Friends Stick Together

Teaching kids how to be good humans is high on my list.  I’m constantly stressing the importance of being kind to each other in my classroom and with my own children at home, so finding books that model positive behavior is always on my mind.  Thanks to Penguin Young Readers, we were given a copy of Friends Stick Together by Hannah E. Harrison, a story about two friends that are as opposite as can be.  They learn to accept each other, and their differences are what makes their friendship so strong.  Rupert feels frustrated by Levi, a tickbird that doesn’t have the same interests and always seems to be around.  He decides to get rid of Levi because he’s embarrassed and annoyed to have him around. In the end, Rupert learns that life was better with Levi around, and that he needs to be more openminded and  more accepting of others that are different.  What perfect lessons that everyone should learn!

In conjunction with a spring door decoration event at our school, I read Friends Stick Together to my class.  I routinely have my door decorations themed around friendship and being kind to each other, and this book was a great segue.  While the end product is nice to look at, it’s the conversations they have to get to the end product are what’s helping them grow into kind and considerate people.  The few minutes of discussion here, the read aloud there…all of the bits and pieces are important.  It’s all making a difference.

 

The Storymamas review board books, picture books, chapter books, and middle grade novels. The majority of the books we review on our site and social media are purchased from a bookstore or checked out from the library. However, at times when we receive Advanced Readers Copies of books from authors, illustrators, publishers, or publicists we will note that in our review of a book. We are not and have not been compensated for our reviews. For every review, all opinions are our own regardless of how we received the book.

Secondhand Heroes

We were contacted by Justin LaRocca Hansen, author of the graphic novel series, Secondhand Heroes, back in January.  The storymamas were eager to read his books and he generously sent us the trilogy, including his newest book that came out yesterday.  My students LOVE graphic novels, so I have spent this school year trying to add more of them to my #tbr pile.  The Secondhand Heroes books have so many elements that appeal to middle grade readers-fantasy, time travel, and good vs. evil.  Combine that with the graphic novel format, and you have a series that kids will love to read.  The storymamas enjoyed reading Justin’s stories, and were even more impressed with his artwork.  If only our umbrellas did more than protect us from the rain…

Justin was kind enough to answer a few questions for our blog.

Three Questions About the Secondhand Heroes Series

What are three words you would use to describe your series?

Adventure, Fun, Heart.

Where did you get the idea for your books?  Is there any significance to Hudson and Tuck’s superpower items?  

A lot of my ideas come from my actual life and then magic, superpowers or monsters are thrown in. I think that the idea for yard sale items becoming magical objects came from the fact that my family always had a healthy amount of junk in our basement. As a kid I loved going through all that glorious old junk acquired from my parents and grandparents past. There is a deep history and magic there. It was easy for me to believe, back then and now, that there could be real magic in those old discarded things.

Hudson’s umbrella I think came about when my brother once found an old umbrella at the bottom of a sand dune. He picked up the umbrella, ran to the top of the sand dune, leapt off and opened the umbrella as he fell. I assume he thought the umbrella would catch the wind and he would gently float to the ground. He didn’t of course. He fell and twisted his ankle however for a moment I imagined him taking off into the sky. Now I had forgotten about that moment until well after I painted a panel of Hudson taking off with his umbrella. I remembered it later and realized that that’s where the idea may have come from. Ideas and stories are like that. They get planted in your brain and then can come out later.

For Tucker’s scarves I just love the action of swinging and gliding. Scarves that could move, slingshot and stretch fit that perfectly.

Did you always set out to write a trilogy?  Do you write your books first and then illustrate?  What is your process?

I didn’t set out to make a trilogy but as I wrote the story I realized it was much larger than one book. I think of it as one story split up into three parts. I knew that it would take me a really long time to finish illustrating. I pencil, ink and then watercolor each page so it is super time consuming…but also super fun!

I generally come up with images first and sketch those out. I have these moments fully fleshed out in my mind and then I might sketch or paint some of these scenes. Then I start the process of writing and connecting these moments together and seeing where else the story goes. And that part is so fun because as a writer you’re discovering things about these characters and their journey that perhaps you didn’t initially plan on.

Three Questions About Justin LaRocca Hansen

You’ve mentioned that you also teach preschool.  What inspired you create a book and how do you balance your time doing both?

