Cover Reveal *Just Like Rube Goldberg*


Storymamas are big fans of Sarah Aronson‘s work!  Check out our blog post with her from last year as she talks all about her Wish List Series.

We were so thrilled that she is allowing us to do the cover reveal for her latest project, Just Like Rube Goldberg – The Incredible True Story of The Man Behind the Machines. When we chatted with Sarah last week she was so giddy talking about this book. She spoke with passion in her voice and you could feel that this book is a labor of love. Before we reveal the cover we asked Sarah to tell us the story about the story…

The story behind the story is a story I’ve been telling a lot over the last four years. Just like Rube Goldberg, the story of this book is a story of play and re-invention.

To be honest, I never thought I would write a picture book.

My original writing goals were strictly YA.

But when a book I had poured my heart into (for many years) failed to find an editor, I decided it was time to change the way I was doing things.

I gave myself a challenge.

Six months of play. Six months of writing without expectations. For six months, I would write for myself. For fun. I challenged myself to write everything I never thought I could write.

Even though it now seems fun to write this way, I was pretty stressed out when I started. Daring myself to write a new way felt risky. I wasn’t sure I could do it. I wanted to live a creative life, but I didn’t want to suffer. Or be sad. I wanted to enjoy the process of writing.

So as they say, “Reader, I went for it!”

I wrote lots of picture books. I wrote an essay that someday, I want to do on The Moth. I wrote the beginning of an adult novel (which someday I will finish), as well as the first of what would become The Wish List books.

And then, like magic, there was Rube.

The idea of writing about Rube Goldberg came after hearing my friend, Tami Lewis Brown, read a book she was writing about Keith Haring. Her words made my brain swirl. I wondered if I could write a picture book biography.

This is the part where a lot of my friends shake their heads and ask, “What took you so long?”

You see, I had always been a huge fan of Rube’s work. My father had introduced me to Rube Goldberg contraptions and comics when I was a kid. (He actually compared the tax code to a Rube Goldberg machine in a text about Economics.) As a writer, I am interested in writing about Jewish people and experiences.

Also: I’m really good friends with a lot of great writers of non-fiction. (Looking at you, Tanya Lee Stone!)

Bottom line, like the most complicated Rube Goldberg machines, I don’t do anything the easy way.  (Check my bio! I have had a lot of jobs!)

So I did it!

I read everything I could find. I talked to cartoonists. I thought about creativity. I went to the Rube Goldberg machine contest and heard Jennifer George speak about her grandfather.

And just like Rube, I wrote. And I wrote. And I wrote.

And then I got really lucky. Allyn Johnston (Beach Lane Books) loved the manuscript! Robert Neubecker agreed to take my words and create a work of art!

I literally can’t look at this book without smiling and laughing and crying!

Here’s my favorite Rube Goldberg quote.


Creating this book has been so much fun! Seeing it come to life has been magical and humbling and absolutely thrilling! I can’t wait to introduce readers to Rube and all the ways they can explore creativity!

And without further ado…………..

This gem of a book releases in March. Be sure to preorder it now from your local bookstore.

Thank you so much, Sarah, for this amazing opportunity to share such a wonderful book with a powerful and inspiring message!

Also, feel free to visit https://www.rubegoldberg.com/ to learn more about Rube, enter contests, and other fun stuff!

I Hope You Meet The Dollar Kids Soon! (And Author Interview)

In my head this is how I met Jennifer Richard Jacobson… Courtney and I were eating lunch in the common area of Nerdcamp. I had brought some delicious Costco cookies from home and shared one with Courtney. I took one and then I had 2 cookies left. I looked over and asked the 2 women next to me if they’d like a cookie. Each agreed and we started chatting. Very quickly I learned that these sweet-toothed women were Jacqueline Davies of The Lemonade Wars Series and Jennifer Richard Jacobson of the popular series Andy Shane. After talking about our group and mission Jennifer handed us an Arc of The Dollar Kids.

I must admit I hadn’t heard anything about the book (which in a way I like sometimes, but from a publicity stand point I hope this post allows it to be put on more people’s TBR lists!) I was intrigued by the cover. And another thing I will admit is that I didn’t read the back of the book until after I had started it. The story starts with a short comic that sets up a major problem for our main character, Lowen. By page 4 we’ve found out Lowen’s friend was shot and killed and this sets the stage for the rest of the book. Lowen is ridden with guilt over his friend’s death and when an opportunity comes along to bid on a house costing a dollar in a small town where they can explore new opportunities as a family, the family agrees it’s worth a shot.  

