Allison's Book Bag

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First query accepted; received reviewer request

Earlier this month, I announced that I had recently finished a yearlong online digital feature writing course. For one of the assignments, I had to research markets of interest and write a query. Knowing that I wanted to build my reputation before I submitted to professional pet magazines, I researched a local family publication. In doing so, I discovered that pet care articles were already being carried. What I decided to offer instead were training articles. Although I really wanted to promote cat enrichment, I knew that this would limit my audience and hence my chances of acceptance, and so I broaded my scope to include dogs. At the same time, I didn’t want to simply propose one article; I wanted an ongoing series. This could be risk for an editor, but I followed my heart and took a chance. My query to Lincoln Kids got accepted!

But that’s not the end of the story. Through the course of the editor and I corresponding, she discovered that I also reviewed books. It’d been a dream of hers to carry a book review column. She asked if I’d be interested! Now as many of my followers know, over the past year, I’ve been trying to step back from book reviewers. In particular, I wanted to get back to reading books of my own choice. Yet how could I stay NO to the chance to have my own regular printed review column? As we discussed details, I discovered that the editor wanted me to review three books in one column and to keep my word length to around 300 words. That would be quite a challenge for a person used to writing 600 words for ONE review! I’ve since submitted my first review column and believe my writing as improved as a result. I love the process of working with an editor.

Want to read my first training column? Click on Lincoln Kids Spring 2017 and flip to page 16. My first review column will appear in the Summer issue.

Want to know more about Lincoln Kids? I’ll be back on Monday with an interview with the editor.

Check out other reader posts at a new SWS home: Travel with Intent.

Gene Lune Yang, the 2017 National Ambassador for Children’s Literature picked the platform “Reading Without Walls”. As part of it, he challenges readers to:

  1. Read a book about a character who doesn’t look like you or live like you.
  2. Read a book about a topic you don’t know much about.
  3. Read a book in a format that you don’t normally read for fun.

With these criteria in mind, I’ve started posting roundups once a month on the theme of diversity. This is my second post highlighting picture books about the immigration experience.

In Goldfish and Chrysanthemums by Andrea Cheng, a grandmother receives a letter from her brother back in China. He tells her that their father’s old house being torn down. At the house, there used to be a fish pond surrounded by big colorful flowers. Wanting to make her grandmother happy, Nancy buys two goldfish at a fair, digs a hole in the back yard for a pond, and asked her neighbor for some extra chrysanthemums. Nancy’s gesture not only brings comfort to her grandmother, but also deepens the bond between them. My least favorite part is the illustrations. The faces don’t seem the correct proportion. I also don’t know why the children have American names. My favorite part is the story of family, which shows how small acts of kindness can make a difference. According to publishers, Lee & Low, Cheng often writes about intergenerational relationships, and is based on her own experiences. Cheng was inspired to write Goldfish and Chrysanthemums after hearing her husband’s mother talk about her family’s garden in China. You can find a teaching guide at Lee & Low Books.

In Nadia’s Hands, a Pakistani-American girl is offered the opportunity to be a flower girl at her aunt’s wedding. Her cousins caution her. There are many things to remember at a wedding: One needs to sprinkle flower petals down both sides of the aisle; One should avoid eating too much of the wedding food or otherwise one might get sick; One might get stage fright and not move. Nadia’s aunt reassures her that she’ll be a very good flower girl, and so Nadia feels relieved. Except then she finds out that another aunt would visit before the wedding to decorate Nadia’s hands with mehndi or paste that when it dries turns the hands orange or dark red. Nadia doesn’t want to go to school like that, and so her worries return. The rest of the story is the wedding ceremony and how Nadia came to terms with her fears. Nadia’s Hands is a sweet story about learning to take pride in one’s unique culture. A front page provides a glossary and a back page includes a thank you two Pakistan individuals for their help in the creation of the book. Karen English, the author of Nadia’s Hands, is a former school teacher and a Coretta Scott King Award-winner. Check out an interview with her at The Brown Bookshelf.

In My Name is Bilal, two Muslim siblings start a new school. At their former home in Chicago, there had been lots of Muslims kids. Here, there seemed like there were none. Two boys tease Ayesha, pulling at her headscarf. Her brother tries to distance himself from his heritage, and in class he shortens his name from Bilal to Bill. A Muslim teacher offers a book to Bilal that is about the first person to give the Muslim call to prayer during the time of Prophet Mohammed. Through this book, Bilal discovers that others before him have needed to stand up for his faith. The next day he has that opportunity. Other surprises lie ahead too. This is my least favorite in this round-up due to its overt message, drab illustrations, and text level. The Lexile rating is 570 or about grade four, but this is a picture book, and most fourth-graders are reading chapter books. In addition, I was surprised that Bilah dressed in American attire, while his sister wore Muslim attire. Otherwise the book brought back memories for me of being inspired as a child by stories of Christian heroes and heroines. The author, Asma Mobin-Uddin, was born and raised in the United States but her family is from Pakistan. According to her website, she initially decided to write about the Muslim-American experience because she had difficulty finding books on the topic to read to her children.

