You are currently browsing the category archive for the ‘Stories behind the stories’ category.

Hello Bloggers and Blog Readers of the universe….

I am heading out – well, after getting coffee for my mom first – to the National Book Festival on the Mall in Washington, DC, to check it out and meet all of this amazing talent!

Yesterday I got to see all the tents being set up, and it looked really

Today I hope to meet and score autographs from the lovely Misses Roth, Applegate, and Naylor. I can’t believe I’m actually here!

National Book Festival, here we come!


PS: here’s more info on the festival on the Library of Congress website.


My co-blogger is enjoying her stint as a Scholastic Kids’ Press reporter this year. She was excited when her editor gave her the go-ahead when she “pitched” the idea of interviewing this year’s Newbery Award winner, Katherine Applegate, who was honored for her novel The One and Only Ivan.


Through the wonders of technology, LitKid was able to interview the author at her home on the West Coast from our home on the East Coast on a rainy Sunday afternoon. (At one point, a certain canine friend of Ms. Applegate’s joined the interview, too – sorry, but that cameo didn’t make the final edit!)

We hope you’ll enjoy the interview; Ms. Applegate is the perfect person for a young reporter to do her inaugural “on-camera” interview with – she is kind, warm and funny.

You can take a look at the story and listen to the interview on the Scholastic Kids Press Corps website.


Librarians play a big part in the lives of us book-lovers. We become really close to them. My school librarian has played a big part in the last 2-3 years of my  elementary school life. And now, without further ado, “Paige Binder” (we all use pen names at ‘Lost in a Book’!):


‘Paige Binder’ with LitKid at her fifth-grade graduation reception

Librarian guilt. That is what I have about all those Newbery Award winners and classic children’s novels I have never read. It is why I made a list of eight books to read this summer that will reduce my guilt load. They are not necessarily books I want to read, but I’m sure at least half of them will end up as favorites. One classic that has gone unread is Jean Craighead George’s Julie of the Wolves. When George passed away this spring, the world lost a bright star in children’s literature, and I knew it was time to check out her Newbery Award-winning novel.

I have to admit, I was not expecting to enjoy Julie of the Wolves. The plot sounded too similar to another book I never made it through—Jack London’s Call of the Wild. I enjoy being in nature, but “man against nature” survival stories generally put me to sleep. (Please don’t ask if I have read Gary Paulsen’s classic Hatchet.) Therefore it was with some trepidation that I began to read Julie of the Wolves.

I was happy to find out that George created a compelling backstory for her spunky heroine Miyax, known to her penpal in San Francisco as Julie. As the book opens, the reader learns that Miyax has lost both her beloved parents and was married off at age 13 to a man named Daniel. Clearly, the marriage was an unhappy one, as Miyax has taken her chances in the Alaskan wilderness in order to escape it. Lost and alone, she attempts to join a pack of wolves in order to survive. Knowing that more will be revealed about Miyax’s past, as well as the anticipation of how she will survive once winter sets in, has kept me reading. George’s descriptions of Miyax’s attempts to communicate with the wolves are incredibly realistic and well-researched. The author’s lifetime of studying the ways of animals allows her to bring the wolves to life as characters that can hold their own against human ones.

Jean Craighead George had her own fascinating life story. She grew up with parents who were naturalists and spent most of her childhood days outdoors. As an adult, she became a journalist and was one of the first women to join the White House Press Corps. After her children were born, she made outdoor adventures a big part of her family’s life. The menagerie of wild animals that made a home in her house and yard provided inspiration for her books. She was opinionated and strongwilled when it came to her beliefs, which perhaps made it easier to stand her ground when Julie of the Wolves was challenged by censors.

As I make my way through the list of “Books I Should Have Read” this summer, I hope to find more unexpected favorites like Julie of the Wolves.  A balanced reading diet can be made up of reading what we like as well as what is good for us, but for this librarian, the real pleasure comes when I find both in one novel.
‘Paige Binder’ is an elementary school librarian and former middle school teacher. This summer she will be buying her first Kindle and making her way through that list of award winners. We hope she will come back and tell us about her award winners reading adventure at the end of the summer!