This book is intense, heartfelt, frustrating and touching all at the same time. I think that with such heavy topics and a total of almost 400 pages, the target audience would be 5th grade and up. I think the characters were so enduring in their own ways and I loved meeting and getting to know each one of them. Jennifer does a wonderful job of allowing you to grow with each character. Also, besides the comic that starts the book, there are others scattered through that puts you inside Lowen’s thoughts. I thought this was a clever way to portray some of his feelings. When I finished the book I felt a sense of fulfillment that I had gotten to know the Dollar Kids and part sad that I was leaving them. But it will be a book I recommend to many. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did!

Thank you Jennifer for taking the time to answer 3 questions about the book and 3 questions about you!

3 Questions about The Dollar Kids

What are three words you’d use to describe your book?

Thought-provoking, entertaining, uplifting

How did you come up with the idea for the dollar houses storyline?

My husband’s hometown is a former mill town and each time we visited, we observed more decline. We’d brainstorm ways the town might stimulate growth.  I’d heard about dollar programs happening in other parts of the country and began to wonder what would happen if this little town decided to sell homes for one dollar. That “What if . . .” turned into this story.

All the characters are all very complex.  Which one was the easiest to create, which was the hardest?  

Thank you for saying that all of the characters are complex!  I work hard to create characters who, like real people, have contradictions.  Mum was probably the easiest to create because her persistence and determination are similar to mine.  We are not easily dissuaded.

Lowen was no doubt the hardest character to develop. All of my protagonists concerns tap into my deepest fears. In this story, Lowen is trying to cope with his guilt over a friend’s death.  While writing the story, I was wracked with guilt for having decided to have my beloved dog put down. I hated knowing that I was the one who determined when her life would end.

3 Questions about You

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

A teacher.  And actually, I am!  I no longer have my own classroom, but I travel around the country providing instruction and support on Writer’s Workshop.

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

Piecing Me Together by Renée Watson.  Renée does such an incredible job of showing us how blind (and shallow) “good intentions” can be.  I was trying to do something similar with The Dollar Kids.

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

Champagne.  Though my books tackle difficult issues, I do believe that life — and people– give us so much to celebrate!

To Learn more about Jennifer Richard Jacobson visit her website or you can find her on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook.

Author Interview with Rebecca Kai Dotlich

Thank you Rebecca Kai Dotlich for sending us your books to review. All opinions are our own.

As parents and educators, The Knowing Book touched our hearts. It is one that will give you all the feels; love, happiness, sadness of time going by too fast, change and saying goodbyes. The perfect book for so many of life’s milestones, including the beginning of a new school year with it’s positive and uplifting message. A simply beautiful book in story and illustrations!

One Day, The End is a wonderful book with minimal words but so much story. Reading the book is a fantastic way to help facilitate language and looking closely at illustrations. After reading children will be inspired to write their own stories. We love the creativity of this book and all the children we have read it to have really enjoyed the short and simple words and the detailed illustrations which help to complete each mini story .

3 Questions about Your Books

What was your first experience with poetry and when did you know you wanted to make a career out of writing?

When I was young, my knowledge of poetry was in the lilting rhymes of golden books and song lyrics.  A few lines from Jack and the Beanstalk captivated me: “Fee-fi-fo-fum/I smell the blood of an Englishman/be he alive or be he dead/I’ll grind his bones into my bread.” Shivers. And then there was The Gingerbread Man: “Run, run, as fast as you can, you can’t catch me, I’m the Gingerbread Man.”  I loved it.  My brother played small, colorful plastic records, and from his room I heard (and sang along with) “Take me out to the ballgame/take me out to the crowd/buy me some peanuts and cra—ker—jacks/I don’t care if I ever come back …” and there were nursery rhymes that we sang (“Oh, do you know the Muffin Man?”) and I always felt very grown up and worldly by singing Frere Jacques.  I didn’t even know of course that Dor mez vous meant Brother John; I assumed it meant something much more french-fascinating.

