Thursday, April 27, 2017

THE GREEN UMBRELLA by Author Jackie Azua Kramer + Giveaway

Dear friends,

Please welcome the talented, Jackie Azua Kramer, who shares about the writing of her debut picture book, The Green Umbrella. Jackie is generously donating an autographed copy for one lucky winner who stops by to leave a comment for her about the post. (Winner will be announced on May 9th!) Jackie recently learned that The Green Umbrella was named a Bank Street College 2017 Best Children's Books of the Year. Congratulations on that great honor, Jackie! And now, The Green Umbrella!

REVIEWS for The Green Umbrella:
"Imagination can turn even simple objects into marvelous things...imagining is better together. Debut author Kramer’s imagination-fueled encounter makes good use of fellow newcomer Sassouni’s gift for conjuring up fairy-tale landscapes: old houses hunched up against each other, impossibly lumpy hills, and silly contraptions...And Kramer’s storytelling passages sustain their lofty tone with no off notes—no easy task." Publisher's Weekly
Inside Illustration from: THE GREEN UMBRELLA

"A sweet story of a blossoming friendship between five lovable and imaginative characters, united by one special green umbrella. I want to jump right in to the lush paintings and join in their fun!"- Lauren Castillo, Author/ Illustrator of Caldecott Honor Book "Nana in the City"

Illustration from Inside The Green Umbrella

"Here is a story for those who love an object, be it a blanket, a toy, or in this case a green umbrella, so much so that it's very being is imbued with memories that make it unmistakably yours. And a story for those who have lost one such object and wish more than anything to have it back. Azúa Kramer reminds us all that many memories can be shared over a single prized possession. And as Sassouni's art plays in the worlds of joy and longing over a green umbrella, we see a group of characters come together to discover what they can offer another in need. There's no mistaking how easy it is to share this book." - Matthew Winner, All the Wonders Podcast

Writing from the Inside Out. . . Jackie Azúa Kramer shares an inside look at the writing of The Green Umbrella

Author Jackie Azua Kramer in her Writing Space
Q. In The Green Umbrella, did you have a reason for choosing the animals in your story?
JAK: I get to play in the most fun, raucous and fantastical playground…a child’s imagination. The idea of characters who are unlikely to be seen together remind me of why I love my work as a storyteller. I’m not the first one to do this. Not to compare myself, but perhaps I was channeling AA Milne, in the classic, The House at Pooh Corner.  Alongside Pooh, there’s Piglet, Eeyore, Tigger and Roo. Both, the Elephant in my story, and Pooh, remain at the center of the story and the action. There’s a scene in The Green Umbrella, when they’re all sitting together having tea, and part of the text reads: “…shared their stories.” I love the idea of all of us sharing our journeys with each other. The world is becoming flatter, and the unlikeliness of this bunch becoming friends, to my thinking, makes it a universal story. 

Q. Who or what inspires you?

JAK: Anyone who is passionate. Passion is a beautiful and contagious thing. It makes me work harder and think about my place in this big world. And creators, like Matisse, who reflect in their work--truth, beauty and wonder. Wonder is the secret sauce. Wonder allows you to feel something without dictating what that should be. 

Q. What advice would you give to your younger self? Is this the same advice you’d give to aspiring authors?

JAK: Yes, absolutely. Like a child, ALWAYS stay curious. Be brave, be fearless and believe in yourself. And when you trip up, dust yourself off and start again, until it’s not fun anymore. And I remind myself often--Inspiration + motivation + passion = Endless possibilities. 

Q. What are the 3 most important things you keep in mind when developing a marketing plan for your picture books?

JAK: A lot is expected from an author these days. For example, what I’m doing right now by visiting your blog. I feel it’s important to share with others one’s writing journey and creative process. In addition, to choose some form of social media. I enjoy Twitter and Instagram because it’s fast, fun and informative. Most importantly, to connect in whatever way, with kidlit’s greatest advocates--educators and librarians. Whether it’s via school or library visits and/or attending conferences, the shelf life of a book will live on forever in the dedicated and passionate hands of librarians and teachers.

