Rebecca Heller is the quintessential surfer girl. The bio on her website begins “Rebecca Heller is a Los Angeles-based high school counselor. She like totally lives in the Valley with her surfer husband and precocious daughter. She occasionally ditches school to go surfing.” She even has long blonde hair.
Bonnie Ferrante: Welcome, Rebecca. It’s not surprising that your first book, published in 2005, was Surf Like a Girl. How old were you when you started surfing?
Rebecca Heller: In 2001, I moved from New York City to Los Angeles, within the month I had taken my first surf lesson and have been in the water ever since. I was 28 at the time—an old lady by surfing standards, but you are never too old to learn!
Ferrante: The book includes practical information on surfing, such as how to ride the waves and safety, but it also includes etiquette and what to wear. Basically, it explains the whole package of the surfer girl persona. Was this based on personal experience or observation?
Heller: Definitely personal experience. When I was learning, I was asking a million questions. There were very few books and this was in the early internet days and there was just very little information out there. Especially for girls.
Ferrante: Skater Girl is in a similar style. It includes the basics and advanced techniques with step by step instruction. When did you start skateboarding? Do you still participate?
Heller: I skated a bit as a kid and got back on a board around the same time as I started surfing. The two activities have a lot in common. My skateboarding skills are nowhere near my surf skills so I co-authored Skater Girl with an expert, Patty Segovia, who runs the All Girl Skate Jam.
Ferrante: Are these two books mostly read by young people beginning the sports or the sports audience? How do you prepare yourself to write for that particular readership?
Heller: When I wrote Surf Like a Girl, I was in a way writing for myself when I was a beginner. It’s funny, my voice just skews towards a young audience. It is no surprise that I continued writing for young people. I also work with young people as a high school college counselor. It is definitely my comfort zone!
Ferrante: Kids must think you’re the coolest counselor ever.
Your publishing company is called “Like a Girl” press. I assume you are poking fun at the denigrating saying “she throws/runs/etc. like a girl.” Would you tell us about your mandate to empower girls?
Heller: Absolutely. I have never once in my life thought there was something boys could do that girls could not. (Okay, maybe peeing standing up, but otherwise…) I feel passionately about empowering women to do whatever they set their mind to, whether that is athletic, academic, or creative. For me, “Like a Girl” translates to “Like a Badass!”
Ferrante: You have a fiction book, Gilbert and Louis Rule the Universe for middle grade readers. Why did you choose that age level and that topic?
Heller: : Gilbert and Louis Rule the Universe had been in my heart for a long time. It is a semi-autobiographical story about me and my best friend in middle school. (We really did call ourselves Gilbert and Louis) As the saying goes, “God writes poor fiction.” So I had to give it structure. I love Jane Austin and the plotline of Pride and Prejudice fit with my story and gave it a stronger narrative.
Ferrante: You also have two picture books, Falling Rock and your latest book Elephants. Why did you change from chapter books to this style?
Heller: The sweet spot for Falling Rock is second grade. I wrote Falling Rock over 18 years ago, and my mother did the artwork. The story was based on a tale my camp counselor once told us about how Falling Rock was a Native American and wherever he was spotted they put up a sign with his name. Once my daughter was born I pulled out the story, dusted it off, rewrote it, re-photographed the artwork, and created the book.
I have been reading tons of picture books with my daughter and I am absolutely in love with them. I have always been drawn to visuals (I was an Art History major in college and my mother is an artist), so I love the combination of a good story and great artwork. I also love animals and feel very strongly about animals in the wild being conserved and protected.
Ferrante: The illustrations are wonderful? How did you connect with Susie Mason? Did you collaborate or did you just hand over the words to her?
Heller: I found Suzie on the internet while searching for illustrators. I had a very strong vision for the book. If you ask anyone who knows me they know I have a real sense of what I like and don’t like. I saw Suzie’s work online and was like “this is it.” I sent her an email asking if she wanted to illustrate Elephants and happily she said yes. She is based in the U.K. so we have never met in person, but we collaborated on it greatly. She brought a lot of wonderful ideas to the table that made it better than I had even imagined, and all the time we stayed true to my initial vision. She is amazing.
Ferrante: Part of the proceeds from Elephants goes toward the Amboseli Trust for Elephants (www.elephanttrust.org). Why did you choose that particular charity out of all the elephant charities?
