B is for building cities

Max uses B is for Brooklyn as inspiration.

Max uses B is for Brooklyn as inspiration.

At our house, it’s pretty common to trip over traffic jams or cities. Calvin is constantly lining up vehicles in his room, the bathroom, on the treadmill, in the kitchen, on window sills, you get the picture. Accompanying the traffic jams are signs and buildings.

I found B is for Brooklyn written and illustrated by Selina Alko at the library and thought it had all the ingredients that make him happy – buses, bridges, traffic, signs.

B is for Brooklyn has all this and more. It takes you through the alphabet with beautiful illustrations of all that Brooklyn has to offer.

While reading it, Calvin and I talked about using a newspaper like Alko did to create buildings. My boys love building cities: Lego cities, box cities, paper cities.

Inspired by B is for Brooklyn, we go to work. The brotherly fighting ceased the day we built our latest city. They spoke to each other the way I imagine they do at school saying, “Please pass the glue.”

“Who are these kids?” I thought to myself, as I listened to their polite tones.

Calvin does his favorite thing: city building.

Calvin creates his favorite things: traffic and cities.

They were still bossy. If I stopped to survey my work or take a sip of coffee they would both direct, “Mama, get back to work.”

Using the Sunday New York Times, we cut up the travel section. Calvin was thrilled to see the Paris Metro. We also found a map of Arizona and New Mexico. I pointed out where their cousin Rahsaan was born and where he lives now. That was a big hit.

The final product – an unusually peaceful morning and a cool piece of art.

Where to find the book and other info

You can find the book and more on Alko’s website.

Alko’s created many beautiful books. This includes The Case for Loving: The Fight for Interracial Marriage. She illustrated this with her husband Sean Qualls. According to her website, “It is the true story of the interracial couple Mildred and Richard Loving, and the courage they needed to have to fight to get their

My view of the city builders from the porch where I took a coffee break.

My view of the two foreman from the porch. I was sneaking a coffee break.

marriage legally recognized in the 1960’s in the state of Virginia. Alko felt a personal connection to the Lovings’ story, being half of an interracial couple herself.”

I got to interview Jennifer K. Mann!

Mrs. Benson is a lot cooler than my fourth grade math teacher.

Mrs. Benson is a lot cooler than my fourth grade math teacher.

My third grade math teacher was scary. And mean. And she wore brown. Every day. Most of us have a memory of a scary teacher.

Author Jennifer K. Mann captures these memories and the feelings that come with them in her new book, I Will Never Get A Star On Mrs. Benson’s Blackboard. The gracious writer and illustrator agreed to be interviewed for my blog!

I’ve written about her book, Two Speckled Eggs, and love her work. In her newest book, Rose struggles in class because she’s messy and never gets any stars from her teacher. Unlike my former teacher, Mrs. Benson sees talent. She sees that is an artist, albeit a messy one. (Spoiler alert – she gets a star at the end.)

Here’s my interview with Jennifer:

Can you tell me about your inspiration for Mrs. Benson’s Blackboard? I read it was from your own childhood.
I had a tough second grade year, with a teacher who was really hard to please —I kept a messy desk, and maybe didn’t get the math problems right the first time, and she scared me a little. My memories of that year, and the nervous feelings it inspired, have stayed with me ever since. The story of that difficult year was the first thing that I jotted down when I began in earnest to pursue a future in children’s books! I don’t think there are too many kids in the world who haven’t wrestled with the anxiety of pleasing a difficult-to-please teacher!

What’s the message (in the book) that you want to resonate with kids?
I want kids to know that it is okay to march to the beat of our own drums! So we’re a little messy. So we daydream more than others. So what? We all have gifts and talents that are worthy and unique. We just have to let them become obvious by being true to ourselves.

Mrs. Benson points out Rose's talent.

Mrs. Benson points out Rose’s talent.

I love that you attended Blueberry Hill Elementary. Will you use that name in a book someday?
Oh, I would love to! I also spent much of my childhood living part-time (divorced parents) in a magical house on a hill covered in wild blueberries. The house was also called, coincidentally, Blueberry Hill! I think there is no doubt that it will appear in one of my stories sometime.

You write that it is a really long process to get a book from start to finish. How did you feel when you first saw a completed copy of your book?
Oh my goodness. The feeling is almost indescribable. I used to be an architect, and it was such a neat thing to see a design go from paper to building. But so many people and processes were involved that it was also easy to feel a little detached. But to see a story, which has been squeezed from my memory and my emotions and my blood, sweat, and tears, in the form of a book, illustrated by me too…!! Wow!!! Of course I cried. I think I will cry every time, because it is an amazingly emotional life event.

How do your own kids respond to your books? Any words of wisdom from them?
My kids are both amazing artists and writers. So they always weigh in throughout the process. I have to say, some of my best critiques come from them. They are both quick to see where the story is a little flat, or doesn’t quite ring true, or could use a little something to raise the stakes. I am so grateful to have their support. And to see the pride on their faces at my first ever book launch—that alone was worth the entire long journey to get there.

Rose daydreaming. I did this during Math.

Rose daydreaming. I did this during Math.

Do you think Rose would be friends with Ginger and Lyla in Two Speckled Eggs?
Oh for sure. Actually Rose and Ginger share some DNA, so either they would love one another dearly and be inseparable, or be prone pointing out one another’s faults, despite being pals. Lyla and Rose, however, would be fast friends. They are not alike in many ways, but they would have a mutual, unspoken appreciation for the other’s free spirit.

Thank you, Jennifer.

Where to find the book and other info.

Max and Calvin like the book!

You can buy the book at your local bookstore or find it online.

Find out more about Jennifer, her books, her art, and read her blog on her website.

She has another book Sam And Jump slated to come out in 2016 by Candlewick Press.