Book Connections & Activities In One Place

COVID-19 has wreaked havoc on educational systems. Now that kids are learning remotely and educators are scrambling to adjust to online platforms, I want to make it as easy as possible for my books to be useful. To that end, I have compiled some of the most helpful book-specific connections in one place.
* Please note that it is a violation of copyright law to publicly share recorded readings of my books without the written consent of each publisher. That said, many publishers are making temporary, limited exceptions. Refer to each publisher’s guidelines.

King of the Tightrope: When the Great Blondin Ruled Niagara
by Donna Janell Bowman
illustrated by Adam Gustavson
Peachtree Publishers

Stay tuned for a temporary video recording of me reading the book in its entirety on a Peachtree Publishing platform.

-Teacher’s Guide, including Reader’s Theatre and glossary of French terms
-Here are some literature connections and critical thinking activities for kids
-Read an 1859 newspaper account of Blondin’s first performance (Primary source)
-More information, including the select bibliography, quote sources, and audio pronunciations of French terms
-Read about how I figured out Blondin’s engineering process
-STEAM companion (shortcut) with engineering and physics terms and simple definitions
-Simplest physics demonstration of balance and center of gravity
-Read about my research with primary and secondary sources for King of the Tightrope
-About the Author’s Note and Afterword for King of the Tightrope
-Here’s one of many fun online experiments for kids to demonstrate a tightrope walker’s center-of-gravity and balance
-Video animation of the science behind how a tightrope walker balances
-Print an image of the Great Blondin, tape it to a pencil and photograph him tightrope-walking in fun places

Abraham Lincoln’s Dueling Words
by Donna Janell Bowman
illustrated by S.D. Schindler
Peachtree Publishers

-Watch the book trailer here 
-Read about what sparked the duel between Abe Lincoln and James Shields
-Peruse the curriculum guide, complete with character education tie-ins
-Here’s where you can see the Select Sources and Quotation Sources
-Read a transcript of Lincoln’s naughty Rebecca letter that led to him being challenged
-See Lincoln’s handwritten note to his “second” with his dueling terms
-Compare the account of Lincoln’s “second” Dr. E. Merryman against James Shields’ second J. Whiteside.
-Men used to settle disagreements with duels. Crazy, right? Here’s more about it.
-In the 19th century, the Gentlemen’s Code of Conduct was supposed to ensure that honor was maintained
-Learn how I researched and wrote this book
-James Shields had a remarkable life. Learn more here.
-See the working timeline for Abraham Lincoln’s Dueling Words. Note how far back my research stretched
-See more about Abraham Lincoln’s Dueling Words here

Step Right Up: How Doc and Jim Key Taught the World About Kindness
by Donna Janell Bowman
illustrated by Daniel Minter
Lee and Low Books

Read Lee and Low’s Temporary Virtual Read Aloud Guidelines
(A few people previously violated copyright laws by posting videos of themselves reading the entire book on YouTube.)

-Watch the illustrator process video
-Watch the author video for TX Bluebonnet Award nomination
-Take the Step Right Up Kindness Pledge
-See the Curriculum Guide here
-Here’s a Q&A about my research process for Step Right Up
-Q&A about Doc and Jim
-Read how I think it was possible for Beautiful Jim Key to be taught so much
-Learn about activism for kids
-Find some fun horse crafts for kids. You can start here. 
-Read about the National Humane Education Society and the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA)


TLA, A book launch, school visits, Classes I’m Teaching, Oh My!

Life-sized Abe Lincoln is ready for photo-opps at my April 15th launch party.

Abraham Lincoln’s Dueling Words

Much has happened within the last month. The book launch trailer for Abraham Lincoln’s Dueling Words released, which makes me all kinds of giddy. Then, on April 1, the book itself hit bookstore shelves. I hope you will get your own copy from your favorite independent bookstore and share it with the young people in your life. I think you will agree that it has powerful tie-ins with character education. And I employed a fun, direct-address narrator that makes it great for read-alouds, too. Be sure to read the expanded content, linked to the book page here. While you’re on that page, if you’re a librarian or teacher, consider sharing the full bibliography and my working timeline with your students. Everyone will be surprised to learn how much peripheral research was required. And don’t miss the teacher’s guide here. 

