Hoops, Goals & Trophies at GBF22

I first met Fred Bowen about 11 years ago, when I was in a Children’s Literature class at the University of Maryland iSchool.  He and fellow local author, Valerie Tripp, had been invited by my grad school professor, Maria Salvadore, to speak to us about, well, writing children’s literature. I remember that it was a lively discussion that planted a seed for my aspiration to become a published children’s author as well.  Shortly after I began teaching, he gave a fantastic baseball-focused author talk at my elementary school. Our lives intersected again when I recruited him to lead a writing workshop at the Gaithersburg Book Festival – it was tied to one of his football books, and was about journaling. He’d initially been invited as a featured author, but then enthusiastically jumped in to lead a workshop, too.  This is one of the many things I love about children’s authors – they are “game” for anything!

Fred will be presenting his two new books, nonfiction, Hardcourt: Stories from 75 Years of the National Basketball Association and fiction, Soccer Trophy Mystery along with Charly Palmer (The Legend of Gravity: A Tall Basketball Tale)  2:25-3:05 pm in the Jim Henson Pavilion, immediately followed by a book signing.

Hardcourt is illustrated by the amazingly talented James E. Ransome, and Maria Salvatore has a great Reading Rockets Page by Page interview with Fred and James about their previous collaboration, Gridiron: Stories from 100 Years of the National Football League.  

I hope you enjoy this interview with sports author, Fred Bowen.

What is your writing space like?  

I do most of the writing of my sports books and columns for The Washington Post in my cluttered home office in the basement of our house.  It is hardly a picturesque setting.  However, some of the items I have in my office to inspire my writing include:

  • All 23 volumes of the Chip Hilton sports series by Clair Bee (my favorite books as a young reader)
  • A photograph of the old Boston Garden from 1987 with the classic Celtics lineup of Bird / McHale / Parrish / Ainge / Johnson
  • My grandfather’s Harvard law degree from 1911
  • My collection of more than 100 sports books
  • A picture of a family golf outing at Tedesco CC in Marblehead Massachusetts from more than ten years ago
  • A painting of 42 Leicester Road in Marblehead (the house I grew up in)
  • Several pictures kids have sent me of them reading my books
  • A two-foot-high cardboard rendition of the kid who appeared on the original cover of my second book, The Golden Glove 

How (or in what ways) do you hope librarians will promote your books?

I hope librarians will lead kids ages 8-12 who like baseball, basketball, soccer or football to my books.  But I also hope they realize my books are not “just sports books.”  The books deal with lots of important issues such as friendship, jealousy, fear of failure, dealing with disappointment, and many other themes.  My books are more than just play-by-play action (although there is plenty of that).

What do you hope your readers will learn from reading Hardcourt and Soccer Trophy Mystery?

When kids read Hardcourt: Stories from 75 Years of the National Basketball Association, I hope they will learn that the NBA was not always the billion-dollar international sensation it is today.  I hope that will get them interested in the history of the NBA and sports in general.  I also hope this realization that things were not always as they see them now will get them interested in American history.

Soccer Trophy Mystery is simply a fun book.  Who doesn’t love a good mystery?  As with any of the 24 titles in my Fred Bowen Sports Story series I hope my readers will learn the pleasure of getting lost in a book.

Who is the reader you are writing for?  Describe them.

My readers are kids usually ages 8-12 (although some are older and younger) who love sports.  I think of them constantly as I write.

However, with my latest book, Hardcourt: Stories from 75 Years of the National Basketball Association, I hope my usual readers will share the book with their parents and grandparents.  After all, these older relatives may have seen Wilt Chamberlain, Larry Bird, Michael Jordan and the dozens of other NBA players I write about in the book. 

I hope the book will start a conversation about great players and memorable games between the generations.

What is one (or more) thing(s) that you really want your readers to know about you?

I am not just a “sports guy.”  I was a lawyer for more than thirty years.  I love to listen to jazz and other kinds of music.  And like every writer I have met, I am a big reader who especially loves to read about American history and culture.

What do you love most about the cover art and illustrations in your book?   

I think James Ransome did a fabulous job with the art in Hardcourt: Stories from 75 Years of the National Basketball Association.  My favorite painting from the more than seventy images in the book is the image at the beginning of Chapter 12 of Michael Jordan practicing his jump shot in an empty gym.  To me the painting is a perfect depiction of an athlete’s lonely pursuit of excellence.

I knew the art in Hardcourt would be great because James and I had previously teamed up for the book, Gridiron: Stories from 100 Years of the National Football League.  The art in Gridiron was fabulous too.

I also really like the cover to Soccer Trophy Mystery.  The artist, Marcelo Baez, is creating new covers for all the titles in the series to celebrate my 25 years of publishing with Peachtree Publishers.

What has surprised you most about the characters in your book?

I outline my books in considerable detail before I sit down to write them, so I have a very good idea what my characters are going to do and say before the final version.  But it is always surprising how often a character insists on stepping forward and becoming more important to the narrative.  

Which book review or award has been most meaningful to you?

I have been fortunate to get many very positive reviews including some starred reviews.  I have also been nominated for dozens of state reading awards over the course of my career.  I even won the Land of Enchantment Award (New Mexico).

However, my favorite reviews and greatest rewards are when parents tell me their child didn’t enjoy reading until they found my books.  To lead a child to the joys of reading is the best award any author can win.

What are you most looking forward to at our book festival?

I always say that being at the Gaithersburg Book Festival (GBF) is like going to the Baseball Hall of Fame.  By that I mean, at the Hall of Fame you are surrounded by people who love baseball.  As a result, it is easy to strike up a conversation with a stranger.  

In the same way, when you are at the GBF you are surrounded by people who love books and ideas.  So you spend a wonderful day talking about books and the books you love.  What could be better than that?

We hope you will join Fred Bowen at the Gaithersburg Book Festival on May 21st!

