Over the past 22 years, I’ve had the privilege of teaching English to immigrants on a volunteer basis in both California and Utah. I’ve also been able to donate hundreds of my multicultural/bilingual picture books to refugee and other charitable organizations for language learning. While I’ve been the teacher, it’s been an education for me. Students from Vietnam, Iraq, Iran, China, Venezuela, Argentina, Mexico, El Salvador, and Syria have enriched my world. These people are so grateful for the privilege of living in the greatest country on earth. (If you don’t yet know that the United States is the greatest country, find a way to live abroad–not simply visit tourist capitals.) While their language abilities vary, they want very much to master English and contribute positively to the community. Some of their stories are too intense for human consumption (and yet these humans have lived them). Sacrifice and struggle seems to be the price to come here. These people are generous with the little they have and are always grateful for help with perhaps the most difficult language in the West. If you can make time to help newcomers, I promise you, it is the cure for self-focus and “the world is going to heck” thinking. Find service opportunities in your area by typing your zip code in the following site: JustServe.org. You will be happier than you are today.
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.
Astronomy, 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.
Yesterday, I was interviewed on Twitter by Profnet–a media company with enough pull to get my photo up in Times Square. Here’s the transcript:
Profnet: Can you please tell us about your background? I was raised in paradise (San Jose/Silicon Valley) —the perfect climate, much like Valparaiso (Chile, where I lived for two years [LDS mission]). I have a bachelor’s in journalism (never planned to be a reporter) and a master’s in International relations. I teach media at a state college in Utah, and am an arts/media junkie (music, art, films, books, theater—oh, and history!)
How did you begin your writing career and have you primarily focused on children’s stories since then? This was a complete accident because I hated writing (and reading) as a kid. While I should have been doing homework in college, I would get ambushed by ideas for kid’s books and write them—thinking I’d get published when I retired from a “real” job. I joined a writer’s group and met a gentleman who wanted to publish one of my manuscripts. Unfortunately, he died the day we were to print. I got a crash course in publishing/marketing. One other publisher asked me to write a true story about an immigrant child. I knew about a girl in my family history who had arrived here alone, not knowing English. I found the account—and then got hooked on family history. Now I’m writing other true immigration stories. I have ideas for novels—but only one is published so far.
What’s the first thing a writer with an idea for a children’s story should do (besides write it)? Hire a professional editor (even for kid’s books). They are affordable and will save you grief/help you stand out!
Karl, Where do you get your ideas and where can other writers find inspiration? This is a hot button (for someone who works in perhaps THE most competitive genre). If you’re not constantly hit with ideas, then “I’d like to write a children’s book” is probably not justification for entering the field. My desk is covered with folders and papers filled with ideas: things people say, scenarios that explode in my mind, phrases that have a fun meter … I may never get them all published.
How can a writer find and work with illustrators? Should a children’s book be illustrated when you submit a manuscript? Only get an illustrator if you self-publish (which I recommend). Otherwise, find a good children’s lit agent and let the publisher match your work to an artist. I find illustrators through networking (LinkedIn writer/illustrator’s groups, alumni groups, people whose work I’ve seen and fallen for—I just persuaded a genius artist I’ve been stalking for years to do one of my books!)
Once you have your book written, how do you find a publisher? You must be unafraid to communicate (phone, mail, email, social media, in person) and you must be unrelenting (but get an editor before you drive agents/publishers crazy—which you will. The idea is that when they finally look at your stuff, it’s wonderful).
How is the process different with books for children and families compared to books for adults? I try to write to entertain adults–regardless of the target age. Adults are the ones who will buy the book. I don’t want them to cringe when a kid asks them to read a Karl Beckstrand book; I want them to get the nuances and humor that the child may not get. I want the parent/teacher/librarian to stay awake and read my books even when they are alone!
Do you prefer having your books published by a publishing house or do you prefer self-publishing? What are the pros and cons of each? After learning so much from publishers (learning isn’t always a good experience) I realized that I would rather control content, MARKETING, and revenues. Publishers make lots of promises, but the author is—really—always the engine for sales, even if a large publisher promises the moon. I don’t like spending 50% of my time marketing, but I would have to do it even with Penguin-Random House. Publishers used to have distributors in their pocket; now most anyone can access distributors.