Q. What projects are you working on now? 

JAK: I’ve just begun the publishing journey of my two upcoming picture books, The Boy and the Eight Hundred Pound Gorilla (Candlewick Press, TBD) a story about the loss of a boy’s mother and If You Want to Fall Asleep, a bedtime story (Clavis Books, 2018) illustrated by Lisa Brandenburg. I’ve also begun research on a nonfiction picture book. I can’t say whom, but I’m amazed no one has written a children’s book about this person. History and people fascinate me. The key in writing nonfiction is to find that magical moment to enter their life.

Q. What is one thing most people don’t know about you? 

JAK: I can talk to animals with my eyes. I’m a member of the Wildlife Conservation Society and each time I visit the Bronx Zoo, I lock eyes with one of the lovely residents and stuff happens. I’m not sure what we’re saying, but at my last visit, sparks flew between Sanjay, the rhinoceros and me. At least, I thought so!

A bit about the author: Jackie Azúa Kramer
Author Jackie Azúa Kramer
Jackie Azúa Kramer was born in Manhattan, NY. Jackie has had a few lives as an actor, singer, and school counselor. Her work with children presented her with an opportunity to address their concerns, secrets and hopes through storytelling. She is the author of How Lilly Ate the Rainbow and The Green Umbrella, which has been translated into German, Chinese and Slovenian. Publishers Weekly wrote-- “Kramer’s storytelling passages sustain their lofty tone with no off notes—no easy task.”
In 2014, Jackie was invited to be a member of the Bank Street Writers Lab, Bank Street College. She studied acting and voice at NYU and has her MA, Queens College, Counseling in Education. She is thrilled to share her upcoming books, The Boy and the Eight Hundred Pound Gorilla (Candlewick Press) and If You Want to Fall Asleep (Clavis Books) Jackie has travelled to 10% of the world and hopes to close in on 100% one day. 

Learn more about Jackie and her book and follow her on Social Media:
Visit her: 

Thanks so much, dear readers, for stopping by to celebrate authors and great books for children, here at Writing from the Inside Out. Oh, and don't forget to leave a comment for Jackie! You're the best! ~Clara 

Monday, April 24, 2017

Announcing the lucky winner of VINCENT AND THEO by Deborah Heiligman

Dear Readers,

Thank you each and everyone for the wonderful comments and good wishes for Deborah Heiligman's Book Birthday Celebration of Vincent and Theo, the Van Gogh Brothers published by Henry Holt. The Lucky Winner is announced at the bottom of the post.

"This exquisite, remarkable book told in the present tense positions readers as intimate observers of Vincent and Theo’s lives. Two portraits emerge in rich detail: a deep-thinking, gifted artist who was a troubled, gentle, compassionate man; and an insightful critic who recognized his brother’s brilliant mind and work, devoting incredible energy and resources to nurturing and supporting him. Uplifting, poignant, and tragic by turns, the brothers' lives, so very human, unfold in a work of exceptional literary nonfiction weaving scholarly research (further detailed in ample end matter) into a vivid, immersive accounting."--CCBlogC

Additional titles by Deborah Heiligman you won't want to miss! 
*Starred Review* Grade 8 Up—Beginning with Darwin's notorious chart listing reasons to wed and not to wed, Heiligman has created a unique, flowing, and meticulously researched picture of the controversial scientist and the effect of his marriage on his life and work. Using the couple's letters, diaries, and notebooks as well as documents and memoirs of their relatives, friends, and critics, the author lets her subjects speak for themselves while rounding out the story of their relationship with information about their time and place. She shows how Darwin's love for his intelligent, steadfast, and deeply religious cousin was an important factor in his scientific work—pushing him to document his theory of natural selection for decades before publishing it with great trepidation. Just as the pair embodied a marriage of science and religion, this book weaves together the chronicle of the development of a major scientific theory with a story of true love. Published for young adults, this title will be equally interesting to adults drawn to revisit Darwin on his 200th birthday.—Ellen Heath, Easton Area Public Library, Easton, PA 