I absolutely love storytelling in all its forms whether it’s music, comics, books, movies or someone you meet on the street talking about their life. I knew from a young age that that is what I wanted to do. My favorite stories are the ones that I heard as a young person and those are the stories I enjoy telling most. Working with children I get to see the impact that stories have on us at a young age and I always wanted to be a part of that. So I feel extremely lucky and appreciative that I actually get to do share stories with people. Balancing the time between teaching and writing/illustrating can be tough, especially when you’re on a deadline. The school I teach at was kind enough to let me cut my days back to 3 a week so that I could work on the books on my free days. But it was a slog, I’d work afternoons after school, weekends, and super late into the evening. A slog I am super happy for, but a slog nonetheless. I will say to anyone that finds themselves on a deadline and with a seemingly insurmountable mountain of work in front of you, take some time for yourself. Spend time with friends and loved ones even if it’s just for a little bit. I have an incredible wife and friends and family that gave me tremendous support for those great big slogs. Also has anyone used the word “slog” that many times in one interview? I’m calling Guinness, that has to be a record.

What is one book that has stuck with you since you’ve read it?

Oh boy. Let’s go with There’s a Nightmare in My Closet by Mercer Mayer. I have been in love with monsters since that book. My first book was a picture book called Monster Hunter and there are plenty of monsters in Secondhand Heroes as well. It’s possible that the reason for that lies with Mr. Mayer and perhaps Maurice Sendak author of Where the Wild Things Are as was well.

What is one item in your refrigerator that tells us about you?

This might be cheating but these three items kind of combine into one glorious topping. Horseradish, cocktail sauce, and lemons. You put a little bit of the first two and a squeeze of lemon on top of an oyster, slurp that down and you are having yourself a good day. I almost always have those things stocked in the fridge for when I feel the urge to hit the fish market and get some fresh oysters. I grew up on the ocean so that urge happens often. Tastes like home.

Thanks again to Justin for sharing his books and thoughts with us.  Be sure to checkout his trilogy, which can be found at your favorite local bookstores or online retailers.

 

The Storymamas review board books, picture books, chapter books, and middle grade novels. The majority of the books we review on our site and social media are purchased from a bookstore or checked out from the library. However, at times when we receive Advanced Readers Copies of books from authors, illustrators, publishers, or publicists we will note that in our review of a book. We are not and have not been compensated for our reviews. For every review, all opinions are our own regardless of how we received the book.

Interview with Olga Author Elise Gravel

Happy book birthday to the talented artist and author, Elise Gravel.  Elise has written many of our favorites, from The Cranky Ballerina to The Disgusting Critters series.  Her latest is the second book about Olga and her peculiar pet, Meh.  When we meet up with Olga again in Olga:  We’re Out of Here, she is determined to leave planet Earth in hopes of finding Meh’s hometown.  While planning her excursion, Meh begins acting peculiar, and it’s Olga’s job to find out what’s happening to her dear pet.  We won’t ruin the ending, but you will be pleasantly surprised.  We were so excited to hear that there is a third book about Olga and Meh, and we can’t wait to read it.

As with all of her books, Olga is filled with adorable pictures and a clever story.  If you haven’t had a chance to read any, they range in both topic and length.  We have yet to read one of her books that we don’t love.  What’s even better, you can visit her website and download/print free posters she’s created!  Many thanks to Elise Gravel for sending us an ARC to read.

Three Questions about Olga:  We’re Out of Here

What are three words you would use to describe your book?  

Funny, curious, and weird.

Did you originally plan for Olga to be a series?  Are there more books to come?

Yes, it was always meant to be a series! I am now working on #3.

Which came first, the doodles for Olga and Meh, or the story?

It all came from a drawing of Olga and Meh, and then I decided to create a world for them.

Three Questions About Elise Gravel

If you weren’t a writer/illustrator, what would you want to be and why?

When I was a kid, I wanted to be either a rockstar or a teacher. Rockstar: because I love music and I thought it sounded awesome to play music for a living, and teacher: because I think teachers are among the most important people in our society.

What is one book that has stuck with you since you’ve read it?

All of Roald Dahl’s books. As a kid, I was thrilled by the kid-heroes who were fighting really evil guys. Also, the books were funny!

