Saturday, November 15, 2014

A KidLit Celebration of 
Women's History Month, 2015!

We are happy to announce that we have begun planning another great celebration for 
Women's History Month in March, 2015.
Kidlit Celebrates Women's History Month has been a success thanks to the many talented authors, illustrators and bloggers that have provided great posts for over 125,000 blog readers during Women's History Month. Readers, commenters, and contributors worked together to create a dynamic resource of thoughtful and thought-provoking women's history essays, commentaries, and book reviews.

The 2015 National Women’s History Project theme is "Weaving the Stories of Women's Lives," another theme with great possibilities. 
WPA (Works Progress Administration/Work Projects Administration) supervisor instructing
 Spanish-American woman in weaving of rag rug. WPA project. Costilla, New Mexico, Sept. 1939
Lee, Russell, 1903-1986, photographer
No known restrictions. For information, see U.S. Farm Security Administration/Office of War Information
Black & White Photographs(
Our goal is to celebrate and raise awareness of great books for young people that focus on women’s history. 

We hope that you will join us in our 5th annual celebration. If you have a great new book or author that you think we should contact, please let us know. Please bookmark the site, or follow us on Twitter or Facebook. The celebration will kick off on March 1, 2015. In the meantime, watch for updates, look around the site, and enjoy. Comments and suggestions are always welcome. 

Margo Tanenbaum, The Fourth Musketeer
Lisa Taylor, Shelf-employed

Monday, March 31, 2014

Beyond Helen Keller--Women's History for Kids

(graphic from National Women's History Museum)
On behalf of Lisa Taylor and myself, thanks for following along for another year of Kidlit Celebrates Women's History Month.

This year, at the public library where I work as a children's librarian, I was reminded of the importance of continuing to promote women's history and children's books.  At a family storytime to mark Women's History Month, I asked the children of varied ages if they could name a famous woman from history.  Only one could think of anyone--Helen Keller, certainly a fine example, but none of the children was familiar with Jane Goodall, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, or Amelia Earhart, the women I chose to read picture books about that evening.

Having grown up in an era when biographies of women written for children were few and far between, I am particularly grateful to the fine authors, illustrators and publishers who continue to bring us a wide array of books about both famous and lesser-known women in history, and to the parents, librarians, teachers, and bloggers, who strive to introduce their children--both boys and girls--to these heroines past and present.  For how else will our children learn to dream--and dream big--without inspiration from figures like Mumbet Freeman, Emily Dickinson, and Kate Sessions, to name just a few of the figures who were discussed in this year's blog contributions?

We hope you will continue to spread the word about this blog, and look forward to highlighting more outstanding books in 2015!

Friday, March 28, 2014

Kate Sessions, The Tree Lady - an artist's perspective

March 28 - Today's post provided by Jill McElmurry

When I first received the manuscript for The Tree Lady written by Joseph H.  Hopkins, three things grabbed my attention: the rhythm of the language, the way the author used variations of the phrase "But Kate did." to punctuate each page, and the trees. Besides illustrating books, I paint plants, landscapes, and trees. I was eager to illustrate this well written manuscript about an independent woman and her love of trees.  (

Kate Sessions loved science as a girl and was the first woman to graduate from the University of California with a degree in science.  To start, I  put a rough sketch of Kate in among this group of boys. I use Photoshop  for all phases of illustration except for the finished art which I paint using gouache on watercolor paper. A dominant theme of the book is that Kate didn't let accepted norms keep her from pursuing her interests.

The online photo archive of the San Diego History Center was a valuable resource. It made researching Kate Sessions and Balboa Park fun and interesting. The early photos of San Diego were surprising: it was a desert when Kate first arrived from the North. (

The cover: The art that became the cover was done for the third spread in the book. The cover image was originally going to be the portrait of Kate as a girl that is now hiding under the paper cover. Andrea (Welch) and Allyn (Johnston) of Beach Lane Books loved the third spread and thought it would make a good cover. It worked out well. Kate grew up in Northern California with redwoods, sequoias, and all those wonderful Northern California coastal trees. I tried to figure out a way to capture the majesty of the trees and her relationship to them. "Trees seemed to Kate like giant umbrellas that sheltered her and the animals, birds, and plants that lived in the forest."

