What a Beautiful Morning Story Hour Kit

17048_v.tifMany in our communities struggle with dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. While the disease affects the entire family, children can feel the changes in a loved one most acutely.

How can you be a catalyst for conversation and connection?

We are pleased to offer early childhood and elementary educators, librarians, booksellers, and Alzheimer’s Disease and dementia support groups:

What a Beautiful Morning
STORY HOUR KIT

The picture book What a Beautiful Morning by Arthur A. Levine & illustrated by Katie Kath (Running Press) explores Alzheimer’s disease in a gentle, age-appropriate manner. Be prepared to sing and celebrate the bonds of family!

This kit offers resources, activity sheets, and suggested dialogue to:

• Partner & Advertise an Alzheimer’s event for families
• Discuss the book and Alzheimer’s disease
• Share Alzheimer’s Resource sheets
• Explore Art with children
• Sing book-themed lyrics to Row, Row, Row Your Boat

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“The book does a nice job of explaining some of the memory loss and confusion that can be typical of Alzheimer’s, and provides age-appropriate explanations…The comprehensive toolkit takes that several steps further by discussion how the illustrator has used color to provide meaning and foreshadowing into the book.”
—Ruth Kolb Drew, Director of Family & Information Services, Alzheimer’s Association National Office

THE FREE STORY HOUR KIT

Explore The Event Kit for Libraries, Schools and Alzheimer’s Organizations (PDF)

Do you like to design your own event marketing materials? Story Time Poster (JPG)

 

What a Beautiful Morning: An Interview with Arthur A. Levine

9780762459063An interview with author Arthur A. Levine about his acclaimed picture book What a Beautiful Morning (Running Press).  Interview conducted by Kirsten Cappy of Curious City.

You love to sing, and your character in What a Beautiful Morning loves to sing.  Was music a part of your family experience and relationships?

“My dad was a very enthusiastic singer.  He loved nothing better than to walk around the house early in the morning singing at the top of his lungs, ‘Oh, what a beautiful morning.’ (That was sometimes very irritating if you were trying to sleep.) But music is the connection between me and my dad, and singing is at the heart of this book.”

How did dementia affect your father and your family’s relationship with him?

“As my father began to develop dementia, he began to forget things, and certain types of activities would be difficult for him. He’d have a hard time conversing. He’d lose words. Then it progressed to the point where he didn’t recognize us all the time, and he couldn’t find his way around the house anymore. My son would be his guide: ‘Here grandpa, follow me. The bathroom is this way, follow me.’ It was very poignant to see how they were still finding things to connect them. I started writing this book because I was so moved by that process and very aware of my own sense of loss.”

Could your father still access music during his dementia?

“Music was the thing that my father had almost literally till the day he died.  This was the point at which I couldn’t have a conversation with my father—that was too difficult. If, though, I sang a line of a song to him, he could sing the next line. He had all the lyrics and all the tunes of all the songs he knew. It would be like having a conversation, to sing, ‘Oh, what a beautiful morning.’ He’d sing, ‘Oh, what a beautiful day.’ It was like having a conversation about the weather, only you know, as a kind of an aria, like an ongoing opera.”

What was it like seeing Katie Kath’s illustrations for What a Beautiful Morning?

“Katie Kath did such a beautiful job. She was so creative about how she translated the feelings and the experiences in the book into line and color.  She would fade out the color when Grandpa was feeling faded out of life. She captured the moment a song came into his mind and came out of his mouth.  All the color came back into his face. It’s such a perfect and beautiful metaphor.”

What do you hope happens with this book? What would you like this book to do in the world?

“I guess with every book, you hope that you really get to the essence of an experience and that it contributes to a reader’s sense that ‘you’re not alone.’ For anybody who has had the experience of a relative who has changed bewilderingly, I hope that they will read the book and feel some sense of comfort.”

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A Generous Book-Maker for Everyone – some thoughts for Vera Williams

I read just now that Vera Williams has died and am suffering that intensely personal sense of loss that book lovers can feel for someone who has moved and inspired them so much, in private moments, curled up, a world unfolded on your lap, smiling through that wonderful silent conversation between the book and the turning pages, and the images, and the reader. You can always go back and have those particular conversations again – that’s the beauty of this sort of intimacy! – but the creative force that produced those books is present now only in what’s been left behind.

