Thursday, September 24, 2009

Finally! A Dylan Connection

Charlesbridge enters the rock pantheon with The Magic Babushka.

As you can see on this Bob Dylan album cover for Dimestore Medicine, Bob's friend (is that Sara?) is wearing her own magic babushka.

A side-by-side comparison

This photo is from 1965. Dylan is a folk music hero. The Magic Babushka is inspired by Russian folk tales and was originally published in 1998.

The Magic Babushka
by Phyllis Limbacher Tildes
ISBN 978-1-58089-225-4
Ages 5-8, Paperback, $7.95

Friday, September 11, 2009


The blue box on the left-hand side of the Charlesbridge Publishing website, pairing an adult book, The Genius of America, with my children's book, Unite or Die: How Thirteen States Became a Nation, intrigued me. PARENTS AND KIDS CAN READ TOGETHER! Both my sons are grown, and grandchildren have not appeared yet. I don't have a real life child in my life to read with. But the idea of comparing a recent adult book on the U.S. Constitution to my own children's book appealed to me. I'm glad I tried it. Not only did I find a highly readable and enlightening text on American government, but my own purpose for writing a children's book on this topic was validated.

The Genius of America by Eric Lane and Michael Oreskes examines the foundation of our constitutional government in a concise and compelling manner. Throughout this work, the authors refer to our "Constitutional Conscience" as a vital component of the American political system. Democracy in and ofitself will not protect the rights of citizens. A constitution in and of itself will not preserve democracy. Germany was a constitutional democracy in 1933, when Adolf Hitler came to power.

In addition to describing the creation of our government, Lane and Oreskes clearly explain challenges our Constitution has faced over the years. For example, Proposition 13, which allowed the 50% of Californians who voted to make a sweeping decision for the entire state on tax revenues. Direct democracy doesn't always provide a centrist approach. This is something our founding fathers understood when they wrote the Constitution.

But do all American citizens understand this? Do they understand how close the United States came to falling apart under the Articles of the Confederation? In 1787, during a blistering hot Philadelphia summer, fifty-five delegates met behind locked doors to confront a startling problem: America did not have a functioning national government. The thirteen states behaved like squabbling siblings. They fought over river rights and land boundaries. They didn't honor each other's money. When Massachusetts was faced with a rebellion, her sister states essentially said, "Sorry! Take care of it yourself!"
At Independence Hall, the founding fathers realized that a new government was essential to the future of our fledgling nation. However, the delegates were at a bitter impasse over the issue of representation in congress. Benjamin Franklin called for prayer, and George Washington looked haggard, as if he were reliving the terrible days at Valley Forge. If the delegates had not reached a compromise, it is possible that the United States of America would be an historical footnote, not the powerful country it is today.

In my book Unite or Die: How Thirteen States Became a Nation, I focus on the drama of the Constitutional Convention--the problems between teh states and the Connecticut Compromise, which convinced the delgates they could agree on a national government after all. Our form of government was built on compromise, something all American should take note of and celebrate.

In 1787, our founding fathers ingeniously created an entirely new form of democracy--one designed to protect minorities from majority rule and majorities from minority rule. Checks and balances between three branches of government keep any one branch from obtaining too much power. While our system is slow and often leads to frustrating stalemates, it requires that people work together to produce results. Such a government has built-in impediments against militant or fringe groups who might try to take control. In other words, the very machinery that makes governmental change so maddeningly slow preserves our freedom. Reading The Genius of America reminded me of this important fact.

Lane and Oreskes end their book with a call for more civics education. If there are flaws in our government and changes are needed, they must be made with a solid understanding of what we already have. This education needs to start with our children. Please join me in promoting Constitution Day activities on Constitution Day, September 17th and education on the creation of our uniquely American democracy throughout the year. I have compiled a list of Constitution Day lesson plans and resources on my website. I'd love to hear how you are teaching the Constitution in your homes and classrooms. And if you have ideas to add to my list, please let me know.