Seeing themselves reflected in these books, immigrant children feel affirmed, and their classmates glimpse different backgrounds and experiences—perhaps recognizing some of their own stories in the universals of family, traditions, journeys, and the quest for a better life.—Anne Sibley, Note from an Author

In I’m New Here, the stories of three children from other countries struggle to adjust to their new school in the United States. The children are from Somalia, Guatemala, and Korea. They struggle with speaking, reading, and writing in English. The words of their new language sound strange and look like scribbles and scratches. They also struggle with making friends. The people and places around them used to be familiar; now they can’t find their place. The rest of the story tells how the three children came to call America home. My favorite part is the bright illustrations. Although my preference would have been to focus on one main character and to use less poetic language, I’m New Here is a favorite among teachers. It’s considered a touching story about the assimilation of three immigrant students in a supportive school community. Author Anne Sibley O’Brien is American, but grew up in South Korea, and so is familiar with the experience of being a foreigner. She’s one of the founders of I’m Your Neighbor, an organization that promotes children’s literature featuring “new arrival” cultures. You can find a “I’m New Here” Welcoming Kit at I’m Your Neighbor Books.

In My Name is Yoon, a Korean girl starts school for the first time in America. To prepare Yoon, her father teaches her how to write her name in English. But Yoon prefers how her name is written in Korean. Her name looks happy in Korean. The letters seem to dance. She doesn’t want to learn the new way. She wants to go back to Korea. Each day at school, Yoon learns a new word in English at school. And each new day, Yoon writes this new word for her name instead of Yoon. Of the five books I’ve reviewed here, My Name is Yoon is my favorite. It tells how a young girl finds her place in a new country in her own time and on her own terms. I laughed and smile … but also understood Yoon’s sadness and frustration, which eventually turns into joy and acceptance. The author, Helen Recorvits, grew up in America. Her grandparents were immigrants from Poland, Russia, and the Ukraine.

Yang concludes his “Reading Without Walls” challenge by encouraging readers to take a photo of themselves and their books and post to social media. In doing so, he says, readers will inspire others. Will you join me over the next year in reading books that take you outside your comfort zone?

With almost 80 million households in the United States owning a pet as of 2015, it should come as no surprise that our calendar year is filled with holidays celebrating our animal companions. These holidays might be a little too obscure to grant anyone a day off from work, but they still might give ideas about how to have fun with or honor pets. Last year to help Lincoln Animal Ambassadors visitors keep track of those very special dates, I began posting information about them. Here are links to all of the events you might have missed in April.

Every Day is Tag Day: The American Humane Society is credited with the introduction of Every Day is Tag Day. Why did it create this event? Because even though you may think your pet would never run away or otherwise get lost, the reality is that it can happen to any pet. And the best way to avoid the heartache of permanently losing a pet is to tag and/or microchip them.

National Pet Day: From the founder of Puppy Day comes National Pet Day. Started in 2005 by Pet & Family Lifestyle Expert, Colleen Paige, April 11 celebrates the joy that pets bring to our lives. As with several of the pet calendar events featured, National Pet Day is also intended to “create public awareness about the plight of many different animals awaiting a forever home in shelters and rescues all around the globe”. The holiday isn’t just limited to dogs and cats, but also intended to include small animals, birds and reptiles, and farm animals. They all need our love!

Animal Control Appreciation Week: In recognition of Animal Control Appreciation Week, I recently sat down with Scott to talk with him about his job. Animal Control Appreciation Week falls in the second full week of April every year and is intended to recognize the individuals in Animal Care and Control who like other law enforcement agencies devote personal time and resources and even risk their lives in serving the public. Click on the links for Part One and Part Two of my interview; content has been edited for clarity.

Pet Owners Independence Day: From pets to owners, on April 18, roles are reversed! The idea is to switch roles with your pet, with your pet taking over all the household chores and even filling in for you at work, while you lie around the house and otherwise indulge yourself.

National Hairball Awareness Day: Like many pet holidays, National Hairball Awareness Day isn’t about a celebration but about bringing awareness to an issue. We can all do our cats a favor by educating ourselves on how to prevent hairballs and how to recognize when hairballs are a sign of a more serious health issue.

National Kids and Pets Day: April 26th is National Kids & Pets Day. Like several other pet events, it was created by Colleen Paige. The day is dedicated to creating awareness about safety between kids and pets. It’s also “dedicated to furthering the magical bond between kids and animals”.

Missing from my roundup are: Pet First Aid Awareness Month, Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Month, Prevention of Lyme Disease Month, and Adopt a Shelter Pet Day.

To read more, check out Pet Calendar Dates. There you’ll find details not only about the above, but about pet-related dates that fall throughout the rest of the year.

Fox News broadcast meteorologist, Janice Dean, is back with her fourth Freddy the Frogcaster picture book. In her attempt to both entertain and educate, Dean has packed a lot of content into the forty pages of Freddy the Frogcaster and the Terrible Tornado. The resulting story feels rushed and overloaded with information. Even so, fans will enjoy revisiting Freddy and the Frog News Network as they face the latest weather emergency. The colorful and cartoonlike illustrations are a stable in the series and always a delight.