I never knew Vera Williams personally; my connection to her was always that of fan-to-author. She was about the same age as my mother, though; when I heard her speak she reminded me of some ardent, passionate politically leftist artists in my parents’ circle. And her books held a combination of sincerity, beauty and warmth that spoke to me in the same way that my favorite aunts and “aunts” (those friends of family who were too close not to be thought of as relatives) might, calling you over to their side on a couch, telling you a good story about the old neighborhood.

By the time I was getting ready to enter the industry (1984), Williams had already launched a vibrant career. But it was her books about Rosa that seemed to embody all the things I loved about children’s books, all the things I felt were important, all the good I felt could be done. Her characters lived in a multi-racial world, presented unselfconsciously, an obvious and true – if perhaps mildly idealized, but that was/is the case in lots of picture books – reflection of a world I recognized. The stories themselves were filled with genuine emotion – a child striving to buy a comfortable chair to replace one lost in a fire, a group of kids finding a way to entertain a sick grandmother. And her art was carefully nuanced and impactful. Its naïve style suggested spontaneity, while the consistent quality of all her books gave strong evidence of rigorous planning and design.

Sometime in 1985 or 86, in a besotted conflation of my personal response and my professional admiration for Vera Williams I made an embarrassing faux pas unique (I hope) in my career. A struggling editorial assistant, and a hopeful writer, I sent Vera a copy of a manuscript I’d written. (How did I get her address, I now wonder. There was no Google. No websites. It must have taken detective work.) It was a story about a woman who embraces the changing ethnicities and racial characteristics of her neighborhood over several decades, and stands up for it (literally) by chaining herself to an old tree that is threatened by an uncaring government.

I am full of sympathy for the kid who did that. The themes WERE Williams-esque maybe. She would have been an amazing artist for the book. Greenwillow would have been a dream publisher. But oy, the inappropriateness of sending it to the artist directly!! Totally embarrassing.

Fortunately Williams responded to my action with kindness and generosity. In a letter I opened with trembling hands, she said she liked my story. She encouraged me to continue writing! But, she said, treating this chutzpah-filled young writer with far more seriousness than I deserved, she had too many books of her own that she wanted to do.

Thank goodness, really. The world needed her to spend time on all those wonderful contributions she made in those thirty years.

Thank you again, Vera Williams. And thank you Susan Hirschman, Ava Weiss, and Virginia Duncan. Who knows how many lives have been touched, how many hearts soothed, how many smiles of recognition have broken out in the course of reading the wonderful books of Vera Williams. Millions I’m sure. With many more to come.

Progress

Day 2

Sometimes a beginning ‘s

More drinking than drawing

Less writing than thinking

More hemming and hawing

And when I say drinking

That’s coffee of course

Though perhaps I need liquor

To remount this horse

Right now I’m just staring

While the horse flicks its tail

Not even beginning the trot down the trail

One day, zero pages, 12 weeks in duration

I add up the sums of this hoary equation

Oh how and oh why am I facing this path

Having signed up for Writing

I’m saddled with math.

Book Browsing

The other day, before seeing Blue Jasmine (which I found completely depressing) I went shopping in Book Hampton, a small indie. I didn’t have anything in particular that I wanted to buy. I was happy to browse and see how and if I was inspired.

The first thing I did was insert myself into a conversation between an enthusiastic, very young sales clerk and a lady my age looking for a book for a 14 year old boy whom she didn’t know. The three of us got into a discussion of what she DID know about him (he was a good reader, he was experiencing some bullying, he liked fantasy) and which books might appeal: WONDER? THE GOLDEN COMPASS?  I hope it was helpful. The customer didn’t know me, nor did she know the sales clerk. But from our brief conversation I imagine she got a bit of “personality context” to judge whether our recommendations made sense, beyond what she could have gotten from reading the titles in brief posts on the internet.

