Sunday, June 24, 2018

The Rebirth of Young Wolf

JANICE: Yes, Tom's and my Young Wolf trilogy is soon to be born again. Originally published by Random House in their Step Into Reading series, the books will be republished by Eakin Press on August 1, 2018. Tom would be so happy. We both loved Young Wolf like a son.

When we wrote and illustrated the first one, A Mare for Young Wolf, we had no idea it would be a trilogy. Later it grew into a quadrilogy, and finally a pentalogy, thanks to Eakin Press. That's what happens when you fall in love with your characters, both humans and horses.

Here's something about all five Young Wolf books. They stand alone but are best read in this order:

Young Wolf chooses a mare, Red Wind, for his first horse. He thinks she is the smartest, most beautiful horse in his father's herd. But the village bully, Little Big Mouth, makes fun of him, because Comanches believed mares were for women and children - not for warriors.

More than anything Young Wolf wants to be a man. He thinks killing his first buffalo is the way. He begs his father to let him go on the buffalo hunt, but as they start out, Young Wolf grows fearful and wonders why he begged to come.

 One night a wild stallion steals Red Wind away. Young Wolf is determined to get her back even though his father says no man can take a mare from a stallion. Young Wolf sets out to find her and finds more than he is looking for!

Now for the fourth and fifth books, published earlier by Eakin Press:

Young Wolf wants to win the horse race at the tribal fair. So does Little Big Mouth. And that is how the trouble starts. Can Young Wolf's colt, Snow Wind, run as fast as his father, the legendary wild white stallion? Young Wolf thinks so. But Little Big Mouth knows a secret about Snow Wind that could keep him from winning the race. Neither boy can imagine what he will win and lose.
And finally Comanche Song, a story for older readers:

In 1840 Tsena (Wolf), son of a Comanche chief, goes with his father and other chiefs to a peace council with the Texans in San Antonio. The council turns violent, casting Tsena briefly into white man's world, but ultimately on a warpath of revenge that leads across Texas to the Great Water.

This  historical novel tells the story of the Council House Massacre and the Battle of Plum Creek from a Comanche point of view for the first time.
These five books are Tom's and my effort to give readers a look inside another culture with empathy so that we can have peace on earth.

Sunday, April 8, 2018

Connections Books Make, II

JANICE:  Researching, writing, and illustrating books make connections with people who would never connect otherwise. Our first picture book, Victoria House, is the story of a once elegant Victorian farmhouse that is eventually deserted and falls into disrepair. The cover shows her in the old days when she was lived in and loved.

The story idea came from the classic picture book, The Little House by Virginia Lee Burton. In this story a house is gradually surrounded by a city and finally moved back out to the country. As an architect and urban planner, Tom was always interested in revitalizing the central city, including our own Austin. And so we decided to reverse the idea of moving out to the country or suburbs.

Instead we moved Victoria into the "urbs" in the middle of the night.

While researching how a house is moved, we met Big Earl and his family who were house movers. We watched them take apart and move a house, the lower floor and upper floor each on a separate truck. When our book was published, they all came to our book signing at Toad Hall.

Now here she is,  moved, reconstructed,  and lived in and loved once more.

As a model for Victoria we chose a house in Navasota, Texas, that we happened to see on a trip to Huntsville. We stopped and knocked on the door. The house was being used for a writers retreat, so we were welcomed to look around and take photographs. A year or so later the house was bought by a Houston family, almost like the family in Victoria House. When they learned about the book, Tom and I were invited to visit, and we became good friends. Not only that, they hired Tom to do some remodeling of our model, a connection we never dreamed of.

Here Tom and I are standing in the gazebo.

 Finally, one day we were driving through an inner city neighborhood in Austin and saw an old house that had just been planted in a vacant lot. Of course, we stopped and talked with the owner and gave him a copy of Victoria House. 
He smiled. "I've already read your book. It's what made me decide to move this house."
Oh, the power of books!

