Friday, April 12, 2013

Author Jeanne Walker Harvey

Happy Friday! Children's author Jeanne Walker Harvey is the star of today's blog post. She dropped by to chat with me about her books, school visits, reading, and writing. I wrote the words in red, and she wrote the words in black. Thank you, Jeanne! 

Astro the Steller Sea Lion tells the true story of an abandoned stellar Steller sea lion pup who was rescued by The Marine Mammal Center in Sausalito, California. However, unlike the thousands of other pups that TMMC has rescued over the years, Astro bonded to people. Every time he was released into the ocean, Astro returned to places with people, including a school’s walk-a-thon. Astro now lives at the Mystic Aquarium in Connecticut, and his trainer recently wrote me a note saying Astro is doing splendidly there. I’ve visited the Mystic Aquarium twice, and showed him his book which seemed to please him. I once introduced the children’s author, T.A. Barron, at a bookstore event, and he told me that he views Astro as “an ambassador for his endangered species.” Isn’t that a lovely thought?

Shennen Bersani’s wonderful illustrations perfectly capture the personality of Astro. All of the people who’ve been involved with him say he’s quite a character. Also, Shennen visited the places featured in the book, and then replicated the settings and people who cared for Astro. I enjoy telling children the “inside scoop” that Shennen even painted herself into an illustration. Shennen is standing on the boat when Astro is released into the ocean (but on the next page she’s not on the boat anymore!) 

I wrote My Hands Sing the Blues: Romare Bearden’s Childhood Journey because I loved seeing his incredible artwork at an exhibit at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art where I’m a docent. When I led school tours of this exhibit, the students were drawn to Bearden’s huge colorful collages. In these paintings, he incorporated fabric and photographs of people and trains. Every painting told a story. I was particularly drawn to the paintings featuring his childhood growing up in North Carolina, and his time in Harlem when jazz and blues music influenced his work. I just wanted children everywhere to have the chance to experience his art!

I would love to visit your school because the best part of being a children’s book author is sharing my books with kids! I’m always amazed by the creativity, insights, compassion, and humor students display when I visit schools. I feel incredibly lucky to be able to share my love of reading and writing with children. And I would love to visit YOUR school, Mr. Schu, because I’m impressed by the programs and projects you lead for students. Where do you get all that energy (AND read all the books you do)?

True Tales & A Cherry on Top is the name of  my blog -- a taste of children’s narrative nonfiction picture books, mostly biographies, with “something more.”  The “something more” often recounts the story behind the story of the featured book. I love finding out what inspired the author to write that particular book in that particular way. I post on Mondays along with other terrific kidlit bloggers who participate in the “Nonfiction Monday” meme.

Picture books are magic because the whole is greater than the sum of their parts. Combined, the text and illustrations of a picture book create so many levels and layers of meaning that wouldn’t exist otherwise. I was truly in awe when I saw Elizabeth Zunon’s illustrations for My Hands Sing the Blues. For example, she interpreted the last words of my text, “I never know what’s coming down the track,” by painting footprints of the artist weaving a path/track between musicians and dancers. I had only thought of the train/journey connection and the power of our imagination. And, later I learned that Liz was also referencing one of her favorite illustrators, Ezra Jack Keats, who painted the boy’s footprints in the snow in The Snowy Day. 

Reading is even better than chocolate (and that’s saying a lot for me). Reading books is the ultimate dessert for me. I savor the words and worlds.

Mr. Schu, you should have asked me what I like to collect. Wind-up toys. I probably have about a hundred toys, including intricate old-fashioned metal ones, such as a Ferris wheel. I’m still trying to figure out how I can write a book about them. Then I could say “I’m working” while actually spending the day playing with wind-up toys.

I am giving away a copy of Astro the Steller Sea Lion and a copy of My Hands Sing the Blues

Rules for the Giveaway

1. It will run from 4/12 to 11:59 P.M. on 4/14. 

2. You must be at least 13. 

3. Please pay it forward. :) 

Borrow Jeanne Walker Harvey's books from your school or public library. Whenever possible, please support independent bookshops. 

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