Wendy McClure’s newest book, On Track for Treasure, is the second installment in the Wanderville series. She has written several books for adults and children including The Wilder Life: My Adventures in the Lost World of Little House on the Prairie, which in 2011 won the Midwest Bookseller’s Choice Award for adult nonfiction. She is also a senior editor at the children’s book publisher Albert Whitman and Company, producing picture books, young adult novels and the popular Boxcar Children Mysteries. She grew up in Oak Park, Illinois, and now lives in Chicago with her husband. Between the Covers recently caught up with her over the holiday season.
Between the Covers: Wanderville ended on a very tense note! Where will we find Jack, Frances, Harold and Alexander as On Track for Treasure, the next book in the Wanderville series, begins?
Wendy McClure: They’ll be in the middle of an escape! And it won’t be just the four of them — the other kids they rescued at the end of the first book will be with them: 10 kids in all! And when trouble hits, they find it’s hard to find places where they can all hide, so they realize their best option is to hop on a freight train out of town. Then it really gets interesting!
BTC: One of the most compelling relationships in Wanderville is the connection between Frances and her little brother Harold. In researching the real orphan trains for writing the Wanderville series, did you find that siblings often stuck together? What was your inspiration for Frances’ determination to keep her brother close?
WM: When I was researching kids in the tenements of New York City, I came across a photograph showing two or three girls out on the sidewalk holding their baby siblings on their hips. The caption read “Little Mothers,” a term that described girls who had to take care of their younger brothers or sisters all day because their mothers had to work. When I saw that I knew I wanted that to be the backstory of Frances and Harold before they were in the orphanage. Frances would have pretty much raised Harold. As for the orphan trains, I imagine the circumstances of the train journeys would have compelled siblings to stick together as much as they could. But the sad reality is that they were usually encouraged to forget their old lives, including family ties. And then when the placement process began, siblings were often separated, since it was hard to find a home that could take in more than one child. Some siblings were lucky enough to be placed out together, or to at least wind up in homes in the same town, but many more were forced to be apart. In Wanderville, Frances soon realizes the danger that she and Harold are in, and that helps motivate her to escape.
BTC: In your book The Wilder Life: My Adventures in the Lost World of Little House on the Prairie, you connect deeply to the books you loved as a child and demonstrated how that love of reading can influence one's future. What do you hope the children who read Wanderville take away from this series?
WM: I hope that for kids I can capture the exhilaration of being independent — of having adventures without adults around, of creating and building things on their own. That’s a very basic but important thing. I also hope the books can nurture a curiosity about the past — not just history, but a richer sense of this different world that came before ours. That was certainly one of the things that I loved most about the Little House books.
BTC: What challenges do you find writing a series rather than just a stand-alone novel? What about writing children's books versus books for adults?
WM: Writing a series is sort of an odd way to write a long story. It’s like painting a huge mural by starting at one end and then having to paint in only one direction without going back to change or adjust anything. Book one was already published by the time I wrote the third book. It’s fun trying to make everything work, though. As for writing for kids versus adults—it’s hard to say, because the Wanderville books are the first long-form fiction I’ve ever written, whereas my adult stuff is all nonfiction. I remember when I first started working on the books I felt this giddy sense of freedom because I got to make things up. But at the same time, having that freedom can be terrifying.
BTC: What are you working on next?
WM: I’m just finishing up the third Wanderville book, Escape to the World’s Fair, which comes out later this year. And now I’ve been going through old family photos from the early 1900s. They might help me with another Wanderville book if I get an idea for a fourth book, or I might use them in a new story. Or else I could write an essay about them. I know I’m going to write about them, but I just don’t know how yet!
The most prestigious awards for teen and children's literature were announced by the American Library Association (ALA) in Chicago today. Awards were given in a wide range of categories that covered all formats and age levels. You can find a complete list of awards, winners and honorees on the ALA website.