Fred Bowen is the author of 27 sports books for young readers ages 8-12. He is the creator and author of the Fred Bowen Sports Story series, 24 books that combine sports fiction, sports history and always have a chapter of sports history in the back (Peachtree Publishers). Fred also has written three sports history books, including “Hardcourt: Stories From 75 Years of the National Basketball Association” (Margaret K. McEldery Books 2022). Since April 2000, Fred has written a weekly kids’ sports column for the KidsPost page of The Washington Post. He lives in Silver Spring, Md., with his wife Peggy Jackson.

One Life-Changing Summer at GBF

On May 21, 2022, author Mariama J. Lockington is coming to the Gaithersburg Book Festival to share her middle grade novel, In the Key of Us  with her readers. In the Key of Us is a coming-of-age story about the losses that threaten to break us and the friendships that make us whole again.

I loved this novel. I loved that the setting was musicianship and band camp. I loved that the story was told in alternating viewpoints of Andi, Zora, and the camp itself. Mariama’s writing poignantly depicts the highs and lows of relationships, the unhealthy ways in which some handle stress, and the grieving process. And I appreciated that Mariama included an important author’s note that included inclusive mental health resources.

I listened to the audiobook, and the narration by Yinka Ladeinde and Imani Jade Powers was wonderful. I hope you enjoy this middle grade novel as much as I did.

Mariama will be presenting In the Key of Us along with Sheela Chari (Karthik Delivers) 4:15-5:05 pm in the Willa Cather Pavilion, immediately followed by a book signing.

I hope you enjoy this interview with the talented Mariama J. Lockington.

What is your writing space like?

My wife and I just bought a house last May, and after years of sharing a small work space, I feel really lucky to now have my own sunlit office at the back of the house. My office has a desk, a plush lavender desk chair, a couple of bookshelves with my books that are organized in rainbow colors, pictures of my author inspirations (Maya Angelou, Toni Morrison, Zora Neale Hurston, etc) and lots and lots of plants on every window sill/free surface. There’s also a small couch where I read and where my dog, Henry, sometimes cuddles me when he’s not asleep in his day-bed next to my desk. I love a good candle, so I always have a candle burning when I’m in my office— notes of citrus, gardenia, or eucalyptus are my favorite. 

How (or in what ways) do you hope librarians will promote your book?

I love libraries and librarians are magical! While In the Key of Us deals with some hard topics (self- harm, bullying, anxiety, the loss of a loved one) it’s also a story full of hope, music, adventure, friendship, and love. I hope that librarians are able to promote this book with a good understanding of all of these nuances, as well as put it into the hands of young people who are excited to read inclusive, first-love, coming of age stories. 

I want my readers to know that they are loved, just as they are.

~ Mariama J. Lockington ~

What do you hope your readers will learn from reading your book?

That it’s OK to change your mind, to not have all the answers— growing up is messy, wonderful, and full of adventure. That they are loved, just as they are. 

Who is the reader you are writing for?  Please describe them.

I am writing for the reader who has a powerful voice, but is sometimes scared to share it. For the reader who feels like they never quite fit in, even though they try their hardest, for the reader that is brave and determined, even when they feel lost.  I am writing for the reader that could spend all day outside, in the sun, soaking up the magic of the outdoors, for the queer reader and the perfectionist reader, and the reader who knows without a doubt that music can help us feel alive and connected beyond the bounds of this world.

What is one (or more) thing(s) that you really want your readers to know about you?

When I was young, I played flute and piano. While I don’t play these instruments anymore, practicing music helped me with the practice of writing and gave me a deep appreciation for the arts. Summer Camp is where I first believed I could really be an author— and where I first fell in love with the outdoors. 

What do you love most about the cover art of your book?   

All of it!  The cover artist, Tonya Engel, really just captured the essence of both my main characters so perfectly. But if I have to pick one thing, I love that Zora and Andi are out on the water in a kayak and that they are holding hands under the glimmering sun. 

What has surprised you most about the characters in your book?

Sometimes I think I’ve written a character that’s very different from the girl I was growing up, and then a reader will point out a quality that we share. It’s always eye-opening to see the ways we put our past selves into stories or even our current selves.

Which book review or award has been most meaningful to you?

The most valuable reviews that I’ve received in my author journey have been from young readers writing to me. When a young person says: “I don’t like to read, but I read your book in one night” or “After reading your book, I’m not afraid to be myself anymore.”  That’s when I know I’ve done ok, made an impact, and that I have to keep going. 

What are you most looking forward to at our book festival?

Being in-person and getting to talk to readers! While virtual events have been great as far as connecting with people across states, there’s nothing like being able to talk to readers in the flesh and feel the excitement of a live festival. Also— of course, I will likely come home with lots of new books that I am excited to read.

Would you like to learn more about Mariama?  Check out this interview:  Ask the Author: Mariama J. Lockington. 

Mariama J. Lockington is an adoptee, writer and non-profit educator. She has been telling stories and making her own books since the second grade, when she wore short-alls and flower leggings every day to school. Her work has appeared in a number of magazines and journals, including Buzzfeed News Reader, and she is the author of the poetry chapbook, “The Lucky Daughter.” Her latest book is “The Key of Us.” Mariama earned a Masters in Education from Lesley University and Masters in Fine Arts in Poetry from San Francisco State University. She lives in Lexington, Ky., with her partner and dapple haired dachshund, Henry.

InvestiGATORS Coming to GBF22!

A friend of the Gaithersburg Book Festival, John Patrick Green is returning to our in-person event on May 21st, along with John Gallagher (Max Meow), Abby Denson (Kitty Sweet Tooth) and lifelong friend, Dave Roman (Astronaut Academy series).  When I introduced the InvestiGATORS to my students, they were an instant hit (my students love a good graphic novel series)!

Author Presentation (followed by book signing):  12:15-1:05 pm in the Cather Tent

Comics Co-Lab: Kids Graphic Novel Workshop:  3-3:45 pm in the children’s workshops pavilion

I hope you enjoy this interview with John Patrick Green!

What is your writing space like?