Though the book released April 1, the official launch party for Abraham Lincoln’s Dueling Words will be Sunday, April 15, 2018, at 2:00 pm at Book People in Austin. If you’re in the area, please come by for a reading, snacks, trivia, and a photo opp. You can view/print the Lincoln launch flyer for full information.

Step Right Up

Taking photos of your kids in the bluebonnets is a Texas tradition that has taken on a new meaning for me this year:)

Step Right Up: How Doc and Jim Key Taught the World About Kindness, illustrated by Daniel Minter, continues to be embraced by schools and families around the country. Entire schools are taking the Step Right Up Kindness Pledge. How humbling and lovely! As many of you know, because of my personal connection to horses and my love of all animals, this story is infused with an extra piece of my heart. Now, SRU is on at least four state award lists, including Kansas, Louisiana, Tennessee, and the Texas Bluebonnet master list for 2018-19. As a native Texan, I admit to being especially honored by the Bluebonnet nod. At the 2018 TX Library Association (TLA) conference in Dallas this past weekend, I had a blast meeting librarians from around the state during the Bluebonnet speed dating event and signing. What these remarkable literary champions may not realize is that we authors think of them as the rock stars. After all, every educator spends their career to changing young lives every day. Wow!


Honored to see Step Right Up acknowledged for the 2018-19 Bluebonnet master list.

Other highlights from TLA’18 included catching up with other authors, meeting TLA committee and staff members, collecting more books, signing both of my books in the author area, attending the Bluebonnet luncheon, and being stopped by KidLitTV for an interview. You can see that here. 

School visits

I’ve had a lot of school visits in Texas this year, and I look forward to traveling to Louisiana for school visits in May. During my presentations, I offer my personal connection to my books, my writing and research process (aimed to reinforce classroom goals), expanded content, and a conversation about how one person can make a difference with kindness and how words are a super power. During the 2018-19 Bluebonnet season, I hope to visit as many schools as possible.

You can view/print my 2018 School visit flyer here. Email me for more information. 

Upcoming Classes that I’m Teaching

If you’re a librarian or teacher who dreams of being published, stay tuned. I might be offering an online class or webinar just for you!

If you’re interested in having me critique your manuscript, of if you’re interested in hiring a writing coach, donna@donnajanellbowman.comemail me.

June 9, 2018—I will be teaching a one-day workshop on writing picture book biographies for the San Antonio chapter of SCBWI. Registration is open.

June-July—I’ll be teaching an online class about picture book biographies. Stay tuned for details. Email if you would like more information.

Fall 2018 (event not yet announced)—I’ll be speaking at an SCBWI conference about writing query letters, synopsis, and cover letters. Stay tuned.

Subscribe to my e-newsletter to stay up to date with what I’m offering.

That’s quite enough for this month, don’t you think? Thank you for taking the time to read.

Abraham Lincoln’s Dueling Words is on Shelves today. Cue the thank yous

Donna at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum in Springfield, Illinois

I’ve spent the last several weeks sharing extended content about writing and researching Abraham Lincoln’s Dueling Words. Now that the April 1, 2018 official launch date has arrived, I am reflecting on the people who have supported the book’s journey and my publishing endeavors.


Texas-sized thanks to:

My family—Abraham Lincoln’s Dueling Words began in 2012 for me. In the six years of research, writing, rewriting, and revising, life continued. As a gauge, my youngest son was twelve-years-old when I began this project. He’s now a 6’3″ high school junior, and we’re looking at colleges. For authors, their books and projects are woven into the fabric of a family in multiple ways. Beyond my writing cave, my human family cheered and encouraged me in small and large ways. To Chris, Ethan, Justin, Pat, Nettie Ruth, Christopher, Stevie, Lori, Sean, Scott, Sean, aunts, cousins—I am grateful for your love, support, and cheerleading!

My agent, Erin Murphy, has believed in this and my other books for many years, and I am lucky to have her in my corner. We originally had a long professional courtship before she offered representation. It’s an interesting story that speaks to the business side of agenting, the evolution of a writer, and the age-old advice about never giving up. To this day, it is still a thrill when I see Erin’s name in my inbox. She is the real deal—a knowledgeable industry veteran with the keen eye of an editor, a heart of gold, and the godmother to all my books.