The Randolph Caldecott Medal is awarded annually to the artist of the most distinguished American picture book for children. This year’s winner is The Adventures of Beekle: The Unimaginary Friend written and illustrated by Dan Santat. This beautifully illustrated tender tale of one imaginary friend waiting patiently to be picked by a child will captivate young readers with its creative spark.
The oldest of the medals awarded, the John Newbery Medal, is awarded to the author of the most distinguished contribution to American literature for children. This year’s medal recipient is Kwame Alexander for The Crossover, a novel in verse sharing the coming-of-age story of twins Josh and Jordan and their changing lives on and off the basketball court.
The Michael L. Printz Award annually honors the best book written for teens, based entirely on its literary merit. This year’s winner is I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson, the story of twins (again!) Noah and Jude, their fractured relationship and attempt to recover what they once had.
The Coretta Scott King Awards are given to outstanding African-American authors and illustrators of books for children and young adults that demonstrate an appreciation of African-American culture and universal human values. Christopher Myers received the Coretta Scott King Illustrator Award for his vibrant collage combinations of paint, paper and photographed elements which bring to life the inspirational story of a budding ballerina in Firebird, written by Misty Copeland. Jacqueline Woodson, already the recipient of the National Book Award, was awarded the Coretta Scott King Author Award for Brown Girl Dreaming, her lyrical novel in verse of her childhood in the 1960s and 1970s.
Check out the winners and honorees at BCPL!
Emmy Rushford is a precocious and civic-minded 6th grader. When her class is assigned to do a community service project, Emmy thinks she has a great idea: Her group will collect food for a local less fortunate family. On the surface, this may sound like a good idea, but Emmy is not telling the whole story to her classmates or her family. In Peg Kehret’s book, Dangerous Deception, Emmy begins innocently enough but she is soon put in harm’s way.
Kehret makes Emmy a rather mature-for-her-years but believable character who wants to do good but naively believes she can handle some very adult issues. The family that Emmy is trying to help is in trouble. However, she cannot turn to her parents or teacher for help without exposing some lies she has told. Kehret sets up a dilemma for her heroine that may seem a bit beyond the abilities of most 6th graders, but she keeps Emmy from becoming a superhero. She is flawed but well-intentioned, and young readers may learn a lesson or two from some of Emmy’s poor decisions.
It’s no secret that dads can have tremendous influence on their children’s lives. Here are three very different picture books from 2014 which highlight the myriad ways in which dads positively shape their little ones, whether over the course of an hour or a lifetime. Here’s to you, dads!
A rainy day. A bored little girl. A dad who takes time to spur his child’s imagination by asking “If you had your druthers, what would you do?” Flights of fancy ensue. In the space of a few pages, author Matt Phelan demonstrates the impact of a dad who simply takes the opportunity to engage in a little play time in Druthers.
From author Daniel Beaty comes a tale of the strong bond between father and son over the chasm of many years’ absence. Knock Knock: My Dad’s Dream for Me begins with one young boy’s loving memories of his father and the knock-knock game they used to play every morning. One day, there is no knock, and a new and palpable absence begins in the boy’s life. Missing his father, the boy writes a letter urging him to come home. In time, he receives a poignant letter in return. In it, his father encourages his son, reminding him of his love and all the ways in which he will always remain with him. As the letter unfolds, illustrator Bryan Collier’s richly evocative images foreshadow the boy’s path to adulthood and his eventual reunion with his father.
Young fans of illustrator James Dean’s Pete the Cat series will warm to his latest Mighty Dads, created in collaboration with author Joan Holub. Sing-song, rhyming text pairs with appealing illustrations of construction machinery in dad and child sizes. Hardworking, protective, patient and encouraging, the mighty dad machines act as teachers and role models to their young companions, who help them over the course of a day at the construction site. Punctuated by satisfyingly repetitive and onomatopoeic descriptors (“Crash, bang, boom!”) and bold, colorful illustrations, Mighty Dads is a deceptively simplistic picture book with an underlying message about the important roles dads can play in their children’s lives.
