Seeing Each Other via Books

Keynote address given by publisher Karl Beckstrand to the Utah Educational Library Media Association, Weber State University, 6 March 2020

How important is it that kids see themselves in books?

I’m no childhood development expert; I hope you can look past any incorrect terminology I may use and hear what I hope to convey regarding inclusion.

I was raised in paradise. San Jose, California was founded by Hispanics while the 13 British colonies were starting a war of independence in the East. Nearly half of my home town was Latino. In my day Silicon Valley was drawing high tech experts from all over the world, so my typical childhood classroom was a mini-United Nations.

I was short. I wasn’t one of the rich kids. My mom suffered from fetal alcohol syndrome and a neck injury from a childhood accident. So I often arrived at school in yesterday’s clothes and without a lunch. I wasn’t just ostracized by my peers; one teacher type-cast me as Pig Pen in the Peanuts play. I was also a minority as far as the dominant religion of the area.

But my creativity was nourished and my mom often spoke to me in her broken college Spanish. She had gone to school in segregated Virginia and later developed a special bond with the black community in California.

I served as a volunteer missionary in Chile for a couple years and, more recently, served six years in a Spanish-speaking congregation here in Utah—I use my Spanish more here than I ever did in California!

I hated writing as a kid and—do I confess to a group of bibliophiles? —reading! When I was in the third grade I got the measles and my grandmother bought me a chapter book, Bicycles North: A Mystery on Wheels by Rita Ritchie. That is the first time I remember enjoying a non-picture book. I was transported to a world of adventure.

So how did I come to publish multicultural books? A journalism major offered a short path to graduation. But it gave me writing chops, which have helped me publish a western novel and several biographies.

While I should have been doing homework, I got ambushed by story ideas, which would not let me rest until I scribbled them down. Ten years after getting my undergraduate degree I went to a League of Utah Writers social (not even an actual meeting), manuscripts in hand. A gentleman I met there published my first book. Unfortunately, he died the day my book went to print. I was forced to learn book marketing on my own.

Another publisher asked me to write a true story about an immigrant child. I knew a story in my family history about a girl who came to America alone and not knowing English. That story became Anna’s Prayer—and I got hooked on family history (hence the many biographies in the works).

Language can be a huge divider. What other ways distinguish us—might make a person feel “other than”? Race, sex, dominant culture, religion, socioeconomic level, physical challenges, age, name, legal status, clothing choices, sexual orientation, size, accent, abuse, health challenges, urban or rural background, single parent/grandparent/foster parent, incarcerated parent, deceased parent, parent in the military, politics, literacy/education, mental health, learning disability, neighborhood, family, appearance—or a person may simply be the designated outcast of the group.

Why is it so common for mortals to categorize each other in ways that separate us from those who are different? I do it. Humans compare (we’re often insecure and we think comparing will make it better!).

But life is complex and it’s natural to want simplicity; and categories can simplify things in our minds. So I blame no one for seeking ways to simplify. Yet, how wonderful is it that life keeps throwing differences in our faces—giving us opportunity after opportunity to re-evaluate those simplistic boxes in our minds. Thinking requires effort, but thought and complexity also reward us.

Now that I’m over 50, I’m finding how wonderful it is to not be certain of much! Don’t misunderstand; there are things I am certain of—like the people I love. But when I am not certain of something, I tend to learn and grow. Some “growth” we fear. Let me promise you now: you can never be poorer or baser for having seen a new perspective.

Uncertainty requires courage. Facing fear is a continual theme in my stories. I think many adults are more afraid than they need to be—and that impacts children. How can you best bless a young person? Be brave and optimistic. Even when the worst case scenario unfolds, we are typically more capable than we realize, and unanticipated support often appears. Things are seldom as bad as we can imagine.

I don’t publish books about diversity or multiculturalism. That would be boring. My books don’t preach social justice, and I don’t portray characters of color to be trendy. I like to show the world as I know it—based on my minority status growing up and my observations in four continents and 12 countries. I believe travel is the best education.

If you’re like me, you love learning while being entertained. Many of our books are written in Dyslexic-friendly font. They cover cooking, generosity, astronomy, finance, and habitat conservation. They also have subtle humor and surprise endings. I tend to produce more picture books than other titles because they can be published more quickly than novels or non-fiction—and story ideas continue to hound me.

Since I’ve taught English as a Second Language to immigrants for more than 20 years, making my books in bilingual and Spanish editions was a no brainer. They come with a pronunciation guide in both languages. Since I’m learning German, language-learning challenges remain fresh in my brain. I have more than one native professional Spanish editor, since some terms can mean different things depending on the country.

Can one publisher realistically portray all cultures, circumstances, faiths, or families? I don’t think so. Will an Arab child be harmed if she or he never sees an Arab character in a book? I’m not sure they would be; children have wonderful imaginations and—like you—can typically identify with the feelings or situations in a book regardless of outward differences. Even in middle-grade or Y.A. literature, authors seem to devote less time to a character’s physical description. I think that is laudable (and good for sales) in that the reader is more able to envision him/herself in the protagonist’s shoes.

Here’s a tip for aspiring writers/illustrators: Some books have animal or non-human protagonists—which can be easy for just about anyone to identify with. Certainly children’s imaginations facilitate this kind of connection. Still, a child WILL notice if they never encounter their own culture or circumstances or choices in literature. And that would be sad. So we try to portray as many kinds of characters as we can.