I had never heard of the Jaguar Stones series until I heard that the authors, Pamela and Jon Voelkel, were coming to my school in March. We had a rockin’ time.

Once I read a summary, I knew I would love their books. And I did. So when they accepted my request for an interview, I was deee-lighted. Read on (and be sure to check out my review of Middleworld, the first book in the series) …

 ~ LitKid

Where were you when you were writing Middleworld ?

Pamela: Most of at the time, we were at home in Vermont, and part of the time, we were traveling in Belize. In Belize, we wrote in a bamboo hut on a screen porch overlooking a rushing river; in Vermont, we live in an old brick house and share a drafty old office. You can’t see a single surface in the room for piles of papers, books and maps.

Did any authors give you inspiration for your book? If so, why that particular author?

Pamela: As a child, I loved The Owl Service by Alan Garner, and I have tried to recreate that haunting mixture of mystery and mythology. I was also inspired by the rather sensible and self-sufficient child protagonists of Arthur Ransome’s Swallows and Amazons. Remember that telegram they get from their father? “Better drowned than duffers. If not duffers, won’t drown.” And, of course, they don’t drown, because they’re smart. Finally, I always enjoyed Enid Blyton’s Famous Five books, not so much for their plots as for the way she  always listed out all the food on their picnics. I always like to know what people are eating, which is why Raul cooks such amazing feasts in the Jaguar Stones books.

Jon: The Jaguar Stones series was partly inspired by the K’iche’ Maya creation myth the Popul Vuh, which tells the story of the hero twins who fight against the ancient Maya lords of death. Nobody knows who wrote it down. Though not a book, the Indiana Jones movies were also a real inspiration. In writing the books, I always try to picture the scenes as a film in my mind.

The Voelkels’ rockin’ visit to LitKid’s international magnet elementary school

Before you became writers, did you want to be something else, like a doctor?

Pamela: I always wanted to be some kind of writer. Originally, I wanted to be a journalist, but then I decided I wanted to be an advertising copywriter, and that’s what I did for 20 years until we started work on The Jaguar Stones.

Jon: I put myself through college playing in a number of rock and roll bands. I then went on to work in advertising. I still play lead guitar in a local band.

Where did you first meet?

In an advertising agency in London.

Are any of the characters in the book based on people you’ve met? If so, why?

Pamela: Like all writers, we steal shamelessly from every single person we meet. It might be the way someone looks, or the way they toss their hair or tap their foot or giggle, but we’re always on the lookout for ways of acting and talking.

Consequently, there are lots of people we know bound into the Jaguar Stones characters. There’s quite a lot of Jon in Max, but there’s also a bit of our teenage son, and when Max is cowardly, that comes from me. I’d say that Lola is who I’d like to be. She’s funny and smart and brave. I also enjoy creating evil characters and basing them on people I know, but of course I can’t share any details. 🙂

Read more about the Voelkels on their author page

Check out the cool Jaguar Stones web site … 

Watch the Voelkels talk with kids about the series on the Today show …

My mom, who takes way too many photos, took this one of me on Easter morning, when I was reading ‘Bigger Than a Breadbox’ in one of our magnolia trees (which I used to think were ‘granola’ trees).

To celebrate Children’s Book Week, Laurel Snyder, author extroardinaire, who wrote Bigger than a Bread Box, has agreed to do an interview with me. Her book is really, really, really good. Phenominal is the right word. I hope you enjoy this.

Happy Children’s Book Week!!

~ LitKid (10-year-old book lover & blogger)

Are any of the scenes in  Bigger than a Bread Box based on any experiences in your life, and if so, why did you decide to put them in the book?

