Janet Sumner Johnson
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5 MG Books I Can’t Wait to Read

Apr

11, 2022 |

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Books

I’ve been so immersed in picture books the last little bit (for good reason!), that I’ve neglected talking about MG Books. So today I am making up for that. There are so many great books coming out in 2022, and I’m going to share 5 MG Books that I’m excited for! (I’m excited for way more than that, so I may have to do another post like this one. Twist my arm a little!)

First up is EDEN’S EVERDARK by Karen Strong.

I fell in love with Karen’s writing in her first book, JUST SOUTH OF HOME, and I cannot wait to read this one. It comes out September 6th, 2022, but I may have had the good fortune of snagging an ARC (advance reader copy), so watch for a review. My 12-yo is also a big Karen Strong fan, so her review may come first. So excited!

Here is the blurb:

Hailed by Newbery winner Kelly Barnhill as “stunning, moving, and marvelously strange,” this tale of a young girl who stumbles into a magical realm ruled by a wicked witch is a haunting and ultimately uplifting middle grade novel about grief, family, and decades-old magic.

Still grieving the loss of her mother, Eden visits Safina Island, her ancestral home, as a healing balm. But when she discovers an old sketchbook that belonged to her mother, she’s haunted by the images she sees drawn there. A creepy mansion covered with roots and leaves. A monstrous dog with dagger-sharp teeth. And a tall woman with wind-blown hair and long, sharp nails who is as beautiful as she is terrifying.

Days later, exploring the island alone, Eden follows a black cat through a rift in the bright day. She stumbles into Everdark, a parallel world where the sun never rises, where spirits linger between death and the afterlife, and where everything from her mother’s drawings is all too real—especially the Witch of Everdark, who wants to make Eden her eternal daughter.

Can Eden find a way to defeat the witch’s magic? Or will she remain trapped in Everdark forever?

Next up is A DUET FOR HOME by Karina Glaser.

You may have heard of Karina’s VANDERBEEKER series which is like a warm hug in book form. If you haven’t read those, get on that right away! A DUET FOR HOME was supposed to be her second book, so I’m all the more excited to finally get to read this one. It just came out last Tuesday, April 5th, 2022. My copy is on the way to my house from Books of Wonder (a great place to order from!) as I type. And yep, you guessed it, a review will be coming for this one, too.

Here is the blurb:

From the New York Times bestselling creator of the Vanderbeeker series comes a triumphant tale of friendship, healing, and the power of believing in ourselves told from the perspective of biracial sixth-graders June and Tyrell, two children living in a homeless shelter. As their friendship grows over a shared love of classical music, June and Tyrell confront a new housing policy that puts homeless families in danger.

It’s June’s first day at Huey House, and as if losing her home weren’t enough, she also can’t bring her cherished viola inside. Before the accident last year, her dad saved tip money for a year to buy her viola, and she’s not about to give it up now. Tyrell has been at Huey House for three years and gives June a glimpse of the good things about living there: friendship, hot meals, and a classical musician next door. Can he and June work together to oppose the government, or will families be forced out of Huey House before they are ready?

A PERFECT MISTAKE by Melanie Conklin has had me excited since I first read the blurb. Mystery? Intrigue? Hidden Secrets? Sign me up! This one comes out on July 12th, 2022, and I canNOT wait!

Here’s the blurb:

A moving, voice-driven novel about friendship, responsibility, and fighting against unfair expectations, for fans of Rebecca Stead and Erin Entrada Kelly.

Max wishes he could go back in time to before he was diagnosed with ADHD, before he grew to be the tallest kid in his class, and before he and his best friends went into the woods in the middle of the night. Max doesn’t remember what happened after he left his friends Will and Joey and the older kids who took them there. He’s not sure if he wants to remember. Knowing isn’t going to make Joey talk to him again, or bring Will out of his coma. 

When the local authorities run out of leads, Max realizes that without his help, they may never know what really happened to Will. Charged by the idea that he may be the key to uncovering the truth, Max pairs up with classmate and aspiring journalist Sam to investigate what really happened that night. But not everyone in the community wants that night to be remembered.

THE BUTTON BOX by Bridget Hodder and Fawzia Gilani-Williams is on the very top of my TBR pile (literally. My copy arrived last week!). I love learning about other religions and cultures, and this one has both a Jewish and Muslim main character. A book of inclusion is exactly what the world needs, and what I’m craving, right now! This book just came out on April 1, 2022.

Here’s the blurb:

If a magical button and a mysterious cat could transport you to the past…would you save the future?

After Jewish fifth-grader Ava and her Muslim cousin Nadeem are called hateful names at school, Granny Buena rummages in her closet and pulls out a glittering crystal button box. It’s packed with buttons that generations of their Sephardic ancestors have cherished. With the help of Granny’s mysterious cat Sheba, Ava and Nadeem discover that a button from the Button Box will whisk them back in time. Suddenly, they find themselves in ancient Morocco, where Nadeem’s ancestor, Prince Abdur Rahman, is running for his life. Can Ava and Nadeem help the prince escape to Spain and fulfill his destiny, creating a legendary Golden Age for Muslims, Jews and Christians?

And my final book is WHERE WE USED TO ROAM by Jenn Bishop. Okay, I’m cheating just a bit on this last book, since it actually came out last year. BUT, the paperback just came out on April 5th, 2022, so I’m counting it! This book deals with some pretty heavy issues (sibling drug use), and I love that MG is getting more inclusive to deal with things kids really face. In fact, I could have used this book when I was a kid. So it will have to suffice that adult-me gets to read it.

Here’s the blurb:
When Emma starts sixth grade, things finally begin to change. She may still be in the shadow of her older brother, Austin, the popular high school quarterback, but she’s made artsy new friends who get her way more than her bookish best friend, Becca.
 
