Allison's Book Bag

Archive for the ‘Authors A-M’ Category

After becoming a volunteer with Husker Cats in 2014, I started to follow online groups that also took care community cats. One day a post appeared about a picture book that had been published on the topic. Being a book reviewer, I naturally contacted the author and requested a copy of Nobody’s Cats. Since then, Valerie Ingram and I have exchanged emails about many topics including our former teaching careers and our passion for homeless cats. When she released a new book this past fall, Out in the Cold, she graciously sent me a copy. It’s an honor to know Valerie, who is an advocate for homeless animals, and to introduce her to you.

valerieingramValerie was born and raised in Burns Lake, a small and rural community of northern British Columbia. She grew up on a farm, and critters of all kinds were always a part of her life. After spending twelve years teaching in her home town, Valerie started the Lakes Animal Friendship Society with her husband in 2008. While humane education is her passion, she also runs Lakeside Legacy B&B, and offers free stays for anyone in animal welfare to help recharge their batteries and combat compassion fatigue. The Lakes Animal Friendship Society is personally funded for the most part, with donations and grants targeted at on-the-ground projects.

ALLISON: What was your favorite part of childhood?

VALERIE: My favorite part of childhood was growing up in a rural and Northern setting. There was so much room to explore, to play. We have four distinct seasons in northern BC, which I think can be so enriching on its own! Ice on the lake, swimming in the summer, snow for sledding and so on. I spent many hours simply observing nature, exploring my surroundings, which of course brought me to many hours of watching critters of all kinds. Everything from the fox living in the sandy bank close to our house to the crows talking to each other in the trees. Loved these moments and memories.

ALLISON: What animal would you most compare yourself to as a child? As an adolescence? Why?

VALERIE: Hmm, compare myself to an animal as a child. That would be a quiet and inquisitive mouse:) I explored, but quietly. I didn’t want to disturb what I was watching. I was often solitary too. Only one older brother and we did not live near any other children my age.

As an adolescent? A horse. I LOVED horses. Grew up on this acreage with a small farm so there were always animals around. I would see the horses so free in the back fields. So happy, so playful. I wished to be that free.

ALLISON: You were once a teacher. What attracted you to the field?

VALERIE: I always wanted to nurture. Nurture a sick kitten, nurture a dying plant, nurture the children I was a nanny for growing up. It seemed natural to work with children in schools. As I spent the last few years teaching formally, I found myself inadvertently rescuing dogs and cats, and I’d bring dogs to school to teach the children about their care. It seemed a rather natural transition to move from the classroom (which was consuming) to a volunteer basis of coming in to talk to the children about the care and compassion and responsible pet guardianship of our pets.

ALLISON: You now dedicate your time to animal welfare. What drew you to this line of work?

VALERIE: It began with small steps. We felt concern for the well-being of the critters (seeing frozen dogs at the end of their chains with no shelter), safety of our children (watching students on the playground have their food snatched from their hands by hungry packs of dogs), and the happiness and health of our families and community (the horror of “dog and cat shoots” as a solution to pet overpopulation, where the community comes to see such things as the norm).

I was fortunate enough to connect with Jean Atthowe, the founder of the Montana Spay/Neuter Task Force early in my education about the problems and solutions. She taught me how an entire community needs to be involved and educated, and programs must respect the traditions and uniqueness of the community. Providing and teaching humane solutions to pet overpopulation and neglect are the key to empowering the local people and bringing about long-term change. As Jean says, we are seeking a “change in attitude that will thus bring a change in behavior through respecting animals and then other living creatures including members of their family, school, and community”.

ALLISON: What accomplishments are you most proud of?

VALERIE: I’m most excited to see how the children have become empowered. To see how after six years of consistently delivering the same message on care, compassion, bite safety and responsibility, that attitudes and behavior CAN be changed. I tell the children that they have the ability to become a “superhero,” that they can save a life by adopting an animal in need.

I’ve seen the unhealthy cycle of pet overpopulation, abuse, and neglect being broken. The children help spread the message on what our pets need to thrive. It was only natural to take the children’s excitement and passion and further showcase their efforts through a newsletter. We started Critter Care News three years ago, showcasing all the remarkable achievements children have made in our community.