Our books aren’t necessarily books about cultures. I’m not trying to ignore cultural differences, but to normalize everyone, showing how much we all have in common. Regardless of origin or creed, most of us experience the same kinds of desires, fears, joys, family highs and lows; and of course we all need food, clothing, and shelter. No one culture has a monopoly on loneliness or loss or love, on blended or divided families, on oppression or oppressiveness, on a love for music, on a desire for justice.

Yet, I think there is a real danger in our quest for justice or equality. That is the danger of thinking we know best how to spot and solve inequities. For most of my life I believed in meritocracy—that people should be rewarded or trusted based on their choices or performance. I felt this was a good standard because it wasn’t based on physical appearance. But meritocracy has its flaws too. It can delude a person into thinking that his or her choices alone determine outcomes and happiness. Worse, meritocracy can lead to discrimination in that we can categorize people as “smart” or “good choosers” based solely on outcomes. But we can’t truly see all the factors behind “success” or “failure.”

I’ve noted that individuals (and groups) are prone to carry both praise and blame beyond what is appropriate; And that I am never in a position to judge a person based on outward appearances or even success. Individuals who seek to improve things based on outward signs alone can end up creating new problems. In this land, where human rights are so valued, our quest for equality has begun to trample the rights of the most important minority: the individual.

Perhaps the greatest individual right that sparked our war of independence was the right to worship according to individual conscience. Whitney Clayton said, “If you believe public and private institutions should credit the dignitary claims of racial, ethnic, gender, and sexual minorities, then please consider that many of the same reasons for doing so apply with equal…force to the dignitary claims of religious believers.”

The right to choose and publicly express one’s faith is one of the main reasons America separated from England. While some think faith choices are as casual as selecting a t-shirt, my convictions are the core of my identity. If you doubt that religion should have special protection under the law, consider the millions of hours of voluntary service to community and billions of dollars donated to charity each year by people of faith. Were the government to attempt to replace that giving with tax funds, it would bankrupt the nation. What would happen to crime, courts, and prisons if people of faith could no longer provide scriptural arguments for honesty or integrity? Where I grew up, it isn’t uncommon to encounter a teacher or student who believes it illegal to discuss religious texts or God in schools. Our Constitution guarantees every person the right to study and speak of faith in school.

Now, why is our country so accomplished in so many areas? It is obviously not because of a single superior race or religion or sex or caste. It couldn’t be because our shared language facilitates innovation (those of us who have taught English know it’s terribly difficult). Our country has proven the value of a free marketplace of ideas and, gradually, of finding value in all corners from all cultures and all kinds of people. Many of us know that regardless of how someone appears or talks or worships he or she may be creating the next iPhone or a cure for cancer. While crony capitalism is repugnant, the free competition of capitalism—yes, for profit—has fed more people than any other system to date.

Wilfred McClay said, “For the human animal, meaning is not a luxury; it is a necessity.…[W]ithout the stories by which our memories are carried forward, we cannot say who, or what, we are. Without them…we cannot…learn, use language, pass on knowledge, raise children, establish rules of conduct, engage in science, or dwell harmoniously in society. Without them, we cannot govern ourselves.”

Isaac Bashevis Singer: said, “When a day passes it is no longer there. What remains of it? Nothing more than a story. If stories weren’t told or books weren’t written, man would live like the beasts—only for the day.”

McClay goes on, “A fair and accurate account…must be far more than a compilation of failings and crimes. It must give credence to the aspirational dimension of a nation’s life, and particularly for so aspirational a nation as the United States. A proper history of America must do this without evading the fact that we’ve often failed miserably, fallen short, and done terrible things. We have not always been a land of hope for everyone—for a great many, but not for all. And so our sense of hope has a double-edged quality about it: to be a land of hope is also to risk being a land of disappointment,…even a land of disillusionment. To understand our history is to experience these negative things. But we wouldn’t experience them so sharply if we weren’t a land of hope, if we didn’t embrace that outlook and aspiration.…[W]e Americans allow ourselves to get our hopes up—and that is always risky.”

John dos Pasos said, “[Our ancestors] were not very different from ourselves, their thoughts were the grandfathers of our thoughts; they managed to meet situations as difficult as those we have to face, to meet them sometimes lightheartedly, and in some measure to make their hopes prevail. We need to know how they did it. In times of change and danger when there is a quicksand of fear under men’s reasoning, a sense of continuity with generations gone before can stretch like a lifeline across the scary present and get us past that idiot delusion of the exceptional Now that blocks good thinking.”

McClay goes on, “that ‘idiot delusion of the exceptional Now’ expresses something that nearly all of us who teach history run up against. It’s harder than usual today to get young people interested in the past because they are so firmly convinced that we’re living in a time so unprecedented, enjoying pocket-sized technologies that are so transformative, that there’s no point in looking at what went on in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. To them the past has been superseded—just as our present world is forever in the process of being superseded.

“While this posture may be ill-informed and lazy, a way to justify not learning anything, it also represents a genuine conviction, amply reinforced by the endless passing parade of sensations and images in which we are enveloped—one thing always being succeeded by something else, nothing being permanent,…always moving,…moving into a new exceptional Now. But it is a childish and disabling illusion that must be countered.”

Have you noticed that anti-Semitism is growing again? That the rising generation thinks consolidating power into the hands of a few is a good idea? You are in a special position to help young people know the truth. To know that blacks, Hispanics, and American Indians fought for our independence. That one of America’s first millionaires was a black woman (a hundred years before Oprah). Regardless of whether you believe in a creator, you can educate people how rights are not a gift from governments, but are inherent to every individual. That every person is free to choose his/her thoughts and—at least here—actions; that we are not tumbleweeds at the mercy of the elite.