I didn’t know many true poems when I was young. I do remember reading one poem by Robert Louis Stevenson about going to bed in summer: “In winter I get up at night/and dress by yellow candlelight…”.  My first real experience with poetry would have been in High School. Mrs. Bradford read poetry to us and I was drawn to the poetry of William Wordsworth, Edna St. Vincent Millay and others.  When I decided I wanted to be a writer is a fuzzy line.  I was writing poetry and stapling paper together to make little books, and even writing dedications when I was about 15.  I started writing pretty bad poetry about love and war at about 16-17.  In college I studied song lyrics and creative writing.  When my children were babies I truly decided I wanted to write for these little amazing humans.

The Knowing Book is such a heartfelt and beautiful book, it’s one of those books that you want to gift for so many special occasions, what was challenging and what was easy about writing this one?

This is the only book I didn’t write in the traditional way (with a picture book text in mind.) It came from life and it was almost like a letter of comfort to myself and any child or grown up reader that might be struggling in their life.  There were so many things I wanted to say about being sad and confused, about hope and love and choices and the universe.

What does your workplace look like?

Messy.  Full of practical things like a printer and my computer and a laptop, and wonderful things like wall-to wall-bookshelves and the desk my father used years ago, and small things (I am obsessed with small things) like tiny globes, books, cars, toys, jars of marbles, keys (lots of keys) of all shapes and sizes, and clay castles and turtles that my children made when they were small.  I have stacks of journals and notebooks and coffee cups with colored pens and cork boards with photos of my grandchildren and notes I’ve received from children … tiny white lights are strung up and around my bookshelves that hold lots and lots of poetry and picture books and books from when I was young.

3 Questions about You

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

I would say a song writer, photographer or artist.  I’m happiest when I’m immersed in creativity, color, making things, fitting words together . . .I’ve always been fascinated with the mix of words and the creative visual experience.

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

Prince of Tides.  Because of Pat Conroy’s poetic language.

And 1 more: The Glass Castle because Jeannette Walls was amazing at showing us her (broken & dysfunctional) family in fine detail.

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

Leftover lasagna.  Or would it be the plums.

To learn more about Rebecca Kai Dotlich, visit her website or follow her on, Twitter, or Facebook.

100 Friends- Warren & Dragon Review/Author Interview

Thank you Penguin Publishing & Ariel for sharing the Advanced Review Copy with Storymamas! All opinions are our own.

Warren & Dragon -100 Friends will be released on Tuesday, but we’ve already had the pleasure of meeting these fun characters! Ariel Bernstein, author of I Have A Balloon  has teamed up with Mike Malbrough  to create this wonderful and engaging early chapter book series!

Warren and his twin sister, Ellie are about to move to a new house. Ellie challenges Warren to make 100 new friends. Warren, isn’t sure he wants the challenge, since he has one friend, Dragon. Dragon has been Warren’s friend through thick and thin, although to others he is only a stuffed dragon. So Warren works hard at his new school to make new friends, and finds out it is not as easy as it sounds, and that having one friend is sometimes easier (even if he does eat marshmallows a lot!)

What I loved about the book is the characters! I just found Warren to be such an authentic character. His actions and thoughts made me laugh and I often pictured many students I’ve taught who share his same character traits: easily distracted, quirky, a bit clueless and kind! His twin sister is more of a type A personality. I felt the contrast between them really resonated with me as I read the story. The plot is also light hearted but has some real truths, that making friends isn’t easy. I think this would make for a great addition to any classroom, home, or library, especially at the beginning of a new school year! Pre-Order now or head to your local bookstore on Tuesday!

Ariel was kind enough to answer three questions about the series and three questions about herself.

3 Questions about Warren & Dragon

What three words would you use to describe the Warren & Dragon series?

Giggle-inducing (is that technically 2 words? I’ll think of two more just in case), marshmallow-licious (I’m pretty sure I made that one up), and adorable (I am biased after all).

How did the idea for this series begin to take shape?

I was thinking about a picture book manuscript I’d written called NOTHING’S SCARIER THAN KINDERGARTEN. The story wasn’t really working but I liked the concept – a boy is afraid to start kindergarten. His three talking figurines – a pirate, a witch, and a dragon – tell him they’re way scarier than kindergarten so he has nothing to be afraid of. Turns out, the three figurines are terrified once they get to the school while the boy realizes it’s a fun place to be. I decided to take the boy and pirate character and make it into a chapter book. I quickly tired of writing the pirate’s dialogue, and started over with a dragon. It took off from there!

