is hungry and  flies off to eat,  but she promises to come back the next day.

Meet Beryl Reichenberg and Her Books
Review of Butterfly Girls by Beryl Reichenberg

The girls have butterfly costumes, and your little girl can have one, too.

 Rubie’s Child’s Costume, Orange Butterfly Costume-Small California Costumes Monarch Princess Costume, One Color, 3-4 Morris Costumes Wings Butterfly Soft Child Ora elope Antenna Headband Orange Monarch Wings

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The sisters put on their butterfly costumes. Beauty kisses the girls’ heads, and suddenly the  girls can use their costume wings to fly with the butterflies. Flying with the butterflies becomes a frequent activity until Beauty and her friends  are gone one day. Then Mom explains that the monarch butterflies have gone south for the winter.

I asked Beryl how she became interested in the monarch butterflies. Here is her answer.

Monarchs are part of our local wildlife. I enjoy watching them as they winter-over at the Butterfly Grove in Pismo Beach. I decided to write a couple of stories about these butterflies, teaching kids something about their fascinating life cycle and the long, incredible migratory journey they take each year. Rather than use a straight clinical approach, I used fiction.

Dancing with Leaves

Most of Beryl’s books contain subtle messages that children will pick up. Parents can always ask clever questions to make sure their children “got’ them. This book, like Butterfly Girls, has human characters in the drawings.

The plot: Mary is a little girl who loves to dance. She wants to “whirl and twirl and swirl” to her favorite music. When on a beautiful autumn day she looked into her yard and saw colorful leaves dancing in the wind, she wanted to join them. As Mary danced with the leaves, the wind lifted her into the air and then gently put her back on the ground.

Meet Beryl Reichenberg and Her Books
Review of Dancing with Leaves by Beryl Reichenberg

After that first experience, Mary often danced with the leaves. One day, though,  an especially strong wind carried  her far from home and dropped her gently into a forest tree. She had no idea where she was or how to get home. You’ll need to read the book to find out who helped her.

At the end of the book, there is an explanation of why the leaves change color. The subtle message is “I’m glad I know where I live.” You can  help your children see why this is important and make sure they know what to tell someone about where they live if they are ever lost.

When I asked Beryl what inspired this story, here’s what she said: My granddaughter was dancing one day to some lively music, and I began to take quick pictures of her as she danced. Thinking of how children love of jumping into a pile of Autumn leaves and also of how much fun it would be to fly on the wind, I combined these story elements. I also wanted to include a small lesson to encourage children to remember their address and where they live.

 

I’m a City Bear

 

Meet Beryl Reichenberg and Her Books
Cover of I’m a City Bear by Beryl Reichenberg

 

I have to admit the cover art by Gini Griffin made me choose this book to read first. I live in San Luis Obispo County just like Beryl does, and so we both hear about the bear sightings in the city of San Luis Obispo and even in the North County.

The bear in the story moves from the mountains in search of food and discovers he’s been missing an abundant food supply in the city.  He keeps a diary of his experiences with garbage cans, swimming pools, vicious dogs, noisy children, and more. Even when he is sighted and reported and removed, he finds his way back to the city once again. After all, he has become a city bear.

A note at the end of the book talks about wild animals  children may see in their yards. The author warns that even if they are cute, they are still wild and possibly dangerous.

I asked Beryl if she had ever seen a bear outside of a zoo or in her yard. I was curious about her inspiration for this books. Here’s her answer:

Bears are fascinating animals, and I have written a couple of stories with bear characters. My inspiration for “I’m a City Bear” came from reading several stories in the newspapers about bears that visit inhabited areas searching for food and water. One bear in particular caused quite a sensation in the Los Angeles area. He was nicknamed Meatball, because that was his favorite food. Someone set up a Facebook page for him, and he acquired quite a following. I thought his adventures in the city would make an interesting story that children would enjoy.

Lost in a DarkForest

 

Meet Beryl Reichenberg and Her Books
Cover of Lost in a Dark Forest by Beryl Reichenberg

Doesn’t the art on the cover make you want to open the book to find out why this baby possum looks so sad? Young readers will discover Peter Possum has fallen off his mother’s back. He has been left behind, lost in the forest alone. Or is he really alone?