Editors' Note:
In addition to providing us with the above piece, Jill was kind enough to answer a few questions from Lisa, of Shelf-employed.

Lisa:  Please correct me if I'm wrong, but I believe this is your first nonfiction picture book. 

Jill:  I illustrated Who Stole Mona Lisa? (Bloomsbury Children's Books, 2010) written by Ruthie Knapp. That was my first. I loved working on that book and it gave me a taste for nonfiction. Now, after The Tree Lady, I'm in love with the process. 

Lisa:  Did you approach this book differently than previous ones? 

Jill:  My main objective was to capture the feel and spirit of the time, place, and person; not to be literal about absolutely everything. I referred to photos from the San Diego History Center for settings in San Diego and the buildings of Balboa Park. The paintings of early San Diego aren't exact, except for the Russ School, where Kate taught when she first arrived. I researched the trees she found, which was great fun - all those crazy plant forms! I was also delighted to hear from author Joseph Hopkins that San Diego historian, Nancy Carol Carter, picked out John Charles Olmsted from the illustration of the city fathers as they designed the Panama California Exposition. So, there are exact people, places, and things sprinkled throughout the illustrations. Although, Kate herself isn't an exact likeness. 

Lisa:  Do you feel a greater sense of responsibility or constraint because the book is true?

Jill:  Somewhat. I worry sometimes that I'll leave something out or get something wrong. I saw Brian Floca speak about the research he did for Locomotive. Wow. He was inspiring. Someday I'd like to give that amount of time and energy to researching my subject. 

Lisa:  Did you think of yourself as an important part in the preservation and dissemination of "women's history?"

Jill:  No, I don't think of myself that way, but I do think of The Tree Lady that way. I also hope it inspires some girls (and boys!) to think independently and be brave in their pursuits. 

Lisa:  In my way of thinking, you were lucky that there were photographs of your subject.  

Jill:  Yes, I was! Thank you, San Diego History Center. I need to send them a letter and an autographed copy of the book.  (NOTE: I subsequently sent them a letter and autographed copy of the book.)

Lisa:  What do you feel was the role of painters, sculptors and other artists in the pre-photography era? 

Jill:  I'm sure they were critical, but as a non-historian I'd have to do some research before I could give a useful answer. :)

Lisa:  Which do you believe is more important - to portray a subject as she actually looks, or to convey more of a sense of who she is?

Jill:  In this case, the latter. There are times when it would matter more to me that the person looks right. I wouldn't want to give Abraham Lincoln red hair and freckles. When I illustrated the Mona Lisa book I was concerned about having to paint the iconic painting over and over again. Intimidating...but I got over it. It shows up about 50 times in the book.  

Lisa:  Thank you so much for joining us at KidLit Celebrates Women's History Month! It's been a pleasure.  My review of The Tree Lady is linked here at Jill's request.  I'm glad she liked the review.  I loved the book!

Jill McElmurry was born in Los Angeles, CA into a family of artists and musicians and grew up in LA, Santa Barbara, and Taos, NM.  She studied art for a couple of years at SUNY Purchase and the School of Visual Arts in New York. Before fulfilling her lifelong dream of creating picture books, Jill illustrated magazines, book covers, and posters in the United States and Germany. She's had several pieces shown at the NY Society of Illustrators. She, her partner, and their dog, Harry, divide their time between a small island in northern Minnesota and New Mexico. When she's not working on books, she paints pictures, mostly landscapes. 

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Miss Emily - Our Laughing Goddess of Plenty

March 26 - Today's post contributed by Burleigh Mutén

Miss Emily – Our Laughing Goddess of Plenty
©2014  Burleigh Mutén

Emily Dickinson loved children.