Our system seeks imperfectly to ensure equal opportunity for every individual. No system, no person can guarantee equal outcomes for all. Because an Asian family appears to have all the resources and education it needs to prosper, doesn’t mean we can see their disadvantages. How arrogant to presume that they experience no opposition and that another culture exclusively owns disadvantage? If reparations are needed, they must come only from those who caused harm and go only directly to those actually injured.

People condemn our nation and Constitution saying they were built on slavery. They ignore that slavery was a global infection and that churches and states of Western Civilization (including ours) were the pioneers of abolition and eradicated slavery in our part of the world (today slavery is worse than ever in much of Africa, Asia, and the Middle East). If you read the first draft of our Declaration of Independence, you’ll see that our founders wanted to end slavery, but southern states wouldn’t join the fight against England if those words remained. And if America wasn’t strong enough to gain independence, it would not be able make changes of its own accord.

Our young people need to know how these things were accomplished in such a difficult world. Our secret is in allowing anyone a chance to dream and the opportunity to try for those aspirations. To this day, liberty and equality have to be fought for—but they bear astounding fruits.

My new philosophy (to quote Sally from Peanuts) is to extend love and kindness and opportunity where I can to anyone I meet—because he/she is a fellow creature—and I have no hope of knowing all a person’s circumstances. Since I can’t know all the merit/lack of merit of someone’s choices, I’ve gone from lazy categorizations of ignorance to mindful complexity—back to simplicity in seeking to extend love and respect to everyone on the merit of being a being. I have a long way to go in implementation; but it’s a simplicity not based on laziness (though it has the benefits of laziness:)

Difference is beauty. It is the dynamo of prosperous community. It enriches us all. Your family life alone tells you that we grow because of adaptation brought about by differences. Whether we see our connectedness or not, we are all interconnected and benefit from every other culture.

Printing, gunpowder, and the gear came from China; the turbine from Africa; Algebra from Arabia; the zero, compass, and steel from India; irrigation from Iran; the Piano and Glasses from Italy; the telescope from the Netherlands; the telegraph from Switzerland; Smallpox vaccine, slide rule, and steam engine from England; the electromagnet, radio, and morphine from Germany; refrigeration and penicillin from Scotland; the antenna from Japan; dynamite from Sweden; the electric motor from Russia; the internal combustion engine and automobile from France; the telephone, TV, PC, Laser, and light bulb from America. Much of the world enjoys American music which is a mixture of African, Celtic, Creole, and spirituals. Perhaps most importantly, Chocolate came from Latin America.

If a child feels her/his culture or circumstance is valued, she or he will feel more a part of the community, he or she will be more confident to speak up and share ideas—perhaps lifesaving or life enriching ideas. We are a robust nation because we have valued ideas and effort, regardless of source!

Are you a librarian who isn’t afraid to give a child a book with a difficult vocabulary? I hope you’ll also be fearless in sharing complex ideas too! If you’re looking for resources or guidance on equity amid differences, see http://Ready.web.unc.edu/.

How much more enriched will we be as we seek to cast off our categories and see one another for the glorious miracle that each of us is? This is my invitation to you.

[See Wilfred McClay’s book: Land of Hope: An Invitation to the Great American Story]

New YA Sci-fi, Fantasy, Curricula & Reference Books

Last year, I surprised myself by creating 17 new multicultural products. This year I got help from amazing authors—and am pleased to announce that Premio Publishing & Gozo Books now offers Young Adult Science Fiction, Y.A. Fantasy, Middle-grade, Reference, and Curricula. These are in addition to our Spanish-English picture books with pronunciation guide, e-book mysteries for kids, nonfiction/biographies, romance, western, short stories, humor, wordless books, and STEM activity books.

Now our juvenile titles not only feature characters from various racial backgrounds, they include characters with physical challenges. Today we represent six authors and 12 illustrators from various countries.

Our colorful books have been praised by Publisher’s Weekly, Kirkus, ForeWord Reviews, Horn Book, and School Library Journal and are distributed via Amazon/Kindle, Baker & Taylor, Barnes & Noble, Brodart, ChildrensPlusInc, EBSCO, Follett, Gardners, Apple/iBooks, Ingram, Kobo, Library Direct, Mackin, SCRIBD, Target.com, Walmart.com, and Premiobooks.com.

For insights on our 16 years’ experience publishing diverse children’s books, listen to a recent podcast interview I did here. I’ll be giving the luncheon keynote address to Utah librarians on “Finding Yourself in Kid’s Books” Friday, March 6 at the UELMA conference at Weber State University in Ogden.

Here’s a peek at our 14 new books!

FANTASY

The Spire of Kylet (YA Fantasy) Katrine longs to go far from her father’s farm; but once adventure has caught her, she knows she is ill prepared for a world of magic, mysteries, and evil. 126,500 words by Connie A. Walker; Book I of the Wolkarean Inscription for ages 13 – 18 (grades 7 – 12. Others in the series: The Eyes of Landor [Book II], Triumph at Serpent’s Head [Book III]); 308 pages 6”x9” soft cover (also an ebook. Worldwide rights ©2010 Press Forward Press), YAF019030, YAF011000, YAF045000; ISBN: 978-0984604319

The Eyes of Landor (YA Fantasy) Katrine expected to live a quiet, scholarly life, but fate had other plans. Trapped by a destiny she never wanted, she must learn to fight like a warrior and cast spells like a sorcerer or else surrender to the forces that want to destroyer her. 163,500 words by Connie A. Walker; Book II of the Wolkarean Inscription for ages 13 – 18 (grades 7 – 12. Others in the series: The Spire of Kylet [Book I], Triumph at Serpent’s Head [Book III]); 403 pages 6”x9” soft cover (also an ebook. Worldwide rights ©2012 Press Forward Press), YAF019030, YAF011000, YAF045000; ISBN: 978-0983143833