Ariel, the forest fairy, leaves him with Sammy at the forest Lost and Found while she tries to find his mother. She can’t find any possum mother who lost a baby.

Meanwhile, the mother possum goes back every night to the spot where she believes she lost Peter. She can’t find him, and she worries. How will little Peter and his mother finally be reunited?

I asked Beryl what inspired her to write this book. Here’s her answer:

A friend of mine took care of baby possums that had fallen off their mother’s back until they could be returned to the wild. I turned this into a lost and found story realizing some children have had brief experiences of being lost. I wanted to let them know that there are helpful people around who can assist them in finding their parents or their way home.

Clowning Around

Meet Beryl Reichenberg and Her Books
Cover of Clowning Around by Beryl Reichenberg

Even though I was unfamiliar with the Clownfish, this is one of my favorite books by Beryl Reichenberg. Maybe that’s because I’ve been a teacher and met quite a few class clowns. Charlie the Clownfish captures the attention of most children who walk  past the aquarium tank in which he lives. He does tricks for them, and they give him so much attention that the other fish get jealous. One day they get so jealous that the shark locks Charlie in the chest at the bottom of the tank. They thought with Charlie out of sight, they’d get more attention from the children.

Their plan backfired. When the children discovered Charlie was missing, they stopped coming to see the aquarium. Finally, the octopus unlocked Charlie and explained why  the other fish had wanted him out of sight. He suggested ways the other fish and sea life in the tank could participate in Charlie’s act and also get noticed. At the end, the information about clownfish explains that they are really very shy.

I asked Beryl if Charlie the Clownfish was inspired by any particular visit to an aquarium. Here’s her reply:

One day, I was thinking about clownfish and what a funny name this is for a fish. I thought it might be fun to write a story about a fish that actually was a clown, entertaining children at the aquarium. The story evolved from there with the other fish becoming jealous when Charlie received all the attention. Again, there is a lesson to be learned in this tale about how to cooperate and work together.

Ants on a Log: A Story for Finicky Eaters

Meet Beryl Reichenberg and Her Books
Cover of Ants on a Log by Beryl Reichenberg

Jack is a young rabbit who likes to enjoy life, but who does not enjoy vegetables. He only willingly eats fruit and nuts. His mom caught him dropping the hated vegetables on the floor so they were out of sight. His mom tried both persuasion and punishment, but neither tactic helped. He would even throw or trade away his lunches at school.

One day at school he had the opportunity to taste “Ants on a Log” (Celery stuffed with peanut butter and covered with raisins.) This completely changed his attitude, since he loved Ants on a Log. He still loved this treat even after discovering celery was a vegetable. Then he also discovered that vegetables tasted good on pizza. He learned that vegetables were OK when mixed with other things. Perhaps the lesson in this book is more for the moms than the children.

Camouflage: Puzzles in a Book

 

Meet Beryl Reichenberg and Her Books
Cover of Camouflage by Beryl Reichenberg

This was one of my favorites among the books because it challenges young readers (and parents reading to them) to find camouflaged animals.   On each page, there is an illustration of each creature to find, accompanied by a verse to introduce it. Then readers look for that same creature where it is hidden in plain sight in its habitat. The next page shows you a smaller chunk of the picture with the answer, making it easy for children to go back to the big picture and spot the animal. Without that help, I never would have found some of these camouflaged animals. I suggest you look inside this book on Amazon to see how this works.

Readers will look for a stick bug in a tree, a lizard in the desert, a clownfish in coral, a crocodile in a swamp, a bear in a forest, a zebra in the grass with its herd, and a bird in a nest in a tree. The last page of the book explains words young readers may not know. For ages four and up. I strongly suggest that you buy the paper version of this book for easier to see illustrations than you would see on, say, a Kindle Paperwhite.

Who Should Buy Picture Books by Beryl Reichenberg?

Beryl’s books can prompt natural discussions of issues between parents or teachers and children. Is a child afraid of getting lost, or getting lost again? Lost in a Dark Forest or Dancing with Leaves naturally opens the door to a conversation about knowing one’s address. Either book also reassures children that others can help them find their parents again if they get lost.

If a child resists eating vegetables, Ants on a Log can help children learn that vegetables come in many forms.  It opens the way for parents and children to discuss new ways to prepare vegetables that the child might like. These vegetarian cookbooks for kids can help find these new recipes.