My agent Erin Murphy, editor Kathy Landwehr, and author friend Cynthia Levinson toasted the deal for Abraham Lincoln’s Dueling Words during a 2013 conference.

Peachtree editor Kathy Landwehr and I met when she critiqued the Lincoln manuscript during the 2013 Austin SCBWI conference. By the time we met in person, she had already contacted Erin to express interest. Immediately after the conference, Kathy and I continued our conversation about my manuscript in the hotel lobby on, what we now refer to as, the Lincoln couch. I am so grateful that Kathy’s vision for Abraham Lincoln’s Dueling Words matched my own. We’ve developed a friendship during the process with Lincoln—one that often comes through in mutual snarkiness and banter. What fun, right?  In fact, our kindred styles led to a second book deal, King of the Tightrope, scheduled to release in 2019. I owe such love to Peachtree Publishers and the remarkable staff that wrangled everything from art direction to marketing and publicity and conference details. Darby, Elyse, Barbara, Jonah, Nicki, Courtney, Emily, etc.—thank you!

Illustrator S.D. Schindler deserves an extra helping of sunshiney rainbows for infusing the illustrations with the perfect blend of fun, frivolity, and historical accuracy. My telling would not be the same without Steve’s gorgeous art!

Dr. James Cornelius, Curator of the Lincoln Collection at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library & Museum was
patient with my many questions, generous with his responses, and honest with his vetting of my manuscript. I feel honored that he was willing blurb the book, and in a way that nods to my narrative: “A rollicking story, well told with all the original color.”

My friends and critique partners offered feedback on early versions of this manuscript, even before Erin or Kathy saw it. There is no better feedback than what comes from experienced writers, and I hit the jackpot in that way. There are many people to thank, but allow me to single out Carmen Oliver, Cynthia Levinson, Samantha ClarkChris Barton, and Don Tate. And, during one of the profoundly affecting Highlights Foundation workshops I attended, Peggy Thomas, and Carolyn Yoder saw the first draft.

For the past year, I’ve been honored to meet many librarian educators while speaking at schools about Step Right UpWhat a special group of people! I am awed by the passion and commitment they have for connecting books with young readers. They know the power of books as escapism, therapy, hope, and dreams. I thank them all for supporting my previous books, for being literacy champions, and for already embracing Abraham Lincoln’s Dueling Words.

Next up—a book launch celebration at Austin’s Book People. April 15th at 2:00 pm. If you’re in the Austin area, I hope you’ll come by to hear my reading and presentation. You’ll learn a lot more about Lincoln’s rascally mistake that landed him on the field of honor. And there will be eats and drinks, too. After all, April 15 is tax day, so you know there will be bubbly on hand.



Lincoln—Character Education

As a teenager, Lincoln studied an arithmetic book that survives today and is now part of the Herndon-Weik Collection. In the bottom left corner of one page, there is a faded verse that Lincoln wrote. A reproduced enhanced version is below. It seems Lincoln recognized his rascally tendencies at a young age. What a great way to spark conversation about character education.

Character Education in Abraham Lincoln’s Dueling Words:

There are many character-education connections in Abraham Lincoln’s Dueling Words. In 1842, Lincoln wrote a politically-motivated letter to the editor of the Sangamo Journal that criticized the Democrats and poked fun at State Auditor James Shields in a way that crossed the line of propriety. Lincoln later referred to his letter as the meanest thing he had ever done. In the end, he had a decision to make. Would he allow his great big mistake to define him? Or would it motivate him to be a better man.

Click the Teacher’s Guide image below to view and print the full document. You can also see it on the Peachtree Publishers website here. 

There are great organizations that focus on character education. You might want to look at these as a start:

George Lucas Educational Foundation


A reading of an 1890 Account of the Lincoln-Shields Duel

In 1890, John George Nicolay and John Hay— President Abraham Lincoln’s secretaries, published the ten-volume biography: Abraham Lincoln: A History, which you can see on here.  You can hear a Librivox reading of the chapter related to the Lincoln-Shields duel and the two other challenges it sparked here.  Be aware that this reading is 18-minutes long.