Sunday, October 16, 2011

Ken Baker: Children's Author: Advice to Aspiring Authors

Advice to Aspiring Authors

"Every once in a while I'm contacted by aspiring writers for advice on how to get started as a children's book author. Whether they want to write picture books, chapter books or YA, my advice is pretty much the same. . . ."

Ken Baker: Children's Author: Advice to Aspiring Authors

Monday, September 26, 2011

Hanford Chinese Moon Festival - Living History

No one to my knowledge has written anything that comes within a shadow of portraying the epic feat of the Chinese in the building of the West. Quotation fromThe Chinese Railroad Men

Celebrating the Chinese Harvest Moon Festival in China Alley, Hanford, California is a way to breathe life and realism into the study of California’s gold rush years. You and your favorite kids can watch authentic lion dancers, sample moon cakes (think not-too-sweet Twinkie traditionally filled with all manner of things—but often with plum paste at the Hanford festival), reconnoiter through the gold rush era museum and Taoist Temple and visit with descendants of Chinese Pioneers. From gold mines to farms, from railroads to mercantile establishments Chinese immigrants helped to build the American west and this is an especially exciting year as Hanford's China Alley is now listed in the national registry of endangered historical sites. I am privileged to be invited to participate in the festivities again and I’d love to see you there! I’ll be signing my series of China-related mathematical adventure picture books in China Alley between noon and 4:00 pm, October 1, 2011. You'll recognize me right away. I'll be the one with a tangram quilt on a lap-quilting hoop.

For more information about the celebration see "China Alley set for Annual Moon Festival" in the The Hanford Sentinel the source of the delightful photo above.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Getting Ready for Geometry

Readiness for Euclidean geometry can be gained by teaching intuitive geometry or by giving children an opportunity to build increasingly elaborate constructions with polygons (closed plane figures having three or more straight sides)
-Jerome S. Bruner , 1966

Many quilt blocks allow us to experience polygons in a special way. Boys and girls alike are enticed by the colors, textures and patterns of traditional quilts. Earlier this year my niece Marlene provided passage on a quilter's cruise for me. Some gift, right? Classes were filled by the time I registered so before sailing I cut all the pieces for a tangram block quilt (green, yellow & red-- see my quilt block layout above) to piece together by hand. In 2000, when The Warlord's Puzzle hit bookstore shelves, a master quilter in upstate New York designed this tangram block. For detailed instructions see my newly updated website on the bottom of the "For Teachers" section. Quilt block pieces may be enlarged to suit. During scheduled "Quilt at Sea" classes, I settled myself on a comfortable deck chair and stitched my tangram blocks. Passengers strolling by stopped to ask about my colorful project. I "just happened" to have a copy of The Warlord's Puzzle and chatted about how touching, arranging, and sewing plane geometric figures helps prepare children to learn Euclidean geometry. During my seven day cruise I met lots of delightful people and was able to piece an entire lap-quilt top. Now I am hand-quilting the sandwich of quilt top, batting and backing. I find my bright handcraft perfect for the slow times at book signings--a fine conversation starter about picture book crafts and mathematics learning. If you choose, you'll find this project perfect to share with your favorite kids--an equally fine conversation starter about squares, triangles, rhomboid parallelograms and practical geometry.

The picture below is one of my fellow sailer/quilter's take on the tangram pattern. For instructions on paper-quilting the tangram block request pattern & instruction from

Thursday, August 4, 2011


As a post script, I won honorable mention in the Shabby Apple Dare to Design contest with this entry. I've already spent my prize gift certificate! My mom used to say, "take it big." I agree. We dreamers and darers need to take the even tiniest of successes "big."

Kids (and their elders) need to dream dreams and find the courage to make their dreams come true. I’m entering Shabby Apple’s Dare to Design contest to prove I’m dreaming! Shabby Apple Dresses
offers Internet shoppers dresses in classic and vintage styles.

My entry is a daffodil of a spring dress in light-weight cotton fabric, with white trim edging the round collar, cap sleeves and empire waist. Shabby Apple promises to include the winner in their spring list and this is the kind of dress I dream of finding--with simple, sunny comfort and a mid-knee-length skirt!

