Nocturnal Villains: The Antidote to Bullying

Contributed by Tracey Hecht

I remember when I was a kid that adults would often respond to my beliefs on social, human, and political positions with some version of: Well, you won’t feel that way when you grow up. I was raised in a conservative town with conservative ideals (starting, I suppose, with the belief that kids’ opinions were not of equal value!). But I remember thinking, even at the time: Oh, I bet you’re wrong about that. I bet I’ll feel exactly the same way when I grow up.

Well, I’m grown up! Or I am at least by the measures specified by the adults of my childhood, and I in fact do feel the same way on most of those issues. With the confidence of age, I might even maintain some of my positions more vigorously.

I am currently the writer of a book series for seven- to twelve-year-olds. The series has some other stuff I still like from childhood: imagination, mystery, a little bit of adventure. But in these books I also focus a lot on compassion and understanding. In particular, I extend these themes to my villains. I do this because my human, social, and political views are, at their core, founded in the belief that humans are the same. People of all gender, color and income levels—we’re not as far apart as we sometimes appear. In fact, our distance is sometimes our shared vulnerabilities and insecurities, just expressed in different ways.


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The Changing Face of Family

Contributed by Natasha Friend

Every book has a conception story. Mine begins with the shameless binge-watching of an MTV reality series called “Generation Cryo.” Over the course of six episodes, the show follows 17-year-old Breeanna, daughter of a lesbian couple who was conceived via sperm donation, on a search for her genetic half-siblings. Thanks to the Donor Sibling Registry, Bree connects with Jonah and Hilit and Jayme and Jesse and Paige and Molly and Will, and ultimately brings everyone together to track down their biological father.

Prior to watching the show, I had only a cursory understanding of sperm donation and its effects on families. I understood the science, but I knew nothing of the emotional fallout—of how angry and hurt and confused some donor-conceived children could grow up to be, or how fraught the relationships with the non-biological parents who were raising them could become. I was fascinated by the idea of a new “insta-family.” Unlike children conceived via sperm donation prior to the 1990’s, today’s generation of donor-conceived kids have access to Internet search engines, registry websites, social media, and video chat technology, all of which allow them to connect with their genetic half-siblings, and even with their sperm donor, in a mind-blowingly short amount of time.

As a 21st century mom, psychology major, and YA author, how could I not write a book about this? 


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Making a Difference

Contributed by Audrey Penn

The most important thing I can do as an author of children’s books is offer stories that open communication between child and parent. In my Kissing Hand series, it is Mrs. Raccoon who helps Chester through his many issues and difficulties beginning with separation anxiety. Other books in the series deal with new siblings, moving, bullying, dying, fear of speaking in front of others and wanting to return home during a sleep over. These are issues all children face, but with the help of books and characters like Chester Raccoon, and the caretakers and teachers who bring them to life, children can face issues armed with understanding and a sense of self.

When writing, I often think about the brilliant diversity of color and sound, shape and size, and speed and agility that is present in the animal kingdom. Most people embrace these amazing differences with open minds and without prejudice. It is because we all too often close our minds to the beautiful diversity in people that I stay within the animal kingdom when writing my children’s books.


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Not So Simple

Contributed by Susan Tan

“It’s simple, Susan.  Just pick one. Which would you rather be?”

It was my first day of first grade at a new school, and we were playing a getting-to-know-you game that doubled as a class-demographics survey. We had divided ourselves into groups based on favorite ice cream flavor, age, favorite animal, and zip code, laughing over shared interests.

Then came a question on race. I thought seriously for a moment as the other kids sorted themselves into groups. But I quickly found my answer and carefully chose my spot—halfway between the group of students who identified as white and the group who identified as Asian. I was proud of my creativity, and excited to share my answer.  

So I was shocked when my teacher disciplined me in front of the class, first asking why I hadn’t chosen a group, and then, when I explained that I had chosen a group—half one, and half the other—chastising me for choosing two groups when her survey allowed her to tick only one box.  

Which is when she demanded that I choose between the two.


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In the air again! Photography in Toronto

Contributed by Mary Birdsell

Last summer, I traveled to Tanzania to take photographs. In February, I followed my camera to Toronto. This was my first visit to Canada. It was a wonderful experience dotted with several visits to Tim Hortons.

When I traveled to Tanzania, I took photographs for stories that had not been written. There was no way the authors I work with could know what stories I would find. This time, I had stories that were already written, so I had specific photos that I needed to take. One of the authors I work with had spent two weeks last July at the Toronto Summer Institute. This international annual event focuses on the inclusion of individuals with disabilities. While she was at the institute she discovered two wonderful stories.


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Books That Changed My Life: The Sun is Also A Star by Nicola Yoon

Contributed by Ashley Woodfolk, Marketing Manager, Macmillan Children’s Publishing Group

Dear Nicola,

I have been a lover of reading for my entire life. I started reading before I was five, and I never stopped. And yet, I have never written a letter to an author besides once, when I was ten, for a school assignment.

But dear Nicola. I had to write to you.


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Celebrating Girl’s Day, Then and Now

Contributed by Debbi Michiko Florence, Author

For generations, March 3 has been a special day in Japan, when families pray for good health and happiness for their daughters. It’s called Girl’s Day or Hinamatsuri (Doll Festival). The dolls, handed down from mother to eldest daughter, represent the imperial court and are thought to bring good luck.

As a child, born and raised in California, Girl’s Day meant special time with my mom and little sister. Following tradition, our mother would set up the ceramic dolls dressed in silk with miniature accessories on a platform. We’d eat mochi (sweet rice cakes) and take pictures with the doll display. Sometimes Mom would dress us in kimonos. When I grew older, we expanded the tradition: I invited my girlfriends from elementary school to celebrate with us. We ate cake and played games, much like a birthday party. When I got married, Mom gave me her dolls.


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