Again with the involvement of local children, we created a song called “Teach My Person How to Love Me” in a workshop led by musician Lowry Olafson. This fun and catchy song helps guardians of all ages understand what their pets need. I now use it in all my classroom visits.

ALLISON: What do you find the most challenging?

VALERIE: The most challenging aspect we have faced are the people who are “not dog or cat lovers” and do not “get” why we pour our hearts, souls and resources into what we do. We are firm in our conviction that healthy, happy animals are an important part of happy, healthy families and communities. It’s not just about being “a dog lover”. It is so much more!

Now we are at a point where we have to figure out how we can make our programs more sustainable. On the education front, looking beyond our community we need to find the resources to bring a consistent, high quality and repeated education program to all the schools along our corridor in northern British Columbia. Potential volunteers are few and far between, stretched thin and perhaps not able to make it back to schools on a regular basis. From our experience, persistence and consistency are critical.

ALLISON: Have you seen a difference between United States animal welfare issues and those you find in Canada?

VALERIE: At their root, a lot of the big issues are the same: like socioeconomic conditions, infrastructure, education, cultural differences. But of course the specific, local issues can vary greatly. One size does not fit all in terms of a workable approach! That’s why it is so important to have the grass-roots, community element to all programs. Areas of downtown Phoenix, Arizona and the rural First Nations community of Tachet in British Columbia may both have problems with companion animal overpopulation, but the causes are different meaning that education and other interventions will take different shapes. The sharing of information and materials contributes to the evolution of these programs as different areas try different approaches to deal with local circumstances. Education is the common thread no matter where you are.

ALLISON: Who keeps you going?

VALERIE:  Without my husband’s support, I would not succeed at a fraction of LAFS projects and goals. He is my tech support, grant writer, shoulder to lean on, and a very patient soul! He shares in this building of a community of care, one animal, one student, one family at a time! We share our house with Dusty and Lulu. Both dogs were in desperate need of rescue, and are both failed fosters. Dusty is now the school spokes dog that comes with me to all my classroom visits. He has patiently taught thousands of children how to read his body language and to greet him safely. And Lulu, well, she is a squirrely pooch that keeps my hubby company when he works in the forest to generate the funds to pay for our humane activities!

lakesanimalfriendshipAs noted in the interview, Valerie and her husband created Lakes Animal Friendship Society to help improve animal care and health. The organization focuses on educating the community in various ways.

  • Education Program: Valerie have completed close to 5,000 student visits in the classroom (Pre K to Gr. 12), and seen a tremendous increase in levels of awareness of how to be a responsible pet guardian and stay safe around dogs and cats. Their community education component has included presentation to local groups and dozens of articles in local media.
  • Dog House Program: The couple began small, building houses in their backyard, and then shifting to refurbishing donated older dog houses. Now the program has become a sustainable one through local schools, bringing our total to 200 dog/cat houses for needy critters. School groups volunteer to build and paint these houses. Extension activities include writing and poster contests to “earn” a doghouse.
  • Feeding Program: Thanks to donations from the wealthier southern region of British Columbia and a discounted shipping cost, the organization has been able to distribute four tonnes of food to critters in need, through its food bank and door to door deliveries where the needs are most.
  • Community Animal Care Events: By establishing a connection with Canadian Animal Assistance Team (CAAT), the organization is able to have volunteer vets and techs from across Canada travel to rural areas where animals from lower-income families are in great need of veterinary services. They carry out spaying and neutering, health checks, vaccinations, and deworming on-site in facilities like community halls. They incorporate education into every phase of the clinics they conduct. The entire community is invited to participate or observe at every step.
  • Workshops: The organization host workshops to provide education kits complete with books, activities, and lesson aids for volunteers wanting to bring messages of animal welfare to their schools and community. The majority of the material has been put together as result of networking through individuals, authors, publishers, and other groups.
Illustration from Andrew DeGraff, <br> Used with permission.

Illustration from Andrew DeGraff,
Used with permission.

Andrew DeGraff is a freelance illustrator and artist. Born and raised in New York, he graduated from Pratt Institute’s Communications Design program with a focus in Illustration in 2001. DeGraff has worked as an illustrator for many clients and his gallery work has been shown in various places across North America. He returned to Pratt to teach illustration from 2009 – 2014. Tomorrow I’ll review his published first book, Plotted: A Literary Atlas from Zest Books. Save the date: June 2! Thanks to DeGraff for agreeing to an interview and to Zest Books for the Advanced Reader Copy of Plotted.