When I’m in the process of writing a book, wherever I am is where I am writing. It’s not a process that has an easy on/off switch. So sometimes I’ll be writing at a desk, other times it’s on a couch watching TV, occasionally it’s laying in bed trying to get to sleep. Much of my writing happens while pacing around my apartment. For me, sitting still isn’t really conducive to creating a story, so I’ll move around a lot. I’m probably most productive writing-wise when I’m doing a chore like laundry or washing dishes!

How (or in what ways) do you hope librarians will promote your book?

The best promotion I’d say is just recommending my work. Being familiar enough with it and other books like it that you can say, “oh, you like that book? Then you might also like THIS book.” 

What do you hope your readers will learn from reading your book?

One thing I hope they’ll get out of my books is an appreciation for the connection between text and visuals when it comes to this type of storytelling. And maybe they’ll also learn the occasional big or obscure word.

Who is the reader you are writing for?  Describe them.

My target audience is, basically, myself when I was a kid. I try to harness the types of stories and humor and cartoons that I liked when I was little, and make something that young me would find entertaining. And hopefully kids today will find it enjoyable as well.

What is one (or more) thing(s) that you really want your readers to know about you?

Hmm… I guess I’d want them to know how much I appreciate hearing that they are enjoying my books! And if there’s any occasion that calls for such a thing, please send me cheese instead of flowers.

What do you love most about the cover art and illustrations in your book?   

The part about my illustrations I like the most is when they’re DONE and I get to hold the books in my hands. It takes a lot of drawings to make a graphic novel, and while it’s fun making them, it’s very satisfying when the art is finished and ready to be seen by readers!

What has surprised you most about the characters in your book?

What probably is most surprising about a few characters is how they just showed up out of nowhere. When I’m making a book, I usually start with a short outline, and then I come up with specific dialog and detailed situations that I sketch out. Many times this results in a joke that wasn’t planned, and often it results in a funny character insetting themselves into the story unexpectedly. Characters like Dr. Doodldoo and C-ORB were not planned at all up until the moment I sketched out the page each one first appears in.  

Which book review or award has been most meaningful to you?

These aren’t really reviews or awards, but I’d say the response that has meant a lot to me is the appreciation my work gets from readers who *aren’t* actually the target demographic. While I want these books to connect with the audience I’m aiming them at, it’s nice to know that there are readers outside of that window that connect with the work as well. So when I hear from them or see fan art they’ve done it makes me feel like I’ve accomplished creating something that works on different levels.

What are you most looking forward to at our book festival?

I’m most looking forward to meeting readers! And after a couple years of mostly virtual conventions and festivals, it will be nice to meet some in person.

We hope you will join John Patrick Green at the Gaithersburg Book Festival on May 21st!

John Patrick Green is a human with the human job of making books about animals with human jobs, such as “Hippopotamister,“Kitten Construction Company” and “InvestiGators.” John is definitely not just a bunch of animals wearing a human suit pretending to have a human job. He is also the artist and co-creator of the graphic novel series “Teen Boat!”, with writer Dave Roman. John lives in Brooklyn, N.Y., in an apartment that doesn’t allow animals other than the ones living in his head.

Moonwalking with Zetta & Lyn at GBF

Zetta Elliott and Lyn Miller-Lachmann will be joining us as featured presenters at the Gaithersburg Book Festival on May 21, 2022, at our new location Gaithersburg’s Bohrer Park, 506 Frederick Ave, Gaithersburg, MD.  They will be sharing their co-authored book, Moonwalking, a stunning exploration of class, cross-racial friendships, and two boys’ search for belonging in a city as tumultuous and beautiful as their hearts.

Zetta and Lyn are presenting their book 12:15-1:05 pm in the Ogden Nash Pavilion. MCPS School Library Media Specialist, Joela Paik, will be moderating the discussion. Their presentation will be immediately followed by a book signing.

I hope you will enjoy my interview with Zetta and Lyn.

What is your writing space like?

Lyn: The most unusual feature of my writing space is a giant LEGO town that I’ve been working on for 15 years. It features buildings in the LEGO Modulars series that I built according to the instructions, ones that I’ve modified to suit the needs of the town (such as adding extra floors to several of the buildings), and my original creations that I’ve designed to fit seamlessly into the display. Some of the minifigures in my town look like characters in my various books and are set up to portray scenes in those books. I have a vignette that includes JJ from Moonwalking, even though he leaves his own LEGO pieces behind when he moves from a Long Island suburb to his grandmother’s home in Brooklyn because he doesn’t have the space and has become obsessed with Joe Strummer and The Clash instead. 

Lyn’s Amazing LEGO Town – photo provided by the author.

Zetta: I tend to write all over my apartment even though I do have a designated office that’s bright and sunny (and purple!). I bought an adjustable desk so I can sit or stand when working, but I haven’t tried it out yet. I mostly sit at my desk for Zooms since the bookcase behind me shows off my dragon collection and my latest titles. By noon, I’ve usually moved into the living room—it has a bay window that lets in lots of light, and I can see and hear all the birds in the shared garden. I just moved to Chicago last fall so I’m still getting to know my neighborhood. Since writing for me is 70% dreaming, I spend a fair bit of time gazing out the window, or walking by the lake, or visiting the nearby Japanese garden to gather my thoughts and hear my characters’ voices.

How (or in what ways) do you hope librarians will promote your book?

Zetta: I trust librarians to pair young readers with the right book! I think Moonwalking will have broad appeal because of the alternating viewpoints and different backgrounds of the two main characters. Verse novels are often great entry points for reluctant readers so I hope poetry fans find our book but also folks who might think poetry isn’t for them (poetry is for everyone!). I’ve seen a lot of art in the libraries I’ve visited so it would be great to have a display with work by local graffiti artists and, of course, images of tagged trains from 1980s NYC and the art of Jean-Michel Basquiat. Lyn has already assembled The Clash playlists so maybe library websites could make those tracks available to patrons.