But things are changing for Austin, too. After undergoing surgery for a football injury, Austin has become addicted to opioid painkillers. By the end of the school year, everything blows up with Austin—and Becca. When their parents decide to send Austin to rehab and Emma to stay with family friends in Wyoming for the summer, Emma seizes the chance to get away.
 
Wyoming turns out to be a perfect fresh start, especially after Emma makes friends with Tyler, a kindred spirit who doesn’t judge her—then again, he doesn’t know what she did to Becca. Still, Emma can’t hide forever…or go back to the way things were with Austin or with Becca. But can she find a way to confront the truth and move forward?

 

What books are you looking forward to reading! Let me know in the comments so I can add to my TBR pile!

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Author Interview: Cindy Williams Schrauben

Mar

21, 2022 |

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Books,Interview,Publishing,Writing

Good morning! Today I am thrilled to have debut author Cindy Williams Schrauben here on my blog. I was lucky enough to receive an advance copy of her book THIS COULD BE YOU (April 1, Cardinal Rule Press), illustrated by Julia Seal. I loved it so much, I reached out to the publisher to hook us up.

Cindy graciously agreed to an interview, and here we are! It was such a joy to get to know her better, and I’m excited for all of you to meet her as well. Also, you can read my review HERE. So enough of my jabbering, let’s meet Cindy! (As always, I’m in green.)

Hi Cindy, welcome to my blog!

Hi! Thanks so much for having me. I’m thrilled to be here.

Can you tell us a little about yourself and how you came to write children’s books?

As a mom, grandmother, and former teacher, books have always played a big part in my life.  My favorite memories involve kids in my lap reading. Though I have always enjoyed writing, and dreamed of writing a picture book, It wasn’t until my daughters moved out that I took it seriously – I knew I needed my own passion. I attended the NYC-SCBWI Conference early on and the energy and kindness of the kidlit community had me hooked right away.

Conferences are the best. The energy is amazing! Please tell us about your upcoming book, THIS COULD BE YOU.

Unlike many of my books, This Could Be You started out with an intentional message and goal – to inspire kids to believe and achieve by empowering them with growth mindset principles. I set out to create a book in which all kids could see themselves persevering. Each spread stars a different group of children living out their dreams – and, sometimes, struggling along the way.  Being able to learn from our failures is a crucial part of a growth mindset.

I completely agree. We all go through failure, but it doesn’t define us. Kids need to see that! Your book creates such a hopeful feeling for your readers. What inspired you to write it?

My grandsons and the realization that I didn’t always encourage a growth mindset in my girls when they were young. Well-meaning comments like, “you are so smart” and “math is just easy for you” can have unintentional negative connotations. Instead, statements like, “Wow, you really worked hard for that” help them to realize that it is ok if something is hard because effort will help us get there. Our talents and skills are malleable. I hope that this book, which features extensive backmatter for adults, will help us all use more intentional language with our kids.

Such great advice! I’ve been working on that as well with my kids. And so much great back matter!

Speaking of work, your rhymes and rhythms are just plain fun to read. Writing in rhyme feels so daunting to me (I clearly need your book to build up my growth mindset!). Your stanzas all sound so perfect, they feel like it must have come out that way, but I’m sure you worked hard at it! Could you share a little bit about your revision process?

Every story in my head comes out in rhyme first – I often realize that rhyme isn’t right for a story, but for this one, I think it works. That isn’t to say that it was perfect (or even good) at the beginning. Rhyming requires a great deal of assessing and maneuvering. I often read out loud while tapping out beats like a conductor (I have to be careful who’s watching my loony antics). That is part of what I love about it, though – it’s like a puzzle.

Love that! I’m sure all us writers look a little loony when in the zone. And so fascinating that you start in rhyme. So, my favorite stanza was, of course, the one about writing. Do you have a favorite stanza? What do you love about it?

Fun fact #1 – the illustrator used a childhood photo of me to draw the young author on that page.

Really??! That is so cool! *runs off to find that page*

Picking my favorite is tough, but I think it is this:

 Who has keen-design flair,

an artist’s time-to-shine flair,

sketch-and-then-refine flair?

Create. It could be you!

 Why? It shows a character who tries and fails, but doesn’t give up.

The refinement part is key to success. Such a great stanza.

Moving on to the art . . . it’s so expressive! Julia Seal, the illustrator, did an amazing job! I love the simplicity of the kids, and how well it captures their emotions. Did you have any input on the art or illustrator? What was your reaction at seeing the art? (so many questions!)

I cried! It’s as if Julie Seal was in my head when she created the illustrations. The diversity, the color, everything. I didn’t have any input into the process at all, which was terrifying, but I couldn’t be more pleased.

It IS a terrifying process, but illustrators can do magic. And seeing your characters brought-to-life is a magical moment.

Fun fact #2 – I LOVE the endpapers. My illustrator deserves all the credit for this – she proposed that we ask children we know (along with some winners of a contest) to draw pictures of their dream jobs. Those Jr. Illustrators include my grandsons, nieces, nephews, etc. They loved being a part of it.

I LOVED the endpapers! Brilliant idea from Julia. And so exciting for those kids!

Can we talk writing for a minute? How many picture books would you say you wrote before finally getting a deal on this one?

Oh boy. I couldn’t even begin to guess how many unfinished stories I have, but as far as completed, ready to submit stories, close to 20.

Wow. But it really shows you are living the message of THIS COULD BE YOU. What helped you the most on the path to publication?

The number one most important part of my journey has been the kidlit community – from critique partners to contest organizers and bloggers. I know for a fact that I wouldn’t have kept going without them.

So much truth. The kidlit community is so uplifting. 💜

Now on to the speed round of favorites!

 Ice cream: Vanilla with lots of chocolate, caramel, and nuts. But, I don’t think there is a flavor I would pass up. Ice cream is my weakness.