When Caterpillars Dream and Butterfly Girls can help introduce the habits of butterflies —  and monarch butterflies in particular. This might lead to curiosity about other insects’ habits. Teachers and homeschooling parents may  find them useful in unit studies on insects.

Educators can make good use of Camouflage in  studying animals and their habitats.  Camouflage also is fun for parents and children to read together and see who can find the animals first.

Clowning Around can  help teachers open discussions about how a child who insists on taking center stage all the time can alienate others in the class. This can lead to trying to understand why some children try so hard to get attention and suggestions for better ways to get it. Teachers can also lead discussions about the importance of teamwork on class projects and in sports.

I’m a City Bear can help parents explain why it may not be a good idea to try to pet or get too close to a wild creature that happens into one’s yard.  I will never forget the time my husband and son (then  about 12) were with a  group hiking on Catalina Island. Somehow my son managed to escape Hubby’s not watchful enough eye and  pet a wild bison near the trail. Not really safe, but fortunately no harm came of it. My son loved all animals and maybe the bison sensed it. It might not have turned out so well had the bison felt threatened.

Meet Beryl Reichenberg and Her Picture Books

Both parents and teachers can use these books to introduce common problems and difficult subjects for discussion in a non-threating way. Or they can just read them to children as enjoyable stories with colorful and engaging illustrations. It’s up to the adult to make use of any opportunities the books present for deeper discussions. See also When You Read Aloud, Ham it Up!

 Ants on a Log Clowning Around Lost in a Dark Forest I’m a City Bear! Dancing with Leaves Camouflage Butterfly Girls When Caterpillars Dream

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Related articles

Grief, Bullies, and Theodore Roosevelt

Grief Buries Jamie Douglas

Grief work is tough, especially for an eight-year-old boy who has just lost his mother. Bully! (The American Hero Series) by Ryan Stallings begins as Jamie and his father, Senator Paul Douglas, bury Paul’s wife, Jamie’s mother. Their sorrow is evident as they leave the cemetery. Dressed in almost identical black suits, each fights back tears, not wanting to cry in public. Both still think of the deep hole in the ground that had swallowed the coffin. Each had thrown a handful of dirt in that hole.

Afterward, in the back seat of the limo, Paul gives Jamie a present his mother had bought to give him on his birthday. Inside is a teddy bear. Jamie is disappointed since he thinks he’s too old for such a gift. He accepts it because it’s from his mother and names it Teddy.

Grief, Bullies, and Theodore Roosevelt: A Book Review of Bully, by Ryan Stallings

Then Paul takes Jamie to school, saying it’s a good way to keep busy, and that keeping busy is what will help them get through the grief. Little does Paul know that school is a great source of grief for Jamie even without his mother’s death to compound it.

The School and the Bullies

St. Stephens Academy of Boys is a school for the sons of the rich and powerful. Jamie is fragile. His father pays little attention to him. He is very much alone. He has no friends at school, but he does have enemies – Mitchell McBride and Roger Stevens. Their one joy at school is making life miserable for Jamie. They bully him unmercifully. It’s a shame his father had never read and discussed any of these books with him.

 Howard B. Wigglebottom Learns About Bullies Bully on the Bus (The Decision Is Yours Series No.2) The Bully, the Bullied, and the Bystander: (Updated Edition) Middle School: How I Survived Bullies, Broccoli, and Snake Hill Confessions of a Former Bully

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When Jamie arrives late to school after the funeral, he walks into history class. Mrs. Tibbitts is lecturing on Theodore Roosevelt. Then she decides it’s time for Show and Tell. No one volunteers to go first and Mrs. Tibbitts calls upon Jamie to share what’s in the package under his desk. He clutches the bear to himself and moves reluctantly to the front of the room. When Mrs. Tibbitts asks why it’s special enough to bring to school, Jamie can barely find his words. ‘My mother gave it to me.’

Mrs. Tibbitts suddenly realizes what she has done, and asks Jamie to forgive her and lets him go back to his seat. But she can’t undo the damage.

Mitchell and Roger can hardly wait for recess to begin tormenting Jamie about the bear. They rip it away from him throw it on the ground. Then they kick dirt all over it. After that they tease him because his mother is dead.