What do you hope your readers will learn from reading your book?

Zetta: I tried to create an entire village in Moonwalking and I hope readers will think about their own communities in new ways after reading our book. JJ and Pie seem like opposites but when you go beneath the surface, there are enough similarities to sustain a connection. Pie wants more from his life, he’s outgrowing his childhood friends, and his teacher is nourishing his interest in art. For JJ, playing an instrument is a way to express himself and connect to the themes of resistance in punk music. Things were kind of hectic at home when I was Pie’s age so I hope kids dealing with family drama realize they’re allowed to BE kids and can search for and find adults in their community who can provide the help they need.

What is one (or more) thing(s) that you really want your readers to know about you?

Lyn: Like JJ, I was not diagnosed as autistic when I was in school, and I didn’t understand why I was bullied and it was so hard for me to make and keep friends. I had a whole lot of other diagnoses that tried to explain, for instance, why I never looked people in the eye, so I wore an eyepatch for months and had to do exercises that never worked. I never had a problem focusing when I read books, but eye-to-eye contact intimidated me. I also experienced selective mutism, and in fourth grade stopped speaking in school altogether for about three months. That time of being too terrified to speak, even if I wanted to, is what inspired JJ’s invisibility when he goes to public school for the first time.
What do you love most about the cover art and illustrations in your book?   

Lyn: I love the way David Cooper evokes early 1980s Williamsburg, pre-gentrification, with the Domino Sugar factory, the Williamsburg Bridge, the lights of Manhattan, and the graffiti murals on the sides of buildings. One can see the inspiration for the cover in Zetta/Pie’s powerful poems “Bomb” and “Sugarland” right at the beginning, and they set the tone for everything that comes after.

What has surprised you most about the characters in your book?

Lyn: The most surprising thing for me was how different from me JJ turned out to be, even though we’re both autistic and experience the same confusion and fear in new situations. There’s a saying, “When you’ve met one autistic person, you’ve met one autistic person,” and it’s true! Kiara in my earlier middle grade novel Rogue was a more autobiographical protagonist, with incidents lifted from my life, but JJ’s life, abilities, and interests are different. My parents gave me music lessons, and I hated them, but JJ embraces music as a way of communicating what he can’t express in words. Except for brief episodes of selective mutism, I was highly verbal and an A student in school. I didn’t really experience what JJ does as a struggling C student until I was out in the workplace and realized that exceptional academic skills don’t always lead to success outside of school.

Which book review or award has been most meaningful to you?

Zetta: My books don’t always get reviewed but I think the most meaningful feedback definitely comes from young readers and parents or educators who are sharing books with kids. I often hear from parents who express gratitude for the books I write because like me, they remember all too well how it felt to grow up not seeing yourself in the stories you loved. Teachers tell me that students with little interest in reading became more engaged after finding one of my books—even going on to write their own story. Awards are nice and my career in kid lit started with the Lee & Low New Voices Honor Award for Bird, but so many excellent books never get that sort of recognition…it’s nice to have shiny stickers on the cover of your book but what matters most to me is that my stories resonate with a broad range of readers.

What are you most looking forward to at our book festival?

Lyn: This festival is a first for me. I’ve always been on the other side of the table, listening to the authors’ presentations and hoping to meet them and get my books signed. I look forward to meeting young readers and their families, talking to them about verse novels, how Zetta and I came to write this book, and my process for creating a protagonist on the autism spectrum who is very different from me even though I’m also autistic. I’m especially eager to be at the Gaithersburg Book Festival because the pandemic has isolated us for the past two years and canceled most in-person book events. While going out in public can be stressful for me, I don’t do well with isolation either. It’s too easy for me to hole up with my LEGO town and let my hard-won social skills wither.

I hope you will come to Gaithersburg Book Festival on May 21st to meet these two authors!

Zetta Elliott is a black feminist writer of poetry, plays, essays, novels and stories for children. Her poetry has been published in “We Rise, We Resist, We Raise our Voices,” and her picture book, “Bird,” won the Honor Award in Lee & Low Books’ New Voices Contest and the Paterson Prize for Books for Young Readers. Her latest book is “Moonwalking.” She lives in West Philadelphia.

Lyn Miller-Lachmann is an author, teacher and librarian. Her latest book is “Moonwalking.” As an adult, she was diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome and delves into her diagnosis often in her writing. Lyn received her Masters in Library and Information Science from the University of Wisconsin, Madison, and edited the journal “MultiCultural Review” for 16 years. In 2012, she received my Masters in Fine Arts in Writing for Children and Young Adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts. She lives in New York City.

Record-Breaking Fun @ GBF22!

Hena Khan is a local author, having been born and raised in Montgomery County.  Since she was a little girl she has had her nose in a book, so it is not surprising that she became a children’s author – and there are many, many young readers thankful she did, too! My elementary school readers love her books, especially Amina’s Voice, Amina’s Song, and More to the Story, and were excited to learn that she wrote books with boy protagonists, too. Zayd Saleem has made his appearance in my library, and his books are also becoming favorites.  If you haven’t read her Muslim Book Of Concepts  picture books, beautifully illustrated by Mehrdokht Amini, you need to do so!

Hena will be presenting her latest book, Zara’s Rules for Record-Breaking Fun, the first in a humor-filled middle grade series starring a young Muslim girl with an endless list of hobbies who searches for ways to maximize fun for her family and neighborhood friends.

She’s a featured presenter along with Angela Dominquez (Stella Diaz to the Rescue) and Nicole D. Collier (Just Right Jillian).  This panel will be moderated by MCPS media specialist and 2018 Maryland School Librarian of the Year, Tracy Jeffcott. Join the conversation 4:15-5:05 pm in the Jim Henson Pavilion and it is immediately followed by a book signing.

I hope you enjoy this interview with the talented Hena Khan.

What is your writing space like?

It varies! I have a home office with a desktop computer and lots of bookshelves in it where I work when I need quiet. But I also move around my house with a laptop, sitting at the dining table or even on my couch at times! 

