Rolling Thunder by Kate Messner

If the windows are open on the last weekend in May, we wake to the sound of motorcycles. My husband makes coffee. The kids grab granola bars. And we all head over to the bridge overlooking I-66. Everyone from the neighborhood is there or on the way. Little kids are lifted high to peep through the fence. There’s often a flag hanging above them, but many neighbors bring their own. Below us, the motorcycles honk and wave. We wave back. It is like this on the other bridges in Arlington, too. No matter our jobs or our politics, everyone is side by side cheering for the veterans and the other riders who honor them as a part of Rolling Thunder.

51JR25ssiLL.SX316It never occurred to me that Rolling Thunder would make a perfect picture book. Fortunately, it occurred to Kate Messner, whose new book by the same name chronicles the ride of a little boy and his grandfather. Beautifully illustrated by Greg Ruth, the story follows a grandfather on his motorcycle and a little boy on a train. They meet up at their camp site where the boy falls asleep to whispered memories and wakes early to ride in his grandfather’s side car.

The story is told in rhyme. My favorite lines are these, when they stop at the Vietnam Memorial:

Leave a single flower. Kneel.

Names in charcoal. Cry. And Heal.

The theme throughout is one of remembering, something Rolling Thunder reminds us to do, even as swimming pools open their gates and we hear ads for Memorial Day sales on linens and bath towels.

Kate Messner was visiting D.C. with her family one Memorial Day many years ago when she saw Rolling Thunder for the first time.

“I’d made the trip to do research at the Smithsonian for one of my mysteries, and we decided to make a family weekend of it,” she recalled. “We didn’t know about Rolling Thunder before we saw (and heard!) the demonstration thundering down the street as we walked toward the monuments. Someone filled us in, and then we just stood on the curb, watching and waving and saying thank you until the last motorcycle passed by. My kids were little then, and I remember my husband lifting my daughter up so she could high five one of the riders. It’s a moment that stayed with me, and several years later, I had the idea for how to tell the story in a picture book.”

Did she always know the book would be in rhyme? “This was one of those stories that took a long time germinating,” Kate said. “After feeling the rumble of all those motorcycles in my chest and seeing the veterans honoring their fallen friends at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall, I knew I wanted to write about that some day, but I didn’t know how at the time. I scribbled the idea in my writer’s notebook, and it was years later, in my tiny hotel room at the Kindling Words retreat in Vermont, that I decided it was time to try writing it in the voice of a boy going to the Rolling Thunder demonstration with his grandfather. I’d never planned to write this as a rhyming picture book (or to write any writing picture book, in fact) but the first thing that came out when I started typing was ‘Rolling Thunder, freedom ride. This year, I’m at Grandpa’s side.’ And so there it was.”

And here it is. The book was released April 25 by Scholastic. The illustrations by Ruth have a misty, nostalgic feel, befitting a book about remembering. Kate said she’d used few illustration notes when she submitted the manuscript. “I left most of the imagining to Greg, though as always with a book like this, there were little details that we talked about later, like making sure the POW-MIA flag was represented along with the American flag.”

The book is dedicated to veterans, including Kate’s father, who served in the Navy during the Korean War. “Remembrance is important to him, so I knew he’d love this book,” she said.

Ruth’s dedication is also to veterans — “and to the people who hold them in their hearts until they return.”

A donation from the book’s proceeds has been made to Rolling Thunder. For more information about Kate Messner, visit Katemessner.com. For more on Greg Ruth, visit him at gregthings.com. And for more about Rolling Thunder, visit http://www.rollingthunder1.com.

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Hannah Barnaby: Jumping into Picture Books

It’s a small world, and if you’re in kidlit, it’s even smaller.  This is a good thing, especially in Virginia, because it means that you get to bump into Hannah Barnaby on a pretty regular basis. I first met Hannah at one of the world’s best author events, YAVA, formerly known as Teen 13 (and then Teen 14 and Teen 15). I met her again a few months later at a Highlights retreat, where she graciously sang to cover up my rudimentary guitar playing.
View More: http://skipperphoto.pass.us/hannah-barnaby Anyway, I’ve mostly known Hannah as a YA author, but this spring, she’s coming out with two (2!) picture books, which means I get to subject her to my usual questions about genre jumping.
Me: What’s the first thing you ever published?
Hannah: A short story in Tenth Muse, my high school literary magazine. It was about a girl’s experience during orientation in heaven, and it was truly terrible. (But given the recent success of “The Good Place,” maybe I was ahead of my time?)
 
