Thank you so much to Boyds Mills Press for sending us What If…Then We to review and to Rebecca Kai Dotlich for giving us the inside scoop! All opinions are our own.
We fell in love with dynamic author/illustrator team, Rebecca Kai Dotlich and Fred Koehler awhile ago when we first got our hands on One Day, The End. Check out our interview with Rebecca about the book here and our interview with Fred about his debut chapter book, Garbage Island here.
We are so excited to share with you Rebecca and Fred’s latest, What If…Then We.
The book takes you on an imaginary ride with polar bear friends thinking up “what if” scenarios. What if… all the crayons in the world melted, we couldn’t find our way home, something really big and scary happens. Following the same format as its’ companion book One Day, The End with minimal words telling the story but so much meaning and creativity you can read this one over again and again and still feel like you’ve read it for the first time! The illustrations are beautiful and add so much depth to the words. It was hard to pick a favorite illustration but my five year old and I loved the detail on this one because we noticed the reflection of one polar bear in the water and the other polar bear painting the same picture.
We asked Rebecca Kai Dotlich for the Inside Scoop as she wrote this beautiful book…
When I began to brainstorm the “possibilities” and “what ifs …” in a tiny blue notebook, I was loosely envisioning a parent/child relationship — but as soon as I told that to Fred Koehler, my fabulous and creative illustrator, he said “I see them as friends.” And I thought for a moment and said “cool.” And that’s how it became about friendship, woven with the idea of imagination and possibilities. (Also, Fred had the sketches of his little polar bears on his phone and shared them with me over hot chocolate and we both felt immediately that the words of the story and the polar bears were a match.)
What can you imagine?
We were imagining the endless possibilities and teachable moments that could happen while reading. I read it with my five year old and I kept asking him to answer the what if questions. He loved sharing with me where his imagination was taking him. As we turned from page to page he started thinking about what we could create together to go beyond the book: use paper to make origami animals, birds, boats and waves; build a spaceship with cardboard boxes and use crayons to draw all the buttons and finally write our own version of what if…then we. We can also see using this in a classroom to inspire children to imagine various scenarios, to show that sometimes we don’t need lots of words to make a story interesting and captivating and to have discussions around friendship. What possibilities can you imagine, discuss, create and build while reading?
What if the book never ended…then we would be so happy and do a book dance! But for now let’s do a GIVEAWAY!
***GIVEAWAY INFORMATION**** Thank you Boyds Mills Press for sharing the book with us! They were kind enough to donate a copy to one lucky reader! Here are three ways to enter, (US only: Giveaway closes on Wednesday, 2/13 @ midnight ET).
I was at an arcade with my 4 year old son this weekend. I gave him a set amount of quarters he can spend. His eyes immediately set on the claw machine. The claw machine that is known to cause frustration and heartbreak among its players. My son was adamant about using his money to get one of the balls inside. As a parent I am doing my best to convince him not to waste his time, but he kept putting his money in and getting no results. Although outwardly I was trying to set him up for failure, I can see the scene now, all quarters gone, no ball and one hysterical crying kid; so what did I do quietly inside my head? I made a wish and asked for him to win a ball. And you know what, two attempts later, when quarters were almost gone, he moves his claw and gets THREE balls! Not one, not two, but 3! He was so happy! As I was for him and I knew I would not leave with a crying kid.
As we exited the arcade a thought passed over me, it took me back to one of the theme’s in the book I just finished. In The Collectors, we find out that some wishes won’t ever come true, as they aren’t wished in a correct manner, but the ones done in a correct way, will come true. When a real wish goes through, you don’t wish for how it comes true, so at times it might end up being granted, but at the expense of someone or something. Truth be told, the way I wished for my son winning, according to the book, wouldn’t have come true, but the fact that it did come true and I could have never predicted the how (him winning 3 balls!) made me stop and think more about this book after finishing it. And that’s what good books do!