Oh, sure, lots of them. But none of the BIG scenes are real. That’s one of the tricks to writing fiction – you want to take details from the real world, and use them to add texture to your made up story, so that it seems real.  So, like – the  feeling Rebecca has of knowing she can’t put Lew back in the crib without dropping him the last foot? That’s real – I remember feeling that way about my own sister. Also, all the places in this book are real, based on my homes in both Baltimore and Atlanta.

Before you became an author, did you do any other writing, like for a magazine or a newspaper? If you did, was that how you found out that you loved writing?

I figured out I loved writing in about the fourth grade. I was always a reader, from about first grade, but in third or fourth I started making up stories too. I had a really wonderful teacher in fourth grade who encouraged me.  My best friend and I wrote little books together, and then made them into books using cardboard and a stapler.

But I also did write for magazines, and still do. I’ve written for websites like, and newspapers like the Chicago Sun-Times, and magazines like the UTNE Reader. A few weeks ago I wrote something for CNN! I find it’s helpful to write all different kinds of things!

Have you thought about writing a sequel to Bigger than a Bread Box?

I’m working on a companion novel this very minute!  It isn’t a sequel, but a prequel. It follows Annie, Rebecca’s mom, when she was a kid.

Are any of the characters based on people you know, and if so why did you choose this person (or these people) to base your character(s) on?

Rebecca is me, no doubt about it. She’s less outgoing than I am in real life, but she’s how I felt myself to be, in the years when my parents were splitting up.  A lot of other characters are loosely based on real people. My son is named Lew.  And Hannah is based on a girl who made my life very hard in third grade. Ugh!

If Bigger than a Bread Box ever became a movie, who would you want cast as Rebecca, and why?

Most authors dream of seeing their books made into movies, but I haven’t gone so far as to think about who should play the characters. I’m afraid I don’t know a lot of actresses that age.  Who do you think should play her?

Name one book (a kid’s book) from last year that you liked and would recommend.

My favorite middle grade novel from the last year was probably Breadcrumbs, by Anne Ursu.  It’s beautifully written and is (oddly) also about a girl whose parents are having trouble, but it’s a different kind of magic.  It retells the fairy tale of the Snow Queen!

To learn more about Laurel Snyder and her books, you should go to her web site…

Note from AKid@Heart: If you would like a chance to win a copy of Breadcrumbs, the book Ms. Snyder mentions in our interview, we launched a “Lost in a Book” Medals of Honor giveaway awhile back that we’ve extended in hopes of getting more award recommendations!

LitKid’s librarian has instigated two book club events for fifth-grade girls to pair up with an adult partner to read a book and then come together after school to discuss it. The first selection was Cynthia Lord’s Rules, and I enjoyed that book and discussion very much.

When time came a few weeks ago for us to read Walk Two Moons by Sharon Creech, I had deadline after deadline and time got away from me. Suddenly it was the day of the discussion, and I had barely read one chapter. Not one of my stellar parenting moments.

Then I had a crafty thought – my 83-year-old mother was visiting and recovering from a whirlwind few days (including representing the Class of 1951 in cap and gown at her alma mater’s inauguration of a new president). Could I convince her to spend her rest day reading Walk Two Moons?  Being a saintly sort of mom, she said she would give it her best shot.

By 4:30, she had read all but a few chapters, and accompanied my girl to the discussion. I sat in on it, too, so we had three generations of readers

LitKid and her LitGrandma

there; even though I could offer very little of substance to the discussion, I loved listening.

In the end, I believe my poor planning in the reading-ahead department led to a wonderful gift for my LitKid and her grandmother. What a cool thing for them to sit there together that day and talk about this wonderful story in which grandparents play such an endearing and important role for a young girl, just as my mother has for my daughter through some difficult Big Life events, including early-life medical challenges and divorce.

I will let my LitKid write the true review, telling you about the plot and characters, and I’ll just share the sort of perfect way I came to finish the book.