The contest is open until August 10, 2011, if you'd like to share the dare. Rules


Thursday, July 28, 2011


In my own grieving of so many losses during my fifty-nine years, I have learned to ask myself sooner or later in the process: “what is the gift of this loss?” Rev. William L. Vaswig, President P.P.M. (1990)

I awakened this morning to the news a grandson of a dear friend died last night of a drug overdose. My friend’s heartache is deep and unavoidable. She grieves for promise unfulfilled and sweetness lost. Her grandson wasn't a rebel or a tyrant. He was a gentle, artistic boy, troubled beyond his family’s reach. In her own mourning my friend hurts, too, for her granddaughter--the younger sister who found him lying on the floor. My friend is no stranger to loss. She’s faced death with strength and dignity often through her life. She wonders how her granddaughter will manage?

There should be pat answers and a five-point lesson plan for helping kids face death.
The closest I can find is the following meditation written by my pastor for
A Sadness Shared (1999), a chapbook Judith H. Hussain and I co-authored.


My son’s hamster died recently. Devastated, Joel mourned Chester as you and I would grieve the loss of a close friend.
I had read that it is good for children to experience the death of a pet without parents’ jumping in to save them. In this way, children learn that sorrow, with time, hugs and understanding, can be overcome. This made sense to me.
Although I hated to watch him suffer, I determined not to rush out and buy a replacement present, a game, or an outing. Instead, I escorted him, his younger brother, Seth, and a neighborhood friend to the back yard. Joel wept as he dug the grave and drove the cross into the ground, but the real pain came as each one of us said, “Goodbye, Chester. Thank you for being my friend.” The boys asked me if there was an animal heaven. I said I hoped so. As we prayed together, even I got wrapped up in the sadness.
From this experience, Joel learned that “dead” means gone from this earth. He also knows he is strong enough to survive sadness and that family and friends can help. He knows a little about funerals and mourning.
Above all, he understands that time heals.
Rev. Paul Demant

"Dead" means gone from this dimension of earth. With God's help, one can be strong enough to survive sadness. Family and friends can help. Funerals and mourning must be endured. In even the most wrenching loss there is a gift, if one can dare to ask. Time heals. We've learned these things, maybe to guide our kids through the same lessons.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Sharing Wonder

won•der [ wúndər ]

noun (plural won•ders) Definition: 1. amazed admiration: amazed admiration or awe, especially at something very beautiful or new

2. something marvelous: a miracle or other cause of intense admiration or awe
. . . online Encarta Dictionary

If I had influence with the good fairy who is supposed to preside over the christening of all children, I should ask that her gift to each child in the world be a sense of wonder so indestructible that it would last throughout life, as an unfailing antidote against the boredom and dis-enchantments of later years, the sterile preoccupation with things that are artificial, the alienation from the sources of our strength.
If a child is to keep alive his inborn sense of wonder without any such gifts from the fairies, he needs the companionship of at least one adult who can share it, rediscovering with him the joy, excitement and mystery of the world we live in. . . . Rachel Carson. Woman’s Home Companion (July 1956)

I’ve spent lots of time thinking about wonder,wondering what fosters a sense of wonder in my life? I recognize wonder as a wellspring of creativity and find my answers both unique to me and essentially quite trite—my puppy Otis, each new blossom in my iris garden, bluebirds nesting in our homemade birdhouse, quiet time in the little overstuffed barrel chair in the corner of my office, any mountain stream with even the tiniest waterfall, children, answered prayer, honest friends, quirky family.

My mom used to say children only remember things they learned in a white heat. By that she meant things taught with wonder and excitement. My most beloved graduate advisor Larry Ecklund gave aspiring mathematics teachers the materials to make lots of hands-on teaching aids. I fell in love with one I never fit into a tradition primary mathematics lesson but used often, a small wooden viewer with a peephole, a birthday candle and a mirror at each end to reflect the light infinitely. He said it was to foster wonder. California’s standards based learning with scripted lessons leaves teachers little time to explore wonder in the classroom. Makes being an adult who can share wonder with children take on fierce importance. Think about what fills you with amazed awe and admiration and share it with a kid.