Me: As a professional writer, which came first for you: Chicken or egg, picture book or novel, fiction or nonfiction?
Hannah: Technically, the first book I was paid to write was Curious George and the Firefighters, when I was an editor at Houghton Mifflin. But the first book with my name on it was Wonder Show, an historical novel about a traveling sideshow.
ed. note: Wonder Show was also a nominee for the William C. Morris award.
51ctlBdWl4L._SY346_ 51x66+1Cm0L._SY346_Me: When did you publish something in a different form?
Hannah: I’ve got two picture books coming out this year: Bad Guy and Garcia & Colette Go Exploring. And another one, There’s Something About Sam, slated for 2019! I’ve also got an early chapter book on submission. Once I opened up to thinking about writing stories in non-novel forms, once those boundaries were loosened up in my mind, it became more and more fun to experiment.
 
Are you a one-project-at-a-time person, or do you mix it up? How easy to you find it to go back and forth between different forms?
I always have multiple projects going — it’s the best way to avoid getting stuck or spinning my wheels on one particular story. But I find it difficult to work on more than one novel at a time, because of the large scale of the story and all the different characters and details involved. Picture books and chapter books are a great way to shift my focus for a little while, and because I’m a slow writer when it comes to novels, those shorter forms give me a sense of accomplishment when I actually finish something!
 
513pZejbB-L._SX260_Are there themes or places that you tend to explore, both in your writing for young readers and your writing for older ones?
Almost every story I’ve ever written has been launched with a “what if” question. What if a regular girl found herself living among a cast of sideshow performers? What if a little boy who loved to play the villain with his little sister unwittingly taught her some of his tricks? So I think that sense of curiosity is what drives most of the stories I write.
 
What has writing in one format taught you about the other? 
I learned so much about story structure from working on picture books, and I’ve found it really helpful to apply that on a larger scale to my novels. I’m not a natural plotter, so any practice I can get is a good thing! 
 
61vd4anQp7L._SX260_Is there anything that surprised you when you switched forms?
Because I had worked on picture books as an editor, I thought I was prepared for the experience of seeing someone else interpret my words in their illustrations. I knew there would be changes, and that I had to be flexible. But the absolute thrill of seeing the finished artwork by Mike Yamada for Bad Guy and Andrew Joyner for Garcia & Colette actually caught me off guard! (It’s kind of addictive. And it’ll definitely keep me writing picture books.)
 
Is there a genre you’d like to try that you haven’t tried yet?
I’ve been working on a middle grade for what feels like forever! And with two kids in elementary school, I’ve been reading a lot of graphic novels lately, which are super fun. Young adult is my first love, but I’m definitely drawn to books for younger readers these days.
Thanks, Hannah! For more information about Hannah, visit www.hannahbarnaby.com

or follow her on twitter at @hannahrbarnaby

 
Girls of Summer is a literary event  that features books with strong female protagonists. Go see Hannah at the Charlottesville stop on May 13th.
The launch for Bad Guys will be at Barnes and Noble in Charlottesville on May 20.

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Junior Library Guild

I’m excited to announce that THIS IS JUST A TEST, coming out in June and written with my friend, Wendy Wan-Long Shang, is a Junior Library Guild pick for the fall.

I always get anxious around this time — before a book is actually out there, but when the arcs have been released and I know people are looking at it. So this allowed me to take one deep breath.

(I am now going back to my previously scheduled shallow breathing.)

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Hena Khan and Amina’s Voice

I first met Hena Khan five years ago at an event we did for an organization called JAM DC. (The JAM is for Jews and Muslims.) At the time, I had just released The Schmutzy Family and Hena had just released Golden Domes and Silver Lanterns: A Muslim Book of Colors. There were parallels in why we wrote the things we wrote: trying to give our respective kids the books we wished we had growing up, and trying to give other kids an entry point into understanding the traditions that were important to us.

