Writing stories that make us bigger on the inside
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A playful yet profound take on the phrase “I contain multitudes”
A little girl admires her nana’s wooden nesting dolls that sit side by side on the windowsill. They all look exactly the same: pink cheeks, frilly aprons, and big smiles—except for the tiniest doll, which is small and unpainted and looks like a raw peanut. The girl thinks the matching smiles of all the other dolls don’t feel quite right. After all, she has many different faces and feelings inside of her, and the dolls should too!
Starting with the peanut, the girl draws new expressions on all the dolls’ faces, from toothy grins to grimaces. But when Nana sees what her granddaughter has done, she’s furious and says the dolls are ruined. The girl disagrees. “If those dolls were me,” she says, “no two would be alike.” When Nana considers what her granddaughter is telling her, she slowly begins to understand. With a hug, and a warning to ask before embarking on any more art projects, Nana proudly returns the dolls to their spot.
This bright, uplifting story about honoring and acknowledging emotions also touches on communication skills, creative self-expression, and conflict resolution. Written with humor and honesty, it reminds readers that, just like nesting dolls, there’s more to us than meets the eye.
Written by Laura Alary, illustrated by Salini Perera, published by Owlkids Books
Publication Date: October 15, 2023
Available now for preorder
Spirituality & Practice Best Spiritual Books of 2022 – Award Winner
When a child finds clues that others have lived in her house before her, she begins to wonder about them, and about those who will come after her. The more she wonders, the more her sense of home expands, stretching to include an entire planet.
With her thoughtful approach and her unique ability to make big concepts engaging and personal to children, Laura Alary invites readers along for the ride, zooming through time and space to the outer reaches of our solar system for a new perspective on the planet we share. The child marvels: How can something so big seem so small? But also: How can something so small seem so big? Overwhelmed by the mess that humans have left behind, in the end she realizes that there is only one thing to do: start where she is.
In spare and simple words, Here: The Dot We Call Home helps children begin to think of themselves as both descendants and ancestors, and to comprehend that people of every place and time share one home, and the task of looking after it.
Order from Paraclete Press or Amazon or your favourite local bookseller.
A discussion guide is available as a free download from Paraclete Press.
“This is a book I wish every child everywhere could have read to them when they’re young, then read to themselves when they’re older, and then read to their children when they’re much older. The book your child, grandchild, or student needs is HERE!” —Brian D. McLaren, author of Corey and the Seventh Story
“In Here: The Dot We Call Home, Laura Alary reminds us that home is the daily spaces we inhabit, the history we are a part of, and the universe that holds us. In this book, she beautifully weaves humanity into relationship with the creatures around us and the Earth herself, reminding us that while we can’t fix all the problems we encounter, we can be present to the life we’ve been given. That is enough. I’m so grateful for this book and what it will teach kids and adults alike about how to practice kinship and belonging.” —Kaitlin Curtice, award-winning author of Native
“Laura Alary’s The Dot We Call Home, teaches children to be co-sustainers in a real place, right where they are. What could be more important, loving, or more human than that?” —Randy Woodley, author of Becoming Rooted: One Hundred Days of Reconnecting with Sacred Earth
“Alary’s book draws us into the intimacy of our immediate home and then expands us out into ever widening circles to our biggest home—deep time and deep space. What a terrific message for children to learn…and feel!” —Jennifer Morgan, President of Deeptime Network
“Creation care starts at home as Laura Alary shows in this beautiful, delightful, and heartwarming book.” —Grace Ji-Sun Kim, Professor of Theology and author of Invisible
“Amidst climate catastrophe, how do we lovingly prepare kids for all that is to come? Perhaps the first step is to invite children to fall intimately in love with the place that nourishes their bodies. And to remember that we are part of a story that has gone on before us and will continue after we are gone. Laura Alary invites us into this beautiful work through the eyes of one child offering joy, memory, and imagination about our place on this planet.” —Lydia Wylie-Kellerman, editor of The Sandbox Revolution: Raising Kids for a Just World
“A perfect book for anyone who cares about the Earth and children! Laura Alary offers a vision of hope at a time when many kids feel powerless. With lyrical writing and beautiful pictures, The Dot We Call Home invites people to find love and possibility.” —Amelia Richardson Dress, author of The Hopeful Family: Raising Resilient Children in Uncertain Times
“How can a young child come to understand their place between the microcosm of quarks and the macrocosm of vast space? How can they begin knitting together the complex relationships between the present moment, their ancestors’ lives, and future generations? These are enormous questions, and Laura Alary — who has a background in theology and biblical studies — does not hesitate to approach them. She offers clarity and gentleness suited to five-to-ten years olds’ sensitivity about where they belong in the grand scheme of things.” —Patricia Campbell Carlson, Spirituality and Practice (Read the full review here)
Awards and Honours:
TD Summer Reading Club Top Recommended Reads 2023
CCBC Best Books for Kids and Teens 2022 (starred review)
Rise: A Feminist Booklist 2023 Honoree
Perfect for fans of STEM, this inspiring picture book biography tells the extraordinary story of pioneering astronomer Maria Mitchell.