How (or in what ways) do you hope librarians will promote your book?

Librarians are amazing and do so much to support me, so I want to extend a huge and heartfelt thank you to you all! I hope you will continue to focus on the universal aspects of my books and highlight what might appeal most to all kids, in addition to the diversity component. I always appreciate the book tastings, read-alouds, book clubs, battles of the books, and the many other creative ways librarians share my work with readers! 

(Her website is filled with great resources for educators and activities for kids so I encourage you to explore it!)

What do you hope your readers will learn from reading your book?

I hope they are entertained most of all, and that they find a friend in Zara who they want to read more about in the next book in the series. I try not to be overly message-oriented, but there are themes of friendship and overcoming jealousy and the need to be in charge that might prove helpful to readers. And I hope kids will appreciate getting to know all the personalities in Zara’s multifaceted and fun Pakistani American Muslim extended family. 

Who is the reader you are writing for?  Describe them.

This book is for the reader who wants a lighthearted and fun-filled read that will make them laugh, but who also craves rich character development and some depth and substance in the story. 

What is one (or more) thing(s) that you really want your readers to know about you?

I’d like them to know that many of the things that happen to Zara in this book are taken from my childhood, and that many of the characters are inspired by my real-life friends and neighbors growing up. For that reason, these books are especially close to my heart! 

What do you love most about the cover art and illustrations in your book?   

I adore the energy and emotion that Wastana managed to create on the cover illustration, along with the incredible design, including the fonts, color choices, turquoise foil and embossed images that make it pop. I would have gravitated toward this cover as a kid! Plus, all the illustrations in the book capture the personalities and emotions of the characters so well.

What has surprised you most about the characters in your book?

I always secretly scoffed at the idea of characters coming to life for writers and taking over the storytelling process, but now that I’ve written about these characters in six books, they are so real to me! I can picture them when I write and imagine their voices and what they would likely do or say, which makes it super fun for me. 

Which book review or award has been most meaningful to you?

I’m so grateful for every review and award, but apart from kids’ reviews which are by far my favorite, the most meaningful was probably the first review I got from Publisher’s Weekly for Night of the Moon, my first picture book, way back in 2008. I didn’t know anything about the significance of editorial reviews back then, but I felt so validated when the reviewer said that I “portray Muslims as another vibrant thread in the great American tapestry, emphasizing the bonds of family, community and spirituality” since that was, and remains, a goal of mine.

What are you most looking forward to at our book festival?

I cannot wait to see people, meet friends new and old, and to talk with everyone face-to-face after so long! The festival has long been my favorite since it’s in my hometown, so well organized and run, and always such a good time! 

We hope you will join Hena Khan at the Gaithersburg Book Festival on May 21st!

Hena Khan is a Pakistani American writer. She is the author of the middle grade novels, “Amina’s Voice,” “Amina’s Song,” “More to the Story” and the Zara’s Rules series, and picture books, “Golden Domes and Silver Lanterns,” “Under My Hijab,” and “It’s Ramadan, Curious George,” among others. She will be presenting “Zara’s Rules for Record-Breaking Fun” at the Festival. Hena lives in her hometown of Rockville, Maryland, with her family.

Let’s Do Everything & Nothing at GBF

Julia Kuo’s beautiful words and art are breathtaking. The color palette is gorgeous.  In her newest picture book, Let’s Do Everything and Nothing, I find a strong emotional connection because my youngest daughter, Shannon, and I had similar mother-daughter adventures when she was a little girl. I remember our quiet moments, our joyful moments, and our curious moments like they were yesterday. I am grateful that Julia created this book so that I can share it with my all-grown-up daughter.

Julia will be presenting her book, Let’s Do Everything and Nothing, along with Joyce Hesselberth (Beatrice Was a Tree) at the Gaithersburg Book Festival on Saturday, May 21, 2022, a our new location: Gaithersburg’s Bohrer Park, 506 S Frederick Ave, Gaithersburg, 12:15-1:05 pm in the Willa Cather Pavilion.

For those interested in Julia’s process for creating this book, I highly recommend reading about it here!

What is your writing space like? 

I write and illustrate in my office on the third floor of a townhouse in Seattle, Washington. Hanging behind me are two pinatas I’ve made – one of a bison, another of a rainbow – that I couldn’t bring myself to destroy. On the window ledge in front of me are 8 air plants that were extras wedding favors from getting married last summer. And down by my feet, in a dog bed nestled in another dog bed, is my snoring pup Carmen. 

What do libraries mean to you? 

I spent a lot of time in my local library branch as a high schooler, but it wasn’t until I was an adult that I began associating libraries with new homes. I moved to Cleveland after college and fell in love with the city; while I was there, I worked with the Cleveland Public Library to create a design for their library card and even designed a summer arts space next to a library called “Literary Lots”. When I moved to Chicago, I signed up for a library card almost immediately. I still remember walking away from the beautiful Harold Washington branch and feeling like the possession of the library card had suddenly made me a true Chicagoan. 

What do you hope your readers will learn from reading your book? 

This book is really about companionship and contentment, so I hope readers will take a moment to reflect on how they find these things in their own lives – whether it’s with a child, parent, partner, sibling, or friend! 

Who is the reader you are writing for? Describe them. 

I’m writing for mothers and daughters! I want women of all ages to see themselves reflected as bold, confident adventurers who can find energy and rest in companionship. If I’m being honest, I’m also writing for myself. This book is for my past self, as a young Asian American girl, to see myself centered in a book and daring enough to attempt great adventures. It’s for my current self, to find satisfaction and contentment in my current relationships, even if we are doing nothing – and for my future self, to see motherhood as the ultimate adventure! 

What is one (or more) thing(s) that you really want your readers to know about you? 

I love spending time outdoors, whether it’s rock climbing or hiking up a mountain (mostly the smaller ones). I actually wrote this story after climbing Mt. Rainier in 2019! As a 5 foot tall Asian American woman, I know that I don’t fit the typical profile of an outdoor adventurer, but I would love to change that stereotype through my writing and illustrations.