*Starred Review* Though eccentric mathematician Paul Erdos might seem an unusual subject for a picture book, his story makes for a memorable biography. Growing up in Hungary during WWI, Erdos tried school but chafed at the rules and convinced his mother that he should study at home. He was fascinated by numbers from an early age, and by the time he was 20, he was known as The Magician from Budapest. Unable to do common tasks such as cooking, laundry, or driving, he spent his adult life flying around the world, staying with other mathematicians, and working collaboratively on challenging math problems. Math is woven into the lively writing (Mama loved Paul to infinity. Paul loved Mama to 8, too!). The wonderfully vivid artwork, where ideas from the text are clarified, also uses decorative elements to support the idea that Erdos saw the world differently—numerically. Heiligman appends a lengthy note about writing the book, while Pham offers a more extensive note on creating the illustrations, in which she comments on the mathematical ideas and mathematicians depicted in the art. This excellent picture-book biography celebrates a man little known outside his field, but one well worth knowing. Grades K-3. --Carolyn Phelan

Thank you so much, Deb, for giving us so many wonderful books to treasure!

Author Deborah Heiligman
Learn more about the author and her books at these links:

And the lucky WINNER selected by is. . .  MARGARET BRUETSCH 
  CONGRATULATIONS, MARGARET!!!! Please email me: claragillowclark(at)gmail(dot)com and send me your mailing address and to whom you'd like the book personalized. Thank you!                                                                Next up on Thursday is a delightful spring time picture book and a giveaway!!!  

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Happy Book Birthday for VINCENT and THEO with Author Deborah Heiligman + Giveaway

Dear friends,

Please welcome the always delightful, Deborah Heiligman, and join in the celebration of her new book, Vincent and Theo, the Van Gogh Brothers, released into the world today! Many of you will recall that Deb shared with us several years ago for her book, Charles and Emma: The Darwins' Leap of Faith, a National Book Award Finalist. Deb is generously donating an autographed copy of Vincent and Theo for the comment contest. All you have to do is leave a comment for Deb at the end of the post to congratulate her or share what resonated with you in her post. Now, here's a little about Deb!

Author Deborah Heiligman

Deborah Heiligman graduated from Brown University with an A.B. in Religious Studies. While that might not seem like an obvious major for a children’s book author, it turned out to be a perfect one! Reli stu taught her to ask questions. She now spends every day asking lots of questions, mostly about dead people.  (With whom she also tends to fall in love.) 
Deb counted up her books recently and discovered that Vincent and Theo: the van Gogh Brothers is number 31. Her last few have been: Charles and Emma: The Darwins’ Leap of FAITH;  INTENTIONS (a novel); THE BOY WHO LOVED MATH: THE IMPROBABLE LIFE OF PAUL ERDOS (a picture book) and COOL DOG, SCHOOL DOG (also a picture book). 
Deborah grew up in Allentown, Pennsylvania, and lived in Bucks County, PA for many years. She now lives in New York City with her husband, Jonathan Weiner, an author and professor, and their Cairn Terrier, Ketzie. Her two grown sons live in Brooklyn, thankfully only a subway ride away. For more information, please visit

Writing from the Inside Out. . . .  Author Deborah Heiligman shares about the research and writing of Vincent and Theo, The Van Gogh Brothers

