Q: Of all the disgraced former presidents available, is there any special reason you chose Millard Fillmore to host your ghostly tours through American history? A: Why Millard Fillmore? I read years ago that some folks in the city of Buffalo had a tradition of lampooning President Fillmore on his birthday. Scores of people would gather at his grave on January 7th to bask in his obscurity. This struck me as a delightful tribute, and I've carried it with me. In my way, I'd say I was honoring the tradition of giving this man a bit more than perhaps might be expected. In addition, I also carry with me a bit of an asterisk to his legacy. Fillmore's presidency is complicated by, and doomed by, the Fugitive Slave Act. On the surface, he signed it and the case is closed. On a deeper dive, Fillmore (who "detested" slavery) truly believed his oath of office compelled him to sign the Act, albeit reluctantly, because of the existing fugitive slave clause that was already enshrined in the Constitution (that's right, all of the Constitution signers signed a fugitive slave act, and Washington penned another years later . . . lots of signers, clauses, acts, etc.). While all things "fugitive slave" now land squarely and solely on Fillmore's plate, in reality he felt he had to defend the Constitution, for better or worse. With that perspective, don't we want all our presidents to follow the oath to protect the Constitution? At any rate, in signing the Act, Fillmore stated that his reputation would be ruined. He was right. I might feel a bit sympathetic to his unwinnable situation. All that said, probably the main reason I went with Millard Fillmore...his name is simply, absolutely fabulous. It's fun to say. Q: The presidents showcased in The Presidents Did What? and The Presidents Did What, Again? did some truly, famously awful things, which the text never flinches away from. Nevertheless, both books are amazingly lighthearted! Do you have any tips or tricks for striking this notoriously tricky balance? A: As a host, Millard Fillmore sets the tone of the book. He has good-natured, outsized confidence and bravado, which makes him perfect for lighthearted quips and jabs, although there is nothing lighthearted about the topics! The topics I explore are genuinely traumatic, and everything I cover is thoroughly available in very serious tones amongst countless works. I wanted to create an atmosphere where historical topics that need to be introduced to readers are done so in an accessible way, which, in my case, is a bit of levity. I also believe that the apologetic nature of the presidents themselves helps to convey not only remorse, but an understanding that in today's world, these events most likely wouldn't have happened as they did, and our current presidents wouldn't make such decisions (we'd hope!). The presidents in my books are generally sorry for what they've done. This, combined with a bit of humor, strikes a balance with the weight of the history. Q: Authors writing politically inclined children's books usually tackle the subject from an inspirational angle. But you've taken a different approach, to say the least! Can you talk about why you feel it's important for kids to be told the bad side of history and politics, as well as the good? A: In truth, any formative geopolitical literacy requires the unfortunate understanding that nearly all of our relationships are a result of, or were forged in, conflict. The bad stuff. How we relate to ourselves, our neighbors, and our global community has been shaped by, in more times than not, a fairly lousy experience. If we want our future citizens to be responsible, accountable, and prepared players, whether in a global society or in the neighborhood, we have to fully disclose our history. Conversely, some of our crowning achievements as a progressing people came from overcoming our darkest times and most deplorable decisions. Kids need to hear all sides of our story. I'll give the last word to President James Garfield: "The truth will set you free, but first it will make you miserable." To learn more about Wag Harrison, check out his books, The Presidents Did What? and The Presidents Did What, Again?.