What is one item in your refrigerator that tells us about you?

There is a LOT of cheese in my fridge. What does it say about me, though? I’m not sure… Maybe that my ancestors are French?

The Storymamas review board books, picture books, chapter books, and middle grade novels. The majority of the books we review on our site and social media are purchased from a bookstore or checked out from the library. However, at times when we receive Advanced Readers Copies of books from authors, illustrators, publishers, or publicists we will note that in our review of a book. We are not and have not been compensated for our reviews. For every review, all opinions are our own regardless of how we received the book.

The Science of Breakable Things – An Author Interview with Tae Keller

After discovering The Science of Breakable Things on the Electric Eighteens website, I couldn’t wait to read it.  I love books that have a story; one about life, or family, or hope, or friendship.  Or in this case, all of the above.

Written as a science lab notebook, with different sections following the different parts of a scientific method, The Science of Breakable Things tells the story of Natalie, a young girl whose mother is suffering from depression.  She’s convinced that she can bring her mother back from the dark depths of her bedroom to the mother that she knows and loves, and also misses.  When her science teacher introduces her to the idea of an egg drop competition, Natalie enters with a team of her best friend and an unlikely partner.  Her plan is to use the prize money to get her hands on a rare flower that has special meaning to her and her mother, and thus showing her mother that her life is worth living.

Tae Keller has an amazing way with words and Natalie’s story is filled with emotion, sadness, and triumph.  Tae was kind enough to send us an ARC, and answer some questions about The Science of Breakable Things and herself below.

 Three Questions About The Science of Breakable Things

What are three words you would use to describe your book?  

Hopeful, honest, and…egg-cellent (…sorry, I can’t resist a bad pun).

You’re characters were so complex and well-developed.  Which did you have the idea for first? The characters and their personalities, or the plot of the story?  

Thank you! I knew I wanted to format the book as a middle school lab notebook, so I knew the story would revolve around science in some way, but besides that, the characters came first. I always prefer to start with characters because their motivations, fears, and desires determine the plot.

What was the inspiration for your story?  Was Natalie’s story based off of your own experiences in life?  

When I started writing the story, I had just found out that someone very close to me was suffering from depression. It was such a scary time; I didn’t know how to help or what to do and I wrote the story as a way to process my own fear. Natalie’s situation with her mom was different enough from my own that I could still keep some distance, but close enough that I could work through what I was feeling at the time. I actually wrote more about that process here.

Three Questions About Tae Keller

If you weren’t a writer, what would you be and why?

Even if I weren’t a writer I’d do something with books. I love them and I can’t escape them. I’d like to work in publishing again, or be an English teacher, or a bookseller. A life full of stories is a happy life.

What is one book that you have read that has stuck with you?

HOLES by Louis Sachar! It’s one of my favorite books ever, and it’s brilliantly crafted. I loved it as a child reader, and I love it even more as an adult writer. I still reread it, and every time I do I learn something new about writing.

What is one thing in your refrigerator that tells us about you?

Not so much in my refrigerator as on it, but I love my word magnets. I was in a creative rut a few months ago, feeling completely uninspired, and on a whim, I pulled the magnets off my refrigerator and made a poem out of them. It was such a jolt to my creative system, and it was pure fun. I do this often now and post the little poems on Instagram when I need a break from writing books.

 

The Storymamas review board books, picture books, chapter books and middle grade novels. The majority of the books we review on our site and social media are purchased from a bookstore or checked out from the library. However, at times when we receive Advanced Readers Copies of books from authors, illustrators, publishers, or publicists we will note that in our review of a book. We are not and have not been compensated for our reviews. For every review, all opinions are our own regardless of how we received the book.

My Colorful Chameleon – An Interview with Leonie Roberts

We were each generously given copies of My Colorful Chameleon by Leonie Roberts to review and enjoy with our children.  And I have to say, the books are definitely being enjoyed!  There are so many elements of the book that are appealing to younger children, especially the rhyming that is found throughout.  In addition, on almost every page, the young girl’s chameleon is hiding, which adds to the mother’s frustration, but makes for a fun search at each turn.  Throughout the book, there are also opportunities for conversations about more rich vocabulary words.  In the story, the girl and her mother take the chameleon to the veterinarian, and the doctor discusses why her pet changes colors, which is a great jumping off point to talk about the word camouflage.  But be careful, this book just might have your children asking for a pet chameleon!