Color: Coral

Time of day: Late at night

Sport: Baseball

Musical instrument: Piano

Animal: Dogs

Word: Grow

Picture Book (that you didn’t write): Three Ninja Pigs by Corey Rosen Schwartz and illustrated by Dan Santat

I love how much we can learn from one-word answers. Love it all! (And Three Ninja Pigs is a favorite of mine, too!)

One last question. I have a fascination for personalized license plates. What do you think your characters might choose for their personalized license plate? You have 8 characters. Go!

 YesICan

 So perfect! Thanks so much again!

Thank you! This has been lots of fun.

~~~

Cindy Williams Schrauben lives in Michigan where she writes books for kids that range from the truly serious to the seriously silly. Before embarking on this path, she held positions as a preschool administrator, teacher, and assistant director of a children’s museum — always striving to empower kids. When not writing or honing her craft, Cindy might be found dissecting her grandsons’ shenanigans for story ideas, reading on the floor in the bookstore, or eating ice cream… ideally all at once.

You can connect with Cindy at her website or her Direct Me page, and she’s also on TwitterFacebook, and Instagram.

You can purchase THIS COULD BE YOU through Monkey See, Monkey Do books, or wherever books are sold.

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Author Interview: Zeena Pliska

Dec

06, 2021 |

Filed in:

Books,Interview,Publishing

A Latinx woman, Zeena, with black curly hair, and a maroon shirt, smiles at the cameraToday, I’m excited to welcome Author Zeena Pliska to my blog! Her debut, Hello, Little One! (Page Street Kids, 2020), illustrated by Fiona Halliday, came out in 2020. It is beautiful and touching, and if you haven’t read it . . . well, then I’m extra excited to introduce you to Zeena and this lovely book. 

I am in green!

Hi Zeena, welcome to my blog!

Thanks so much for having me, Janet. It’s truly an honor!

The honor is all mine. Can you tell us a little about yourself and how you came to write children’s books?

 I spend my days immersed in the joy of 5-year-olds. I’m a kindergarten teacher by day and a children’s book author by night in Los Angeles, California. As a progressive public-school educator, I believe that the most important aspect of teaching is listening to children. Often, children’s stories come through me rather than from me. A lifetime storyteller, I have facilitated stories as a theater director, visual artist, photographer and journalist. I think “in stories,” in narratives, and am enchanted by all the stories that surround me.

I wrote my first picture book in 1995 but was too involved in theater directing to really pursue another direction at the time. Years passed. I developed as an exhibiting visual artist and lived with other artists in a loft.

When I had my daughter, painting and photography were replaced by parenting. It was no longer feasible to create stories in mediums that literally took up space and required a studio/loft. Those delightful and play-filled years of early parenting consumed my time and became my “artistic” pursuit. When my child entered her teenage years, my storytelling reemerged in the form of picture book manuscripts (they didn’t take up physical space and could be stored on a computer.)

I’ve now entered that world as a children’s book author and feel like I’ve found my sweet spot. Although, theater directing, filmmaking, painting, and photographing still call out, seeking my attention…

I love that you’ve been involved in so many different creative pursuits. And I agree, it can be hard to settle on just one, but I completely agree that writing picture books is a sweet place to be! Can you please tell us about your book?

Book cover with a monarch butterfly talking to a catterpillar and the title Hello, Little One: A Monarch Butterfly StoryHello, Little One: A Monarch Butterfly Story is a fictional picture book about a young monarch caterpillar who longs for friendship. Having hatched among leaves of a Milkweed plant, it crawls from green leaf to green leaf looking for a friend. And then, it sees Orange, an adult monarch butterfly as it flits, flutters, and flies. When Orange lands on a flower near Little One, the two strike up a friendship. Together they move through the lifecycle as their friendship grows, each sharing their unique point of view with the other.

It’s a story of longing. Youth wanting to catch up with age, and age savoring its memories of youth. The two at different stages of their lives, meeting in that wondrous two-week window when both are able to connect, love, appreciate, and admire each other.

The story came to life in my kindergarten world of youthful energy. Originally titled Orange, it is a story of friendship, love, loss, grief, and renewal.

So fun to learn it had a different title! And I have to say, your book really tackles all those topics in such a sweet and tender way. What inspired you to write it?

When I close my eyes, I am right back in that moment when the story of Hello, Little One jumped into my heart.

The school where I teach is located in the Mar Vista/Venice Beach area.  We are a waystation for monarchs so it’s not unusual to see these beautiful creatures grace our playground.  In fact, they are our official mascot. They flit, flutter, and swoop as children’s laughter and sounds of play can be heard in the background.

One day at recess time, I was walking on my way to the main office. In between the classrooms, a majestic monarch butterfly fluttered about, landing on the flowers in the garden boxes.   I was mesmerized by the moment. I wondered, “What must that  butterfly see and experience?”

As I wondered, I was struck by the sad, bittersweet thought that the life cycle of this monarch was almost done. It had only about two weeks to live. I was struck by both the strength of this creature and the fragility of life. In that moment, the character of Orange was born.

I am a great lover of irony.  The story developed around the  friendship between a young caterpillar at the beginning of its life cycle and an elder butterfly at the end of its life cycle. The story was  anchored in the two points of view from the different stages of the life cycle and the  perspectives each can offer the other.  A caterpillar who sees everything in life for the first time  and can’t wait to grow up and fly with its friend and a butterfly who fondly remembers its youth while sharing the beauty and wonder that comes with experience and age. It was important that the story not just focus on the perspective of the adult,  but  respect the voice of the child, giving equal value to both viewpoints.

You can definitely feel that as you read. The wonder of Little One, and the wisdom of Orange. But I’m sure that beautiful balance you captured didn’t happen without work. Would you mind sharing a little about your revision process?

I wrote the story 7 years prior to its publication.  I have been a teacher in Los Angeles for many years. The scientific principles embedded in the story were already a part of my working knowledge as I have taught them to kindergarteners for a long time. I developed as an educator during the years of whole language, core literature, and thematic teaching when picture books were at the center of learning science and social studies concepts. It was a different time, before scripted curriculum.