Heller: The Amboseli Trust for Elephants aligns perfectly with my goals of elephant conservation and protection as they are a non-profit organization that aims to ensure the long-term conservation and welfare of Africa’s elephants. I was turned onto ATE by Colleen Kinzley, Director of Animal Care, Conservation, and Research at the Oakland Zoo, who helped me fact check Elephants. The Amboseli Trust for Elephants is also the legal entity that administers the Amboseli Elephant Research Project, the longest-running study of wild elephants in the world. Since 1972, they have followed the lives of the Amboseli elephants; the results of their research has profoundly altered the way we think about, conserve, and manage elephant populations. They are doing fantastic work.
Ferrante: Are you working on another book? Would you like to share?
Heller: Yes! Suzie Mason and I are currently working on a series that feature threatened or endangered animals. The next up is an animal that is close to my heart, Dolphins! We are also working on books on Polar Bears and Whales.
Ferrante: Now for your three random questions:
If you were a natural disaster, what would you be, and why?
Heller: As a surfer girl, I would have to say a tsunami.
Ferrante: As a teenager, who was your idol?
Heller: Hmm, I am not sure I had one. I would say though that my idol since childhood and still has to be Eloise from the Kay Thompson series.
Ferrante: Is there a childhood keepsakes that you treasure or wish you had saved?
Heller: I am rather sentimental although also a minimalist, which is a tough combination. Two of my favorites are Skinny Bunny (a stuffed rabbit that looks exactly like the name implies), that is now in my daughter’s room, and my “Becca Books” a series of books my aunt made for me that feature photographs of me and my family along with fantastical stories that my aunt created.
Ferrante: It’s wonderful when we can pass on something precious from childhood to our own children. Thank you for answering my questions. Best of luck with your animal picture books in the works. I hope all your waves are perfect.
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Elephants was reviewed on this blog.
Click on the covers for the information and buy links.
This children’s picture book uses patterning in the text. Each page features a little mouse looking for a sweet treat something like this:
Do you have something sweet and yummy?
Why yes, said bear. A handful of honey.
Eek! said the mouse.
Honey is sticky and runny.
Sorry, said the bear.
You should ask the bunny.
The mouse asks a bear, bunny, dog, cat, bird, pony, cow, and finally his mommy for a sweet . Luckily his mother has baked cookies for him.
The rhyming is a little forced in spots but holds up fairly well throughout. There are no quotation marks.
Children will be intrigued by the reasons the mouse does not want any of the other animals’ snacks. Clover is too lucky, pie is too dry, milk looks like silk, a seed is not what he needs, hay is bland, and he passes on the grass.
Jennifer Finche’s illustrations are done in watercolour with a life-like style. The little mouse is endearing and expressive. The pony appears to be galloping right off the page and the Siamese cat holds us with his eyes.
This is a simple story to read to toddlers or for early readers to read aloud. It would be fun to continue the pattern with other animals. (It’s harder than it looks so you don’t have to make it all rhyme.) For example.
Do you have something sweet for me?
Why yes, said Giraffe. Leaves from the tree.
Eek! said the mouse.
Leave are bitter as tea.
Sorry, said the bear.
You should ask the bee.
It would also be a lot of fun to act out the story and end it with baking cookies together.
MAKING A PICTURE BOOK WITH YOUR CHILD
If your child is pre-reading but beginning to “pretend” read or a beginning reader, she is ready for copycat books. Here’s an example.
My just turned four granddaughter had memorized Brown Bear, Brown Bear by Eric Carle. Highly recommended if you are unfamiliar with it.
Together, we found free colouring pictures of other animals on the internet.
I printed them on 8″ X 14″ paper, landscape format. I didn’t try to print them on both sides of the paper as it often shows through regular printing paper and the spatial logistics are really complicated. Use two columns.
On the right type something similar to “Brown bear, brown bear, what do you see?” Put the colouring picture below. Leave an extra large space on the right of the text to have room for stitching.
On the left INDENT TWO EXTRA TABS to make room for stitching. Type something similar to “I see a yellow duck looking at me.”
I folded the pages down the middle and sewed them together to make a realistic book.
I taped the spine top reinforce the stiching. I glued the blank backs together.