The Collectors by Jacqueline West just took home the Schneider Family Book Award Honor for Middle School book! This action packed story follows our main character of Van. Van likes to keep to himself, but while at a park one day, he finds his curiosity take over when he observes unusual behavior from a girl and a squirrel, it appears they are stealing coins from the fountain. Van tries to figure out what he just witnessed and in doing so is thrown into a good vs. evil underworld of the collectors, a group collecting and keeping wishes from coming true. With a hidden world, talking animals, and not knowing who to trust, Van tries to navigate this world and find out who is being genuine and what the real truth is about our wishes.
This book keeps you on the edge of your seat with some valuable messages along the way. Van, our main character wears hearing aides, but it was fascinating how Jacqueline writes how he hears the world around him, and that in Van’s eyes, his disability is viewed as his normal, despite what others feel. Friendship, what makes a true friendship, and that many of us can struggle in different ways but by giving people chances, we can open doors to understanding new things.
Jacqueline stopped by the blog to answer this question. (Read to bottom to see how you can win a copy of the book).
Can you give us any inside scoop on the book that we wouldn’t learn from reading it?
When I started writing the story that would become The Collectors, I didn’t know that Van was hard of hearing. Most of the other elements of the story were in place — Van’s collecting hobby, his life with his opera-singer mother, his discovery of an underworld filled with secretive people, odd creatures, and gathered wishes — but it wasn’t until I was halfway through the first full draft that I realized: Oh. Van wears hearing aids. It felt like the character had told me this important fact about himself only after I had gotten to know him well. And once I knew that fact, everything else in the story fell into place. All of the logic and all of the magic worked in ways they hadn’t before. It was incredibly exciting, and incredibly scary,because, as a hearing person, I wasn’t sure I could do Van’s perception justice. But I had wonderful help with my research, from librarians to teachers to several deaf and hard of hearing students. (Of course, you can learn that bit from reading the book — at least, you can if you read the acknowledgements!)
***GIVEAWAY INFORMATION**** Thank you Jacqueline for sharing the book with us! She was kind enough to donate a signed copy of The Collectors to one lucky reader! Here are three ways to enter, (US only: Giveaway closes on Tuesday, 2/12 @ midnight ET).
This wonderful new book about making the most out of your birthday will be released next Tuesday, February 12th. Penguin books was gracious enough to send us the F and G to read and share.
This book is is adorable! It takes you through the 10 rules the authors have picked to help any reader have a successful birthday. With humor spread through the text and pictures, this will surely have readers of all ages laughing and hoping their birthday isn’t too far away to celebrate.
“Rule #5- There must be signing. Traditionally the “Happy Birthday” song. Sung happily and loudly and definitely off-key. ”
I am so excited to use this as my new go-to birthday book present! Also, it can be used in the classroom to talk with your kids and students about birthday traditions.
“Rule #9- You must blow out the candles in one single breath. Unless you are a camel…..” (Page turn…)
I also envision this as a great book for reading and writing in the elementary classroom. Using the part mentioned above, I can see how it helps kids with predictions, inference, or even for writing. Kids can practice personification, but still using real facts.
Today, January 31st we celebrate National Inspire Your Heart with Art Day. Penguin Publishing has kindly given us a copy of My Heart to use to inspire our young children to celebrate how special our hearts can be. If you haven’t read this gorgeous and heartfelt book you need to immediately read it! Corina Luyken has a true talent for creating the reader with an experience as you move through the pages of her book.
My Heart tells readers that it is ok to feel different things, to be closed to ideas and people and open your heart when you are able and ready.
After reading and discussing the book with 5th graders I had them each help decorate our clear “open” heart. Each student came up with whatever was in their hearts at that moment and decorated a small square that would be placed on our group heart.
Students were so excited to show off how they represented what was in their hearts. Some very literal “I have lemon squares on my mind” to a student drawing an abstract design and described it as a beautiful ocean scene.
Once we finished our squares we put them on the heart and taped the heart to the window. The students felt proud to see their work displayed, and how it came out so well together. We all left with our hearts full.
A friend of mine got together with his brothers and created this special picture book called Chasing The Sun. Mike, who is the Masserman brother I know, has always been a great storyteller and one who loves to travel. This book is a product of many of his adventures and takes its readers on an adventure too!