Meanwhile, as always, Mrs. Tibbetts has her nose in a book while on yard duty, and doesn’t see any of the action. In her mind she’s only required to be outside – not paying attention to what the children are doing. Too bad Jamie’s father had not read some of these books to Jamie.

 

Jamie Faces Grief Alone

After school ends that day, we next see Jamie home alone in his huge house. Paul is working late again. In his room, Jamie sees a family picture taken in happier times during a family vacation. He talks to his mother in the picture, telling her he got the bear.  He adds that Dad is working late again, as he’s often done ‘since you…since you left.’

Jamie then stares at Teddy’s face. It seems to change, as though it wants to talk to him. He even asks Teddy to talk, so ‘you could tell me what to do.’ Jamie puts Teddy in the empty chair across from his bed – the chair his mother used to rock him in as she read to him. Then he pushes the chair to make it rock. He tells Teddy he wishes he had a real daddy.

Grief, Bullies, and Theodore Roosevelt: A Book Review of Bully, by Ryan Stallings

Meanwhile, at 11:30 that night, Paul’s assistant, Susan says she wants to go home and asks Paul if he’s talked to Jamie that night.  Paul admits he forgot to call him. He asks Susan to check on him in the morning to make sure he has something to eat, since he plans to spend the night at the office. Meanwhile, Jamie slept at home alone. As he slept, the bear transformed gradually into Theodore Roosevelt himself.

“The Colonel” to the Rescue

Grief, Bullies, and Theodore Roosevelt: A Book Review of Bully, by Ryan Stallings
Theodore Roosevelt: In Public Domain Courtesy of Pixabay

The rest of the book shows us how Theodore Roosevelt’s relationship with both Jamie and Paul transforms their family life. “The Colonel,” as Roosevelt insists on being called, shows Paul what’s important and helps both Paul and Jamie deal with their grief. He also provides a lot of humorous scenes and helps Jamie learn to deal with the bullies in his life.

A good companion for this book is Bully for You, Teddy Roosevelt by Jean Fritz. It offers a look at the real Theodore Roosevelt, though it, too, is a fictionalized biography, but remains true to the facts of Roosevelt’s life. See my detailed review of Bully for You, Teddy Roosevelt here.

 Bully! (The American Heroes Series) Bully for You, Teddy Roosevelt! (Unforgettable Americans)

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My Review

Although Bully has elements of fantasy, it also has elements of history and Roosevelt reveals parts of his life. It’s a “bully” story on dealing with bullies and grief, and though it’s written for children, it spoke loudly to me, as well.

This would be an excellent book for families to read aloud – especially if the children are grieving or have bullies who torment them. It has as much to say to parents as to children. Although recommended for ages 7-15, I believe ten is earliest the average child will be ready to read it independently. The book has no illustration aside from the cover. See our reviews of other novels for young people that deal with grief.

 

Grief, Bullies, and Theodore Roosevelt: A Book Review of Bully, by Ryan Stallings

 

 

 

Set-Up Post for BlogLovin’

Follow my blog with Bloglovin

This post is really just a post to set up the blog for Bloglovin. For some reason It has to be set up in a new post instead of in a widget.  I just joined Bloglovin today, and I’m just learning my way around. Please excuse this test post.  I’m in the process of writing a new post for Constitution Day that  should go live very soon.  Please stay tuned.

Meanwhile, just so this post isn’t wasted, I will send you to a post that explains why I moved my hosting for this site from Hostagator to SiteGround. Now is a great time to  switch your hosting if you are dissatisfied with your current blog host.

sai-curious-george-quote

To read one of my favorite posts from this blog, try The Exciting Story Behind Curious George. 

 

Picture Books That Encourage Reading

Cover of Aunt Chip and the Great Triple Creek Dam AffairIn my last few library visits I’ve come across several picture books about reading, in addition to one that’s already become a favorite – Aunt Chip and the Great Triple Creek Dam Affair by Patricia Polacco.  It’s at about third grade reading level, and would make a dramatic read aloud. See a longer review of it on my Patricia Polacco page.