9780811879057_largeHena is also the author of It’s Ramadan, Curious George, Night of the Moon, and a slew of nonfiction books. Her newest book, a middle-grade novel, is called Amina’s Voice, and it’s the first on Simon and Schuster’s Salaam Reads imprint. The book follows Amina Khokar, a Pakastani-American girl trying to balance fitting in and maintaining her family’s culture, in a world where some people are not always accepting of that culture — and they show it. She is finding her voice — and herself. In this blog post, Khan addresses some of her own feelings about writing a book that has become even more relevant in recent months, with a rise in Islamophobia, with acts of vandalism against mosques, and with a proposed travel ban on predominantly Muslim countries constantly in the news cycle. (To many stories to even link to here.)

aminas-voiceThe middle-grade novel is a jump in genre from Hena’s recent picture books, just as her fiction was a jump from her non fiction. Still there are things about each genre that inform each other. So today, I thought I’d celebrate Hena’s new book by asking her some of my questions for genre jumpers.

Me: What was the first thing you ever published? And yes, I mean ever!

Hena: Other than my self-published family newspaper in elementary school, my first official publication and kids’ book was “The Spy’s Guide to Escape and Evasion” which was part of a Scholastic Book Club series (where kids receive a book and kit every month in the mail).

Me: As a professional writer, which came first for you: Chicken or egg, picture book or novel, fiction or nonfiction?

Hena: I worked on a bunch of series for Scholastic that were nonfiction, including Spy University, Space University, and How To Survive Anything. And then I went on to fiction.

Me: When did you publish something in a different form?

Night_of_the_MoonHena: In 2008, I published my first picture book, Night of the Moon: A Muslim Holiday Story with Chronicle Books. And then I went on to write a couple middle-grade choose-your-own-adventure style novels with Chronicle. My latest, Amina’s Voice, a middle grade novel that is realistic fiction, just came out on March 14 with Salaam Reads.

Me: How has it been, having Amina out there?
Hena:  I’ve been so moved by the outpouring of love and support that it is getting. It is so heartwarming to get photos of kids with the book, read lovely reviews, and to hear the reactions to it. It makes it all feel very special, and it’s a huge relief to see that readers are connecting with Amina and her story in a way I had hoped for!
41y48Nf8fkL._AC_US430_QL65_Me: As a kid, I always loved choose-your own adventure books. Could you talk a little about writing those?
Hena: I loved choose-your-own-adventure books too, and I had a few copies of my own that I reread like crazy. My favorite was The Abominable Snowman. The only weird thing about those books was how they would switch from realistic fiction to fantasy all of a sudden, and the endings felt arbitrary. In my books, the choices are mission-driven, and in order to reach ultimate success you have to make good choices. There’s a guide in the back with resources and clues. It was crazy trying to put together an outline with all the alternate endings, and it felt like working on a giant puzzle.
Me: Are you a one-project-at-a-time person, or do you mix it up?

Hena: I’m mostly a one-project-at-a-time person, but occasionally I will mix it up. I have worked on a longer narrative and a picture book at the same time. But I like to focus on one thing and think about it and sit with it for a while.

Me: Are there themes or places that you tend to explore, both in your writing for your readers and your writing for older ones?

Hena: Yes, I tend to focus on stories and themes that focus on American Muslims.

Me: What has writing in one format taught you about the other?  

Hena: Writing picture books has taught me how one word can throw off an entire manuscript, henaand made me be more careful when writing a novel or chapter book, and pay attention to every word.

Me: Is there anything that surprised you when you switched forms?

Hena: I think the challenge of nailing down the voice in a middle grade novel is something that surprised me the first time. It’s a lot different than writing a picture book!

Me: Is there a genre you’d like to try that you haven’t tried yet?

Hena: Yes, I’m working on my first chapter book series for Salaam Reads now, which has been a lot of fun. And I’m looking forward to writing my first young adult novel soon!

 

Thanks, Henna! You can find out more about Hena by visiting her website at henakhan.com.

You can also check out her recent interview with Mr. Schu Reads and you can read an excerpt here.

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Bird watching

I’ve been experimenting with a new camera and, for the most part, FAILING. But out of 10 attempts to take a photo of this cardinal, I did come up with one that made me happy. (The rest are blurry and in photo trash.) I love his eyes.

 

Who's watching who?  Madelyn Rosenberg

Who’s watching who? Madelyn Rosenberg

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