Here’s the cover. I should have capitalized all the words.
Below is the first page. I started with the child and ended with the child creating a circular story but you can start with an animal. I used rainbow girl because she loves colorful clothes but you can use the child’s name instead.
Here are the second and third pages. I recommend no more than 7-8 animals.
Notice that the color word is printed in the color the child needs to use. Keep it fun. Don’t fret about coloring skills.
The last page should feature your child. You can post a photo or have the child draw herself. Kayleigh is going to draw herself in colorful clothing.
Buddy read with your child. Point to each word as you read it aloud. Then have the child do it for you. Don’t get too concerned with pointing to the exact word at the beginning just make sure she is pointing from left to right. At first, stress the color words. Then focus on “looking” which has two open eyes “oo” and “see” which has two partly open eyes “ee.” After that is mastered focus on the animal’s name, then the rest of the words. Keep it light and fun. Progress at the child’s speed. Don’t persist if she becomes bored or frustrated. Have fun.
Because this blog is taking so much of my writing time, I will no longer post on Tuesdays and Thursdays.
Sundays – Recycled Humor Column
Monday – Book Review
Wednesday – Writer Interview or Book Review or Special Series
Friday – Book Review
Saturday – Randomness
Please keep following, commenting, and sharing.
This adorable 11 x 8″ picture book will be loved by boys and girls alike. A grey squirrel narrates the story which begins, “Good afternoon, sports fans!…It’s so cold that… The pond is frozen!… That means is the perfect time for Bear Hockey!” The squirrel explains that all bears, once a year, “strap on their helmets, lace up their skates, and pick up their hockey sticks” to participate in bear hockey.
The rules are:
- You use many pinecones instead of one puck.
- You high-five all the players and spectators multiple times before you start playing.
- You take frequent, frequent, frequent honey breaks.
- When the last pinecone is scored, it’s time for hibernation!
The emphasis throughout the book is on fun and camaraderie.
The bears wear a variety of colored sweatshirts. Even though the squirrel announces at one point that the teams are tied, it seems there is only one goalie.
The illustrations are wonderful. Not an inch of space is left empty on any page. The text is superimposed on the busy illustrations. Bears of all sizes play together. Smiles are rampant. The pictures gleam with personality. The bears would make precious stuffed toys.
The littlest bear scores the winning goal (I think everybody won).
After all the excitement, the bears “brush their honey-covered teeth and comb their matted fur and snuggle under the covers for a few quiet months of blissful snoozing.” The book ends with a shot of the littlest bear cuddled up with his jersey. His skates, hockey stick, and helmet are at his feet. A picture of the hockey players hangs in his cave.
What a delightful way to remind children that unregulated hockey is supposed to be fun and that relationships matter more than winning. This would be a great gift, especially for a child who gets a little too intense over playing hockey with friends.
Amazon Buy link http://a.co/3ndl9Sp
Read the interview with the author here http://wp.me/p1OfUU-2t6.
I remember when this book first came out. Every principal and vice principal who had to MC a high school or elementary school graduation ceremony latched onto this book as a holy text. It was read to classes year after year and then continued to be spread by parents gifting it to their children. There is a reason it resonated so well.
Not only does this book contain sound advice for any young person heading out into the world but it serves as a reminder to us all of our possibilities and our challenges. It can be applied to the beginning of any new venture. I realized, because my granddaughter has a rather large vocabulary, that this book was suitable to read to her before beginning junior kindergarten. Although the message certainly wasn’t internalized on the first read through, the book launches well into discussion.
Everyone worries, whether they are beginning kindergarten, being promoted to the head CO, starting their own business, or leaving the nest, whether they will find their place and fulfill their potential. This book has a perfect combination of positive expectations and reality. “You’ll pass the whole gang and you’ll soon take the lead.” is followed with “except when you don’t. Because, sometimes you won’t.” Note the word sometimes. The door is wide open. The possibilities are there.
When children are inheriting a dying world with ecosystems being destroyed and pollution, including the dumping of nuclear waste, completely out of control. With wars on going and wars threatening. With obesity and heart attack hand-in-hand with poor diet and factory farming. With climate change bringing desertification, tornadoes and floods and who knows what else. With inner-city violence and the shadow of terrorism. On and on and on. Children need to have confidence and feel empowered but also realize that they will not be able to fulfill every dream or every goal. Some things are beyond their control. What amazing discussions this book can trigger for any age.