It is still how I teach, using picture books to draw out student inquiry and student-led projects. Teaching informs my writing. The scientific concepts emerged in the story authentically and organically.  While I researched specific facts and details for the back matter, I did not do any research for the initial story. Because the  science concepts were just there, it was the emotional story that really drove my process.

One of the first times I shared my story with a large, public critique group of children’s book writers, I read the manuscript not knowing what to expect. I didn’t understand rhythm, word choice, lyrical language etc. It was both exhilarating and terrifying to reach the end and experience the response. A woman sobbed. She had connected with the grief in the story. It had triggered her own loss and touched her. The room was moved. The story had taken listeners to a place where they had felt big emotions.  I thought I had done my job as a writer. But the manuscript had miles to go and so did I, in my development of craft.

The word count was way too long and suddenly, the manuscript was a play. I was delighted to work with my young students to build the story and present it at a dedication ceremony to unveil a section of our campus, known as The Wildlands. The characters became more fully developed as I co-created with 5-year-olds. The play was performed by students who culminated from our school in 2020, the year the book was released. Bittersweet. I can still hear their youthful and poignant delivery of the lines as they flit, fluttered, and flew around the outdoor native garden. It was a beginning.

My story of a little caterpillar and Orange had come to life but it was still not ready for submission.  The manuscript stretched beyond what was reasonable for a picture book, well over 1200 words! Like many novice picture book writers, I did not yet understand the concept of word count and the process of precise word choice. It went through many revisions. Then, it went through many rejections. Rejections inform revisions. Revisions made me a stronger writer. They helped me develop my craft and the story that it finally became.

Word count and precise word choice can sound so simple, but it is definitely an art! And speaking of art . . . the art is gorgeous! The detail and intricacies are breathtaking. Fiona Halliday really brought everything to life. I’d love to hear about your process with the illustration. Did you get to help in choosing the illustrator? Did you include art notes? And what was your first reaction to seeing these gorgeous illustrations? Do you have a favorite image?

I was very lucky as a debut author. Page Street Kids asked for my input regarding the illustrator.  They sent some suggestions to me. Fiona’s work was stunning and unique. The editor and I were in agreement that Fiona was a great choice. The editor also knew she could depict the emotional connection between the two characters which was an essential piece of the storytelling.

 I had put very few illustration notes because I don’t see stories when I am writing them, I hear them.  This is so strange because I am also a visual artist.  I think I hear them because of the countless picture books I read aloud to my students as a teacher every day.

Fiona Halliday is  a Page Street Kids author/illustrator.  Her picture book,  Numenia and the Hurricane: A True Migration Story came out in January 2020. And, The Legend of the Storm Goose comes out in February of 2022.  Fiona lives in Austria.  We did not meet or communicate directly during the process.  There was a strict firewall for good reason.  We did finally meet 4 months after the release of the book at a virtual event. The event was  hosted by Second Star to the Right Books in Denver, Colorado and designed to reveal our first meeting with each other and to answer questions as the author and illustrator of Hello, Little One.

It’s so strange to co-create a story and never meet during the process of creation but I think this is pretty standard in the industry. There were some moments during the process when the sketches looked completely different than the final art. The style and depiction didn’t seem to tell the same story I was trying to tell. I thought they were the direction that the illustrations were going in. It wasn’t until I met Fiona at the virtual event that she communicated her process and I understood that they had been very rough, first sketches when she was exploring the possibilities.

I love promoting this book so much because the illustrations are absolutely stunning. When I saw the illustrations for the first time, I think my heart skipped a beat.  They tell the story in a way that could never have been told with words alone.  That’s the magic of a picture book told through the words of the author and the pictures of the illustrator. My favorite image is the image of the two nestled up against each other as their separation becomes inevitable.

illustration of a monarch caterpillar and a monarch butterfly snuggling with a flowery background

Such a gorgeous image. The illustration process is so fascinating. It really is amazing to watch a story come to life from a second point of view. So now that Hello, Little One is out in the world, what is your favorite part of being an author? And what is next for you?

I am a storyteller by nature, and I believe in the power of story. Irony is also an element that weaves its way through my work. Playfully recognizing irony is very much part of how I experience the world. Although I am never trying to “teach” a lesson in my writing, it is always my hope that my work will create discourse.

I have several picture book manuscripts on submission through my agent Abigail Samoun of Red FoxLiterary. Themes that emerge for me presently in my picture books are stories of resistance and resilience. I like to challenge the status quo, giving children the opportunity to rethink possibilities not yet imagined as they navigate their world.

I have just written a graphic novel and am working on a contemporary YA novel. I love to tell stories in different formats. Each story that finds me and demands to be told has its own form that best suits it. So many stories, so little time.

My next picture book, Egyptian Lullaby, published by Roaring Brook Press comes out in 2023.

Congratulations! I can’t wait to read it. And I love that you are writing in so many forms. I agree that every story demands its own form, and it can be fun to explore that!

Okay, are you ready? Speed round!

Butterfly vs. Caterpillar? 

Butterfly! I don’t mind crawling along and looking at life in detail through newborn eyes … but oh how I love to fly and see the world in all its vastness!

Ocean vs. Mountains? 

Ocean. I live 7 minutes from the ocean and the final version of Hello, Little One that made it submission-ready was written while looking out at the ocean in Playa Del Rey, CA.

Halloween vs. New Year’s Day?

Halloween! Who doesn’t love transforming into any character they want for a whole night? The possibilities are endless…

Winnie-the-pooh character? 

Tigger. I love his youthful energy.

Ice cream vs. Cake? 

Ice cream, though it’s hard to imagine eating them separately. I guess that’s the basis for my answer. I can eat ice cream without cake but I can’t eat cake without ice cream.

Love it! So fun to learn more about you.  

Okay, I have one last question. I have a fascination for personalized license plates. Obviously, your characters couldn’t have them, but if we imagine a cute little caterpillar car, what do you think Little One might choose for their personalized license plate? You have 8 characters. Go!

Do You!

Love it! And for those of you who don’t get it, you’ll have to read the book! 