ALLISON: Have you always wanted to be an artist? Why or why not?

ANDREW: Pretty much. As a kid I thought I might be a historian, maybe a writer, and even had the obligatory passing fancy of pursuing marine biology. I think the truth is that those fields often came with the best illustrations. I wanted to be the guy painting battle scenes, book covers, and sharks and coral reefs.

ALLISON: Who influenced your decision?

ANDREW: I was really lucky to have some other artists in the family, and I think my parents knew I’d be an artist even before I did and encouraged me. I had a lot of great art teachers along the way as well.

ALLISON: What has been your favorite illustration project?

ANDREW: I’d really have to say Plotted was my favorite. I’ve always loved literature, and outside of your school years, it’s hard to have the time to dive into a novel and pick it apart over a few weeks. One of my favorite things about illustration is the chance to do research and each novel or story from Plotted required really reading up on the time period and looking for historical and visual reference. It was a very intense experience, and consumed my life for almost a full calendar year.

ALLISON: What city has your art taken you that you most remember?

ANDREW: I went to Pratt in Brooklyn. Being from the country in rural upstate, the city was intimidating. But it’s a place I’ve always wanted to keep coming back to with my sketchbook. The Met, the Staten Island Ferry, the Domino Sugar Factory – it’s just a great place to draw. The other place is LA. I have to admit, I was a little snobby as someone who had adopted NY as a home in thinking that LA was just a sprawling mess. It is, but I’ve had the opportunity to travel to LA for my gallery shows, and I’ve really come to love the city. The color, the people. It’s the other side of the American coastal coin and it’s just weird and wonderful as its darker east coast cousin.

ALLISON: How did you come up with idea for Plotted?

ANDREW: I had been creating plot maps of movies for a few years for those shows in LA at Gallery1988. I’d always loved maps, and I loved the idea of mapping narratives. The movie maps were developed as a way to illustrate an entire film without showing the characters, and instead relying on the scene and the interactions to retell the story. Plotted was really an extension of that thinking.

ALLISON: Why did this project interest you?

ANDREW: My Mom is a teacher, and I grew up in a house of avid readers. I saw it as a chance to be an ambassador for some incredible books that changed my life. Plus it was a chance to take an illustrative crack at some great works of literature that illustrators I love had taken on in the past. Anytime you get to play around with Huck Finn, Moby Dick, and Robinson Crusoe – you don’t pass that up.

ALLISON: Why did you approach Zest?

ANDREW: I’d thought a lot about mapping novels. The problem was length – the movie maps are generally 100hr-250hr pieces to create for a two and half hour film. The thought of mapping a 350 page novel was just to big to take on as an unsupported project. It was my co-creative-conspirator at Zest Dan Harmon who approached me about doing the book. It was really the opportunity to tackle mapping novels I’d been waiting for. He had seen the movie maps and wondered if I was interested in doing novels – it felt like kismet.

ALLISON: How has your life changed now that you have a published book?

ANDREW: It’s been really great. As an illustrator who has spent most of his career doing editorial work for magazines creating pieces that accompany writing, it’s really nice to have done something that sort of flips that status and the images are the centerpiece. I’ve always gotten a kick out seeing something I did in Sports Illustrated, or the New York Times on newsstands – but books are just so much more substantial and permanent. I think anyone who gets a book published – novel, children’s book, cook book – gets a real sense of accomplishment. You make books because you love them, and what better way to honor them than to make one yourself. Plus it’s really helped to enlarge my following and get me other freelance jobs, as well as a lot of map requests.

BeverlyMcClureThe biography of Beverly Stowe McClure isn’t the typical one for an author. When she was a kid, she didn’t like to read or to read. Instead she loved music. She played clarinet in the junior high and high school bands. She was a majorette. To this day, she still plays the piano to relax.

After high school, McClure married and had children. She also attended Midwestern State University, where she graduated with a teaching certificate. For twenty-two years, she taught young people to read and write.

