Monday, April 22, 2019

The Story Behind the Story: BE A MAKER by author Katey Howes

Be A Maker
words by Katey Howes
illustrations by Elizabet Vuković

What is the first thing you think about when the alarm goes off in the morning?
What day is it, anyway?
Can I sleep five more minutes?
Do I hear someone in the kitchen pouring rice cereal all over the floor?

Those questions we ask ourselves can set the tone for the entire day. Which is why my newest picture book, Be A Maker (Carolrhoda, March 5, 2019) opens with this recommendation:

“Ask yourself this question in the morning when you wake:
In a world of possibilities, today, what will you make?”

It’s a question I hope every reader will make space for in their wake-up routine. Open eyes. Stretch big. Ask yourself: today, what will I make?

When you start your day thinking of the possibilities it holds for creativity, kindness, innovation, and heck, even a really delicious sandwich - is there any reasonable response other than to leap out of bed with a grin on your face and optimism in your heart?

Be A Maker has become, for me at least, a sort of manifesto. It’s a reminder of all the opportunities that await when we embrace our innate, human desire to put something new out into the world. But it started as nothing more than a scribbled list in a little brown notebook.

I was simply playing with the verb “to make” – thinking of all the vastly differently ways the English language applies that same word, and how very dissimilar they are. Making time, for example, is nothing like making faces. Making cupcakes and making friends require slightly different techniques. So, out of curiosity, I listed all the ways I could think of to use that one little word.

As I did, I started to imagine the list stringing together into a story. (You know writers – we’d find the storyline in a take-out menu if we looked at it long enough.) And of course, because my brain is obstinate, I felt the need to write that story in rhyme. C’mon, how hard could it be? Lots of things rhyme with “make!”

Every outing with my kids became a research trip – what did children like to make? What did they create – and then destroy – without their parents even really noticing?

Every couplet became a challenge. Could I find ways to appeal to all the senses? Could I impart tension and mystery? Hope and pride? Could I find yet another rhyme for “made?” (Raid, blade, Dennis Quaid? Hmm... No. Definitely not.)

A year and a half and over 30 versions later, the text for Be A Maker found its final form, gently shaped (and sometimes not-so-gently ripped asunder and glued back together again) over time by five of my favorite critique partners, the 12x12 picture book community, my agent and 2 different editors at Carolrhoda. (Yeah. All that for 186 words. Whew!) And then it travelled to Rotterdam, where illustrator Elizabet Vuković worked her magic and MADE it so much more than I ever could have dreamed.

Seriously, take a looooong look at the illustrations, where Elizabet has seamlessly introduced dozens of images of or references to strong women, great thinkers, and brilliant artists. Then look again – and find a little spider – a marvelous nature maker who needs no tools but those he was born with – hidden in nearly every spread.  I told you she was magic.

The book follows two children through a day of making – with their hands, their words, their hearts, their imaginations, their choices (plus fruit and cheese! Because all the best days have fruit and cheese in them.)  And it ends with yet another question, another meditation, if you will, that might just make bedtime as meaningful as morning.

“In a day of making choices, are you proud of what you made?”

When I share this book with kids, then ask what they are proud of making, the responses overwhelm me. And I am never more proud of what I’ve made than at that moment.

Katey Howes is thrilled to be making books for children. She also makes bad jokes, great apple crisp, and messy mistakes. Katey lives in Upper Makefield, Pennsylvania (really!) with her husband and three adventurous daughters makers. Katey is the author of picture books Magnolia Mudd and the Super Jumptastic Launcher Deluxe and Grandmother Thorn, which was named a 2018 Anna Dewdney Read Together Honor Book.
Connect with Katey at
Twitter @kateywrites
IG @kidlitlove



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EARTH DAY BOOK RECOMMENDATION: Tokyo Digs A Garden By Jon-Erik Lappano and Kellen Hatanka

by Jon-Erik Lappano 
Illustrated by Kellen Hatanaka
Groundwood Books, Anansi Press, 2016

Jacket Flap Copy: 

Tokyo lives in a small house between giant buildings with his family and his cat, Kevin. For years, highways and skyscrapers have been built up around the family's home where the wilderness once flourished. It seems they will never experience nature again. 