~~~

Zeena Pliska is an author and kindergarten teacher in the Los Angeles public school system. When she is not figuring out how to elevate the voices of children, she is working on social justice and climate change issues and traveling near and far with her own “little one.” She lives in Los Angeles.

You can learn more about Zeena and her books on her website, and she’s also on FacebookTwitter and Instagram.

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Kindness is a Kite String, book review

Apr

13, 2021 |

Filed in:

Books,Review

Recently, I got the chance to read and review a newly released picture book titled Kindness is a Kite String: The Uplifting Power of Empathy by Michelle Schaub and illustrated by Claire LaForte.

This is a subject I’ve thought a lot about. Kindness is so important, yet it feels as though it’s more and more rare. What a difference kindness could make in the world! So of course, I jumped at the opportunity to read this book. Kids need to be taught about kindness now, and what better way than through picture books?

This book did not disappoint!

Kindness is a Kite String Book image

Kindness is a Kite String is a poem that suggests different ways to spread kindness. From hugs, to sharing a book, to visiting sick neighbors, this story gives a lot of great ideas for ways to spread kindness. But more than that, it teaches kids that Kindness is something that grows and spreads whenever you share it.

Kindness is a kite string. 
 Let it out.
See Spirits lift.

Kindness is powerful, and small acts of kindness can make a big difference in the world.
I especially enjoyed the pictures. They built on the ideas in the words, and then showed the interconnectedness of kindness and how it spreads. You’ll want to go through the book more than once to see how the lives of the characters intersect, and how a good deed passed on to one person might just eventually come back to you. Also of note is the inclusiveness and diversity shown in the pictures.

Kindness is a topic that we need to talk more about, and this book is a wonderful start for both kids and adults alike. If we all took this message to heart, we just might find ourselves in a better world.

You can learn more about the author, Michelle Schaub, at her website.
You can learn more about the illustrator, Claire LaForte, at her website.
Kindness is a Kite String is available through Bookshop.org, your local indieB&N, and Amazon.

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Author Interview: Gabi Snyder

May

18, 2020 |

Filed in:

Books,Interview,Publishing

Please Welcome Gabi Snyder to my blog! I love Gabi. We met through a picture book group called 12×12, and are now both part of the Debut Crew. I confess, I may be fangirling to have her on my site. I actually read her book announcement before we met and thought it sounded brilliant! I’m excited for you all to learn more about her.

Now on to the interview! As always, I’m in green.

Hi Gabi, welcome to my blog!

Hi Janet! I’m excited to be here!

Can you tell us a little about yourself and how you came to write children’s books?

Back in the day (early aughts), I studied English-Creative Writing at The University of Texas, with a focus on writing fiction for adults. After earning my MA, I took a succession of jobs that used writing (like grant writing and instructional design), but I wasn’t finding much time to do my own writing.

Fast forward to 2013: when my kids were little (3 and 5), we moved from Austin to Corvallis, Oregon. With a break from work following the move, I found time to get back to my own writing. Only, by then, reading daily with my two littles, I’d become immersed in the world of picture books and fallen in love with this form of storytelling.

Isn’t it an amazing form? I’m totally in love, too. Your book is so fun! Please tell us what it’s about.

TWO DOGS ON A TRIKE starts with a gate left open and a dog escaping her yard to join a poodle on a trike. Soon it’s three dogs on a scooter and then four dogs on a bike. With each new mode of transportation, a new dog is added to the fun. But what the pups don’t notice is that the original dog’s family cat is in hot pursuit.

It’s such a fun premise! I can just imagine kids giggling over that cat. What inspired you to write Two Dogs on a Trike?

If I had to guess which picture book I reread the most as a child, I’d name GO, DOG. GO! by P.D. Eastman. The silly dogs and sense of movement and fun in TWO DOGS ON A TRIKE are, in part, an homage to the P.D. Eastman classic. In TWO DOGS ON A TRIKE, we count up to 10 and back down again while moving through different and escalating modes of transportation.

And the dog versus cat dynamic that plays out in the story was inspired, in part, by my childhood pets. I grew up with a cat we called Kinko (named for his kinked tail) and an assortment of dogs. Kinko was the undisputed boss. Now my family includes one daredevil dog and one cat who keeps us all in line.

Haha! I had cats growing up, too, and they definitely keep us all in line. 

I love that your book leaves so much room for the reader to create a story. Sparse text books can be really tricky, and yours makes it look easy! I would love to hear about your revision process. Was the initial draft pretty similar to this, or what kind of edits did you have to make?

Great question! Unlike most of my stories, drafting TWO DOGS ON A TRIKE was fairly quick and painless. It came out mostly whole. Of course, my brilliant critique partners still had suggestions for taking it to the next level. For instance, looking back at my first draft I see that the first line of the story initially read “One dog on the sidewalk.” With help from my critique partners, that line changed to “One dog, all alone…”. And then, when working with my editor, Meredith Mundy at Abrams, she pointed out that Sandra Boynton’s book HIPPOS GO BERSERK opens with this line: “One hippo, all alone . . ..” I wanted my opening line to vary more from the first line of that Boynton classic, so we changed that line to “One dog stands alone.”

So fun to see the evolution! Thank you for sharing. I feel like I just got a peek into your secret lab. 😊 

Okay, so hearing about the story, and knowing you have a dog and cat, any chance we can see a picture? Everyone loves pet pictures. 

