MOWMT Day #17: Vivian Kirkfield Celebrates...Whatever!
HAPPY WHATEVER: CRAFTING A HOLIDAY-THEMED MANUSCRIPT
by Vivian Kirkfield
Today actually is a holiday…it’s St. Patrick’s Day. In fact, there’s probably a holiday every day of year in one culture or another. Holidays are a common theme that runs through many of my favorite childhood story books. Some were adaptations of popular songs, like Frosty the Snowman and Rudolf the Red-Nosed Reindeer. Others, like A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens and The Gift of the Magi by O. Henry were already literary classics. And of course, no current list of holiday books would be complete without The Grinch That Stole Christmas by Dr. Seuss and The Polar Express by Chris Van Allsburg. Plus, when you walk into a Barnes & Noble during any holiday season, you will be met with dozens of newer titles for Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanza, Diwali, Easter, Passover, Ramadan, and more!
So, I guess, dear writers, we should stop writing stories with holiday themes, right?
Parents are always looking for new holiday books for their children – and therefore, editors are always looking for new holiday books to publish.
There are many ways you can fashion a holiday-themed story, weaving the holiday into a fabulously written manuscript that has many other layers. Here are a couple of my favorites that you might be able to use as mentor texts for your next holiday-themed manuscript.
LAILAH’S LUNCHBOX by Reem Faruqi, illustrated by Lea Lyon, published by Tilbury House, 2015.
This is a heartfelt story about a young girl who moves from Abu Dhabi to Georgia. She’s excited to be old enough to fast during Ramadan, but she’s afraid to let her teacher or classmates know about this custom – what if they don’t like her because she is different? A school librarian encourages Lailah to write down how she feels so that she can share it with her teacher and the other students. The backmatter and glossary are informative and perfect for kids and their parents and teachers to learn more about Islamic culture.
So, what is this story really about? It’s really about coming of age and having the courage of your convictions and being proud of one’s culture…but the author seamlessly threaded the theme of a holiday, Ramadan, throughout.
CALAVARA ABECEDARIO: A Day of the Dead Alphabet Book written and illustrated by Jeanette Winter, published by Clarion, 2006.
This is an oldie but a goodie. I chose it because it shows how you can incorporate a holiday theme into an alphabet book. The story is about Don Pedro and his family who make papier-mâché skeletons, or calaveras, for Mexico's Day of the Dead fiesta. From the Angel and Doctor to the Mariachi and Unicornio, there's a special calavera for each letter of the alphabet. And there is a glossary of Spanish words in the backmatter.
GOLDY LUCK AND THE THREE PANDAS written by Natasha Yim, illustrated by Grace Zong, published by Charlesbridge, 2015.
This mentor text might help you write a manuscript based on a fairy-tale. In this clever retelling of Goldilocks and the Three Bears, it’s Chinese New Year and Goldy Luck takes a plate of turnip cakes to her neighbors. When Goldy discovers an empty house, she helps herself to their rice porridge, chairs and beds. And what makes the story even more fun is that it is set in modern Chinatown and the back matter includes information about Chinese New Year and a recipe for turnip cakes.
Li’l RABBIT’S KWANZAA written by Donna L. Washington, illustrated by Shane W. Evans, published by Katherine Tegen Books, 2020.
Inspired by the trickster character from African-American folklore, Brer Rabbit, this is a story about Li’l Rabbit who is NOT having a very good Kwanzaa. Granna Rabbit is sick, and so his family won't celebrate his favorite part of Kwanzaa this year: a big feast called Karamu. Li’l Rabbit sets out to find a special treat for Karamu so Granna can celebrate anyway, but no matter how hard he searches, he can’t find anything. He worries that he is too little to be of any help. This is a story that celebrates the true meaning of Kwanzaa – coming together to help others.
THE COUNTRY BUNNY AND THE LITTLE GOLD SHOES written by Du Bose Heyward, illustrated by Marjorie Flack, published by Clarion, 1939…YES! That’s right! The original book launched in 1939 and in 2014, they created a special edition for the 75th anniversary. It’s hard to believe that a story with such strong feminist ideals was published back when most women were homemakers…and single mothers were not celebrated.
This is a story about a little bunny who had big dreams but life happened and she became the mother of 21 children. She’s a fabulous mother and her children grow up to become independent and valuable members of society. And then an opportunity comes along for mother bunny to become the Easter Bunny – she faces many challenges but proves that with passion and perseverance, nothing is impossible. (That sounds a bit like all of us authors and illustrators, hoping for book deals)
THE WEED THAT WOKE CHRISTMAS: The Mostly True Tale of the Toledo Christmas Weed written by Alayne Kay Christian, illustrated by Polina Gortman, published by Blue Whale Press, 2020.
Sometimes the inspiration for a story can come from a news report. Based on a true story of how a weed on a Toledo street corner helped spread the giving spirit, this heartwarming book proves that even the smallest gestures can make a big difference and transform apathy into awareness, kindness, and hope.
PIPPA’S PASSOVER PLATE written by Vivian Kirkfield, illustrated by Jill Weber, published by Holiday House, 2023 (this is the board book edition which I am SO excited about – the original hardcover picture book launched in 2019 and the paperback version came out in 2021 – what a lot of Pippa goodness!
Pippa Mouse is busy getting ready for the Passover holiday, cleaning and cooking. But when she can’t find her special Seder plate, she must gather her courage to ask for help from her scary (to her) neighbors: Cat, Snake and Owl. Things go from bad to worse when Pippa falls into the lake, but she finds the plate, Golda-fish rescues her, and everyone returns to celebrate together. This is a story filled with rollicking rhyme and easy-to-remember refrains – which makes it a popular read-aloud.
Holiday-themed books for children will never go out of style – and there are so many holidays to choose from. Look into your own culture for holiday traditions and customs to find authentic material for a new manuscript. Mash up two different holidays for humor. Search for songs that are in the public domain that you might use as a basis for a new holiday book. There is a Universe of Ideas out there – just pluck the one that connects with your heart – and start writing!
Vivian’s bio and social media links: Writer for children—reader forever…that’s Vivian Kirkfield in five words. Her bucket list contains many more than five words – but she’s already checked off skydiving, walking along the ocean floor, and visiting critique buddies all around the world. When she isn’t looking for ways to fall from the sky or sink under the water, she can be found writing stories in the picturesque village of Bedford, NH. A retired kindergarten teacher with a masters in Early Childhood Education, Vivian inspires budding writers during classroom visits and shares insights with aspiring authors at conferences and on her blog, Picture Books Help Kids Soar where she hosts the #50PreciousWords International Writing Contest and the #50PreciousWordsforKids Challenge. She is the author many picture books that have garnered accolades such as Junior Library Guild Selection, PJLibrary Selection, Eureka Honor Award, Best Science STEM Book, and Social Studies Notable Trade Book including Sweet Dreams, Sarah: From Slavery to Inventor; Pippa’s Passover Plate; Making Their Voices Heard: The Inspiring Friendship of Ella Fitzgerald and Marilyn Monroe; and From Here to There: Inventions That Changed the Way the World Moves, plus the upcoming Pedal, Balance Steer: Annie Londonderry, First Woman to Cycle Around the World and One Girl’s Voice: How Lucy Stone Changed the Law of the Land. You can connect with her on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, Linkedin, or just about any place people with picture books are found.
Vivian is offering a prize package consisting of: a copy of Pippa’s Passover Plate (hardcover, paperback or board book version) plus a Picture Book Manuscript Critique plus a 30-minute Author Zoom Chat.
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