Tiki The Turtle who lives on an island his whole life, begins to wonder where the sun is going each day. He spends the next day chasing the sun. He encounters many of his friends and asks for their help and wisdom for finding it, but in the end, after visiting many spots on the island and talking to many animals, the sun has come back. Will he ever find out where it went? Or be satisfied with seeing it each day before it disappears?!
Told in rhyme and with vibrant, bold color illustrations, this book will keep the interest of all readers. Reading with my son, we discussed how Tiki never gave up on trying to find the sun, at one point he gets tired and we think might stop, but he comes upon a snail who thinks can help. It was great to talk about not stopping when things get hard or you aren’t finding a solution right away. We also loved pointing out all the different animals Tiki chats with during his journey. The Masserman brothers put a fun facts page in the back so we were able to talk more about each animal mentioned.
Personally knowing one of the authors and hearing a lot about the other brothers, I know the book’s message is one they all believe in: taking it all in and appreciating what you have and searching for what might still be out there!
We asked the Masserman brothers to give us the INSIDE SCOOP…
Hailing from Irvine, California, these Wolverines (they all went to Michigan – Go Blue) grew up surfing, hiking, playing music, laying in hammocks, and exploring the world. They’ve surfed in Mexico, trekked in Alaska, backpacked through Southeast Asia, and are only just getting started!
This book has been a passion project ever since Mike spent his junior year in college abroad watching sunsets in Jerusalem, and scribbled a few notes in his journal about a kid chasing the sun. Many years later, Oren visited Mike in Sydney, picked up that old journal, and this brand new adventure had suddenly begun.
By then, Oren had moved to Maui and started writing ukulele music, where he had kids dancing on boats to his tunes. Tal was finishing up Dental School at the time, and with his unique take on what kids like (island adventure books), this brothers publishing trio was formed.
They hope to spread the aloha spirit with this book, and inspire people to appreciate the journey, dream out loud, and keep chasing it all.
Thank you to the Masserman brothers for joining Storymamas on their blog. To purchase the book, please feel free to click on the title of the book below. (It will take you to amazon, but it is not an affiliated link).
Have you gotten a chance to check out Q & Ray? It is a wonderful beginning reader, graphic novel series written and illustrated by husband and wife team, Stephen and Trisha Shaskan. So far there are three Q and Ray series. Q and Ray Case #1 The Missing Mola Lisa, Case #2 Metorite or Meteor-Wrong? and Case #3 Foul Play At Elm Tree Park. They are written in graphic novel style in which friends Q and Ray end up using their observational skills to solve a mystery. These are great books for students who enjoy reading mysteries and can be used by teachers to help teach the mystery elements. Using a creative spin, Trisha has based the storylines off of real facts from art, science and history. This latest book, gives facts at the end about The All American Girls Professional Baseball League, while the other books talk about art, the Mona Lisa and meteors. They are filled with knowledge, humor, fun expressions (Leaping Limburger), friendship and mystery! Be sure to check them out!
Trisha and Stephen stopped by the blog to answer 3 questions about the series and three questions about them!
Three Questions about Q & Ray series
We love how curious and willing to learn Q and Ray are, where did the inspiration come from for creating these 2 characters?
After we both graduated college, Stephen and I met while working at an elementary school. For the first time, I was an educational assistant in a second-grade classroom, but also taught storytelling and creative writing after school for kindergarten through fifth-grade students. I found creative ways to engage students through stories, songs, humor, and imagination. Like our characters Q and Ray, the students were curious, eager, and able to learn. I have kept that teaching experience in my heart and I channel it, often subconsciously, while writing books. I am also a very curious person. Each of the Q & Ray graphic novels has a theme I wanted to learn about and one I know kids might be curious about—for example magic, Leonardo da Vinci, how meteors become meteorites, or the AAGPBL (All-American Girls Professional Baseball League.) The characters names Q & Ray are a riff on Q & A, questions and answers, which is at the heart of a mystery. As far as mysteries go, I was heavily influenced by Sherlock Holmes while writing this series. I am a huge fan. As my sister Nicole Speed says, Holmes’ mysteries are “a brain massage.”