Triumph at Serpent’s Head   (YA Fantasy) Katrine has bravely faced betrayal, capture, and imprisonment. Now, as she prepares to meet the sorcerer Elnid-Kyeh in battle, she must deal with her greatest fear—that her choices might destroy her future with the only man she has ever loved. 185,800 words by Connie A. Walker; Book III of the Wolkarean Inscription for ages 13 – 18 (grades 7 – 12. Others in the series: The Spire of Kylet [Book I], The Eyes of Landor [Book II]); 461 pages 6”x9” soft cover (also an ebook. Worldwide rights ©2012 Press Forward Press); YAF019030, YAF011000, YAF045000; ISBN: 978-0983143871

Echoes: A Modern Fairy Tale (Paranormal, Contemp. Urban Fantasy) A year before graduation, an accident shatters Karissa Day’s dreams. Confined to a wheelchair, Karissa returns to school lonely and bitter. She is assigned a research project with a challenged, mysterious boy named Neeve who introduces her to a world of magic, which could be the salvation of them both. 120,000 words by Connie A. Walker; Book I of Modern Fairy Tales for ages 13 – 18 (grades 7 – 12. Others in the series: Dark in the Forest [Book II]); 297 pages 6”x9” soft cover (also an ebook. Worldwide rights ©2016 Press Forward Press); YAF019030, YAF011000, YAF045000; ISBN: 978-1940802091

Dark in the Forest (Paranormal, Contemp. Urban Fantasy) Grandmother Powers taught Hellie and her sister, Angel, that the forest behind their house was enchanted, full of unseen creatures. The summer before her senior year in high school, a boy named Kaden tells Hellie that, long ago, powerful artifacts were hidden in the forest by an evil sorcerer. With Kaden’s help, Hellie must employ magic to protect the people and the land she loves. 120,000 words by Connie A. Walker; Book II of Modern Fairy Tales for ages 13 – 18 (grades 7 – 12. Others in the series: Echoes: A Modern Fairytale [Book I]); 244 pages 6”x9” soft cover (also an ebook. Worldwide rights ©2018 Press Forward Press); YAF019030, YAF011000, YAF045000; ISBN: 978-194080216

Timmy and the K’nick K’nocker Ring (Teen/YA Sword & Sorcery Fantasy) Timmy was the shortest, skinniest boy in the whole fifth grade. He didn’t want to face the school bully, so he stopped at the park and sat by the stream. Something glittered in the water. It was a ring. He fished out and slipped it on. POOF! He was whisked to a world that desperately needed someone his size, as long as he was clever and brave. 31,000 words by Connie A. Walker. Ages 8-13 (grades 3-8); 160 pages, 6” x 9” soft cover (2012 © Press Forward Press); JUV028000, JUV037000, JUV045000; 978-0984604333

SCI-FI

Worlds Without Number (Science Fiction) Blake and his roommate, Roger, design and build a vehicle that can travel across the universe, instantly. They each discover their own destiny as a result of the experiences they have as they interact with an advanced civilization. For ages 12 – 18 (grades 7 – 12). 40,000 words by David R. Christensen (cover by Bud Spencer/SUMO Graphics); 189 pages, soft cover, perfect bound 5.5” x 8.5” (Press Forward Press, © 2014); YAF056000, YAF056010, YAF000000; ISBN: 978-1940802022

MIDDLE GRADE

Tivoli’s Christmas (Holiday, toys) Tivoli, a stuffed bear, believes Kirsten no longer wants him because he is worn and tattered. He spends Christmas Eve on a quest to get repaired. Perhaps, if he is handsome as a brand-new bear, Kirsten will love him again. 9,000 words by David R. Christensen, illustrated by Anne Merkley. Ages 4 – 8 (preschool to third grade), 94 pages, 6” x 9” x 0.25”, perfect bound soft cover (Press Forward Press © 2008); JUV017010, JUV017000, JUV040000, ISBN: 978-1940802237

The Mystery of the Grinning Buddha (Middle grade) After 10-year-old Mike’s mother is sick and confined to bed his Aunt Thelma arrives, takes over the kids and the house, and seems to be searching for something. Mike must discover what she is looking for and why his mother doesn’t seem to be getting better. For ages 6 – 8, (grades K – 3). 31,000 words by David R. Christensen (cover by Bud Spencer/SUMO Graphics); Book I in The Millerville Mysteries series (others in the series: The Mystery of the Ugly Bottle [book II], The Mystery of the Haunted Lighthouse [book III]); 158 pages, 6” x 9” soft cover, perfect bound (2009 © Press Forward Press); JUV028000, JUV013070, JUV045000, ISBN: 978-1940802220

The Mystery of the Ugly Bottle (Middle grade) Ten-year-old twins, Jeremy and Jennifer, follow a trail of clues hopefully leading to a treasure trove hidden somewhere on the Miller Estate. The treasure must be worth enough to pay off the coming-due balloon payment for the entire estate. For ages 8 – 12, (grades 3 – 7). 52,000 words by David R. Christensen (cover by Bud Spencer/SUMO Graphics); Book I in The Millerville Mysteries series (others in the series: The Mystery of the Grinning Buddha [book I], The Mystery of the Haunted Lighthouse [book III]); 211 pages, 6” x 9” soft cover, perfect bound (2010 © Press Forward Press); JUV028000, JUV013070, JUV045000, ISBN: 978-1940802244

