Review: Draw the Line


Draw the Line

Author: Kathryn Otoshi

Publisher: Roaring Brook Press, 2017

Source: Public Library

I love the opportunities that wordless picture books create. In the classroom, many teachers find them helpful in teaching children to write. I also like that they give us more opportunity to open up our reading time to discussions. One person is not just the reader and one person the listener. Both are participants in a conversation.

Kathryn Otoshi’s new book, Draw the Line, is surely a book that will start a lively dialog. Two boys, drawn on opposing pages, are both drawing lines with crayons when BUMP! They collide. From there, they begin to draw and play together. However, it’s not all smooth sailing and the boys must find a way to deal with their conflicts.

Otoshi’s illustrations are black-and-white, with background splashes of colors. Notice that the pictures in which the boys are getting along are washed in a warm, sunny yellow, while the pictures in which conflicts are taking place are deeper, somber purple.

Perhaps your “listeners” are unfamiliar with wordless picture books. If they don’t initially contribute their ideas, start by asking a question.

“What do you think is happening?”

“How do these boys feel?”

“How would you feel if this happened to you?”

“What are some ways we can work together to solve a problem?”

I think you will find that involving the listener will provide a valuable experience for all.

Review: Give Bees a Chance


Give Bees a Chance

Author: Bethany Barton

Publisher: Penguin Viking Reader Group, an imprint of Penguin Random House, LLC, 2017

Source: Public Library

Some time ago I reviewed Bethany Barton’s book, I’m Trying to Love Spiders. Now Barton has a new book to help us understand (if not love) the creepy-crawly world a bit better.

Did you know that there are 25,000 kinds of bees (that’s a lot of love to work on!). Barton and her friend Edgar (who reminds me a bit of a minion – kind of capsule-shaped) mostly focus on honeybees. After all, who doesn’t like honey? And besides making honey, bees have a pretty important job.

Bees have been around since the dinosaurs, and scientists have found bee fossils from millions of years ago (how come we always hear about the big guys, but never the little bees?) Ancient Egyptians kept bees and when honey was discovered in one of the old tombs, someone was actually brave enough to try it – and it was still edible!

Readers learn how honey is made, all about stingers and the armor that protects beekeepers. Barton also explains how bees impact our food chain. We can thank bees and their pollination skills for many of the yummy things we eat.

The book gives some excellent suggestions. We can help bees by growing bee-friendly plants. The suggestion I like best is how not to get stung! Even if you are still a bit afraid of bees (and I know I am), this book does give us a greater appreciation for the industrious little honeybee.



Review: Dog Days of History

Dog Days of History by Sarah AlbeeReview:

Dog Days of History: The Incredible Story of OUR BEST FRIENDS

Author: Sarah Albee

Publisher: National Geographic, 2018

This book had been sitting on my desk waiting for me to finish reading and writing my review – and it was already getting a lot of attention. Everyone, it seems, is interested in dogs, their past and how it meshes with human history. While reading the book (and sharing read-aloud tidbits with others), I can tell you that the response was overwhelmingly positive. Dog-lovers will not be disappointed.

Albee starts by introducing readers to the dog family tree. Modern dogs share 99 percent of their DNA with wolves. She tells how dogs changed as they became domesticated and how their lives and ours became intertwined. From Grecian urns to Ming vases, statues and portraits, the evidence proves that dogs have long been an integral part of man’s life. Some have been trained as hunters and warriors and some were kept simply as pampered pets (historically, those were the few lucky ones).

The role of dogs in human lives has certainly expanded. There are showbiz dogs, advertising dogs, rescue dogs, mascots, dogs who have traveled in space, dogs who work in law enforcement and dogs who have gone to war. As Albee states in her note about research, “…dogs have done some extraordinary things” (pg. 102). No wonder we love them so much! And when a dog looks at you with all that doggy-love shining in their eyes, it is enough to melt anyone’s heart.


*Note: I received this book for free in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.