At this point in the series, Freddy has stopped needing to prove his worth to the Frog News Network crew and has instead become an accepted member of the crew. So, every weekend he heads to the TV station and delivers the weather on camera. One spring day, while studying his weather charts and forecasting tools, Freddy realized that his town of Lilypad could face some dangerous weather. But that wasn’t what caused the most excitement at the station. Instead all three felt psyched because the bad weather might mean a visit from the infamous storm chaser Tad Polar.

Dean’s created a good setup for a potentially adventurous, but then unfortunately hurries through the narration. She could have made Freddy face so many different obstacles: His parents might have refused to let him to ride along with Tad, but he could have snuck out anyway and faced danger because of it; On the ride along, the two might have initially gotten too close to the tornado and found their lives at risk because of their daredevil choice; While Freddy was out on the ride along, the tornado might have hit unusually close to his home, causing him to face guilt for not being there. Instead Freddy and Tad spot a tornado, report it, and a few minutes later are back safe at the news station. The story is simple, safe, and bland.

There are positives. First, as with other Freddy the Frogcaster books, detailed explanations of weather fill the back pages. Dean tells what tornadoes are, where they’re most likely to occur, how their measured with regards to strength, and tips to being safe during one. In addition, Dean offers up some cool trivia about the longest a tornado has traveled in the United States and the largest recorded hailstone in the United States. Second, the artwork by Russ Cox is captivating with its colorful palette. In addition, it changes to reflect the weather. When the skies are clear, pages shout with yellow, orange, and blue. When the skies are dark, pages rumble with purple and black.

Hurricanes. Blizzards. Tornadoes. Despite my disappointment with Dean’s fourth entry, I am a fan of her science-based stories. Dean has done much right. She featured animals. She wrote about weather. I’m already brainstorming a list of other types of weathers, in an attempt to figure out what the fifth entry will be.

With our household of critters having expanded to include three cats and a dog, I thought it fitting to join a meme related to pets. After searching around, I came across Awww….. Mondays. The one rule is: “Post a picture that makes you say Awww…. and that’s it.” Every photo seemed to feature a pet and so the meme is a perfect fit!

Over the past month, I’ve shared that there’s a little bit of me in all my cats. I talked about the reclusive but social Cinder, and the scared but curious Bootsie. Now let me turn to our youngest cat, Rainy! As much as I love her, I struggled the most to figure out what we had in common. Finally, I came up with her determination and friendliness.

Rainy’s determination has been her salvation. When Rainy found herself alone has a kitten, she sought out help. Even though that took the form of a lady with dogs, Rainy didn’t let the scary situation stop her. She needed shelter, and so she marched straight up to the lady. Long story short, that lady contacted me, and that’s how Rainy became ours. Similarly, I have taken on risky adventures with perfect endings. In 1998, I left my home province of Newfoundland and moved to Nebraska, where for the first time I lived on my own. Now I am happily married, with a full life. Rainy’s determination can also get her into trouble. She’s the only cat whom we haven’t been able to train to stay out of the garbage, stay away from our food, stay off the counters…. You get the picture. She’s certainly given us lots of memories! As for me, I have a stubborn streak too. Sometimes that streak keeps me going until I find a resolution, which is useful for finding a job and other good things. Unfortunately, there are also times when I don’t just know when to give up.

Rainy’s friendliness is one of her most endearing traits. When she first came to our home, we skipped right over the normal practice of isolating cats from each other to give them time to get acquainted. Instead we opened her crate, and let her strut into the living room. Long story short, Rainy got our other two cats to accept her and each other, and that’s how Rainy became ours. As an introvert, I don’t have her same skill. Yet I have my moments. Back when I took a desktop publishing class, I took the initiative to introduce myself to everyone on the first day. Everyone was surprised afterwards to learn that I’m a shy person in new situations. Rainy’s friendliness isn’t always welcomed. During her first few months with us, Rainy tried often to snuggle with Barnaby. I swear that in every photo of the two of them together, Barnaby has the pained look of an older brother being forced to hang out with his younger sister. What I admire most about Rainy is that she’s unflappable. Even though some friendships don’t stick, Rainy will keep on acting as if everyone loves her. As for me, I try like her to be friendly with everyone. But I don’t have her grace. I get easily hurt, and retreat from the world far more often than her. Then it’s helpful to have loving family and friends … and examples like Rainy to show the way.

Want to start your week off with a smile? Visit Comedy Plus or Burnt Food Dude and see what others are sharing today.

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Spring Reviews

Almost a year after I announced that it was time to take a step back from this blog, Allison's Book Bag is still here. I'm slowly working back up to weekly reviews again. Each week, there will be one under any of these categories: Advanced Reader Copies, animal books, religious books, or diversity books. Some will come in the form of single reviews and others in the form of round-ups. Just ahead, there will be reviews of:

  • Freddy the Frogcaster and the Terrible Tornado by Janice Dean
  • The Distance Between Us by Reya Grande
  • Hearts of Fire from The Voice of Matyrs



Cat Writers’ Association
Artists Helping Animals

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