Posted by Jacqueline Jules, author of
Unite or Die: How Thirteen States Became a
Watch the video trailer of this book.
Download the Readers' Theater Guide

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Weaving Words

-- Or, How I Came to Write Up, Up, and Away --

"Where do you get your ideas?" is the question I always get from students during school visits.

Most authors would agree with me that ideas come to us in the strangest ways, sometimes from nowhere and totally unexpected, and they dangle and entangle us like a spider's silk thread, just begging to be woven into a book, poem, or magazine article.

Up, Up, and Away didn't happen over night, or even in a year... or two... or three. The idea of the book began because I have a pen pal friend, Edward Kanze, who lives with his family in the Adirondacks in New York. (I live 3,000 miles away in Northern California). Ed is an author and a naturalist. He writes a weekly nature column for newspapers in his area, which I get via email.

At least ten years ago, Ed wrote about spiders and ballooning, about when a spider, and often a newly hatched one, releases a strand of sturdy thread and sails off on the wind currents to find a home of its own. I loved the article and the rich images of spiders soaring here and there on little strings. One single phrase "eight-legged kites" stayed with me all day. So I printed out Ed's column and saved it.

And like most nonfiction authors, I am a saver of IDEAS. It is a joke in my family that when I discover something, everyone knows just what I will say. "Wow! That would make a great book. I can just see it now!"

My husband, Bill, might groan and shake his head. "Finish what you're working on first."

And he's right. Nonfiction authors can spend HOURS on the computer, doing additional research on whatever captures our attention for that moment. Some of my friends play Solitaire on their computers. Not me! I "play" research. And punching "print" is something I do every single day. That is why I have three file cabinets in my office overflowing with possibilities. Two closets in extra bedrooms house even more file cabinets, also stuffed to the brim with research materials related to other books. Like an alcoholic, I confess... I am a hoarder and saver of facts. The thought of moving to a smaller house is a nightmare.

Somewhere in this over packed house is Ed Kanze's delightful column about ballooning spiders, but currently, it is "missing." Even Ed could not find his original column, so he must be The Pack Rat of the East." I'll claim my title as The Pack Rat of the West.

One day the urge to write about those "eight legged kites" hit me like a tsunami. Maybe it was because of Charlotte's Web by E. B. White. I re-read the book from time-to-time. It's such a memorable classic with that heart-stopping first sentence. "'Where's Papa going with that ax?' said Fern to her mother as they were setting the table for breakfast."

I wrote Up, Up, and Away in lyrical, poetry-like prose. I had never written anything in this format before. I love it! It was magic to balance the words and scientific facts, similar to the ballet a spider performs every day as it dances across a wind-blown web.

I work in a wood-paneled office in my home that has one entire wall of books. Windows face my redwood tree-rimmed property. My golden retrievers, Willa and Scout, sprawl across my feet like two enormous slippers. We take "recess" in my half-acre garden, which merges into 300 adjacent acres of undeveloped open space that belongs to my community.

While working on Up, Up, and Away, I would step outside with spiders on my mind. Writing this book taught me to think and act SMALL. Spider and spider webs are everywhere, and now, I crawl under webs instead of damaging ones that span the winding brick path through my garden. Frequently I discover messy-looking webs as well as gorgeous globe-shaped ones.

Spotting the actual spiders is often challenging. They might hide under a curled leaf, to avoid a predator, or remain camouflaged by matching the color of something in their little world. A dot-sized spider might drift past me on a steely-strong strand, in search of a new home.

Unlike many of my friends, I am not afraid of spiders. They fascinate me. I have been trying to photograph them and some of the other critters--lizards, snakes, frogs, and more--that live in my garden. It is NOT easy.

As a result of writing Up, Up, and Away, I've written a draft of a book about a colorful California kingsnake I've observed in my garden, crafted in the same lyrical format. A future book? Who knows?

I hope that readers, young and old, will enjoy the story of Spider, a garden spider, and they will take time to walk slowly and look closely at the world beyond their backdoors!

Posted by Ginger Wadsworth, author of many nonfiction books for young readers, including Desert Discoveries, Tundra Discoveries, Up, Up, and Away, and more.

Watch the book trailer for Up, Up, and Away.