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.

Family Stories As Multicultural Kid’s Books!

My mom was an avid genealogist. As a child I found the dry dates and names boring (and I certainly didn’t want to look for them on ancient microfilm reader machines!).

But in 2007, a publisher asked me to write a children’s picture book about an immigrant child. I remembered that my great-great aunt had immigrated as a ten year old from Sweden and had a remarkable experience when she arrived. Her story was found in her short autobiography and in my great grandmother’s journal. The hybrid book, Anna’s Prayer, was the result (beautifully illustrated by Shari Griffiths).

I became hooked on family stories and digged up/cobbled together biographies on about seven generations of my ancestors. I’m Swedish, South African, English, Irish, Scottish, Swiss, and French. (We hope to learn soon whether there’s American Indian in the mix.)

It has taken ten years, but I finally have published my great grandmother’s part of Anna’s story as an illustrated book/ebook. It’s called Ida’s Witness. I grew up hearing Ida’s account as read on occasion by her son, Vernard Beckstrand, my grandfather. Ida was the first of her siblings to join The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Sweden, quite vocal about Christ’s gospel, and fearless in the face of religious persecution.

Because of chronic illness, Ida was often confined to her bed (or hospital beds) and had time to study the Bible as a girl. When Ida’s mother tried a poultice from a local plant on Ida’s arm as a remedy, Ida’s arm suddenly became swollen and useless.

Fearing Ida would lose her arm, her mother took her to the city to find a doctor, but it was apparently Sunday afternoon when they got to the city and a doctor wasn’t likely to be found until Monday. The ladies ended up in a conference of the Church of Jesus Christ, where Ida received an overwhelming conviction that this was Christ’s church restored to the earth.

She was baptized that evening and given a priesthood blessing. The next day, her arm was completely back to normal. From that time Ida told everyone she could about living prophets, continuing revelation, and priesthood authority. Such declarations brought fierce opposition from peers and authority figures. But Ida would not be silent.

When Ida and Anna had the opportunity to come to America, they left their mother and brother—hopeful that they could be reunited again in the United States one day. Because Ida had been contracted to work in Idaho and Anna had to stay with an aunt in Salt Lake City, the sisters had to separate. They each had harrowing experiences as strangers unable to communicate in English.

But my great grandmother was a determined woman. She worked to be able to communicate her testimony in this new country. I’m so grateful for her courage and grit. She concluded her autobiography with this message:

“Even though I have had a lot of pain during my life, I have had a wonderful, happy, pleasant life. … I made a resolution many years ago that I would bear my testimony every time I had a chance. … I want to [tell] my children, grandchildren … and all of my descendants—and to the whole world—that I know I am a member of the *true Church of Jesus Christ. I know that Joseph Smith was a true prophet, that Our Heavenly Father and his Son, Jesus Christ, visited him. … I [am] very thankful to my Father in Heaven for protecting me; that through the inspiration of his Spirit I was able to bear testimony of the true Gospel, restored to the earth through the Prophet. … May God bless you all that we may all be together in the hereafter.”

It’s a thrill for me to be able to make her witness available “to the whole world.”

[Note: *Because of the phrase “true church,” some people have erroneously concluded that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is exclusive. In reality, Church doctrine states that all people (except a handful of enlightened, but rebellious, Latter-day Saints) will be saved in glory. Contact me for information on why we search for our ancestors and “seal” them as eternal family units.]

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!

A Magic Cape of Careers, Colors, Cultures & Costumes

When I wrote Great Cape o’ Colors, I didn’t plan on it being about careers—I just wanted a Spanish-English picture book to teach colors to language learners. I came up with different costumes that include capes (costumes kids might try at home). I knew the book would have a pronunciation guide and diverse characters (something I try to have in all of my books). But after getting the artwork back from the illustrator, I realized this was also a book about jobs for kids—and it fit nicely with three other books I’d written on careers.

Suddenly, I have a career book series (along with series for STEM, bilingual, food, mystery, wordless, and immigrant books). The Careers for Kids series also includes Ma MacDonald Flees the Farm (about a woman-owned business. FREE now), Bright Star Night Star (for aspiring astronomers), and The Bridge of the Golden Wood: A Parable on How to Earn a Living—which was selected by the State of Vermont for primary school curriculum on financial literacy. These books link to a site with job and business ideas plus money management tips: ChildrenEarn.com.

As a former Silicon Valley recruiter, I’ve noticed that many high school (even college) graduates aren’t prepared to work their way up to a desired position (or run their own business or manage money). I wanted to share ideas that spark imaginations to discover gratifying activities that can become marketable skills. I especially wanted kids to learn that our best ideas and skills are born while solving problems and helping others.