It tells the story of how an entire town forgot how to read because they became so addicted to TV. In fact, a giant TV tower had replaced the library. The town librarian however, who has taken to her bed and is considered a real nut case, is still able to inspire one person – her nephew – and through his actions the entire town is once again reminded of the importance of reading.

I’m not sure any of the other books I found on reading can top this, but they might appeal to  younger children. If you’d like a friendly way to help young children see the importance of reading and learning to read, you might want to try reading your children one of these other books.

Picture Books About Reading
Check price of Maybe a Bear Ate It.

Maybe a Bear Ate It, by Robie H. Harrris, illustrated by Michael Emberley, is for the very youngest readers and the story is mostly told in pictures with just a few words in very large print. A kitten climbs into bed and is seen looking through the pages of a book, and falls asleep over it. Upon waking, he can’t find the book. (Young readers will see where it fell under the bed covers on the floor.)

The kitten looks everywhere (except where the book is), and then exclaims, “I need my book!” In considering what might have happened to it, he wonders aloud if maybe a bear ate it, a stegosaurus stomped on it, or some other imaginative alternatives. After thinking over these possibilities, he declares he can’t go to sleep without it and so he begins to look for it. When he finally finds it (and knocks his bed over in the process), he declares, “You know what? I LOVE MY BOOK!”

Review of  Henry and the Buccaneer BunniesFor slightly older readers, you might try Henry and the Buccaneer Bunnies by Carolyn Crimi, illustrated by John Manders. The pirates in this book are all rabbits who sail in the Golden Carrot. All except Henry, the captain’s son, were very bad bunnies. But Henry, instead of performing his proper pirate duties, preferred to sit around and read books. He was teased and scolded for this by the other buccaneer bunnies, but it really didn’t bother him.

One day, because he’d read a lot about meteorology, he predicted a terrible storm, but he was ignored because he was applying information he got from a book. So the ship was wrecked in the storm and the crew was stranded on the usual desert island. Henry saves the day by applying all he’s learned from his books on survival, and even shows the pirate bunnies how to build a new ship from palm fronds.

They finally sail away to a library on the Easter Islands, and revisit it every summer to read books, which the pirate bunnies are now sold on. This book will probably appeal more to young pirate fans than it did to me, but the point it makes is valid. The pictures are wonderful.

Review of Book Fair DayBook Fair Day by Lynn Plourde, illustrated by Thor Wickstrom, shows the excitement of one Dewey Booker, an African-American student in Mrs. Shepherd’s class, the day before his school’s book fair. He wants to buy a whole wagon load of books, but his class only has half an hour at the end of the day to visit the book fair. All day he tries to sneak into the library with various excuses, but his teacher always finds him and hurries him back to class before he can buy anything.

Finally his class gets their half hour visit, but his friends keep him so busy recommending books to them that the visit is over before he can get books for himself. Fortunately the librarian has been observing Dewey in each sneak visit and has a special box for Dewey under the table. He is able to drag his wagon load of books home after all.

As I read this book I was reminded of the days when I put on book fairs and students were constantly trying to sneak in. These pictures of students of all races enjoying books and other school activities on book fair day are delightful.

Depending upon the age of the child you want to inspire, one of these books should get the ball rolling. But nothing will make a child want to learn to read more than hearing you read to him .

Are Books in US Public Schools Too White?

Is There a War on White in the Public Schools

Some proponents of cultural diversity believe books used in American schools are too white.  Earlier this week, Professor Koss, a white associate professor of education at NIU, has stated that the illustrations in children’s picture books have too many white faces.

She is upset that out of the 455 books for young children she reviewed that were published in 2012, 90 percent of the books’ authors and 83 percent of illustrators were white. According to Koss, 75% of main characters were white and 45% of the books showcased white culture. (I believe 45% is less than half.)

I find it interesting that Koss speaks of white culture as if it is a single culture. It’s not. I married a Serb, and his cultural background is very different from mine. He was born in Serbia. He spoke a different language than I did.  His foods were different. His history was different. His celebrations and customs were different from the ones I grew up with. Slava had been the big December holiday when he was growing up. At our house, it had been Christmas,

I’d never heard of Slava until I met him. When we began to celebrate it at our house, I had a lot to learn. Since we celebrated on December 19, Hubby wouldn’t allow us to get a Christmas tree until December 21. There was so much work involved getting ready for Slava I was too tired by then to do much for Christmas.