"Seven half-bloods shall answer the call,
To storm or fire the world must fall.
An oath to keep with final breath,
And foes bear arms to the Doors of Death."
The Blood of Olympus by Rick Riordan is the end, the final book in a five year saga, and the fulfillment of prophecy. Roman mythology and Greek mythology have clashed with each other, with Gods, Goddesses, Titans and the very Earth itself. It's been clear since the beginning that someone was going to die. Would it be Jason Grace, son of Jupiter? Piper, daughter of Aphrodite? Maybe it would be one of the five other heroes, including a returning Percy Jackson and Annabeth Chase. The action is big, the threats are far out there and the characters are still quipping.
In a post-Potter world, any number of contenders have stepped up to provide fantastic sagas for the young. Riordan has become the Dean of Children's Mythology. Every page in his books are full of reimagined Greek and Roman (and sometimes Egyptian, and soon to be Norse) mythology that can be quickly and easily digested by new readers. It's by turns hilarious, horrifying, action-packed and zooming along with all the speed of a thriller. There's a potency to The Blood of Olympus that comes from being built on stories that have lasted for thousands of years.
This is not a perfect book. Most of the ensemble cast run through their character arcs and just stick around for lack of anywhere else to be. The humor can be patchy. It doesn't matter, because this is smart, imaginative writing that will inspire the next generation. Some of the kids who read this will go on to be archaeologists, mythographers and authors. The rest will have a good time in a world that's grown bigger since they started reading.
Scholastic Books announced that author and illustrator Norman Bridwell died last Friday in Martha’s Vineyard at age 86. Bridwell was best known for creating the lovable Clifford the Big Red Dog character which spawned into a hugely successful children’s book series.
The first book was published in 1963 and the series would grow to include more than 150 Clifford titles. The series has been translated into 13 languages, and sold 129 million copies worldwide. Clifford successfully crossed over to the small screen with a PBS Kids’ animated series, which drew more fans. He is headed to the big screen in 2016.
Dick Robinson, chairman, president and CEO of Scholastic, noted in the company’s press release that, “Norman Bridwell’s books about Clifford, childhood’s most loveable dog, could only have been written by a gentle man with a great sense of humor. Norman personified the values that we as parents and educators hope to communicate to our children — kindness, compassion, helpfulness, gratitude — through the Clifford stories which have been loved for more than 50 years.” Listen to Bridwell himself on the magic of Clifford in this 50th anniversary video.
This year marks three important anniversaries for everyone’s favorite reindeer. In 1939, advertising copywriter Robert L. May wrote Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer at the request of Chicago’s Montgomery Ward department store. The retailer wanted to use the story in a promotional booklet for its customers. That year, Montgomery Ward distributed over 2 million copies of the booklet featuring the story of Rudolph. A new 75th anniversary edition of May’s original rhyming story was just published with beautiful new illustrations by Antonio Javier Caparo. This oversized book’s rich illustrations make it a great way to share this version of Rudolph’s story.
Ten years later, May’s brother-in-law Johnny Marks adapted the story into the unforgettable song, and Gene Autry's recording topped the charts in December 1949. From there, Rudolph’s popularity skyrocketed. Then, on December 6, 1964, a new Christmas tradition was born. That night, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer first aired on NBC. The stop motion animation TV special narrated by Burl Ives now airs on CBS each year, and watching it has become an annual tradition for many families.
To celebrate the 50th anniversary of the animated TV special, two new books have been released featuring its familiar plot. Thea Feldman’s retelling of the story combined with Erwin Madrid’s illustrations, which are very similar to the TV special’s art, make Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer: The Classic Story a sure bet for die-hard Rudolph fans. Families with younger children may prefer Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer: Special Edition Pop-up Book. This shorter version of the story with large-scale pop-ups using movie stills to capture memorable scenes from the TV special will become a family favorite.
A picture book with no pictures? Leave it to Emmy Award winning actor B.J. Novak to create just that with his innovative and interactive The Book with No Pictures. Sure to be a repeat story time request, this is one that parents won’t tire of either.