I learned Spanish while serving the people of Chile for two years as a volunteer. Being bilingual has enriched my work. Over the past couple of decades I’ve taught English as a second language; I believe that serving immigrant ESL students helped me qualify to teach college, which I’ve done for nearly four years. I regularly speak on writing and marketing in schools as well as to private and government organizations. That networking has opened all kinds of doors for me to other professionals and clients.

“This is a magic cape!” begins Great Cape o’ Colors. It certainly has been for me. I feel like one of the superheroes inside (even without a cape). John Collado’s illustrations are wonderful. I’m especially grateful to my native language editors (who make me look good), Gema Ortiz de Gurrola and Diana Sanzana.

Great Cape o’ Colors – Capa de colores: English-Spanish with Pronunciation Guide is my 20th book–free now on Netgalley.com and soon on Kindle. It’s available in hard cover, paper, or ebook (single language or bilingual) through PremioBooks.com, Amazon/Kindle, Baker & Taylor, Barnes & Noble/Nook, Brodart, Ingram, EBSCO, Follett, iBooks, and Walmart.com. YOUR comments on Amazon, Goodreads, Netgalley, or Smashwords.com can make a big difference in the book’s reach–I certainly welcome followers there and on Bookbub, Youtube, FB, Pinterest, Instagram, Google, or Twitter (search Multicultural Children’s Books by Premio Publishing). Hard ISBN: 978-1732069619, soft ISBN: 978-0692220986. WATCH the book trailer here.

Multicultural Children’s Book Day 2018

Tomorrow is Multicultural Children’s Book Day. I encourage you to check out the links here and get/give books that reflect our diverse world.

MCBD site: http://multiculturalchildrensbookday.com/

Free Multicultural Books for Teachers: http://bit.ly/1kGZrta

MCBD2018 Book Reviewer Sign-up: http://multiculturalchildrensbookday.com/our-programs/reviewer-tools-works/

MCBD2018 Offline Classroom Celebration sign-up: http://multiculturalchildrensbookday.com/category/offline-classroomlibrary-event-project/

MCBD2018 Book Donator details and sign-up: http://multiculturalchildrensbookday.com/sponsorship/sponsorship-info/authors-donate-a-book/

MCBD2018- Ways to celebrate January 22-27 http://multiculturalchildrensbookday.com/how-to-get-involved-in-multicultural-childrens-book-day-2018-for-a-week/

Free Classroom Empathy Kit for Homeschoolers, Organizations, Librarians and Educators: http://multiculturalchildrensbookday.com/mcbd2018s-free-classroom-empathy-kit-is-here-empathy-immigration/

Free Kindness Classroom Kit for Homeschoolers, Organizations, Librarians and Educators: http://multiculturalchildrensbookday.com/teachers-classroom-kindness-kit/

Free Diversity Book Lists and Activities for Teachers and Parents: http://bit.ly/1sZ5s8i

Diverse Books in Your Home Library: Parenting Global Kids: https://theeducatorsspinonit.com/20…

Multicultural Book blogs:

http://multiculturalchildrensbookday.com/how-to-get-involved-in-multicultural-childrens-book-day-2018-for-a-week/

Jump Into A Book

https://www.imyourneighborbooks.org

https://diversebookfinder.org

https://readingcultr.wordpress.com

https://PragmaticMom.com

GozoBooks.com

Children’s Book Council, Junior Library Guild

Russian Books for Children https://theeducatorsspinonit.com/20…

Social Media and Hashtag: Don’t forget to connect with is on social media and be sure and look for/use their official hashtag #ReadYourWorld.

Facebook https://www.facebook.com/MulticulturalChildrensBookDay

Twitter https://twitter.com/MCChildsBookDay

Instagram https://www.instagram.com/readyourworldmcbd/

SPONSORS – PLATINUM: Scholastic Book Clubs

GOLD: Audrey Press, Candlewick Press, Loving Lion Books, Second Story Press, Star Bright Books, Worldwide Buddies

SILVER: Capstone Publishing, Author Charlotte Riggle, Child’s Play USA, KidLit TV, Pack-n-Go Girls, Plum Street Press

BRONZE: Barefoot Books, Carole P. Roman, Charlesbridge Publishing, Dr. Crystal BoweGokul! World, Green Kids Club, Gwen Jackson, Jacqueline Woodson, Juan J. Guerra, Language Lizard, Lee & Low Books, RhymeTime Storybooks, Sanya Whittaker Gragg, TimTimTom Books, WaterBrook & Multnomah, Wisdom Tales Press

Serving Brings Happiness

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.

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Folk Tale Shows Kids How to Earn

Adults get business and money-making tips too

Doing things for free may not sound like a great recipe for earning; but a new picture book by a former Silicon Valley recruiter shows how providing free service can build skills, ideas and a reputation — all of which can bring income.