Somewhere during that time, McClure started to enjoy being a reader and a writer. Maybe it was all that reading to her students. Or perhaps it was introducing Dr. Seuss to her sons that turned her world around. At any rate, she sent an article on fire safety into a magazine, it got published, and the rest is history. Now she reads and writes constantly and loves it.

Today McClure lives in the country with her family, which includes two cats, and a variety of wild critters that stop by for a handout. She also likes to research her family roots, go for walks and snap pictures, and teach a women’s Sunday school class.

I asked McClure some questions about her passions, as well as inquired about her latest novel, in my below interview. Tomorrow I’ll review Under a Purple Moon. Save the date: May 19!

ALLISON: You could have picked so many passions to pursue: animals, music, or photography. Why did you become a writer?

BEVERLY: Actually, I’m surprised I became a writer. I love animals, music and photography. I read very little and my writing consisted mostly of letters to friends. Becoming a writer sort of snuck up on me. The great thing about writing stories is I can write about animals, music, and photography, and satisfy those desires. Why? At a certain point in my life, I discovered what I’d been missing, in a place where I least expected it: the classroom where I taught fifth grade.

ALLISON: How much were animals part of your childhood?

BEVERLY: When I was a child we always had a dog. The first one I remember, but not too well, was a black cocker spaniel named Shadow. There were other dogs along the way that I don’t recall. A dog, mixed breed, not sure of what, named Teddy was my sister’s and my pet when I got married. He was a wanderer, but always came home.

Then there were the cats. Wild ones that just showed up in the yard. We fed them scraps and they lived outside. My parents did not take the cats to the vet, the way I do today. I don’t think they realized the animals needed shots and/or sometimes were sick. Or maybe in those days people didn’t take their pets to the vet. My sister was more into the pets than I was. Now, I’m a pet lover too.

ALLISON: What is your most memorable experience with music?

BEVERLY: Ha, ha, a couple of experiences came right to my mind.  We’ll go with the serious one. My mother played the piano when she was a child, and she wanted me to play too. So, for five or six years, I took piano lessons, performed at recitals and practiced a lot. I also played a clarinet in the band. In high school, we participated in UIL contests with other school districts. The students played their instruments, and I accompanied many of them on the piano. I enjoyed the competition and even won a medal or two.

ALLISON: Share a favorite photograph. Tell how it came about.

BeverlyMcClure_TigerBEVERLY: This is Tiger, one of my cats. He loves my son and one time he was outside when Scott was mowing. The minute the mower was left vacant, Tiger climbed onto the seat and looked at me, as if to say, “Okay, take my picture.” So I did.

ALLISON: What is the most intriguing part of your family history that you’ve discovered and can share?

BEVERLY: My mother was an Orphan Train Rider. When her mother died, Leona was around 7 or 8, and her father surrendered my mother and one sister to the Children’s Aid Society in 1921. In 1922, she rode the train from New York to Texas to begin her new life with a foster family. My historical fiction book about her journey is due out any day now. A Family for Leona.

ALLISON: What advice or support would you provide to a young person who experiences neglect and/or abuse?

BEVERLY: I would advise them to get help. School counselors can point them in the right direction. Friends and organizations that deal with child abuse can help. Chances are it will just get worse, if they don’t find a way out.

ALLISON: Under a Purple Moon is about finding real love. When did you understand what love really is?

BEVERLY: I’d always said, “I love you,” to family, friends, and students. The word “love” is used in many ways. I began to understand what love really is, when my first baby passed away. The love I had for my firstborn, even before I saw him, went beyond the casual use of the word. Love is an emotion that I can’t really explain. I just felt complete and knew I’d do anything for that precious baby. I loved each of my children. Love, to me, means giving, without expecting anything in return. Doing for someone, regardless of the results. For God so loved the world…. Thank you for a great interview and for your time.

Doug Hansen picThe oldest of six children in an artistic family, Doug Hansen was born in California. He received both his BA and MA in art from California State University and was awarded the Dean’s Graduate Medal in the College of Arts and Humanities in 2001. He teaches illustration at his alma mater, California State University.