Then I shopped for my son, and found some Tin-Tin books (later he would grab one and climb the stairs to his grandparents’ cozy room to read one, and would not even make it beyond the top of the stairs where he settled, book open, to read the entire thing uninterrupted!)

For myself I found a mystery whose title and author I would never have remembered, but when I saw it I said, “Yes! I’ve been meaning to read that!” (I’m sorry, Watchung Booksellers, I felt a little guilty buying at another store, but at least it was another Indie…?)  My husband stumbled onto a book that explored the slave-owning history of a local family of which I was not aware.   And there were a couple more “finds” that actually, at this moment I cannot recall, but will be happily surprised by when I look into the BookHampton bag when I get home.

Now, I feel a little self-conscious writing such a baldly old-fashioned paean to the physical book store experience.  But honestly, as a consumer, I just can’t capture that same thing virtually.  I OFTEN don’t remember the title or author of the book I heard someone raving about the week before, or of which I read a review three weeks ago.  Handling the physical book reminds me. And inspires me to buy. I also, OFTEN,  find posted consumer reviews lacking in context, and just plain insufficient to convince me to buy a book. Plus…I don’t know…I just like to SHOP in bookstores.  Would our time waiting for the movie have been as much fun if we sat in Starbucks, each of us scrolling through our tablets?

I worry that these feelings and opinions of mine are like particles of dust in a cloud stirred up by a roaring truck that sped by two minutes ago.  But I also worry that folks don’t know how urgent it is that they support their local physical store if they themselves want to preserve this same shopping experience. Yes, some are holding on, thank goodness. But it is a battle, every day.  (It’s kind of like voting, in some ways. I know so many people who have the same political points of view that I might have, and yet who don’t get out there to vote because they assume their town, or their state, or the country will vote overwhelmingly one way or the other and render their vote insignificant. It’s true that one vote may be insignificant. But those votes add up. Sometimes to a landslide.)

So here I am, being a little sentimental about bookstores today, before I turn to work on a novel that may or may not ever have a shelf to sit on.

Alternative Self

This post is dedicated to “Dr. Art Levine” of Los Angeles.  Wordpress informs me that a good portion of the people who landed on my blog were searching for him and they found this instead.  I’m going to go google the guy now…ok that was a weird exercise. There are SO many Arthur Levines on Linked In alone (I myself am NOT on Linked In thought I get “invitations” to sign up all the time) it’s like looking in a fun house mirror of alternative lives.  There’s a pretty good-looking Arthur Levine who’s a “Financial Executive” in Florida. And there’s the always affable-looking Arthur Levine who is a leading Educator.  Seems to be a pretty wide variety, though alas, no Arthur Levine the gorgeous bodybuilder.  No Arthur Levine playboy-billionaire. No Arthur Levine reclusive head of an Island-state somewhere in the Caribbean, last seen here in this photo with Colin Farrell.  Oh wait — there ARE pictures of me with Colin Farrell; he helped us launch the book CLICK – a collaborative novel that was to benefit Amnesty International.  That FEELS like an alternative me (did I really get to stand next to Colin Farrell with his arm around me??) but isn’t.

This is in fact why I included the “A.” in my Imprint name: Arthur A. Levine Books. At the time of my imprint founding I belonged to  a synagogue in New York City where there were three other Arthur Levines beside me.  So I could only imagine how many other generic Arthur Levines were out there in the world.  

It’s a strange sort of twinning, really.  One that it never occurred to me to think about as a child growing up without the internet.  Back then I wondered what it would be like to have someone ELSE to talk to who looked like me, who sounded like me, who had the same sort of brain as I did, but who maybe had different experiences.  There was no one like that, of course. But there WERE all these other people with the same name, growing up with different families, having different experiences, making different choices.  If I met these other Arthur Levines would there be ANYTHING familiar about them?

I’ve reached a stage in life where I am struggling to make conscious choices.  How do I want the summary of my career to read? What would I like people to say about me in general?  I don’t want to coast in anything I do — not my job, not my marriage, not my friendships.  Too often coasting leads to cessation.