Victoria House is now out of print but we are hoping to bring it back in a new edition.

For more book connections see our blog for May 2010.

Sunday, March 4, 2018

Girl Power

JANICE:  Girl power is nothing new. Way back in 1703 Antonio Vivaldi was teaching girls in a Venetian orphanage to play every musical instrument, including the bassoon. The girls' orchestra became famous all over Europe. You can read about Vivaldi and these girls, who were ahead of their time, in this book.

Since they were orphans, many of the girls had no last names, so they were given the name of the instrument each one played, such as Catarina of the Viola or Bettina of the Bassoon. Here they are.

Tom's illustrations are true to Venice. We made several research trips and stayed in a palazzo in the square where Antonio grew up. Tom took photos, sketched, and did some plein air painting.
Kirkus Reviews said: "Giving even Canaletto a run for his money, the illustrator sets expressive, natural-looking figures against golden-toned backdrops of 17th-century Venice's rich interiors, splendid vistas, opulent churches and serene canals . . . (A) fetching introduction to one of the great masters of the Baroque era."

By the time we finished this book I had fallen in love with Vivaldi and these orphan girls, so I wrote another book about one of them, Anna Maria.

Her father made a violin for her before he died. When she plays it, she hears his voice. At the orphanage she quickly becomes Vivaldi's favorite student, making Paolina, one of the other girls, jealous. One night she steals Anna Maria's violin and throws it into a canal. Can Anna Maria ever get it back? Read this book and find out.

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Love and Loss

JANICE:  There is a price to pay for great love, and that is great loss. My soulmate, my husband, my book partner, and the father of our two sons, Karl and Daniel, passed away last Christmas. Tom and I were like one and now I am one-half. The only respite comes from the love of my family, close friends, and my work.
Our Home
Tom gave his artistic talent, his strength, his humor, his gentle manliness to our sons. They say he was their first and best teacher. He also left a legacy of his award winning architectural designs - churches, libraries, schools, and homes, including ours. And he left illustrated children's books and watercolor paintings of scenes from all over the world. Thus he achieved immortality.

Bethany United Methodist Church
On the Edge: Santorini

Illustration from  I, Vivaldi
We met in Aspen, Colorado, during the Christmas holidays of 1953. After our courtship and marriage we set out on a yearlong trip around the world. Along the way Tom sketched and painted what he saw.

Jaipur, India
Tom always made birthday cards for me, all of which I have saved. Here is one of his most recent, and it breaks my heart.

 Inside he wrote:

Dear Janice,
Queen of my life!
May I forever sit beside you!

Yes, Tom, you will forever sit beside me.

I know Tom wants me to go on writing books for children and young adults, and I'm doing so for both him and me. The current work in progress is a historical novel set in ancient Egypt, called I, Nefertiti. I never write about a place I have not seen and experienced. My second trip there was with Tom. In the presence of the pyramids we stood and marveled at their sheer size that dwarfs the humans flocking around, and at the ingenuity of their builders. As Tom said, "I feel privileged to stand here. The reality is worth a thousand pictures."

I feel privileged to love this man. The reality is worth a thousand teardrops.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Why Not Historical Fiction?

JANICE:  There are writers who can create fantasy and contemporary fiction but I am not one of them. As for fantasy, I don't read it so how can I write it? Contemporary fiction is beyond my abilities because I don't understand the present! My passion is reading and writing historical fiction. I love to bring the past alive. So much research of the past exists in libraries, online, and onsite that helps me understand the times and gives me ideas for story.

The problem is that historical fiction is not as popular today as fantasy and contemporary fiction. There is little market for the genre so publishers are not publishing it. My question is why? Is historical fiction not a form of fantasy? It brings the past alive with characters that a young reader can relate to? What better way to learn history than through a well-researched novel like the following:

Johnny Tremain by Esther Forbes, about a young apprentice silversmith during the American revolution who becomes involved with the Sons of Liberty.