Hansen’s professional career as an artist developed during his 23 years as a staff artist in the Editorial Art Department of The Fresno Bee newspaper. He received the Fresno City and County Historical Society’s Historic Preservation Award for two published volumes of Fresno Sketchbook that collected hundreds of his pen-and-ink renderings of Fresno. Other highlights of his freelance career include: Fresno’s centennial poster in 1985 a collaboration with family members to complete the artistic work The San Joaquin River: Gravity and Light, which is installed in the Woodward Park Regional Library.

Mother Goose in California, an ABC book , was his first attempt at a children’s book. At Curling Up With A Good Book, He credits his editor at Heyday for instilling in him the confidence to write. As for what inspired his most current work, California The Magic Island, his publisher at Heyday suggested a California history book. In additional, Hanson was “reading some tales from the Arabian Nights at that time and the Scheherazade story inspired the twist of animals telling stories to save their home state from the angry queen”.

Thanks to Doug Hansen for answering a few questions about his life and his newest book. I’ll review California The Magic Island tomorrow. Save the date: May 11!

ALLISON: Have you always wanted to be an artist? Why or why not?

DOUG: I always have been an artist. From my youngest days I drew pictures.  Pictures in certain books fascinated me as a young reader – the more complicated the better. I always wanted to be the person who made those pictures, and now I am.

ALLISON: Who influenced your decision?

DOUG: My mom is an artist and has always encouraged and nurtured us. Out of six children, three of us have careers as visual artists.

ALLISON: What has been your favorite illustration project?

DOUG: I am perhaps proudest of my Mother Goose in California book. It was my first children’s picture book and I labored on it for years without even having a publisher involved. When it was ultimately accepted and published I felt like I had won the Golden Ticket from the Willy Wonka story.

ALLISON: Why did this project interest you?

DOUG: I love history, and I love California. Each book I complete reveals new landscapes, animals, and stories I want to tell. This book took me to new locations in the Golden State and allowed me create a series of little stories illustrated in an epic, luminous kind of way.

ALLISON: What kind of research did it involve?

DOUG: Heaps of research. My two decades as a newspaper artist at the Fresno Bee taught me that readers will notice if you get something wrong. Plus I am intrigued by the way things work and I have to understand everything from the brakes on a logging cart to the harnesses for a twenty-mule team. so I checked out piles of books, did lots of image searches on the Internet, and took road trips to many of the places pictured in the book. That was fun.

ALLISON: How did you tell an entertaining story but also make it fact-based?

DOUG: The key for me was to have the animals tell stories from their animal point of view. This compelled me to look at things with fresh eyes. The juxtaposition of an animal with a historic event (a pigeon describes the Tower of Jewels or a flying squirrel encounters a Pony Express rider) generated surprising storytelling dynamics.

ALLISON: Why did you decide to tell your story as a fantasy?

DOUG: It had to be a fantasy to get all those creatures from different times in one cave on the magic Island of California and – oh yeah – animals don’t usually speak in a language we can understand! Plus the legend of Queen Calafia just begged to be retold and how else could I account for those griffins?

ALLISON: What advice do you have for aspiring illustrators/authors?

DOUG: My advice is the sappy-sounding advice that aspiring illustrators and authors probably don’t want to hear: Write or draw the kind of book you have dreamed of, not what you guess might be in demand. Will it get published? Who knows – but at least you will have created something meaningful and personal and wonderful – a book to be proud of.

BibiBelfordBibi Belford graduated with a B.A. in English and her masters in Bilingual Literacy. She worked as a playground supervisor for children of migrant workers and later as a literacy coach and reading interventionist for an elementary school in Illinois, before she retired and turned to writing middle grade novels. She’s also a mom of four grown children.

As a teacher and a mother, there was always something to do instead of write. When Belford finally got the time to write, she drew on those experiences to fill her fiction. Her students would always tell her that they couldn’t find any books they liked. Belford observed too that finding a book with a Hispanic protagonist tend to prove difficult. And so she wrote a story about Sandro Zapote, “whose father is an undocumented engineer working odd jobs while waiting for paperwork. His little sister has a heart ailment, and because his mom was born in the United States, she can take her back to Mexico for treatment.”

Find out more in my interview below and also check out my review tomorrow of her first novel Canned and Crushed. Save the date: March 24!

ALLISON: If you were to write the story of your childhood, what would be the highlights?