Camille (the dog) and Henry (the cat) love to help me write! Camille likes to drape herself across my lap as I type, and Henry keeps my manuscripts warm and furry.

Adorable! What a cozy way to write. 😸🐶 

Finally, the art. I love the bold colors and the simple, yet intricate images (which is quite the feat!). The illustrator, Robin Rosenthal, conveys so much emotion and humor and makes it look effortless! What is your favorite image from the book, and why?

I am absolutely smitten with Robin’s illustrations. And I love the 80’s retro vibe of the fashion choices.

Aren’t those the best??! The 80’s rocked.

For the first half of the story, the dogs are oblivious to the fact that they’re being followed. When we reach “10 dogs,” there’s a realization. That last animal? Not a dog! The revelation spread and the one that follows are my favorite images in the story. And while my illustration notes made clear who that not a dog is, I didn’t specify where we are. Robin Rosenthal’s illustration for that spread is hilarious and unexpected! I gasped in surprise when I saw it, and yet it feels like the inevitable “of course!” choice. Truly perfection.

It totally felt inevitable! It’s a neat thing to watch an illustrator’s work not only bring a story to life, but add that extra to make it that much MORE. 

Okay, one last question. Here on my blog, I have a fascination for personalized license plates. What do you think the dogs (and the cat!) in your story might choose for a personalized license plate? You have 8 characters. Go!

Dogs: OffLeash

Cat: Purrsuit

Those are purrfect! (I couldn’t resist! Haha!) Thanks so much for stopping in!

Thanks so much for hosting me, Janet! 😊

TWO DOGS ON A TRIKE will be released on May 19th. To learn more about Gabi, her book, and where to find her on social media, see below!

~~~

Reader. Writer. Lover of chocolate. Watch for Gabi Snyder’s debut picture book, TWO DOGS ON A TRIKE, coming from Abrams/Appleseed in spring 2020, and her second picture book, LISTEN (working title) from Simon & Schuster/Paula Wiseman Books in spring 2021. Gabi lives in Oregon with her family, including one daredevil dog and the cat who keeps everyone in line.

You can find her website HERE, and follow her on TwitterGoodreads, and Instagram.

If possible, consider buying TWO DOGS ON A TRIKE from your local bookstore. You can use Indiebound to find a local store.

If you don’t have a local indie or if they’re not able to take online orders, consider supporting local bookstores by ordering from Bookshop.

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Author Interview:Claire Annette Noland

Apr

30, 2020 |

Filed in:

Books,Interview,Writing

Wow, it’s been a while since I posted an author interview, but I have some great ones coming up this month to make up for it!

First up is Claire Annette Noland. We met through our debut author group, The Debut Crew. She is one of our fearless leaders, and I’ve been so happy to get to know her even better through this interview.

Her debut picture book, Evie’s Field Day, illustrated by Alicia Teba, comes out on May 1st. It’s a fun one, and you can find my review HERE.

But let’s get to it! As always, my comments are in green:

Hi Claire, welcome to my blog! Can you tell us a little about yourself and how you came to write children’s books?


I’ve always been a reader. I became a writer in high school when I took a creative writing class and realized kid lit was my happy place. I decided I wanted a career focused on children and books and I’ve been able to do that as a bookseller, children’s librarian,  reading specialist, kindergarten teacher, mom to four children, and now author!

Wow, your list of jobs is like my dream list! Kid lit is my happy place, too. Can you please tell us about your upcoming book?

Evie’s Field Day is about a girl who loves to win and looks  forward to getting more ribbons at the annual field day. Unfortunately, things don’t work out as planned and Evie is not a very good loser. When she is finally ahead, she is faced with a decision. Should she race ahead and win or make a choice to stop and be a friend.

Field days are the best! But I totally get how Evie feels. It’s easy to get caught up in winning. What inspired you to write this story?

No one likes to lose but it is a fact of life. We can’t always win. As a child, I never seemed to win anything but games of chance, like BINGO. As a mom and teacher, I saw how frustrated and upset children can get when they lose. I want to encourage children to enjoy the game, focus on doing their best, and on being a good friend and teammate. I hope Evie’s Field Day will be help children to be good sports.

It’s a good lesson to learn young. Still, I love how spunky Evie is as a character. She reminded me of myself when I was a kid. I loved winning! Did you base her off of anyone you know?

Actually, she is a combination of my four children who each struggled with competitors and learned many valuable lessons in the process.

I love that! Kids are the best inspiration. And I also loved all the fun field day games in your book. How did you choose them? Did it require research?

Field Day is always one of the most anticipated days in the school year and the games included in the book are student favorites. I had many to choose from!

I guess it helps when you’ve been a teacher for a few years! The suggestions on teaching good sportsmanship in the back matter are great! Was that part of the initial drafts or your submission package or did it come later? How did you develop that?

Cardinal Rule Press has a very clear vision for the books they publish. They want realistic stories about children and the issues they face. They want to empower children as well as encourage parents and teachers. Each of their books have suggestions and activities that support the topic.

The back matter was developed after the contract was signed. I read many articles on sportsmanship and talked to coaches. I also included techniques that I personally developed as a teacher and parent.

Fascinating to see how the process works for different publishers. 


So let’s talk about the art. I love how the illustrator, Alicia Teba, uses color to really spotlight the kids in the story and bring focus to the action. Was this something you had discussed with your editor/art-director beforehand, or was it a fun surprise? What was your reaction on seeing it? 

I love the illustrations done by Alicia. The color palate was the brilliant idea of Maria Dismondy, publisher of Cardinal Rule Press. I was able to see the draft illustrations throughout the process and I am thrilled with each page. I especially love how Evie’s emotions are so clearly evident.

So clear! Now, I have to ask. The timeline is so long for picture books. You’ve been looking forward to release day for years now. How has COVID-19 affected your release day plans?

Evie’s Field Day was planned to launch in time for end of the school year activities. Unfortunately, things are turning out differently than planned because children are not at school. The book is being launched virtually and we are planning a big #AtHomeFieldDay on May 21st.

The field day will be celebrated on Instagram. Families can post pictures on Instagram with the hashtags #EviesFieldDay and #AtHomeFieldDay to be eligible for prizes. Here’s a blog post with some fun activity ideas: At Home Field Day- 10 ways to play, and here’s information from Cardinal Rule Press about the #AtHomeFieldDay contest.  I hope many families will join the fun!

Sounds super fun! What a great way to celebrate. 😊

Okay, one last question. I have a fascination for personalized license plates. What do you think Evie might choose for a personalized license plate? You have 8 characters. Go! 

PLAY4FUN!

Love it! Thank you so much for stopping by my blog, Claire, I loved learning more about you and your book. Wishing it a very successful launch!


And for the rest of you,  thanks so much for stopping in and reading! You can find all the links for following Claire on social media below, as well as links for where you can get your own copy of EVIE’S FIELD DAY

