Mary Quattlebaum’s books about pirates, ghosts, and the natural world encourage a love of reading and wordplay. A childhood in rural Virginia fostered Mary’s love of sound and included the whicker of horses, the bob white call of quail, and her dad reciting nursery rhymes at bedtime. As the oldest of seven children, Mary often read to her younger siblings, and they frequently visited the local library. She majored in developmental psychology in college, and received a Masters in English (with a focus on teaching writing) from Georgetown University. Mary has worked as an 18th century waitress for Colonial Williamsburg, a writing instructor, and the director of a poetry and family folklore progam for older adults. As a medical writer for a children’s hospital, Mary first became interested in writing for children. She now lives with her family and pets in Washington, D.C., and has published many award-winning picture books, books of poetry, and novels for children. A popular school and conference speaker, Mary also teaches in the Vermont College MFA program in Writing for Children and Young Adults and reviews books and writes frequently for the Washington Post, Washington Parent, and various magazines.
In her interactive K-5 presentations, Mary shows students the book-making process, from idea to draft to sketches to the actual book. She gets them excited about writing by sharing lively poems, pirate lingo, and playful facts about wild critters.
Pirate vs. Pirate
Pirates are all the rage these days. Disney feeds the hype on the big screen with the Pirates of the Caribbean series, on TV with Jake and the Never-land Pirates, and on the printed page with a variety of books, including this one. The bearded Bad Bart and the maven Mean Mo meet on the high seas to find out, once and for all, which of them is the best pirate in the whole world. They spit insults at each other, swim with sharks, hurl cannonballs, arm wrestle, and eat hardtack. Every test ends in a tie. The final contest is a treasure-counting test. Bad Bart counts higher and higher; Mean Mo counts higher and higher. The results are in–again, a tie! Bart and Mo realize at last that they have found their equal in each other. A frenzy of treasure-sharing leads to sweet words and finally marriage. After a honeymoon in a pirate lagoon, they sail into the sunset in side-by-side pirate ships. Bust out your best pirate-speak and enjoy the dialogue of this rivalry-turned-romance. 2011, Hyperion/Disney Book Group, $16.99. Ages 4 to 10. Reviewer: Heidi Hauser Green (Children’s Literature).
Jo MacDonald Saw a Pond
Illustrated by Laura J. Bryant
Every once in awhile, a picture book is the perfect marriage of text and art; the art, design, and layout of this new vision of the familiar childhood song is a lovely example. Observant readers will be clued-in from the front cover that there are a lot of things to watch for as the pages reveal Jo’s afternoon at the pond. Prepared with her sketchbook, she is seen dashing down to the pond on the double-page spread with the bibliographic information. Beginning with reeds that “swish-swish here” (and “there”), the reader is treated to the appearance of the pond’s inhabitants one by one, as they are spotted and then drawn by Jo, who is obviously fascinated by nature. The text is full of wonderfully descriptive sounds that match each animal–children will love to echo the “scree-scree” of the red-winged blackbird, “chat-chat” of the raccoon, “flick-flick” of the white-tailed deer, and the “whir-whir” of the dragonfly that flits across the beautiful watercolors. Bryant’s visual additions expand the storyline by revealing Jo’s experiences as the story-song progresses, allowing the reader to make many “hidden” discoveries and immerse themselves in the pond microcosm. Readers will anticipate and predict which creature will be introduced next; even younger readers can be encouraged to do so. Here, Bryant is simply brilliant with the small glimpses that she “sneaks” onto the right-hand page, creating giddy drama as the page is turned to spotlight a specific animal. My favorite spread shows a close call for the dragonfly–there are fish in MacDonald’s pond! Topping off all of this charm is an activity in the back which encourages readers to match fabulous sounds to their makers. Backmatter also includes other activities for children of different ages, as well as an educational section that discusses the “Pond Community.” Lists of books and websites are also included to round out this valuable contribution to classrooms, libraries, and homes. This book is perfect for sharing nature (science and ecology) with children in a “most natural” way. It is positively perfect for read aloud sessions and a delight to share with a youngster one-on-one. 2011, Dawn Publications, $16.95 and $8.95. Ages 2 up. Reviewer: Sheilah Egan (Children’s Literature).
Jackson Jones and Mission Greentop
Plot 5-1 is rented in the name of one basketball-loving Jackson Jones. Not his choice, mind you, but his mama thinks the city is no place for a boy to connect to the earth. This little square of dirt behind a garden gate downtown is just what he needs to ground him, or so she thinks. What she does not realize is that just showing up to tend the weeds with his fellow Rooters is causing this 11-year-old more grief than seems fair. The school bully, Blood Green, goes out of his way to make Jackson’s life miserable. Snide greetings like “Bouquet Jones” and “Barn Boy” do not help. Mary Quattlebaum’s lively story about a plucky kid who learns the value of protecting the past is an entertaining look at the very real historical significance of victory gardens. Her author’s note at the end explains that millions of Americans planted vegetable gardens during World War II to provide food for families at home and U.S. soldiers overseas. She and her husband tended just such a plot. Although some of the problem-solving skills young Jackson employs seem a bit beyond his experience, it is nevertheless a lighthearted peek into the life of one young boy growing up in the city. Though raised by a single mother, Jackson is never without the wisdom of experience afforded by the older neighbors around him. This book is a good pick for an educational opportunity wrapped in light fiction reading. 2004, Delacorte Press, $15.95. Ages 8 to 12. Reviewer: Francine Thomas (Children’s Literature).
Because Mary’s books range from picture books for younger kids to poetry to chapter books and middle-grade novels, she can gear presentations toward the different grade levels at an elementary school.
Number of Students per Presentation: No more than 70.
Grade Level: Kindergarten through fifth
Location: Classroom or school media center with table and chair (no auditorium settings).
Length of Presentation: About 45 minutes.
Mary’s presentations cover a variety of topics:
- Pirate fun (grades K-3). Mary dresses as writer-pirate Captain Q.
- Poetry (especially good for National Poetry Month).
- Book-making process, with focus on most recent books: Pirate vs. Pirate, The Hungry Ghost of Rue Orleans, Jo MacDonald Saw a Pond, and the humorous Jackson Jones chapter book series.
- Rhythm, wordplay, movement, and sound for preschool and kindergarten kids.
Fee: Local (Washington, D.C., Northern Virginia, parts of Maryland): $500 for one, $700 for two, $900 for three, and $1,100 for four presentations at one school in one day. Out of town: $1,400 per day at one school, up to 3 presentations (negotiable). Travel and lodging costs to be paid by sponsoring organization.
Writing Workshops for Kids
Kids can explore and shape their ideas into poems or stories. If time, a public reading at end of workshop gives young authors a chance to celebrate their voices.
Grade Level: Second through Fifth.
Number of Students Per Workshop: No more than 30.
Location: Classroom with desks or tables for student writing.
Length: About 50 minutes.
Fee: Local (Washington, D.C., Northern Virginia, parts of Maryland): $600 for one, $800 for two, $1,000 for three workshops at one school in one day. Out of Town: $1,400 for two workshops and $1,600 for three workshops at one school in one day, plus travel expenses.
To learn more about Mary and her publications, please visit www.maryquattlebaum.com.