Maria longed to travel beyond her small island of Nantucket. But she wasn’t sure how. Her father taught her to look to the stars for guidance. If you knew how to read them, he said, the stars could tell you where you were, and where you needed to go. They spent hours scanning the night sky together through a telescope on the roof. Maria learned how to use astronomers’ tools to measure and track time by the stars. But what could she do with her skills? Then, one day, she heard that a prize was being offered to the first person to find a new comet. Could this be the opportunity she was waiting for?
This absorbing picture book biography by Laura Alary tells the fascinating, though not well-known, story of a remarkable nineteenth-century woman scientist and women’s rights advocate. After winning that prize for discovering a comet, Maria Mitchell would go on to become the first professional female astronomer in the United States, first female member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and one of the first female college professors.
Beautifully illustrated with lovely textured artwork by Ellen Rooney, this is a well-told story with a teachable STEM component, supporting both science and social studies curriculums, that supports a growth mindset. It’s also a wonderful guide sure to inspire readers to find their own way in the world. It includes backmatter that further describes Maria’s impressive life and achievements.
Available from your favourite bookseller or through Amazon.
There are some excellent resources about Maria Mitchell for students and teachers available on the website of The Maria Mitchell Association.
School Library Journal (Starred Review)
2023-2024 Pennsylvania Young Reader’s Choice Award Nominee (K-3)
Top Ten Sustainability Themed Children’s Books 2023, ALA Sustainability RT
TD Summer Reading Club Top Recommended Reads 2023
School Library Journal (starred review)
Quill and Quire (starred review) [Jan/Feb 2022 edition]
The cooking of a healthy breakfast moves from parent-child bonding to an eloquent conversation about energy, the growth of plants, and the miraculous ways the sun’s light nourishes us all.
It began with the sun,
Who showers the earth
With heat and light—
Tiny packets of energy.
How does a home-cooked breakfast give a little girl the energy she needs for a brand-new day? In gently expressive language, her mother takes readers on a journey into the earth where sleepy seeds are tickled awake and grow into golden oats; into blueberry patches, where green leaves break apart water and air to build sweet sugar; and into a pasture where sun becomes grass, becomes cow, becomes milk.
Author Laura Alary’s free verse breaks big ideas into child-sized pieces, making Sun in My Tummy an accessible introduction to the concepts of matter and energy, and how the sun’s light becomes fuel for our bodies through the food we eat. Andrea Blinick’s mixed-media illustrations pair the cozy and homelike with the glowing and dramatic as she takes readers from the kitchen to the farm field and to the sky and back. A concluding Author’s Note shares further information about photosynthesis for young readers.
Available now through your favourite independent bookseller or Amazon.
A downloadable Teaching Guide is available from the Pajama Press website.
To learn more about the background to Sun in My Tummy, here is an interview from Open Book.
CCBC Best Books for Kids and Teens 2022 (starred review)
CM: Canadian Review of Materials (Highly Recommended)
At the heart of Breathe lies a puzzle: How can Jesus go away, yet promise to be with us always? Can we trust someone who comes and goes so mysteriously?
In the style of Make Room: A Child’s Guide to Lent and Easter and Look! A Child’s Guide to Advent and Christmas, Breathe: A Child’s Guide to Ascension, Pentecost and the Growing Time explores the comings and goings of Jesus and the Spirit through retellings of the biblical stories of Ascension and Pentecost, interwoven with contemporary reflections from the point of view of a child.