During my publishing career, I've learned that after a children’s book is published—after the editing, design, printing, and launch—it takes on a life of its own. Through the mysterious machinations of book distribution, copies finds their way to bookstore shelves, library reading rooms, school classrooms, homes, and finally, children's hands—and there, they become something more than just words on bound paper. For those young readers, that book becomes a teacher, guide, or a friend—sometimes for life. Stop a moment and think of the books you enjoyed when you first began reading. Perhaps reading them made you aware that other kids just like you were struggling with fear, anxiety, or loneliness—and maybe that knowledge made you feel less alone. You loved those books because you needed the lessons they could teach or the scenarios to which they introduced you at that time in your life—and some part of them lives with you still. Brandylane is honored to publish books that make a difference in the lives of young readers; and this month, we are proud to present new titles that offer children a way of seeing the world—and themselves—in a new light, allowing them to grow both at school and at home. written by Robert Pruett, publisher
Q: How did you choose your Six Revolutionary WOW Factor Women? Did you know all of their names before setting out to write this book, or did you set out to research inspiring women of the era and discover them in the process? Which figure did you personally find most inspiring? A: Writing is a curious journey. Topics somehow find me, invade my thoughts, and refuse to let me rest. I started out researching an ancestor, Sidney Johnson McMechen, who exchanged her comfortable life in Maryland for pioneering life in wilderness near what later became Wheeling, WV. I wanted to understand how her life must have been, the choices she made, and her methods of creative problem solving. It occurred to me that maybe, if I learned about other women of that time, I might solve the mystery surrounding my ancestor. At the time, my cousin-in-law was curator of manuscripts and rare books for the library of The College of William & Mary. She introduced me to Ann Wager, the schoolteacher in Williamsburg, whose story appears in my book. She also recommended myriad sources pertaining to women in America’s colonial period. I was at the WOW Women buffet! I chose to study women of various backgrounds who were faced with difficult choices and used creative problem solving to resolve them. My hope is that these women will serve as positive role models for my young readers as they begin to make choices and engage in creative problem solving. I love all six of my revolutionary WOW factor women. I believe Elizabeth Freeman is the most inspiring, although I do also have a sentimental favorite. My West Virginian grandaddy was a storyteller, and I always loved his tale of how Betty Zane saved Fort Henry. I have yet to understand why Sidney Johnson McMechen chose to be a pioneering woman, but I did learn more about Betty Zane, who lived at the same time and in the same location as my grandaddy’s “Way-Back-Many-Greats” Grandmother, whose story had inspired my research. Q: I understand one of the more unique jobs on your résumé was leading ghost tours around Colonial Williamsburg and Yorktown! How and when did you first become interested in history? How did your enthusiasm for the topic help you engage with audiences? A: Whether it is through the written or the spoken word, my constant goal is to make the world a little brighter. For those wondrous moments when I engage the young and not-so-young in a story, I invite them to slip away from this troublesome world and into my world, where history comes alive and all things are possible. Although the connection between literature and history always interested me, I became a storyteller, not an historian. Ghost stories evolve over time as folks try to explain the unexplainable. As a teller of ghost stories, I did my best to entertain—not scare—adults and children so they might imagine the strange and interesting events that occurred in the historic homes of Williamsburg and Yorktown. As I grew as a storyteller, history gradually came alive. Remembering dates was no longer a chore. History had a grip on me. I even became a part of history when I learned, to my surprise, that the cannonballs still lodged in the exterior walls of several historic (and ghost filled!) Yorktown houses were made by Baker Johnson, the brother of my mysterious ancestor, Sidney Johnson McMechen. Those cannonballs were made at the request of George Washington to be used at the Battle of Yorktown, the decisive battle of the Revolutionary War. Q: Each WOW Factor Woman's story ends with a short discussion prompt designed to examine the story for its main takeaways. How early on in the writing process did you decide on this structure? What advice would you give other writers to build audience engagement into—or around—their own work? A: A group of friends, third and fourth grade teachers, helped me brainstorm my idea for this story. They suggested approaching this project as values-based historical fiction, written as a compilation of short stories. These teachers expressed a need for recreational reading during units about the original Thirteen Colonies and the American Revolution. They had plenty of biographies and histories available but lacked historical fiction, especially about women. Thus, the “WOW Factor” was born. When faced with a challenge, each woman had to dig deep within to make a choice and engage in creative problem solving. She may have used courage, respect, perseverance etc., as she discovered her WOW (“Watch out World—I can do this!”) factor. Everyone, no matter what age, can use a little personal insight. My hope is for these women to emerge as role models for readers, and that the world will be a brighter place as my readers, young and old, discover their own WOW Factor! As I see it, part of building audience engagement is inviting the reader to continue thinking about the story after it is finished. At the suggestion of my teacher friends, I included a pinch of history at the beginning of each story to give context, then ended each story with reflective questions. My hope is for these reflective questions to encourage communication between readers, whether it occurs in the classroom between students, classmates, and teachers, or at home with the family. Already, I have received encouraging confirmation that the stories live on in readers’ minds once the book is finished. One teacher has expanded her unit on foods of the colonial period to include foods mentioned in Six Revolutionary WOW Factor Women. Another teacher plans to incorporate the WOW Factor women into a class’s annual living history museum trip. Giving advice is tricky. But once you have your idea, it’s important ask yourself two soul-searching questions: Why am I writing this, and Who is my target audience? When you determine your audience, then you must think outside the box about what fun details you can weave into your story to keep your audience engaged, even long after the reading is finished. Burglars? A battle? Asparagus ice cream? Yes! To learn more about Heidi, check out her book, Six Revolutionary WOW Factor Women!