We had the opportunity to interview Leonie Roberts to learn more about her and My Colorful Chameleon.       

Three Questions About My Colorful Chameleon

What are three words you would use to describe your book?

Cute, funny and colorful!

Did you initially set out to create a book that rhymes?  Or did you initially draft it differently?

I didn’t deliberately set out to write this in rhyme but the story seemed to lend itself to rhyme and so even the early drafts were rhyming. Since then I have been writing both in rhyme and prose.

We love how well the illustrations match your words.  Did you have a lot of say in the illustrations?  What was your collaboration like with Mike Byrne?

The illustrations were completely down to Mike. He had free rein on how to interpret the text and I was delighted with the results.

Three Questions About Leonie Roberts

If you weren’t a writer, what would you be and why?

I am actually still a primary school teacher and I love working with young children because they never fail to brighten up my day. Children are so clever and funny and there aren’t many more rewarding jobs out there.

If I wasn’t a writer and I could be anything I would probably be a singer. I’ve always loved singing even before I dreamt of becoming a writer.

What is one book that you have read that has stuck with you?

As a child the book that stuck with me was, “Pongwiffy” by Kate Umansky. I can’t remember what happened in it I can just recall how much I enjoyed it.

As an adult, “The Hunger Games” trilogy stuck with me, so much so that it is the only trilogy I have read twice.

What is one thing in your refrigerator that tells us about you.

A creme caramel because I love my sweet treats.

 

The Storymamas review board books, picture books, chapter books and middle grade novels. The majority of the books we review on our site and social media are purchased from a bookstore or checked out from the library. However, at times when we receive Advanced Readers Copies of books from authors, illustrators, publishers, or publicists we will note that in our review of a book. We are not and have not been compensated for our reviews. For every review, all opinions are our own regardless of how we received the book.

The 11:11 Wish…An Interview With Kim Tomsic

We’ve all had those moments, when we’ve made a whimsical wish knowing that it won’t come true, but are secretly hope that it does anyway.  But what if on one of those days, the wish…does come true?  Kim Tomsic was kind enough to send us an advanced copy of The 11:11 Wish, and answer questions in our interview below.

In the book,Megan is having trouble fitting in as a new student in middle school from day one after she is “zapped” by a classmate as she arrives in the office.  A new student hazing of sorts, Megan needs to plan something exciting by the end of the day.  Feeling lost, the memory of a rhyme her grandmother once recited while wishing on a cat clock comes back to her as she notices the same type of clock in her classroom.  One wish leads to another and before she knows it, Megan is in way over her head!

The 11:11 Wish tells the timeless struggles of going through middle school, while taking on a modern, fanciful feel.  Middle grade readers will definitely be able to relate to the characters and picture themselves in the novel.  Read below to hear from Kim Tomsic.

3 Questions about The 11:11 Wish

Is Megan’s character based at all off of your middle school experience?  My father was in the military, so I spent much of my life as the new girl, which felt fine when I was younger, but not so fine when I moved from Texas to a new school in Arizona. Somewhat like Megan’s experience of moving two weeks after the start of her seventh-grade school year, my move happened three weeks after my freshman year of high school. Yep, school had already begun which made for one tough experience! Everyone already had their friend groups, and I spent my time worrying that I’d be sitting alone at lunch. I’m not sure why that felt like it would be the worst thing in the world, but the thought of everyone seeing me sit by myself felt humiliating. The funny thing is, now I can’t remember who I ate with during those first few months or why the idea of people seeing me eat alone mattered. I have no problem sitting by myself now, but that experience serves me today as a reminder to reach out to someone in case they feel awkward or alone.

The problems that Megan faced have been problems kids have faced in middle school for years and years.  What research did you need to do to make her experience authentic and realistic in current times?

My research came from having a front row seat to the inside skinny with my kids—I was a good listener when I carpooled my children and their friends to school, to soccer, to dance, to the mall, to lunch, to anywhere! Furthermore, I was an active volunteer at their school. My main character Megan has a “wenis” incident in the story; well, a “wenis” is something my son came home from school laughing about. He thought it was the funniest thing he’d ever heard. Megan’s worry that she might be dressed like a forest ranger—I swear I heard those very words from my daughter’s own lips.  Many of the funny moments in the story contain a kernel of real life.   