I would say, don’t wait till university graduation or even high school graduation. Get this book into your child’s hands as soon they are able to comprehend it. Then again, you might want to save it for that moment of doubt when he’she faces difficult choices.
This tall children’s picture book features three grasshopper friends, Charlie, Connor, and Carl. These talented musicians sing and play their instruments, write songs, and entertain the other grasshoppers. As winter approaches, they realize they have not stored enough food to survive the cold weather. Charlie tells the story of the grasshopper and the ants and the three friends agree that they must begin to store food.
Unfortunately, they are not harmonious workers and the three friends separate. Because they work so hard, they have no time for socializing or making music. When other grasshoppers approach Charlie to say how much they miss the music, he convinces them to work for him storing food. He preys on the grasshoppers’ fears and becomes a tyrannical overseer. Connor and Carl follow suit and soon there is room only for one more storage bin in the field.
The groups of grasshoppers argue over the remaining space and then begin to fight with weapons. Suddenly an elephant appears. Unaware, it is just about to crush all the storage bins when the three friends distract it away with music. Everyone celebrates the saving of the food supplies. Friendships are renewed and Charlie, Connor, and Carl promise to always work together and make music together.
What a meaty little story. Although not necessary, it is a good idea to familiarize the child with the original story of the grasshopper and the ants. This is a much more complex plot and there is much to be discussed about the theme. Here are some questions you could ask your child using vocabulary at her level.
- Could the three grasshoppers have solved their differences and continued to work together?
- Must they work so hard that they no longer have time for socializing or making music? Is there no middle ground?
- Do you think the fact that they stop socializing and making music together impacted on their decision to fight with weapons for the last space? Do the arts have an influence on the way people treat each other? Do collaborative creations, such as writing and performing a piece of music, create bonds between the participants?
- How do manipulators use fear to get others to work for them?
- Are you familiar with the phrase, “putting all your eggs in one basket?” Was it wise for the grasshoppers to store all their food in one place?
- Did you think little grasshoppers would be able to save colony from an elephant in another way?
- What could the grasshoppers do differently next autumn?
I wondered about the choice of making a book 11.5″ tall by 8.25″ wide featuring ants but it worked well. The reader is brought down to the small ant world through the use of tall grass and flowers. The illustrations are done in soft colors, predominantly in browns, greens, grays, and white. Ferri gives the simple little ants revealing expressions and body language. To differentiate the three groups of ants, Ferri creates triangular, square, and round storage units. The jubilation illustrated on the last page is genuinely heart warming.
This is pretty close to the original version except instead of leaving home and saying goodbye to their mother, the pigs live on a farm with human beings. It begins, “Once there were three little pigs. They lived on a farm, as most pigs do, and were happy, as most pigs are. Then one day the farmer told the man he and his wife were moving to Florida. He paid the pigs for the good work and sent them on their way.”
My three-year-old granddaughter instantly asked, “What work did they do?” I was stuck. What do you say to that and to the happiness remark? Their work was to provide piglets for slaughter? Are most pigs happy? I sincerely doubt it. Most pigs live horrible lives and die horrible deaths. It’s a strange beginning.
The first picture shows two pigs wrestling in the mud over a basketball while the girl pig (she’s the one with the blue bow stuck to her head) reads a book. There are empty pop bottles and potato chips scattered throughout the pen. There is also a corner table with a tablecloth, a lamp, a partially eaten apple, and a portrait of the pig. I just do not get why the author put humans in the book. Anyway…
From here on this story progresses similarly to the traditional one except for the fact that the pigs have scooters bikes and wheelbarrows and they buy their building materials with cash. The first pig spends most of his money on potato chips. The second one spends it on Sody-pop, but the third one, the girl, spends all her money on bricks and mortar. Her brothers come to watch her while she works. Cringe moment.