If you’re a writer, you already know writing is hard, and usually slow. And although it’s deeply satisfying when your article or poem or book appears in print, publishing your writing is even harder and even slower than most writers expect. Even when you think the last “i” is dotted and the last “t” is crossed in the final draft of your manuscript, your journey is just beginning. Then the submission and editing process begins! Some authors feel their writing doesn’t need to be edited, so they move forward rapidly, only to end up publishing a poorly edited book they wind up regretting. To those writers, I say: Never underestimate the power of a good editor to transform your writing! Working with a skilled editor means letting go. If you don’t already know Microsoft Word’s tracking feature—the editing software most editors use to track corrections and revisions in a manuscript—it means learning this new technology. It means waiting weeks—or, depending on the length of a manuscript, sometimes months—for an editor to do their job of reviewing, reading, and then reading your manuscript again and offering their initial comments. Proof after proof then follows to polish the manuscript just right. This is the waiting part of the publishing process. Many authors wonder: during those weeks or months between proofs from the editor, designer, or project manager, how do I spend my time? If you are indeed a devoted writer, you start working on the next book! And then there’s the fear part of the publishing process—fear of submitting your manuscript in the first place, fear of letting go of the manuscript to a stranger, fear of losing that paragraph or sentence the editor thinks is needless, fear of sending your innermost thoughts out into the world, or even fear of success—if you should be so lucky. These fears can be daunting—especially if you’re self-publishing and navigating these frustrations alone. However, traveling this long road with a publisher who knows the unexpected curves, pitfalls, and cliffs on the way to publication can make the ride smoother. At Brandylane, we know how to provide this kind of writing and publishing therapy when it’s needed, and are happy to do so for the many authors who have published with us. written by Robert Pruett, publisher
Simone LaFray and the Red Wolves of London, the second book in S.P. O'Farrell's middle-grade mystery series about French junior spy Simone LaFray, was a three-time finalist or award-winner this season. Winner in the 2023 Independent Press Awards' Middle Grade category Finalist for the Chanticleer Gertrude Warner Award for Middle Grade Fiction Finalist in the Next Generation Indie Book Awards for Juvenile Fiction Dr. Drew Palacio's Shrieks and Sounds and Things Abound: The Quiet Wants of Julien J., a children's book about a boy whose favorite superhero teaches him how to tolerate distraction and focus on his favorite things, was a Silver Winner in the Nautilus Book Awards for Children's Illustrated / Fiction, Ages 6-9 Years. Silver Award Winner in the Nautilus Book Awards for Children's Illustrated / Fiction, Ages 6-9 Years Emily Langhorne's The Lonely Daffodil, a children's book about a daffodil who finds friends despite being separated from its its brethren, received two accolades from the Eric Hoffer Book Awards. Finalist for the Eric Hoffer First Horizon Award Honorable Mention in the Eric Hoffer Book Awards Julia Sullivan's Bone Necklace, a story of America's final "Indian War" told from multiple perspectives, is a finalist in the Western Fictioneers Peacemaker Awards' Best Novel and Best First Western Novel categories. Winners will be announced in June. Finalist for Western Fictioneers Peacemaker Awards' Best Novel and Best First Western Novel
A friend of mine recently shared an experience he had while teaching some years ago. One day, he took a group of inner city kids on an outing to the James River and was astounded to learn that not one of them had ever swum in a river, or even seen one up close. They had only read about rivers, herons, and woodlands, or seen them in pictures—even though they lived only a few blocks from the James. Over the last few years, Brandylane has been proud to publish dozens of children’s books, including illustrated picture books, chapter books for advanced readers in late elementary school, and middle grade novels for preteens. As I considered my friend’s story, I realized that for too many children, and particularly those living in big cities, books like these were their only insight into the magic provided only by natural landscapes, wildlife, and the outside world—especially as more and more children participate in a digital world, glued to their smartphones, video games, or tablets, and pausing only to text their friends or reload their Xboxes. The dancing bears, strange flying creatures, trees and moons that sing and speak, and other characters that populate children’s books may be fantastical—but they often introduce children to a natural world they've never seen or known. As publishers, we want to give kids excellent, informative books at a young age, so that every child can read about, learn about, and experience—albeit vicariously—the beauty and majesty of our planet. written by Robert Pruett, publisher
Q: Both of your Peter Polo books are full of rich cultural and geographic details of the time period. I understand you've spent a good deal of time in Asia yourself! What would you say sparked your interest in the history of the Silk Road? A: I started reading about Marco Polo when I was in elementary school, and I was especially interested in his adventures along the Silk Road. His tales of encountering new foods, customs, and landscapes really stoked my imagination, and I tried to read everything I could about the history and culture of that part of the world. As I grew older and had the chance to live in and travel to many of the same places Marco had visited, I was even more amazed at the stories he brought back with him to Venice, particularly at a time when Europeans knew so little about Asia. Q: Writing a long journey can be tricky: If it's too long and detailed, the reader will get bored; but if the trip is too short and easy, the main conflict loses steam, and the stakes don't seem very high. Peter's stories both begin with long, dangerous journeys across the Great Khan's empire. When working on this type of narrative, what do you do to maintain that balance? A: That is a great question, because I struggled throughout the book to maintain the balance you mention. I tried to break up the journey with moments wherein Peter and his friends encounter dangerous situations, and then sustain the action long enough build a sense of suspense in the reader. After I wrote the scenes, I would try them out on my chief critic—my wife—and often, it was back to the drawing board, based on her advice! The experience really made me appreciate the true masters of writing adventures for young readers. Q: An important part of any great journey is its end—when characters can either remain where they are, return home, or find some new destination or goal to pursue. If given the choice, which do you think Peter would choose? Would he want to remain in the Great Khan's court, return to his childhood home in Venice, or strike out in search of his own adventures? A: Another great question! Peter would find himself in a quandary when it comes to where he wants to be, as do many of us at different points in our lives. On the one hand, he is with his friends and brother at the court of the Great Khan in China, and that is certainly where he is happy in the moment. However, in both books, he exhibits a touch of homesickness for Venice, in particular his family and the food, and he daydreams of going back there one day. And then there is his longing to go places where he can make his own mark on the world, just like his brother Marco. That desire keeps him motivated to seek out new adventures with his friends—and it is what will take him to ancient Korea in the next book! To learn more about Craig, check out his two books, Peter Polo and the Snow Beast of Hunza and Peter Polo and the White Elephant of Lang Xang!