A writer spends a lot of time in her own head, and the challenge is to take the weird ideas/out-of-the-box conclusions/ connections/ themes/obsessions/aha moments/insights/etc.from inside and find a way to share them with others. Readers love to see themselves in a book, to get that feeling of being known. Readers also love to be stretched—to have a book take them beyond where they thought they could go. 
It is our job as writers to help readers achieve both kinds of connections. And the way to that, I feel, is to, essentially, as someone once said, open a vein and bleed. Writing from the inside out, indeed. 
Fiction writers do this, in large part, by inhabiting the characters they create. I remember while working on a novel about an insecure thirteen-year-old, I walked in a bathing suite from my chaise to the bathroom and thought everyone was looking at me! I confessed this to my non-writer best friend and she said nobody noticed me at all. Right. I was a middle-aged woman in an oversized t-shirt! But inside I was a 13-year-old girl. 
What about when you write nonfiction, when you write about a historical person’s life? How then to write from the inside out? 
It’s not that different. When I write biography, I inhabit real people. Though the process is slightly different--because I cannot make anything up. I can’t change something to suit my storyline or my plot, or even my wishes. I can’t make someone less or more mean. I have to discover who that person really was. 
I do that by using primary sources. What better way to get inside someone that to read his or her journal entries, diaries, letters? How better to understand how a person thinks than to listen to him or her give a speech, answer interview questions and interact with others? It helps to stare at photographs if you have them, or watch video of someone walking down a hallway. 
As you can probably guess, writing about Vincent van Gogh was daunting. He is, arguably, the most famous and beloved artist in the world. Many other people have written about him, have their own ideas and biases about him and his life. How was I to get inside of Vincent van Gogh to make him my own? The phrase elbow grease comes to mind. I first heard about elbow grease when my mother criticized someone for not using enough of it while cleaning. (That someone was me.) For a long time I thought that Elbow Grease was something you could buy in a bottle. Ah don’t we wish? Elbow grease is just hard work. Scrubbing scrubbing scrubbing. 
Writing a book from the inside out needs a lot of elbow grease.
And time. 
And sometimes stepping away.
I spent five years on Vincent and Theo. The first couple of years all I read was primary sources: Vincent’s letters to Theo and to some other people; Theo’s letters to Vincent; and Theo’s letters to his fiancé and hers to him. After a bit I found and read the condolence notes to Theo after Vincent died. 
I took notes while I read. First impressions. Thoughts. Ideas. Questions. Lots of questions. 
Then I reread much of the above. While I was reading, I also painted. When I say painted, I mean I fooled around with watercolors. I am not an artist at all, but I wanted to know first-hand what it feels like to paint. Trying to get inside Vincent. 
I did all of this without reading any books or articles about Vincent or Theo. (I did have a timeline from this wonderful big volume set of Vincent’s letters.)
The secondary sources—and there weren’t that many that I trusted—came much later. This is the best way I know to get inside someone else—to meet my people in their own words, and not anybody else’s. 
Over the years of writing I have discovered this to be the best process for me. It’s not the easiest way to write a book, but it is the only way I can do it so that I achieve my goal.  
My goal is to inhabit these real people so that when I write the book I am inside their heads and souls and lives—to write about them from the inside out.  
But that doesn’t happen on the first draft. Or the second draft. Or the third… 
It takes elbow grease in the form of rewriting, thinking, and also stepping away to get perspective. 
With Vincent and Theo I was only truly inside them during the last big revision, what became the penultimate draft. It was then and only then that I knew those van Gogh boys were mine. And I was truly writing from the inside out. 

For more information and links, please visit my website page: 

And now, please welcome to the world, Vincent and Theo, The Van Gogh Brothers Henry Holt and Company, LLC. Books for Young Readers, Imprint of Macmillan Children's Publishing Group. 

"A remarkably insightful, profoundly moving story of fraternal interdependence and unconditional love." —Kirkusstarred review
"A breathtaking achievement that will leave teens eager to learn more." —School Library Journalstarred review

"In fittingly painterly language, Heiligman offers vivid descriptions of Vincent’s artwork and life, which grow more detailed and colorful as Vincent’s own artistic style becomes richer and more refined . . . This illuminating glimpse into the van Goghs’ turbulent life and historical period will add compelling depth to readers’ understanding of the iconic painter. " —Bookliststarred review, on Vincent and Theo: The Van Gogh Brothers

"A unique and riveting exploration of art, artists, and brotherly love." —The Horn Bookstarred review

"An intensive exploration of their turbulent lives" —Publishers Weeklystarred review

"This title is a treasure for readers who want to immerse in a roiling domestic drama and who don’t back away from a good cry" —The Bulletinstarred review

Thank you so much, Deb, for sharing an inside look at the writing of VINCENT and THEO, The Van Gogh Brothers. Thank you, dear readers, for stopping by to celebrate with us.  The winner of the Comment Contest will be announced next week! In the meantime, please check out these links to learn more about Deb and her books or to follow her on social media: