September 12, 2015

Interview with Laurie Wallmark

Laurie WallmarkI am delighted to bring you today’s interview with Laurie Wallmark, author of the beautiful non-fiction story Ada Lovelace and the Thinking Machine. Check out my book review.

1) Writing for children is not your first career. Tell us about your background and how you came to write picture books.

Writing is my third (out of four) careers. After graduating from college with a degree in biochemistry, career #1 was as a scientific programmer in the pharmaceutical industry. While working there, I received a masters degree in Information Systems. For career #2, I left Corporate America and opened a mail order company specializing in books about adoption and infertility. I had a bookstore on the web before Amazon! One day I had an idea for a middle-grade novel, so here came career #3. I didn’t try picture books until several years later, because I knew how hard they were to write. Coming full circle back to computers, I now teach computer science at the college level, both on campus and in prison. I’m also in my last semester in the MFA program, Writing for Children and Young Adults, at Vermont College of Fine Arts.

Wow that is impressive that you’ve had such a variety of careers with a continuous connection to science.


2) What was your inspiration for writing about Ada Byron Lovelace?

I’m drawn to writing about strong, underappreciated women in STEM. I feel it’s important for all children, not just girls, to realize the contributions of women in science, technology, engineering, and math. People often ask me how I heard about Ada, since she’s such an unknown (until now) person. My reply is, “Do you remember when you first heard about <insert famous person’s name here>.” I know when I learned about George Washington, because I went to Washington Elementary School, and his picture was in every classroom. But what about all the other familiar names from history? I certainly don’t remember how I heard about them. My guess is I first came across Ada in one of the many books about mathematics and mathematicians I read as a child.

I only learned of Ada Lovelace a few years ago because of a Google Doodle.


3) Can you tell us about your writing process? (research, writing, finding the story)

Writing biographies starts and ends with research, research, and more research. Whenever possible, you want to use primary sources so you don’t receive information filtered through someone else’s impressions. As I do the research, I keep a list of events from the person’s life I think might make a good picture book scene. Then I let the project sit for a while to allow time for my subconscious to come up with an approach to sharing that person’s accomplishments with the world. Even though a biography is nonfiction, it still needs to contain a story arc. It’s up to me as the writer to find that story. Finally, it’s time to sit down and write. And rewrite. And rewrite. And…, well you get the idea.


4) What advice would you give to someone who wants to write nonfiction?

Writing nonfiction is rewarding and a great deal of fun, but only if you enjoy doing the research. Yes, you want a fun and engaging story, but it’s important your facts are correct. After all, your book might be a child’s only source of information about your subject matter. When you do your research, you often find conflicting “facts.” It’s your job to dig deep and discover the truth.


5) What projects are you working on now?

I’m working on a picture book biography about Grace Hopper, another strong woman in STEM. Like Ada, she’s an important person in the history of computing. Grace was the first person to use words in her programs instead of only “1”s and “0”s.

Yeah another STEM book about women in technology!


Some rapid fire questions.

Fact that most people don’t know about you?
I have prosopagnosia, also known as face blindness. My college students have to sit in assigned seats. Otherwise, even at the end of the semester, I still can’t tell them apart. I tell them if they say “hi” to me in the hallway, I’ll always say “hi” back. This is because I’m a polite person, not because I recognize them. This is why any events I help organize always include name tags.

What do you do when you’re not writing?
Read children’s books, of course.

Favorite pick me up snack/drink?
I only drink water—about a gallon a day.

Where can readers find you on the Internet?


Laurie Wallmark writes exclusively for children. She can’t imagine having to restrict herself to only one type of book, so she writes picture books, middle-grade novels, poetry, and nonfiction. She is currently pursuing an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults at Vermont College of Fine Arts. When not writing or studying, Laurie teaches computer science at a local community college, both on campus and in prison. The picture book biography, Ada Byron Lovelace and the Thinking Machine (Creston Books, October 2015), is Laurie’s first book.