Once you have your book published, how do you market it, and does it make a difference whether it’s self-published or not? No big difference: you post it on social media; do giveaways on Goodreads, bookbub, Authorsden, Librarything (give it in exchange for a sincere online review—these are important); send press releases—call the media afterward about being a guest/interview subject; if you self-publish, Amazon’s Createspace.com can get you in with major distributors (but you must still contact distributors to truly get your work to booksellers). I don’t usually pursue book signings for two reasons: Bookstores are not the best place to stand out; and, unless you have a large following in a particular city (which you might) you won’t sell a lot of books. Presentations to groups/schools are great.
What are the biggest challenges in the publishing process? Getting reviews/getting your book noticed.
Can you tell us about your latest novel? It’s Young Adult suspense set in the Nevada silver rush: To Swallow the Earth. It won a 2016 International Book Award (also a Laramie finalist). I inherited the manuscript from someone who grew up exploring the Sierra Nevada Mountains on horseback nearly a hundred years ago. My challenge was to develop the characters while preserving the action and authentic language. It’s about a man and a woman who clash in a land scheme that leaves both unsure who to trust—and scrambling to stay alive. In addition to a tough outcast (half-Mexican, raised by Indians), there’s a gutsy heroine who’s unintimidated in the worst kinds of opposition.
Your work is racially diverse with many of your characters being of color and/or bilingual. My stories are really not aimed at a certain audience—they’re not even about racial diversity. They are exciting/witty stories that just happen to reflect the diversity of the world in a natural way.
You speak Spanish? Yes, my mother spoke broken Spanish to us as kids; then, living in South America made it my second language. Many of my books are bilingual with English-Spanish pronunciation guide. I’m learning German.
What are some of your future projects? I’m working on a graphic novel, an audio book, biographies, and more kid’s books.
Where can we find your many books? Amazon/Kindle, Nook, the major distributors (Ingram, Baker & Taylor/Follett, Brodart, BN.com, iBooks, Kobo, OverDrive, SCRIBD), and PremioBooks.com. If you email me that you’ll leave sincere comments/stars online, I’ll send you any ebook free: Karl@ PremioBooks.com.
How much of your personality and life experiences are in your writing? My books are my life laid out in color (my food obsession has found its way into most of my works).
What is your writing schedule? I write or research every day—usually in the morning.
Who were your early writing influences? Who or what has inspired you during your career and ignited your imagination? When I got the measles in the third grade, my grandmother bought me a chapter book: Bicycles North: A Mystery on Wheels by Rita Ritchie. I learned that books can transport and excite. I love Shel Silverstein.
What is your favorite genre to read? I love suspense.
Do you have a favorite comment or question from a reader? I love it when someone says a book I wrote held them captive—or that the twists were totally unexpected.
MIDVALE, 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.
January 27 is Multicultural Children’s Book Day when bloggers, authors and publishers unite to showcase multicultural books for kids, libraries, schools and parents. Multicultural Children’s Book Day creators, Valarie Budayr and Mia Wenjen, enlist authors in book giveaways for educators http://multiculturalchildrensbookday.com/.
Award-winning author, Karl Beckstrand is from San Jose, Calif., but he has lived in many places—including South America. He speaks Spanish and English and can grasp German, Italian, French, and Portuguese. Two companies published his early works. Since 2004 he has run Premio Publishing & Gozo Books, which features black, white, Asian, Hispanic and American Indian characters.
“Twenty of our titles have characters of color,” Beckstrand said, “including a Young Adult novel set in Nevada’s silver rush. Our newest book is ‘The Dancing Flamingos of Lake Chimichanga.’ Many of our books are bilingual with a pronunciation guide in English and Spanish.”
“My first publisher died the day we were to print my first book,” Beckstrand said. “I had to learn the ropes of publishing and marketing.” With that lesson and experience with another publisher, Beckstrand has run PremioPublishing.com for more than ten years.
Premio Publishing has earned its share of recognition. “Bright Star, Night Star: An Astronomy Story” hit number two on Amazon’s Hot New Children’s Books list and won a 2014 UP Author’s design award. “To Swallow the Earth” is a finalist for the Laramie Award. “She Doesn’t Want the Worms – Ella no quiere los gusanos” was in ForeWord Reviews Magazine’s top 10 Best Books of 2011 and featured in School Library Journal. “Crumbs on the Stairs – Migas en las escaleras” consistently ranks in Amazon’s top 10 bestselling books for ESL, large print and Spanish children’s titles. “Bad Bananas: A Story Cookbook for Kids” was praised in Horn Book’s blog, and bilingual app/book “Sounds in the House: A Mystery” was given a nod by Kirkus Reviews.