What was the inspiration for your book?  Do you personally own a cat clock?

When I grew up, my family had cats but never a cat clock. Oh, how I loved those clocks, especially the ticking-tocking eyes and moving tail, so fun and whimsical! The notion of saving my money and purchasing a cat clock didn’t even occur to me, because it felt untouchable, like an item too magical to own.

As an adult, my niece and my daughter loved to announce that it was time to wish whenever the clock (any clock) ticked to 11:11. That’s when the idea struck me—I needed to write a book about wishing at 11:11, and naturally the magic had to be leveled by the magical cat clock of my memories.

You’ll be happy to know that after I turned in my final edits for The 11:11 Wish, I made a special celebration purchase: One authentic black and white Kitty-Cat Clock!

3 Questions about You

If you weren’t a writer, what would you want to be and why?

I love this question and the possibilities that spring to mind. I think my answer changes every week. This week’s answer:  if I weren’t a writer, I’d study to become an illustrator!  I love to sketch and draw, and though I only have minimal skills, it’s satisfying to take out my colored pencils and watch a shape take life. I find it fascinating when I go to a conference and listen to an illustrator give a presentation about the artistic choices he or she made to produce magic in their art. Professional illustrators are true wizards and I’m awed by their craft.

What is one book that has stuck with you since you’ve read it?

I recently read an advance copy of a book releasing in June, 2018 called The Boy, The Boat, and the Beast by Samantha M. Clark. I found the book similar to Hatchet meets The Wizard of Oz. I can’t stop thinking about how it all comes together in the end.

What is one item in your fridge that tells us about you?

Hmmmm, probably my tangerine LaCroix—I don’t mind being bubbly!

 

Kim’s upcoming events…

THE 11:11 WISH Book Launch BOULDER!
 DATE:

Thursday, 22 February 2018

 TIME:

6:30 pm

 VENUE:

Boulder Bookstore, Pearl Street, Boulder, CO

Book Launch party! Please join me!
1107 Pearl Street, Boulder CO
The 11:11 Wish book launch party DENVER!
 DATE:

Saturday, 3 March 2018

 TIME:

1:30 pm

 VENUE:

BookBar Denver, 4280 Tennyson Street, Denver, CO

Please join me at BookBar for my Denver launch party of The 11:11 Wish!

When: March 3, 2018

Time: 1:30pm

Where: BookBar Denver, 4280 Tennyson Street, Denver CO

Tattered Cover Writing Workshop for Kids, So You Want to be a Writer! 11 Magical Tips to Make Your Writing Come Alive!
 DATE:

Saturday, 24 March 2018

 TIME:

1:00 pm – 3:00 pm

 VENUE:

Tattered Cover Bookstore, 2526 E Colfax Ave, Denver, CO 80206

Writing workshop for kids, ages 8-18 years old: So You Want to be a Writer! 11 Magical Tips to Make Your Writing Come Alive
nErDcampKS
 DATE:

Tuesday, 5 June 2018

 VENUE:

nErDcampKS

nErDcampKS 2018 Hesston, Kansas

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Storymamas review board books, picture books, chapter books and middle grade novels. The majority of the books we review on our site and social media are purchased from a bookstore or checked out from the library. However, at times when we receive Advanced Readers Copies of books from authors, illustrators, publishers, or publicists we will note that in our review of a book. We are not and have not been compensated for our reviews. For every review, all opinions are our own regardless of how we received the book.

What Do You Do With a Chance? An Interview With Author Kobi Yamada

You know you’ve found an amazing picture book when it makes you truly think and reflect on the world around you.  Author Kobi Yamada’s first book in the series, What Do You Do With an Idea? spoke to the reader metaphorically, encouraging those ideas we might not think good enough to be set free into the world of possible.  We were further impressed with the second title, What Do You Do With a Problem. It proved to be an inspirational read aloud, providing a bright outlook on how to approach problems, and the meaningful experiences that might unfold.  So when we were contacted by Compendium to review the third and final book, What Do You Do With a Chance, we couldn’t wait to read it.

