Writing stories that make us bigger on the inside
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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.
I try to keep on top of reviews of my books. I also try to keep on top of other Canadian books being published–and Helen Kubiw’s CanLit for Little Canadians blog is one of the best ways to do that.
However, somehow I completely missed this review when it came out in May. I found it today and decided to share to here because it is so thoughtful and thorough in its description of what I sought to do in this book. For example:
“Too many children and adults have a disconnect between what they eat and where it came from. They either don’t know about milk cows and grains and fruit and how they are raised or cultivated or harvested or cannot see the connection between farms and how the food gets into the stores from which we often buy. By associating the sun of our environment with the warmth in our belly from hearty food, Laura Alary relates science concepts like photosynthesis, energy and life cycles with the familiar events like waking in the morning, having breakfast, and growing. Connecting the familiar with the unfamiliar is always an important means to forge learning.”
You can read the full review here.