***Book Giveaway Details*** CONTEST CLOSED ***Book Giveaway Details***

Today I’m posting my interview with Patricia Hruby Powell, author of Josephine. Josephine is a verse picture book biography and I’m in absolute book love! This book has beauty, fun, fire, heart, and truth. It’s a visionary picture book. It’s perfect.

Just look & listen:

On the opening page Patricia writes, “America wasn’t ready for Josephine, the colored superstar. PARIS WAS.” Well, I think this book is a superstar too and yep, there are going to be some readers who are not ready for it. In the video above I showed you a page that details young Josephine’s experience in an East Saint Louis race riot. Patricia uses the words murder and rape in a book intended for 7-10 year olds. Those are big words, I know. But Josephine was a LITTLE girl when she heard them, and I believe the BIG star with the BIGGER heart that she became cannot be described without using them in the book. I also love that the beauty of Josephine’s life, and of this book, cannot be sullied or denied because of those words written on one page of a life. A strong and important message for young girls. Even seven year olds.

I’m so pleased that Patricia was willing to be interviewed! Here we go…

1. Hi Patricia! First of all, I think the book is absolutely AMAZING, words, pictures, design — it is a superbly put together book. I’m in love with it and I’m in love with Josephine. She moved me to tears. But the book is unique, unusual, maybe even going to be controversial. When you wrote the beautiful verse text did you envision it as an illustrated book for 7-10 year olds?

I first wrote Josephine as a 1000 word picture book. After getting editorial feedback at a workshop, I re-wrote it for a young adult audience in verse envisioning black and white drawings inspired by Paul Colin’s poster art. (Never mind that no such format really exists). Submitted that way, I was asked by Chronicle Books to cut the word count down from 7500 words to 3000 words and delete the more adult parts. I sold that Josephine, a 3500 word piece, and then my visionary editor started adding stanzas from the 7500 word manuscript back in—or asking me to do that. So the piece evolved.

2. I read Josephine to my seven-year old, who hadn’t learned the words rape or murder yet, and I have some thoughts on why keeping those words in is so important (see above). How do you hope the book gets read? Why did you choose to keep those words in?

I wrote, “WHITE RABBLE-ROUSERS spread lies—said Negroes were invading white neighborhoods/ to steal, rape, and murder. White folks got scared.  Those ugly rumors incited some white folks/ to beat, murder, and burn BLACK EAST SAINT LOUIS.”

Those lies were the ugliest scariest terms that whites could conjure up. If you analyze it to its core, the fear of black men sexually forcing themselves on white women, nothing could be more frightening—more debasing—to a white racist. And that’s what the rumor-mongers wanted—to scare and incite a riot. It worked. It’s history. It has happened throughout history and continues today.

I’d explain it to kids when they asked. And of course that’s done differently for each child, for each parent, for each classroom, and teacher.

3. You are a dancer too, just like Josephine. What did you learn about her when doing your research that really spoke to you as a dancer?

When I saw footage of the young Josephine Baker dancing I was smitten. She was wild, original—she was unique. She improvised herself. That is, her dancing was her personality. And that personality was charming, flirtatious, joyous, on fire.

Patricia, thank you so much for sharing your thoughts and congratulations on such a beautiful, visionary book!

❤ Robin



PS – to see more of Christian Robinson’s amazing art check out his interview on the Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast blog!

***Book Giveaway Details*** CONTEST CLOSED ***Book Giveaway Details***

Interview with Terry Pierce


Banquet_187To celebrate my interview with author, Terry Pierce, I will be giving away two signed copies of her book, BLACKBERRY BANQUET! The book is a fun, cumulative, rhyming tale about all the woodland critters who share one blackberry bush. You can enter to win by commenting on the blog post any time during December. If you are a subscriber to the blog, or become one, I will count your entry twice!

1. Hi Terry! I love that you wrote BLACKBERRY BANQUET in rhymed verse. Does the poetic structure you used in the book have a name? How can we write a poem like yours?

Thank you, Robin! Great question! BLACKBERRY BANQUET uses a cumulative story structure, where the story builds to a point and then subtracts from itself. As far as the rhyming form goes, the overall structure doesn’t have a name; I developed the pattern as I rewrote the story in rhyme.

I opened with a quatrain (four lines) with the second and fourth lines rhyming, but then switched to a rhyming couplet (two lines) with a building text that followed each couplet (this is the part where the animals make their sounds). I purposefully broke the pattern when the bear appears to reflect a change in the plot. After that, I used single sentences (with alliteration and/or assonance) to reflect the ensuing chaos at the blackberry bush. The ending comes full circle with a final quatrain that is similar to the opening.

