April 7, 2014


"True courage is like a kite; a contrary wind raises it higher."   

John Petit-Senn

2014 Crystal Kite Award

THE KITE THAT BRIDGED TWO NATIONS by award winning author, Alexis O'Neill stood out in a pile of books from my recent grab and go, library drive by. The title and cover illustration caught my attention and carried me back to growing up on Lake Erie and summer travels across the Niagara River into Canada. 

Whenever wind lifted off the river and sent the trees to dancing. I'd itch to fly a kite. 

I'd race to the great Niagara, plumes of mist rising from plunging water, wind licking my face.  

THE KITE THAT BRIDGED TWO NATIONS is a historical fiction picture book based on actual events and a courageous boy who had an itch to fly a kite. Alexis O'Neill tells this story with words that flow off the page and tongue. The energy and shear power produced by the Niagara River needs text and illustrations that capture the essence of its' force. The internal rhythm of the O'Neill's text placed with the sensory driven pictures of award winning illustrator, Terry Widener, capture this dramatic essence at its' core.
Homan builds his kite, Union.

THE KITE THAT BRIDGED TWO NATIONS transports the reader to a place and time when life was simple. The story takes place in 1848 when there was no bridge between Canada and the United States. A young Irish emigrant, Holman J. Walsh steps up to the challenge of a contest to flying a kite from one nation to another and then anchoring the string. The string marked the beginning of the building of a suspension bridge between the two nations. Holman's passion for building and flying kites is brought to life through the electricity between O'Neill's and Widener's work. It delivers a potent story of Holman’s courage and perseverance that brings his dream to fruition.

This picture book for older readers is a five apple book, cream of the crop. 

A story teeming with vibrant language and beautiful illustrations would be a great add to any home, classroom, or local library. The back matter and educators guide provide additional information and websites for teaching as well as directly linking to the Common Core Standards for Literacy. 

 A KITE THAT BRIDGED TWO NATIONS is published by Calkins Creek Books, imprint of Boyds Mills Press and Highlights.

THE KITE THAT BRIDGED TWO NATIONS is a great read for the month April, National Kite Month which is celebrated from March 29th – May 4th.  You can find more information at National Kite Month..

Award Winning Author, Alexis O'Neill
Alexis teaches writing for the UCLA Extension Writers’ Program. She is a Regional Advisor for the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) and a founding member of the Children's Authors Network (CAN!). A former elementary school teacher, Alexis holds a B.S. from Skidmore College and an M.S. in Instructional Technology and Ph.D. in Teacher Education from Syracuse University.

Find out more about Alexis at her website Alexis O'Neill

You can purchase this book by ordering it from your local independent bookstore, Calkins Creek and online booksellers.

March 17, 2014

Hidden Gems

In our mundane lives, sometimes the simplest actions take us on adventures. Over the past few years, I discovered the library. Of course the library is nothing new, but how I use it is.  My process is simple.  I go to the recently purchased children’s section. Now remember, this shelf is designed for kids.  I am often bent over showing my better side, crouching or sitting on the floor.  This recently purchased shelf is right in the entry/exit area of our youth services section and in eyesight of every adult walking down the main hall.
 I don’t choose my books carefully. I rarely read about the author or illustrator. Once in awhile, I choose books by those I know. My process is fast. I read for titles that peak my interest and/or book cover. I waste no time. It’s grab and go while from behind her desk; the librarian sits, watches, and occasionally smiles at me. Sometimes my stash is a measly 10 books, and at other times I look gluttonous maniac.  I have been known to walk out with over thirty books in one of my drive by visits. I have found there will be at least one gem in my pile. A 5 Apple Review.  This last trip I found three. 
So what is the deal?  I decided to contact the authors/illustrators of my gems just to let them know that I LOVED the book.  Two out of three contacted me back on the same day. I shouldn't be but I continue to be amazed how open and humble children’s authors and illustrators are even when contacted by strangers.  I will be featuring one of those gems soon.  Stay tuned!

January 29, 2014

INTERVIEW with DENISE VEGA, author of GRANDMOTHER, Have the Angels Come?

When I first noticed the picture book, GRANDMOTHER, Have the Angels Come?, I was immediately grabbed by the blue foil word grandmother that floated like a cloud over the cover juxtaposed with the vibrant colors. I was at an SCBWI conference in Denver. I quickly looked at it and put it down because I purposefully chose not to bring money to spend on books.  I knew if I lingered, it would wind up on my bookshelf.

In less than a month, I saw a Facebook post by the author, Denise Vega mentioning that publication had stopped.  I quickly sought out a copy.  There are books that I love, and then there are books that bring tears to my eyes and give me goose bumps. GRANDMOTHER, Have the Angels Come? did both of those things.  I had to know more.

Denise welcome to Book Wisdom.
     Would you please tell us a bit about the story behind GRANDMOTHER, Have the Angels Come?

It was years ago when my grandmother was still alive and I watched her struggle with all the things that seem to come with getting older – losing eyesight, hearing, mobility, etc. She sometimes would complain or get upset about these losses and I wondered if there was any way to turn any of it into a positive (mostly to make myself feel better for when my turn came J). I began playing around with a free verse poem about it.