We love the personalities you gave Warren, his sister & dragon.  Are they modeled after people in your life?

Thank you! Ellie is based somewhat on my older and wonderful sister, Debi. Like Ellie, Debi always was very sociable and had an easy time making friends. I guess Warren is a bit like me as a kid, as I day dreamed a lot. Although I never had a talking dragon to hang out with.

3 Questions about You

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

As a kid I always wanted to be a judge. I was the youngest in my family, and I liked the idea of deciding things. Now that I’m older, I kind of get to be a judge as a mom. Although my verdicts aren’t always adhered to!

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

There are a lot of books that could answer this! I love John Connolly’s THE BOOK OF LOST THINGS. He creates a story that references many fairy tales in a really unique and original way. Plus it’s just a bit creepy which I always appreciate.

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

Cucumbers. They tell you that I’ve finally grown up enough to make myself eat healthily, at least once a day. The cucumbers also do a good job of hiding any sweets for when I don’t eat healthily, which is also at least once a day.

To learn more about Ariel Bernstein, visit her website or follow her on Instagram, Twitter, or Facebook.

Meet Yasmin…and Author Interview

Meet Yasmin! is a new early chapter book by Saadia Faruqi.  We were generously given a copy to read and review, and all opinions are our own.

Yasmin is a Pakistani American second-grader who is a problem solver, and throughout all of the stories, is a child that never gave up.  Meet Yasmin! is comprised of four mini-books, whose colorful illustrations by Hatem Aly are an engaging addition to the text.  All four books deal with real-life situations children Yasmin’s age typically face each day .  She is a character that is easy to relate to, and throughout the book you learn a lot about her parents and culture.  Books should be windows and mirrors*, and Meet Yasmin is that for many children around the world.  We think every  classroom should have a copy of this book in their library.

We had the opportunity to interview Saadia Faruqi, here are three questions about the book & 3 questions about the her

3 Questions about Meet Yasmin

What are three words you’d use to describe your book?

Relevant. Fun. Timely.

What literary character would Yasmin be friends with and why?

In contemporary characters, Yasmin would probably be friends with Katie Woo, from the Katie Woo series by Fran Manushkin. Going back a bit, she’d probably have much in common with Meg from A Wrinkle in Time. These are all girls who aren’t superheroes, and they often struggle with what life throws at them, but they don’t give up.

What was your motivation for making Yasmin into an early chapter book vs. wanting it to be a middle grade book or even a picture book?

Actually this book started out as a picture book, and then somehow evolved into an early reader series. So it’s gone through some iterations before it found the skin it was comfortable in. I feel that the age group of K-2 is perfect for what Yasmin stands for. It’s the time when kids are just learning about their identities and the world around them, and this age is the perfect age to learn about Yasmin and her family.

3 Questions about You

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

Is that even possible? I’m a writer forever! But if I wasn’t a writer I’d be working in some sort of marketing job because I really enjoy the promotion aspect of book publishing as well. And then I’d write a book about how to do that!

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

I recently read Some Kind of Courage by Dan Gemeinhart and was really shook by it. I think books that handle death and loss in a way children can handle it are so important, and I can’t stop telling everyone about this book!

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

There is a lot of Diet Coke in there, which is only for me and nobody else is allowed to drink! It’s my go-to source of caffeine since I don’t drink tea or coffee, and it helps me think when I’m trying to relax.

Thank you Saadia for taking the time to chat with us!

To learn more about Saadia Faruqi please visit her website or you can follow her on Twitter, Instagram or Facebook

* Credit given to: Rudine Sims Bishop for the term

Super Manny Cleans Up! & Interview with Kelly DiPucchio

Thank you Kelly DiPuccio and publisher Simon and Schuster for sending us Super Manny Cleans Up for review!  All opinions are our own.

Super manny is saving the world again but this time he’s cleaning up the Earth! Gertie, the hedgehog and Super Manny are faced with the challenge of destroying litter bugs who have taken over the city park! We love how Kelly DiPucchio gives Gertie a bigger voice in this sequel! Every reader will feel empowered to help keep our planet clean after learning how Super Manny and Gertie work together to defeat the litterbugs. We loved the important message this book shares and how tangible Kelly makes it for even the youngest of children to feel helpful! Stephanie’s illustrations bring all those monsters and litter bugs to life so we can imagine just what Manny and Gertie do as they see the world!