As far as how to write a story-poem like mine, this might sound odd but sometimes (for the sake of creative experimentation) when I want to try a new poetry form, I experiment by finding an existing poem that I like and then I try to rewrite it (down to the same syllables and accents) but using a completely different subject. For example, if you want to write a story-poem similar to that used in BLACKBERRY BANQUET, start by trying to rewrite the opening of the story but using a different story premise:

In a wee green wood

Near a stream so blue

Grows a blackberry bush

Shining bright with dew.

Here’s a quick example I just wrote up:

In the deep dark sea

In a world so black

Swims a firefly squid

Hunting for a snack.

You get the idea! It’s a fun method to experiment with words and poetic forms.

2. How is writing in rhyme different for you than writing in prose? Do you use different tools, or write in a different place?

Writing in rhyme and writing in prose begin the same way, but soon take a different turn! No matter what, I always start by roughly storyboarding my idea to make sure I have enough distinct scenes required for a 32-page picture book. After that, I write the story in prose. This is an important step in writing in rhyme because it’s so very easy to get carried away with rhyming and lose sight of the story itself. Once I have the prose draft, I then decide if the story should be written in rhyme (not all stories work in rhyme—in fact, most stories work best in prose).

Once I decide to go forward with the rhyme then I will use the prose draft as a sort of “roadmap” during the writing process, to keep me on track so I don’t get swept away with the fun of writing in rhyme (because it IS fun—much like working out a word puzzle). I do keep a rhyming dictionary on hand but try not to rely upon it too much. I also like to “test” my rhyme and rhythm by walking while reading my work aloud. It’s amazing how you can feel it in your feet when the rhythm is off!

Writing in rhyme can be a tricky venture and is harder to do than it appears. This is one reason why I offered to teach a new course for UCLA Extension Writers’ Program, “Writing in Rhyme for Young Children.” The debut 8-week course will be offered this winter from Jan. 15- March 5.

3. What are you writing next? Is it about animals, like BLACKBERRY BANQUET, or about kids, like your book TAE KWON DO!?

I’m currently working on another easy reader about two insect friends. It’s a simple emergent-level story that I’m hoping new readers will enjoy the friendship between the two unique animals.

Thanks so much, Terry & good luck to everybody!

TerryBlackberry2010Terry Pierce is the author of 17 children’s books, including Blackberry Banquet, Tae Kwon Do! and the award-winning series, Mother Goose Rhymes. Her easy reader, Tae Kwon Do! was named on the Bank Street College Best Books of 2007. Terry holds an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts, and is an instructor for UCLA Extension Writers’ Program. For more information, please visit her website at:

P.S. – Here is a little friend, checking out my favorite spread! Even upside down, there is no way that is a frown!


Charlie Russell, Tale-Telling Cowboy Artist

Russell Book Cover LVHarris where_the_best_of_riders_quit

Hi everybody! Today I’m interviewing Lois Harris, author of Charlie Russell, Tale-Telling Cowboy Artist. She’s written three lovely biographies of North American artists, perfect for use in the classroom. Charlie is a wonderfully appealing character, a painter, sculptor, and storyteller. I love that when he went west to be a cowboy he brought along a tin of beeswax for making little figures. I was so inspired I tried my hand at a little wax sculpting too!

1. Hi Lois, you have written three books about artists, which makes me wonder, are you an artist too?

I’m not a visual artist, but I’ve enjoyed looking at art since I was a girl and spent many Saturdays at the Brooklyn Museum of Art. Many of my friends are artists. I like being with creative people.

2. Do you have a favorite Charles Russell painting, sculpture, or story?


When I was researching for my book, I visited Montana where Charlie lived most of his life. In Helena, the state capitol, I saw the original oil painting of Laugh Kills Lonesome at the Montana Historical Society. Charlie was a working cowboy and his picture tells a story. It’s a moonlit night after a long day herding cattle, and cowboys gather round a crackling campfire under the big starry Montana sky. The firelight throws light on the cowboys and a horse while the cook wipes a pot. You can imagine someone is telling a funny story like Charlie used to. He was a great storyteller. He chose Laugh Kills Lonesome as the painting title because those cowboys weren’t lonely when they laughed and shared stories. I liked this picture so much, I selected it for a double spread (two pages) in my book.

3. Is there an interesting fact about Charlie that is not in the book?

Charlie became a famous artist, and his paintings and sculptures sold for a lot of money in Europe, Canada, and America. He could have lived anywhere, but he chose to stay in Montana. Charlie liked nothing better than getting together with his old friends. Charlie did not let fame or money change him and knew what made him happy.


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