So I’m heading out for a ride, folks, doffing my hat at all you other Arthur Levines out there, all the many versions of my ACTUAL self smiling at me from Google’s search engine, and of course, to any of you who might be reading my bloggish nonsense on this beautiful August day.

Please be nice to any Arthur Levine you happen to meet.

Inclusion

First of all, I feel I must apologize for posting this on TUESDAY. I was originally going to call this blog “Countdown to MONDAY” (as a reference to my upcoming book, and as a nod to the schedule I promised myself I’d keep of at least one blog post a week…!) But I woke up yesterday convinced that it was SUNDAY. My son had had a sleepover so I slept past 6:30 a.m., a blessing that made me feel as if I were a teenager again. I was just pouring myself coffee when a friend called to say “where are you??” I had promised to meet him at the local tennis courts to work out. “SORRY!” I blurted out, gulping the coffee. “I’ll be right there!!!” And that’s how my day went…! C’est la guerre. Oui?

Today I took the train into the city, reading THE HORN BOOK Magazine ( http://www.hbook.com ), and I was fascinated to read Ellen Wittlinger’s article, “Too Gay? Or Not Gay enough?” In it she laments the fact that the Lambda Literary Foundation (www.lambdaliterary.org) has changed the rules for its literary award, so that it is granted to an author who identifies as LBGT, rather than a book that portrays the LGBT experience In explaining the shift, Ellen likens the new terms to those of the Coretta Scott King Awards, which are granted to African American authors and artists, rather than books that portray the African American experience. My understanding of the goal of the CSK awards is that they are intended to support and honor writers and artists who are part of a community whose artistic achievements have been (woefully) under-recognized. The Lambda Literary Foundation’s previous terms (Ellen goes on to say) were more like those of the Sidney Taylor Awards which recognize books portraying the Jewish experience without regard to the writer’s religion. The goal for this type of award, I think, is to encourage a broader inclusion of Jewish characters and themes in all literature, and to help identify such books to an interested audience.

From where I sit, both these outcomes are good ones: I think it’s a good, valid, and fair thing for any group to establish an award that recognizes the contributions of people in that group. I also think that it’s a fantastic thing to encourage the production of literature that reflects the true diversity of our culture, and speaking for myself, from a multiple-minority perspective, I’m only concerned with how real, how authentic the characters (and their settings) FEEL to me, which has more to do with the writer’s skill and empathy and sensitivity than anything else. (In other words, Ellen, you’re exactly gay enough for me!)

I guess, from my perspective as an editor and a reader, I also see, in practical terms, how far we have to go before our literature even begins to reflect the complex world of TODAY, let alone the comfortably integrated, harmonious world I wish my child to see. How else to explain why, in 2010, I had to ask an experienced and fantastically talented artist why it was that his sketches reflected a world that was entirely Caucasian. Was that his intention? I asked him. Was he making a comment on this world, that all the adults and children were white? (It wasn’t his intention, it turned out, and he was happy to have his cast be a great deal more diverse.)

How else to explain why, in 2010, in manuscripts that are submitted to me almost all the characters I see who are Jewish, seem to live in the shtetls of 18th Century Eastern Europe? (Except for those who are the victims of Nazis in World War II). Not that those aren’t perfectly reasonable times and setting to explore. But really? Are there NO JEWS in contemporary America who fret about going to the mall and finding the makings of a Haman or Queen Esther costume that is flattering to the figure as well as acceptable in a Purim carnival?

How else to explain why, in 2010, writers are still feeling compelled to send the gay ex-boyfriends of their protagonists to fiery deaths in auto-accidents?? Can’t the protagonist just cry on the shoulder of his best friend, eat too many donuts and make vicious comments about the ex behind his back? Even better; can’t they just fall in love and have it be amazingly wonderful and imperfect and full of insecure parties and hand-holding-while-watching-tv-sit-coms?

To be clear: I’m really not suggesting that these particular plot points are things “I am looking for.” It’s the natural inclusiveness that I long for, where what makes a character a “minority” is not portrayed as pathology, but shown clearly and precisely through the diamond-sharp lens of character specificity.

Is that too much to ask?