Super Manny Cleans Up! is out today!

Kelly was kind enough to answer 3 questions about the book & 3 questions about her.

3 Questions about Super Manny Cleans Up!

What are three words you’d use to describe your book?

Inspiring, sweet & SUPER!

What was your inspiration for writing about Manny cleaning up the Earth?

Like with the first book, Super Manny Stands Up! I wanted to write about another real-life situation that might inspire kids to make a positive impact in the world by tapping into their own unique superpowers. Being kind to the planet seemed like a good (and important!) topic to address in Manny’s second mission.

What was the process you used to determine which animals would play which roles, especially Gertie?

From the beginning I knew I would give Gertie a bigger role and a stronger voice in the second book. In Super Manny Cleans Up! Gertie, not Manny, declares that something must be done to help the environment. I felt it was important to show that Gertie was more than just Manny’s sidekick. She is a compassionate leader who is equally capable of wrangling dinosaurs and taming ferocious lions.

3 Questions about You

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

A beachcomber or a time traveler. Why? The former would be incredibly relaxing and the latter would be extraordinarily cool.

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

Choosing one is very difficult because so many books stay with me forever but most recently one that I keep coming back to is The Book of Mistakes by Corinna Luyken. The line, “Do you see-how with each mistake she is becoming?’ slays me every single time.

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

Chia seeds.

 

To learn more about Kelly and all the other wonderful books she’s written, visit her website or follow her on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook! 

Meeting Kelly last summer at Book Beat, Michigan

 

Calling All Grumpy Readers…

Thank you for the free advanced copy of Grump for the Storymamas to read. It publishes today, so be sure to get your copy! Between the three of the Storymamas, we’ve heard Liesl Shurtliff speak at our schools on two different occasions.  She’s entertaining and engaging, so it’s no wonder her books are, as well!

I read Liesl’s first book, Rump, when it was published, and have been leading a 3rd grade fairy tale book club with the book for the past three years.  I’ve noticed that as soon as my book club ends, the copies of her other books fly off my shelves.  One of my students discovered my copy of Grump on my desk, and now the only time I see it is when it passes hands!

Grump: The (Fairly) True Tale of Snow White and the Seven Dwarves tells the story of Borlen, a grumpy dwarf that decides to do exactly what he’s been told not to; emerge from the underground and go to the surface.  Enticed with as many gems and rubies to eat as he wants, Borlen is befriended by the evil Queen, becoming magically bound to her after misunderstanding her words.  When Borlen accidentally gets taken by the beard by her step-daughter, Snow White, he finds himself obligated to her wishes as well, and his world gets turned even more upside down.

Grump kept me entertained from start to finish!  Liesl Shurtliff’s talented writing and creative ability to tie in the elements of the known fairy tales, while making them her own, is one of a kind. The Storymamas were thrilled to be given the opportunity to interview her for our blog, and we hope you enjoy reading her answers as much as we did!  Be sure to grab your own copy of Grump today!

Three Questions About Grump

What are three words you would use to describe Grump?

Unexpected, Humorous, Adventure

What was your process for writing Grump and your other fractured fairy tales?  There were so many times when I was reading Grump that I had those “aha” moments of how the story and plot related to what I know about Snow White and the Seven Dwarves.  Where do you start in order for it all to tie in and relate to the actual fairy tales?

My process is very organic. I rarely “plan” anything, but rather ideas, characters, and storylines pop up as I work on other things, and then I have to figure out how to make it all work together. It can be very messy, but exciting too.  A story could start anywhere, any moment, with a simple concept, a character, an object, or a line. My first book, Rump, didn’t even start with Rumpelstiltskin. (Crazy, right?!) My initial idea was about a world where names are your destiny, and that led me to Rumpelstiltskin, which led me to tell it from his point of view in this unique setting. Jack and Red both developed in similar ways as I was writing Rump.