Be sure to checkout other stops on the blog tour:

9/15/2015 – Frog on a Blog (STEM and Trade Picture Books)
9/22/2015 – Writing and Fishing (Interview)
9/28/2015 – My Brain on Books (About Writing Ada)
10/2/2015 – Still a Dreamer (Interview)
10/6/2015 – Robin Newman Books (Writing About Strong Women)
10/9/2015 – Yvonne Ventresca’s Blog (Five Detours on the Road to Publication)
10/13/2015 – Writing and Illustrating (Writing Firsts)
10/15/2015 – Geek Mom (Acrostic Poem)
10/18/2015 – The Children’s Book Review (Interview)
10/20/2015 – Kaleidoscope (Using Ada in the Classroom)
10/26/2015 – Gold from the Dust (Interview)
11/6/2015 – Picture Books Help Kids Soar (Five Favorite STEM Women in History)
11/6/2015 – VCFA Launch Pad (Interview)

September 11, 2015

Ada Byron Lovelace and the Thinking Machine – plus Giveaway!

Growing up I was a math and science girl. I completed two degrees in engineering and my day job is in the computer industry. It is my pleasure to bring to you today’s book review about Ada Lovelace. Ada is recognized as having created the first algorithm (“computer program”) to be carried out on a mechanical machine. Can you believe it the first programmer was a woman! What is sad is that even though I studied computer programming, I had never heard of Ada Lovelace until a few years ago when I saw a Google Doodle about her. I am thrilled to see this children’s biography about her life and contributions and hope it will inspire today’s girls.

Check-out my interview with author Laurie Wallmark.

Ada coverTitle: Ada Lovelace and the Thinking Machine

Author: Laurie Wallmark
Illustrator: April Chu
Publisher: Creston Books (October 13, 2015)
Book Type: Non-Fiction
Ages: 6-10
Themes: Women in Science, Mathematics

Opening Lines:

Ada was born into a world of poetry, but numbers, not words, captured her imagination.

Her mother, Lady Byron, had a passion for geometry. In fact, her nickname was “The Princess of Parallelograms.”

But her famous father dominated the household. Beloved for his Romantic poems, Lord Byron was a celebrity throughout the world.

Synopsis (from Amazon’s website):

Ada Lovelace, the daughter of the famous romantic poet, Lord Byron, develops her creativity through science and math. When she meets Charles Babbage, the inventor of the first mechanical computer, Ada understands the machine better than anyone else and writes the world’s first computer program in order to demonstrate its capabilities.


Why I Like this Book:

A story about one girl’s love for numbers. Numbers were Ada’s friends, they kept her occupied and engaged. They even kept her mind sharp when she temporarily blind due to illness. The author beautifully shows us Ada’s inquiring nature as she progresses from sketching models for flying machines to computing the wings’ power, leading her to eventually collaborating with Charles Babbage on the Analytical Engine. Unfortunately this complex machine was not completed so Ada never got to see her program run but her influence lives on in modern computing.

I was surprised to learn that she was the daughter of the famous poet, Lord Byron, and that her mother loved geometry. I was also intrigued by the fact that there were women that studied math, such as Ada’s tutor Mary Fairfax Somerville. You just don’t learn about women in scientific pursuits for that time period in general history courses. While we do see Ada’s mom encouraging her in analytical thinking, the disparaging opinions of the Nanny give the reader a sense of what was considered appropriate pursuits for girls.

The pencil and paper drawing with the lush digital coloring are gorgeous. I do like the subtle shows of humor by the artist such as the cat hiding in Ada’s bag or the frog in the bathroom. Ms. Chu has elegantly captured Ada’s inquisitiveness and love for science. On one spread Ada is looking at a flock of birds taking flight and the bird that is right over her head is drawn as a mechanical bird, showing us Ada’s curiosity. Click here to see the mechanical bird image plus others from the book.

A detailed author’s note, timeline, and bibliography will help facilitate further investigation. This book is good for use in upper elementary classrooms.


For a chance to win this book, leave a comment. Deadline to enter is Thursday, September 17th at 9pm PST. Winner will receive the book at time of release in October. Contest is only open to residents of the U.S. and Canada.