The Mystery of the Haunted Lighthouse (Middle grade) Jennifer Miller and her cousin, Nicalee, are ten years old. They hope that Jennifer’s father, who has been missing at sea for weeks, is still alive. They follow clues they believe have been left by Jennifer’s father in anticipation of finding him. For ages 8 – 12, (grades 3 – 7). 35,000 words by David R. Christensen (cover by Bud Spencer/SUMO Graphics); Book III in The Millerville Mysteries series (others in the series: The Mystery of the Grinning Buddha [book I], The Mystery of the Ugly Bottle [book II]); 172 pages, 6” x 9” soft cover, perfect bound (2013 © Press Forward Press); JUV028000, JUV013070, JUV045000, ISBN: 978-1940802008

REFERENCE / CURRICULA

5 Essential Steps in Learning to Read (in English & Spanish) (Lesson Plans, literacy) Children can learn to read in 90 days—and your role as teacher will be a breeze. Children love learning through multi-sensory games and activities. Includes 100+ worksheets by Shirley Gaither and Connie Hendricks. Ages 3 – 8 (Preschool – third grade). Bilingual (also in English-only. Procesos Graficos © 2006). 225 pages, 10.75” x 8.5”, Soft cover; LAN010000, FOR007000, EDU029020, ISBN: 978-9992378229

5 Easy Steps to Reading (Lesson Plans, literacy) Children can learn to read in 90 days—and your role as teacher will be a breeze. Children love learning through multi-sensory games and activities. Includes 100+ worksheets by Shirley Gaither (© 2017) and Mary Ann Moon. Ages 3 – 8 (Preschool – third grade). Available in Spanish-English. 122 pages, 10.75” x 8.5” perfect bound, soft cover; EDU029080, EDU029020, LAN010000, ISBN: 978-1092224116

Compound Words (Reference) No longer does a writer need to wonder if a compound word is one word, two or more words, or hyphenated. This book contains an alphabetical list of the 15,500 most common compound words, complete with variations clearly distinguishable by part of speech, frequent usage, and alternate spellings. Ages 14 through adult. 27,000 words by David R. Christensen (cover by Bud Spencer/SUMO Graphics); 288 pages, soft cover, perfect bound 5.5” x 8.5”, (Press Forward Press, 2017), REF025000, REF000000, BUS089000; ISBN: 978-1940802145

See also: The Bridge of the Golden Wood: A Parable on How to Earn a Living (used in Vermont as financial literacy/career curricula)

How Many??

I’ve finished creating my 2020 multicultural children’s books catalog. I really thought I’d been a slacker in 2019, but—HOLY GUACAMOLE—turns out, I created 17 new products this year (for a total of 130 since 2004)!

Publishing sure has changed! It used to be that getting books to readers required the vast resources of a major publishing house. Today, technology has almost leveled the playing field. While I currently reside and work in (practically) unheard of Midvale, Utah, my books are found as far away as the Philippines and Africa.

The big publishers still have muscle behind their promos. But, with 15 years’ experience, I’ve managed to not only survive in (perhaps) the most competitive genre, I’ve carved out a nice multicultural niche with distribution on par with the book publishing giants. Even top reviewers, like Kirkus, Publisher’s Weekly, and School Library Journal have voiced approval.

Some new products are Spanish/bilingual picture books with pronunciation guide; many are hard cover editions of previous titles. I’m especially pleased with the audiobook release of my western novel, To Swallow the Earth, which won an International Book Award.

So how do I get my books noticed? I’ve considered bribery (but I have some standards). Really, it’s persistence. After ensuring I had quality, professionally edited products, I hounded the major wholesalers used by New York publishers—and got signed contracts for global distribution. My books even found their way onto Walmart’s and Target’s web sites (and I’m not sure how that happened).

It is not as simple as signing with a big distributor. It’s always work. You always have to find ways to make a kid’s book funny, to stand out to parents, teachers, and librarians. My target audience is always aging out. I constantly have to publicize to new readers. My company, Premio Publishing & Gozo Books, has also donated hundreds of books to needy kids around the world.

Inclusion is actually critical to success. My children’s books feature black, white, Hispanic, American Indian, Islander, and Asian characters. I grew up in a cosmopolitan part of the country; I speak Spanish and am learning German. My books simply reflect the world as I know it. These diverse kid’s books also have twists and online secrets.

It is time well spent. It’s always a thrill when a library system or school district includes your books. Amazon sales don’t hurt either. I’ve started using Amazon ads and sales there have doubled.

It Came from under the High Chair teaches prepositions in English and Spanish

Multicultural Mystery Book Teaches Prepositions in English and Spanish

My 22nd book, It Came from under the High Chair: A Mystery, almost never got published. I thought the concept of a monster made of spilled food might be too disgusting. Then I saw all those best-selling bathroom/gross humor books and figured the world was ready for my 20-year-old idea. Plus, it’s educational.

LANGUAGE LEARNING

I think kids don’t mind learning if they are being entertained. This children’s picture book teaches parts of speech—namely, prepositions. The bilingual version (out in June 2019) teaches them in Spanish and English with a pronunciation guide in both languages. The English version debuted last month at #1 in its category on Amazon.

MULTICULTURAL

This diverse story book, written in dyslexic-friendly font, includes a counting activity, mixed-race characters (a biracial family—Pacific Islander and Filipino), a wanna-be superhero, a Basset Hound, and a mysterious visitor—all vividly illustrated by Jeremy Higginbotham (for kids ages 4 – 7, plus dual language/ESL/ELL students of any age).