But one day an old woman offers Tokyo three seeds, telling them he will grow into whatever he wishes ... Author John-Erik Lappano and illustrator Kellen Hatakanaka have created a thoughtful and inspiring fable about environmentalism and imagination. 

MY THOUGHTS: Such an important book that should be shared with old and young alike. We should stop trying to take away from plants and wildlife and give back, and then we just just learn to cope with sharing the world with the rest of its creatures. 

I read this book for the very first time, TODAY, Earth Day, and was just like, WOW!!! It is a book that should be shared with the world. The author said it so well through his little picture book fable. 


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Monday, April 1, 2019

THE STORY BEHIND THE STORY of Just Like Rube Goldberg by Sarah Aronson

Sarah Aronson’s Story Behind Just Like Rube Goldberg (by Sarah) 

Jacket Flap Copy from Book: 

Rube Goldberg was a real cartoonist who got 

really, really, really famous by inventing a 
WHOLE lot of crazy, brilliant, impractical 
funny stuff.

None of which ever got made.
 Does that make any sense?
It will after you read the book!

     Like all publication stories, my story starts with some longing. It is bolstered by back story. And has an amazing open ending that I hope will make you think.

First, the longing.

I’ve written about this many times. It is a story I tell when I talk about the power of play.

It was Sept 2014. I had just received a really rough rejection for a YA novel that I had poured my heart into. That novel, Strong Girl, represented the kind of writer I yearned to be—the writer of important books and tough topics.

As we all know, rejections are not created equal.

This one was tough.

But I was lucky. I was teaching at the Highlights Foundation. I had no time for wallowing. I was doing my favorite work—helping others find their stories.

So I walked. I probably cried. And then I decided to change the way I did things. I decided to write what made me happy. I gave myself six months to play—to write for fun—not for publication.

Just Like Rube Goldberg came from this challenge!

When I think about it now, I could have found this idea a lot earlier, if I’d been looking. I have this memory of the first time I saw Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, and the Rube Goldberg-style breakfast maker in that film. I love Back to the Future. And I’m pretty sure I read Rube’s Foolish Questions at an impressionable age.

But the spark (or should I say sparkle!) came after hearing Tami Lewis Brown read from her picture book biography. Do we really ever know why an idea finds us? All I know: I worked hard. The voice came naturally. (I think my career has been a bit like a Rube Goldberg contraption!) I sent it to my agent. I begged her to hurry—I had a feeling that this book was being written by others.

And it worked out!

Allyn Johnston bought it. Robert Neubecker agreed to illustrate. We did not talk about Rube AT ALL, but somehow, he knew how to illustrate my words. I still can’t look at the book without getting a bit weepy, and for the record, when I’ve read it to kids, they giggle like crazy! Someone usually falls out of his or her chair!

I can’t wait to bring this book to classrooms! I know that the power of play—and some Goldbergian magic—changed how I approached writing for children. Not all my ideas sell—not by a long shot! But when I sit down to imagine, I think like Rube Goldberg. Creativity is a gift. Revision is a challenge. A Rube Goldberg chain reaction may disregard the laws of physics, but they always make sense on paper! Just like our stories!
Author Bio
Sarah Aronson began writing for kids and teens when someone in an exercise class dared her to try. Since then, she has earned an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts, and published three stand-alone novels: Head Case, Beyond Lucky, and Believe. Her most recent books are part of a new young MG series, The Wish List (Scholastic, 2017-2019) as well as the picture book biography, Just Like Rube Goldberg (Beach Lane Books), illustrated by Robert Neubecker.
When Sarah is not writing or reading (or cooking or riding her bike), she is talking to readers about creativity, writing, social action, and of course, sparkle power! She loves working with other writers in one of her classes at  the amazing Highlights Foundationor Writers on the Net (  She serves as the PAL coordinator for Illinois as is heading up the Read Local initiative. She loves sports. She overuses exclamation points. When she’s excited, she talks with her hands.

Website Link

Social Media Links
Twitter: @sarah_aronson
Insta: @sarahnaronson
FB: personal page



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