Review: When’s My Birthday


When’s My Birthday

Author: Julie Fogliano

Illustrator: Christian Robinson

Publisher: A Neal Porter Book, Roaring Brook Press, 2017

Source: Public Library

If you are looking for some exuberant text to help prepare for a birthday, When’s My Birthday is certainly the book to find. When will the birthday be happening? Where will the celebration take place? Will everyone be singing and dancing? And everyone’s invited, from young friends to grandparents, from large animals (giraffe) to small (goldfish). There will be plenty of party food: tiny sandwiches with soup, berries, and, of course, birthday cake. Fancy dress is not required but certainly adds to the celebratory atmosphere. And gifts can include anything from ponies to necklaces.

In contrast, the illustrations are somewhat muted. Although the illustrations do use some bright colors, most are far more hushed than the text. That doesn’t really slow down the building of excitement, but it does help to balance it. It gives the reader a few moments to take a breath before moving on.





Review: Anna and Johanna

anna and joannaReview:

Anna and Johanna: A Children’s Book Inspired by Jan Vermeer

Authors: Géraldine Elschner and Florence Koenig

Publisher: Prestel Publishing, 2018 (English edition)

Source: ARC

Johanna is busy making a birthday gift for her dearest friend. She is spinning a beautiful lace collar.

Anna is also preparing a birthday gift for Johanna, for the two girls share a birthday. In the kitchen, she is preparing a very special breakfast to present to her closest friend.

However, both girls are about to receive a far greater gift than they ever could have imagined – the truth concerning the birthday that they share. Later the girls will celebrate.

Illustration are done in muted colors. Though I did not find them particularly suggestive of Vermeer’s works of art, they do help carry the story’s emotional impact.

I love the information at the end of the book that introduces children to the work of Jan Vermeer and explains in more depth the two paintings that inspired Anna and Johanna. (There is a full-page reproduction of both “The Milkmaid” and “The Lacemaker”.  I think the combination of story and pictures make a greater impression than explanations alone.

*Note: I received this book for free in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.


Review: Wet Cement


Wet Cement: A Mix of Concrete Poems

Author: Bob Raczka

Publisher: Roaring Brook Press, 2016

Source: Public Library

Ages: Grades 2-4

Today’s book, Wet Cement: A Mix of Concrete Poems, is one of the 2018 Nutmeg Book Award Elementary Nominees – which just goes to show that poetry can be enjoyed by everyone!

In his introductory statement, Bob Raczka admits that he likes to think of poems as word paintings. The titles are words formed to create pictures. The poems are pictures in which the words become the structure. Together, they create far more meaning than just a picture or just words. It also lends a bit of intrigue to the reading as Raczka plays with words and concepts in delightfully visual ways.

These quirky little poems encompass all sorts of topics: firefly, icicles, corners, tunnels and sunsets. I was so impressed with this book, I decided to give one little spoiler:





Review: Hideous Love


Hideous Love: The Story of the Girl Who Wrote Frankenstein

Author: Stephanie Hemphill

Publisher: Balzer + Bray, an imprint of HarperCollins Publisher, 2013

Source: Public Library

While looking through the library bookshelves for additional poetry selections, I stumbled across this second, older version of Mary Shelley’s biography.

Like Mary’s Monster by Lita Judge, Hideous Love is told in free verse. In essence, the two books tell the same story, in much the same voice. Both books give the same information at the end: a cast of characters and additional biographical information about Mary and her writing.

From the point of view of the writing, I would say that both Hideous Love and Mary’s Monster are equivalent. Both are excellent. What I believe elevates Mary’s Monster is the graphics. (This from someone who is often does not care for graphic novels!) The pictures add an additional layer to the haunting quality of Mary’s story.

Review: I Am A Story


I Am A Story

Author: Dan Yaccarino

Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers, 2016

Source: Public Library

This picture book by Dan Yaccarino, I Am A Story, outlines the development of stories. From tales told around the fire to paintings on a cave wall, from ancient scrolls to Egyptian hieroglyphics, readers follow the development of the many ways we share our stories.