It is not uncommon for writers and illustrators to never meet, as a husband and wife team, how does the process for creating this book work?
All the books that we work on together are ideas that we have worked on together from the start.
Both of us read each other’s work and critique all of it—and help each other. For example, you’ll find phrases I contributed in Stephen’s picture books and the phrases Stephen contributed in my picture books. But the big difference in our books that we’ve created together is that we’re both involved in the whole process from the beginning brainstorm, to outlining the plot, to critiquing. But when it’s time to write, I go off on my own. And when it’s time to illustrate, Stephen works individually as well. We don’t interfere with each other during that part, which is fun because we usually surprise each other.
Which Q and Ray have been your favorite to work on and why? (We know it’s like picking a favorite kid 🙂 )
The first Q & RAY was so great to work on because it was my first time ever creating a fully colored finished 48 page graphic novel. I grew up reading comics and dabbled in creating them in my late twenties. When I was finished with the first book it felt like a huge accomplishment. As the series progressed, I continued to learn about creating graphic novels and really trying to push the form more.
For me, Q & RAY #3: Foul Play at Elm Tree Park was my favorite to write because I had learned enough about the graphic novel format to utilize it more fully. Plus: Doris Sams and the AAPGBL (All-American Pro Girls Baseball League) make appearances, which is so important to me. When I was a young athlete, I was often the only girl or one of a few girls surrounded by boys on the field, rink, or court. I didn’t know women once had a pro baseball league. I would’ve loved to have known that. Now I get to share that information with young people everywhere who also often don’t know about it.
Three Questions about You…
If you weren’t writing books for children, what would you be and why?
For twelve years, I was a preschool teacher. If I wasn’t creating books, I would probably be involved in early childhood education in some way as well as creating art. I’m always creating art. Even when I’m working on children’s books, I make time to do different art projects on the side: I’ve done political posters, made magic wands, installed a submarine room in our basement, and always have some little thing I’d like to try or something I find in an old sketch book that sparks some creativity.
I have worked in education and the roles I loved doing most would lead me to being a reading specialist, media specialist, or teaching ELL (English Language Learners).
What is one book you’ve read that has stuck with you since you’ve read it?
There are so many, this is a difficult question for an author/illustrator. Our bookshelves are lined with books that have stuck with me. I think Harold and the Purple Crayon is a great example of a book that has stuck with me. It’s so well crafted, simple, and elegant. It’s a book that works as a reader and as a read aloud.
The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame captures the heart of my childhood: friendship and the river. I grew up in a Mississippi River valley town, Winona, MN, like Ratty who lives on The River that grips “things with a gurgle.” The River flows through the story and connects Mole and Ratty as does nature and its cycles. Grahame’s springtime has “birds building, flowers budding, leaves thrusting—everything happy, and progressive, and occupied.” Grahame’s lyrical language sings on every page. But the heart of this story is the friendship of the shy Mole and good-natured Ratty, the impetuous Mr. Toad, and worldly Badger who doesn’t like society. Despite their differences and shortcomings, the characters are wonderful friends to each other. No matter what happens in the Wild Wood or world beyond they help each other get out of trials and tribulations. In friendship, there is hope and refuge like the sparkle of sunlight reflected on the ripple of a wave.
What is one item in your refrigerator that tells us about you?
Two bottles of cat medicine for our 19-year-old cat Eartha, who is my studio buddy and always so helpful.
A bottle of kombucha, which is for a house guest. I love welcoming friends and family into our home, so I always have something special in the fridge for an upcoming visitor.
Thank you so much Stephen and Trisha for stopping by our blog. We loved meeting both of you this past summer at NerdCamp and look forward to seeing you again in July!