Moving beyond long ago and far away events, Breathe guides children to wonder about and watch for the presence and work of the Spirit here and now, in practices of prayer and mindfulness, and through acts of justice, generosity, and the sweet taste of kindness.
In the end, the young narrator arrives as a satisfactory solution to the puzzle: the Spirit that was in Jesus is in us too. We are his body now, his way of being in the world. Whenever we choose the way of love, Jesus is there. Always.
Order your copy from Paraclete Press.
A downloadable activity guide is also available through Paraclete Press.
Reviews and Awards:
2020 IODE Jean Throop Book Award Winner
2021 CCBC Choices List, Cooperative Children’s Book Center, Winner
Junior Library Guild Gold Standard Selection Award
Grace thinks Larry’s garden is one of the wonders of the world.
In his tiny backyard next door to hers, Larry grows the most extraordinary vegetables. Grace loves helping him — watering and weeding, planting and pruning, hoeing and harvesting. And whenever there’s a problem — like bugs burrowing into the carrots or slugs chewing the lettuce — Grace and Larry solve it together. Grace soon learns that Larry has big plans for the vegetables in his special garden. And when that garden faces its biggest problem yet, Grace follows Larry’s example to find the perfect solution.
Inspired by a real person, What Grew in Larry’s Garden is a story about caring, cooperation, empathy, perseverance, teamwork, and the amazing things that can grow when you tend your garden with kindness.
Gold Medal Winner, Children’s Picture Book, 2019 Illumination Awards
“Every person who tells these stories does it in a slightly different way. And every person who reads these stories hears something a bit different. So even though these stories are very old, they are also always new.”
Look! A Child’s Guide to Advent and Christmas presents Advent as special time for waiting and watching—paying attention—to the ways God comes to us.
An invitation for children to wonder about the Lenten story.
A gentle exploration of how children might pray, and how adults can help them understand some of the mystery of prayer.
A story that explores what it is like to make choices that are different from the cultural norm.
A story about not holding on to things too tightly, and the surprises that can happen when we dare to let go.
Imagine a story big enough to include everyone.
A story about what we mean when we say something is true.
Not long ago I finished reading Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer. I had read her previous book, Gathering Moss, and loved the way it helped me see small things differently. The same is true of Braiding Sweetgrass, though the scope of the vision is somewhat broader. The point is, both books changed the way I look at the world and my place in it.
In my own small way, this is what I hope to do for children in my books. When I set out to write Sun in My Tummy, I didn’t think I was writing a book about sustainability. Rather, influenced by Thich Nhat Hahn, I was trying to convey a message about mindfulness and looking deep into the things around us to see how they are interconnected. But I suppose that way of seeing lies at the heart of a reciprocal relationship with our earth–and living in a way that is sustainable.
So it seems fitting after all to see Sun in My Tummy on this list of the Top Ten Sustainability Themed Children’s Books for 2023 from the American Library Association Sustainability Round Table. What an honour it is to have it included among these other wonderful books that will help many children perceive their world in a new way.
To download the list and learn more about the ALA Sustainability RT click here.
As women’s history month draws to a close, I want to share one last review of The Astronomer Who Questioned Everything.
This one was written by Dr. Gregory Bryan, children’s literature professor in the Faculty of Education at the University of Manitoba. It published in the Canadian Review of Materials in May 2022, but I only discovered it yesterday.
One comment is particularly satisfying:
“Alary’s rich vocabulary reflects respect for young readers and their ability to work with precise but challenging words. Mitchell’s reaction to restrictions placed on women are to think of them as ‘absurd,’ ‘ridiculous,’ and ‘preposterous.’ Alary tells readers the scientific instruments she learned to use while still young include a sextant, metronome, and chronometer. Young readers and listeners will learn about Mitchell, but they will also have a vocabulary-expanding experience while they do so.”
I always try to communicate clearly and in a way that children will understand. But I also want to stretch readers a bit.
Last week I did a classroom visit and read The Astronomer Who Questioned Everything to a group of grade three and four students. Maria Mitchell famously disliked fine needlework and I included that fact in the book. When I came to the phrase (derived from her own writing), “all those tiny stitches…chained her mind to a needle” a student blurted out, “What does THAT mean?” I paused, thought for a moment, then asked him if he knew the expression, “let your mind wander.” He nodded. “What happens,” I asked him, “if you have to keep your mind really focused on a single task—like making tiny stitches with a needle and thread?” I could see him pondering this, then comprehension dawned. “You can’t think about whatever you want!” he exclaimed. “Your thoughts aren’t free!”