The experience of this picture book takes us full circle. We start with the stories being told by the fire. The printing press is invented; the iPad and other electronic devices are developed. Stories are acted out on stage and then television. Sometimes stories have been banned and burned, but in the end we still love stories – even when it brings us right back to stories of old told, once again, around a campfire.

The power of story is evident throughout these pages. From the bold lettering on the cover to the detailed pages of the book, story in all its forms always takes center stage. We recall the emotions we feel as we experience a story. In fact, this book itself draws the reader right into its own story. Definitely a book to add to your personal library.





Interview: Kelly Jones (Murder, Magic, and What We Wore)

I’m sure many of you will recall that a few months ago I reviewed Murder, Magic, and What We Wore by Kelly Jones. That was one of my favorite titles from 2017, so I’m very excited to have had the opportunity to interview Ms. Jones about her work. Check out our conversation below

1. I had been reading your blog and know that Murder, Magic and What We Wore had originally been written years earlier with a different title. Many writers think of their books as their children. Tell me how you developed that professional objectivity/attitude that allowed you to rewrite your novel. (By the way, the title is what caught my attention. I bought it without even reading the jacket!)

I taught myself to write novels with Glamour (the story that eventually became Murder, Magic, and What We Wore), alternating with a couple of other projects. I worked on it from around 2005 – 2008, spent a lot of time on sentence-level edits (choosing the perfect word here and there), and almost none on structural work (thinking about whether the plot made any sense or not.) I shelved it in 2009, when it didn’t find a fit with the agents I’d queried.

But, I still loved the characters, the world, and the ideas. So, my agent and I pitched it to my editor after my debut novel Unusual Chickens for the Exceptional Poultry Farmer was published, and she was interested in seeing a proposal.

Turns out, four years away from a project really helps with perspective! I’d worked on four more novels since I’d shelved Glamour, as well as critiquing many projects for other writers, and I’d learned so much from each project. Now, I could see issues that I hadn’t been focused on before, and I thought of ways to handle what critiquers had pointed out wasn’t working before. And, once I could see them, I really wanted to fix them. Perhaps my perspective is more that of a homeowner who looks up and notices the roof is leaking, than that of a parent?

The new version’s full title was originally How to Sew a Glamour, or, Murder, Magic, and What We Wore — a mouthful, to say the least! I’m glad the final version worked for you.

2. Can you tell us more about your revision process? Was there anything left of the original story when you finished? How did you know what to keep and what to discard? In your blog you mention that the process is not easier than writing a new book, but do you have a preference as to how you work?

I’d never attempted such a massive revision before, and I didn’t know if I could accomplish what I’d set out to do! Doubt is part of the process, for me, so I decided to try anyway. When I looked back at the most recent version, I could see right away that I wasn’t going to be able to change a little bit here and there to make it work. It needed a complete overhaul: first person point of view instead of third, a looser, less clipped historical voice, and a plot that made sense, for a start! I tried fixing a paragraph or two, and couldn’t squeeze a word in edge-wise. I couldn’t just change verbs to change the point of view, because the entire lens of what a character notices and what the reader sees changes when you look out from their eyes. And, working on all those other projects had grown and strengthened my writing (thank goodness!) My new writing didn’t match the old, and wasn’t going to slide into the old draft smoothly.

At that point, I made the best decision I could: I put that draft away, and rewrote the entire story again from scratch, the way I wanted to write it now, without looking at the previous one. I didn’t want to slip back into the same comfortable, familiar, structurally flawed flow. I’d done more than eighteen drafts, and I knew those characters, and what drove them forward. I didn’t need to look at the old words telling it, because they didn’t work with the way I wanted to tell it now.