Are Books Used in the US Public Schools Too White?
The Essential Elements of our December 19 Serbian Slava Celebration

 

People with white skin do not all have a common culture. Neither is there a common Oriental culture. There is not a common black culture, either. African-Americans who are descended from the days of slavery have a much different cultural background than those from India with a similar skin color, or a child growing up on the African continent today.

Diversity in Today’s Children’s Books

As a children’s and educational bookseller for twenty years, I don’t think it’s fair to judge cultural diversity in children’s literature by one publication year.  I can state that the books published in any one year tell only a fraction of the whole story. Most of those books won’t survive very long and will wind up as remainders and go out of print.

The backlist — the total of the books that remain in print– tell a more realistic story. Those are the books the readers have liked and kept in print. In truth, it’s not the job of publishers to change society. They may hope this is a byproduct of their work, but they are in business to make money. That means they have to publish books they believe people will want to buy.

I have sold children’s books for twenty years, and I’ve watched the number of books with ethnic diversity in both subject matter and illustrations grow,  even when the authors and illustrators are white. Patricia Polacco, for example, examines many cultures, and also addresses learning disabilities in her picture books. You can see the diversity even in the few examples I picked for my article on Patricia Polacco and Her Books.

Diversity in Books for Emergent Readers

Pair-it Books show ethnic diversity. There is also diversity in skin colors in the many colorful series books educational publishers are providing for emergent readers. Steck-Vaughn’s Pair-it Books are one example of this. The Rookie Readers by Children’s Press are another.

Rookie Readers

Diversity in Picture Book Illustrations

All the major publishers of books used in public school curricula I see coming across my desk make a point of having ethnic diversity in their illustrations. Many of the picture books on my shelves also have illustrations of people of color. Two I pulled off immediately are Corduroy by Don Freeman and The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats. Both books feature black children. They have both stayed in print since the 1960’s.

In Corduroy, the real main character appears to be the stuffed bear in the toy shop who has lost his button and gets lost in the large department store trying to find it. Lisa, a black girl, had been in to look at the stuffed animals and she had wanted to buy Corduroy. Her mother said no — not enough money, and besides, the bear was missing his button.

That’s why Corduroy wanted to find it. Fortunately, a security guard had found Corduroy and put him back on the shelf by the time Lisa returned with the contents of her piggy bank to buy him the next morning. Lisa could be a little girl of any race who wanted a particular toy and had saved enough money to buy it.

In The Snowy Day, Peter, a little boy with a brown face, is enthralled when he wakes up to fresh snowfall, and like most boys I’ve known, he wants to play in the snow. As we watch him,  he could be any little boy lost in the wonder of experiencing the snow.

To me, this illustrates something that children of different races have in common — a desire to explore and enjoy nature and play. This book isn’t about race, but about a universal childhood experience. Any child can identify with it.

What Writers and Illustrators Can Do to Help

Koss is glad that some works are making a dent and “working to enhance consciousness and comprehension of the nation’s pluralistic fabric.” Though this is true, it is not the job of writers (unless they are employed by educational publishing houses who set the standards they follow) to push anyone’s agenda. It’s their job to produce quality stories and illustrations that may enhance this consciousness as they entertain.

Writers tend to write what they know and they do reflect the cultures they grew up in. Most of the white authors Koss saw in her study were not trying to raise consciousness of the white culture. That’s just what they had experienced. When writers from a different ethnic background write from their own cultural perspective, they will add to the body of literature that reflects their culture. Their books will not only enrich those from the same background but also those from other backgrounds who read their books.

Future Ethnic Writers Need the Skills to Tell their Stories

These books can only be written as schools give those who have stories to tell the tools they need in order to write them. Writers need to be readers first. Wide reading builds the vocabulary a writer will need.

Writers also have to know how to construct sentences and paragraphs that will engage their readers. If their books are to help knock down the walls that separate cultures, they will need to be able to write those books in English so that all Americans can read them.

American schools need to see that all Americans learn to speak and read in English, as well as in their first languages. Language more than anything else is what unifies a people.