I’ve taught English as a second language as a volunteer for more than a decade; I’ve been a Spanish-English interpreter; and I’m learning German. It Came from under the High Chair is my seventh bilingual book and the fifth in my Mini-mysteries for Minors series (others in the series: Sounds in the House, Crumbs on the Stairs, She Doesn’t Want the Worms, and Why Juan Can’t Sleep: A Mystery?).

I try to include twists and characters of color in all my stories (hey, it’s a competitive genre!). It seems to have paid off. I’ve been fortunate to have my books reviewed by Publisher’s Weekly, Kirkus, Horn Book’s blog, ForeWord Reviews, and School Library Journal. During the past six months two of my kid’s books have spent weeks at number one in more than one Amazon category (one is currently a free book).

WHERE TO FIND

As before, I have wrung out eight iterations of this single monster book title: English, Spanish, and bilingual versions available in paperback and ebook formats—plus the bilingual and Spanish ones will also come in hard cover. These can be found via Amazon, Baker & Taylor, Barnes & Noble, Brodart, EBSCO, Follett, Gardners, iBooks, Ingram, Library Direct, Walmart.com (perhaps Target.com too), and PremioBooks.com.

You can preview and comment on this book now (free) at https://www.netgalley.com/catalog/book/167766. See the book trailer video here. Your stars or comments in online venues really do make a difference in our sales. It’s also on Kindle Unlimited starting June 20. Most of my books are free this July on Smashwords.com. Sharing is encouraged!

Funny Mysteries *One Free* & Halloween Costume Ideas

It seems I’m not alone in having trouble sleeping. As a child I experienced frightening bumps in the night—and an active imagination. Some of my experiences were comical (or, at least, became comical with the passage of time) like being too exhausted to sleep, mosquitoes that buzz the ear before dining, creaking pipes, and bizarre or bad dreams.

Lately I’m kept awake more from restless legs or an overactive brain. The worst thing for sleep is forgetting to silence or turn off my phone. Regardless of age, people can identify with pesky things that keep a person awake at night.

Many of my experiences found their way into a Mini-mysteries for Minors picture book series. My very first book was Sounds in the House: A Mystery about a scaredy-cat dog comically freaking out over nothing (people do this too). After it was made into a Spanish-English app, Kirkus Reviews said it was “suspenseful without ever getting too intense for younger readers.”

Other mysteries followed: Crumbs on the Stairs – Migas en las escaleras: A Mystery (English-Spanish—8,000 in circulation); She Doesn’t Want the Worms – Ella no quiere los gusanos, named in the top 10 “Best Books” of 2011 by ForeWord Reviews and featured in School Library Journal; and Why Juan Can’t Sleep—free now on Kindle. Only mildly spooky, these tales are family friendly. I can’t guarantee they’ll help anyone sleep; laughs don’t usually promote that.

My latest children’s book, Great Cape o’ Colors – Capa de colores, isn’t a mystery; but it gives lots of great Halloween costume ideas for all ages: a judge, a professor, a wizard, a space ranger, superheroes, acrobats, a musketeer, a monk, a magician, a wrestler—among others. It’s child safe, multicultural, and free for Kindle Unlimited users.

Most of these are bilingual books with pronunciation guide. I try to always include characters of color, tame twists, and fun activities in my kid’s books. I hope your family gets a kick out of them—and perhaps some fun costume ideas.

A final warning: If, like me, you still struggle to sleep, don’t listen to Coast to Coast radio or the Mystery Theater before hitting the pillow!

Award winning author Karl Beckstrand speaks on publishing

Arrival?

I’m privileged to be among several multicultural book authors and bloggers. I’ve also been blessed to work with illustrators from around the world, from Israel to Spain to the USA (and co-author a book with a Canadian author). We are changing the world. I plan to post links to multicultural blogs and sites as we approach Multicultural Children’s Book Day in January 2018—send me your links!

Last year I was honored with the International Book Award for a diverse Western novel (clean thriller). This year, the recognition has been wonderful, disturbing, and humbling.

Along with presenting on writing and publishing and participating in library author panels from American Fork to Brigham City, I’ve been the subject of several interviews and blog posts. Three of my Spanish/bilingual titles have been chosen as “permanent selections” in Amazon’s “MesIndie.”

My original Asian fable, The Bridge of the Golden Wood: A Parable on How to Earn a Living was selected by the State of Vermont for primary financial literacy curriculum (downloaded by educators in multiple states and listed on JumpStart.org). ). If you’d like the curricula—free—go to ChildrenEarn.com. Since the book’s release, it:

  • Has had more than 20,000 downloads
  • Has been #1 in more than 5 Amazon lists
  • Is in FIVE top 10 lists and several more top 100 lists
  • Has received 5 Stars by Readers’ Favorite and more than 100 reviews
  • Has been covered in the Chicago News Journal
  • Has national distribution including Ingram, WalMart.com and Target.com

The true account of my dog (and a friend), Muffy & Valor, has garnered five star reviews from nearly everyone who has read it—FREE on Kindle Oct. 17 – 26 (tear-jerker, but happy; you’ll want to comment:).

I’ve also had the dubious distinction of having my work pirated—possibly more times and in more places than ever before.

DOES THIS MEAN I’VE ARRIVED? Not on your life!

What do I need?

REVIEWS – Some people think there’s an expiration date on a review request. To be very clear: a review is welcome ANY TIME!! Reviews increase sales. I’ll give you the ebook of your choice if you commit to a sincere comment online (YES, this IS Kosher with Amazon, as long as you’re not my mom/brother or paid).