The book follows the same character, who this time is presented with a chance.  We’ve all been there, internally debating if we should take a chance we are presented with, the dialogue going through our heads of the endless possibilities and outcomes that lie within this one decision.  The reader is able to relate to the character’s thoughts of all eyes looking at him and the seeming pressure from those around us when we step outside of our comfort zone.  And sometimes those pressures become too much, and opportunities get pushed aside.  It’s only when we courageously dig down deep that the chance of something wonderful can truly exist.  We can all relate to this theory of thought, and What Do You Do With a Chance? will inspire those young and old to always seize the opportunities given to us…they might just change our lives.

We had the chance to interview Kobi Yamada about himself and his books.

Three Questions About What Do You Do With a Chance?

What was your inspiration for your What Do You Do… series?

It all started with an idea.  I think in many ways, I didn’t write What Do You Do With An Idea? as much as the story chose me.  I’ve always felt deeply honored that the inspiration for the book woke me up one morning and wanted me to share it with the world.

Tell us about your collaboration with Mae Besom.  The pictures fit so perfectly with your words.  Did you have a lot of input on the illustrations?  

When I was writing the book, in my mind, I always pictured Mae illustrating it.  I had descriptions and notes for each page, but then when I reached out to her agent, I discovered that Mae lived in China and didn’t speak English.  I was concerned because in order for the book to work, the illustrator needed to understand its deeper meaning.  What I discovered through the interpreter was that Mae not only understood what I was trying to do, but was moved and inspired by it.  She embraced the concept of bringing the book from black and white to color as the idea influences its surroundings and added so many wonderful visual elements.  It was ridiculously fun to collaborate in such a magical way.

Why did you decide to stop the series at three books?  I know there is a lot of love and admiration for your series, so we’d like to know your thoughts behind just making the three.  (After reading it to my students, they suggested What Do You Do With a Question…even they want more!)

I didn’t set out to write a series.  It just happened with the concept for the second book.  And when I wrote that second book, I purposefully had the bones of the book match the structure of the first one.  Naturally, this carried over to book number three. I felt it was time for me to create a picture book in a brand new way and so my next book is something completely different and I am really excited by the challenge of it.

3 Questions About Kobi Yamada

If you weren’t a writer, what would you want to be and why?

Actually, I don’t really think of myself as a writer.  I am grateful and honored to author books but my day job is running Compendium and I couldn’t be happier or feel more fortunate.  I am surrounded by talented, caring, big-hearted people trying to make a positive difference in the world.  Who could ask for more?

What is one book that has stuck with you since you’ve read it?

The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho.  I was a young person when I first read it, and to an optimist like me, when I read his words such as, “And, when you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you achieve it.”  Well, they have a way of sticking with you.  

What is one item in your fridge that tells us about you?

Kombucha.  Healthy, bubbly, tasty, with a bit of kick…that’s good for your gut.  I think that says a lot about why I like it.  

 

A big thank you to Kobi Yamada for answering our questions and sharing his thoughts.  Be sure to check out Compedium for a wide variety of inspiration books and gifts, including an adorable Idea plush!

*Can’t wait to read What Do You Do With a Chance? Enter on Instagram or twitter @storymamas to win a copy!

 

 

 

 

All opinions and reviews are our own.

Voices in the Park

Voices in the Park by Anthony Browne is one of my favorite books to teach with!  Every year, my students are mesmerized by the illustrations and love to see how the different points of view are woven together.

I use this book teach point of view.  This year I used it to introduce a short writing unit that we are going to do between Thanksgiving and winter break which focuses on looking at a person from different points of view.  I divided the students into four equal groups and spread the groups out in the room and the hallway.  The book is told from four points of view, or voices, so each group was assigned to a different voice, and they were given a file folder with a copy of each illustration from their voice.

The students had time to look at all of their pictures and share what they saw.  After enough time for discussion, they were instructed to put the pictures in what they thought was a logical order, coming up with a story about what was happening as they worked.  When the groups were finished writing down their stories, I put the pictures up on the board in their order and they took turns telling their stories to their peers.  One of my favorite parts of this activity is when at this point, they realize that “their” characters are in someone else’s story, too.  After each group had gone, I gathered the students on the rug and read aloud the text.