What do you love most about the cover art and illustrations in your book? 

One of my favorite things about the book’s illustrations is that they center around the adventures of a warm skinned, dark haired mother and daughter who live in a home coded as Taiwanese American (rice cooker, wok on the stove). The story doesn’t explicitly address culture or ethnicity, but the characters can just be without having to explain themselves. 

What has surprised you most about the characters in your book? 

This book is much more poetic than it is narrative, so I expected the illustrations and characters to be quite general. But somehow, the characters in this book have still managed to unearth some of my most private thoughts on parenthood, relationships, and fulfillment. I illustrated an Asian American mother and her daughter, and I have identified with both; as a woman who wishes for a motherhood filled with adventures, and as a daughter who seeks out companionship through both the wildest adventures as well as the most peaceful of moments at home. 

What part of the publishing process has been the most meaningful to you thus far? 

I’ve been continuously blown away by the collaborative aspect of publishing. I’ve worked with really amazing editors and teams who have definitely improved my work, both in the writing and illustration. It was Bethany Strout’s idea at Little Brown to shift the color scheme from bright to monotone in The Sound of Silence, and it was Connie Hsu of Roaring Brook’s idea to make the characters’ home a Taiwanese-American one in Let’s Do Everything and Nothing! This is also true for the writers I’ve had the privilege of working with, from Katrina Goldsaito to Martha Brockenbrough and Livia Blackburne. I just don’t write the way they do, and it feels like such an honor to illustrate their books. Every person I’ve worked with from the designers to the publicists makes me feel so lucky to be in this profession.

 What are you most looking forward to at our book festival? 

This will be my first in-person event for Let’s Do Everything and Nothing, and I am so excited to see people in person and to sit in on other author talks!

Julia Kuo is a Taiwanese-American illustrator who has worked with The New York Times, Google and Science Friday. Julia has taught illustration courses at Columbia College Chicago and at her alma mater, Washington University in St. Louis. She is the illustrator of “Drawing Leaves and Trees: Observing and Sketching the Natural World;” “I Dream of Popo,” written by Livia Blackburne; Katrina Goldsaito’s “The Sound of Silence;” Roni Schotter’s “Go Little Green Truck!;” Melissa Gilbert’s “Daisy and Josephine,” “20 Ways to Draw a Dress,” “20 Ways to Draw a Cat” and “Everyone Eats.” Her latest book is “Let’s Do Everything and Nothing.”

That Feline Hero with “Cat-itude” is Coming to GBF!

John Gallagher, creator of Max Meow, will be a featured author at the Gaithersburg Book Festival on May 21, 2022, at our new location: Bohrer Park in Gaithersburg.  John will be part of a graphic novel panel with John Patrick Green (Investigators: Braver & Boulder), Abby Denson (Kitty Sweet Tooth) and moderated by Dave Roman (Astronaut Academy series).  John will lead a meowsome workshop for elementary students as well.

Creating Super Cats and Vile Villains – A Kids Comics Workshop:  10:15-10:45 am

Author Presentation (followed by book signing):  12:15-1:05 pm in the Willa Cather Pavilion

What is your studio/creative space like?

I have a home studio with a diner booth! After college, I lived with multiple roommates. Needless to say, it was hard to concentrate with so many folks running around. So I would go to the local diner and draw. I became so used to the height of the diner table, that when I moved into my open studio, I got a diner booth for use as my work space.

How (or in what ways) do you hope librarians will promote your book?

My main goal is to show young readers that reading can be fun—and librarians have done a wonderful job of promoting Max Meow (and many other books) that way.

What do you hope your readers will learn from reading your book?

I often try to impart small bits of wisdom that have helped me through life, such as taking chances, it’s okay to mess up, and that being a good person (or cat) to others is an important part of being a hero or leader. But I also like to stick in little snippets of science via Max’s best buddy, Mindy.

Who is the reader you are writing for?  Describe them!

I write for the 7-10 year old I was: one part imagination, one part comedian, and maybe someone that thinks too much sometimes. But maybe also someone that might be reluctant to read, at first, but forgets that when they see a flying cat and alien wiener dog.

What is one (or more) thing(s) that you really want your readers to know about you?

I love cats AND dogs! Many kids want me to choose, or explain why Max is a cat, and I am a big fan of both. In fact, I have one cat, Millie, and a dog named Cody.

What do you love most about the cover art and illustrations in your book?   

Getting to do them! 😊 I was mesmerized by comics as a kid, they really took me to whole new worlds. So trying to do that for a new generation of readers is very exciting for me.

What has surprised you most about the characters in your book?

I often start out with certain ideas about where my characters are headed in the stories—but rarely do they stay on that path. For example, Agent M, a grumpy mouse (or is he a rat?), and the first book’s villain, has grown as a character so much over the series, that he actually reformed and became something of a hero in later books.

Which book review or award has been most meaningful to you?

Reviews by librarians have meant a lot, because they are so dedicated and discerning for their young readers. But it’s the reviews that kids share online about Max Meow that have helped me to appreciate the importance of storytelling in inspiring others.

What are you most looking forward to at our book festival?

Meeting and talking to the readers and their parents is such an invigorating experience, and really reminds me why this is the best job in the world.

Creating Super Cats and Vile Villains – A Kids Comics Workshop:  10:15-10:45 am

Author Presentation (followed by book signing):  12:15-1:05 pm in the Cather Tent

Visit the Gaithersburg Book Festival website for more information about this literary event.

Did you know?

John has a great website with interactive games for his readers, as well as coloring sheets and other activities.  Check out  Citizens of Kittyopolis and Videos, Fun & Games pages!

John Gallagher is the art director of the NWF’s “Ranger Rick” magazine, cofounder of “Kids Love Comics” (an organization that uses graphic novels to promote literacy), and leads workshops teaching kids how to create their own comics. John lives in Virginia with his wife and their three kids. 