SALES (Sales increase my sales!) – Don’t buy my books out of pity or friendship—buy them because they’re fun, diverse stories that entertain (and teach) all ages. They’re written for grown up fun. Buy them because you have a kid you want to grasp STEM concepts or another language. Buy them for friends or family with kids (and any kid would benefit from new thoughts, ideas, and perspectives). Send them an ebook. I often have a free ebook on Kindle plus a couple 99 cent ones.

RECOMMENDATIONS – Tell people about these nationally lauded (Kirkus, School Library Journal, Horn Book blog, ForeWord Reviews) books. Tell your neighbors and coworkers about my Mini-mysteries for Minors series. Tell your book club about To Swallow the Earth. Tell your media pal about my bilingual, wordless, or money books—that they’re on Walmart.com and Target.com. Tell your librarian friend, kid’s teacher, blogger friend about my non-fiction/biographies for kids … that they’re distributed by Baker & Taylor, Follett, and Ingram.

POST, share, tweet, and pin my books (I’d be thrilled to share any cover with you). If you don’t consider me too geeky–follow me. I’d also be more than happy to PRESENT to your club, school group, library, or organization.

Remember to send me links to multicultural kid’s book sites/blogs for January: Karl@ PremioBooks [dot] com.

Me, Inside & Out

People often ask me how I—a South African, Scottish Swede—came to speak Spanish. I also get quizzed about being so thin. Both are the result of my LDS mission to Viña del Mar, Chile. Actually, my mom was an enthusiastic student of Spanish, so she spoke broken Spanish to us while we were growing up in San Jose, California (she used to call me Carlos).

If they are physically and mentally healthy, and if they meet the standards of worthiness, members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have the privilege of serving a volunteer mission when they reach eighteen to twenty something years (also at retirement age). I was healthy, but I’d made some choices that were less than worthy. I remember at 18 going to a room alone and declaring—not to God, but to the devil—that I would qualify to serve a mission no matter what! While my determination was admirable, God knew I could not do it alone. It would be years before I realized that it was Christ’s grace that qualified me.

After submitting an application, having ecclesiastical interviews, medical exams, and my wisdom teeth pulled, it was a thrill to bid my friends and family farewell, get some training, and fly to Santiago, Chile. I LOVED the country, the people, and the language. I got sick almost monthly, and learned what real service was (from the people I had come to serve).

We missionaries saw thousands of people embrace the gospel of Christ and receive the blessings of following God’s plan of happiness. I learned that God’s love is tenacious. I witnessed miracles (especially when I could first understand the fast-speaking people). I gained an appreciation for U.S. freedoms while living under a dictator. I distributed food, helped build a house, and got in-person training from a prophet and apostles. I gained life-long friends with some of the most generous people on earth (we mission associates—gringo and Chileno—still gather whenever we can and marvel at the extraordinary things we were able to be a part of). Mostly, I had a profound and personal assurance that I was doing the most important work on the planet. It’s hard to describe that joy.

What I didn’t realize is that a double course of antibiotics (after having my wisdom teeth pulled) had sent me defenseless into an environment of microbes my body had never known.

At first I only had occasional discomfort once I was home. As the years passed, stomach stress became constant and often painful. Despite visits to Stanford Medical Center and countless other doctors, no one has yet identified or remedied the problem. I soon lost confidence in my ability to control my body. This began to impact my social life. While I’ve dated more women than I can remember or number, each date was first stressful, and eventually became a major effort. Soon, I would return from short dates completely wiped out.

Today my diet is severely restricted—as is my energy. My social life is paltry. I struggle to maintain even a runner’s body weight, and my gut remains inflamed. Please believe that this is not typical for a missionary who gets sick. Most I’ve met have found remedies. (Don’t fear travel, it’s perhaps the best education you’ll ever get—especially if you get away from the big cities.)

Still, I’ve been able to do nearly everything on my bucket list. My Spanish has proven helpful in my work and in countless other spheres. The following isn’t to brag (more to enumerate my blessings) —there’s a point I want to make at the end. In addition to gaining a bachelor’s, a master’s, and a film certificate, I have:

  • Been a commencement speaker for college graduation
  • Taught at a university
  • Sung in rock bands
  • Signed Legislation in D.C. (staffers do it all the time if the rep. is away)
  • Visited 4 continents, 12 countries, and 35 states
  • Created and headed two businesses
  • Volunteered at Stanford University Hospital
  • Helped found a Silicon Valley high-tech organization and handled their PR
  • Published 17 books (many award-winners and Amazon bestsellers)
  • Kayaked in whitewater
  • Lectured to large and small groups
  • Worked for IBM, Intel, and Marriott
  • Piloted a plane (not take-off or landing)
  • Hired hundreds of people
  • Been to an Olympic hockey medals game (my favorite sport to watch)
  • Performed for thousands (even alongside the Mormon Tabernacle Choir)
  • Water skied, snow skied
  • Been a Spanish interpreter
  • Acted in radio, TV, film
  • Been published in magazines & The U.S. Congressional Record
  • Had my scripts selected in competition (one produced on radio)
  • Repelled on and jumped from high cliffs
  • Been an ecclesiastical leader / served on a high council

My point is this: Even with my illness and the impact it has had on my life (I have yet to have a family of my own), if I had to choose between the experiences from my mission or those in the list above, without hesitation I would keep my treasured missionary service. Some might wonder whether I would do it again—knowing beforehand how it would change my life. I wouldn’t give up those changes for anything. If they called me to serve again today, I’d be the skinniest, weakest, happiest missionary on earth. My passport is still current.