This past weekend, LitKid and I headed to Asheville for a visit with close friends;  I also attended an excellent SCBWI Master Class on Plot with editor Cheryl Klein of Scholastic Press/Arthur A. Levine. I was happy to find that the audiobook version of Walk Two Moons was in the car, as a road trip is the perfect setting for this story. It is among other things, a road trip tale, and beyond that, what could be better than listening to such an engagingly plotted book on the way to and from my class?

I loved the plot setup, the characters, the voices and the sense I had of going back in time to the feeling I had reading my favorite books as a child; I don’t always get that feeling reading contemporary kids’ literature, so when I do, it is special.

I can use that joking phrase “I laughed, I cried …” with complete sincerity when it comes to Walk Two Moons. Driving through the rain, I laughed out loud with my girl, who was sucked back into the story even though she had just read it a few weeks back, and at the end, the tears (of joy and sorrow) came. Without giving away any plot points, I will just say that I walked two moons in Salamanca’s shoes as a young girl, and the book had deep personal meaning for me in addition to being a memorable story well-deserving of its Newbery Medal.

If you have not read it, please put it on your list (no matter how old a kid you happen to be).


From Board Books to Teen Dramas: LitKid Interviews Anita Silvey 

Ms. Anita Silvey is a state-of-the-art Children’s book expert. She has written and published books. She writes books about books and is the author of a picture book, Henry Knox. She runs the Children’s Book Almanac, a site that reviews and goes into backstories of one book a day ( I had the pleasure of an interview with Ms. Silvey.  Enjoy! 🙂 

~ LitKid

What was your favorite book as a child and who wrote it?

For every year of my childhood, I have a favorite book. But if I had to choose one, it would be Frances Hodgson Burnett’s The Secret Garden.

When did you read your first book, and what book was it?

I don’t remember the first book read to me. The first books I remember reading were Little Golden Books — titles like The Color Kittens or The Pokey Little Puppy. I loved all the Dr. Seuss books, including Horton Hatches the Egg.

When did you write your first book and who published it?

In 1995, Houghton Mifflin published my first book, Children’s Books and Their Creators.

What is your dream children’s novel? (plot, genre, characters)

I simply look for a writer to surprise me — to combine old ideas in new ways. I pick up a book and open the pages to find what is there — not to impose my views on that book.

Do you have a “Book Room” or  Library in your house? 

I have a library and an entire house filled with books. My stove is piled high with books, as I never use it to cook.

Name 10 famous writers you’ve met  as a writer/publisher/editor?

Margret and Hans Rey, Robert McCloskey, P.L. Travers, Ezra Jack Keats, Maurice Sendak, Chris Van Allsburg, Elizabeth George Speare, Scott O’Dell — the list goes on and on.

What was the first book you read as an adult?

I’m not sure I am an adult yet — check back with me in a few years.

How did books change your life?

I wrote an entire book on this subject, Everything I Need to Know I Learned from a Children’s Book. There are some very inspiring stories from 110 people about how books changed their lives.

Note: We’re honored that Ms. Silvey took time to answer LitKid’s questions, and we highly recommend that you bookmark her site –  – and visit it every day (there is also a link on our blog). You will find new classics and old favorites (and learn things you never knew about them). And, like me, you will likely discover wonderful books that you somehow missed out on growing up. The Almanac is also on Facebook, and you can follow Ms. Silvey on Twitter at @anitasilvey.

And, of course, you are welcome to subscribe to our blog; we’re honored that you visited today, and we hope you will come back again.


I Never Saw Another Butterfly: Children’s Drawings and Poems from Terezin Concentration Camp, 1942-44

~ By the children

The Butterfly

The last, the very last,

So richly, brightly, dazzingly yellow

Perhaps if the sun’s tears would sing

against a white stone.

Such, such a yellow

Is carried lightly ‘way up high

It went away I’m sure because it wished to

kiss the world goodbye

For seven weeks, I’ve lived in here,

Penned up inside this ghetto

But I have found my people here.

The dandelions call to me

And the white chestnut candles in the court.

Only I never saw another butterfly.

That butterfly was the last one.

Butterflies don’t live in here,

In the ghetto.