 

“Some people graduate from high school or college and expect to be paid right out of the gate,” said author Karl Beckstrand. “Most employers want experience,” he said. “Seeing problems and providing solutions — even without pay — can give job seekers the edge.”

 

“The Bridge of the Golden Wood: A Parable on How to Earn a Living” (for ages 5 and up) came to Beckstrand after he had visited many schools, observing almost no curriculum on earning money.

 

Beckstrand’s 18th book (number one in three Amazon categories) shows how a child with an eye for solving problems helps some hungry fish and finds a treasure. This illustrated Asian folk tale comes with ideas for businesses, finding customers and managing finances.

 

“I hope it helps bridge the gap,” Beckstrand said, “between what kids aren’t being taught and what they need to know in order to make a living. Money shouldn’t mystify.”

 

Beckstrand, winner of a 2016 International Book Award, says that earners start young — with no expectation of reward. “Doing something for nothing not only helps you feel good,” he said, “it gives you experience, a good reputation and, sometimes, money-making ideas.”

 

“Many children and adults lack confidence that only comes through experience,” said Beckstrand. “We get experience by finding and filling needs, solving problems.”

 

While he wanted to be a rock star, Beckstrand’s first job out of college was as a technical recruiter in Silicon Valley. “I got that job because I had worked some summers and semesters as a human resources assistant.”

 

Some of the people Beckstrand recruited had great ability and egos, some had no ability and great egos, but some had an idea of what they didn’t know,” he said. “The latter group had the best chances because they wanted to learn how to bring value.”

 

Beckstrand worked in high tech, sales and public policy before publishing his first book. “I did get to sing professionally,” he said, “even if our band was basically a wedding band. The point is, by trying lots of things I learned what I like and developed skills that help in any industry.”

 

“Maybe you don’t get that Fortune 500 job,” Beckstrand said, “maybe, while you’re serving someone in need, you get an idea the turns into the next Uber or Amazon, only it’s your company.”

 

After a couple of books through other publishers, Beckstrand now runs Premio Publishing in Midvale, Utah. They specialize in multicultural mysteries, biographies and language books for families. “They’re not about race or ethnicity,” said Beckstrand. “They simply happen to have characters of color.” They have received awards and raves from national publications like School Library Journal, Kirkus Reviews, Horn Book’s blog and ForeWord Reviews.

 

Even after getting a master’s degree, Beckstrand noted that none of his courses taught earning or managing money. He says his most valuable education has come from running a business and living abroad. He has included tips he has learned in “The Bridge of the Golden Wood,” written in dyslexic-friendly font and available in hard cover (pre-order), soft cover and ebook (free thru July 23 on Kindle) via major distributors and PremioBooks.com.

Beckstrand will contrast traditional with digital or self-publishing on Thursday, June 29 at 7 p.m. at the Kearns Library, 5350 S. 4220 West in Salt Lake City.

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Anna’s Prayer Re-released

Almost ten years ago, I was getting ready for my wedding (which I, ultimately, didn’t attend). A publisher approached me about writing a non-fiction story about an immigrant child. I told them I had such a story in my family history. Former LDS Relief Society General President Bonnie Parkin had, in a General Conference talk, told the story of my Great-great Aunt Anna, who immigrated from Sweden as a child—without her parents. I had more details in my Great Grandmother Ida’s journal.

I contacted Sister Parkin and asked if we could collaborate. While she had other priorities on her plate, she sent me copies of Anna Matilda Anderson’s journal (Anna is her husband’s grandmother) and told me I could use it as I pleased.

It was fun to compare my great grandmother’s perspective to her sister’s. Each had her own miraculous experience in her youth, which bolstered their new-found faith. Each had frightening experiences traveling without parents—separating mid-journey to live in different states.

BYU illustration graduate Shari Griffiths was asked to illustrate the story once it was complete. While Shari and I each got painful educations in the publishing process, she did an outstanding job on the art.

The result was Anna’s Prayer, the true story of 10-year-old Anna, who arrived alone in Salt Lake City—not knowing anyone and unable to speak English. Alone in the train station in the middle of the night she prayed for someone who could speak Swedish to come to her aid. The answer to her prayer went beyond what she could have hoped.

The book was well received and sold out in some local Costco stores. After a few years, publishing rights to Anna’s Prayer reverted to me and illustration rights to Shari (who now has several active children—and no desire to illustrate). This year, I purchased rights to the artwork and, finally, have re-released Anna’s Prayer in more affordable, paperback and ebook versions. I’m now working on my great grandmother’s story—as a prequel to Anna’s. I’m so excited to tell this—also true—story to the world! Here are some links to Anna’s Prayer: http://gozobooks.com/annas-prayer.php       http://tinyurl.com/zgnb5ka