~~~

Claire Noland is the author of easy readers, board books, and picture books for young children. She knows that everyone who reads is a winner and as a children’s librarian, reading specialist, and author, her life’s goal is to excite kids about books and reading. She writes from her home in Central California.

You can follow her on TwitterGoodreadsFacebook, and Instagram.

EVIE’S FIELD DAY is available now from Claire’s local indie book store, Petunia’s Place Books,  through bookshopAmazonB&N, and wherever books are sold.

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Lost Resume #5

Feb

28, 2020 |

Filed in:

Books,Help Wanted Must Love Books,Publishing

Welcome to the final day of my special series of Lost Resumes!

To celebrate the release of my picture book, HELP WANTED, MUST LOVE BOOKS (illustrated by Courtney Dawson), on Monday, March 2nd (just 3 days from now!),  I’m sharing 5 Lost Resumes from characters who both did and didn’t make it into my story.

I hope you enjoyed the other Lost Resumes. But if you missed, I’ve included a link to all of the resumes at the bottom, so be sure to check them out.

Drum roll, please, for the final addition! Today, I present you Lost Resume #5: Rumpelstiltskin

I confess, this one makes me giggle-laugh so hard. I know! I totally crack me up. It is so different than all the other resumes, but Rumpelstiltskin is quite the character, and he likes to do things his own way. This is the only version of his that made sense. And secret? Underneath that big black rectangle is his actual name. Yep. I wanted it to be authentic.

Another secret? I had to give Shailey a last name when I created this resume. She didn’t have one before that. I know, I know, characterization and all that. But it was a corner I felt okay with cutting.

The only hard part about this particular resume, was not using the Shrek version of Rumpelstiltskin (either of them . . . you know he’s featured twice, right? Feel free to watch them all again. In fact, I just might do that myself).

Once again, while I don’t know why my publisher didn’t choose this resume, I have my guesses. Rumpelstiltskin is right up there with Grandma Sweets. It’s a bit dark to be thinking about a goblin stealing away a newborn baby, and since HELP WANTED is a book for young children, they probably don’t even want to be thinking about their future children at all! I get that. I do.

But in the mean time, I’m just over here chuckling away.

Now, there are two final notes I need to make:

First, I dressed up these Lost Resumes for this series, but when I sent them to my publisher, they were nothing more than words in a Word document. Just in case you were wondering. 😊

Second, there is the little matter of the replaced characters. For those who have been dying to find out all week, here you go:

Snow White and the Seven Dwarves replaced the Farmer in the Dell. He was my absolute favorite, and I’m so sad he didn’t make the cut. But let’s just say that the stinky old cheese was a big problem for Shailey.

Captain Hook replaced the Pied Piper. Since the Pied Piper stems from a true story, he was deemed too creepy. But he made things a little too lively for Shailey’s liking, anyway. 😳

I hope you enjoyed this series! If you want to see more resumes, you can find FOUR more as the backmatter in HELP WANTED, MUST LOVE BOOKS. The perfect ones to match the rest of the book.

Don’t forget to enter my giveaway for a chance to win a copy of my book, and a copy of a book by one of my fellow Debut Crew members! You have until Saturday, February 28th, at midnight EST.

And if you want to check out the other resumes, follow the links:

Lost Resume #1

Lost Resume #2

Lost Resume #3

Lost Resume #4

Have a great day!

~~~

You can purchase HELP WANTED, MUST LOVE BOOKS on bookshop.org, which helps support local indie bookstores. Or if you don’t have a local indie, you can always find it on Amazon or B&N.

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Lost Resume #4

Feb

27, 2020 |

Filed in:

Books,Publishing

Welcome back to my special series of Lost Resumes!

To celebrate the release of my picture book, HELP WANTED, MUST LOVE BOOKS (illustrated by Courtney Dawson), on Monday, March 2nd (next week!),  I’m sharing 5 Lost Resumes from characters who both did and didn’t make it into my story.

I hope you enjoyed the first three Lost Resumes. But if you missed, I’ve included a link to all of the resumes at the bottom, so be sure to check them out.

Today we are moving on to Lost Resume #4: King Midas!

I had to do a bit of research for this one. I mean, who didn’t grow up hearing the story of King Midas? But turns out, I was pretty clueless. I’m certain I must have learned his story came from the Greek Myths at some point. But adult me had completely forgotten that tidbit.

When I mentioned this at the dinner table, my kids (ages 16, 13, and 10) went off on a deep discussion of a plethora of minor gods, comparing the Roman versions to the Greek, and I clearly need to start reading more Rick Riordan. My husband and I just sat there with mouths hanging open. Okay, not really, because we were eating dinner, but mentally, our mouths were definitely hanging open.

As I keep saying, I don’t actually know why my publisher did or didn’t choose each resume. But I feel fairly confident that King Midas didn’t make it in because he is from the Greek Myths, and not from the fairy and folk tales they were going for. And I suppose it’s also possible that this resume isn’t as funny as the others. Maybe. But I’ll let you be the judge of that.

Be sure to come back tomorrow when I share Lost Resume #5! The final one. In the meantime, don’t forget to enter my giveaway for a chance to win a copy of my book, and a copy of a book by one of my fellow Debut Crew members! And if you want to check out the other resumes, follow the links:

Lost Resume #1

Lost Resume #2

Lost Resume #3

Lost Resume #5

Have a great day!