~ Pavel Friedman, 4.6.1942

I believe this is the only sad post on our blog, and it is by far the longest, but bear with me, please – the story of the children of Terezin, like the story told by Anne Frank in her diary, should be shared over and over again so that we don’t forget.

In 1995, I was fortunate enough to have a chance to work as an editor in the beautiful city of Prague in what is now the Czech Republic. I had many adventures and new experiences there; this was my first time living in a place where I didn’t speak the language, and I had so much to learn on many levels.

The most memorable of my learning experiences was a history trip I took over the course of my 20 months living in Prague. In the end – a surprise ending – this trip took me to four cities in three countries, and it ended with a book placed in my hands in my hometown in North Carolina.

Prague, Czech Republic

As I was getting acquainted with Prague in the winter of 1995, I visited the Jewish quarter and its otherworldly cemetery, where a crowd of teetering gravestones lean into each other, as if each is trying to nudge the others aside and claim a larger stake of the crowded space. Then I climbed narrow stairs to the second floor of the Pinkas Synagogue and found myself in rooms full of children’s drawings very like the ones my daughter would begin creating years later. There were poems and prose as well, but these words were far more sad than any words my girl would write.

These words and pictures, I learned, were created by the children who were rounded up with their families during World War II and imprisoned at Terezin, a concentration camp near Prague. Called Theresienstadt by the Nazis, it served as a labor camp and way station for approximately 140,000 Jewish men, women and children, many of whom who were eventually transported to Auschwitz and other concentration camps.

Many others died at Terezin – from beatings, mistreatment, starvation or the diseases that spread quickly in the inhumane living conditions. (For a short history of Terezin that is far better than any I could provide, visit the Theresienstadt page on the Web site of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum.)

The Pinkas Synagogue exhibition told the story of Friedl Dicker-Brandeis, an artist sent to Terezin (along with her husband) who saw to it that hundreds of children at Terezin could escape the misery of life at the camp through clandestine art lessons.

Terezin, Czech Republic

The children and their art stayed with me, and I later made a day trip to Terezin by train with a friend so I could see for myself where the haunting artwork had been created.

After walking around the grounds and trying to imagine what it had been like, we went through the exhibits, which included videos of survivors talking about their time in the camp. One was especially poignant and chilling.

The story the Nazis had spun for the world from the beginning was that they were building a special city at Terezin for certain “protected” classes of Jews. Under pressure from the International Red Cross, the Nazis agreed to allow its representatives to visit Terezin. The prisoners were pressed into service to pull off a masterful public relations coup for their captors.

First, they were put to work on a beautification effort ahead of the visit; then, when the Red Cross representatives arrived, the men, women and children put on an elaborate show designed to convince the visitors of their pleasant lives at Terezin. The ruse worked, and the Red Cross went away satisfied. The Nazis also created a related propaganda film that included footage of the visit, but they never released it.

A Terezin survivor featured in the museum exhibits recalled a detail about that day that I will never forget: ice cream was brought in for the day as part of the charade, but when the visitors left, it was whisked away. Even the ice cream was a prop, never intended for the enjoyment of the children of Terezin.

(You can read more about the Red Cross visit on the Web site of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum.)

Auschwitz and Birkenau, Krakow, Poland

Months later, I traveled to Krakow on an overnight train with another friend who also felt led to visit Auschwitz-Birkenau. We saw the infamous iron gate leading to the red brick buildings of Auschwitz, the sad collection of shoes and belongings and the harrowing faces of prisoner after prisoner staring out from photographs lining the corridors.

Later, we crossed to the desolate, overgrown fields of Birkenau and stood on the spot where the transports had rolled in, their passengers having no idea that in a few moments they would be shuffled down the tracks to the gas chambers or chosen to join the laborers. Standing in that spot was overwhelming in a way I will never be able to describe. This was where a miserable journey ended for many of the children of Terezin, as well as their art teacher. When her husband was selected for transport to Auschwitz in the fall of 1944, Friedl Dicker-Brandeis volunteered to go as well; she died in the gas chambers at Birkenau several days later.