BIBI: My childhood was very strict, but because of the era, very free at the same time. After breakfast in the summer, we took off with our neighborhood buddies and roamed wherever we wanted to. During the school year, we rushed home, changed our clothes and disappeared for hours. We played baseball in the open fields, rode bikes on dirt roads with potholes, and invented all kinds of mysterious adventures that involved spying and treasure. We built our own ramps and sledding hills. We climbed trees and made forts with leftover lumber. When the six o’clock whistle blew, we hightailed it home for dinner.

BIBI: My father was a college professor and my mom stayed home with the kids, but she had a teaching degree. We were not allowed to say we were bored or they put us to work.

In today’s terms my family would have been considered low socioeconomic. I had two pairs of shoes. This year’s school shoes and last year’s school shoes. We drank powdered orange juice, called Tang and ate Spam. We helped pick fruits and vegetables and “put them up” which is nice way to say we ate our own canned produce because it was cheaper than canned goods from the grocery store. We didn’t own a TV until I was nine and most gifts I got for were used, but lovingly reconditioned by my mom or dad. One year they gave my brothers and me a huge chalkboard by painting the wall of the basement black. I made the mistake of saying I might want to be a doctor someday and that year I received a kid-sized microscope for my birthday. Weird!

ALLISON: Middle school is a time of transition from being a child to becoming an adult. How easy or difficult was that change for you?

BIBI: Well, here’s where having strict parents was not helpful. When other girls were wearing mini-skirts and listening to the Beatles, I wasn’t allowed to look or act like everyone else. I was very irresponsible and lost things frequently, so they made me carry a briefcase to school to stay organized. And my parents refused to let me quit playing a musical instrument, even though I begged them everyday. So, if you can imagine a very short, middle school girl with glasses, riding a bike to school everyday with a briefcase in the basket on the right and a clarinet in the basket on the left, you will get a good idea of the super nerd I was, back when being a nerd was not popular! Worst of all, I wore an undershirt instead of a you-know-what and at that time the Beatles big hit song was Ba-Ba-Ba-Barbara Ann. I won’t put in the details of the cruel song that kids sang when I rode by on my bike.

ALLISON: Why did you become a teacher? What is your biggest challenge in getting kids to read?

BIBI: I took a job working in a nursing home when I was in high school so I could get experience for my career as a doctor or a nurse. We were called candy-stripers. I quit after one week.

I realized I would never become a nurse or a doctor, so I decided I wanted to be a writer. I loved writing stories and my friends and I even had a little writing club. I graduated early from high school and my English teacher wrote a letter to the college I planned to attend, exempting me from basic college English, so I was able to start right out in the advanced level classes in January. I was in way over my head, but loved my professor and worked hard. The following year, I enrolled in journalism classes, but when I wrote an article that was published in the newspaper about the price gouging of the local grocery store compared to the stores downtown, the store manager called me and made me feel so bad, I knew I couldn’t be a newspaper reporter.

So…. that left me to fall back on the other thing I was good at. Teaching kids. In California, teachers had to have an academic major, so I got an English major and a fifth-year masters in Education. I also spoke Spanish, so I did my student teaching in bilingual classrooms and worked on migrant playgrounds while I lived there. I believe I’ve taught over 1,000 kids to read. The biggest challenge is finding the student’s strength and teaching them using that strength. So many times when a student is considered a struggling reader, they start to struggle with self-esteem. Building up both the self-esteem and the reading proficiency can be challenging.

ALLISON: You’re now in your sixties. What has been your favorite age—childhood, adolescence, young adult, middle age, senior? Why?

BIBI: Whew. That’s a loaded question. If I created people, I think I would do it backwards. Start them out old, and then as they learn and mature, give them more time to enjoy life by having them grow younger. I love the wisdom I have about life, but hate the wrinkles and the arthritis that goes along with it. I would definitely not go back to those middle school days, but my college days opened up whole new worlds. I learned to surf and mountain climb. I babysat for some famous people and became a nanny. Being a mother of four kids ranks right up there with the best years of my life.

ALLISON: What is it like to be retired but essentially starting a new career?