Confronted by a metaphor that was a bit beyond him—a bit puzzling—he reasoned from the familiar to the unfamiliar and had the satisfaction of figuring out something new.
That’s how we grow. I think Maria would have approved.
I recently learned that Sun in My Tummy has been nominated for a Pennsylvania Young Reader’s Choice Award.
This award is sponsored by the Pennsylvania School Librarians Association. Its purpose is “to promote the reading of quality books by young people in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, to promote teacher and librarian involvement in children’s and young adult literature, and to honor authors whose works have been recognized by the students of Pennsylvania.”
There is something particularly gratifying about being included in a list of nominees selected by young readers. I am also super chuffed to be nominated alongside Pajama Press authors Michelle Kadarusman and Colleen Nelson–and my co-creator, illustrator Andrea Blinick.
You can see the full list of nominees here.
For many years a regular part of summer was taking my children to our local branch of the Toronto Public Library and signing up for the TD Summer Reading Club. They all enjoyed reading anyway, but the prizes (more books!) were a really fun incentive and not a year went by when I didn’t feel grateful for this gift to kids and communities across the country.
This year I was absolutely thrilled to discover that Sun in My Tummy (Pajama Press) has been selected as a Top Recommended Read! It brings me joy to think of children across the country encountering my book through their public libraries, and maybe having a bit of fun pondering how their favourite summer snacks connect them to soil, clouds, air, trees–and the sun!
And if that wasn’t enough, one afternoon I received a message from a friend who works at a library in Coldwater, letting me know that I have a second book on the list. The Astronomer Who Questioned Everything: The Story of Maria Mitchell (Kids Can Press) is also a 2023 Top Recommended Read!
I’m so happy that both books are going to be part of this summer tradition that means so much to so many children.
Here: The Dot We Call Home (Paraclete Press) is a little book about some very big ideas, including climate crisis, what it means to be both a descendant and an ancestor, and our place in the cosmos. When Patricia Campbell Carlson reviewed the book for Spirituality and Practice, she acknowledged the scope of the book and the ways it seeks to open “a wider envelope for belonging.”
I felt that the review truly captured the essence of the story and felt honoured that an organization whose work I respect greatly had taken the time to read and feature my book.
Today, that sense of honour increased when I learned that Here has been selected as one of the Spirituality and Practice Best Spiritual Books of 2022.
“These are the titles that have most impressed and inspired us during the year,” explain the editors. “Since we only review books that we want to recommend to you for your spiritual journey, this selection actually represents the best of the best. Through diverse approaches, drawing upon the wisdom and practices of the world’s religions and spiritual paths, these books explore the quest for meaning and purpose, wholeness and healing, commitment and community, contemplation and activism. We congratulate the authors and publishers of these exceptional contributions to today’s spiritual renaissance.”
You can find the full list here.
Rise: A Feminist Book Project has been promoting quality feminist literature since 2002 as part of the Feminist Task Force and Social Responsibilities Round Table of the American Library Association.
Every year, the project compiles a list of “well-written and well-illustrated” books which “celebrate girls and women as a vibrant, vital force in the world.” It is important to the committee that the books selected focus on protagonists who consciously call out and work to eliminate sexism and other systemic prejudices, empowering and striving for the rights of others.
I am thrilled that The Astronomer Who Questioned Everything: The Story of Maria Mitchell (written by me, illustrated by Ellen Rooney, and published by Kids Can Press) has been selected for the 2023 list.
One of the things that drew me to Maria Mitchell was how her sharp wit and critical thinking skills were bound together with generosity of spirit and a keen social conscience. She sought not only her own advancement, but that of her students and others who faced unjust limits on their growth and freedom.
As a professor and advocate for the higher education of women, she pushed back and spoke out against unreasonable rules and restrictions imposed on women. But she also challenged women themselves to set their expectations higher, and helped her students realize they were capable of more than they sometimes allowed themselves to imagine.
I’m grateful to Rise for helping make her story—and this book—more widely known.
You can see the full list of 2023 honorees here.