According to the web site of the Jewish museum of Prague, “before being deported to Auschwitz, Friedl Dicker filled two suitcases with about 4,500 children’s drawings and put them in a secret place; immediately after the war, they were recovered and handed over to the Jewish Museum in Prague. These drawings are a poignant reminder of the tragic fate of Bohemian and Moravian Jews during the Second World War. Only a few of the Terezín children survived; the vast majority were deported to Auschwitz where they were exterminated. In many cases, these pictures are all that is left to commemorate their lives. Without them their names would be remain forgotten.”

Fayetteville, North Carolina

I thought that the trip to Auschwitz-Birkenau had taken me to the end of the story, but in a twist that still amazes me, the ending came in the place where I spent my childhood.

I moved back to the United States in 1996, and not long after, I heard from a family friend in Fayetteville, my hometown in North Carolina. She and a friend organized estate sales, and she told me she had come across something in her work that I might be interested in; I was taken aback when I saw what she had set aside for me. Both the simple art on the cover of the worn picture book and the word “Terezin” jumped out at me.

What are the chances that a book collecting the words and pictures of Terezin’s children would make its way into my hands in my hometown, so far away from the Czech Republic?

I believe that my copy of I Never Saw Another Butterfly may be the original version published in 1959 in Czechoslovakia; in researching online, I’ve found that an expanded second edition was created in 1993 by the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum and published by Schocken Books; it features a foreword by Chaim Potok and an afterword by former Czech President and acclaimed writer and activist Vaclav Havel. It appears to be available online from Random House.

I realize that this is not a picture book you will want to run out and buy for your very young children, but I do hope you will share the story of Friedl Dicker-Brandeis and the brave children of Terezin with them when they are older.


Screen Shot 2016-03-02 at 4.20.53 PMAnita Silvey’s wonderful “Cat in the Hat” backstory on her Children’s Book Almanac site yesterday reminded me of another anecdote about this classic that I will never forget.

I heard this “Cat in the Hat” story from a favorite writer during a book tour stop a few years ago. I can’t do it justice from memory, but this is the gist:

When he was very young and couldn’t read yet, the writer asked his grandfather to read “The Cat in the Hat” to him; he was thrilled to find that the story became more entertaining each time they sat down with the book.

After his grandfather had read the story to him a few times, the writer brought the book to his mother one day and asked her to read it. After a few times reading “The Cat in the Hat” with his mother, he was very disappointed: When she read the story, it was EXACTLY the same every time. He didn’t understand; his grandfather’s “Cat in the Hat” took on exciting and unexpected twists and turns with each reading. Why was his mother’s version so dull?

Only after the writer was much older did he figure out the reason – his grandfather could not read. But by relying on those quirky Dr. Seussian illustrations and his imagination, he managed to make “The Cat in the Hat” come alive for his grandson in a new and colorful way every time.

I’ve had the pleasure of hearing many writers talk about their work and influences at our local independent store (Quail Ridge Books and Music) over the past few years, but this is the story that has stuck with me.

I was moved by the fact that the grandfather didn’t make up excuses and sidestep his grandson’s “Cat in the Hat” request. Instead, he improvised and made use of one of his innate skills – imagination. And what a great (and unexpected) payoff it brought – his improvisation made him a storytelling master in his grandson’s eyes.

I work as a writer, but I’ve always been awed by the storytelling power of illustrators; so many vivid images from childhood books (mine and my daughter’s) are stored in my memory along with the stories they accompanied. But these days, most of the books waiting on my bedside table contain page after page of words and only words, and as my daughter has gotten older, the same can be said for many of the books in her reading stack.

In the midst of all of those words, this story always reminds that inspired images (mixed with a lively imagination) have the power to conjure up endless stories without a single written cue.


image courtesy of

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 1,047 other followers

Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 1,047 other followers

Follow us on Twitter

February 2019
« Jul