Find Ada Lovelace and the Thinking Machine at the following spots:
Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Indiebound | Goodreads
ISBN-10: 1939547202
ISBN-13: 978-1939547200

This review is part of Susanna Leonard Hill’s Perfect Picture Book series. Visit her site to see the other books recommended.

Disclosure: I received a digital review copy of this book from the author. This review nevertheless reflects my own and honest opinion about the book.

September 6, 2015

Reading to Babies plus book recommendations

Recently I received the following question from a friend and thought I would share my response as it might be helpful to other new parents.

anjbook2Q: My daughter is five months old and I haven’t been able read her much except book that you gifted. Can you help me with what kind of book should I read to her now?  Also I am not good at storytelling to such a small baby. So any pointers would be very helpful.

First I am so happy to hear that you are reading to your daughter that is wonderful. Just the act of your baby hearing your voice for periods of time will help with her development. An NPR article about early childhood reading states:

“Early exposure to language, whether through reading, talking or even singing, has a profound influence on children’s learning through life, research has found. Hearing language from a TV isn’t the same, studies have found. For young children, the words have to come from a real live human.”

So don’t worry about whether you are good at storytelling or not. You are doing just fine. If you do want to make reading more entertaining consider speaking in funny, exaggerated voices. Or take on the deep voice of a hearty pirate or a high-pitched fairy voice. Your baby will love you reading with any voice you take on. Another way of making the reading more interactive is to have the child find things on the page. Ask “Where is the cow?” or “Where is the mouse?” while reading the book and her point to it. (I can’t remember at what age I did this with them. You might have to wait until they are a little older.)

There is no mandatory amount of time that you need to read. Some babies will sit still and get through three books others may start squirming after half a book. It’s okay. It’s more important to make it a part of your daily routine. When my kids were babies I would read a few books right before nap time and then again at bedtime. I would also keep a basket of board books near their toys in the family room and upstairs in their bedroom, that way they could reach them once they were mobile. My oldest loved books so much that I would place her favorite book away from her to encourage crawling and later walking.

As for what type of books to get, I would recommend board books because babies find many uses for books with the most popular being a chewing toy. Babies also love lift-the-flap books, books with textures, and books with photographs of other babies and young kids. Here is a Pinterest search link for finding the best board books for babies.

Here is a list of our favorites:

Baby Faces Board Book (Smile, Sleep, Eat, Hugs & Kisses)
Bear on Bike, Bear at Home – Stella Blackstone
One Moose, Twenty Mice – Clare Beaton
Goodnight MoonThe Big Red Barn – Margaret Wise Brown
B is for Bear – Roger Priddy
What Makes a Rainbow – Betty Ann Schwartz and Dona Turner
Pajama Time – Sandra Boynton (actually any Sandra Boynton book)
Where is Baby’s Bellybutton – Karen Katz
Peekaboo Zoo: Lift the Flap Book – Susan Hood
Brown Bear, Brown Bear – Eric Carle
Tails – Matthew Van Fleet
A Children’s Treasury of Songs – Illustrations by Linda Beck
Violet’s House – Julie Aigner-Clark
Peek-a-Who? – Nina Laden
Goodnight, Goodnight, Construction Site – Sherri Rinker
Dear Zoo – Rod Campbell
We’re Going On a Bear Hunt – Helen Oxenbury
Little Blue Truck – Alice Shertle
Tons of Trucks – Sue Fliess


If you have a favorite board book let us know by leaving a comment. Thanks!

August 27, 2015

Mummy Cat

Can’t believe summer has come to an end. Hope you have had a great one. Here is my final classroom pick for this month. Here are the other classroom picks from this past month. Water is Water, It’s a Seashell Day, Nature Books for the Classroom, and Marvelous Cornelius.