I love this lesson for so many reasons.  The conversations at all stages are organic and each year I do this activity, there has never been a student disengaged on the sidelines.  The book provides an authentic discussion on how the point of view of the story can make such a difference, even with a plot as simple as going to the park.

If you haven’t had a chance to take a look at this book, I highly recommend you do.  I do this lesson each year with third graders and love teaching it every time!

The Significant Interview with Dusti Bowling

When I love a book, I can’t stop thinking and talking about it.  When I read my ARC of Insignificant Events in the Life of a Cactus by Dusti Bowling, I must have driven my book loving friends crazy…I couldn’t stop raving about it.  I read this book over the summer and truly loved every page of it.  The main character, Aven, was such a real, believable character, who was born without arms, making her standout even more as the new kid when her family moved out west.  I was so intrigued to read her story.  But Insignificant Events was more than just a story about her life and unexpected relationships in her new school.  There was mystery, raw emotions, friendship, and so much more, neatly wrapped up in a little present.  Thank you for the gift, Dusti Bowling.

3 Questions about Insignificant Events in the Life of a Cactus

Aven’s disability is one that is not often, or maybe even never, written about.  Where did your inspiration come from?  

The seed was first planted in my mind to write a story about a child with limb differences after my cousin was injured in Iraq back in 2008. At that time, we were told he had lost his eye and was going to lose his arm. In the days following that phone call, I couldn’t stop thinking about what life was going to be like for him with only one arm. I did a lot of research about it and found there were almost no children’s books featuring characters with limb differences back then. But my cousin passed away a couple of weeks later, and I didn’t think about it again for several years. Then one day I saw a video of Barbie Thomas taking care of her baby, driving, folding towels, and working out at the gym. She did everything with her feet because she didn’t have arms. That video was really eye-opening for me. Over the next year or so, I kept thinking about this character who was really capable and strong and funny and unique. She wouldn’t have arms and would do everything with her feet. That character simply wouldn’t leave me alone until I put her down on paper. And as far as I know, Aven is the only character out there with both arms missing.

What kind of research did you do to ensure you were accurate in what Aven’s life would be like?  

I couldn’t find much written about life without arms, so I relied heavily on videos of people, particularly one series of videos called “Tisha Unarmed.” Tisha’s videos were incredibly educational for me, showing how she did everything without arms, from getting dressed to grocery shopping to carving a pumpkin. When I finished my manuscript, I reached out to Tisha to see if she would be willing to read it. Thankfully she agreed and really loved the story.

We’d love to know more about how the plot came to be for Insignificant Events.  Did it start out as a mystery? Was it always going to be about a child born with a disability or is that the way the story evolved?

The story was always about Aven born without arms from my very first thought. I wanted it to just be about her adjusting to a move and meeting Connor (who always had Tourette’s) and becoming friends. But the first draft didn’t have a mystery or even a western theme park! When I first queried the manuscript to agents, I got a lot of “I love your voice, but this story is too quiet” and “I love the characters, but this story doesn’t really have a plot.” I took all the advice I received and completely rewrote the manuscript. I was already thinking about writing a story set in a western theme park, so I decided to use that setting for Aven instead of saving it for another book. I added the mystery to move the plot along better, and it ended up becoming very meaningful to me. I’m so glad I listened to the feedback I received because it improved the story massively.

3 Questions about Dusti Bowling

If you weren’t a writer, what would you want to be and why?

I’ve always wanted to own a “dessert shop” where you can get just about any kind of dessert you want: pastries, pies, ice cream, candies, etc. It would also be a great place for tea parties and children’s birthday parties. I love baking, and I think this would just be so much fun. Maybe I’ll still do this one day!

What is one book that has stuck with you since you’ve read it?

Just one?!? I recently read Wishtree by Katherine Applegate. I loved the simplicity and beauty of the story so much. I won’t be at all surprised if it wins her another Newbery award.

What is one item in your fridge that tells us about you?

The giant jelly smear across the shelf.

 

The Peculiar Incident on Shady Street – Your Next Read!

 

As soon as October 1st hits, it’s time to break out the Halloween decorations!  Nothing says fall like pumpkins, skeletons, and anything spooky.  It’s also the best time of year to get my students hooked on one of my favorite types of books…scary stories!  I’m excited to share Lindsay Currie’s debut novel, The Peculiar Incident on Shady Street, with my students and fellow #mglit loving friends.