The Bronze Bow by Elizabeth George Speare, that tells of a young Israeli boy who revolts against the Roman occupation.

Wolf by the Ears by Ann Rinaldi, the story of an unacknowledged daughter of Thomas Jefferson and his house slave, Sally Hemings.

Cleopatra's Moon by Vicky Alvear Shecter, the story of Cleopatra's daughter who is taken to Rome when Egypt is conquered.

Comanche Song by Janice Shefelman, that tells about the clash between the Comanches and the Texans from the viewpoint of the son of a Comanche peace chief.

The Eagle of the Ninth by Rosemary Sutcliff, the story of a young Roman centurion in Britain whose cause is to discover what happened to his father's Ninth Legion when they marched north and never returned.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

A Moment of Grief

JANICE: Recently I did an author visit with fourth graders to talk about  A Paradise Called Texas, the story of my German ancestors' immigration to Texas in 1845, which they had all read. Afterward the teacher told me that one of her students had just lost his father and took great comfort in reading how life went on for Mina, the main character, after her mother died.
Cover art by Karl Shefelman
Later I received a letter from that student. Here, in part, is what he wrote:

Dear  Frau Shefelman,
I want to be a poet. Did you start out as a poet?
Have you ever had a moment of grief in your life? I have.

I was stunned. A moment of grief?! I have always been amazed at how young readers relish the sad parts of books. But now I understand that they are practicing life by reading about others. That is why children's literature is so important. We all need practice. So I wrote back:

Dear Marshal,
No, I did not start out as a poet, but that could be your way. And
yes, I have had a moment of grief. No one escapes such a moment. It is what makes us thoughtful human beings and even poets.
Your book friend,
Janice Shefelman

Looking back on my other books I see that many of my characters have had a moment of grief. In Anna Maria's Gift, her father dies, leaving a violin he made for her that seems to hold his voice. When she loses the violin, it is as if she loses her father again.

Cover art by Robert Papp

Cover art by Tom Shefelman
In Young Wolf and Spirit Horse, his beloved mare is stolen and Young Wolf's grief sends him off on a quest.

In Sophie's War, her father must join up to fight in the Civil War. When she learns of a massacre on the Nueces River, she fears that he is dead and makes a dangerous journey to find his body.

Cover art by Tom Shefelman

Cover art by Tom Shefelman
And finally in Comanche Song, Tsena's father, the peace chief, is killed in the Council House Massacre along with many others. Tsena joins his tribe in seeking revenge.

Never underestimate the depth of thought of which children are capable.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Every Author's Dream

JANICE: Here is Hazel who is ten years old and a "great reader," according to her grandmother who keeps her supplied with books, including two of mine. She is also being a good model for her cousin, Athena (a name to live up to).
Hazel is the kind of reader every author dreams of - intent and absorbed in the story. Look closely and you can see she is reading Anna Maria's Gift, my latest chapter book. Notice how lovingly she holds it. She even looks like the girl on the cover. Hopefully as she reads, Hazel will become Anna Maria.
Behind her on the couch is another book, Sophie's War, a historical novel set in Comfort, Texas, during the Civil War.
Thank you for being a great reader, Hazel. Now I can go back to work on a first draft of I, Nefertiti with renewed vigor.
My author-reader story is quite different from an experience Sinclair Lewis had after publishing Main Street back in the 1920s. He was crossing the Atlantic on the Queen Elizabeth for a vacation in Europe. As he strolled the deck, Lewis spied a woman sitting in a deck chair, reading his latest book. Excitedly he hid behind a post to watch her reaction. Suddenly she slammed it shut, stepped over to the rail, and tossed it into the ocean! Every author's nightmare.
As for Hazel, not only is she a reader, she wants to be a writer. And she doesn't just want to be, she is a writer. This summer she is attending a summer writing camp and already submitting her work for publication!
Next comes acceptance or rejection. Acceptance is glorious, but rejection can be good, too. To find out how, read my blog, "Good and Bad Rejections," posted on June 27, 2010.