“We’re working on a graphic novel and more multicultural/multilingual books,” Beckstrand said. “‘The Bridge of the Golden Wood’ teaches children how to earn and save money. ‘Agnes’s Rescue’ is the true story of a girl who walked a thousand miles across the plains into the Rocky Mountains in blizzard conditions (much of the way without shoes). ‘Butterfly Blink’ is the second in a wordless book series.”
All published titles can be found via Amazon/Kindle, Baker & Taylor, Barnes & Noble.com/Nook, Brodart, EBSCO, Flipkart, Follett, Gardners, iBooks, Ingram, Inktera, Kobo, Library Direct, Mackin, OverDrive, Quality, SCRIBD, txtr as well as free ebooks at http://GozoBooks.com.
MIDVALE, Utah, Nov. 26, 2014 — Want to help kids cement their vocabulary skills? A new book—without words—can do just that. Polar Bear Bowler: A Story Without Words is designed to help children create their own narration to engaging, funny images. It is Karl Beckstrand’s eleventh book.
Illustrated by Ashley Sanborn of Lehi, UT, the story is about a Polar Bear that hitches a ride to Antarctica. He’s never seen penguins before; to him they look like something fun to play with. So, the fun begins. The new title has been translated into more than twenty languages.
What would you do if Old MacDonald’s animals ruined your catering business? Ma MacDonald’s response is pretty clever in Beckstrand’s twelfth book: Ma MacDonald Flees the Farm. Activities include finding and naming animals and foods (for ages 3 – 8). The 32-page, soft cover and ebook was illustrated by Alycia Mark of Providence, UT.
True to its multicultural tradition, Premio Publishing’s books feature learning activities and characters of color. Premio’s mystery and language books, non-fiction, ebooks and app are nationally-lauded, invite family learning and together time, and often end with surprises. Premio is celebrating its tenth year.
Most titles may be found via http://www.PremioBooks.com, Baker & Taylor, Barnes & Noble/NOOK, Amazon.com/Kindle, iTunes, Follett/Title Wave, Ingram, Mackin and select booksellers.
Scared of the dark? Follow a gusty pup through an interactive Halloween app: Sounds in the House! Finally, an app that reveals what’s behind many, sometimes frightening, creaks and thuds that scare young and old on dark nights. Sounds in the House is a humorous interactive story with text and audio narration in both English and Spanish, a pronunciation guide, a finding activity and–of course–sounds.
Young children and adults will enjoy the jittery puppy, created by illustrator Channing Jones, who takes action and finds he is safe and loved. “It’s about facing fear,” says author Karl Beckstrand. “Once you know what causes those squeaks and bumps, you find there’s seldom cause to be afraid,” he says. Still, it is fun to see what makes a dog—or a person—jump, given the right start.
Not that anyone needs a comprehensive list of what keeps people awake at night, but Beckstrand’s mystery book Why Juan Can’t Sleep chronicles–with hilarity–every possible cause for insomnia. A finalist for a Utah Book Award this year, the newest edition in the Mini-mysteries for Minors series has finding activities and illustrations by Spanish artist Luis Sanz that grab readers and aid comprehension. From wild dreams to noisy neighbors, crazy critters and too much Chinese food, Beckstrand makes sure adults and kids are entertained at Halloween or any bedtime.
Beckstrand’s mysteries feature characters of color and usually end with a twist. They have been lauded by the Horn Book blog, ForeWord Reviews, Kirkus, and School Library Journal. Many are available in English-only, Spanish-only, and bilingual versions–with full text and pronunciation guide in both languages–and as e-books (for ages 4 – 10).
Other mysteries include: She Doesn’t Want the Worms – Ella no quiere los gusanos, Crumbs on the Stairs – Migas en las escaleras. Sounds in the House may be heard in any home. Ask for the app or mystery books at: Sam Weller, King’s English, Premiobooks.com, Ingram, Baker & Taylor, Amazon/Kindle, Barnes & Noble/Nook, Brodart, Follett, Ingram, EBSCO, Qualtiy Books, Premiobooks.com, Custamizabooks.com, Android and iTunes stores and libraries nationwide. The Sounds in the House app is compatible with iPad, iPhone, iPod Touch, Android Tablets and phones, Kindle Fire, PC/Windows and Mac.