Here are links to their websites if you’d like to learn more about them and their work:
Every year the Storymamas and our children get excited about the December tradition #holidaybookaday where we wrap books about the December holidays to open throughout the month. This year is no different and our excitement has already begun. Our children anxiously await the book(s) we get to unwrap each day and are filled with joy as we see old favorites and new books. This year we decided to share our booklist with all of you! We hope some of these titles are new! If you have any others we don’t have on our list that are ‘must haves’, please let us know! Stay tuned for more in depth reviews of a lot of these books as the month goes on! Happy holiday reading!
Remember to support your local bookstores and libraries whenever possible!
The storymamas are huge fans of Tim Miller’s talents and our kids can’t get enough of his Moo Moo books! You could imagine our eagerness to read Horse Meets Dog, the new book he illustrated by author Elliot Kalan, and we appreciate the f&g copy sent to us by Harper Collins.
When Horse meets Dog, he thinks that he is a tiny horse, and similarly when Dog meets Horse, he thinks he is just a big horse. The whole book is the two of them going back and forth in comedic fashion, trying to show each other that they are correct. You’ll love the funny banter between the two animals and the wonderful illustrations!
Three Questions About Your Work…
The illustrations in Horse Meets Dog really make the story! What was the collaboration like between you and author Elliott Kalan?
Hello Storymamas! Thank you so much for your interest in the book and for having me as a guest! (You’re welcome…and thank you for stopping by!)
The collaboration between Elliott and me making HORSE MEETS DOG was pretty straight forward. Elliott wrote it before I ever laid eyes on it, and then I got to do whatever I wanted; my favorite kind of collaboration! Although I toiled over the illustrations more than anything else I’ve done so far, the visuals themselves came easy to me because Elliott’s writing is so funny it draws itself. In that sense the collaboration was a breeze and a lot of fun!
What is your process for creating illustrations?
My process is basically this: 1) Read manuscript and let whatever visuals come to mind rise to the surface intuitively.
2) Take note of those impressions by scribbling tiny thumbnails in margins of manuscript.
3) Go at character sketches in a same way, drawing the first thing that comes to mind and then refine until you’re satisfied.
4) Storyboard thumbnail first impressions to see how everything looks together.
5) Next, see how you can smoosh everything into constraints of pagination limit. Nix what isn’t necessary and give prime real estate to the most important moments. At the same time, think about overall balance of book as a whole. How can you give it rythem throughout and differentiate things so that the reader can experience the unfolding of story in the most impactful way.
6) Be open to feedback from Editor and Art Director! Nothing is better than the opportunity to hear their input to broaden your thinking and shed light on things you may not have seen (Dana Fritts and Donna Bray were wonderful to collaborate with, and we had a lot of fun untangling some riddles in the pagination together early on).
7) Make rough sketches for finishes from thumbnails. Basically roughing out the ideas on a larger scale.
8) Then I make finished drawings with ink and brush on a lightbox working from roughs. I rarely draw each composition whole, but do it in fragments. For example, I’ll do a piece of Dog’s ear, then the snout, then the body and so forth. I do this because I’m rarely satisfied with each drawing as a total because I make a lot of mistakes. So, to cope with my sins I build a collection of fragments for each composition and then stitch everything together like a collage in the computer.
9) Finally, I add the color digitally!
We are huge fans of your work! What can we expect from you next?
Thank you so much! I feel incredibly lucky to be making books, and it means the world to me that you don’t hate them!
What’s next? Well, I can’t tell you because it’s still top-secret, but I can at least share that it’s partly inspired a former student of mine who wore cat ears to class every day.
Three Questions about Tim Miller…
If you weren’t an illustrator/author, what would you be and why?
I would draw and paint things that I like to look at because that is the one thing that makes me feel most connected to everything.
What is one book you’ve read that has stuck with you since you’ve read it?
Most recently it’s Jon Agee’s The Wall in the Middle of the Book. I’m in awe of it, and can’t stop thinking about how brilliant he is at realizing the potential of the art form.
What is one item in your refrigerator that tells us about you?
Eggs. Other than that the fridge is currently empty.
Many thanks to Tim Miller for the interview! We had a chance to meet him this summer at Nerd Camp and appreciate the support he’s given us. You can get your own copy of Horse Meets Dog today, and can learn more about him on his website.