This is one of the first facts
 I tell the five-year-olds I teach
when we study Dickinson.

“Not only did Emily Dickinson
grow up in Amherst, just like you,”
I tell them,  “She loved nature,
just like you, and  
she liked to write about it. 

She wrote many poems about bees
and flowers, the wind,
 birds, clouds at sunset,
the color of the hills at sunrise.

A lot of people all over the world
know about Emily Dickinson
and her poems,” I say,
“but most people don’t know
that she loved children.”

“Did she have any children?” someone asks.

I explain about the lucky children
who lived next door –-
her niece and nephews
and the children of the neighborhood
who loved to play in her yard
with hope that she might add  
a whimsical contribution to their fun.
Sometimes a sweet treat.

I ask the children in my class
if they know a grown-up who
knows how to talk to children,
which is my way of saying,
Do you know anyone
who really respects you,
someone who is genuinely interested
in you and your thoughts,
someone who knows  how
to join your play as an equal
for those precious moments
when you pretend together?            

Their hands shoot up eagerly.
Sometimes someone
names a special aunt.
The perfect response.

One of Dickinson’s young neighbors,
MacGregor Jenkins, grew up and wrote
for Harpers and The Atlantic Monthly.
He also wrote a memoir about
his young life on Main Street, Amherst called
in which he describes the poet as
 “our laughing goddess of plenty.”

“It is impossible to imagine a personality
that would appeal to children
more than Miss Emily’s,”
wrote Jenkins. “One moment her eyes
were dancing with fun, filling
our hearts with a very new
and very wonderful feeling.
She was a joyous person.”

©Matt Phelan

The Teacher and Writer Within Me
instantly leapt into a lively conversation.

“A mischievous,
playful Miss Emily
is the way
to introduce young children
to Dickinson,” said the Teacher.

“You can show youngsters,”
said the Writer,
“that Emily Dickinson didn’t
totally sequester herself
in her home. She, in fact,
never stopped interacting
with the children she loved.”

It’s well documented that Dickinson
wrote many notes to the children.
We also know from her letters and poems
that she enjoyed watching the circus
parade past her home.

“The plot develops!” cried the Writer Within.

I started the story, writing in prose.

“But you love verse novels,” insisted the Writer.

“And so do young readers,” said the Teacher.

“You’re a poet,” whispered Miss Emily
as I sat at the keyboard. “Enjoy yourself!
Have a heyday with lineation!
Play with alliteration!”

“Ooh,” said the Writer and the Teacher together.

So I did!
I played with all aspects
of writing free verse
just as I’m doing right now.

MISS EMILY generously offered me
the chance to go “public like a frog”
with the secret I’d kept
since I was a teen: I am poet.

I was walking ‘round the reservoir
near my home one day when the first lines
of the book came into my head.

©Matt Phelan

Van Amburgh & Company’s  Great Golden Menagerie
and  Frost’s Roman Circus and Royal Coliseum
came to Amherst in June 1877.
The posters announced 175 horses,
56 wagons, five of the world’s champion riders,
bareback somersaulting equestrians,
the largest elephant in the world,
and a two-horned rhinoceros.

©Matt Phelan
It was fun researching
and writing MISS EMILY,
but it was not easy writing
a note to the children
which fit the story
but in actuality were my words --
not Dickinson’s.

I held my breath after submitting
the manuscript to a Dickinson scholar
and sighed when she returned it
with compliments.

As a poet Emily Dickinson was true
to her authentic voice
as a writer and person.
She was not fond of convention.
In any realm of her life.

As an educator,
I believe it’s vital for a child
to explore and find
her own writer’s voice.
Thanks to Miss Emily,
I claimed my own voice as a poet.
May MISS EMILY’s young readers
do the same!

Burleigh Mutén is the author of five children’s books. She is a kindergarten teacher in Amherst, MA and a member of the Emily Dickinson International Society. She has led writing workshops for older children throughout New England, including workshops focused on Dickinson and her work in which young authors actually write in the houses of the Emily Dickinson Museum.