A tribute to an author and her works
"If you would not be forgotten as soon as you are dead, either write something worth reading, or do something worth writing."
Geneva author Laura Crawford's most recent picture book begins with the above quotation by Benjamin Franklin. I can't think of a more fitting way to begin that book, or this column.
Crawford, who was a beloved author and elementary school teacher, died this month at age 46, after a battle with cancer. I'm devoting this week's column to her books:
— "Benjamin Franklin from A to Z" (2013, Pelican Publishing Company, illustrated by Judith Hierstein, ages 5-10), uses the alphabet format to make Franklin's notorious life and accomplishments accessible to young readers.
Beginning with "A is for American hero," a short paragraph tells readers that Benjamin Franklin was "a printer, author, inventor, musician, scientist, and politician." We learn about Franklin's childhood in "B — Boston" and his participation in the Second Continental Congress ("C"). Readers will enjoy reading about Franklin's inventions, such as "G is for glasses," explaining how he invented bifocal lenses, "M is for magic square," about a number game he invented, and "X is gone!" about the lack of that letter in the phonetic alphabet Franklin wrote.
Hierstein's beautiful, lively watercolors also accompany Crawford's text in the 2005 picture book, "The Pilgrim's Thanksgiving from A to Z."
— "Postcards from Chicago: Traveling with Anna" (2008, Raven Tree Press, ages 4-8) uses a clever postcard format to introduce readers to the city of Chicago.
Each spread features a different attraction, with a photograph on one side and Anna's written note on the other. Across the bottom of each spread are three related facts, written in both English and Spanish.
In one postcard, Anna writes, "Hola Manuel, Today we went to the top of the Sears Tower. It is one of the tallest buildings in the world. Each year there's a race to the top — it's 2,109 stairs! I'd have to train for months! A robotic machine cleans the 16,000 windows. Mom wanted to take the robot home with us!"
In this friendly style, Anna shares facts about Navy Pier, Old Water Tower, the Chicago River, and more. Also published by Crawford in this 2008 series are "Postcards from Washington D.C." and "Postcards from New York City."
— "In Arctic Waters" (2007, Sylvan Dell Publishing, illustrated by Ben Hodson, ages 3-7) is a cumulative, rhyming poem, written in the style of "This is the house that Jack Built."
Giving us a peek at life around a piece of Arctic ice, the text builds to include a fish, a beluga whale and more, until it reads, "This is the polar bear, furry white, that swats at the walrus, ready to fight, that splashes the seal, bouncing along, that teases the narwhal, big and strong, that swims with the beluga, blubbery thick, that chases the fish, small and quick, that circles the ice that floats in the Arctic waters."
Hodson's bold, painted illustrations bring personality to the creatures and setting in this rollicking tale. A surprise ending with the ice breaking just in time to stop an Inuit hunter from reaching the animals keeps readers on their toes. Back matter is included about each animal.
Crawford will be missed, but she will not be forgotten. Her playfulness and passion for language, learning and life live on through her books and through the many people she touched and taught.
Alice B. McGinty (http://www.alicebmcginty.com) is the co-regional adviser of the Illinois Chapter of the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators and the award-winning author of more than 40 books for children. She directs a summer writing camp, Words on Fire, for teens, and tutors school-aged children in writing.