There is one rule when reading this gem that begs to be read aloud – everything written on the page has to be spoken out loud by the reader. The reader may be compelled to sing or even scream as the words could be a zany song about eating ants for breakfast or just a list of splendiferously ridiculous sounds like Fa-rumpa-jumpa and BA-DONGY FACE!!!!!!
A white background carries the varied font types, sizes and colors which are expertly employed to emphasize a change in tone and voice for the reader of this story. Novak also creatively breaks the fourth wall with direct address allowing for interaction as the reader beseeches the listener to let him stop throughout and even at the end begs, "please please please please please choose a book with pictures." Novak, whose author picture is appropriately a verbal description, is a beloved and talented comedian who has achieved great success making grown-ups laugh and has now charmed a whole new audience who won’t stop giggling. Find out for yourself by watching this YouTube clip of Novak’s delightful reading in front of a roomful of laughing children.
So you raced through the Percy Jackson series by Rick Riordan, all the way from The Lightning Thief through The Last Olympian. Then you settled into the Heroes of Olympus series, flying through those tomes like Hermes fleeing Typhon. Now you’re just waiting around for your copy of The Blood of Olympus to hit the hold shelf and your journey through all things Greek and godly will be complete.
Probably think you’re an expert on Greek mythology by now, right?
Sure, you know all about Zeus, Athena, Poseidon; all the poster children of Greek legend and lore. And by now you’ve gotten a handle on what it means to be a demigod. But how about Minthe or Metis? Thetis or Themis? Ring any bells? Face it, when it comes to real expertise, you’ve got a ways to go. Fortunately, Professor Percy Jackson has got your back.
Here to guide you through the chaotic origins of Greek mythology, including nymphs, lesser gods, heroes and upstart mortals of latter days, Percy Jackson’s Greek Gods covers it all.
Not in some boring lecture-style either. Nah, Percy wouldn’t have the attention span for it, and you don’t have TIME for that right now anyway! You’re about to embark on the very last book in the Heroes of Olympus series for Pan’s sake! Percy knows that and doesn’t want to shake your focus.
But seriously, at a time like this, do you REALLY want to face Gaea without a complete working knowledge of the whole Greek godly shebang? When you’re in the thick of battle, you don’t want any multi-headed, poison-dripping surprises. So while you’re waiting for The Blood of Olympus, do yourself a favor and brush up on your myth know-how. You’ll be glad you did.
It’s October, and that means it’s time to carve the pumpkins, get out the spooky decorations and get the candy ready for the trick-or-treaters. It’s also a time for great Halloween-themed picture books! Stories that feature our television friends are always popular with the kids, but Sesame Street: Happy Halloween!, written by Lillian Jaine and brightly illustrated by Ernie Kwiat, has an added treat for grown-ups. One by one, Elmo, Big Bird and the rest of the monsters from Sesame Street rap upon the Count’s castle door to visit him on Halloween. After all ten of the friends arrive, they hear another tap, tap, tapping. “Deep into that darkness peering, long they stood there wondering, fearing.” Who could it be? With literary elements from Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Raven,” the lilting cadence of the text makes this a great story to read with your kids and discover the identity of the final guest coming to join in the spooky fun!
If your children enjoy songs as well as stories, then there are two great new picture books by Helen Ketteman to share! The Ghosts Go Haunting lends itself to be sung to the tune of “The Ants Go Marching.” At M.T. Tombs Elementary, things are getting a bit spooky as the ghosts go haunting one by one, black cats go hissing six by six and even the zombies are stumbling ten by ten looking for brains all over the school! With green faced witches and big eared goblins, Adam Records pictures are lively and fun. Ketteman’s other sing-along Halloween story is At the Old Haunted House, with darkly delightful illustrations by Nate Wragg. Anyone familiar with the children’s song “Over in the Meadow,” may find themselves singing the text of this story to your wee witchy one.