In today’s crowded digital world, searching for and finding the right publisher for your poetry can be hard, frustrating work that often comes down to pure luck. Years ago, poets often published a chapbook, a collection of ten to fifteen poems assembled in a small volume, often saddle-stitched or artfully handmade. Chapbooks are still common among new poets who want to publish and print a limited number of copies of their work for their family, friends, and community; and they are still an excellent way to produce a small, attractive, polished sample collection with which to query larger publishers. For serious poets who want to reach wider audiences, poetry journals publish poetry by both first-time and more established poets. Wildness Journal, Little Death Lit, Rattle, and Southeast Review are a few such journals, some of which actually pay poets upon publication. Exclusive journals like Poetry, Kenyon Review, and Ploughshares are looking for higher-level poetry for their audiences, and expect poets to have a portfolio of poems previously published by smaller journals, or a successful book. When it comes to journals and publishers that publish book-length collections, it’s important to study these publishers’ work before submitting to familiarize yourself with the style, themes, and subject matter they publish. And be sure to submit your work according to the publisher's guidelines—sending a manuscript by mail when the publisher requires an online submission will likely lead to rejection. Speaking of rejection: Expect it. Rejection is part of the process of becoming a better writer. It may mean you have much to learn, or that your poem or collection just hasn’t found the right home. Over the last few years, a number of poets have found a home for their work at Brandylane. We believe in nurturing our authors, guiding them through the publishing process, and helping them find and develop their audience. And although we don’t publish single poems, if you have even a small collection you’d like to put together in a chapbook or book, we're here to help. written by Robert Pruett, publisher
Watch Rose Ayling-Ellis read Kara Navolio's Everybody Can Dance! on BBC's CBeebies Bedtime Stories program.
During a recent marketing session on accruing book reviews, I encouraged authors to build business relationships with booksellers, reviewers, and media. In response, attendees asked one key question: How can a relatively unknown author compete with major marketing firms, big publishing houses, and PR companies, all of which have deep pockets and established connections with media and booksellers? One way to achieve success in the face of this seemingly overwhelming competition is by using an old-school method that has recently lost favor, especially among younger authors. While it's true that in today's world, book marketing happens largely via email and online contact forms, this alternative approach can still see success: making connections with editors and reviewers via phone calls, or even in-person visits. Authors might make these connections with smaller, local media outlets rather than with a major publication like the Washington Post or the New York Times—but at the same time, the editor of a smaller publication may be more likely to write a review. Authors who do their research to learn what genres a reviewer is interested in and the titles he or she is currently reviewing are more likely to receive a coveted "Yes!" to their requests. I also challenge authors to invite local or even national celebrities, corporate leaders, and other influencers outside the book world to write and post reviews for their book on Amazon and other major retailers' websites. Such reviews can be persuasive—sometimes more so than reviews from lesser-known reviewers in the publishing industry. Authors can establish connections with these reviewers in the same way one builds any relationship: saying hello, making conversation, and being friendly and excited about their ideas, fields, and books. Authors have to be bold and courageous in these efforts. They also have to wear their armor when they do this—because for every success, some rejection is inevitable. Busy and overwhelmed bookstore owners will turn you away; an executive's secretary may refuse to connect you to the CEO; an editor may be rude—but on occasion, you might be fortunate enough to reach the right person at the right time. Ultimately, depending solely on social media or emails to spread the word about your book may not be enough. To give your book the best chance, you have to take risks and challenge yourself to reach out to people you never imagined contacting. Stand strong, and be endlessly persistent—and you might just be surprised! written by Robert Pruett, publisher