STEM Books Spark Curiosity

stembooksmAstronomy, entomology, awards and wit

 

MIDVALE, Utah, Oct. 12, 2016 – Three multicultural books teach astronomy, entomology, zoology (and Spanish) — but kids would never know it from the mysteries, activities and giggles.

Cover contest winner “Butterfly Blink: A Book Without Words” is a new picture book fantasy that helps children (ages 2 – 6) cement vocabulary as they describe the monarch from caterpillar to chrysalis to butterfly. Blink — and they multiply! The e-book version is free this month and includes habitat conservation information for all ages.

“Bright Star, Night Star: An Astronomy Story” (also a cover design winner) is a children’s book that accompanies an American Indian child in finding constellations, stars and other heavenly bodies. It exposes children (4 – 8) to the starry skies, Monument Valley, and a little space science. It is available in hard or soft cover — or as an e-book.

“She Doesn’t Want the Worms – Ella no quiere los gusanos: A Mystery” was named in the top 10 best books of 2011 by “ForeWord Reviews Magazine.” It is an educational activity book about a bi-racial girl who responds to some unusual animal gifts — that happen to be alive — and includes full text and a pronunciation guide in both English and Spanish. Kids (3 and up) or language learners can find and count insects, reptiles, a cat, and a bat. Get in Spanish-only, English-only, or bilingual versions as an e-book or in paperback.

The best-selling author of these nature books, Karl Beckstrand, has 17 multicultural books and more than 45 e-book titles – all family friendly. Beckstrand finds that Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) books can entertain while they educate (STEAM books include the arts). Raised in San Jose, Calif., he will present on publishing entertaining literature Tues. Nov. 1 at 6:30 p.m. in the Weber County Library 2039 W. 4000 South, Roy, Utah and Sat. Nov. 5 from 1 – 4 p.m. at the Viridian Center 8030 S. 1825 West, West Jordan, Utah.

Award-winning Premio Publishing & Gozo Books’ STEM books capture attention, create repeat readers and are nationally lauded (ForeWord Reviews, Horn Book blog, School Library Journal, Kirkus Reviews). Not about ethnic or racial diversity, they simply feature black, white, Asian, Hispanic, Pacific Islander and mixed-race characters. Find them at PremioBooks.com, online and at select retailers.

3 Diverse Spring Books Make Learning Funny

spring booksMIDVALE, Utah, March 25, 2016 – Award-winning author Karl Beckstrand is from San Jose, California. He has 16 multicultural books and more than 40 ebook titles — all of them educational — but kids would never know it from the mysteries, activities, and giggles. Here are three new ones.

“Butterfly Blink: A Book Without Words” is a picture book fantasy that helps children cement vocabulary as they describe the monarch from caterpillar to chrysalis to butterfly. Blink — and they multiply. Blink — and they’re gone! (Stories Without Words series, Ages 2 – 6, 24-page, 8″x 10″, wordless picture book on habitat conservation, ISBN: 978-0692648599)

“The Dancing Flamingos of Lake Chimichanga” is a witty, pink fest with a counting activity. Zany birds with a zest for life, revel, feast and dance on the shores of a shimmering lake. (Ages 3 – 8, 350 words, 24-page, 8.5″x 8.5″, children’s book, ISBN: 978-1512161786)

“Four Spanish-English Books for Kids – Cuatro libros bilingües para niños” is a set with a pronunciation guide in both languages plus opposites, insects and finding activities. (Ages 2 & up for ESL/ELL/ELA, 8″x 10″, soft cover bilingual book with characters of color, 100 page, about 2,000 words, ISBN: 978-1505672626)

Nationally-lauded (ForeWord Reviews, Horn Book blog, School Library Journal, Kirkus Reviews) these soft cover kid’s books capture attention and create repeat readers. Not about ethnic or racial diversity, they simply feature black, white, Asian, Hispanic, and mixed-race characters–with family values like courage, sharing, and loyalty. Find them online, at PremioBooks.com and select retailers.

Flamingos book cover

The Dancing Flamingos of Lake Chimichanga

MIDVALE, Utah, Sept. 9, 2015 — The world is pink. Pink with flamingos reveling on an imaginary lake—the creation of award-winning author Karl Beckstrand. Vivid images for the picture book The Dancing Flamingos of Lake Chimichanga were created by illustrator Ashley Sanborn.

“The story is filled with frenetic flamingos swimming, swooping, and swaying,” Beckstrand said. “I think it will make anyone smile. Kids can count the birds, dances, and foods.”

Quirky birds with a zest for life, revel, and dance on the shores of a shimmering lake. “Pink! Pink birds on a walk, pink flocks in pink socks. Diving, dipping, drinking, dripping, flying, falling, flailing, flipping. Strutting, swaying, swooping, sunning, synchronized swimming—they shimmy. It’s stunning.”

The 24-page, 8.5-inch square soft cover picture book and ebook is for ages 3 – 7 (350 words for preschool to second grade) and has online extras. Beckstrand has 15 multicultural books and more than 40 online titles, many of which feature characters of color. Most end with a twist. His nationally-lauded books can be found at Amazon/Kindle, Baker & Taylor, Barnes & Noble/ Nook, Brodart, EBSCO, Flipkart, Follett, iBooks, Ingram, Inktera, Kobo, Mackin, OverDrive, Oyster, SCRIBD, txtr, PremioBooks.com and select retailers. ISBN-13: 978-1512161786 (ebook ISBN: 978-1310478215)