So, as far as I know (I still haven’t looked back), there are no sentences that remain from the original version. But, most of the main characters came over unchanged. I feel like I finished telling the story I wanted to tell, even though all that wordsmithing on all those drafts never got used. (Well, aside from teaching me how to write — no small gift!)

It helped to know the story I was writing (in general, I don’t actually know what story I’m telling until I finish a first draft.) But, it wasn’t faster than writing a brand new first draft, and it still needed just as much revising. My editor had just as many suggestions. It was also harder in that I was trying to match this story to an idea I’d had long ago, and tried to capture. It always felt like chasing smoke, and I always wondered what I’d capture, in the end, and whether it would finally be what I’d wanted. My compass was the characters, what they wanted, what they struggled with. I wanted to stay true to them, even if everything else changed. I think I put far more pressure on this idea than I do on brand-new ones, because this was my chance to finally tell a story that had been important to me for years. What if I still couldn’t do it well enough? That constant wondering didn’t make anything go faster, or easier.

My preferred way to build a story, these days, is what I think of as a coral reef: I find and collect bits of ideas and characters and put them together in a place where they can grow a story for years, undisturbed. Once in a while I find something to throw in the tank with them, and they grow around it. Then, when I’m ready for a new project, I look in the tanks and see what I’ve grown, and what I want to do more with — what feels ready for more light, perhaps. Murder, Magic, and What We Wore was more of a sunken ship, but I love that it had the time to grow depths and reveal new aspects while it sat there in the dark. That coral reef process is my preference for the very early stage — after that, it’s writing and revision, over and over, regardless of how it started. But I find it hard to add new depths and organic growth in time for a deadline, so I try to build those in first.

3. Can we look forward to more magic, wildly wonderful garments and perhaps even a bit of romance? (I hope the answer is yes!)

Definitely more magic! I’m fascinated by “what if” stories, and magic is often a part of mine. I’m also fascinated by young people who feel a sense of responsibility, and are interested in the work they do, and who try to learn to do it better. I like stories about young people who aren’t very good at things yet, perhaps because I spent a lot of years not being very good at things, and trying to do them anyway.

The next couple of books I’ve been working on don’t have a fashion or romantic focus, though: the middle grade sequel to Unusual Chickens for the Exceptional Poultry Farmer will be out this fall, and although Are You Ready to Hatch an Unusual Chicken? follows a young woman determined to do the best she can with a difficult situation, it’s another novel about taking care of chickens with magical abilities, not sewing glamours. After that will be the tentatively-titled Sauerkraut, also a contemporary magical middle grade novel.

I do have a couple of coral reefs growing around more Regency magic, though, and I’d very much like to know what Millicent thinks of the adventures that come next, so perhaps one day? (I can assure you that Annis will not stop being concerned about what everyone is wearing anytime soon!) This is an area where readers have more power than writers: the sequel to Unusual Chickens happened because readers were interested in the characters, the world, and what came next. They read it, and talked about it, and shared it, and wondered. So, whenever you love a book and wish there were more, tell someone else about it!

While you wait, I hope your readers will try some of the books by other authors mentioned in my Author’s Note — as well as the Regency fantasy novels that come after!

Review: Runny Babbit Returns


Runny Babbit Returns

Author: Shel Silverstein

Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers, 2017

Source: Public Library

Are you ready for more poems from the Silverstein archives? If so, the first step is to learn to talk like Runny Babbit. In this language, a purple hat becomes a hurple pat or to read a book becomes to bead a rook. Many of us know this language and use it on occasion already, which is good, for it is essential part of joining in the fun.

With weenie roasts with fire-breathing dragons to suspiciously eerie caves with sharply-pointed stalactites and stalagmites, we are welcomed into the world of Runny Babbit as he goes about his daily business. Whether he is finding adventures or enjoying life’s simple pleasures, Runny Babbit continues to enchant us.

This poetry doesn’t seem like poetry at all. It seems like we’ve joined a good friend in a special little chat – or should I say chittle lat?