¿Alguna vez, has oído en tu casa ruidos que te asustan? ¿De dónde vienen esos chirridos y golpes? Te encantará descubrirlo. No hay nada que temer; Sounds in the House – Sonidos en la casa es una aplicación chistoso que explica las causas de esos sonidos espantosos. Este Halloween, aprenda sobre el temor, el valor y la amistad — con un perrito bravo. Un misterio divertido para toda la familia (2 años y arriba), incluye una guía de pronunciación en inglés y español, un actividad de búsqueda, dibujos vividos para ayudar con el vocabulario — y sonidos. La aplicación es compatible con iPad, iPhone, iPod Touch, Android Tablets y telefonos, Kindle Fire, PC/Windows y Mac, y viene gratis con la compra de cualquier libro misterio por Premio (via Amazon, Baker & Taylor, Brodart, Follett Library Resources/BWI Title Wave, Ingram, Barnes & Noble/Nook, EBSCO, Premiobooks.com, Sam Weller’s.) La aplicación puede ser comprado en Custamizabooks.com, Amazon/Kindle, Android y iTunes.
Midvale, UT, USA — Students and teachers love books with minority characters. For author Karl Beckstrand, it’s a lesson learned. School demand has grown for Beckstrand’s activity books, which feature black, white, Asian and Hispanic characters and come in Spanish and bilingual versions. Having protagonists that appeal to broad groups increases interest in the subjects–which include astronomy, mysteries with finding activities, nature and animals–even a cookbook for kids.
Families get instruction too–with stories and activities. This fall Beckstrand will present his multicultural books at three book fairs. Beckstrand has had titles in Amazon’s top ten large print children’s books and their top ten Spanish children’s titles. She Doesn’t Want the Worms! A Mystery was named among the top ten books of 2011 by ForeWord Reviews Magazine and was featured in School Library Journal. Beckstrand also offers ebooks and a biingual app: Sounds in the House!
Beckstrand is writing a non-fiction series about immigrants overcoming obstacles. He hopes these true accounts will inspire people of all backgrounds to reach for good goals, regardless of circumstances. He regularly speaks about writing and publishing to classes, schools and other organizations. Beckstrand’s books are distributed via: Ingram, Brodart, Baker & Taylor, Follett/BWI, Amazon/Kindle, Bn/Nook, Sony/ibooks/Kobo, and Premiobooks.com
Original posted 2/7/2012 11:17 PM
Midvale, UT, USA — Publishing is evolving and crossing borders like never before, as is children’s literature. Amazon.com’s recent entry into Spain and the explosion of Spanish-language ebook platforms are indicators of the next big publishing market.
Sales of Spanish language books in the United States demonstrate significant demand–including for children’s literature in Spanish. Bilingual author Karl Beckstrand has seen demand grow for his Spanish-language and bilingual picture books and e-books. Beckstrand has had three titles on Amazon’s “Hot New Releases” in Spanish list. His Spanish titles outsell the English versions, though most of his titles come with an English/Spanish pronunciation guide. Positive national reviews by the Horn Book blog and ForeWord Reviews don’t hurt either.
Customers are not all likely to be to Spanish-speakers. It may be that individuals, schools, and families agree with Amazon: an additional language is a good idea. Considering that native Spanish speakers are more common than native English speakers worldwide (the only other native language more common than Spanish is Mandarin, according to Time and Wikipedia), Amazon’s lead should be followed. Beckstrand’s picture books may be a good start.
Premio Publishing & Gozo Books has been delighting families and educators since 2004. Our multicultural app, non-fiction stories and biographies, ebook mysteries, and activity books (geography, astronomy, Spanish & bilingual, finding/counting, opposites, animals and nature, and a kid’s cookbook) have diverse characters in funny, engaging, vivid color. Nationally-lauded (School Library Journal, Kirkus Reviews) our educational stories capture attention and create repeat readers. Not about ethnic or racial diversity, they simply feature black, white, Asian, Hispanic and mixed-race children–with family values like courage, sharing, and giving. Find them via: Baker & Taylor, Barnes & Noble/Nook, Brodart, EBSCO, Follett/Title Wave, Ingram, Kindle/Amazon, Mackin, Overdrive, Quality Books, Sony/iBooks/Kobo/Android, and Premiobooks.com (SEE online books); a gift of laughter, learning & family fun for ages 2 and up (because bedtime should never put parents to sleep!).
Original Post by Karl Beckstrand: 11/22/2011 9:26 AM