I’ve got a lot more new titles to tell you about in the Fall. Stay Tuned!

mummy_catTitle: Mummy Cat

Author: Marcus Ewert
Illustrator: Lisa Brown (interview at 7 Imp’)
Publisher: Clarion Books, 2015
Book Type: Fiction
Ages: 4-8
Themes: Ancient Egypt, Mummies, Cats, Friendship


And one cold night, each century,
he gets up, and he checks to see

if she’s come back, his loving friend …
so that this lonely time can end.

Synopsis (from Amazon’s website):

Mummy Cat prowls his pyramid home, longing for his beloved owner. As he roams the tomb, lavish murals above his head display scenes of the cat with his young Egyptian queen, creating a story-within-a-story about the events of centuries past. Hidden hieroglyphs deepen the tale and are explained in an informative author’s note.



  • Informational website for kids on everything Ancient Egypt
  • National Geographic Kids website with fast facts on Ancient Egypt, plus more in-depth links on pyramid building, hieroglyphs, and mummification.
  • Printables coloring sheets, word searches, and mazes.
  • Pinterest board – links to crafts, printables, books, games, and more.


Why I Like This Book:

In a market filled with all sorts of friendship stories (realistic, imaginary creatures, animal stand-ins), this story of a cat and her beloved queen truly stand out. This is a tender friendship story set against the backdrop of Ancient Egypt. Readers will get a taste of Egyptian life, rituals, afterlife, mummification, and art. This dynamic duo has made learning about history and cultures engaging and heartfelt. Perceptive readers will be rewarded with extra story information when they decode the hieroglyphs. The extensive back matter can be used as a good starting point for learning more about Ancient Egypt.

Check-out this behind the scenes look

MUMMY CAT at the following spots:
Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Indiebound | Goodreads
ISBN-10: 0544340825
ISBN-13: 978-0544340824

August 19, 2015

Marvelous Cornelius: Hurricane Katrina and the Spirit of New Orleans

Welcome back! Hope you have been enjoying my classroom picks. Be sure to check-out the past reviews from this month.

corneliusTitle: Marvelous Cornelius: Hurricane Katrina and the Spirit of New Orleans

Author: Phil Bildner
Illustrator: John Parra (interview at 7’imp)
Publisher: Chronicle Books, 2015
Book Type: Fiction
Ages: 5-8
Themes: Community


At each home, Cornelius sashayed to the curb and shimmied to the hopper. Unloading the garbage, not a single praline wrapper ever stayed on the streets. And those spotless streets, oh, how they sparkled.

Synopsis (from Chronicle’s website):

In New Orleans, there lived a man who saw the streets as his calling, and he swept them clean. He danced up one avenue and down another and everyone danced along. The old ladies whistled and whirled. The old men hooted and hollered. The barbers, bead twirlers, and beignet bakers bounded behind that one-man parade. But then came the rising Mississippi—and a storm greater than anyone had seen before. In this heartwarming book about a real garbage man, Phil Bildner and John Parra tell the inspiring story of a humble man and the heroic difference he made in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.


Why I Like It:

The is a beautiful book celebrating the human spirit in a modern-day folk hero style. I love that this book shows how a single, humble man who just took pride in his work was able to spread joy in his community. Even in the Katrina aftermath, Cornelius’s spirit was still strong and so was the spirit of New Orleans. The text brings to life Cornelius’s energy by using lyrical phrases such as “sashyaed to the curb” and “clapped the covers like cymbals and twirled the tins like tops“. Also be sure to checkout the Author’s Note where the author explains how he came upon this regional story.

The combination of evocative language with bold, colorful folk art style, and the theme of community make this a winning trifecta. One which I hope will keep this book around for a long time.

PB writers take note of the extensive repetition, alliteration, and exaggeration techniques used in this tall tale style of writing.

Enjoy this trailer made by a group of 4th graders from Swenke Elementary School from Cypress-Fairbanks ISD in Texas.

Find MARVELOUS CORNELIUS at the following spots:
Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Indiebound | Goodreads
ISBN-10: 1452125783
ISBN-13: 978-1452125787

Disclosure: I received my copy of this book from the publisher Chronicle Books. This review nevertheless reflects my own and honest opinion about the book.


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