Thank you Candlewick for allowing us to be a part of The Infamous Ratsos Blog tour. All opinions are our own.
We are big fans of the entire series and were equally thrilled after reading the latest story involving Ralphie and Louie. We adore all the characters, how they are unique and are always learning from each other and themselves.
In Project Fluffy, Louie decides to help Chuck get Fluffy to like him, even if it comes at the expense of his friendship with his brother. Louie spends his time writing poems for Chuck, and helping him execute a plan to win her heart. In the end, Chuck and Louie learn that the best plan isn’t a plan after all, and rather doing what you think they like, you should pay attention to what they like instead, is whats most important.
Kara LaReau took the time to answer 3 questions about The Infamous Ratos-Project Fluffy and 3 questions about herself!
3 ?s about The Infamous Ratsos – Project Fluffy
What are three words you would use to describe this book?
Poetry, love, skateboards
What can fans of the series expect from this book? (and any hints on the future of the series!?)
As always, Louie and Ralphie try to do the right thing, but make some mistakes along the way. Louie is trying to help Chuck Wood, the most popular boy in school, get a girl’s attention, but Louie has some pretty flawed plans to make that happen. And Ralphie is jealous of all the time Louie is spending with Chuck. So it’s about how we express our feelings to those we care about, and it’s a bit about objectification.
This is the third book in the Infamous Ratsos series, and there will be three more! In fact, I just delivered Book Five a couple of weeks ago; I can’t believe I only have one left to write!
How did you originally come up with the characters Ralphie and Louie?
I was thinking about taking the leap and trying to write a chapter book (I’d only published picture books up to that point) but I knew I needed to find just the right idea. At the same time, my grandfather had just died, so I was thinking about him a lot — in particular, I was thinking about the stories I’d heard about him and his older brother, who were known in their neighborhood as “troublemakers.” No one has ever seemed to be able to tell me just what kind of trouble they got into! So I started imagining their shenanigans, and that’s how Ralphie and Louie were born. (FYI, my grandfather’s name was Ralph and his older brother’s name was Lou!)
3 ?s about You
What is your “go-to” kidlit book to give as a gift and why?
I don’t have one in particular; I like to think about the personality of the parents. Recently, I bought some friends Here We Are: Notes for Living on Planet Earth by Oliver Jeffers, the new board book version of The Storm Whale by Benji Davies; and Be Kind by Pat Zietlow Miller, illustrated by my pal Jen Hill.
If you could have a dinner party with three people (dead or alive), who would you invite and why?
Julia Child, Gilda Radner, and Mr. Rogers. They all brought light into the world, in one way or another.
What has been your most memorable “author” moment in the last year?
The Infamous Ratsos was chosen for One Book South Dakota! I got to go to Sioux Falls and Brookings for the celebrations, where I spoke to more than 2500 kids! But really, any time I get to connect with my readers is a good day.
Thank you to Penguin Publishing for providing us with a copy of the book to review. All opinions are our own.
There are six innovations in our modern society that were not invented overnight, but rather took many years and many minds to create. How We Got to Now takes a look at those six areas: glass, cold, sound, clean, time, and light. In a non-fiction book perfect for middle to upper grade readers, author Steven Johnson captures the reader’s attention through engaging narrative text and authentic photographs.
Each chapter is a walk through history, with snippets of time periods and inventions that led to the world we live in today. From physician John Snow’s discoveries about the spread of cholera, to Clarence Birdseye developing flash freezing for food.
I loved how the book was divided into not only the chapters explaining the six innovations, but within each chapter were sections about the different time periods and inventions. The photographs and captions throughout the book helped breakup the text-rich pages and provide amazing visuals to further comprehension .
We recommend this book for 5th grade and up!
Author Bio: Steven Johnson is the popular, bestselling author of Wonderland and How We Got to Now, among other adult books. He was the host and co-creator of the PBS series How We Got to Now and has written for many blogs and publications, including TIME, Wired, The New York Times, and The Wall Street Journal.