How did you approach or work at looking for a publisher for your manuscript?

This is an interesting story. I didn’t originally envision it as a picture book. I was telling my critique group about it and they asked if they could see it and after reading it and giving me feedback, convinced me it could be a picture book. Once I had a manuscript finished, I assumed that only a religious or spiritual publisher would take it so that’s where my agent concentrated her efforts at first. After a few rejections, she said, “Why don’t we try Little, Brown?” which is the publisher who was publishing my first middle school novel, Click Here. And they took it! Frankly, I was a little surprised, but very pleased because they are a wonderful publisher.  
      It is obviously a story written from the heart. As a writer, can you share with us how that impacted this story from your perspective?

It was very personal and from my heart, which made it both exciting and scary because once it was accepted, I needed to take a step back and let it go so that I could work with the editor on revisions. There weren’t a lot of changes – mostly tightening in places and adjusting the order and flow – but I had to begin to look at it as a story with its own momentum and direction and work from that perspective.
Illustration by Erin Eitter Kona
      In today’s picture book market, quiet stories are harder to sell. What would you say to someone who puts heart into writing quieter stories?

I get this question a lot in the picture book classes I teach. There are still publishers who look for and publish these stories so I tell people if they want to publish traditionally, they should submit. If that doesn’t work out and it’s a story that they feel strongly needs to reach a wider audience, I would encourage them to explore self-publishing. It’s more challenging and costly with a picture book, especially if they aren’t also the illustrator, but could be well worth it. If I ever went this route, I would pay a professional for all the services I receive from my publisher: an editor, a copy-editor, an illustrator, a book and cover designer, etc. It would be a significant investment, but worth it because my name would be on it and I’d want it to be the very best it could be!
     As a parent and a writer, do you think it is important for us as a culture to have quieter picture books for little ones? Why?

I absolutely do. That’s why it’s frustrating to have a lot of the larger publishers asking for shorter, fast-paced stories. Don’t get me wrong, I love those too and recently signed a contract for one that I wrote. But in a world that moves so quickly, especially with technology now being used regularly by our smallest humans, it’s imperative to slow down, take a breath, and take in a quiet, thought-provoking book. We all need down time and kids do too with all they are expected to do and how scheduled many of them are. I was thrilled to see the success of Good Night, Good Night, Construction Site by Sherri Duskey Rinker, illustrated by Tom Lichtenheld because it’s a lovely rhyming book that’s quiet. That said, I believe the juxtaposition of a noisy construction site and going to sleep (and the excellent rhyme) are what grabbed the editor’s attention and made it a bestseller.
     Now that this treasure of a book is no longer published, do you have any regrets or thoughts about what you would do differently?

You are so kind to say that. I do regret not implementing some of the marketing ideas I had early on, including getting some coverage in periodicals read by seniors and connecting with people online. There was a lot I could have done that I didn’t do. It may or may not have mattered, but now I’ll never know! That said, I decided recently to donate copies to hospices that are recommended to me by friends and family. I can’t change the sales, but I can get the book to places where it may offer some comfort and inspiration. Any sales I happen to make before it’s completely out-of-print will go to help offset the cost of packing and shipping the books. Right now it’s still available at online retailers, but that could change at any time.
      Do you have any other thoughts about the process of writing a picture book and the ending of it being published that you would like to share?

Every book that we are privileged to share with a larger audience is a part of us so when the time comes to say good-bye to that, it can be difficult. But the story still lives even if it’s not readily available for purchase and I learned a lot from the process—most specifically the marketing aspect, but also a few things I would change in the manuscript itself—and I’m always engrossed in a new story or stories that I’m excited about. Each experience is an opportunity to learn and grow if we can approach it that way!
Illustration by Erin Eitter Kona
     Is there a chance of ever getting the text and illustrations released so that you may look for another publisher?

Yes, I will definitely get the rights back for the text and have a good relationship with the illustrator so will talk to her about what she’s interested in doing. It’s possible we could have it picked up somewhere else, though that’s fairly unusual. Thank you for the seed of hope this question plants!

Thank you Denise for sharing your thoughts and story behind this wonderful book.

GRANDMOTHER, Have the Angels Come? is a picture book written by award winning author, Denise Vega and illustrated by award winning illustrator Erin Eitter Kona.  The text of this story poetically tells the truth about aging through the bond of a grandparent and grandchild. There is a strong sense of timelessness that text and illustrations convey.  Denise shows us how you can take a difficult topic and present it with gentleness, dignity, and love giving a sense that regardless of the outcome the connection is always there.

I give this book 5 apples, cream of the crop for it's beautiful prose and vibrant illustration that breathes life into the subject.  The themes of this book are aging and the inseparable bond between child and grandparent.

I would recommend this book for counselors who work with children and bereavement as well as teachers and adults who are comfortable about approaching the subject of aging and change.

If you would like to know more about Denise Vega, where to buy this book and her other books, you can find the information at