Channeling Fear

What happens when fear for a place you love moves you enough that you’re willing to give your life for it?

In 1979, Mark Dubois chained himself to a rock behind New Melones Dam in the USA’s Stanislaus River Canyon and threw away the key. His action focused national attention on a place and a cause in a way that hadn’t happened before. Mark and the community lost the Stanislaus River in the end, through a combination of big money from the agricultural lobby and the use of dishonest campaign tactics. But his action launched a movement and gave voice to wild rivers and the ecosystems they nourish.

Mark went on to co-found many environmental non-profit organizations, including International Rivers, dedicated to protecting rivers and defending the rights of the communities that depend on them. In his words, “Overall, the lesson I got from the river is, we’re one and the same. We’re connected. By trying to protect that place, I was helping protect me.”

Many of us are afraid for the planet these days, in the very same way that Mark feared for that river and its beautiful canyon. This short film raises the question of what we are willing to do about it.

In related vein, in a very different yet engaging voice and style, look for Plasticus Maritimus: An Invasive Species, by Ana Pêgo and Isabel Minhós Martins, a middle grade nonfiction title published in an North American edition by Greystone Books.

In 2015, marine biologist Ana Pêgo decided to name the plastic trash she’d collected along shorelines—she called it “plasticus maritimus.” There is much in this book to reflect upon and discuss, but its greatest strength lies in its clever, persuasive invitation to take action. Originally published in Portugal.

An Untold History, A Working Title

There are many stories that never get included in history textbooks and many others that should be part of the contemporary discourse but get overlooked. Political mayhem regardless, books for children have begun to take such stories on in fiction, nonfiction, and innovative combinations. Here are just a few:


Ticktock Banneker’s Clock by Shana Keller, illus. by David C. Gardner


No Crystal Stair by Vaunda Micheaux Nelson, illus. by R. Gregory Christie


Viva, Rose! by Susan Krawitz


Calling the Water Drum by LaTisha Redding, illus. by Aaron Bond


Cover art by Nidhi Chanani

Now, with the release of Step Up to the Plate, Maria Singh, I’m honored to have been able to bring one of these untold narratives to the page. More on the book on Kitaab World, The Book Smugglers, Teen Vogue Ms. Yingling Reads, and Cynsations. Thank you all!

Lee and Low, the diversity source for anyone who reads, is absolutely the perfect publisher for this book. They have staked out that very space in the children’s publishing market, after all, over so many years–the space of stories that don’t usually get told. Thanks as well to writer and educator Tami Charles who offers ways that teachers can use my book in the classroom.

At one time this book had a different title. It was only a working title, the sort you know won’t last, but it holds the story ahead of you in some mirage you keep on following. In that way, the working title keeps you working. At the outset, Step Up to the Plate, Maria Singh was called “Summer’s Promise.”

At this moment, with this book out, summer promises to be a season of gratitude.

Good news: Millennials read real books

This NPR piece made me happy.

I’m happy that the next generation of ex-children, the people who are most likely to be the next round of parents raising children, aren’t yet ready to give up on reading. Or libraries. Consider this:

There are lots of suppositions about this group that they are so enchanted with their screens that they don’t want to read books, and they don’t want to write to each other or things like that. And it’s just the opposite of what we see. That there’s lots more reading and writing going on in this generation than there was in the past. –Lee Rainie of the Pew Research Center

I’m always fascinated at how the past predicts the future. Here’s a vision of the iPad (I must admit I read on one when I travel) long before it became reality. In the knowledge navigation department, I’m happy to hear any snatches of information suggesting that the old-fashioned bound book, pulp product as it is, is still holding its own.

Thank you, Walter Dean Myers, for all the gifts you gave us

Walter Dean Myerswalter_dean_myers, beloved children’s and YA author, died July 1. He was born in 1937–think about that for a moment. It was a time when mothers frequently died in childbirth, as Walter’s mother did after the birth of his sister . That was the year the Golden Gate Bridge opened, Amelia Earhart disappeared, and Gone With the Wind won the Pulitzer. Walter’s life spanned huge social conflict and equally vast changes, and he was a force for those changes. His body of work gives perspectives on African American life that are at once unflinching and loving. He wrote picture books, novels for teens, poetry, and non-fiction. Many of us know Monster as a transformative book, but in some ways every book Walter wrote pushed new boundaries. Fallen Angels examined the moral dilemmas and the horrors of Vietnam. And he was passionate about the work he did. His recent essay, titled Where are the People of Color in Children’s Books, did much to sustain a conversation that might otherwise have been easier to dismiss. He wrote:

Books transmit values. They explore our common humanity. What is the message when some children are not represented in those books? Where are the future white personnel managers going to get their ideas of people of color? Where are the future white loan officers and future white politicians going to get their knowledge of people of color? Where are black children going to get a sense of who they are and what they can be?

Here are some of the many tributes to a writer whose words carried great power, who was also a gracious, compassionate man with an intuitive understanding of the young people who would read his books. Of his own journey he said, “Once I began to read, I began to exist.”

Here’s a selection from We Are America: A Tribute From the Heart, written by Walter Dean Myers and illustrated by his son Christopher Myers.

Those of us whose paths crossed his, even briefly, will never forget him. We are fortunate to have his books in the world, with new ones still on the way.

Parrots Over Puerto Rico by Susan L. Roth and Cindy Trumbore

Look at this lush, beautiful collage cover by Susan L. Roth!


Parrots Over Puerto Rico won the 2014 Sibert Medal for the most distinguished informational book for children published in 2013. Its easy to see why.

Its wordless jacket, its striking vertical orientation, the tumbling waterfall in the center spread, and the half-hidden flashes of blue feathers on the last page all perfectly capture the energy of the text as it tells the story of the near-extinction and rescue of an iconic bird species. The reversal of what could have been a tragic process is accomplished through the efforts of scientists and governmental collaboration. The story takes place against the vast landscape of the island’s history, no less, the two histories intertwined. It would appear almost impossible to take such a huge story and place it in 40 picture book pages, but the weaving of art and words achieves that end in this beautiful book. Back matter includes an afterword, a timeline of Puerto Rican history, and a list of sources.

Starred review in Kirkus.

On Celebrities Writing Books for Children

Oh, we have seen them all already, seen them all.

Madonna. Fergie.

Most recently, Keith Richards.

Because really, anyone can write a children’s book, right? And if you managed to get famous doing something else–music, the movies, going to jail–why not muscle your way into this appealing little market as well? Never mind those of us who have slogged in the trenches for years at the art we have chosen for the work of our lives, writing books for young readers. We get that it’s about sales, not craft. But the latest celebrity offering in our little industry ought to give us all pause, and not just because of the politics of the writers. That new celeb on the block is Rush Limbaugh! Yes, that’s right.

In an interesting twist of plot, by the odd parameters that define such things, Rush Revere and the Brave Pilgrims has managed to become a bestseller. The CBC–yes, that CBC, the people with the diversity initiative–had to put the author on their Author of the Year list. They explained it this way.

Could I have brought myself to read Rush’s little tome? Probably not–sorry, not enough hours in my day!–so I’m grateful to Debbie Reese who has read and reviewed the book.