~~~

You can purchase HELP WANTED, MUST LOVE BOOKS on bookshop.org, which helps support local indie bookstores. Or if you don’t have a local indie, you can always find it on Amazon or B&N.

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Lost Resume #3

Feb

26, 2020 |

Filed in:

Books,Publishing

Good morning! This week I’m gearing up to celebrate the release of my picture book, HELP WANTED, MUST LOVE BOOKS (illustrated by Courtney Dawson), on Monday, March 2nd!

For those who were here Monday and Tuesday, welcome back to my special series of Lost Resumes!

As a reminder, I’m sharing 5 Lost Resumes from characters who both did and didn’t make it into my story. I hope you enjoyed Captain Hook’s and Snow White’s Lost Resumes! I’ve included a link to all of the resumes at the bottom, so if you missed them, be sure to check them out.

Today we are moving on to Lost Resume #3: Grandma Sweets!

Wait. You don’t know who she is? No, no, no. Of course you do. She is none other than the witch from Hansel and Gretel! Though really I should have made you guess based on the resume itself. Ahem. But here we are:

This one was a lot of fun to write. I mean, it’s Grimm, but there we are. A lot of fairy tale characters are a bit Grimm. (I know, I know, I’m so punny!) Maybe I shouldn’t admit this part, but it was really fun to put myself in the witch’s shoes and think about what she might do to get the job. We already know she’s pretty cunning just based on the fact that she lives in a consumable house.

Like I mentioned yesterday, I don’t actually know why my publisher did or didn’t choose each resume, but I’m guessing there were a couple of reasons for this one. First, the witch has no real name to speak of. I tried to look it up. But even if I had found something, no one would have known it. “Call me ‘Grandma Sweets'” was the best I could do.

Second, the Grimm factor. Maybe they worried parents don’t want to read a resume to small children about someone who wants to eat them. I don’t know. Just a theory.

Be sure to come back tomorrow when I share Lost Resume #4! In the meantime, don’t forget to enter my giveaway for a chance to win a copy of my book, and a copy of a book by one of my fellow Debut Crew members! And if you want to check out the other resumes, follow the links:

Lost Resume #1

Lost Resume #2

Lost Resume #4

Lost Resume #5

Have a great day!

~~~

You can purchase HELP WANTED, MUST LOVE BOOKS on bookshop.org, which helps support local indie bookstores. Or if you don’t have a local indie, you can always find it on Amazon or B&N.

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Countdown to Release Day (plus a giveaway!)

Feb

24, 2020 |

Filed in:

Books,Publishing

I don’t know how this happened, but my picture book, HELP WANTED, MUST LOVE BOOKS (illustrated by Courtney Dawson), officially releases in exactly one week from today! (Aaaaaahhh!!) With the countdown to release day in full-swing, I wanted to share a little behind-the-scenes fun (and then host a giveaway!).

The first time I chatted with my editor at Capstone, my editor asked me what I thought about possibly including some back matter in the book. She couldn’t have known, but I am a BIG FAN of all things back matter in fiction picture books. I leapt at the chance!

Ideas came swimming into my head immediately. I told her I had a lot of characters who didn’t make the cut in the book. What if we did some character resumes for those lost characters?

She loved the idea, and so I got right to work, and sent her a sample later that week. That sample—a resume for Pinocchio—is now published in the final pages of my book. In fact, there are FOUR character resumes at the end of my book. I hope you’ll love them! (Here’s the tiniest sneak peeks.)

But guess what? I wrote way more than that. Yep. I wasn’t sure what Capstone would like, so I sent them 8 to choose from. But I wrote even more resumes than that . . . because I only sent them the 8 best ones. So over the course of this week, I’m going to be sharing FIVE of those lost resumes! Eventually, they will be available for download on my website, but for now, here is LOST RESUME #1 for your viewing pleasure. May I present SNOW WHITE!

Snow White did not make the cut because I didn’t think this resume was quite as amusing as the others. Thus, I never sent this one to my editor. In the end, it was just as well because Snow White, who hadn’t been featured in my book at the time of that initial phone call, went on to replace a different character. Oh, the intrigue in the fairy tale world!

Who got replaced you ask? Take your best guess in the comments! I’d love to hear. And maybe I’ll answer that question when I share the next Lost Resume!

But now, on to more fun stuff. With my release date being so close, I must, of course, celebrate with a giveaway!

So, to one lucky winner, I am giving not only a copy of my book, but a copy of a picture book written by a member of the 2020 Debut Crew (one book of your choice!)!! You can find a list of the authors and their books HERE. If the book you choose is not yet released, I will pre-order a copy of their book for you.

For all you international blog followers, this giveaway is open to every country where Book Depository delivers.  If you aren’t certain about your country, check it out HERE.

For any U.S. followers, I will gladly send a signed copy of my book upon request. If you win, just let me know!

Just use the handy dandy Rafflecopter link below to enter. Good luck, my friends!

<a class=”rcptr” href=”http://www.rafflecopter.com/rafl/display/139b69055/” rel=”nofollow” data-raflid=”139b69055″ data-theme=”classic” data-template=”” id=”rcwidget_cv4x3o2p”>a Rafflecopter giveaway</a>

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