A hungry wolf comes to town. The donut shop is closed, the hot dog stand is locked, and he isn’t allowed in the pizza parlor. Then he smells pig. He blows down the first pig’s house but the pig escapes on his scooter. He blows down the second pig’s house and the pig escapes on his bike. When he comes to the brick house, where all three pigs are staying, the wolf passes out with the effort of trying to blow it down. The brothers feel sorry for the wolf and offer him potato chips and soda pop. The third pig, the girl, feeds him dinner. “Since their houses were wrecked, the first two pigs moved in with the third pig. “My house, my rules,” she said. She made them clean their rooms before they went out to play. “The wolf stayed, too. But there was no more huffing and no more puffing. And he was hardly ever bad again.” I can’t imagine what she fed him.
While I love a story where the girl is the hero, I have mixed feelings about this one. The males are infantile. The brother pigs do as little work as possible. They pig out on junk food. 😉 They depend on someone else to rescue them. They offer nothing in exchange for staying with their sister. The wolf expects handouts as well. The difference is too extreme. The males are lazy and useless. The girl is the only adult in the group. In spite of all the five star reviews on Amazon, it’s not the kind of message I would want to share with either a male or female child.
This is an alphabet book that also tells the story of Goldilocks and the Three Bears. It begins, “A is for alphabets, and here it is.” The alphabet is superimposed on a tree. Then the story begins. “B is for bears. There were three Bears – Mama Bear, Papa Bear, and Baby Bear, who were in bed. Then Mama Bear made breakfast – big bowls of porridge. C is for cool. The Bears waited for the hot porridge to cool. So Papa put on his cap, Mama put on her cape, and Baby his coat.” And so it continues with examples on each page of words beginning with the featured letter.
The story follows the traditional tale. And in case you’re curious, “Z is for zipped. Goldilocks zipped back home as fast as her legs could carry her. And Z is for zany… Because it was that kind of day!”
I thought this was a clever retelling of the story. I think the child should be familiar with the tale of Goldilocks and the Three Bears and with the alphabet in order to get the full enjoyment out of it. Children three years old and up would enjoy it. Beginning readers, on the second time through, could help to find the other words that begin with the featured letter.
The illustrations done by Hollie Hibbert are double spread, cute, and bright. They remind me of Little Golden books illustrations. Interestingly, Goldilocks has brown eyes and brown skin and a whole lot of blonde hair. I especially liked Baby Bear. He would have made a cute stuffy.
This is a book that could be revisited as your child’s understanding of initial consonants improves.
As a retired teacher, my first thought was how much fun this would be to share with the class and then choose another simple folktale to turn into an alphabet tale. Then, as a writer, I wondered if it would be plagiarism to do it with a different story. Maccarone could actually do an entire series like this. Looking at the numerous books Grace Maccarone has written, I see she hasn’t repeated the idea. Maybe once was enough! She made it look easy but I know it isn’t. Maybe you could try it. Not me, I already have more book ideas than I have time to complete.
The illustrations catch the readers attention by virtue of their realism. The pigs seem as though they could grunt and waddle away at any moment. Each pig is unique and portrays individual personalities through their expressions.
The story goes in an unusual direction. A sow has two piglets on a farm. These are not meat pigs but animals that are trained to find truffles. The mother pig, Bianca, is the best truffle-hunter the farmer has ever seen. She passes her skills on to her piglets. One day, she gives into her natural urges and eats a truffle instead of giving it to the farmer. The farmer banishes all three to the woods. (In the real world, they would have been butchered and eaten not sent out where they can devour more truffles.) Defenceless in the woods, the pigs are soon found by a huge wolf. Just as he is about to eat the sow, she drops a truffle into his mouth. He is hooked. When the pigs help him find more truffles, all thoughts of eating them disappear. A pack of wolves surround the pigs but the big wolf drives them away. The wolf stays with the pigs and babysits the piglets while Bianca finds truffles. “And they all lived happily ever after.”
You might want to discuss the ethics of making an animal find food they love and then taking it away from them. Pigs have an innate ability to find truffles but often can’t stop themselves from eating it. Farmers are now using dogs, who take time to train but won’t eat the truffle. Children will want to know what truffles are. Perhaps you could have the child taste them (or a similar mushroom). You could hide a food the children love and see if they can “sniff” it out. Then ask them how they would feel if you took it for yourself.
Wolves are pack animals. When one is alone, it’s usually because something has happened to the pack. Discuss how the pigs and wolf have a mutually beneficial relationship. Let’s not think about winter. Maybe the ground never freezes there.