I never considered writing a Snow White retelling. To be perfectly honest, I have a love-hate relationship with princess tales. Maybe that’s why when Borlen the dwarf shows up in my last book Red, almost out of nowhere he calls Snow White a spoiled brat. It felt like it came out of nowhere, but it also felt like it came directly from Borlen himself, and that he was somehow leaving a little clue for me to follow. Why would a dwarf call Snow White a spoiled brat? And then I thought about how the dwarves are so marginalized in the original tale. Forget Disney for a moment. In the Grimms’ version they don’t even have names or distinct personalities! But really, the dwarves are some of the most interesting and mysterious characters. Lots to mine there (pun intended), but I feel like sometimes we throw the diamonds out with the dirt. What would the Snow White tale look like if the dwarves were put front and center, and one dwarf in particular? This was a very exciting idea, but also quite difficult to execute. It required me to recast all the events in Snow White, not only from Borlen’s point of view, but also with him as the one driving the action. It required a lot of creative acrobatics, even contortionism! When you retell an old story in a new way, you really have to make it bend and flip. Grump is probably the retelling that required this a little more than the others, with maybe Rump as a close second.

I also get very into my world building, because that can inform so much of the story for me, in terms of character development and plot. I grew up in Salt Lake City, and then right after I graduated from college I moved to Chicago and have lived here for the past fourteen years. The two places couldn’t be more different in almost every way, but both cities have played a major role in who I am, and I’ve since realized that we’re all products of our environments and cultures, so it seems logical to me that if I want to develop interesting and unique characters and stories, I need to build interesting and unique worlds.

Grump is your fourth fractured fairy tale!  When you originally wrote Rump, did you have more than one book in mind?  Is there a book five?

When I wrote Rump I was just hoping I could get that book published, though in the back of my mind I did hope that I might be able to write more. I knew I wanted to write a book for Red, though she ended up taking a longer time to figure out. When I committed to writing Jack and Red I thought that would be it. Three fairytales. A nice little trio, but then Borlen came onto the scene in Red and I knew we weren’t done. I don’t currently have plans for a 5th, I’m working on some other projects right now, but I don’t think I can definitively say Grump is my last. There’s just so much to mine in these tales, I can’t possibly predict when a character is going to come knocking and say, “Hello. It’s time to tell my story.” When that happens, I’ll listen and write.

Three Questions About Liesl Shurtliff

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

This is a surprisingly difficult question for me to answer in a short paragraph! Before I became a writer, I was pursuing musical theater as a career. That was my major in college, and though I was pretty determined to “make it” (whatever that means), I took a break in order to be at home with my kids, and it was during this time that I turned to writing. I thought it would be my creative outlet until I could go back to the stage. But when my writing career took off in such a wonderful way I never looked back. So the question is, if the writing hadn’t worked out, would I go back to theater? I think I might dabble in directing or choreographing in some local theater, but I’ve sort of lost my love for being on the stage. I’d rather create material for others to perform.

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

Orphan Island by Laurel Snyder. I recommend it to everyone. The writing is superb, it has a fairytale-like quality that I absolutely adored, and the ending leaves you with a sense of openness and possibility that is breathtaking.

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

Oh dear, this feels almost as personal as opening my underwear drawer. Avert your eyes! Okay, so in my fridge I have a giant jar of homemade date syrup. It’s basically dates soaked in hot water and then blended. We use it as a whole food sweetener in everything from oatmeal to smoothies to cookies. This tells you that we are pretty health conscious, but I also have a major sweet tooth.

 

 

Mary Had A Little Lab – Review and Author Interview

 

I first became acquainted with Sue’s work when Race zoomed into our nightly reading rotation. My son simply loved the story and so as a kidlit enthusiast, my job was to find out more about this author. I was so excited to see that she was coming out with a new book in a few short months, Mary Had A Little Lab and so I contacted her. She sent the Storymamas a copy of the book and agreed to do an interview!

Mary is a girl who loves to build and create. When she realizes that inventing by yourself can get lonely, she gathers a tuft of wool to put into her machine, and out comes a wooly sheep! Mary enjoys the sheep while it helps with chores and groceries, but what happens when her classmates want one too?! Well, Mary duplicates the sheep and soon the town becomes overrun by sheep, what will they do? And if you know the popular rhyme, “everywhere that Mary went….” you can try and guess, but as the story continues, Mary finds a way to solve the problem of too many sheep and how fun it can be with friends! 

This book embraces so much that kids will enjoy: science and experimenting, humor, girl power, using an old familiar rhyme to guide the new version of this story and teamwork! Great for all ages. We are so thankful Sue took the time to answer 3 questions about the book and 3 questions about herself.

3 Questions about Mary Had A Little Lab

What are three words you’d use to describe your book?