Minority authors who have the skills should add quality books of their own to the marketplace. Although Laurence Yep writes for older children, he has certainly given American Chinese children books that help them understand their cultural history and their problems in relating to extended family in a way only another Chinese could.  Non-Chinese reading his books will better understand their Chinese friends whose parents or grandparents were not born in America.

The Ethnicity of Illustrations Should Not Be the Sole Reason  to Publish a Book

One should not always be seeing someone who doesn’t look like themselves in the books they read. It’s nice to see faces that look like yours, too. But seeing illustrations of someone who doesn’t look like you should not spoil an otherwise good story. Interesting things happen to people from all ethnic backgrounds.

I’m glad to see that in the past fifty years publishers have become much more open to books written and illustrated by those from minority groups. They are no longer afraid of pictures that show ethnic diversity and now such books even have their own award categories. Quality,  though,  should still be the primary reason to publish a book,  no matter what color or ethnicity the characters are or who writes and illustrates it.

 Round Is a Tortilla: A Book of Shapes Smoky Night Everybody Cooks Rice Picture Book The Bracelet Sweet Clara and the Freedom Quilt 

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Children of All Backgrounds Need Quality Literature that Engages Them

Both Don Freeman and Ezra Jack Keats are white. Both were culturally inclusive and their stories appeal to children from many cultural backgrounds. Award-winning African-American author Angela Johnson writes books from her own experiences growing up in Ohio.

Paul Goble, the author of The Girl Who Loved Wild Horses, was not a Native American, but he had always loved the Native American traditions. It made him sad to see Indian children who lived near him unaware of their own folklore, and he wanted to write his stories to bring it to them.   Shonto Begay, who grew up on a Navajo reservation, draws on his own childhood experiences in his books.

I agree with Koss in “White, White, and Read All Over” where she says, ‘All books should be multicultural and diverse. We need to have books that are good books that just happen to have diverse characters,’ adding that authors should ‘write the best books they can for the reasons they need to write them.’

Authors and Political Correctness

I agree with Koss. Authors should not have to alter a story to fit into a  politically correct mold. The best books will be books people from all ethnic groups will enjoy reading no matter what color the main character’s skin is.


One of my favorite such books, In the Year of the Boar and Jackie Robinson by Bette Bao Lord, mixes the cultures. She offers us a humorous look at how a Chinese immigrant to Brooklyn learns to adapt to American culture without losing her own. She arrives at her new school with no knowledge of English. Her inspiration was Jackie Robinson, who had just become the first black man to play in the major baseball leagues. She, too, used baseball to find her way in American culture. This will appeal most to children in grades 4-7, but I thoroughly enjoyed it as an adult.

Content Area Reading and Literacy: Succeeding in Today’s Diverse Classrooms from myPEARSONstore

The book above covers what teachers need to know about selecting appropriate materials and using them in diverse classrooms.

 

Writers from ethnic minorities should not yield to pressure to be politically correct,  but should feel free to tell their stories authentically. This will help meet the needs of minority children to identify with protagonists from their own race or ethnicity. New books will add variety to the existing body of ethnically diverse literature in schools and public libraries.

Where to Buy Culturally Diverse Books

Bookstores will stock culturally diverse books if those in the neighborhoods they serve prove they want them. Every year we see more culturally diverse books published.  If people like them and buy them, they will stay in print. Otherwise, they won’t.

If they aren’t in your local bookstore, you will be able to find a good selection on Amazon. Children’s books with African-American characters are here. Those with Asian-American characters are here. If you want those with Hispanic-American characters they are here.  Although you will find the expected biographies and historical themes for each ethnic group, you will also find lots of entertaining stories that people of any ethnic group would enjoy.

How to Select Books for All Children

Writers, educators, librarians, and parents need to work together to see that all children have the books they need to broaden their cultural horizons. Don’t choose books solely because of their ethnicity. Choose them because they contain words and illustrations that have value across cultures.

Do the main characters behave the way you hope your children will behave? Is the humor kind instead of demeaning? Are the words musical as you read them? Do they appeal to a child’s sense of wonder or tell a story that goes beyond simple entertainment and helps a child better understand life? Are the illustrations good art?

If so, read them to your children and discuss them together. Use them to help your children understand their own culture and use them to build bridges to understanding other cultures. The better we get to understand our neighbors, the easier it is to see beyond differences and be friends.