Triumphant Beauty at GBF

On May 21, 2022, the talented NoNieqa Ramos will be a featured author at Gaithersburg Book Festival (1:15-2:05pm in the Jim Henson Pavilion).  Nonieqa will also lead a writing workshop entitled, Mirror, Mirror and Magnificent Me (11-11:45 am in the Children’s Workshops Pavilion.) I hope you enjoy learning about NoNieqa and that you come out to the Gaithersburg Book Festival to meet her in person.   This is our first in person event after two years of virtual GBF and we are overjoyed to see our authors and guests at our new location: Gaithersburg’s  Bohrer Park, 506 So. Frederick Ave, Gaithersburg, MD 20877.

I hope you enjoy my interview with NoNieqa Ramos!

What is your writing space like?

Thank you for inviting me to speak on Creative Librarian: Adventures in School Librarianship, Melissa!

At the opening of my office, you’ll see a homage to feminine divine energy, a goddess with a crown of candles. Step further into the soft blue light and you’ll pass my altar to my ancestors, trickling with flowers. Across from my standing desk are two old school black chalkboards with outlines for a current middle grade novel-in-progress currently titled Crescent Dances with the Stars. Occasionally a beloved bow-tied kitty warms my chair. 

Behind me on a floating shelf sits my debut young adult novel The Disturbed Girl’s Dictionary beside the vinyl record, A Love Supreme by John Coltrane, a pivotal song in my fifteen-year-old protagonist’s journey.  Adjacent to my young adult novels, you’ll see my picture books Your Mama illustrated by Jacqueline Alcántara, Beauty Woke illustrated by Paola Escobar, and Hair Story, illustrated by Keisha Morris. As a child, I fantasized about being a museum curator. Maybe that’s part of my love for picture books; they are portable museums of art and culture!

How (or in what ways) do you hope librarians will promote your books?

There truly could not be a more volatile and difficult time in publishing or in the current state of this country to have a book called Beauty Woke published. Wokeness is so politicized and misunderstood.  In my book, wokeness refers to a marginalized child’s triumph over racism and her awakening to her beauty–inside and out. 

In my book, wokeness refers to a marginalized child’s triumph over racism and her awakening to her beauty–inside and out. 

~ NoNieqa Ramos

My young adult novel The Truth Is, in which my protagonist Verdad confronts her internalized racism and homophobia as she embraces her queer identity, was on Senator Matt Kraus’ banned book list and was also targeted for banning at school board meetings in my hometown in Virginia. 

It’s been exhausting, but I gain strength from educators and librarians at the front lines of #FReadom. I hope librarians continue to support me by promoting my picture books with all ages.

How about including Your Mama in a poetry celebration? Middle graders can use Your Mama to  study free-verse poetry. High schoolers can study the misogynistic past of Your Mama jokes and how my book confronts sexism with tenderness, affirmation, and celebration.

How about having a cultural pride parade after a reading of Beauty Woke with Littles? Every child can make a flag representing their own cultures. Middle graders and high schoolers can study the history of Puerto Rico and the importance of the Puerto Rican flag depicted in the book in various forms. On June 10th, 1948 Law 53 was approved in Puerto Rico. The Gag Law or La Ley de la Mordaza made it illegal to display or own a Puerto Rican flag, even in one’s own home. Police and national guardsmen could enter anyone’s home without a warrant and search and seize all property, regardless of probable cause. What an opportunity to research, discuss, and debate!

I would love to see more front-and-center book displays with unique themes. I recently enjoyed a gorgeous display of Beauty Woke, which was included in an Encanto-themed collection focusing on magic and family.  I especially need librarians to share my picture books in social media postings on Twitter and Instagram and to recommend my books to educators.

How about inviting me over! I am currently working with the New York Public Library to do Caregiver Literacy Workshops! Mil gracias to every librarian who has shared my work to their readers!

What do you hope your readers will learn from reading your book?

Children start to learn about race and culture the minute they are born. And tragically, racism doesn’t “start” when you are an adult or when you are educated and prepared to deal with it. Racism blindsides you. Children witness racism against their parents, families, and friends. They see it on social media and hear about it in the car on the news on the way to school. 

All marginalized children are going to be exposed to racism whether it’s through personal experiences or whether they are witnesses to it. I hope that Beauty Woke is an opportunity to recognize and validate children’s experiences, and to provide them the sacred space of a picture book and a caregiver to heal, explore, and embrace their cultural roots and seek refuge and love from their families and communities. Like Beauty in the book, I hope they experience triumph in knowing who they are and where they come from is beautiful. 

Want to read more about NoNieqa and Beauty Woke?

Las Musas:  Happy Book Birthday to NoNieqa Ramos’ Beauty Woke!

Kathy Temean: BEAUTY WOKE by NoNieqa Ramos

Lorena Germán, cofounder of the groups #disrupttexts and Multicultural Classroom and author of The Anti-Racist Teacher: Reading Instruction Workbook and Textured Teaching: A Framework for Culturally Sustaining Practices, writes: “This gorgeous book is about more than hair. Hair becomes the vehicle for a conversation about identity, beauty standards, bias, relationships, self-love, and more. Ramos has created a picture book that touches upon identity as it is intertwined with other elements of life, all by celebrating hair types and styles.”

Charlotte Offsay, author of The Big Beach Clean Up said, “This truth is carried in NoNieqa’s words and Keisha’s art. It’s a beautiful ode to Black and brown children, celebrating their hair and their identity and encouraging “young readers to embrace themselves just the way they are.”

As Preciosa and Rudine embrace their natural hair, readers are invited to do the same.

Las Musas An Interview with NoNieqa Ramos, author of Hair Story! 

Who is the reader you are writing for?  Describe them!

I am writing for the parents and caregivers. Just like many of them, I did not see representation of Latine and marginalized groups growing up, and by reading these books to our children, we heal ourselves and society.