After seeing the cover and reading the teaser, I couldn’t wait to read this book.  It didn’t disappoint!  Tessa, and the rest of the characters, were well developed and believable, and the plot was engaging from the start.  Lindsay Currie’s talented writing balanced an engaging story line, with eerie, scary elements. And as a former resident of Chicago, it was fun to read about all of the history-rich places around the north side of the city.

I read this book on my iPad, and would often read while feeding my baby in the middle of the night.  There were some nights that I couldn’t put it down…and the next thing I knew, it was an hour later!  The Peculiar Incident on Shady Street is the perfect combination of all things middle grade, and with the added elements of the supernatural, it should be your next read!  We won’t judge if you decide to leave your light on…

Three Questions about The Peculiar Incident on Shady Street

We loved that you picked landmarks around Chicago as the setting in your story.  Was there any significance to the location of Tessa’s house?

Ahhh, yes. First of all, I’ve been a resident of Chicago for almost 20 years. I adore the Windy City – especially my neighborhood! In terms of Tessa’s house, although it’s on the fictional “Shady” street, the home itself is very much modeled after my own home and street! The descriptors of Tessa’s new graystone fairly accurately describe the exterior of my own building which was built in the late 19th century, and the street details are definitely based on my quiet, little tree-lined street in East Lakeview. Although I don’t find my home to be spooky like Tessa Woodward does, I am fascinated by the history of it and often find myself wondering about the families who lived in it before me.

Is any of the information about Graceland factual?  Are there any mysterious happenings?  A glass box?

YES! There are many ghost legends buried in Graceland cemetery, and some of the mysterious happenings in PECULIAR INCIDENT are based on real events that have been reported over the years. While I can’t go into detail on specifics without giving away the identity of the ghost, I can say that I wouldn’t want to wander Graceland in the dark for sure. There’s been reports of vanishing statues, eerie wailing, and mysterious cold wind for decades! In fact, the cemetery reports to having lost many folks from their grounds crew because they quit after deciding that cemetery is indeed . . . you guessed it . . . HAUNTED.

We know you love all things scary, but we feel like it would be a hard genre in which to write original ideas.  Where did you get your ideas for the book?  

It can be challenging, but I’m fortunate to live in an area where the history is so rich (and spooky) that I feel like I have a ton to work with. PECULIAR INCIDENT stemmed from one particular ghost legend that has always fascinated me. After doing some research and visiting the grave in-person (it’s only 10 minutes from my house), I was so spooked by the concept that I knew there was a book to be written on it! Fast forward through many trips to the Chicago HIstory Museum, many late nights up researching and writing, and VOILA! PECULIAR INCIDENT was born!


Three Questions About Lindsay Currie

If you weren’t a writer, what would you want to be and why?

Oh wow. This is a hard one. Many years ago I was actually in flight school learning to fly planes so I could interview with the FBI for a Special Agent position. That would have been cool and all, but my life would have been so different! I’ll admit that asking my family to possibly move all around the country was never appealing. Plus, I never would have followed my dreams and attempted to write a book! Though doing the whole Jack Bauer thing still strikes a special chord in my heart, I’m incredibly grateful for the change in my career path years ago. I have always loved books and writing and having the opportunity to do what I love for a living is the best. Gift. Ever.

What is one book that has stuck with you since you’ve read it?

Oh my goodness, there are so many. I’d have to say that the book that most influenced me was Where the Red Fern Grows. I read it in fourth grade and it impacted me so strongly that i remember thinking (for the very first time) that i might like to try writing when I grew up. Although the author, Wilson Rawls, has passed on, I hope he knew what an incredible gift his book was to those of us who read and loved it!

What is one item in your fridge that tells us about you?

Probably olives. I LOVE olives. Garlic stuffed, spicy, greek . . . you name it and I probably have it in my fridge! And since I can’t have something salty without something sweet, there’s generally a frozen Hershey’s bar in my freezer, too. Sounds healthy, huh? 🙂

The Peculiar Incident on Shady Street comes out October 10th!  Visit Lindsay Currie’s website to learn more about her and preorder your copy.