Funny, creative, empowering

How did you come up with the idea for this book?

In a dream! I dreamt the title, and the next day made a connection that a lab could be a laboratory (as opposed to a dog–we have a labrador). Then I furiously wrote the first draft.

What do you hope readers take away after reading this book?

That if they love to do something, and they follow their dreams, they will eventually find happiness. Or, I hope they get a good laugh and enjoy all the fun details in the illustrations! I guess what I’m saying is, I hope they get out of it what they want to get out of it.

3 Questions about You

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

I think I would still always be writing things, but if I wasn’t making a career out of that, maybe I’d be a veterinarian.

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

Sylvester and the Magic Pebble by William Steig.  

Are You There God, It’s Me Margaret and Deenie by Judy Blume.

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

Homemade salsa. It’s one of the few things I make well and it’s really tasty.

To learn more about Sue and her work, feel free to visit her website, or find her on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

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.

Maggie & Abby’s Neverending Pillow Fort

 

I don’t know about you but building forts was something I loved doing as a child and quite honestly still love doing with my own kids (especially when I can fit in them). We came across the title of this book via Twitter and instantly contacted author Will Taylor to see if we could get an ARC. Thankfully Will agreed and we got to read this wonderfully magical book. Two best friends who were separated all summer in both distance and experiences come together to discover an entire world of pillow forts. Through their own forts they realize they can enter into other kid’s pillow forts. They travel through the pillow forts and meet new friends and have experiences full of danger and excitement. If you have couch cushions and blankets in disarray all over your house you and your child will love this book! This book is the first in the series so watch out for book two coming early summer 2019!

Will was kind enough to answer 3 questions about the book & 3 questions about himself!

3 ?s about Maggie & Abby’s Neverending Pillow Fort

What three words would you use to describe your book?

Ooo! Okay: Tangled. Awesome. Friendships.

How did you come up with this magical idea and at what point in writing did the good deeds rule for entry evolve?

The idea was based on an image from Dan Simmons’ sci-fi novel “Hyperion”, in which rich people have houses with rooms on different planets, linked together through portal doors called farcasters to look and feel like one house. I got to wondering what would happen if their kids started building pillow forts in that setup, and the idea just came to life.

The good deeds rule for entry was one of those pieces that fell into place on its own. The story was in need of a ticking clock, and getting into NAFAFA had to be difficult somehow, so I went with a classic fairytale-style challenge. It was super fun exploring what Maggie and Abby could come up with using the resources and opportunities of their immediate world, guided by their differing characters.

Why/how did you decide on adding in history tidbits?

As a kid I was obsessed with palaces and old buildings and the idea of grand, theatrical history, (my family watched a lot of Masterpiece Theater) so I wanted to tap into that in the book. So much of this book is me geeking out on the page about things I loved when I was around ten. Like Uncle Joe, my bedroom was once plastered in pictures of whales! Getting to invent new historical details like le Petit Salon let me basically become Maggie, making up secret rooms and hidden doors and ancient mysteries that need solving. Basically, I was just having fun.

3 ?s about You

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

A garden designer/landscaper. I grew up with garden-happy parents, and I volunteered at the Seattle Arboretum in high school and worked at a nursery through college. I’m pretty obsessed with plants, especially trees, and I think garden design would be almost as a good a place to explore magic and emotion and storytelling as writing is.

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

Oh, “Listen, Slowly”, by Thanhha Lai! Absolutely one of my top five books ever. The gorgeous writing, the humor, the family love, the heartache, the relationship between the main character and her grandmother, the food, all of it. It is one of the most perfect middle grade books I’ve ever encountered. And due to a particular turn of phrase near the end, I think about it every time I feel a breeze. Every single time. Recommended for everyone, forever!

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

Hahah! Oh wow, I’m not sure. I live near a grocery store, and I’m one of those people who doesn’t tend to keep much food around. Honestly I think it might be my compost bucket. I keep it in the fridge because it completely prevents smells and fruit flies, which are always a problem otherwise, even with airtight tubs. The actual tub is left over from the chocolate shop I work at, and in its previous life held five pounds of incredibly high quality Venezuelan chocolate shavings. I feel like that juxtaposition is sort of a good representative of me. I like things with history behind them 🙂

Thanks for chatting with Storymamas! We loved you answers! 

To learn more about Will and his work. Please visit Will’s website and Twitter.