I am writing for Latine children. For queer children. For Black, indigenous, and children of color. For white children. For she and hes and theys. For abled and disabled children. For children who like to climb trees, children who climb the walls, children who knock down walls like dominoes every day they wake up and smile and start fresh. All children.

What is one (or more) thing(s) that you really want your readers to know about you?

I need picture books just as much as they do! Picture books are for all ages. 0-1000.  Todos.  

What do you love most about the cover art and illustrations in your book?   

Paola Escobar created the stunning illustrations in Beauty Woke.  Kirkus phrased it perfectly when they said, “Escobar’s powerful panorama of diversity is a blazing exclamation point to Beauty’s triumphant journey.”  Paola brilliantly exemplifies the power of family and community.

Keisha Morris created the joyful illustrations in Hair Story.  I  especially love the ‘FRO-MENTS IN TIME’ page where famous icons in history and their hair stories are displayed and the back matter where Keisha and I share our own hair stories.

Which book review or award has been most meaningful to you?

I appreciate every single reader who has taken the time to review my work, and I absolutely adore every reader who has reached out to me personally through my website, Twitter, and Instagram. I take screenshots of these messages so I can remind myself why I am writing and who I am writing for.

Receiving an NCTE Notable Poetry award lit me up because of my experience teaching language arts and drama for 15 years!

What are you most looking forward to at our book festival?

This will be one of the first times since the Pandemic that I am able to interact and build community IN-PERSON with educators, librarians, families, and readers! In addition to my author presentation, I’m looking forward to leading an Affirmation workshop with Littles!!

NoNieqa Ramos (they/them) is an educator and writer of picture books and young adult literature. They wrote The Disturbed Girl’s Dictionary, a 2019 YALSA Best Fiction for Young Adults Selection. Their debut picture book Your Mama illustrated by Jacqueline Alcántara was selected by The Virginia Center for the Book as Virginia’s GREAT READ for 2021. Your Mama was a finalist for the Kirkus Prize, a School Library Journal Best Picture Book of 2021, a Kirkus Best Picture Book of the 2021, a Nerdy Book Award winner, and a National Council of English Books Notable Poetry Book.  Their picture book Beauty Woke illustrated by Paola Escobar has earned Booklist and Kirkus starred reviews.  NoNieqa is a proud member of Las Musas Books collective, the Soaring 20s PB debut group, and Pb Tales 2022 group. You can learn more about them and the school visits and workshops they offer at www.nonieqaramos.com

Friends Forever

For Valentine’s Day classroom celebrations this year, our principal asked the staff to focus on friendship. Here in the library, I often have lessons that incorporate social emotional themes, so I decided to take the week prior to, and the week of, Valentine’s Day to share lots of information about what being a friend looks like and sounds like.

Using print books, ebooks, videos, and databases (and a super cute STEAM activity), I created lessons that I believe my readers truly connected with during those two weeks.

The first week, my lesson was entitled, “What is Friendship?” and the big question was, “What does it mean to be a good friend?” In the lesson I used the wonderful PebbleGo article, Making New Friends, and the books  My New Friend is So Fun! by Mo Willems and Snail and Worm Again by Tina Kügler.  My students and I had insightful discussions about friendship and specific ways in which the characters were good friends to each other.  We also had a great time creating snail art!

PreK-Gr2 What is Friendship

The second week, my lesson was entitled “Be a Fantastic Friend” and we continued exploring what it means to be a friend. Scholastic Watch & Learn has two wonderful friendship videos:  Fantastic Friend Countdown and Can You Be a Good Friend?  which gave my young students some concrete examples of things that they could do in the classroom and at recess.  The books I incorporated were again by author/illustrators Mo Willems (The Big Guy Took My Ball!) and Tina Kügler (Snail and Worm).  I love that my young learners appreciated the humor in each of these books and laughed out loud at the characters’ silliness, while also understanding the message of friendship in each.

K-Gr2: Be a Fantastic Friend

The Year of the Tiger

February is such a fantastic month for learning!  Not only is it Black History Month, Valentine’s Day, Love Your Library Month, in 2022, we also celebrated the Lunar New Year and the Winter Olympics.

Today’s post focuses on the Lunar or Chinese New Year, which is the most important holiday in Chinese culture. Because I believe it is extremely important to celebrate the diversity of our school community, I was excited to invite my students to learn about this wonderful two-week celebration. 

As I started pulling together resources for my lesson, including print and ebooks, articles in our PebbleGo database, Gale in Context – Elementary database, video in our Scholastic Watch & Learn database, and a couple of other vetted YouTube videos, I started looking for a good Google slide theme.  SlidesCarnival   and are two of my “go to” resources for awesome slide templates – for this presentation, I used the beautiful SlidesGo Year of the Tiger template, which also included information about the Chinese New Year.

Just as I did with my Mid-Autumn Festival lesson in September, I consulted one of my colleagues, Chanru, who is Chinese-American, to have her review my Chinese New Year lesson for authenticity and accuracy.  She gave me positive feedback, and also asked if she might bring in Chinese New Year decorations to help me decorate the library. While we hung the decorations, she explained what the characters on the banners and window clings meant. She has been an amazing primary resource to me!

In addition to my lessons, I also displayed nonfiction books about China and other countries where the Lunar New Year is celebrated, as well as displayed and spotlighted fiction chapter and picture books written and illustrated by Asian-Americans.

K2: 2022 Year of the Tiger – Chinese New Year

Gr 3-5: 2022 Year of the Tiger – Chinese New Year

Our principal calls for weekly “Shout Outs” to include in his Monday morning newsletter, and Chanru and I gave each other kudos that week. I shared how thankful I was that she reviewed my lessons and shared her decorations. Her comment to me was, “Shout out to Melissa, for you spent your time making the amazing Chinese New Year lesson slides for all grade levels and are willing to set up the Media room with all theme decorations. I feel so embraced and represented.”   This was a timely reminder that while we are helping to expand knowledge of our students by honoring the culture of our diverse community, a delightful outcome is that our colleagues can also feel the love.