BIBI: At first I felt very isolated and unmotivated. I missed all my teacher friends and wondered if I made the right decision, but the rough draft was due to my editor in January, so that kept me going. I decided to volunteer at a school in Chicago two mornings a week and Fridays at my old school and that has been wonderful. It keeps me in touch with kids, allows me to share my expertise, and gives some structure to the week. I’m not great with the whole marketing, publicity thing, but I’m learning and that also keeps me busy.

ALLISON: What advice would you offer to other aspiring mature authors?

BIBI: The biggest thing people say to me is, “I’m writing a …” and I say, “Is it finished?” They always say, “No.” Until you finish the story, you can’t evaluate whether your character has completed an arc. You can’t edit or revise. Don’t get hung up on carving out the perfect writing schedule or space. Know your target audience. Then just sit down and write. Get a routine. I eat pistachio nuts and write outside when I can. I always read some inspirational material, either from a devotional, a writing magazine or one of my favorite writing books.

ALLISON: You write for middle-grade students. Any thoughts of writing for other ages? Why or why not?

BIBI: I originally thought I wanted to write for the YA market. I pitched a story about two girls from completely different backgrounds who both have self-injury issues and meet in therapy. However, it wasn’t edgy enough and I had not done my research on the market expectations. The girls were a little young for the YA market, but their problems were a little too mature for the middle-grade market. So, when the agents and editors I was pitching asked if I had anything else, I quickly summarized Canned and Crushed, even though it wasn’t half done. Now that I’ve been reading middle-grade and writing middle-grade, I really love that age and the range it offers.

ALLISON: What experiences did you draw to write Canned or Crushed?

BIBI: Most of the events in Canned and Crushed either really happened to me as a teacher, or are a combination of things that really happened. I really did have a student who spit down the stairwell from the third floor. I really did have a student whose father collected road kill. One of my neighbor’s sons was hospitalized for Kawasaki Disease. And one of my students had no insurance and missed two weeks of school because she went to Mexico for eye surgery and stayed with her grandparents. Of course, some experiences come from my children’s lives, but what happens in the family, stays in the family.

ALLISON: Both your current novel and your upcoming novel fall into the category of multicultural literature? What drew you to this type of literature?

BIBI: I actually wrote Canned and Crushed for one of my former students. I was walking in the fourth grade hallway and he came up to hug me. He had worked really hard for three years, learning to read in my reading program. I asked him what he was reading now that he was in fourth grade and he told me he couldn’t find anything he liked to read. I asked him what he wanted to read, and he said, you know, books with kids like me. I asked him if he would read a book if I wrote it, and he said yes. That’s when I started writing Canned and Crushed and one year later, I was able to read the chapters of Canned and Crushed to his fifth grade sheltered/bilingual class before it was published. He was pretty excited. And he did read it!

I think kids want to read about real people with real problems. When they relate to a character, they just might be able to triumph over life’s problems like the character, and be their own hero. I want to write books about characters whose stories just have to be told.

The second book, Crossing the Line, deals with prejudice, and how we all must “cross the line” to stand in the gap when groups are marginalized. My husband and I were biking along the lake shore and stopped to read a dedication plague to a boy named Eugene Williams. When we got home I started researching and my heart broke when I realized his death was the inciting event in the worst race riots in Chicago. And yet, here we are today and what have we learned? Chicago is a very segregated city with a lot of racial prejudice.

I wanted to write a book showing how friendships can bring about change. A group of fifth graders just finished reading the first draft for their literature circle book and they gave me their annotated copies. They all identified the theme as “Don’t judge a book by its cover.” And many of them added, “We have the same problems they had in 1919.” I’m working on a companion book to Canned and Crushed right now, and it’s about a little girl learning to deal with her new diagnosis of diabetes and worrying she won’t be able to do the things she loves to do. One of my favorite girls at school had this problem and her mom told me that there’s a very high incidence of diabetes in Latinos, which I didn’t know.

ALLISON: What else do you like to do besides write?

BIBI: I would love to say something really grand, like scuba dive or rescue rhinoceroses, but I guess I’m a little boring. Read at the beach. Watch movies and eat popcorn. Sew for my granddaughter Hazel, the princess! Facetime with my grandkids: Hazel and Hank. Bike along the lakefront in Chicago. Go out to eat with Groupons. There’s sooooo many restaurants in Chicago.

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Allison’s Book Bag will no longer be updated. Thank you for eight years!

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